“No” is a Complete Sentence

Get up. Get ready. Feed the kids (the furkids, anyway – that human kid is way too picky and opinionated, and she can handle her own morning meal choice). Rush to work to sit in traffic. Wait for elevators (high-rise work life). Scramble to your desk. Rush to meetings. Maybe get to pee and grab water, but maybe not. Maybe lunch is real, maybe it’s a figment of your imagination.

The workday is done. Now reverse. Wait for an elevator. Rush home to sit in traffic. Feed self, maybe human kid (depends on the available choices and hormones of said spawn, of course), definitely furkids. Unwind. At 1:46am, remember 52.6 things that have to be done by 6:45am. Go to sleep. Maybe. Or doze. Or obsess over the crazy crap that fills your mind.

When you see your days laid out, a few things become clear. First, jeez – we are totally missing the point here. Accomplishing little with no downtime. There has to be more. Secondly, we are completely overwhelmed. Finally, there is no time to add any other tasks, but we will certainly try it anyway. Yay, peer pressure! *insert eyeroll here*

We go-go-go and believe that resting somehow equates to laziness (it really doesn’t, beeteedubs). Having an empty slot on a calendar has somehow become proof of a failure. Forgetting about the $5 needed for a classroom function in 3 hours is yet another example of how we suck as a parent.

For the love of all that is holy! Enough is enough! We have to learn to say no as an act of self-preservation. No, we do not want to attend a fundraiser for heated toilet seats at the local public school after a long day, but we say yes anyway. Oh! And we “would be honored” to bring 569 custom decorated cookies to honor the cause! Sign. Me. Up! Whatever happened to “cold seats build character”?

Sweet Jesus in Heaven above. No. Just say NO.

We are so driven by the perceptions of others that we agree to absolutely ridiculous demands just to try and fit in. Can I be honest, honey? You don’t fit in – because you were not meant to fit in! You were born for a divine purpose. A unique reason. You have been set apart! Not to run yourself ragged and fall over at a soccer field from sheer exhaustion, but to build God’s Kingdom.

We get so caught up in the desire to be super parents that we lose sight of our kids. We strive to be the best worker and hate going to work. We have to be the best whatever that we forget the reason we said yes in the first place. Why? Because we are so. Freaking. Tired.

We always want to “do” and, when we can’t, we feel like we have to give a three-minute narrative on why we cannot fulfill our self-imposed duties.

Want to know a secret? We don’t need to explain. “No” really is a complete sentence, friend. It’s your sanity. It’s your reality. It’s a lifesaver. No. Just huh-uh. Can’t. Nope. Nothing else is needed.

Focus on setting limits for yourself so that you can refocus on your priorities. Spend time with God. Limit your distractions and commit to remain in the moment. When we are distracted or exhausted, it is so easy to forget to spend time with God.

Say no so that you can be restored and rest. Your purpose awaits. Dear, sweet friend, you never have to be anything more than yourself. Ever. God created you to fulfill a purpose that is uniquely yours. No one else can do what you have been called to do, so save your strength and stay focused on Him. Embrace your blessings. Let go of the constant motion. Rest in the Lord. Seek His guidance.

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“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
Jeremiah 29:13 NIV

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Romans 12:2 NIV

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
Jeremiah 1:5 NIV

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28‭-‬30 NIV

New Year, New Word?

Last year, instead of making resolutions, I followed the lead of others and focused on a word. One single word that would be used to keep me on track through 2018. I mean, 2018 couldn’t be as crappy as 2017, right? My word for 2018 was “fearless”.

Why “fearless”? My entire life, I have let fear rule my actions. I was too afraid of being deemed a failure to do many things I wanted to do in life. If someone saw me mess something up, they would judge me. If I failed, my failure would be visible to everyone. Fear ruled my life – and I allowed it to continue.

So 2018….. I did several things I had never thought I would do. I put my writing on display. I embraced my goofiness. I decorated ornaments, and put them up for sale (and people bought them!). Was anything perfect? No. Was there room for improvement in everything I did? Absolutely! Did people criticize? Oh, gosh, yes. But it hit me: I would be criticized if I did nothing and I would be criticized if I did something. It mattered not what I did or didn’t do because the scrutiny would have occurred regardless of what I did. My bonus: by stepping out, I found peace and joy – and a hobby! In the middle of smack talk. Despite the whispers. In spite of the haters.

So all that to say: that word thing kinda worked! It kept me focused just enough on my goals without limiting my means of getting to my destination. I didn’t obsess over my goals. I didn’t totally annihilate myself over missteps. I didn’t self sabotage to become a self-fulfilling prophesy of failure. Instead, I actually made great strides in accepting the grace offered. Perfect? Heck no. But I’m better than I was last year.

Enter 2019. I decided to focus on a word again. Not abandoning “fearless” because that journey still has some miles to go. More like piggybacking on last year to build more. I prayed for my word in ’18, so I prayed for my word in ’19.

At first, I thought my word was “enough”. You are enough. You have enough. You have had enough. Ok. Got it. Then, as I sat still and cleared my mind, I realized it was actually supposed to be “grace”. “Grace” kind of takes “enough” and expands it.

You are enough because grace has washed you clean.

Scriptures and quotes about accepting and giving grace flew through my mind for two days before I figured this out, by the way. I am clearly not a genius in this area….

Anywhooooo….. “Grace” in 2019. Grace for family. Grace for friends. Grace for strangers. And, most of all, grace for myself. Grace has been given to us and so we must give grace to others.

We don’t deserve grace and we cannot earn it, yet it is freely offered without strings attached. It clears the slate. Elevates us to our rightful positions as children of God. Covers us in God’s eternal love.

Honestly, I do better at offering grace to others than offering grace to myself. Or accepting it. I’m working on that, though. Now I have my daily reminder to keep me moving forward.

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“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—”

Ephesians 2:8 NIV

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Hebrews 4:16 NIV

Welcome to Crazy Town

I love those moments when I think I have my life together. All 45 seconds of them. I savor them – and then I return to my chaos. I return to my crazy fairly easily most days because my (formally diagnosed) ADHD kicks in and my unmedicated brain rushes off to the next priority. This is my reality.

Most days, I revel in the insanity of the day. I mean, it’s my world. What’s the saying? “They know me here.” Oh yeah. Fer sher.

So most days are chaotic, hectic, and demanding, but I have adjusted well to this little piece of paradise. Overall, anyway. But there are some days…. Weeks, even….

Every so often, there is a series of days where just getting out bed and putting on pants seem impossible. Everything is a challenge. The chaos is crippling. The insanity clings to me the same way my sweaty, overweight thighs stick to a plastic lawn chair on a late-July day in Ohio.

The worst part of those days isn’t the crazy stuff, though. It’s the unshakable feeling of being alone. Everyone seems to pull away, no one reaches out, and no one seems to even remember you’re alive. Or so it seems.

Take a quick ride on the crazy train with me, won’t you? First stop: Lunaticville. All aboard!

Picture it. Ohio. 2018….

Desperate for human contact, you text someone and you never get a reply, so surely you must have done something bad. If you do connect, that pal never notices you were in a bad place. Now no one wants to talk to you because everyone must know what a horrible human being you are, so grabbing the Halloween candy and eating your weight in carbs must surely be the answer.

When you wake up the next day, you realize irrationality is not your best look, so you decide to live today in the moment and not accept the lies. Your determination is set! You’ve got this! Then your teenager has a meltdown because their favorite hoodie never made it to the hamper and is dirty, so that downward spiral begins again. Now your friends are not only avoiding you – you’re also the world’s worst mother. Clearly. Yay.

As you sob uncontrollably on your commute to work, you decide that work at least comes easily and things will be fine. You dive in with a fake smile on your face (#fakeittilyoumakeit, right?), only to be chastised for things you didn’t do by multiple people. By lunchtime, you’re numb. Done. Dead inside. You head home and crash from exhaustion.

Sometimes these days play on a seemingly endless loop. One bad day after another. Other times, they are isolated incidents. What remains the same is this fact: we have all been there, friend. All of us. Probably in the last 24 hours, as a matter of fact. Some people hide it better than others, but we all deal with this crap and we all lose our shhhh…tuff. I’m a go-big-or-go-home kind of gal, so I don’t hide my loss of sanity well and tend to just let it fly. I like to remove all doubt that my sanity is on shaky ground. I’m working on that part. #dontjudgeme

When we realize we have all been to Crazy Town recently, it becomes easier to reach out to others. Most of the time, people sincerely have no idea what you’re dealing with because they are dealing with their own version of insanity. But, sweet friend, believe me when I say they truly DO care!

When a sistah realizes you’re hurting, she will drop her remaining marbles to help you find yours. She will gather you in for a hug that melts your heart and leaves no room for doubt that you are loved, valued, important, special, and cherished. She will grab your hands and pray with – and for – you. She will look you in the eyes and tell you you’re full of it and buying into lies.

When we lower our walls and allow people to see who we are and where we are – especially in our brokenness – love rushes in. Love unapologetically, uncontrollably, forcefully floods into our hearts and fills our souls, reminding us of God’s grace that enters the same way. We do these things to show the Father’s love to one another. We build each other up and remind our sisters of their purpose. We are invested in each other’s lives because we understand the struggle.

Be a blessing to someone today. Reach out to someone you haven’t heard from in a while. Let them know when they cross your mind. Remind them of whose they are, and how important they are to you.

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“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NIV

Peace and Truth

That peace and calmness when you should be trembling. That comment that died in your mind before exiting through your mouth as a comment. That feeling that you’re not alone when you are the only person in the room. The voice that speaks confidently when it should waver. When all reason points to a flight response, but you remain in place.

Have you ever experienced these things, or something similar?

We have been promised “a peace beyond all understanding” (Phil 4:7, CSB). Peace when we should expect chaos. Peace when we are weary. Peace when our fleshly response would indicate a much different response.

When we react in the ways listed above – when our response defies reason – we should remember that God is with us. Standing beside us. Helping us. Comforting us.

In our daily lives, we should be reaching out to Him with our hopes, fears, struggles, desires, but how often are we limited because we are “too busy”?

Our devotions are put off until “later”, but “later” becomes a week without devotions. Reading the Word will happen when we have some quiet or alone time, but then we are pulled into one thing after another. Or maybe we can just handle this “one little thing” ourselves. Our attention becomes divided between the world and the truth.

Eventually, we end up reacting in the flesh because we are not rooted in His words, thoughts, and commands. We quickly spiral out of His will and into fleshly reaponses, then we wonder how we got to this point.

We hear talk of how the “little things” matter, and that is true God as well. The “little things” like skipping a devotion or mediating on scripture allow our sinful nature to take over. Soon we are a blubbering mess crying out to our Savior and asking Him to pick up the pieces and come to our rescue.

He does that, certainly. Repeatedly. Sometimes multiple times in a day. Why? Because He loves us more than we can fathom. He wants us to ask for help so that He can step in. Even when we disregard Him. Even when we go out on our own. Even when we choose a TV show over spending time getting to know Him.

I’ve been convicted over this thought lately. There are many days I plan to do my devotions and contemplate His words in scripture, but something else always needs my attention. Yet I know He has my back. I know I’m forgiven. I know He will swoop in and protect my heart.

So why is it that I should be forgiven and bailed out over and over again – more times than I can count – even though I didn’t make time for Him?

I know He is always working His plan, but shouldn’t I be more centered on the One who loves me enough to clean up my messes? Who wants nothing more than to know me? Who wants to show me His goodness in everyday blessings?

I fall short more times than I care to admit, but I must be honest with myself – and with Him! He knows my thoughts and loves me anyway. There is nothing I can possibly do to change His love for me. That love is irrevocable, indefinable, unchangeable, and unrelenting.

Yes, He will certainly step in when I ask Him to do so, but my conviction stems from the fact that I still choose other activities over spending time in His presence and learning more about Him some days (or many days, depending on my week).

I pray that each of us will feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit this week as we move through our days and that we will heed that call to stop what we are doing and spend some time getting to know Him. I pray that before falling asleep we would all cry out to Him and ask for forgiveness (again), along with the ability to put Him first, just as He puts us first. I pray that the peace offered to every one us is received. I pray that we would focus on the good He offers because of who He is, rather than because of who we are.

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“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable — if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise — dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”
Philippians 4:6‭-‬9 HCSB

A Case of the Mondays

You know those days where you question everything? When everything seems to be falling apart? When you’re busting your hiney to make sure everything is done right so you have no surprises, but everything is a surprise? When you’re exhausted before you open your eyes and the only physical response you can muster is tears? Yeah. Me, too. I think those days are called “Mondays”.

Some weeks, you may have 8 Mondays in a row. Some weeks, even Monday is a breeze. Some days you’re the windshield, but some days you’re the unfortunate bug. This was my day. My last several weeks, actually.

Uncle. I’m out. Done. Finito. Deuces. Peace out.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to come out on top. Its frustrating, irritating, and a bunch of other adjectives that are perhaps not appropriate for a Christian blog.

Yet here I am, at the end of this particular Monday. Still exhausted, overwhelmed, and cranky. So I write.

It’s therapeutic in many ways. It helps me free my thoughts from the prison of my mind and release them as the words appear on paper (or a screen). When the words are free, they cannot harm me. They lose the power that they would have had as thoughts in my head, ammunition I would have used to berate and belittle myself.

Does everyone like me? No. Is everyone pleased with me? Nope. Does everyone have an opinion about how I could do things better? Yep. Yet, before I go to bed at night and when I wake up in the morning, I still know I have done my best. Someone else’s best? Perhaps not, but MY best.

We make decisions with the knowledge we have at that time and move forward. We do our best. Worrying about what everyone else would do or what everyone else thinks would paralyze us.

Even though I’m not sure what tomorrow will bring my way, I do know that I can face myself because I tried to act in kindness and fairness to those around me.

It’s easy to toss out an email throwing people under the proverbial bus or criticizing every action someone makes, but what good does that serve? It doesn’t serve any purpose, other than spouting off words that hurt and cannot be retrieved.

As a Christian, I have a choice to make in every situation: to show love as Christ has shown me, or to trample upon someone’s feelings and destroy their self image.

Am I perfect? Um. No. Not even close, bruh. Do I try to be better? Every single day.

The Christian life is not one of judgment, regardless of what others may think. It’s about loving people where they are for who they are in that moment. Do we have to agree? Absolutely not, but it is about speaking truth and love in a dark world, despite differences. We are to love as Christ loves each and every single one of us.

It’s also not allowing yourself to be a doormat. It’s about loving others and forgiving them – even when they are not sorry. Forgiving is solely for your own mental health and is not about excusing behavior. It’s about standing firm on the foundation of His word, the indisputable truth.

I have so much work to do in so many areas, but I try to act out of kindness. Yes, I have issues and falter daily. I get road rage walking behind people who are walking slow, or driving at a snail’s pace because it is RAINING. My first instinct is to retaliate with a snarky response sometimes (or a lot of times), but I am working on that issue. I know my limits and refuse to respond out of anger whenever I can. I try to pause and give my hotheaded German-Irish self a hot minute before I shoot off my mouth or hit “reply” or respond to a text.

Again, I am soooo definitely not perfect, but I am better than I used to be. If I can make improvements each day, maybe a fiery retort won’t be my first thought. Oh, I cannot wait for that day!

In the meantime, however, I have to give myself grace, apologize when appropriate, and repent for my hasty replies. I need to show grace to others, and show them love when I don’t think they deserve it (because what do I know?).

I have to keep fighting myself and do the right thing, rather than what makes me feel better in the moment, but could damage another person.

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“The word of the Lord came to Zechariah: The Lord of Hosts says this: Make fair decisions. Show faithful love and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor, and do not plot evil in your hearts against one another.”
Zechariah 7:8‭-‬10 HCSB

“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another.”
John 13:34 HCSB

Surrounded by Beauty

What do you see when you think of beauty?

Close your eyes and picture the most beautiful sight you can imagine. Is it a sunset? The smile of a loved one? A pristine snow-covered path in the woods? An icicle gleaming with the colors of the world around it? The pure, cerulean blue sea meeting porcelain sands on a tropical island? The rugged cliffs on a mountain cloaked in evergreens? A sea of red and black in a quad Script Ohio at Ohio Stadium (The ‘Shoe)?

There is beauty all around us. We just have to take the time to notice it. During our busy days. When we are exhausted. While we feel less than stellar. The beauty is still there.

While we define what we find most beautiful, there is no right or wrong. In fact, one can argue that everything is beautiful in its own right.

Yet I wonder: how many of you thought about the reflection in the mirror? That face that stares back at you is filled with beauty as well, but I’d wager that not one of you listed yourself as a source of beauty. Not one of you even thought about it.

For years, I refused to really look into a mirror. I checked to make sure I didn’t look overly frightening, but never really paid attention. A few years ago, I finally looked. I really saw my reflection.

There between the gray hairs and wrinkles (and random obnoxious course black hairs that seem to grow 18 inches overnight) was a woman I hadn’t considered much. There was joy in those eyes. There was a genuine smile. There was a sassy haircut, usually covered by a ball cap.

The woman gazing back at me had aged and grown an extra chin (or several) since the last time I had truly seen her, but it dawned on me that she also had a story to tell. Those lines and wrinkles were from many things, some happiness and laughter, some disappointment and sadness. They spoke of a life that may not have been all I had desired, but was still blessed.

My friend, this world’s beauty includes us! Our stories make us even more beautiful. The survivors of abuse, neglect, disappointment, sadness, loss, gain, and ridicule are to be celebrated! We have survived and used the lessons we have learned to grow and help others.

I think we are like that icicle I mentioned earlier. On a clear, sunny, cold winter’s day, that icicle sparkles and displays only the colors of what is close to – or inside of – it. Such is the case with us. Our beauty sparkles and reflects what we hold close to – or have inside of – our hearts.

By pulling close to others and God, we radiate unadulterated beauty that shines clearly through us to reach others. That beauty draws the attention of others, but not in a romantic sort of way. This beauty is so much deeper and shines like a beacon for others who need to see it.

Hanging from a high point, that icicle looks flawless, smooth and free from imperfection. However, when you look closely, you will see bumps, pits, and other flaws. Yet you’ve already seen the beauty! Does it become ugly after you look closely? No. At least not for me. I find the beauty becomes more evident because of the imperfections.

I think the same is true for us. Our stories and blemishes make us even more beautiful because that is how we reach people, which creates community. We are certainly all flawed, but our beauty is even more pronounced when we let go of the drive for perfection and appreciate the beauty within ourselves. We are each fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God.

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“For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well.”
Psalms 139:13‭-‬14 HCSB

Who? Me?

Over the past several months, my passion has become helping people see who they truly are, according to God’s word. He says you are beloved, chosen, precious, able, favored, protected, created in His image, created for a purpose, friend, redeemed, free, righteous, accepted, His child. This is just the highlight reel, friends. You are everything to Him.

The first Bible study I “led” (me “leading” a Bible study was a miracle in its own right) caused a shift in my mind and heart. Everything the author said could have been written about me. Everything. From the assumptions that I was being judged (by people who likely never even noticed me) to the worthless feelings of self loathing. Boy, did she cover it ALL. There were a lot of tears and discoveries in that group. Not just by me, but by everyone in it. God was working in each of us.

When I said I would lead a women’s group, I honestly expected no one to sign up. Why not? Um. Because it was unqualfied me running a group. I had no experience, and I had an immature faith. But I was obedient, and God was faithful.

All of the women who signed up for my group were mature Christians. They knew the Bible, they walked with Him – and they honestly intimidated me. What could I ever dream of teaching them that they didn’t already know? Wouldn’t they see right through me and my kindergartner knowledge of His will?

One would think, right? That’s what made this group special: right in line with the message from the book, they loved and accepted me for who I was at that moment. They looked at my heart. They didn’t judge me. They. Accepted. Me. ME. All because they knew Him.

A large group of women met weekly to share their struggles and triumphs because I was obedient. Lasting friendships were formed. Battles were fought through prayer. I was blessed to learn that one especially heartfelt prayer from that first group came to fruition just yesterday as an adoption was finalized.

As the group progressed, God showed me that I wasn’t supposed to teach them anything. I was to merely be obedient, start the video, make sure the conversation got going, and listen. Wow, did I ever listen. I learned so much more from them than they could ever learn from me.

From these women, I learned about so many things. I learned we all struggle with the same feelings of not belonging, being left out, feeling worthless, and not being “enough”. If these beautiful women felt that way, why did I expect to feel any differently?

This is not to say that remembering who God created me to be and how much He loves me are now a given. I still struggle. I still feel useless. I still feel stupid. Unattractive. Unwanted. Unloved. Uninvited. But (and here’s the kicker) – I no longer wallow in the “Land of the Uns” because I know I am not the only one who feels this way.

When I am struggling on a particularly hard day, I now have friends that will speak truth to me, even when it’s hard. People that have my back. People who pray for me.

Somewhere along the path, I became vulnerable. I opened my heart. A heart that had become so hardened against anything good by lies spoken over me that I allowed myself to believe. By letting these women in, I have learned that I just need to reach out. I’m safe in His love and these women point me back to Him.

I now “lead” (but not really) women’s groups without hesitation most times they are offered, and, as was the case over the summer, even when they are not planned to be offered. We created a group and made it happen, and, as a result, I have a larger pack of prayer warriors armed with God’s truths to set me straight when I stumble.

I want others to experience the same freedom I have found (at least on most days) and to encounter the love of God in new and profound ways whenever possible.

I may be listed as the “leader” of a group, but I can honestly say that I don’t lead. Ever. I may start a conversation and push play on a video. That is it. Humor is such an important part of study, and I am always amazed at the humorous women He places in my path.

I end up blessed. Encouraged. Reminded of who I am according to His truth. My faith grows exponentially. I yearn for His wisdom and voice. More often than not, I find Him in the voices of the women He places in community with me.

As you head to sleep tonight, take a moment to reflect on who HE says you are, rather than who YOU (or others) think you are. Surrender the lies that others have spoken over you to your Lord and Savior and seek His presence for a peace that surpasses all understanding.

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“It may feel like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by You.” – Elyssa Smith

“I am chosen, not forsaken, I am who You say I am.” – Ben Fielding & Reuben Morgan

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don’t belong, oh You say that I am Yours” – Lauren Daigle

I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born. I appointed you a prophet to the nations.Jeremiah 1:5, HCSB