My chest constricts
in a tell-tale sign that I am processing
and it’s difficult to label
which emotion it is
because I find myself immersed
in a world that exudes
both joy and loss
I see the uplifting stories
where humanity draws together
in support of the greater good
only to be followed by
the onslaught of
negative, overwhelming news
that comes at me nonstop
with no clear certainties
I am rooting for humanity
and all the good we can accomplish
yet I feel such frustration
at those who sow discord and fear
with no willingness to listen to others
We talk about the new normal
but nothing will be normal again
and maybe that’s okay
The lessons we have learned
about resiliency and compassion
sorrow and grit
responsibility and weariness
are anything but usual or expected
and perhaps they were lessons
we didn’t want to learn
But we have a choice now
to give into anxiety and hopelessness
or to focus on the good
to listen and develop
to cherish what we once took for granted
to look forward to what is to come
with hope and expectation
knowing we have something greater ahead
This story starts with a bump. While it could be categorized as a metaphorical bump in the road, this bump is real — small, but real. And it is located in my right breast.
I found the bump on my own and visited my doctor. She believed it was benign, but suggested an ultrasound to be sure. Eventually, I was scheduled for a biopsy.
Facing the possibility of cancer was almost too far-fetched for me to believe. Oddly enough, cancer wasn’t what I was most concerned about. It was the more tangible concept of the upcoming needle biopsy, because I hate needles.
My mind raced with realistic and unrealistic thoughts and scenarios, even in my dreams. Above all, I tried my hardest to push away the sneaking fear and anxiety that threatened to seep into my thoughts. Like my dad said, I had done what was in my control, and worrying wouldn’t change anything.
And he was right. I trusted God, and I knew that He wouldn’t be surprised by the outcome of the biopsy. I might sound naive to some people, but I knew that whatever the diagnosis was, it would be part of my story and I would use it to glorify God.
The day of my biopsy came. My mom and sister drove me to the facility and sat with me in the outer waiting room, supporting me with their presence and prayers. My wonderful biopsy buddies meant more to me than they will ever know.
But they couldn’t go with me into the dimly lit room where I would be having the biopsy. I was on my own.
But I wasn’t alone. Yes, the doctor and nurse were there, and they were both so kind and supportive. More than that, I knew Jesus was with me, in the same beautiful way I had experienced during my ACL surgery years before.
As I lay down on the medical bed, I stared up at a skylight picture they had over one of the ceiling lights. Some might have deemed the image cheesy. To me, it was beautiful. It showed a bright blue sky with vibrant pink cherry blossom branches. And as I looked up at those blossoms, I felt God say to me, “Just like I’ve clothed those flowers, and just as I’ve taken care of the birds that live in the branches, I’ll take care of you.”
I already told you I hate needles. This was a big needle. The doctor walked me through each step as he injected the local anesthesia in three different places, and proceeded to extract four samples of my breast tissue, each extraction punctuated with a loud, forceful clicking sound of the needle. And I was completely at peace the entire time. It wasn’t false bravado. It was the peace of God that passes all understanding.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
A few days after the procedure, I received a phone call at work. “I have good news, if you can tell me your birth date.” Oh, I can do that. “It’s completely benign.”
I sighed, laughed and cried with relief, all at the same time, the fears I had repressed evaporating with the news.
I could joke around and say, if anything, this process helped me get over my fear of needles. But, in reality, it accomplished so much more than that. When I’m worried, afraid, doubtful or scared, I remember the moment when I stared at those pink cherry blossoms and felt saturated in God’s peaceful presence.
I am incredibly blessed and grateful, because I know not all stories end up like mine. It can be easy to minimize my situation because the bump turned out to be benign. But that doesn’t devalue the process I went through. It doesn’t negate the very real emotions I experienced. And it doesn’t take away the peace I had in those unsettling moments of waiting in the unknown, in the unspoken what if.
Regardless of what you’re going through, you can rest assured that God is with you. You might feel like your situation is inconsequential to what others are going through, or it might feel immensely overwhelming. Whatever you’re facing, know that you don’t have to be afraid, hopeless or anxious. You can be at peace.
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
Detached. Distant. Determined in the disconnect, even though I know I should draw closer to Him.
Stagnant. Stuck. Stubborn in my status quo of “doing fine”, even though I’m stalled and stumbling.
Let go, He whispers.
“I can’t,” my headstrong side quickly responds, while my quieter side asks, “Why not?”
Because letting go hurts. Because I don’t even know what it is I’m supposed to let go.
I know I trust Jesus. I believe in His name and the peace, security and love it brings. I know I can depend on that name.
So, why am I holding back? What am I holding back?
And then He whispers again, with biting clarity: Intimacy.
I want you to cling to me as Ruth clung to Naomi. Cling to me.
Months ago, I was reading through the book of Ruth. I’ve always loved Ruth’s story of determination, obedience and faithfulness. When reading, I was struck again by her loyalty to her mother-in-law, Naomi, and I wrote down some notes on my phone. There they sat untouched — until now, when I had the above conversation with myself and God.
So here I am, using the notes with which I intended to encourage others to encourage myself. Hopefully, they’ll encourage you, too.
And again they wept together, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye. But Ruth clung tightly to Naomi. (Ruth 1:14 NLT)
As Ruth clung to Naomi, she spoke the beautiful words of “Where you go, I will follow. Where you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” (Ruth 1:16-18 NLT)
Ruth probably experienced ups and downs just like we do. She had experienced marriage, widowhood, maybe the longing for a child. Who knows what she had to look forward to in Moab, but I’m sure her life had its own familiar status quo.
But something in Ruth must not have been satisfied, because she chose to cleave to Naomi.
I love the word “cleave”. This one word can have two separate, seemingly disparate meanings:
- To sever, divide or sharply separate something.
- “To adhere firmly” to something; loyal; unwavering.
When Ruth chose to cleave to Naomi, she demonstrated both meanings in a single choice. She made the conscious decision to cleave herself from her former way of life, while cleaving to Naomi and the God Naomi served. Ruth abandoned the land that held familiarity, death and disappointment, and she looked ahead to a life of both uncertainty and hope.
Likewise, we need to make a conscious decision to cleave to the uncertain, but hopeful path of God — turning away from the former things that hold us back and looking ahead to greater things. The way to do that is through Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life.
This is more than a fleeting decision. This is life changing, and it should affect my daily decisions and actions. How do I consciously and unconsciously live for God? Do I cleave to Him, love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength? Do I allow that love to be evident in the way I live and conduct myself?
Obey His commands, listen to His voice, and cling to Him. (Deut. 13:4b NLT)
And His voice says: Cleave to me, and I will cleave away the impurities and unnecessary strings that are holding you back. Cleave to me, not to this world. Cleave to me, and cleave yourself from the snares and distractions of this world. I will help you.
“Show love to the Lord your God by walking in His ways and holding tightly to Him.” (Deut. 11:22 NLT)
Grateful. That’s the word that seems to best describe me at this point in my life.
I’m grateful because God’s mercies and blessings are so awe-inspiring, generous and beautiful.
I’m grateful because His love is unfailing and His timing is perfect — even when it might sometimes feel slow on our end.
I’m grateful for His presence that soothes, encourages, uplifts and transforms, and I’m grateful that His presence is available to anybody at any time.
I’m grateful because He looked into my heart and saw my desire for Him to use me to encourage others and glorify Him.
And I’m beyond grateful that He made a way for that desire and prayer to be met. His answer to my prayer: An opportunity to write as a contributor for moretolifetoday.net.
The verb “to see” has an assortment of meanings. We can perceive something with our eyes. We can grasp something mentally and understand it. We can have an experience. We can watch, examine or notice something. We can visit or accompany somebody. All of these Merriam-Webster definitions refer back to the first verb — to see.
But what does it mean to see someone?
To truly see someone is to see who they are. To understand what makes that person the way they are. To understand what they enjoy, what they dislike, what makes them laugh. To see their pain and to see their joy. To know their hopes and aspirations. To know their fears and doubts.
Realistically, however, there are few people who truly see us for who we are — both the good parts and the bad. We might even sometimes feel that nobody can really understand what we’re going through because nobody sees us, nobody knows us. But God knows, and He sees us.
Hagar probably experienced similar feelings in Genesis 16. She was running away, scared and abused, and she eventually finds herself in the desert, thirsty and alone. And that’s when God hears her cry of distress and meets her.
“The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. The angel said to her, ‘Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?'”
God knew perfectly well where Hagar had been and what she was running away from. He knew details of her own life that she herself couldn’t fully understand. He knew her past, and He knew her future. But He met her in the present, and He revealed just how much He saw and knew about her and about her future son, Ishmael.
“Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, ‘You are the God who sees me.'”
El-roi — The God who sees me.
He sees me. He sees my struggles. He sees my desires, my hopes, my joys. He sees me on my good days. He sees me on my bad days. And yet, His love toward me never fails and never wavers. He knows what makes me tick, and He created me to work a certain way.
God created us as unique individuals, each with certain talents and gifts. He saw us and knew us before we were even born.
“You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered.” — Psalm 139:15-17
He sees us. But it’s more than God seeing us.
After God spoke to Hagar, she referred to Him as El-roi, as the God who saw her. But she continued to speak. “She also said, ‘Have I truly seen the One who sees me?'”
Hagar’s encounter with God wasn’t like one of those two-way mirrors you might find in an interrogation room, where one side can watch someone on the other side without being seen.
God revealed Himself to Hagar. He allowed Himself to be seen by her. She caught a glimpse of who He was — of His knowledge, power, love and mercy — and that affected her perspective of God. Her experience of being seen by God — and of seeing Him, in turn — changed her life.
God sees us. He knows us. But more than that, He allows us the chance to see Him. Now, God as a spirit is invisible, and no man has seen God (1 John 4:12). But we can know Him. We can can live day-by-day in His presence. We can experience Him. We can see His blessings. And we can know that He won’t stop loving us, regardless of what He sees in us.
Don’t you love it when you get a slap on the head from God? That happened to me today.
I had one of those days at work that was mentally draining, filled with annoying emails — or, more accurately, an annoying person writing those emails — that literally had me pursing my mouth in frustration, shaking my head and laughing in disbelief.
And wouldn’t you know, at that moment, a song came on in my random Spotify shuffle and boldly proclaimed, “I choose joy!”
Long story — and long day — short, I had a choice to make. I could get bogged down in the negative, or I could choose joy. Ultimately, I chose to swallow my pride (although I can’t say I didn’t do it with a few eye rolls and heavy sighs).
I choose to love. I choose to do my best by each person I interact with. I choose to see their point. And I choose to move on.
There are times when silence is a gift. Noises and distractions are gone, and it’s you and your own breath.
There are times when silence is dangerous. Atrocities are permitted, boundaries are crossed, and yet nothing is said.
There are times when a voice is silenced by something or someone — fear, doubt, discrimination, shame, loneliness, uncaring and selfish people.
There are times when we silence ourselves — and that’s what scares me. I can be the one to prevent my voice from being heard. It can be all too easy for me to convince myself that I have nothing to say and that nobody would listen to it anyway.
Full disclosure: I started to believe that lie.
And this is what God told me in response: “Don’t quench the words you need to speak. Don’t sit back and let someone else speak different words.”
God has given each of us a voice and He has placed each of us in a position where our voices can be the most powerful. So, use your voice. Use your talents. Use your gifts. Use them to make a difference in your small corner of the world. Because there are a lot of messed up things in the world, and your voice can help bring some good back into it.
At times, it might seem convenient to be silent — and, certainly, there are times when silence is necessary. The danger comes, however, when silence is our answer to issues that require a clear voice for the right choice.
Don’t let silence be your answer.
In Revelation 2:15-16, Jesus is speaking to one of the churches, and He mentions how the people are neither hot nor cold. They are lukewarm. They are non-committed, dispassionate, tepid.
His response to those lukewarm people in verse 16 is this: “I wish that you were one or the other. But since you are lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
We are most effective and potent when we clearly stand for something. If you’re passionate about something, it should be evident in your words, actions and lifestyle. People will notice. People will hear.
Too many people in the world would love to silence your voice. Don’t be the one to do it yourself. Your voice has more power than you realize.
Hi. My name is Jen and I’m an impostor. Or, at least, I sometimes feel like I am.
Some of you might be thinking, Ah-ha! I knew there was something fishy about her. But, really, what I’m talking about here is impostor syndrome.
For those of you who haven’t heard the term before, here’s Wikipedia’s definition of impostor syndrome:
“A psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments, and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.”
People demonstrate impostor syndrome and deal with it in different ways. For me, it shows up in the form of overachieving and striving for perfection in what I do and how I come across to others — all to avoid the fear of failure.
How’s that for being real?
I struggled with low self-confidence for years. I constantly compared myself to others, judging every little thing I knew about myself against what I could see in others. When, in my eyes, I fell short in comparison, I’d get upset at myself. And let me tell you, it’s all too easy to say harsh, demeaning words to and about yourself.
To cope with all that, I did my best to make sure people liked me. This resulted in the formation of my coping mechanism — make ’em laugh. If you get them laughing with you, then they’re less likely to laugh at or about you.
When I began writing this post and started pondering the idea of impostor syndrome, I realized we’re really dealing with the issue of identity, with who we are at the core. Because if we don’t know who we are, it’s hard to fulfill our purpose.
But that’s the thing with impostor syndrome: We’re the ones who know ourselves too well. We know what no one else knows about us. That sometimes we don’t know what we’re doing. That sometimes we’re crippled with doubt. That sometimes we fake it ’til we make it.
And we’re scared to death that somebody will see through our mask and discover the real us. They’ll see us as impostors.
But really, we’re the ones seeing ourselves as impostors, so we become conflicted about our true identity.
Who are you?
I ask this question, hoping you’ll answer it honestly. Because for me, I realized who I was — and my self-worth — only when I answered that question. But more than just answering it, I had to believe the answer and act on it.
Who am I?
I am a child of God.
He created me, knowing — and forming — my talents and my faults. He knew from the beginning how the good and bad parts of me would be used. He took my coping mechanism and turned it into an intrinsic part of who I am, for the good. Because He knew how much I would love making people laugh — not to make myself feel better or to avoid being laughed at, but because “a merry heart does good like a medicine.”
God wasn’t surprised by the various phases — the dips, surges and plateaus — of my life. Instead, He loved me for who I was, even though I didn’t deserve it. And He chose to die for me so I could become who I was meant to be — His daughter.
“But to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God.” – John 1:12
You know those moments when you really don’t want to be somewhere, but you need to be, so you go anyway?
I want to talk about that.
Imagine facing an enemy that greatly outnumbers you. Your side has no chance of winning, and you don’t exactly have a warm, fuzzy feeling about this. Nah, we can probably assume worry, fear and anxiety greatly outweigh every ounce of hope and courage you once possessed.
In Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat of Judah (don’t you wish you had that name) was in a similar position. A huge army wanted to destroy his people and was gathering to battle him the next day.
Naturally, as most of us tend to do when things start to look bad, the king cried out to God for help. And God answered with these words:
“Do not be afraid. Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow, march out against them.” II Chronicles 20:15b-16a
In verse 17, God continued by saying, “But you won’t even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory… Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you.”
So, King Jehoshaphat obeyed. He went to meet his enemy in battle. He showed up and took his position. And God showed up, too.
Jehoshaphat’s side won the victory that day. And you know how they did it? They literally just showed up to the designated battle area and praised God for His faithful and enduring love. When the enemy heard King Jehoshaphat and his army thanking God, it fell into chaos and defeated itself.
Now, the average person reading this probably — and thankfully — doesn’t have to face a physical enemy in battle. But we each face our own enemy — be it depression, anger, disappointment, fear, anxiety, addiction or whatever. And when we face that enemy in battle, it seems impossible that we can ever win. It’s overwhelming, debilitating and there’s seemingly no way to defeat it.
That’s when we need to remember that sometimes all it takes is showing up and taking our positions.
Don’t be afraid.
Don’t be discouraged.
Just show up to the battle.
Because showing up proves that we’re ready to fight. It proves to ourselves and others that we still care. It proves to the enemy that we still have the guts to face this battle. It proves to God that we trust Him enough to show up, too.
Just show up. And then show up tomorrow. And the next tomorrow. Because the Lord is with you and He’ll help you fight the battle against whatever enemy you’re facing.
It can be easy to base our value or success in terms of numbers.
You know how it is: “I have this many followers” or “I make this much money”.
I mean, even in the old days, families were ranked on the number of children — specifically, sons — they had.
I’ve been reading through 1 Chronicles, and if any of you have done so, you know it can get a tad dense. For instance, “So-and-so had five sons: Son 1, Son 2, Son 3, Son 4 and Son 5. Son 1 had two sons…” And on and on it goes.
Well, eventually, I reached chapter 12 where it describes how many warriors from each Israelite tribe joined David’s cause to become king. Most of the tribes offered thousands of men to support his claim. Seriously, one tribe had 50,000 skilled warriors all ready to support David.
Then I came to 1 Chronicles 12:32.
“From the tribe of Issachar, there were 200 leaders of the tribe with their relatives. All these men understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take.”
Two hundred men. Not 50,000. Not brave warriors or skilled soldiers. But 200 leaders who recognized David should be king. They were aware of the situations happening around them. They were alert, and they didn’t hesitate once they knew what they needed to do.
We need to be like that in our walk with God. We need to understand what’s going on in the world around us, so we can make sure we’re supporting the right cause and following the correct course for our lives.
We should focus on making sure we’re in tune with God. Take time to be still and listen for His voice. Then, when we hear His voice, we need to possess the courage and the strength to act on it and follow through.
We don’t always need to have the largest number or reach a certain number to determine our value. Issachar offered the fewest amount of men — by a long shot — to David’s cause, but the Bible describes them as leaders with wisdom who understood the signs of the times.
So, take a lesson from the good ‘ole tribe of Issachar. And, while you’re at it, Paul has some good supporting advice in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14:
“Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything in love.”