Tag Archives: fear

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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Who am I?

“But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?'” – Exodus 3:11

This was Moses’s response to God when He called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. It was the first of several creative excuses or arguments as to why he wasn’t qualified, ending with a raw and honest plea for God to pick another…anyone but him.

“Pardon your servant Lord, but please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13)

This past Sunday I stood up in front of our little congregation at church and taught about these verses. About God’s call to Moses; about Exodus 3:1-4:19. I went through each verse and discussed the importance of trusting God’s plan, remembering that God will use us for His purposes, even if we don’t feel qualified. We examined how Moses let his fear and self-doubt almost lead to missing his calling. I encouraged everyone who would listen not to let fear get in the way of answering God’s call. I reminded my church family that it’s not about us and our qualifications, but about God’s plan, His power, and His presence.

I have a special place in my heart for this section of scripture. And I believe every word I said.

But then Monday came. And I found myself alone in my bedroom, sobbing, feeling inadequate, less-than, and incapable. I asked God if He is really calling me into ministry; is that really His plan? And if it is, am I really equipped for that call? Who am I to stand before others and teach them Your word?

I know this routine well by now, having taught a handful of Sunday services and leading a few women’s retreats. It’s what I refer to as the “day after attack.”

When I speak or teach I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, and in that moment it feels palpable and beautiful, like God is doing something big and letting me be a part of it. But then Monday morning comes. And I return to my normal routine, working my normal job, packing normal lunches, looking at my normal reflection staring back at me in the mirror.

And the enemy whispers in my ear: who are you? What makes you think you are qualified to teach others? I recall the yawns and bored looks during my talk. I remember the surprised expression on the neighbor’s face when they found out I was teaching at church (you know the kind of surprise that says “what are they thinking?” not “isn’t that wonderful!”). I recount every person or article that’s declared women aren’t supposed to preach God’s word. I play back the recording of my message and cringe at every “ummm” and “uhhh”, seeing every flaw, hearing every flub.

And the enemy says, “See? You are not very good. You are not anything special.”

I think of all the practical reasons I cannot answer this call. I need seminary training. That costs money. I’m still paying off that Master’s Degree in Marketing and Communication, a degree I’ll never use if I go into ministry. I have a family to support, kids to put through school. We love our town, we can’t move just so I can go to school. Maybe in a few years…maybe when the kids are out of the house….maybe.

And the enemy says, “You’ll never be ready for this. You are just a middle-aged woman who wishes she was being called to serve God in some big way, but that is not your life.”

I am not equipped. Please, Lord, will you call someone else? Someone smarter, stronger, younger, older, richer, better?

And then the irony of this day-after beat-down by Satan and my own insecurities strikes me. I can’t even go 24 hours without succumbing to the very thing I just encouraged 45 other people to resist.

There is one thing that gives me hope, though. The fact that God never gave up on Moses. Even after he tried to deny his call five times, even though he was 80 years old, God still used Moses for the good of His plan. Even though Moses didn’t speak well and needed his brother’s help, even though Moses got overwhelmed when the Israelites complained and fought, God still used Moses to lead His people. Even though Moses lost his temper, even though he continued to questioned God’s plan along the way, God still spoke to Moses. He still loved Moses.

I know I’m not equipped to do anything. And, honestly? I don’t know exactly how God plans to use me. But I cling to the knowledge that He will use me in His time, according to His purpose.

He will never give up on me.

The littlest evangelist

“And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:3

I read a story today about an early Twentieth-Century evangelist named Gypsy Smith. As the story goes, Gypsy came to know Jesus as a child, but he was worried about his uncle’s salvation. Being a child, he knew it would be seen as disrespectful to say this out-loud to his uncle, so he fervently prayed instead. One day his uncle said to him, “Child, why are the knees in your trousers worn out?” And little Gypsy replied, “They have been worn out from praying for you to know God and become a Christian.” Gypsy’s uncle put his arm around the boy, and then fell to his own knees and accepted Jesus into his heart.

I don’t know how much of this story is true, but after watching my own children, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was a pretty accurate re-telling. As a parent I spend a lot of time thinking about how to raise my children up to have a strong relationship with Christ. I see my husband and I as their teachers and my children as the students, and so it always seems to catch me off-guard when God uses my children to teach me something.

But the truth is my kids, with their child-like faith and audacious love, have taught me a lot about discipleship and evangelism. You see my kids are chronic “inviters”. They will not hesitate to invite a friend to come over to play, spend the night, even join us for an entire weekend! And they are constantly inviting friends and neighbors to come to our church, or join us for small group Bible study. It is second-nature to them and they never think twice about extending an invitation or coming up to me and begging “puh-leeese mommy, can’t my friend Susie come with us to Bible study? Pretty, pretty please!” They ask with earnest and sell the idea to their friends with conviction.

They are uninhibited by the lies we adults tell ourselves. Things like: “oh, I can’t invite my neighbor to church, they’ll think I’m a Bible-thumper,” “I can’t talk about my faith at work, it will make people uncomfortable,” or “I’m not going to tell that stranger in Target all about the Bible study we’re doing, they will think I’m crazy!”

This fear of making others uncomfortable by what we believe, it’s really more about our own comfort zone and our unwillingness to push past it. Our worry about being politically correct or being rejected are all lies that the enemy plants in our hearts. I’m ashamed to admit I have succumbed to these lies too many times.

Matthew 18:3

But my kids? They are amazing. In the last year all three of them have invited friends to church or our small group Bible study. And you want to know what has happened? In at least three instances the parents have followed! Instead of being offended or uncomfortable about this invite, these families were eager to accept. Some of them were looking for a church. Others were waiting for an invitation and someone to welcome them. And some have been broken or hurting and needing to receive hope and love.

I believe when Jesus said “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” (Matthew 18:3) this is what he was talking about. We grown-ups need to let go of our insecurities, ignore the lies of the enemy, and stop worrying so much! We need to live our faith boldly, bravely and invite everyone we meet to join us. Because for every five people who decline, there will be that one person. That one who’s been waiting for an invitation, praying for God to give them a sign.

And don’t for a second underestimate how God will use you to answer other’s prayers. He has big plans for how He wants to use us, if only we’ll let Him. If only we will become like little children.

My biggest fear

This past Sunday and again last night in our Bible study, the topic was fear. I’ve never felt embarrassed to admit that I am afraid of a lot of things. From the mundane like heights and snakes, to the irrational like swallowing a spider in my sleep (I don’t care what Snopes says about this, ever since I read that made-up statistic I am afraid of spiders crawling in my mouth).

I regularly share with my friends and husband my fears and worries about this whole parenting gig. Fearful that  I’m too strict, not strict enough. That I keep them too sheltered, that I give them too much freedom. And mostly, that in the end I really have very little control over their life decisions.

I have even written or spoken publicly about some of my real-life moments of fear, like the canoe trip I took this summer with my family, or following God’s calling to write, and even being molested as a child.

I talk about my fears because it helps me face the irrational ones, process the past, and glean a little perspective.  I do it to help others know they’re not alone and because it provides a sense of camaraderie.

But, there is one fear I never talk about, not even with my best friend or husband. My deepest fear that I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember. The one that I’m embarrassed to admit. Afraid to say out loud to people, lest they confirm it’s true.

My biggest fear is not being loved.

Maybe a more accurate way of putting it is that I’m afraid of not being loved enough. That I love people in my life more than they love me. I don’t know how long I’ve had this fear, but I know it started when I was a child. I’ve been through enough counseling in my life to be able to identify some of the events of my childhood that probably contributed to the start of this fear. I’ve also been through enough counseling to know that it’s an irrational and unhealthy fear! But for me, it’s real.

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The worst part is that I know that this fear has actually created situations that have almost led to a self-fulfilling prophesy. I recall once planning a girl’s weekend with a group of close friends and in the weeks before it was scheduled to take place several friends either backed out or said they weren’t sure they could make it. My immediate first thought was “this friendship must mean more to me than it does to them. I knew it! I knew they didn’t really care that much about me. They just agreed to go on this trip because I pushed it.” Then I sent a rather unkind email to my friends letting them know just what I thought of their behavior. Ouch! Not a great way to strengthen a friendship in love. Thank goodness these friends do in fact love me, forgave my little rant, and we’ve had several girls’ weekends since that incident.

I’m ashamed to admit that I have been jealous of my friends’ other friendships. Worried over un-returned phone calls or emails. Replayed conversations in my head, over and over again. Been hurt by invitations that weren’t extended. And actually gotten myself so worked up I didn’t attend social functions because I was sure no one there would want to talk to me. All because I have this nagging voice in my head that tells me I am not loved. Not loved enough. Not lovable.

Then 9 years ago my marriage almost ended. It sent me down a dark rabbit hole of fear. While I was brave enough to make it known to my husband what I needed in order to save our marriage, inside I was terrified that I was not enough, not worth the hard work and effort. That I loved him more than he loved me. I struggled between wanting him to love me (and prove it) and pushing him away because I was sure in the end he’d leave anyway, so better get it over with now rather than drag things out a few more years. It was such a desperate time filled with fear and anxiety. In my brokenness I did the only thing I could do and went to my heavenly Father. I curled up in His lap like a little child, sobbing, begging for guidance and answers, and for it all to be over with already.

And God, He is so merciful. He held me and comforted me. He calmed my fears, changed my perspective when needed, gave me strength, and sometimes, just helped me fall asleep, knowing that a new day can bring with it hope.

It was during this point in my life that I really started to get a hold of this fear. Or at least I learned that when I feel afraid of not being loved, or when I start to feel the anxiety that I’m not loveable or loved “enough”, I need to turn to the source of ultimate L-O-V-E. Because, really, could there be anyone more in love with us than the Lord (said in my best Chandler Bing voice)?

And we have it in writing!

I mentioned the book of Isaiah in my post last week, and how it reads like a passionate love letter from God to His people. In the book of John Jesus tells us just how much God loves us, foretelling His death as the ultimate sacrifice of love.

In Romans chapter 8, there is my favorite verse of all time. A reminder that we are loved beyond all means, above all failures and obstacles. I especially love this translation from the Living Bible: “For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels won’t, and all the powers of hell itself cannot keep God’s love away. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, or where we are—high above the sky, or in the deepest ocean—nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ when he died for us.” (verses 38-39)

And then, there is 1 John chapter 4. I only just discovered this verse when studying the word this week, but oh my! I’m pretty sure this was written just for me. “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them… There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (verses 16 and 18)

1 John 4:.16

Um, yeah. So there you have it.

Thankfully, some things do get better with age. While I still struggle from time to time with this deeply rooted fear of not being loved, it has slowly eroded over the last several years. It rears its ugly head less often than before and is replaced with confidence that God loves me. Not just in a “yeah, you’re alright, but most days you’re not my favorite child” kind of way. But in a desperately seeking, all-consuming, nothing can stop it kind of way.

If He can love me like that, how can I possibly be afraid of not being loved enough? And this is how I face my deepest fear.

Small moments, Big impact

Have you ever looked at your life and wondered, “what is my legacy? How am I making a difference in this world?”

I think for some people it’s very clear. Pastors, missionaries, humanitarians and aid workers — these people can see how they are influencing lives and doing God’s work on a daily basis. For the rest of us, it may be hard to look at our lives and know how/if we are leaving a mark. Sometimes the way people touch our lives and impact our spiritual journey is bold and immediate, like a large rock being thrown into a pond, making a huge splash, and maybe even displacing us. But more often I think it is the small interactions, the bits of encouragement or truth that are said in passing, that end up staying with us, like quiet raindrops on the pond, slowly filling us up and over time changing our core substance.

Over the last 15 years I have been a youth group leader, confirmation teacher, Sunday school teacher, and led adult small group Bible studies. I can’t say that in any of those roles I’ve witnessed anything I said or did causing a big splash in someone’s life. But I certainly pray that my words, or perhaps even just my mere presence have contributed drops of hope, encouragement or truth that has stuck with them.

I know there are several instances of these small blessings in my life that have had a lasting impression. They were seemingly insignificant  at the time. Simple conversations or gestures that likely the givers don’t even recall. But they have had a huge impact in my life and stayed with me.

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I’ve already written about how my dear friend Mary gave me my very first Michael W. Smith cassette tape when I was 13, which began my 25 year love affair with his music. It might sound silly, but that gift really changed my life. It came at exactly the right time to get me through an incredibly difficult period of life, but more than that, it introduced me to the world of contemporary Christian music and how good music can have a significant impact on the worship experience. I am not much of a musician — despite 7 years of piano lessons I can’t really play anything more difficult than Ode to Joy (the easy version), and the three years I played clarinet I spent as the perpetual third chair — but I know and appreciate good music. I know that it can change the entire worship experience, and can surpass language and cultural barriers to bring people together. I have experienced the Holy Spirit through song. And my most profound worship experiences have been set to music.

Today, I have the pleasure of working with the worship leader at our church to recruit and schedule musicians, evaluate potential songs, and help plan and create additional creative arts elements that go into our services. Despite my inability to sing on-key or play an instrument, I have a way to influence and support the worship experience because of my love and understanding of music, and it all started with that “Go West Young Man” cassette.

When I was 17 and a senior in high school I was eagerly planning for college. After a trip to Appalachian State to interview for some scholarships and tour the campus, I came home and excitedly relayed to some friends all the reasons college was going to be totally awesome! (said in my best 90’s voice) As I told my friend Cara, who was a year younger than I, about the campus and the facilities, she asked,”did you look at any churches while you were down there?”

“Well, no, I didn’t get a chance to do that yet.”

“Don’t you think that is important? That you find a church you can attend while you’re there?” Cara was clearly wise-beyond-her-years. While I had been so caught-up in the campus life, looking at dorm rooms, checking out the football stadium and the coffee shops, I had not once considered looking at churches or finding a Christian student-group.

After that conversation with Cara, I contacted the school about the Christian student groups and ultimately joined the Lutheran Student Association (LSA), which had a HUGE impact on my spiritual formation during those four years. I also found the local Lutheran church to be my home-away-from-home. The pastor and his wife became like family to me, and in 2000 I was married in that church.

I’m sure my friend Cara didn’t know the impact her simple question would have on me, and probably has forgotten it ever happened. But 25 years later it still remains in my thoughts.

The last story I’ll share is more recent. In my 15 year career as a marketer, I’ve had the joy to work with some fantastic managers and mentors, many of whom have become personal friends. When I first started working at my current company I had two managers, one of which was in South Africa. Soon after I started in the new role I got to travel to Johannesburg to meet her, and we spent a good bit of time getting to know one another on that first trip . Ironically, we shared bits about our personal lives that might not have come up so soon if we worked in the same office. Over dinner my second night there the topic turned to our personal beliefs and we found out we were both Christians and our faith was a big part of our lives. This bit of early knowledge, I believe, really shaped our professional relationship and personal friendship because we could be very candid and honest with one another and didn’t worry about crossing any professional boundaries.

I recall one conversation in particular, about 5 years ago, when I was considering going back to school to get my Master’s Degree. I was lamenting to her all the reasons I was afraid to make the commitment. She said to me, “Yes, but God does not want us to have a spirit of fear. We are called to trust in Him.”  Wow! Convicted, this girl right here, thank you very much!

Again, that one statement –that little raindrop — struck me to my core and has stayed with me. Whenever I start to get caught-up in the fear and worry of branching outside of my comfort zone, I remember Jo-Anne’s words and I turn to God to take away my fear and give me strength.

This past weekend at the She Speaks conference, keynote speaker Lysa TerKeurst reminded us that it is not about our words, it is about The Word.

His word.

When we speak the truth to all who come across our path, God will use it to change hearts, encourage the hurting, and create a lasting effect — whether it shows up as a big splash or a tiny drop. I try to remember this and trust God that He will use my words to encourage others and shine a light on the truth.

Do you have a similar story? I would love to hear how someone has said or done something in your life that’s had a lasting impact on your spiritual journey. Please share either through the comments section or on my Facebook page.

“Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.” – John 7:18