Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Treasure Hunt Tuesday: Stones of Remembrance

How do you encourage yourself in difficult times? Or do you have a strategy for when you feel purposeless or lose your way? Those may sound like strange questions, but the feelings can happen to all of us. This past weekend I read a simple tip that I hope can be a helpful treasure for you, too.

Kent Sanders in his weekend digest email shared that he started an “encouragement file” years ago to keep track of cards, personal letters, and other paper items that were especially uplifting to him. Every time he would receive an encouraging note, he would put it in a file folder. He later started to do the same kind of thing with digital encouragement, too. Now whenever a friend, family member, or student writes an email, Facebook comment, or blog post that reminds him of the difference he is making or of someone’s care for him, he has a special folder in Evernote specifically labeled “encouragement” where he can put the link or screenshot of the comment or message. He still has the physical file as well, and both are readily available to him whenever he needs the reminders.

It’s easy to run into moments or stretches in our lives where we can start to doubt our worth or feel like nothing we do matters. This is why an encouragement file can be so helpful. When we’re having one of “those days,” looking back over comments or notes of encouragement from others can remind us that we really do make a difference. This can give us an infusion of courage to keep going, try again, and not give up.

I think of so many moments in my life where God has used the encouraging words of people to show me His provision and care in heartbreaking times and when I’ve felt defeated. He has truly met me at every turn. Keeping a file or list of these encouragements can also be a way to symbolically pick up a “stone of remembrance” to always have a visual reminder of how God has provided in the past so I can more readily trust His working now even when I can’t yet see it.

We see practices like these modeled in Scripture as well. When the Israelites crossed the Jordan River as told in Joshua 3 and 4, Joshua instructed twelve men, one from each tribe, to take up a stone from the middle of the river they had crossed. Those twelve stones became a memorial of God’s provision. Every time one of their children would ask what the stones meant, they would have an opportunity to remember and share how God had supernaturally taken care of them. We see a similar reminder in 1 Samuel 7:12. After God provided victory for the Israelites over the Philistines, Samuel set up a stone he named Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the LORD helped us.”

How has the Lord helped you thus far?

Being intentional about remembering is so important to fight off discouragement and to have strength for facing future battles as well. Besides keeping an encouragement file, we can also “collect stones” by making a gratitude list or writing Scripture verses on notecards or in a journal to keep God’s care in the forefront of our minds. It is especially helpful to have the reminders easily accessible when we are tempted to forget. I often need to come back to truths such as these in my own life:

“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”  -Romans 8:31-32

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  -Romans 8:38-39

“’Though the mountains be shaken
and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,’
says the LORD, who has compassion on you.”
-Isaiah 54:10

I am so grateful for how God’s Word reminds us over and over of His love, compassion, grace, and provision. I have often found that writing out passages like these helps to imprint the truths on my mind and heart even more than simply reading them. And even saving a verse as my phone lockscreen, writing it on a sticky note for my bathroom mirror, or putting it on a notecard with a magnet on my refrigerator can be a visual reminder of God’s truth when I can so easily forget or become discouraged.

Truthfully, this is part of why I have this blog, too. Even from the beginning several years ago when my husband was diagnosed with cancer and later passed, and continuing now with these “Treasure Hunt Tuesday” posts I’ve been writing lately, I always want to intentionally remember the encouragement God has given me and take time to share it with you as well.

I’m hoping that writing this post will spur me on to take some additional action steps this week, too. And I’d love it if you would join me!

First of all, think of one thing you can do to plan ahead or make a habit that will bring encouragement to your heart and remind yourself what is true. Whether you create an encouragement file physically or digitally, start a gratitude journal, or write a scripture on a notecard where you can see it often, try to think of one way to collect remembrance stones or treasures to bring to mind God’s goodness in every season.

Secondly, let’s try to think of at least one person we can encourage with specific words this week. It could be a card or note to mail or even a simple text message or social media comment, but I always want to remember the power of our words and strive to use them wisely.

Ephesians 4:29 exhorts us: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

I want to build others up and be a help and benefit to those who listen. With all the noise of the world around us, how refreshing it is to have words of grace, truth, and encouragement to treasure.

I’d love to hear from you as well! Do you have any treasures or “stones of remembrance” to share that have especially encouraged your heart? Feel free to leave a comment or send me a message!

P.S. As a bonus action step, I can’t help but say if you aren’t already on Kent’s email list, I would definitely recommend signing up! I’m not exaggerating when I say his weekend digest is one of the favorite things in my inbox every week. He believes everyone is “born to create,” so each weekend he shares 3 creative links in addition to a personal story of encouragement. You can go to his website at kentsanders.net and enter your email address to be included.

Happy treasure hunting!

** All Scripture quotations in this post are from the NIV84 translation of the Bible.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Treasure Hunt Tuesday: Faith Like a Child

This past weekend I was blessed to be able to attend a night of stories and songs with Andrew Peterson and Sally Lloyd-Jones on their “Lost in Wonder” tour. I love Andrew’s music and the depth of storytelling he brings to his songs, and I was curious to see the role Sally would play as an author of children’s books and most notably of The Jesus Storybook Bible.

The stories, images, and songs for the evening all flowed together beautifully. Interwoven between personal tales both artists shared from their lives, Sally also read portions she had written in The Jesus Storybook Bible. She was very intentional in pointing out that every story is really God’s story, and each one, whether from the Old Testament or New, tells the story of Jesus, too.

So call me crazy if you’d like, but over the last couple of days I’ve been reading through a few of the narratives in this children’s storybook and love how she keeps the big picture always at the forefront. As she wraps up each Old Testament story, there is always a reminder that God’s plan was still in motion… that one day God would send another Rescuer, another Prince, another Hero, another Messenger, another Lamb--His only Son. And over and over she reminds everyone who reads or listens of the “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love” of God. What beautiful promises every child of God, young or old, needs to remember.

One of things I love most about my job is the joy of being able to lead a choir of hospice volunteers to sing for patients and other residents in long-term care facilities from time to time. We often will ask for favorite songs, and one of the top requests we get to sing is “Jesus Loves Me.” It’s such a tender and special gift to sing that song, whether with a child first beginning to learn of His unfailing love, or with an older beloved son or daughter of the King preparing to see His face in the years, months, or days ahead.

Those simple truths are often what carry us through difficult times as well. Jennie and Levi Lusko shared the story of their young daughter’s passing in an interview on the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast a few months ago, and Jennie said one of the things that helped get them through was reading from a children’s Bible to their other kids. A grieving heart can only take in so much, but reading and speaking aloud the truth of God’s love, care, and provision as worded for a child can be a healing balm that is able to penetrate more deeply through the fog of intense pain. So often that child-like faith and trust in God our Father is what we really need the most.

Max Lucado has shared a bit of this thought, too. He is a much-beloved author who has written over 120 books all together, but when Carey Nieuwhof asked on his podcast if he had a favorite, his answer may have been surprising. Max said his favorite book of all the ones he has written is the children’s book, You Are Special. (It’s one of my favorites, too!) In a village where everyone would give and receive dots or stars according to what they thought of each other, a little talk with the loving Maker can be a game-changer and make all the difference. Suddenly it’s not so important what everyone else thinks.

I’m not sure about you, but I need to be reminded of that truth pretty often, too.

“Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me,
The Bible tells me so.”

I’d love to hear from you as well. Feel free to leave a comment with any treasures you are finding lately! Or it would be great if you would share about your favorite children’s books or songs, too!

P.S. If you'd like to hear an Andrew Peterson song inspired by not being able to get into a Neverland park in England (No adults allowed!), check it out here

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Treasure Hunt Tuesday: The Center of God's Kindness

Last week I was listening to a podcast episode when one line stopped me in my tracks. Annie F. Downs was in the middle of a conversation with Jefferson and Alyssa Bethke, and they had begun to talk about contentment in different seasons of life. When I heard Annie say these words, I had to pause, listen again, and write them down:

“Just remember you’re in the center of God’s kindness for you.”

She’d had a friend give her that encouragement one evening, and she wrote the words on her mirror to keep reminding herself as well. But they gave me pause. I want to believe that. I need to remember it. But is it really true? In my everyday life, in every circumstance, am I in the center of God’s kindness for me?

What about you? What does that phrase stir up inside you? Does it seem too good to be true? Does it negate or water down His justice and righteousness?

As I’ve processed those words with the Lord over the last several days, it’s remarkable how many references He has brought to my mind on how He’s spoken the truths of His love and kindness to me time and again over so many years, yet I somehow still need to hear them once more. I know in my head God always loves me, but I often forget the tenderness, compassion, and kindness wrapped up in His covenant love. Yet He is gracious to remind me…

I think back to Beth Moore’s Breaking Free study, how in the lessons from week 5, we focused on the portion of Isaiah 61:1 that declares, “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted” (NIV84).

After expanding on the meaning of the Scripture by digging into the original Hebrew definitions and cross-referencing other passages, Beth encourages us to think of a particular moment in our lives where we felt our heart had been completely broken. Once we have one in mind, she poses this question:

“Did you have any idea at the time that God cared so much He aimed His Son straight toward your heart?”

Take that in with me for a bit. At the moment a loved one dies, when a friendship shatters, or when a dream crashes down at your feet, God sets His target like a bullseye as these tender words prove true:

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
       and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

            ~ Psalm 34:18 (NIV84) 

Beth points out, “God only had one arrow in His quiver,” His one and only Son, and He gave Him up for us all. He sent Him “to preach good news to the poor… to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives,” (Isaiah 61:1, NIV84) and so much more. I am eternally grateful.

But as touching as it is to be reminded how we are at the center of God’s kindness when we are brokenhearted, what about in times of discipline? 

Hebrews 12:6 responds with the truth that “the Lord disciplines the one He loves” (ESV, emphasis mine).

In his study When Life Is Hard: Turning Your Trials to Gold, James MacDonald continues this answer by saying, “God disciplines you because He loves you. Far from folding His arms, God rolls up His sleeves to get ready to do something good in your life. Far from abandoning you when you go through difficult trials, God moves toward you… In fact, trials are proofs of love.”

It seems crazy to think trials and discipline can be proof of love and kindness, but MacDonald reminds us God always has the goal of “restoration to a deeper sense of His love” and that “He is going for change in you at the deepest and most lasting level.” It may be painful in the moment, but it is kindness indeed.

It is even God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (see Romans 2:4). We were dead in our sins and enslaved by the passions and pleasures of this world. “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy.” (Titus 3:4-5a, NIV84)

Oh, how grateful I am for God's mercy, love, and kindness! All we have to do is come to Jesus to accept these free gifts. If you haven't already, I pray you will come to know His kindness and love for you personally as well.

So today I will rejoice afresh in being in the center of God’s kindness to me. (I might have a classic Chris Tomlin song running through my head, too!) And I will ask the Lord to keep reminding me of truth in moments when it feels too good to be true. My prayer echoes that of David,

“Keep me as the apple of Your eye;
     hide me in the shadow of Your wings.”  

        ~ Psalm 17:8 (NIV84)

P.S. Be sure to check out the entire episode of Annie’s That Sounds Fun Podcast with Jefferson and Alyssa Bethke. While the quote I shared was from right in the middle of the conversation, there was so much other great stuff as well. I loved hearing their thoughts on Sabbath practices toward the end of the episode, too.

And Annie shares a lot more about her wrestling with the truth of God’s kindness in her latest book, Remember God. (It’s the one that inspired my Christmas cards!)

I’d love to hear from you as well! How has God been showing His kindness to you lately? Or do you struggle to believe He is truly kind?

Are there any treasures you’ve been finding that you’d like to share? Always feel free to leave a comment or send me a message!

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Treasure Hunt Tuesday: Counting Days and Making Them Count

If you know me very well, you might be able to guess that one of my favorite treasures from this past week was the gorgeous weather we had on Sunday. Just a few days removed from the bitterly cold temperatures and dangerous wind chills that led schools in the area to close, the warm weekend was quite a welcome respite. I definitely had to make the most of it! After worship services that morning, I headed to the lake to go for a walk without even needing a jacket. Then I chose a picnic table overlooking the water to read, journal, and pray, trying to soak up as much of the beauty as possible. Somehow views like this always bring a little extra peace to my soul.

I knew the glimpse of spring wouldn’t last long, so even though the teaser made me want to count down to the real change of seasons, I mostly wanted to be sure to take advantage of the short time of sunshine and warmth I had in the moment.

The urgency to make the most of a beautiful day is good for my spirit, but it’s reminding me of a much more essential and needed awareness. Our church is in the middle of a sermon series right now called “One Month to Live,” inspired by a book of the same title by Kerry and Chris Shook. It is challenging me in so many ways, and I keep coming back to our theme verse of Psalm 90:12. The New Revised Standard Version articulates it this way:

“So teach us to count our days 
that we may gain a wise heart.”

Life is short. We are wise to remember this fact, yet we so often lose sight of its truth in the midst of our busy lives. What if we lived every day with full awareness of the brevity of our time on earth? How would it change our priorities, our actions, and our relationships? How would I go about my life today if I knew I had only one month left to live? What do I need to do differently in appreciating that my life is “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes”? (See James 4:14, NIV84.)

As I’m longing to make each day count, I’m reminded of a song by Chris Rice on this theme as well. (And I have to admit, the nostalgia of looking up his entire “Short Term Memories” album that I hadn’t listened to in years was a bit of a treasure, too, even if it dates me!)

"Teach us to count the days
Teach us to make the days count
Lead us in better ways
Somehow our souls forgot
Life means so much..."

I don’t want my soul to forget. Life is short, so let’s make it count. And as Galatians 5:6 reminds us,

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (NIV84)

How are you making the days count? What is one thing you would do differently if you had just one month to live? Is there someone you would you reach out to in love? What action can you take in that direction today?

I pray the treasures of giving and receiving love will overflow your heart this week!

Bonus Treasure: The following blog post definitely resonated with me in my current stage of life, but I think it’s worth reading no matter what your age. We can all use the extra reminders to live life to the full wherever we are, making the most of the time we’ve been given.

As always, feel free to leave a comment or send me a message. I’d love to hear about any treasures you are discovering from day to day as well!