Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Treasure Hunt Tuesday: Winter, Writing, and Worship

Happy Treasure Hunt Tuesday! I’m sharing a few blessings and treasures each week that I hope can be encouraging to you, and I pray they can spur you on to pause, notice, and give thanks for the treasures in your own daily life, too.

This week has been another cold and dreary one weather-wise, but I am always grateful for glimpses of beauty like this sunrise from Sunday morning.

As much as I personally would love to skip winter altogether and fast forward to summer, or at least to Daylight Savings Time (March 10th if anyone’s counting down with me), I’ve also been reminded not to rush this season. While winter is important for the earth and part of God’s design for creation, I keep coming back to the truth that winter seasons are good and purposeful for my soul as well. God is always working something beautiful even in what feels dormant, cold, and unseen.

In the meantime, I’m encouraged by J.P. Pokluda’s exhortation in his recent interview with Annie F. Downs to leverage whatever season you’re in for kingdom purposes rather than rushing on to the next one. His prayer when he first felt called to ministry sticks with me from that conversation as well: “Lord, put me where You want me, and help me find contentment there.”


A Few Writing-Related Treasures

It seems this week has also been filled with some great encouragement for writers (or wanna-be writers), so I wanted to share a few of the goodies with you…

This episode is actually a fantastic listen even if you don’t think you want to write a book. The interview was from a conference with a Q & A at the end, and one of the attendees said he didn’t raise his hand at the beginning of the session as someone who wanted to eventually write a book, but by the end he had changed his mind. Maybe you will, too! At the very least you can get some ideas for different ways to share and repurpose content to help and encourage more people and leave a legacy for future generations.

If you do think you might like to write a book or are curious about the process, author and speaker Jon Acuff shared his book-writing approach on Instagram stories last week and saved it as a highlight called “Write a Book.” It’s a short overview but always interesting to get a sneak peek into how an experienced writer tackles such a daunting task, and he shows real examples from his current book-in-progress.

My personal draw to writing is something that, ironically enough, I have a hard time putting into words. It just seems that over and over again, God nudges my heart back to this method of processing but doesn’t let me be content keeping it to myself. I’m reminded time after time how sharing our stories and what God is teaching us matters in the world even if we don’t always see the impact first-hand.

I love how a hope*writer friend articulated her thoughts that convey how I feel in writing, too: “I write for my own sanity, but I share with hope that I can help yours.” (Read the full post by Jodi Arndt here.)

When I take the time and effort to put actual words on a page or screen to express what I’m processing or learning, the treasures somehow find a deeper way to my heart, and it’s always my prayer that the ones I share will resonate with you, too.

Many times when I feel words failing, I’ve found such relief when I’ve been able to read something that supplies the words I’m lacking to give voice to my thoughts or emotions. Whether it’s a Psalm or another Scritpture, or even a line or two from a blog post or a book, I feel an instant connection and a lifting of my burden when the words fit and the unknown becomes known. Naming that unnamed stirring can help us feel seen, understood, and not alone--a treasure indeed.

One more bonus for writers: I’d be remiss if I didn’t share that Hope*Writers is open for new memberships January 22-25 only. You can find more information here if you’re interested in joining this community and gaining access to their valuable resources. You can also check out the free replay of Emily P. Freeman's hope*writer masterclass on how to be a wholehearted, creative, authentic working writer without selling your soul or self-promoting--but it's only available through Friday!

A Closing Song of Worship and Prayer

I love when a worship song, whether old, new, or somewhere in-between like this one, gets stuck in my head and leads me back to prayer over and over. What a blessing to get to play and sing it Sunday, too…

Truly when the Holy Spirit takes over, He changes what we see and what we seek. Let it be, Lord. “We only want to hear Your voice. We’re hanging on every Word.”

As always, I'd love to hear some of your recent treasures, too! Feel free to leave a comment or send me a message. May God’s grace and blessings surprise you in this season, maybe like the unexpected gift of getting to pet a wild animal on someone’s porch! (Some treasures aren't the kind to elaborate on here, but I still want to remember...) 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Treasure Hunt Tuesday: Blankets of Rest

It’s another Treasure Hunt Tuesday, and I’m glad to have you reading along as we look for the treasures God keeps providing day by day. I’m loving how taking time to recount our blessings seems to make them multiply, and I hope this post will help you think of and share your own as well.

Here are a few treasures from this past week…

A Snow Day of Rest and Respite

Last week you may remember I was excited for a warm weekend to soak up the enjoyment of spending leisurely time outside, but all that seems like a distant memory now as this past weekend was filled with snow and cold instead of the cheerful sunshine.

But even though winter weather is not my favorite in the least, I’m grateful it still has brought many blessings. First of all, a blanket of snow really is beautiful, especially if you don’t have to be outside for long:

The white covering makes everything feel fresh and clean, even if only for a short while.

But beyond its external beauty, the snow day also brought a welcome respite from the typical posts we see on social media. I have loved catching glimpses of children beaming with laughter and delight in the snow, whether sledding, making snow angels, or posing proudly next to a snowman or inside a snow fort. And there were some pretty impressive snow creations made by adults, too! So I’m grateful for everyone who shared pictures to bring a little joy to the internet world like a warm blanket in the cold.

And an excuse to stay inside and rest was a pretty nice blessing also!

So many timely podcast episodes!

I promise I’ve tried to narrow these down, but it seems like every podcast I listened to this past week is worth sharing. Here are some top choices:

(The link above lets you listen and/or download the full transcript to read.)

Full disclosure-- I may have been in the middle of a frustrated rant in my mind when I heard Emily speak these words: “Dallas Willard says whenever we become angry it’s because we believe our kingdom has been invaded.”

Ouch. Maybe I need to work at this “taking off my crown” thing more than I thought.

But I loved these truths she shared from James Bryan Smith, and I need to repeat to myself often:

“I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights. I live in the strong and unshakeable kingdom of God. The kingdom is not in trouble and neither am I.”

What peace in knowing and remembering Who is really in charge.

This conversation covers a lot of current topics in the church, with much emphasis on the “culture war” in America and how we’re often looking at it all wrong. Ed’s encouragement is for Christians to “speak more as missionaries and less as guards of the culture” because “you can’t war at a people and reach a people at the same time.”

To me, the entire discussion felt like a little sanity in a world that often seems anything but sane, and it is refreshingly hopeful if we take it all in.

** That Sounds Fun with Annie F. Downs is starting off the New Year focusing on the next generation, and Annie’s conversations with Amy Byrd and Drew Hill that aired this past week were both fantastic. They fired up my passion for student ministry even more (if that is possible), and they have great insight for youth leaders, parents, or anyone who wants to better love and encourage a teenager in your life.

This is the first in what will be a series of seven messages on Sabbath at Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon. It caught my eye when John Mark Comer posted about it on Twitter, saying, “Sabbath is more than just a day (though, not less); it’s a way of being, a way of living in restful connection to the Father’s love all week long.”

I’ve shared before that Sabbath is something it seems God keeps pressing on my heart to practice more fully, so I definitely wanted to check out that message, and I’m glad I did. It’s so easy to get caught up in the desires and restlessness of our consumeristic culture, but John Mark exhorts us that “rest is a weapon” against the schemes of the enemy who tries to keep us stuck in busyness, hurry, striving, and discontent.

As St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

Speaking of John Mark Comer…

Another quote of his showed up in my Facebook memories from a year ago. It could not have been more timely encouragement then, but it seems so fitting to remember and share now, too. He articulated this insight on Twitter:
“I’m starting to notice a pattern in Scripture and my own life…
God rarely gives a map for the future.
Instead, he gives an identity (this is who you are), and a next step (go do this).
The longer I follow Jesus, the more that’s enough.” 
- John Mark Comer

Looking back to a year ago, I had no idea where my next step would take me. But I am so grateful for how God has led me in His infinite grace.

And looking toward the future, I have no idea where the steps ahead will lead. But this I know: God is faithful. So I will keep following Him one step at a time. And as our minister Josh reminded us in his sermon on Sunday, God has an answer for our fears:

“I will be with you.” (See Exodus 3:12, Joshua 1:5, Judges 6:16, Matthew 28:20, and more.)

What peace and rest that promise brings even as we go wherever God leads us. Such a treasure!

I’d love for you to share some of the treasures you’ve been finding lately, too! Feel free to leave a comment or send me a message!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Treasure Hunt Tuesday: Looking for Refreshment?

Welcome to the second edition of Treasure Hunt Tuesday! (If you want to read the introductory post from New Year’s Day, you can check it out here.) We are seeking to look for and notice the treasures God is providing in big and small ways every day, and I’m posting one or more of mine each Tuesday with the hopes you will join in and share yours with us, too.

I’m already finding it helpful to be more intentional about keeping track and giving thanks for many blessings, and I pray it will be a life-giving process for you as well. The more we notice, call out, and recount the positive, the more we train our eyes to see God's provision even in the midst of hardship or the mundane. I think of it kind of like mushroom hunting: My husband was great at this, but I don’t believe it’s because he had better eyes than I do. He had simply spent way more time looking for them over the years, so he could often spot several morels before I would even find one. That might be a weird analogy, but I want to develop the habit of turning my eyes and heart toward what’s best, no matter how my day or season of life is going, and over time it becomes easier and easier to seek and find more treasures each day.

So let’s get to the good stuff! Here are a few of my favorite recent treasures:

** A gorgeous sunset after an all-day rain

This past Friday I spent much of the day driving in downpours for a meeting (not to mention trekking through the rain and all the standing water in the parking lot!), so I was beyond grateful for the gift of a calm even if cool evening to go for a walk to unwind at the end of the day. The rain had moved on, and the cloud formations made for a spectacular sunset. I couldn’t resist snapping a few pictures.

Sometimes the most beautiful moments in life come right after a stretch of dreariness… and often even the clouds we wish would go away actually bring out the splendor of the light even more. So I want to remember and be grateful. (I’m also thankful it warmed up for a great weekend to spend time outside, which always refreshes my spirit, too!)

** Timely gifts of encouraging words

A friend to whisper a prayer with me on Christmas Eve night, an uplifting comment that same evening on a vulnerable sharing of my heart, a simple email of response and encouragement at work from one of my volunteers, and even the grace of a kind message and sharing of my blog this past week (which also feels like a vulnerable expression of my heart)-- These are the kinds of treasures I can come back to over and over because they are so impactful.

And here’s the thing: Three of the gracious efforts I listed above took less than five minutes, and one was only about a 30-second comment. Yet all of them stuck with me and made a mark on my soul and my perspective. So not only do I want to treasure and remember the refreshment these friends gave me when my heart can become discouraged, but I’m also asking God to help me notice and take advantage of opportunities to give these kinds of gifts to others.

Sometimes I can be overwhelmed by the needs around me to the point I think I can’t do anything that will make a difference, but I often forget that a five-minute card or phone call, or even a 30-second Facebook comment can make a big change in a person’s day and outlook. We all need to be reminded we’re not alone or invisible, and it often takes less effort than we think to be that encourager for someone else. I want to slow down and not pass up the open doors in front of me to share a kind word or prayer with a friend, acquaintance, or stranger.

** A song drawing my heart to worship and prayer

This one feels like a real “treasure hunt” because I’d actually been looking for this song for a bit, and the reason I couldn’t find it is that it wasn’t officially released until just a few days ago. I was blessed to hear Cody Carnes sing it live this past November, and then I heard it again on the Passion livestream last week (another treasure!). The prayerful lyrics and melody have captured my heart afresh:

Ahh… truly I just want You, Jesus. Nothing else.

This reminder also makes me want to be sure to articulate that the treasures we are looking to take note of every day are not an end in themselves--only Jesus. But as we name and recount His gifts, we remind ourselves that God is working in all the details of our everyday lives, and we turn our eyes in praise of the One who gives every blessing out of the fullness of His grace. What joy and refreshment for our souls!

I’d love to hear the treasures refreshing your heart lately, too! Feel free to leave a comment or send me a message. Happy treasure hunting!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Introducing Treasure Hunt Tuesdays

Happy New Year, friends! The turning of the calendar always feels like a prime time for looking back on what we’ve learned in the previous year and looking ahead toward new goals, habits, and plans to come. I’d love for you to join me for a new adventure in 2019 I will call “Treasure Hunt Tuesday.” The purpose is to look for and share treasures we find in our everyday lives, whether from events or activities we personally experience or from words we read or hear that impact us.

The name was inspired in part by Ellie Holcomb in her interview with Annie F. Downs on the That Sounds Fun podcast. She mentioned she was going into the New Year with the theme of “treasure hunt,” and it resonated so deeply with me as well. I want to be more intentional about seeking, finding, and remembering the treasures God provides every day from the fullness of His grace. So I’m hoping a weekly habit of sharing even one or two “treasures” will help me keep my eyes, ears, and heart open to recognize and record blessings for myself and that I hope can be encouraging to you, too. I’d love for you to join in and share yours as well, either in the comments section here or on social media with the hashtag #TreasureHuntTuesday.

Today I will start off the New Year with a countdown of looking back on some of my favorites from 2018. Maybe you will find a treasure for yourself among these, too…

4 Perspective-Changing Books

** Letters to the Church by Francis Chan-- This was definitely a challenging book I don’t want to forget. Even from the first page of chapter 1, it hits hard:

“Imagine you find yourself stranded on a deserted island with nothing but a copy of the Bible. You have no experience with Christianity whatsoever, and all you know about the Church will come from your reading of the Bible. How would you imagine a church to function?”
“Now think about your current church experience. Is it even close?
Can you live with that?”

Chan goes on to confront many of our comfortable practices, urging us to return to the Bible and not be afraid to change the status quo to become more of what God intends us to be. His heart is much like we see in Paul’s letters in Scripture, pouring out of love for the church to build up and not tear down, but aching for where we are missing the fullness of God’s design.

Chan implores us to flee from the traps of pride and people-pleasing while running toward prayer, true worship, humility, and servanthood, embracing suffering, and relying on the Holy Spirit to do through us what only He can do. Just glancing back through the book and typing all this makes me want to read through it all again with a heart to live it more every day.

** Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry-- The book's subtitle, "The story of who I was, and who God has always been," sums up the author's approach well. Jackie shares her personal story, but even more so the story of God and His working in all of creation as well as in her life. Listening on audio with her voice narrating it made the story even more compelling and showcased her gift of putting words together so poetically and powerfully.

To be honest, I hesitated to include this book here, not so much because I’m afraid to discuss a controversial topic but because I feel a short format is not the best way to do so. I’d encourage you to actually read the book before making any judgments about my heart to share. But I will say I have a continual passion for both grace and truth in love. If we lack any of those, we are not truly sharing the heart of Christ.

I was reading/listening to this book around the same time I was also going through Beth Moore’s Bible study of Esther, and I was struck in both cases by how God graces us with being a part of His story of salvation and love, all for His glory.

** Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard-- This one has been around for a while, but I never read (or listened) to it until this year, thanks to an Audible gift from a friend. The allegorical tale of Much-Afraid and her journey to the heights with her Chief Shepherd, accompanied by Sorrow and Suffering, has been so encouraging in my own walk with the Lord. It puts pictures and words in my heart in a different way to help me remember the goodness of God at times when I can’t see it with earthly eyes yet. So I count this book as one of many stones of remembrance, or “treasures,” I want to collect as a memorial of what God has done and continues to do in my life.

** Atomic Habits by James Clear-- This book is in a different direction from the others, but I just finished it on Audible a couple of days ago, and I’m hoping to implement many of its recommendations to develop better habits in the coming year and beyond. The premise behind “atomic” habits is that they are tiny building blocks that, when stacked together, have a powerful impact. The author expands on four laws of behavior change to help us develop good habits, as well as using their inverses to get rid of bad habits.

To form and integrate a good habit into our lives, we need to 1) make it obvious, 2) make it attractive, 3) make it easy, and 4) make it satisfying. We also have to start small (with even two minutes) to better ingrain the new habit into our lifestyle and identity, but once we fully incorporate the small habit, we can keep building on it to make powerful changes.

While the four books above were the most perspective-challenging for me this past year, I’d also like to give an honorable mention to Remember God by Annie F. Downs (especially for inspiring my Christmas card pictures), Everybody Always by the audaciously loving and lovable Bob Goff, Anything by Jennie Allen (which had been on my shelf for a few years and I finally got around to actually reading), and Finish by Jon Acuff (which I may have scrambled to complete in the last few days just so I didn’t end the year with it unfinished!). I’d love to hear some of your favorites from the year, too!

3 Favorite Podcasts

None of these will be a surprise to those of you who’ve heard or seen me share on this topic before, but here are the top three podcasts I’ve enjoyed listening to in 2018. (I’m still trying to convince some of my friends to jump on the podcast train with me--I love listening on drives, walks, and more, and I’ve received much encouragement in the day-to-day from many episodes.)

** The Next Right Thing with Emily P. Freeman-- Emily’s mission is to help “create space for your soul to breathe so you can discern your next right thing in love.” This short podcast (usually about 15 minutes or so) is a breath of fresh air every Tuesday, or whenever you choose to listen, giving you space to ponder, reflect, pray, and listen to God and the stirrings on your heart.

I have listened to every single episode of Emily’s podcast since it came out, and I’ve loved them all, so it’s hard for me to pick out any “favorite” episodes, but a few that come to mind are [episode 57] Don’t Dread Your Weird Life, [episode 40] Keep Your Rest, and [episode 39] Don’t Give Your Critic Words.

Also: Emily has complete transcripts for every episode, so you can print and read them if you’d like as well.

** That Sounds Fun with Annie F. Downs-- Annie’s passion for fun is very evident and contagious, but her interviews also get to the serious and deeply spiritual matters of life. She has had so many amazing guests this past year, but here are a few of my favorites: Cory Asbury, Tauren Wells, Andrew Peterson, Christine Caine, and John Crist all had great interviews. And although the names are less familiar, I also loved her conversation with Tom and Melissa Tanner, who ministered to her while she was in college and continue to minister to many others. And I can't leave out that I absolutely love anytime she has Eddie Kaufholtz on the show, and her Christmas party episode with Ellie Holcomb that I mentioned earlier was so good, too.

** The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership podcast-- I’m probably not in the main target audience for Carey's podcast, but this one is always a must-listen for me as well. Carey is a minister in Canada in addition to being an author and speaker, and he is an excellent interviewer with so many outstanding guests on his show. His mission is to help you “lead like never before,” whether in church, in business, or in other everyday ways.

Some of my favorite episodes from this past year include interviews with Francis Chan, Max Lucado, Craig Groeschel (2 episodes this year), Caleb Kaltenbach, and Brian Houston.

Bonus: I've already seen on social media that Annie F. Downs and Carey Nieuwhof are going to be on each other's podcasts in 2019, and I could not be more excited!

For all of these podcasts, as I’ve looked through their feeds from the last year, there are so many more great episodes than I can list… these are just ones off the top of my head that might spark your interest to listen, and you can go on exploring from there. If you don’t already listen to any podcasts, I hope you’ll give it a try in 2019--it’s been a game-changer for me!

A couple more honorable mentions before leaving this topic: Two newer podcasts with more local connections I’ve started listening to this year are The Born to Create podcast with Kent Sanders, who is a professor at St. Louis Christian College, as he interviews guests on different topics relating to creativity, and the One Life Church Podcast, which is more of a roundtable discussion diving deeper into topics brought up by sermons at One Life Church in the Evansville/Henderson area. Both of these are worth checking out, too.

2 Random Personal Life-Changers (Never mind that I’m late to the adoption parties!)

** Stainless Steel Water Bottle: I know it sounds crazy that a water bottle has been a life-changer for me, but it’s true. I first bought one mostly so I could try adding a little essential oil to my water (shameless doTERRA plug!) and needed either a glass or stainless steel bottle for that. So I bought one of each early this past summer but have stuck with a stainless steel one almost every day since I first tried it. The clincher was being able to throw it in a bag easily and have it stay cold all day, even without ice, and even when I took it to the pool. The bonus is it helps me drink more water because I always have it with me, and it is always cold. (There goes the “make it satisfying” habit key I just read about but didn’t even know at the time!) If drinking more water is part of your healthy New Year plan, something as simple as finding a perfect water bottle might really make a difference.

** Spotify Premium: People have been telling me for years I needed to use Spotify, but I always hesitated because I really like owning all my own music and didn’t want to get another app. But this year I finally took the plunge… I only lasted a short while on the free version before upgrading to the premium, and the first day of my upgrade, I thought, “How did I not do this sooner??” I love being able to listen to any song I want at any time without committing to buy it first. My first thought would be that I’d use it to preview new music when it came out, and while I do that as well, probably what I’ve loved the most is going back to old songs I haven’t heard for a while (even if I own the CDs) and taking a trip down memory lane in worship and my walk with God. It’s perfect for making a practice playlist for worship team songs on the weeks I’m playing, too. So if you love music and you’re an even later adopter than I am, you might want to check it out to easily have all your favorite music and more at your fingertips.

One Realization I Hope Will Spark New-Year Change: 

As I’ve gone back through some of what I’ve learned and read over the past year, I’ve continually been reminded of one thing I definitely want to do better next year: keep track and review. I’ve been telling myself this for a while, but it has become even more obvious over the past few days that I did not do this well in 2018. I want to develop better systems for keeping track of what matters, whether it’s something noteworthy I’m reading or listening to, or other practical items like what I’m eating or how I’m spending my time or money. I want to be a good steward of what I’ve been given, so I’m working to develop habits to make notes daily and review them regularly. I’d be grateful to hear your tips if you have methods that work well for you.

I’m hoping these Treasure Hunt Tuesday posts can be helpful not only to encourage me to record, remember, and share what I’m learning or how God is working, but also to encourage you in your own journey. Please feel free to leave a comment on any “treasures” you are noticing or any questions you might have on anything I share. I’d love to have you follow along and see where God leads us!

Bonus resources: 

As I was finishing up typing this post today, I came across two more resources that could be helpful in the New Year if you would like to add more Bible engagement to your daily practices and spiritual growth.

First, here is a video from Bret Nicholson from One Life Church on the key idea that drives rich Bible engagement. He will continue posting videos on Facebook and YouTube throughout the month of January that will go through Scripture and encourage you in developing your own habit of engaging with the Bible and with God through prayer and Scripture reading.

I hope these can be beneficial for you, and I wish you many blessings in 2019! I'd love to hear about your "treasures," too!