Friday, October 31, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 31 - FMF: Leave


It's the things that leave you speechless that matter the most.  The things that you can't quite put words to.  It's the laughter and the light through the leave and the sound of children's voices.  It's the memories you can never quite leave behind, and would never want to.  It's the realization that you can feel like you and nothing left to give or do or say and yet whenever you choose faithfulness instead of walking away, He never leaves you empty.  It's they way He'll swoop in with His grace and will never leave you the same.  It's the way the stars can leave you breathless or the Spirit and hold your angry tongue.  It's the things that leave you speechless that matter the most.  It's falling into bed at the end of the day and waking up to something new.  It's feeling mercy you don't deserve and learning lessons that will change you forever.  It's learning to walk like Him and talk like Him and see Him make a difference through you.  Of all the words I've written this month some of them may have been good.  There are some great truths and beautiful thoughts... but it's the things that leave you speechless that matter the most.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 30 - When It Doesn't Get Any Easier

So.  Day 30.  Where has this month gone?  You know it's funny.  When I decided to take this on, I knew it would be a challenge.  I knew that I would have to be intentional about carving out time to sit and write.  But I thought it would get easier over time.  It hasn't.  And maybe some things aren't meant to get easier.  Maybe some things are meant to be a daily commitment.  Maybe some things are decisions we need to make over and over again.  Maybe there is some way that God is glorified when we are intentional, when we make sacrifices.  And maybe that's why some things don't get any easier.

On my second day of writing I posted a poem about sunrises, so I thought it might be appropriate on my second to last day of writing to post a poem about sunsets.  Enjoy.

Chasing Sunsets

It's the whole sky
Sending chills up and down the spine
The sun is hidden there somewhere behind
And I can't find
My breath
It's all I can do
To not take off running for You
Chasing sunsets

Shadows of clouds ablaze
And it fades
All too quickly
My eyes aren't wide enough to see
My hands aren't big enough to reach
But the soul
And the heart
They Know

And doesn't my heart burn
Within my chest?
Don't my lips form
This mysterious "yes"?
I'll drop it all for You
I'll stay here with You
I cannot see You
But all this artistry!
How can I miss you?
Why would I miss you?

Feet of my soul fly
Chasing sunsets
Blazing sky
And all I find
Is all I need
Is You.

Stephanie M.  Frakes

October 8, 2013

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 29 - Why Every Mary Needs an Elizabeth

We're walking around the track, me and this woman who's been around just a little more than I.  We laugh.  We do some scheming.  She teaches me the secrets of finding a man (I'm saving those to put in my NYT Bestseller, so sit tight, y'all.) and the secrets of teaching.  And I think about how many women like her God has brought into my life.  And I am thankful.  I think about the women who have taken me under their wings and loved me and spoken blessing over me and called out my gifts.  I think of how many times, in how many lives, I've gotten to see that no matter what kind of crazy things get thrown our way, HE OVERCOMES IT ALL.  Every season, every time, in grief, in insecurity, in our running and our doubting and our questioning, HE NEVER LETS GO.  I'm too young to really see that in my own life.  There's always this little question of, "Will this be the one time I push too far?  Will this be the one time He doesn't step in and save?  Will this be the place where grace finally runs out?"  I know the truth and I sing the songs, but I wonder sometimes... How far does His Love really go?  Will He really "never fail, never give up, and never run out on me"?  But He places these women in my life so I can see it.  One thing remains.  Always....

And that's how we learn to live like Proverbs 31 is true, like we really are clothed with strength and dignity and we can just laugh at the days to come.  Because these precious lives are the proof that no matter what we face, we'll come out the other side.  And I'll say it to all the twenty-somethings out there: If we are going to stand firm in faith, we need to walk with these women!  

So the angel comes to Mary and He tells her about this insane, amazing thing that God is going to do through her (and don't we all have some inkling of the great things God wants to do in and through us?).  And she gives God her yes and praises His name.  But then He tells her how her cousin Elizabeth, this older woman, is facing her own miracles, like God knows her faith will waver and she's too young to really understand and she'll need an extra boost, and Mary goes to her.  And it's Elizabeth who speaks some of my favorite words in Scripture:
Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished. (Luke 1:45)
 And that's the thing.  We need those women in our lives who will come up beside us and - with their lives if not with their words - whisper to us, "Blessed is she who has believed... Blessed is she..." Every Mary needs an Elizabeth if we're going to see His Kingdom come.

So, ladies, who are you going walking with today?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 28 - Don't be Surprised

Why is it that when there is so much good all around me, I still come home some nights and cry?  I mean, my life is full.  Yes, it's full of responsibilities and rehearsals and lesson plans and papers to grade (I give like one test a year... how do core teachers do it?!) and meetings, but it's also full of loud laughter with friends, and black lights and white gloves and more little hugs than I can count and cries of "Ms. Fwakes!" and little voices singing and Tiny Companion jumping off the couch to greet me when I walk in the door.  So why, then, do I sometimes feel empty?  Why does my heart often feel so heavy?  Why is finding joy and peace such a constant battle?

Why am I surprised?

At what point did anyone say that all this fullness would mean deepest satisfaction?  At what point did anyone say that walking in the Spirit was a walk in the park and not an uphill trek with a cross strapped to my back?  When did anyone say that all the good things would keep my heart from longing for the best things that are yet to come?  When did anyone say this is all there is?  When did anyone say it wouldn't be a battle?

Don't be surprised.  When you make your life all about seeing an eternal kingdom brought down to earth through your frail and weak body, it's going to be hard.  You're going to feel small.  When you say yes to a role in a redemption story that will not be completed this side of heaven, you're going to ache.  You're going to feel the groaning.  When there is an enemy out there who knows he's been defeated but still has power, he's going to attack with a pitiful kind of vengeance and it will sting.  You're going to have to suit up in that armor.  And armor?  It's heavy.  Yeah.  His burden, it's light, just like He promised.  But there is a weight to armor and a weight to glory.  There is a heaviness to the holy.

And the tears, they lighten the load, because they remind you of a God that cares enough to catch every drop in a bottle and who is powerful enough to turn water to wine.  So don't be surprised when you are bending under the weight.  He is the lifter of your head.  Go on, Beloved.  It's okay to cry.

Monday, October 27, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 27 - Singular Living

I heard something interesting on a Timothy Keller podcast yesterday (It was the one called "Peace - Overcoming Anxiety").  Amid some really great points about our souls becoming downcast because we don't expect to have to fight for joy and peace (that's a whole other blog post) he says that in Galatians the Fruit of the Spirit is singular.  "For the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control..."  Is.  Not are.  So if we are truly walking in the Spirit, we are exhibiting love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and gentleness and self-control.  We can't have just a few, or we are not truly living in the Spirit.  

And yes, it does sound impossible, doesn't it?

Which has me thinking about how self-reliant I actually am.  "I am the vine, and you are the branches," Jesus said.  "Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."  To abide means to live in, to remain in, to enter into and stay.  How much abiding in Jesus do I actually do?

So Mr. Keller, he says that the Greek word often used for anxious in the Bible is mérimna, which quite literally means dividing and fracturing a person's being into parts.  Anxiety tears us apart.  We're not living in Jesus.  We're torn.  We're not staying at Jesus' feet.  We've got a million things on our minds and He's just one of them.  

And here's what is really weighing on my heart these days: What does it look like to actually abide in Jesus and to walk in the Spirit every day?  Because I get it.  I see it.  Apart from Him I can do nothing.  But that doesn't stop me from trying.  So what needs to change?  How do I turn my merimna, my divided and fractured life, into singular Fruit of the Spirit?  I'm not sure I have any real answers, except to make the choice for this moment to sit at His feet.  To choose, just for right now, to suffer the discomfort of single-minded focus on the only One that really matters.  And it is uncomfortable, because it's not the way I normally live.  But it is worth it.  Living in pieces is so exhausting.  I'm ready to live as one with Him and bear much fruit.  I'm ready for the singular life.  So I'll choose today, and I'll choose again tomorrow.  And I will trust the unfolding as I learn to live.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 26 - A Prayer for the Week...

Lord, as we prepare for another week, we realize we have a choice.  We can either look at all the unknowns ahead and wonder what they will hold - celebration or hardship, good news or bad, happiness or sorrow, rejoicing or lament?  Or we can look to you and wonder at the way your sovereign hand holds it all and your gracious heart holds us close.  Lord, teach us to look to you.

For you are a good God.  A God of sufficiency and joy and peace.  A God of stability and security.  You are our Hope like an anchor.  You know all we will face and nothing is beyond your grasp.  You who gave your only Son, how will you not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?  God, there is no fear here.  We will be a people of courage because we are a people held by your Grace.  We will be a people of radical generosity because you withhold no good thing from us.  We will be a people who See because you heal the blind.  We will be a people who praise and dance because you break the chains that hold lips mute and bodies lame.  We will be a people who are fully here because you never waste people, time, or circumstances.  We will be a people who rise above our circumstances because you rose from the dead.

We will be a people immersed in your Spirit because apart from you we cannot live.

We are your people.  We look to you.  Draw us near, Lord.  Amen.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 25 - The Most Important Thing I'll Teach

I say it so they can hear me from where they are seated on the risers.  "That was awesome.  I mean, really awesome.  I know.  You made mistakes.  I made mistakes.  It was still awesome.  And that's the most important thing I will ever teach you about performance.  It's not about perfection.  It's about putting in the hard work and the show going on anyway.  And you did that, and it was excellent.  I am so proud of you."

And I mean every word.  It really is the most important thing I'll teach, that perfection is never the goal.  That things can be wonderful, and beautiful, and awesome without being perfect.  It's something I'm trying to learn myself.  And I've said it before, but I'll say it again because it's true - the beauty is in the imperfections because that's where grace is found.  But seeing that is a choice.

During that performance, I got the speakers all out of order and the lines came out all wrong and then I got so flustered I forgot to give the choir their line and it took an 11 year old boy to get me back on track.  I could kick myself for not having it together.  But since I didn't, there's a little boy who now has a memory of saving the 5th grade program.  My little back stage friend felt his value because of my mistake.  Grace.  

Later that night, when another boy got so nervous he couldn't get his words out?  Parents got to see kids at our school come together to support a classmate in overcoming his fears.  And those kids got to be heroes for a moment, and that boy learned that when we jump off cliffs and press through our fears great things can happen.  Grace.  

It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful, to make a lasting difference, to be art.  Imperfections are powerful too, and the showcasing of grace goes on.


Friday, October 24, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 24 - FMF: Dare


Hey you, I  don't know if you know this but you are pretty brave.  Every day of your life is full of daring and death-defying feats.  Like getting out of bed and choosing to smile when you don't feel like it.  Like doing it all again just one more time.  Like driving to work and choosing to love those kids and those co-workers even if they make it hard.  Like putting one foot in front of the other and putting yourself out there and sharing ideas and trying to make a difference.  You may think we don't see it.  You may think that your life is boring, humdrum, anything but a grand adventure.  You're wrong.  You're shaking up this world because He's moving through you.  You're leaving a little bit of His grace everywhere you go and we need that so much.  Your prayers, they matter.  The things you dare to bring to His throne of grace and lay down?  The things you dare to cry out to Him?  Those things make a difference.  You make a difference because you dare to be here.
You're fighting battles with the enemy every moment of the day.  Don't you dare think you're not worth something.  The enemy doesn't bother with people who don't matter.  You are loved.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 23 - Just Stay (a re-post for TBT)

Okay, so this is kind of cheating, but it's program day (my first program ever as the ONLY music teacher!) so I can't even imagine sitting down to write.  Plus, I stumbled across this post as I was writing yesterday and it is so timely and it s TBT so I thought why not?  I'll be back with something new for Five Minute Friday tomorrow.

After picture day I find the proofs in my box.  Teaching year two and I look none the worse for the wear.  But yeah, you can see it in my smile, the tension all through my jaw line reflecting my clenched fists.  No wonder I'm feeling that old ache from the neck up then down into the shoulders.  I shake my head. 

I had been honest with him the night before.  "I am a hot mess.  No one wants to be around me right now."  He had responded with a wink, "I'd be willing to risk it."  So he came over because I asked him to, braved the puffy eyes and just-out-of-the-shower hair.  And on the tail end of one of my standard break-downs, we sat and talked. 

It's just that I don't ever tell people how hard it really is sometimes.  I live with this never-let-em-see-ya-sweat mentality.  I don't ever talk about how it's really not like the ideal I had pictured.  I don't ever talk about how I am striving to spend this one life well and really Live and be all here and pour it all out and scatter my gifts and sow seeds and love these kids and live a ministry and be the light of Jesus everywhere I go and make a radical difference and I always feel like I'm failing.  How somewhere I convinced myself it was supposed to be easy and it's not and I put so. much. pressure. on myself.  How it never feels like enough.  How life feels out of control and out of my reach and joy is fading fast with my strength.  And I am just. so. tired! 
And the thing is...

Ideals can become idols.  And idolatry can grip like a vise 'til you can't breathe.

Because, let's be honest.  Somewhere between lesson plans and crazy kids and roommates leaving dishes in the sink and trying to squeeze in a little time for coffee I forgot... again.  I stopped chasing after the Presence of God that leads to a radically abundant Life and started lunging for control.  I became less concerned with making a difference than with shaping my own image.  But today... today I am remembering.  I am remembering that I make this Life thing harder than it is.  That I need daily bread, well, daily and I can find it that often if I'll just step out of the tent.  That it is God's job to shape me into His image and my job to yield and surrender to the Holy Spirit.  That Christ lives in me and shines through me.  And no, it's not easy.  No, it's not comfortable.  But I'm remembering that living radical calls us out of our comfort zones and "the one who calls you is faithful and He will do it."  It is rehearsing the refrain.  Being faithful today.  Giving up and giving it over.  Gathering the manna.  Marveling in the mystery.  Believing I am Beloved before the first step.  Counting the gifts.  It's the Sanity Manifesto all over again.  And the words I have been struggling to write on my heart begin to rise up within: "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

And so it's back to this opening the hands each morning, breathing deep, and surrendering all.  Because that sliver of a moon and single star, that choir concert last night that made the breath catch in my throat, that pillow and blanket that keep me warm but make it a little hard to get up in the morning... These are the little gifts that remind me He is always good and I am always loved and Life is not as hard as I make it.  Just stay.  Open hands to receive Holy Spirit.  Open hands to pour out the overflow of grace.  And it is that.  Grace.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 22 - A Matter of Focus

"Simplicity is never  a matter of circumstances.  Simplicity is always a matter of focus."  That's what Ann Voskamp says, and it's been swimming in my brain today.  Because sometimes life just runs so swiftly and it feels so chaotic and I'm struggling just to put two thoughts together and keep my head above water.  And we're all there.  In today's insta-culture, we're all feeling the crushing weight of a rushed life.  We talk about saying no and simplifying but it seems so impossible, so we keep on keeping on and we're running ragged and tired and hope and joy and Life?  They're all just hanging by a thread.  Or maybe it's just me....

But my circumstances aren't going to change.  As much as I'd like to, I can't run away to the mountains in the middle of the week and shut life out.  I can't run away from responsibilities and the demands of life.  And, honestly, I don't want to.  I just want things to slow down a little bit.  I just want life to be a little simpler, fewer moving parts, a few less spinning plates.  But that's not really the answer.  Really, I need to train my focus.  

We live in a world of 20 million windows open on our 30 million screens.  We live a life of division and fragmentation, and call it "multi-tasking," when really, the only task we're accomplishing is driving ourselves insane or at least into the ground.  What if I trained myself to focus on one thing at a time?  What if I trained myself to focus only on what is in front of me in that moment?  What if I prioritized my to-do lists and only tackled one item at a time, but gave that one item my full attention and energy?  What if I trusted grace enough to lay it down at the end of the day, or (and this is crazy, I know) for a few minutes in the middle of the day, and just took a breath and rested?  And it takes trust because I'm so afraid that if I don't tackle everything at once I'm going to miss something, but the truth is, it will be there tomorrow, and even if I miss something, it's not the end of the world.

So that's what I'm doing.  I'm headed back to the Sanity Manifesto and I'm taking one thing at a time.  Training myself to focus, rather than fall prey to distraction (she typed as she came back from 5 minutes of Facebook distraction).  Simplicity is a matter of focus and focus always takes practice.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 21 - When You've Got Nothing Left to Give

Short and sweet today, because when you have nothing left to give... give thanks.

So here's the list:
-My "always be a music teacher" shirt - to remind me that, even on the hard days, I wouldn't want to do anything else.
-An amazing concert this weekend with some fantastic kids
-A visit from Mom and Dad
-Supportive co-workers who have my back
-Cool fall mornings
-Tiny Companion curled up by my side
-Left overs in the fridge
-Rocking chairs for the front porch
-Sneak attack hugs from the kids
-Surprising a sweet friend I haven't seen in forever
-Such fantastic memories from my first year teaching (how many people can say that?!)
-Sun setting on the day and a chance to start again tomorrow

Monday, October 20, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 20 - Why say yes?

So this is nothing new.  None of these thoughts are original, nor are they profound.  But they are important.  I need to learn to say NO.  Now, I always say this, but it's usually at the wrong time, like when I feel like I'm being buried under more and more stuff to do and I feel like I can't come up for air.  That's the moment I realize I should have said no, when realizing it before would have been much more helpful.

But maybe I'm going about this the wrong way.  Maybe it's not as much about learning to say no as it is about waiting before I say yes.  Because, if I stop and think about it, the things that are pushing me over the edge are the things I was quickest to say yes to, and the things I gave the least consideration.  I think I've stumbled onto something that will prove incredibly helpful... What if, before I give an answer for how I will spend my time and energy, I asked myself this one question: Why say yes?

If I'm honest, my answers to that question for my "quick yeses" aren't too great:
-It will make me look so... competent, valuable, reliable, needed, self-sacrificing, indispensable, impressive, you name it.
-They won't like me if I say no.
-If I were half the woman [insert name here] is, I would be able to handle it.
-If I don't do it, it won't be done well enough. (I am gagging on the pride in that statement!)
-I'm already so far in over my head, what's one more thing?
-This opportunity won't come around again.  I can't miss it!
-I feel so obligated/guilty.

I could go on, but I'm already making myself sick.  The root of my quick yeses is insecurity and pride.  I can't sugar coat it or pretend any differently.

Now, my answers to that question for my "slow yeses" are fewer, but so much better:
-This is a use of my gifts and it is mutually beneficial to us all (i.e. It feeds my soul too.)
-I actually do have space for that. (Not sure I ever give that answer)
-I truly feel Called to this and that is worth the sacrifice.
-This has long term benefits and is worth the sacrifice.
-This falls under my responsibility as a good steward of my time, energy, and other resources.

There are more but I think I'm seeing the pattern.  With every slow and healthy yes, I make myself aware that it is a sacrifice of time and energy and I make sure it's worth it.  And here's the other reason "Why say yes?" is such an important question - because, when I feel in over my head, I can ask myself again and be reminded that I deemed it a worthy sacrifice.  And if it is a worthy sacrifice, I can't really complain.  I can feel stretched.  I can cry out for extra grace, but I can't really complain.  And if I'm doing something that's not a worthy sacrifice, I can repent of pride and still cry out for grace.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 19 - A Prayer for the Week

Lord, sometimes it feels like we're just barely keeping our head above water.  Like no matter how hard we try not to, we always have more plates spinning than we can manage.  We try to live simply, to make space, but sometimes we find ourselves right in the middle of the rush, and it's hard to see from here, God.  It's hard to see how we can be like You.  It's hard to see the Beauty.  It's hard to see the opportunities to love.  It's hard to see the gifts.  It's hard to breathe.

So God, this week, will you breathe for us?  Will you breathe peace into our anxieties?  Will you breathe hope into our pain?  Will you breathe love into our fear?  Will you breathe strength into our weakness?  Lord, will you teach us how to stop, even just for a moment, and exhale?

That's all this week, God.  When we can't breathe, breathe for us.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 18 - The Only Thing that Matters

I'm standing outside, still in that dress.  I feel like I've been wearing dresses like this for most of my life.  Floor length black (well, at one point it was GREEN but we don't talk about that) with pearls.  All through middle school into college.  And I thought that when I graduated I would be done singing in choirs, done with the uniforms and the binders and the stages.  Apparently not.  I'm still singing, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Things are different now though.  I still sing and I still perform but now... now I get to conduct.  And I've found that there is nothing better than becoming a conductor.  Because, when I conduct and turn my back to the audience, it's like, just for a moment nothing is about me.  It's all about those children in front of me and drawing the Beauty out of them.  It's about setting them free to create something beautiful.  It's about setting them up for success and releasing them into the joy of the art.  It's about something that I can't take credit for.  It's humbling, and it's such an honor.  It makes me feel so small in the best way.  Like there is so much that is beyond me, beyond words, beyond here and now.  Like I'm just a tiny part of something much, much bigger, but it is pure grace just to be a part of it at all.  

I've been a performer my whole life, but nothing stirs my heart like this.  I love how Ann says it, "The only way to lead a symphony is to turn your back to the crowd, the critics, the court."  Yeah, maybe that's why I love it so much.  Because there are so many stages in life, but the Beauty being created is the only thing that matters.  

I can't believe I get to do this - live my life drawing Beauty out of little souls.  Such grace.

Friday, October 17, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 17 - FMF: Long

Nothing too profound this week, or even very well written, but it's written and that's what matters.

It's been an long week, so this is a test to see how much I really trust that God can speak through me.  Because five minutes is not a very long time to try and hack out something profound out of nothing, but I'm going to put fingers to keys anyway.  I've got a million thoughts swimming in my head when I think about the word long.  "How long O Lord?"  "As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you." And I guess that's actually it.  Yeah.  Maybe it's repetitive and totally expected for the word, but my heart longs after God.  The truth is, the only thing that can satisfy my deepest longing is the Presence of God.  I always think something else will work, it's not true.  Sleep doesn't mean rest.  Turning the brain off doesn't mean recuperation.  Happiness is not the same as joy and smooth sailing is not the same as peace.  I long for more rest.  I long for more consistent joy.  I long to walk in constant peace.  And what I'm really wanting is Him.  Every longing of my heart comes back to Him.  As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs for you.  Yes.  And deep cries out to deep.  In You I find all I need.  And one day, every longing will be completely filled as we stand in His presence and are never again separated.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 16 - 16 Things I'm learning

Well, it is Throwback Thursday, so I'm headed back to an entry I never got around to posting.  It was supposed to be called "24 Lessons I'm Soaking in at 24," and be posted on my 24th birthday, but I never could quite get to 24, so I gave up.  So today it's just a post about the things I'm learning (which just happened to total 16, and correspond to this day in the challenge.  I promise I didn't plan that!).  So here we go....

1.  You are never too old to get giddy-excited about seeing Mom and Dad.
2.  Hold everything in this life loosely to create space for what really matters.
3.  Google, Pinterest, and Facebook are gifts and tools the generations before us didn't have.  They're also a curse.
4.  It's never really about the work that we do as much as it is about God's work in and through us.
5.  There is no such thing as making the perfect decision.  All we can do is make a choice and trust God's sovereign will is bigger than us and always for our best.
6.  Make counting gifts and giving thanks a daily discipline.
7.  "You are rich when you are content with a life full of things that money can't buy" - Ann Voskamp
8.  Blogs are fantastic.  But nothing can replace turning off the screen and feeling paper between your fingers.
9.  NPR is so worth your time.
10.  The number of spaces filled in your day planner does not actually correspond to your level of fulfillment, purpose, or value.
11.  Never underestimate the power of these two phrases: "Thank you" and "I love you"
12.  Working out and eating right and living healthy isn't about a number on a scale or being seen as beautiful; it is about being a good steward of the body God has given you and being an effective vessel for His work through you.  Once you get that down, lasting motivation is much easier to find.
13.  "It is our imperfections that make us so perfect for each other." - Jane Austen, Emma.  Yeah, don't hide behind a mask.  Embrace vulnerability and imperfection.  That's where real connection happens.
14.  Tears don't mean weakness.  Tears mean surrender.  And if, "tomorrow's freedom is today's surrender," tears are where the healing begins.
15.  Introversion is not a flaw; it's just how some people are wired.  There are weaknesses that come with it.  There are also incredible gifts.  Once you simply own who you are -with all the strengths and weaknesses -  and give it over, God can use you in such powerful ways.  
16.  Perfection really is my enemy, because I've got to face the mistakes I've made and make every day, so I can see Redemption in progress.  And I've got to embrace my imperfections so that I can begin to fully receive the gift of Grace.  I miss so much when I get wrapped up in getting it all right.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 15 - Visionary

She's got it written up there on one of those giant post-it pads.  All of our names under the title "strengths."  Then we start popcorning it out, all the strengths we see in each other.  They come around to me.  People say things.  We laugh.  I squirm in my seat.  But one thing someone says stands out to me: "She's a visionary."  Hmm... a visionary?  There's something weighty about that word to me.  And something incredibly empowering and affirming.  I like it.  So I look it up.

  1. 1.
    (especially of a person) thinking about or planning the future with imagination or wisdom.
    "a visionary leader"

    1. 1.
      a person with original ideas about what the future will or could be like.

Imagination.  Wisdom.  Inspired.  Creative.  Will or could be like.  

I roll the words around in my head.  Yeah.  I'd like to be that.  And as Christ-followers, as people who have been given eternal life, as the Hope people, as the chosen Bride, we should be visionaries.  We should be inspired.  We should never be the ones bogged down by the here and now.  We should be the ones looking up and imagining what this world could be like... what this world will be like.

Because there is a day coming when all brokenness will be made whole.  There is a day coming when the relationships we've lost will be restored.  There is a day coming when the world and the universe will cease its groaning and all will be made right.  That's why we have the cross.  That's why we have the empty grave.  Because this is not the end.  There is a future.

Jesus was a visionary.  He looked at a ragged band of, well let's face it, fools and saw world-changers.  He looked at a torture device and saw redemption.  He looked at death and saw eternal life.  He looks at me and He sees a woman "clothed with strength and dignity," a beloved child.  Jesus was an expert at seeing things not as they are, but as they could be, as they will be one day.  

What if we all ran to Jesus and asked Him to teach us to see the same way?  What if we asked Him to make us a body of visionaries?  Oh, we could take the world by storm!  What joy we would experience if we looked at the world, at the people around us, and saw what will be, instead of what is!  I want that.  I want to be a visionary.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 14 - When You've Got Nothing Left to Give...

So I am feeling so in over my head and overwhelmed tonight.  So much so that driving home from work, the realization that I still had to write today brought me to tears.  It's not that things aren't going well.  I just feel like things are piling up and I don't have the mental space for all of it.  Then it's that horrid game where I start feeling guilty either for feeling overwhelmed or for not saying no where I should have.  Then I start feeling the pressure to prove myself and the volume on that sound track of "not enough" gets turned way, way up.  The inner critic jumps in and I am just done.  So tonight I'm running to the one thing that keeps me going - Eucharisteo.  (I can hear my friends now, "Oh, she's gotten to Eucharisteo.  I was wondering how long she was going to last before she got into her One Thousand Gifts obsession." ) So that's all I'm doing today - counting the gifts.  I'm giving thanks for the little things to remind myself of His greatness.  Because it's hard to see straight today, hard to pull two thoughts together.  And when you have nothing left to give, that's when you give thanks, because that's where miracles happen.  Ours is a God who uses the breaking to make us whole, who feeds a multitude off a few loaves and fishes, who calms storms and turns water to wine and heals blind men with spit and dirt.  Ours is a God who delights in giving good gifts to His children.  And I don't want anything to make me forget that.  

So here are some of the gifts this week:
-blanket forts in the fourth grade classroom
-awkward hugs
-sprinkler spinning in the front yard
-Tiny Companion to greet at the door
-Those kids singing
-Sunlight through stained glass
-Mockingbird singing in the tree
-Sunsets at the end of a hard day
-Facetiming with momma
-All those "me too"s as we struggle
-Students goofing off and waving at my window
-Work friends and laughter and venting
-The smell of rain
-Thunder in the distance
-Train whistles
-The sound of raindrops on leaves
-Pumpkin cheesecake season
-Balloons in the wind

He is always good, friends.  And we are always loved.

Monday, October 13, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 13 - Why I Still Wear a Promise Ring at 24

Disclaimer:  I hesitate to post this because posts about purity and being single, waiting for "the one" can come across as so cliche, but these are reminders that I need.  Maybe I'm not the only one.

We're sitting around the table in the teacher's lounge, laughing.  Someone had made a comment about how they need to find me a man.  I had agreed wholeheartedly.  We're a dying breed, we single twenty-somethings.  As the laughter dies down I say it just as an after thought, "Well, maybe it would help if I stopped wearing this ring!"  I gesture toward my left hand.  The ladies around me all look, "Well, yeah, that would do it.  Maybe you can wear it on another finger?"  We laugh again and go on with our conversation, but I'm still thinking about it when I get home at the end of the day.

I've worn this ring since I was 15, never taken it off.  See, I grew up during the height of the I-kissed-dating-good-bye-because-true-love-waits-and-I-have-a-passion-for-purity craze.  We all learned in youth group about how important it is to save yourself until marriage.  We signed our purity pledges.  We slipped on our "promise" rings.  And I'm glad we did.  I will teach my children the same thing one day.  Saving sexual intimacy for the confines of marriage is not only showing obedience to God, but it's also good for us.  It can save so much heart ache.

But, surely, at 24 I don't need that reminder anymore!  Surely my walk with God and the movement of Holy Spirit in my life is enough to keep me from making poor choices.  And maybe this ring really is confusing all the men out there and making me seem unavailable (because surely that's the reason the single men are not lining up at my door!).  So maybe it's time I take things into my own hands, take off this ring, and find myself a man... So I slip it off my finger and play with it for a bit.  And then I slip it right back on.

Because it's true.  I don't need a reminder of a promise I made to God to stay pure until marriage.  It's not the ring that's going to stop me from going there.  It is the movement of Holy Spirit and His creating an obedient heart within me.  But it is interesting to me that I've always called it a promise ring.  Not a True Love Waits ring, like many of my friends.  Not a purity ring, like others.  I've always called it my promise ring.  And as I put it back on my finger, I know why.  Because God knew that one day this ring would not be as much about the promise I made to Him as it is about the promise He has made to me.  I think about why being single bothers me.  I think about the longings unfulfilled and the dreams that haven't come true yet.  I think about the fear of spending my life alone.  I hear the whispers of lies that I'm just not _______ enough to have a man want me for his wife (fill in that blank however you'd like... beautiful, lovely, attractive, worthy.  The enemy is ruthless).  But there is a cross right there in the center of my ring that reminds me of truths untold.  God is sovereign.  He always provides.  Nothing in my life EVER goes unnoticed, no tear, no heart ache, no longing.  It's not my job to find myself a man.  God will provide in His time.  AND IF HE DOESN'T He will still prove faithful.  He will still be enough.  He still makes me enough.  I am loved, and that is not dependent on my relationship status.  I am still of value and that is not dependent on whether I write Ms. or Mrs. before my name.  THAT is the promise that I am reminded of as I wear this ring.  Christ chose me as His bride first, and He will never leave me uncared for. So this ring stays on my finger and the cross on my heart.  He is faithful, now and forever.  I will wait on the Lord.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 12 - A Prayer for the Week

Lord, there are moments on this earth when gravity pulls hard and we feel weighted down.  There are moments when our hearts and our burdens feel heavy and we feel so weak.  But then there are moments, Lord, when we can get lost in the Art and the Beauty, when grace feels so near in the smallest of details.  There are moments when the butterflies alight on the flowers and sip the nectar sweet and the wings open.  Will you take me there this week, Father?  Will you open my eyes to see the flowers?  Will you give me the courage to open the wings and let the sweetness of life linger on my lips?

Because, God, those moments, they remind us that there is more.  There is more than the pain of the waiting, the ache of longings unfulfilled, and the sting of brokenness that we experience here.  There is more than the joy of new life, the breathlessness of beauty, and the sweetness of fellowship that we experience here.  God, you have so much more waiting for us.  And God, I want to live in that.  I want to feel all of it.  I don't want to rush through so I can skip the pain, or try and linger too long so I can keep the Beauty.  I want to walk this life exactly as you intend - with hands wide open to receive the joy and the sorrow, the celebration and the suffering.  Because you are present in it all!

We ask for courage this week.
We ask for faith.
We ask for open hands, open hearts, and open eyes.
We ask for you to teach lead us to a place where our trust is fully grounded in you, and only you, even if the path is full of hardship and trial.
We long for you.
Where you go, let us follow, for you are our God!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 11 - I Sometimes Cry

It's strange how the heart has it's own sense of time, and knows when anniversaries come around, even if our minds want to forget them.  My heart knows that a year ago tomorrow is when he asked me to be his girl, and then two months later we parted ways.  My mind says I should be over it by now, but the tears fall anyway.  I thought he was the one.  I thought it was finally time for all these longing in my heart to be fulfilled and all those dreams to come true.  It wasn't.  It's really that simple.  God has His timing and it's not always the same as mine and that is good.  Truly.  But that doesn't take away the pain. 

And normally I would keep this all in the privacy of my own journal, except I got a message from a friend the other day.  A message about jealousy and frustration and bitterness and resentment and unfulfilled longing and the fight to keep trusting.   And I typed back through tears.  I get you.  I understand completely.  I know what it feels like to count the gifts every day, and every day have that pang of longing stab you in the heart.  I know what it is to be content, happy even, but still feel this constant ache.  I know how hard it is to celebrate for others over and over while you are still waiting.  I know what it feels like to have the seed of your dream buried in the dark earth and watch it die.  I know what it feels like to wait for resurrection.  I think we all know that.

I remember I was 15.  We were out with the youth group and my friend whispers it soft, "You know, sometimes I cry, because I just wonder if these dreams will ever come true." (We were apparently very deep feeling teenagers.)  Her words stuck with me, and I wrote this song.  Because, yeah, sometimes we cry.  Sometimes we lie awake at night and wonder when the waiting will end.  But in the waiting and our deep need for Hope, we meet God.  In the lack of answers and the battle for faith, God meets us.  And He is a God who loves transforming pain into beauty, including transforming tears of sorrow into tears of joy.  So, here's a little something from the journal of 15 year old me, because it's been playing in my head over and over the last few days.

I Sometimes Cry

Verse 1:
I have dreams of what my life should be
I have a future I would like to see
But nothing ever turns out how I planned
It seems the pain is more than I can stand
So I clutch the pieces of my broken heart
Wishing I could make a whole new start
Take back all of these mistakes I’ve made
Wishing they’d all fade like the day

And I, I sometimes cry
And there are times I lie awake at night
I long for love
I long to be held tight
I’ll confess to you
I sometimes cry

Verse 2:
Tell me there’s a purpose to this pain
‘Cause I know that I’ll never be the same
I’ve been here so many times before
And I just pray
That I’ll get out once more

 And I, I sometimes cry
And there are times I lie awake at night
I long for love
I long to be held tight
I’ll confess to you
I sometimes...

You’ve proven faithful time and time again
You say you’ll work it all out in the end
I’ve come face to face with all your truth
And I realize all I need is you

Chorus 2:
And I, I sometimes cry
And there are times I’ll lie awake at night
You show me love, and God you hold me tight
You shield my heart, and guide me with your light
You took the cross, and Lord you changed my life
When I see your love, I can’t help but cry                       

Stephanie M. Frakes
(October 31, 2005)

Friday, October 10, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 10 - FMF: Care

Another five minute free write.  This week's prompt is care.


I remember it far better than I'd like to, this one moment in my teaching.  It sticks out like a sore thumb and makes me a little queasy.  A student was raking on my last nerve, started searching for the words to make some excuse, and I looked him in the eyes and the words came slow, deliberate, venomous: I.  Don't.  Care.  Now sit.

I'm cringing.  Because there was a breaking in that moment.  A breaking of truth and of trust and of faith and of a heart.  How piercing are those words?  I don't care?  What is the underlying meaning?  You're not worth my time?  You're not worth the energy?  There are a million other things more important than you and what you have to say?

And the thing is, the way I often live, it's like those things are true.  When I live the rush.  When I make the striving for perfection my priority.  When I become more concerned about my image and my sense of control than the lives in front of me.  It's a problem.

Care takes slowing down so I can see.  Care takes open eyes and open hands and an open heart.  And care takes bathing daily in the Holy Spirit, so maybe He can overflow in the fruit of self-control and I'll be a little more careful with my words.

I do care.  And I am thankful for a Redeemer for when I lose sight of that.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 9 - Grace Shines Through

It's there in neon lights in the middle of town.  I've always loved that about this place, and maybe that's why I'm still here, because where else are those words going to stand as some shining reminder for this woman who is such a good forgetter?  "THE GRACE."  And normally I see it and I smile soft and exhale long.  Ah, yes, Lord.  The sheer Grace of it all!  But today... today I'm fighting again.  My inner critic is ruthless and cannot be silenced, not for sleep, not for work, not for play.  I wonder if anyone else has this same experience?  The unceasing whisper of "not good enough" playing in her ear.  And today it just feels like too much.  I can't catch my breath.  My lungs feel tight.  Tears sting at my eyes, but I'm trying to run a rehearsal, trying to hold it together.  And it's like this pulsing crescendo.  And I can't put a finger on why the fear is there, why the anxiety is surfacing, but I don't feel like I can fight anymore.

So I do the only thing I know.  I get alone, and I let the tears fall silent down.  I write about seeing grace in lights as the tears smack the keyboard.  And I cry out to a God who catches my tears in a bottle.  I shoot a text to a couple of friends.  "Struggling tonight.  Will you pray for grace?  Hold my arms up?  Because I'm running out of strength."  And they do, because that's what the Body is for.  That's how Jesus says the world will know us... when we show love for one another.  And slowly, but surely, grace creeps in and the anxiety passes.  And that's the thing.  I am always so scared that this time it won't, but it always does.  It passes.  Sometimes the night is really, really long, but the promise always holds true - Joy comes in the morning.  The storm, the struggle always passes.  The battle, the waiting always ends.  And The Grace?  It never fails.  His Grace always shines, always breaks through.  Not always in my time, but every time... Grace.  Shines.  Through.    

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 8 - The Wonder of the Morning

I've developed a new habit recently.  It might be a little quirky.  Every night when I go to bed, I set my alarm and then I cover up my clock.  I do it partly because my clock is way too bright, but mostly I do it because I'm one of those people who obsesses over time and how much sleep I get.  Ever since I was little I've always worried about getting enough sleep.  I guess, if I'm honest, I often worry about getting enough, period.

So these last few weeks, I've had this new thought rolling around in my head: His mercy, and everything else, really is new every morning.  Because most nights I go to bed completely spent, but even though my body is exhausted, my mind keeps racing.  Sleep is often hard to come by, and I have spent many a night wondering how I could possibly get up and do all this again tomorrow.  I feel like I can't take another day.

And the the sun comes up.  Dawn breaks, and eyes open, and there is breath in my lungs.  Feet hit the floor.  I step outside and breathe the morning air.  Everything is new.  Yesterday is gone.  It is left in the hands of the Redeemer.  I have rested, and He has made it enough.  His mercy and His grace meet me with the sun, and, sure enough, I can get up and do it all one more time.  Because He is still present.  He is still in the business of providing manna like dew on the grass.  He is still all about taking loaves and fishes, a little bit of oil and flour, and multiplying over and over again.  

So I will lay myself down tonight.  And I will rest.  And tomorrow the alarm will sound.  And my tired and my worn and weak will meet His sufficiency.  And it will be good.  His mercy is new every morning.  Great is His faithfulness.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 7 - You're not Alone

So this is where the rubber meets the road, folks.  I really don't feel like writing today.  In fact, it's the last thing that I want to do.  I am tired.  It's been a crazy long day, and I'm writing from a break... not even the end of it!  Okay.  Exhale.  So I guess, here's the story.  I am going to write down the words I would like to hear, in hopes that they will sink in and maybe encourage someone else.

Hey you!  Yes, you.  The one who wants to break down and cry this very instant.  The one who has dreams of the person she would like to be and feels like she's the complete opposite.  The one who is striving to do it all right and keep all those plates spinning and keep balanced and centered and still get it all done.  The one who is doing it all and still feels like breaking down.  You're not alone.  You are not the only one who feels like this day will never end.  You are not the only one who is grieving the fact that there are no do-overs.  

You are not the only one who will fall into bed at the end of today (probably way too late) feeling like you've failed.  
You are not alone.  

You are not the only one who is frustrated beyond words by her own limitations, the limitations of the flesh.  You are not the only one battling shame, insecurity, fear, and a sense of insufficiency.  You are not the only one who would really like to just give up the fight.  
You are not alone.

And this is usually the part where I throw in a giant BUT GOD and talk about identity and grace and counting gifts and how we are loved.  And I mean, that wouldn't be untrue, and I probably should go running to that.  But somehow I feel like I would be skipping something if I didn't just sit here and kind of let it sink in.  Just as important as soaking in how God loves, I think it's important to allow myself to sink into my own sense of weakness and failure and struggle.  Now I'm not saying live in self-pity.  Totally different.  And I'm not saying spend as much time meditating on my failure as I do on God's love.  I am called to abide in God's love fully and constantly.  But sometimes I struggle and I have found that ignoring my frustration and pain mostly just causes me trouble.

So I guess my question is this: Can I stop and acknowledge that I'm having a bad day (or week or season) and I'm feeling my weakness and insufficiency and I am not happy about it, but this is not the end?  And then can we come up beside each other and say: "Yes, we all have bad days and it stinks, but you're not alone."

Because until I acknowledge the ugly things, I can't lay them down at the Redeemer's throne of grace.  And until I can lay them down, I will crumple under the weight of it.  So yeah, life is hard some days and we all struggle, but you don't have to carry the weight of your weakness alone.

Monday, October 6, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 6 - He loves us.

My fingers rest on the keys and I smile to myself.  It's been too long.  Sure, I'm not playing Debussy or Beethoven, but as my hands shift to find just that right combination of black and white my heart dances a little bit.  And the melodies rise with the hands in the auditorium and between breaking the bread and sipping the cup, we sing.  We, a broken people trying to sip the sweet nectar of abundant life, we sing it free: Oh, how He loves us so.  And I bow my head over the keys, praying that those words are not lost on me.

I mean, it's become a standard part of my prayers, "God you are so good, and we are so loved."  But I don't want to miss the true grandeur of that statement.  This God who spread the stars out in the sky, who took down the walls of fortresses with the praises of His people, who healed the blind and made the lame walk... He.  Loves.  Us.  And it can almost sound trite in its simplicity, but it is the most profound idea in all of time and space.  He loves us.  And not only that, He is jealous for us.  His desire is for us.  This God, that has power over death and life, put on flesh, and stepped down from heaven to win our hearts.  And that courtship?  That courtship took Him to the Cross.  He loves us.

And I want to go on.  I want the words to keep coming, but they won't.  It's as if my soul is rebelling.  Rebelling against the rush and the forward push of it all, and saying, "No.  This place is good.  Let's just rest here awhile and root down deep.  Let's breathe it in.  Soak in the wonder of it.  Marvel at the mystery.  He loves."  So I will.  I will stop here for today and let it flow through my veins.  He loves us.  He loves us.  He loves us!  And that is why I can trust completely.  Not because He is all-powerful, though He is that.  Not because He is all-knowing, though He is that.  But because, in all His supremacy, He chooses love.  Even unto death, He chooses love.  This is solid ground on which I stand.  This is the ocean in which I am sinking and releasing it all.  This is the mind-blowing, paradoxical heart of all we as Christ-followers, as believers, say and do.  He loves us.  Glory and honor be unto His name forever, amen.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 5 - A Prayer for the Week

Lord, what is there to say today, when I finally stop and breathe?  Shall I speak of your love and your grace and how good you are?  Shall I cry out for the brokenness and the pain and the oppression?  Is it possible to do both God?  Is it possible to count gifts and lament suffering?  Can our hearts even handle it, Father?  Will You teach us, Jesus, to live like You - all in?  Teach us to not hold back our hearts or fear vulnerability.  Teach us to drink the wine and celebrate the weddings and weep with the mourners and feed the hungry and not overlook the hurting.  Open our eyes, Lord, to see Your goodness and Your grace all around us.  Teach us to number these evidences and give You thanks.  Teach us to follow thanks, like You did, with breaking - the breaking of our pride, of our own will, of our preconceptions and misconceptions, of our need for answers and a neat, tidy system of belief.  Teach us to walk by faith, to embrace the mystery of a God so much bigger than we can imagine, of a God who loves so much deeper than we can imagine.  Teach us to abandon the need for certainty and control for trust and surrender.  

We will face battles this week.  Let us take up the armor You provide.  We will face people in need.  Let Your Spirit fill us to overflowing, that we might be Your vessels.  We will face our own failures.  Let those send us running back to taste Your mercy on our lips.  We will face things we can never understand.  Let us trust in Your sovereignty.  Let us know that where we are weak, You are strong.  Let us know that where there is brokenness, Your glory will be displayed.  Let us know that this is not the end.  

Lord, open our hands - to give and to receive, to touch and to comfort.

Lord, open our hearts - to meet you, to love you, to meet others, to love others.

Lord, open our eyes - to see beauty, to see pain, to see You move in both.  

Lord, we want to be open, even though it makes us vulnerable.  We want to believe, even though the mystery of Your glory to to much for us to wrap our minds around.  We want You, even if that doesn't mean the life we imagine.  

Thy kingdom come, Father.  Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  We are your beloved.  Thank you for being ours.  Amen.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 4 - Run Back Faster

Scrolling mindlessly through Facebook and these words written by this guy from the group Out of the Dust, catch my eye and resonate deep:
"Thankfully His grace is sufficient and His heart is kind. Mistakes are inevitable... But my only goal is to run back to Him more quickly than I did the last time."  

I love that so much.

Because I remember a talk, a long time ago, with a mentor of mine.  I was in the middle of one of my greatest battles with perfectionism.  We are talking ENTANGLED in lies.  So much so that when she asked me to say the words, "I can never be perfect," they froze on my lips.  I could not get those words out.  Trapped.  And it was this verse that broke through for me.  That place in Matthew 9 where Jesus says, "Those who are well have no need of a physician..."  

I heard Him whisper in that moment, "Do you want to walk with me?  Do you want me to be near to you?  Then stop pretending your are well.  If you are well, you don't need me."  Even as I type this I'm getting all teary eyed because I am imagining Jesus passing me by, not because I am not enough for Him.  Not because He doesn't care for me, but because I am working so hard to be perfect that there is no room for Him to move in me.  And I want nothing more than for there to be space in my life for God's work to be displayed in me, space in my life for me to experience His presence.  

So those words?  About mistakes being inevitable?  They would have set me fighting at one time.  Mistakes can be avoided if I just try hard enough.  If I were only good enough, then I could stop messing up and everything would be okay.  Lies.  I can't save myself.  And I prove that every day.

But the beauty of it is that with every time I prove my broken humanity?  God proves His overwhelming grace.  So I walk with Him.  I turn my eyes to Him and to His word.  I  beg the Holy Spirit to fill and overflow and overwhelm my flesh.  We wage war against sin and satan.  And I make mistakes.  But I am thankful for grace, and I make it may prayer that I would always run back to His arms a little faster than I did last time.