When Your Best Isn’t Good Enough

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Do you ever have those days when you’re giving it all you’ve got and it just doesn’t seem like you can meet the demands of your life?  I’m having a string of days like that.  Please tell me you go through times like this.

When I focus on one thing, ten other legitimately important things aren’t getting done.  Deadlines loom, hundreds of actual emails (not spam) come in, yet I can either respond to those or I work on the time-sensitive projects and phone calls that can’t be delayed. All the while I’m planning showers, hosting dinners, getting mission trip updates and attending meetings for the trip I will be taking this summer, texting and talking to family members and friends who I love and want to engage with, and there’s social media notifications and messages popping up all over the place. Oh and I’m a parent, wife, daughter, sister, worship leader, neighbor (a pretty negligent neighbor, but still) and pet owner.  There’s a teeny bit of sleep, exercise, laundry, meal-making, tomato-seedling-babying, prayer, reading, personal writing squeezed in there somewhere.

If you told me about your week you could likely tell a similar story or crazier.  I have dear friends whose child has been in and out of the hospital with health issues and trust me, they’ve had a far more demanding few weeks than mine.  Yet they wouldn’t trade their load for anything.  Neither would I.  Even when it’s all good stuff (or most of it) – stuff we willingly signed up for – we can only do what we can do.

This is why I love the story in Luke 5.  When the crowds were pressing in on Jesus, he got into a boat and floated out into the water to teach them.  (Way to create a boundary, Jesus!  May I learn from you.)  Then, after Jesus was finished teaching, he told Peter to go out deeper and put his nets down.  What Peter says in Luke 5:5 is classic.”We worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing!”  But then he adds, “But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down.”  And wasn’t he glad he did what Jesus told him to do when those nets were so filled with fish, they started to break?!

Peter’s best wasn’t enough to catch a single fish the night before.  But when he went deeper and obeyed Jesus, he couldn’t have imagined the blessing that followed.  Peter and Jesus remind me that I can’t be my best self when I’m trying to it all in my own strength.  I need to listen for the voice of Jesus, go deeper, and just do what He asks.

Jesus doesn’t ask us to do everything everyone else wants us to do, and he doesn’t even ask us to do all we wish we could do.  We just have to listen for the things He calls us to do and He will multiply our efforts to accomplish more than we could do in a hundred years without him.  That’s a relief to me, and I hope it helps you if you feel overwhelmed.

Take a deep breath. The people around you may not understand how hard you are trying, how much is coming at you, or how defeated you feel when your best doesn’t keep all the plates spinning perfectly.  But were we put on this earth to make everyone else happy?  (No, we were not.)  Remember the One who knows your heart and loves you whether or not you do all the things; He is ready and waiting for you to row to deeper water and listen for His voice.

 

My burden is light -- matthew 11-29-20

“Their Leaves NEVER Wither…”

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Tree planted by water-Ps 1-3

I’ve recently embarked on a 40 day prayer journey and during this experience, this passage – Psalm 1 – that I memorized as a kid has come to life in a brand new way.  When I memorized Psalm 1 (at least 30 years ago), I could not quite relate to the metaphor of withered leaves like I can now.  I don’t mind admitting that there have been a lot of days since then when I’ve felt my leaves curling up around the edges.

On days when I get discouraged by the state of our world, or when I’m bone tired from depending on my own limited skills, or when I feel misunderstood, undervalued or overwhelmed, I question whether or not I will ever have what it takes to bear good fruit. As a writer, human and time limitations could easily turn blogging into a struggle no less daunting than drawing water from a stone.

The truth is, I don’t have what it takes to thrive by myself.  When I am depending on my own resources or human logic, my leaves wither faster than a pansy in July.  If you know me at all, you know I am a hot mess without constant help from the Mighty Mind that dreamed me up. I now see that when my leaves withered I was not fully pressing in to the fertile soil that keeps me grounded or being nourished by the water that quenches every thirst. The strength that comes from being watered by The River of Life cannot be overestimated.

Every day, I recognize the familiar signs of withering all around me when I go out in public, or when I watch the news.  This week’s tragedy in Brussels, threats at a local high school here in my community, broken marriages everywhere I look… these things tear at our hope.

Psalm 1 was written long before Jesus was born, so if it was true then it’s all the more true now.  On this Easter weekend, I can’t help thinking how Jesus died on a tree that was chopped down and separated from its roots to buy back life for us. We never have to be apart from the kind of love that pours life into the lifeless…and wins every single time. Sure, evil is strong; but the Hope of the Ages is stronger!

On this weekend of so many mixed emotions, we can celebrate the hope that Jesus not only existed, but He came so we can tap into the same power that raised Him from death to life.  (That truth keeps blowing my mind.)  We are given an open invitation to live our lives rooted deeply in that One Great Hope.  This isn’t a temporary promise, like clever marketing campaigns assure us will satisfy our longings.  We are talking about the kind of hope that is steeped in unfathomable, sacrificial love. It doesn’t wax and wane from one day to the next.

No matter how deeply we allow our roots to sink into Him, we will never reach the limits of Christ’s love, His Father’s wisdom, or the power available to us through His Spirit.  There is always more love, more hope, more power to overcome the things that threaten to wither our leaves.  When we stop following cheap substitutes for Him, we free ourselves to be planted what is eternal.  Rooting our thoughts, ideas, prayers and actions in the flow of His goodness allows us to thrive with healthy roots.  It really is possible to produce season after season of abundant fruit, but we simply can’t truly prosper in the truest sense of the word without Him powering everything.

Friend, I hope this Easter you will just take a moment to consider all that is available to you simply for the asking.  You don’t have to be perfect, or jump through any hoops. You simply get to say “yes” to love, forgiveness, and so much hope.  And here’s an added bonus…when we’re all drawing our strength from the same River, we’re deeply connected to one another too. This network of connectedness to Him is our only hope in a world full of trees with withered leaves.

 

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, Ross DeMerchant!

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Ross-DeMerchant---headshotI’ve been wanting you all to meet a dear friend and trusted confidant of mine, mostly because everyone needs a Ross DeMerchant in his or her life. During the 90s I had the privilege of working with Ross for several years.  He showed me what the term “servant leadership” can look like on a day-to-day basis.

He routinely brought in Perkins muffins (you know, the ones the size of a human head) for random departments around our office building just to be nice.  This wasn’t normal behavior where we worked.

When Ross asks people, “How are you doing?”  he wants an honest answer.   Every single week my social media feed is full of photos of Ross meeting up with people of all ages and from all walks of life simply to encourage them.  His main priority in life could be summed up simply: to love people well. In my opinion, that alone makes him one of the most successful people I know.

During our years working together, I mostly remember a lot of laughter.  I’m not talking polite, office-volume laughter.  I’m talking belly laughing until tears were rolling and my face hurt.  When he was telling stories to our staff, neighboring office workers often checked in to see what all the noise was about because they could hear us howling all the way down the hall.  And when got on the phone with his brother, we braced ourselves for a whole new level hilarity. I almost called an ambulance more than once. “Ross?  Are you breathing??  Say something!”

He loves his family fiercely. He has one of the best marriages I know of. He would make no apology for leaving work if Shirley or one of his kids needed him.  Ross showed me how to be myself, to keep laughing, and to love people well, no matter what else I decided to do with my life.  I am so grateful I had that kind of example to follow before I had kids of my own.

I also need to tell you that Ross is cool, mostly because he is admittedly uncool.  He does the kind of things I do when I’m trying to be smooth, like sticking a swizzle stick up his nose at a fancy-dancy cocktail party.(I don’t mind telling you, it remained lodged there until he removed it by hand!  Yes, that happened!)

Once I had the unprecedented joy of watching him introduce himself to Wayne Watson (remember him?) and let me just say… it played out way differently than Ross had rehearsed it in his mind.  I still DIE laughing every  time I think about it.

Ross DeMerchant

Throughout the years decades after we worked together, life took Ross’s family and my family in different directions but we tried to stay in contact, usually less successfully than we wished.  He and his family experienced some challenging years, and so did we.  Regardless of where we were in life, whenever we and our spouses would reconnect we still kept the joy alive and agreed that loving people is worth the risk, even when they disappoint us.

Not too long ago, we reconnected for a coffee appointment and I could see that Ross was about to birth a really important idea. He had become a grandfather and was starting to realize that if he didn’t write the book brewing inside him, he would be disobeying his calling.  (By the way, if you have an idea burning in your soul like that, you simply must do it.)

Today, little more than 2 years after that coffee appointment, Ross is the author of 26 Letters: How To Have The Conversations of Your Lifetime.  It’s a thoughtful book about leaving your legacy for future generations. Guided by the 26 letters of the alphabet and stories from Ross’s journey, this book helps you consider key words you want to be remembered by and will hopefully prompt you to share your own important stories with your kids, grandkids and the generations that will follow.

Ross is a gifted storyteller (and, in case I hadn’t mentioned it, a funny human being).  But he is also deeply sensitive and tenderhearted, so he knows how to make that turn from a wacky story to a moving, heart-stirring point.  So if you or someone you know happens to be looking for a fresh face to inspire people at a special event or conference, he would be a great chose.  Check him out or contact him here at www.rossdemerchant.com.

I’m not telling you about Ross for any other reason than I think you’ll really like him, and I know he will really like you!  I think his book is such a wonderful way to begin thinking about the things you want to impart to your kids and grandkids while you’ve got time.

Also?  His kids turned out wonderfully.  In fact, Ross’s son was my son’s first boss.  Let me tell you… the apple did not fall far from the tree with that one.  I mention that only because Ross can speak authoritatively on the subjects of leaving an eternal legacy and loving people well, because I have watched him do exactly that – in his family and with those around him – for the 25 years I’ve known him.

I hope you’ll get to know him.  And feel free to let him know I sent you, so maybe he will read my blog!  :)

Here he is (below) being a charming grandfather. I mean, seriously, this was SO worth stalking his Facebook!
Ross D 2

 

 

 

 

 

The Human Side of Miraculous Days

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what to do when you feel stuck

A few days ago I shared about a landmark day in my family’s life this past weekend — a day when the clouds parted for a moment and we got a glimpse of the eternal.  Today, I felt it would be important (also maybe a little funny) to pull back the curtain a little on the humanity that was very much part of the whole experience. If you didn’t read about our special Sunday, I recommend you read “Take Heart” here before you embark on “the rest of the story” so you can adequately appreciate the stark contrast between our perfect God and our messed-up selves.

Saturday night was one of those nights when I went to bed tired, but after sleeping for about an hour I was suddenly wide awake – for the next five hours.  During each hour that ticked by I made deals with myself like, “If you don’t wash your hair you can sleep an extra 20 minutes. And if you take a granola bar instead of sitting down for breakfast, you’ve got an extra 15.  Let Jackson drive and do your make-up in the car and you’ve got 10 more sleep minutes.” That all sounded like a brilliant trade-off in the dark middle of the night, until the alarm startled me out of the deepest sleep I’d had all night (all 2 hours of it).

I got ready quickly, grabbed some strong tea, a granola bar and my makeup bag, and ran to the car.  Now you need to know that I get unbelievably clumsy when I’m tired, so I was dropping everything I touched and spilling tea the whole way to the church. I spent most of the car ride  on dark circle cover up detail. Who knew I would end up crying it all off?! And though Jackson drove as smoothly as he could, somehow as we pulled into the church parking lot my mascara wand hit my contact lens and made a thick blob that temporarily rendered me legally blind in my right eye. I dabbed the contact with each of my fingers until I could see (mostly), but then I had little round mini-globs of mascara on every one of my fingers.

The rest of the morning went just like that.  Four minutes before service started, the pack for my in-ear monitors… wait for it… fell into the toilet!  Our tech team angels (they really are angels) produced another one miraculously and did it with a gracious smile.  In one minute and 45 seconds I reset all the levels blindly without having a clue what I was going to hear in my ears when the music started.  Can we have a moment of silence for the former pack and its watery death?  *** Amen.

After the first service, I saw my husband briefly and his first words were, “I heard your pack fell in the toilet!”  Apparently news travels fast.  Then he immediately noticed I had spilled something on my light beige sweater.  When I saw the crusted substance, I knew right away it was queso sauce from our Mexican dinner the night before.  So the spill on the front of my sweater had been there all day and had probably been magnified by 100 times on the overhead screen.

When my humanity is blaring like it was on this morning, that’s when my shoulder people like to stop by and remind me of all the reasons why I am the worst.  (I talk about the shoulder people in this previous post.) They love to start with how I don’t have my act together.  Then they move to the whole subject of how I don’t have the caliber of voice to be singing about Jesus in public.  Sometimes they fully convince me that secret meetings have likely taken place trying to get me removed from the vocal team but no one knows how to tell me!

This, my friends, is the work of the enemy.  He would love to turn mascara blobs, queso and toilet water into personal and spiritual defeat.  And it wasn’t just me he was trying to mess with.

One seemingly confident and adored man among us this weekend caught a glimpse of himself on the screens during a run-through and froze, staring at the screen.  He was devastated by signs of aging he saw staring back at him. No one else would’ve thought a thing about that.  And this is a person you wouldn’t expect to have insecurities.  But guess what.  He is human too.

baptism hugMy husband – you know, the ridiculously handsome guy in the baptism tank who baptized changed life after changed life on Sunday –  was riddled with anxiety on Monday (as he often is).

Worshipping alongside my son, while it was pretty dang sweet that day, came after thousands of prayers and nearly 2 decades of doing the hard work of parenting that didn’t feel all that precious at times.

Our speaker on Sunday is my dear friend, and she called crying just a couple days after she had given the powerful message about how much God loves us – mess and all.  She had been awake since 2:00 a.m. completely overwhelmed by insecurities and hurts from the past that momentarily hijacked the beautiful, strong person I know she is.

Just know that whenever God is moving, the Enemy of our souls will try to undermine, and lie, and rob our joy. This is why we need a healthy body of believers around us.  We need to uphold each other in prayer and remind each other that our enemy just can’t stand knowing that Jesus won the day. So he preys on our humanity and even our very identity.

Mother Teresa didn’t know anyone who needed God’s help and grace more than she did.  So obviously she hadn’t met me.  Days like Sunday are reminders that God uses very human people to do His work.  What choice does He have?  He does powerful things through people who experience fear, insecurity, sleepless nights… He even uses goofballs with shoulder people that lose stuff in the toilet ALL THE TIME, proving once again that He can do ANYTHING.

In spite of all the humanity sloshing around in our church on Sunday, Jesus still won the day!  We can stake our lives on that.

Take Heart.

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This was a special weekend for several reasons. My son and I had the joy of  lifting up the name of Jesus together with other worshippers at our church (I was singing, he was rocking his guitar like a boss), while my sister and my husband stood in the baptism tank a few feet away baptizing one changed life after the next.

Andrew Marshall baptism

My sister, Melody (left), my husband, Scott (right) and our buddy Andrew (the one who’s all covered in water)!

One lovely young woman had been an atheist all her life until two weeks ago when she was inexplicably drawn into the doors of the church. Little did she know that a group of children had stood in a prayer circle hours before she walked in, praying that God would bring someone through the doors who didn’t expect to come and that He would bring that person to a relationship with Him. This woman surrendered her life to Christ that week and was baptized today.  She was one of the many surrendered lives who took the plunge today.  There were children, teenagers, young adults, senior citizens, and I’ll never forget the precious young lady with special needs…and her whole family!

Members of our community group sat together to support two of our group members – one who was being baptized (pictured above), and one who was today’s speaker.  We all cheered and cried when our buddy came out of the water (them from their seats, my husband from the tank and me from a few feet to the left of the tank). Singing through the tears was no longer possible. I needed to take a moment to stop singing and (try to) compose myself. Just when I was sure a huge snot bubble was going to form from my nose, a nearby service assistant came straight to me with a box of kleenex.  That dude is my new favorite person. Just one more kindness that reminded me again, we are so loved, my friends! God is constantly reaching out to us, doing incredible things, and drawing us to Himself.

I know we could all tell stories of churches who get it wrong, and people who do despicable things in the name of Jesus. Churches are filled with fallen people who make mistakes and hurt each other. But after seeing my share of despicable behavior, this truth saved me:

People will be people. But God will still be God.

A few days ago, I was powerfully reminded of Romans 8:11, which says, “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you…”  And, of course (God is not subtle) today one of the songs we led contained that same truth.  “The same power that crushed the enemy is the same power that lives in me…” I could’ve sung it a thousand more times.  That, friends, is the Hope we carry around with us.

In a world of darkness, chaos, sickness, cancer, death, war and political shenanigans, we can hold tight to the truth that the same power that raised Christ from the grave is alive and well.  In us!  Let’s keep remembering to invite Him in so He can do His thing.

He still heals hearts, mends relationships, and saves the lost.  He is also allowing mothers and sons like mine to serve Him together, bringing husbands like mine to a place where God can use Him as he never dreamed.  He helps atheists believe, and he finds the lost wherever they are so He can give them what they most need.

There was a day when my cynicism made it hard for me to see His power at work. Truth is, He can do far more than we think to ask Him for, and He uses our obedience and bold prayers to do it. Today I saw proof.

Take heart.  He has overcome the world.