Bold, Brave & Blessed – A free gift for you

About a month ago I decided to do a 90 day thanks and giving challenge, in the 90 days leading up to Thanksgiving. I’m now 35 days into the challenge and it’s blessed me so much more than I expected.

This past weekend I shared with the ladies at the Renew & Restore Women’s Retreat how the day I started this challenge just happened to be the day before my son started a new medication. What followed was four of the hardest parenting weeks I’ve had in a long time. There were many days I faced my own limitations, fear, and anxiety as I struggled to help my son, seek answers, and trust the doctor.

And I believe that it was no accident that during this time I was also living in intentional gratitude because I had committed to the 90 day of thanks and giving challenge. In many ways, focusing on being thankful each day has kept me centered and tethered to Christ.

You see when we actively seek out the beauty, the joy, the blessings in our lives, we are reminded that we not only have a good Father, but we have a God who follows through on His promises. It’s been impossible for me to lose hope or forget just how much God loves me and loves my son because every day for the last month I have looked for something to be thankful for, and every day for the last month I have been able to find multiple things. I have seen how God provides for and protects my family. And I am reassured that His ways are better than mine, that He has a plan for my son, even if I can’t understand what it is.

Gratitude keeps us aware of God’s active presence in our life. It can help us overcome fear and anxiety. It enables us to lean into God and find comfort, strength and hope in our relationship with Him, instead of pulling away and being consumed by our troubles. Because of the gift this practice has been in my life, I also wanted to arm the ladies at the retreat with a tool they could use to help them practice intentional gratitude. So I designed the Bold, Brave, & Blessed Journal: A 60 day journey to overcoming fear and trusting God.

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Each day has an encouraging verse of scripture, as well as a place to complete the following statements:

  1. Today I am afraid of….
  2. Today I am asking God to…
  3. Today I am thankful for…

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I’ve been quite overwhelmed with the positive response I received at the retreat and in the days following over this journal. In fact, I’ve received numerous requests for a copy from women who weren’t at the retreat, and so I’ve decided to make it available here for anyone to download and print, for free. All I ask is that you subscribe to my blog first, if you are not already a subscriber.

The journal is designed to be printed front and back, and then folded in half. Below is a picture tutorial on how to print and assemble your journal. I used beautiful hand-painted artwork by The Autumn Rabbit, purchased from Creative Market, so it looks best when printed in color. But the journal works just as well in black-and-white. I also recommend printing on a slightly heavier weight paper. I used 28 pound bright white paper.

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Step 1: print page one, which includes the front and back cover.
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Step 2: print pages 2-30 EVEN on one side, then print pages 3-31 ODD on the other side of the same pages.
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Step 3: Fold each page in half and begin to assemble the book so the days appear in order.
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Step 4: Once you’ve printed and folded you can either saddle stitch (staple at the crease) or tie with thread to bind your booklet.

 

Feel free to print as many copies as you like and share with friends. However, I do ask you don’t load the file to your own blog or website for distribution, and instead link back to this site if you want to share online or via social media.

Click here to subscribe and download your free “Bold, Brave & Blessed” journal.

 

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No time for grace

My face flushed and my heart started to race as I felt all eyes on me. The guy in line behind me gave a heavy, dissatisfied sigh, and the cashier trainer muttered to the trainee at the register, “welcome to summer.”

I wanted to crawl in a hole somewhere and disappear. I was on vacation with my family and friends and had gone to the local grocery store to buy a week’s worth of food and supplies. I was distractedly going through my list, comparing it to what was in the cart to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything when I spotted the shortest check-out line and walked up. I began to unload my full cart onto the belt and said hello to the cashier who mumbled a quick hello back. A few moments later a line began forming behind me and the aforementioned guy directly behind me pointed out, in a not-too-polite way, that I was in the express check-out line. I looked up and for the first time noticed a sign that said 15 items or less.

My friend, who is much better in these situations than I am, tried to lighten the mood and said, “I bet you just love when summer comes and all of the tourists arrive.” And he said, very matter-of-factly, “Actually I hate it.” He might as well have said to me “I hate you.” Because that’s how it felt.

Despite numerous apologies and explaining I didn’t see the sign, I left the store and left behind a bunch of very aggravated locals, as I got in my car feeling totally humiliated.

For weeks, months even, I replayed that scene and thought of all the things I could have said, should have said. I vacillated between being embarrassed, angry, and hurt. Then I wondered “why did it bother me so much?” I would never see these people again, why did I care how they reacted to my honest mistake?

Eventually I realized the root of the issue was I had received no mercy from the people at the store; no hint of forgiveness or understanding.  They were in a hurry and I was slowing them down. There was no time for grace.

I confess that when I looked deep in my heart I knew that there were many times I, too have been guilty of believing there was no time for grace.

I’ve stood in a check-out line behind the woman with 45 coupons and sighed heavily at the delay it meant for me.

I’ve zoomed past a slow-moving car in the left lane and muttered under my breath an uncharitable and unkind sentiment about their driving skills because I was in a hurry to get somewhere.

I’ve lost my temper with my children because they forgot their lunch/shoes/clothes/bag in the house and had to run back inside while the rest of us waited in the car, already late for school or practice.

Because of my plans, my agenda, and my timing I have been unable or unwilling to stop and extend grace to someone else.

I’m so grateful my heavenly Father doesn’t work that way. If he was like me, I can imagine he’d sigh-heavily, roll his eyes and say, “really Jelise?! How many times have I shown you what to do? I’ve given you a better way, and yet you still haven’t gotten it! I’m done waiting. I’ve got more important matters to attend to. I don’t have time for children who don’t read the signs.”

But there is no limit on God’s grace for us.

Psalm 103 says:

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:8, 11-12)

As far as the east is from the west, that’s how big God’s grace is for us. His grace knows no end.

And then, the inevitable question: if God’s grace for me knows no limits, wouldn’t He want me to try and offer the same to others? I don’t have to wonder because scripture tells me He does.

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:36

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” – Ephesians 4:2

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:31-32

Psalm 103:12

So here I sit, asking myself, “what makes me and my life so important that I can’t find the time to show patience, compassion, and mercy toward others?”

Maybe that lady with the 45 coupons is trying to feed a family of four on minimum wage and the only way she can afford groceries is to clip those coupons. Maybe that guy in the left lane just received bad news, is consumed by worry and doesn’t realize he’s in the passing lane. Maybe my kids need an extra 15 minutes in the morning to get themselves and their stuff together because when I rush them it makes them nervous and causes them to forget things.

Why is my need to get where I’m going, on my timeline more important than extending forgiveness or understanding? It’s not.

That scene from the store at the beach still plays in my mind. But now I think if I could go back and do anything differently, I would simply say, “I’m so sorry my mistake is impacting your day. I hope you can forgive me and extend a little forgiveness, since we could all use more grace in our life.”

And then I would try and do the same thing for them.

90 Days of Thanks and Giving

Today is August 25th. Exactly 90 days until Thanksgiving.

I believe there are two things in this world that can do more to improve our attitude, inspire hope, create unity, and spread love more than anything else, and I’m challenging myself to be more intentional about both. They are, as you might have guessed, genuine thankfulness, and giving to others.

Two years ago I was inspired by a colleague to do a “100 Happy Days” challenge. What at first seemed like a fun exercise to focus on my blessings, turned into a real lesson on the power of positivity and living each day to its fullest. I discovered that when we challenge ourselves to find something to be happy about each day — even if it was just a pretty sunset or a few moments reading a book on my porch — it was easy to live every day in triumph and gratitude.

Intentionally seeking out joy is a sure way to find it.

My hope is this challenge will have a similar impact. Intentionally seeking opportunities to give to others, and/or find things to be thankful for will help me turn my focus away from selfish pursuits, lies from the enemy, and worldly defeat.

If you want to follow along my journey for the next 90 days, follow me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/neitherheightnordepth), Twitter (@jelise) or on Instagram (@jelise4peace).

Even better — why don’t you join me? Post a photo or story each day about your moment of thanks or giving (or both) to social media and tag it with #90DaysOfThanksAndGiving .  I would love to share this journey with you. Maybe together we can help turn the conversation on social media from anger and condemnation to love and gratitude.

2 Corinthians 9:11

The slippery slope to bigotry and hatred

This past week’s events in Charlottesville have hit a little too close to home. We live just 100 miles, or less than 2 hours away. It’s a town I’ve been to many times. A quiet college town nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Not a place I would expect to see as the location for hate-fueled violence and death.

But it did happen. And it’s a wake-up call for me that there is no place immune to the dark nothingness of bigotry and hatred that infects our world, our country.

I realize that my generation is not the first to witness the fear-mongering and anger that leads to racism and division. But we are the first to see how technology and social media have become a new kind of fuel with the power to fan the flames of hate, causing them to spread further, faster. And as absolutely terrifying as the ones who stand on street corners, boldly shouting their hate-filled rhetoric, or drive their cars into crowds of people for no reason other than they disagree, it’s the people who sit on the other side of their computer and phone screens shouting and cursing and bullying that scare me even more.

Emboldened by the perception of a thin veil of anonymity Twitter and Facebook become a playground of lines drawn in the sand where groups gather on one side or the other and loudly condemn anyone who thinks differently from them.  Everyone is put into a group. We are an “us” or a “them”. You are with us or against us. And if you are a “them”, oh boy you are everything that is wrong with this world. You are stupid, blind, naive, evil, a bleeding-heart liberal, a crack-pot conservative, just plain wrong. You are worthy of every curse-word in the book.

And the war cries go out in 130 characters or less, and the troops rally. Friendships are ended at the click of the “unfriend” button. There is no room for respectful debate or common ground. This is where it begins. It is the slippery slope toward bigotry and hatred.

Because as soon as we, any one of us, are able to look down on our neighbor and elevate ourselves — as smarter, freer, better, more enlightened, shrewd, or reasonable — we have placed a foot over the line of intolerance; taken a step closer to fanaticism.

The only thing worthy of our intolerance is hate.

While we absolutely should and must speak out against hate, we also have to guard our hearts and tongues lest we allow the dark nothingness to seep into our words and relationships. None of us are immune to the shadows of hatred, or a heart hardened by anger.

“…Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters…Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:14b-18, NIV)

What happened in Charlottesville this past weekend is horrifying and unacceptable. That level of hate and anger can only come from those who belong to the evil one (1 John 3:12). If we declare that we belong, instead, to the Almighty Father then we must reside in love. Therefore, let us speak only truth and love, being cautious of what we say, post, tweet, or comment, but let us protect our hearts from the enemy by refusing to judge, discriminate, or look down on others. Jesus calls us to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters, not try to elevate ourselves above them.

But most of all let us love with our actions. If you are appalled by the hatred and violence happening across this country; if you are worried about the future legacy we are leaving for our children; if you are concerned about the quality of people in leadership positions, get up and do something to spread love. Write your elected officials, volunteer at a local hospital or first-response unit, donate to the Virginia State Police Association Emergency Relief Fund in memory of the fallen officers, pray for the families of those who were killed, speak to your children about acceptance, tolerance, and love.

Close your laptop, and power-off your phone. Sit face-to-face with someone who thinks differently from you. Buy them a cup of coffee and have a real conversation. Stop trying to decide who is an “us” or a “them” and instead let it be we who come together to trample condemnation, judgement, anger, and fear.

Love like your life depends on it.

1 John 3:18

photo credit: girl/afraid when life shows you signs via photopin (license)

The surprising truth about parenting a teenager

You don’t have to be a parent to know that the general consensus around raising teenagers is “oh boy, hold on to your hat, it’s going to get bumpy” or perhaps something a little more blunt than that. There is this universal understanding that the teen years are the hardest to navigate as a parent, with perhaps the exception of the toddler years. I see it every time someone learns that I have a 14 year old daughter and they respond with a loud whistle or raised brows and big grin and say, “oh boy, you’re in the teen years!” or “phew! I remember those years, hang in there!” or even, “God bless you, teen girls are so hard!”

I’ve heard it all, and I’ve even said these things. I’ve joked with other parents about needing prayers to get through the teen years, or about the extra grey hairs growing on my head, and they’ve laughed or nodded knowingly. Because everyone seems to agree, parenting a teenager is challenging, trying, and even painful.

But here’s the thing I’ve learned  since we entered this phase of life nearly 2 years ago, the surprising truth about raising a teenager: It’s actually the most extraordinary stage of parenting I’ve experienced.

Here’s why.

The relationship is starting to shift. Her needs have changed. My daughter doesn’t call me mommy anymore and she certainly doesn’t need me to hold her hand when crossing the street, pick out her clothes, or even pack her lunches. She is becoming increasingly more independent each year, and while that may sound sad at first, the reality is it has created space and allowed for a new dynamic that I don’t have yet with my younger two.

Beautiful Hannah

She doesn’t need me in the same ways, but she still needs me. Often for something really important like someone to listen to her (just listen) when she’s struggling with a particular friendship or obstacle.

She needs me to set boundaries and then step back and give her the freedom to try new things, even fail, within those boundaries, while remaining close enough to help her up when she falls.

She needs me to know that sometimes a good cry, for no particular reason, is cathartic and part of life. But a hug and chocolate can make it all seem better.

She needs me to speak truth into her life, about how I need and rely on God every day so she may learn to do the same.

She needs my advice about decisions that will shape the rest of her life — big decisions and character defining moments — but only when she asks for it.

She needs me to recognize that she is not a little girl anymore, but also that sometimes she still needs her mom and be ready and available for those moments, without hovering or complaining when they pass.

Mom and daughter

I’m not saying this is always easy, this shift in how she needs me and the ways we relate to each other. And I most definitely get it wrong! I criticize, nag, and yell. I have a tendency to be sarcastic when I should be gentle. I ask too many questions when she doesn’t want to talk, and sometimes offer advice before it’s solicited. I’m still learning.

And for her part, sometimes I am the best mom ever and she will thank me 100 times for something little, and other times I am the enemy or invisible woman who she takes for granted. She’s still learning.

But even with the parts we get wrong; even on the days it’s really hard and one or both of us feels angry, scared, or disappointed in the other, this new relationship is nothing short of phenomenal.

Parenting a teenager is like getting an exclusive preview of the adult this child is going to be. It’s like reading a book about your favorite character and actually getting to play a role in influencing some of their story.

Because you know them more intimately than anyone else. You know where they’ve come from. You know what they’re afraid of, and what they hope for. You get to see all the good in them and the potential that is yet to be realized, but also know there are real struggles and mistakes to be made, which make the victories all the more sweet.

I’m still fairly new to this parenting a teen stage. And maybe it will get more challenging in the coming years, or with my other children. But what I want to say to every other parent who is approaching this stage: Take heart! Because while it might come with some really difficult moments, it’s also so much better than anyone ever tells you!

mom and teenage daughter

Romans 8:38-39