The Opposite of Fear

The Opposite of Fear

I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

John 14:27, NLT

Peace.

It’s something our world is so desperate for. Last week, within 24 hours, a terrorist group took the lives of 190 human beings and injured hundreds more in a coordinated series of attacks between Paris, France; Beirut, Lebanon; and Baghdad, Iraq. Never before in my lifetime have I known such a clear and present enemy.

The enemy is not Islam or Muslims. Please hear me. Our Muslim brothers and sisters are not the enemy. Our enemy is terror, and our enemies are those who would pursue it. Fear is the enemy of peace, and that is the New World Order that ISIS hopes to usher in.

But it won’t.

How do I know? Well, I’ve read the back of the Book. In times of tragedy, I always turn to the back and breathe in those words – “There will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Rev. 21:4, NLT) …But we all know it has to get worse before it gets better.

Thankfully, Jesus’ gospel isn’t just about eternity; it’s about the here and now. Certainly heaven is a beautiful end for God’s plan to redeem mankind, but if we get too focused on the future, we will miss the divine right in front of us. What is the Kingdom of God? It is Christ’s eternal reign, where love, joy, and peace rule in the hearts and lives of the whole of creation. So Jesus was right when he said that this Kingdom is both coming and here: we anticipate a heavenly home, but love, joy, and peace can still rule in our hearts and lives even now.

The truth is we do not wage war against flesh and blood, but rather we battle against demons and principalities that would seek a rule of fear and hopelessness. So when we look at the outside world and see fear and pain and brokenness, we must turn our gaze inward to the hope that we have in Jesus. What is the opposite of fear? Love.

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.

1 John 4:18, NIV

How do we bring about peace in a world so lost as ours is today? Start with the love that drives out fear. Believe in the hope that God will restore all that has been lost. Tell your story of how the Lord found you in your mess and made you whole. Share the peace that is only found in Christ. Pray for the lost and the hurting. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8, NIV)

If you feel like losing heart, know that when you walk in love, you will see the goodness of the Lord – not just in the afterlife, but here and now, in the land of the living. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7, NIV)

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Romans 15:13, NIV

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
When the wicked came against me
To eat up my flesh,
My enemies and foes,
They stumbled and fell.
Though an army may encamp against me,
My heart shall not fear;
Though war may rise against me,
In this I will be confident…

I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
That I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!

Psalm 27:1-3, 13-14, NKJV

Advertisements

And Suddenly, It’s Christmas

This year I’ve heard a lot of people talking and posting on social media about our culture’s tendency to skip Thanksgiving celebrations and go right from Halloween to Christmas. Status rants and funny memes are filling my Facebook feed; here’s one of my favorites:

halloween-meme-4

I get it; we are such an over-marketed consumer-culture that we rush from candy to mistletoe so quickly without ever taking time to slow down and be thankful. Last weekend my friend saw Santa at the mall and requested those who think this is okay to please unfriend him on Facebook. I did not heed his instruction, but I have to ask… Is it really all that bad?

Is rushing from Halloween to Christmas really rushing anything at all?

I’ve already told you that I’m not really big on “celebrating” Halloween, but I do love me some Thanksgiving. It’s one of my favorite times to visit my friends on the margins, to sit down and enjoy a meal with children of God who have been rejected by the Church. In a setting where we are often pushed to move from place to place, Thanksgiving is a time to savor the people and relationships that I value so highly. Thanksgiving is also the one time of year I travel to West Tennessee to visit my extended family, and it is my absolute favorite two days of the whole year. I adore my clans, I adore their food, and I cherish the memories I have of growing up together and the memories my children are creating. It is truly a time for me to be thankful. I absolutely, in no way whatsoever, ever want to gloss over Thanksgiving.

However, I have to admit coming home at the end of November feels like being thrust onto the starting line of a race as the gunshot fires, and I don’t even have my shoes laced up. In fact, I’d rather be home in my pajamas and robe cuddled up by a fire watching the race on TV. Because waiting until 4 weeks before Christmas to even begin preparing for the season of giving and light seems like a much more detrimental kind of rush. Office parties and teacher gifts and church plays and soup kitchens and holiday baking and gift exchanging and decking the halls and falalalaaaaahhhh it’s exhausting!!

If there is such concern for rushing holidays, it seems like we should be happy to ease into Christmas, extending the joy of the season to eight wonderful weeks of sharing goodwill and cheer. Stretching out the season minimizes the stress of shopping and gives us the gift of time – time to shop, time to help, time to celebrate, time to remember… Rather than rushing the Christmas season through a marathon month of doing all of the things, let’s go ahead and rush from October into full-on holiday mode. Let’s dive right into the beauty of everything that Christmas means.

Is there ever a bad time to plan ways to bless those that we love? To bake with our kids and share hope with the hurting? Is it ever too soon to sing songs celebrating the birth of our Savior or to put lights on our houses reminding us of the Light of the World? When “should” we start building fires and filling our homes with scents of cinnamon and nutmeg? Is November too early to marvel at the ridiculous miracle of the Messiah being born in a stable? That God Incarnate put on human flesh and entered both our literal and spiritual mess in his mission to redeem mankind? Is there ever a bad time for that?

I don’t think so. Because Christmas should always be in our hearts – the love, hope, family, peace, joy and light that makes this season “the most wonderful time of the year” is the same that fills our spirits every day that we serve Jesus Christ. So go ahead – trim those trees, hang your stockings, and fill that shoebox with gifts of love. It’s almost Christmas, after all.

Mom Wins: Celebrating the Simple Things

Today I am posting on the Knoxville Moms Blog about the little things that can make a mom’s day great. Sometimes we have to enjoy the little things, right? 

Mom Wins

Once upon a time, I did stuff. Doesn’t sound like much of a fairy tale, but it is compared to what I do now. I mean, I do stuff now, but not like STUFF stuff. Re-painting the deck, cleaning the gutters, Pinterest-ifying my garage – or anything else for that matter – these are just things that I can’t do with small kids at home. Most days I stay in my pajamas until 15 minutes before my husband gets home, at which point I throw on some clothes so he won’t know I’ve been in my pajamas all day long, struggling just to keep myself and 4 other tiny people alive. Sometimes we just have to celebrate whatever wins we can get, even the very, very small ones… like these:

  • Getting out of bed before the children come get you/cry for breakfast/jump on your face. Bonus points if your teeth get brushed too!
  • Peeing alone! Don’t even try getting away with #2 though – you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
  • Getting winked at while you’re pumping gas into your minivan while wearing sweats, a low ponytail, and no makeup. That dude may be a creeper, but yeah, you still got it!
  • Actually wearing makeup and real clothes to Target and running into someone you know! Bonus points if it’s someone you knew before kids!

To read the rest of my list, click here and visit this post on the Knoxville Moms Blog. What are the little victories you celebrate? Share your mom wins in the comments!

Everyday Worship

Everyday Worship

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 edition of the Church of God Evangel, a magazine that brings inspiring, intentional, and empowering stories and articles to its readers. Click here to view the publication online or download a PDF.

It was a Thursday at 4:45 pm when our whole house was rushing around to get out the door. My husband, Jeremy, was taking our 3 oldest children to watch some of the middle schoolers in our youth group play their first volleyball game of the season. Meanwhile, I nursed our 3-week-old baby in hopes he would sleep in the Moby wrap while I attended a parent meeting for our new kindergartener. As Jeremy supervised everyone buckling into the van, he noticed a wet spot in our garage.

Stop everything – we had a leak.

We have pretty much no plumbing skills whatsoever, and even small leak looks enormous when it has been dripping for who-knows-how-long. We left messages for a few plumbers, but we feared how we could pay for their services with all the recent expenses of a new baby. Jeremy called our friend Bob, a retired pastor who now works as an insurance adjustor and handyman.

Within minutes, Bob was on the scene with his tools in hand. Not only did he stop the leak, but he returned the next morning with the parts to fix the piping, a fan to dry out the soggy cabinets, a level to entertain my curious little boys while they watched him work, and a promise to help with whatever further damage might come as a result. And he didn’t charge me a penny.

For Bob Shook, his service to my family is not just to my family, it is unto the Lord. He practices what he preached for many years: worship is not about a song or performance; it’s surrendering everything that we do to honor the Lord and to love His people.

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus tells a familiar parable about sheep and goats – the “sheep” that obeyed God’s commandments and the “goats” that missed the mark. I heard this story scores of times growing up in the church, and it was always used to motivate Christians to service – to “be Jesus” to someone in need. However, when we look at the text, quite the contrary is true:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’”

When we serve others, we are not “being Jesus” to them. Rather, those we serve are identified with Jesus, so our service to them is direct service to Him. That’s worship.

Maybe plumbing isn’t your thing either, but that doesn’t mean you can’t worship the Lord through serving your neighbor. Next time you mow your grass, take an extra 20 minutes and mow for the widow next door too. Make a meal for someone who is grieving. Host a baby shower for a single mom who is scared she can’t make it on her own. Bring your kids to a nursing home to read to the residents. Clean house for a new mom who hasn’t slept since the baby was born. Pay for the person beside you at Chick-fil-A whose credit card won’t run. Be honest in your business dealings, and seek to serve before you make a buck.

There are so many ways to worship because there are so many ways we live. Rather than putting worship in the box of a church setting, look at your life and what you’re already doing. Ask God to show you how to use those daily activities to honor him. And when you ask, you will receive.

How to Help a Mom with Postpartum Depression

Last week I shared on Knoxville Moms Blog a little about my struggles with postpartum depression and ways you can help a loved one who is also battling this illness. Postpartum depression affects as many as 20% of live births, and that’s just those who self-report symptoms! It is also very common after miscarriage and stillbirths. This is so common, yet so isolating. Read on for some first-hand tips on what you can to to help a mom you love.

How to Help a Mom with Postpartum Depression

I never thought I would be affected by postpartum depression. I didn’t have any of the risk factors: I had healthy pregnancies, my husband and family were supportive and helpful, and I had no previous history of mental illness. So when depression came knocking at my door after my second child was born, not only was I shocked, but I felt so ashamed. I’m better than thisI told myself, as though I could reason my way out of it. That line of thinking only led me to more shame and ultimately deeper into depression.

Thankfully a gentle older mom at my church reached out to me. Actually, she reached out to my husband one Sunday while I was still staying home with the baby. “If she ever feels depressed, tell her to call me,” she said. “I mean it!” Jeremy came home and told me about her offer, taken back by her forwardness. I acted as surprised as he was, deep down wishing I had the courage to approach this woman whom I barely knew. A few months later, I reached my breaking point and finally confessed my struggle to my husband. He held me, comforted me, and gently whispered, “You need to call Dawn.”

I did call Dawn, who turned out to be a peer counselor for moms with postpartum depression, or PPD. She gave me great tips – try to sleep at regular intervals, do light exercise for a combined 20 minutes a day (even if that’s 5 minutes at a time), soak up the sunlight, limit sugar intake… All this is great advice, but I probably could have found it on a website or blog. What she really gave me – and what I really needed – was a friend. She let me know I was not alone and that it was okay to ask from help, both from friends and from my doctor. She was there for me when I felt all alone.

If you know a mom who is battling PPD (or another mood disorder), here are some ways you can help:

  1. Listen.

Click here to see the rest of this post on Knoxville Moms Blog! Also, please check out the links below for more information on postpartum depression and other postpartum mood disorders.

Learn About Postpartum Mood Disorders
The Symptoms of Postpartum Depression & Anxiety (in Plain Mama English)

WWJD? Halloween Edition

IMG_7901

It seems like every October there is this strange tension in the church. While the rest of the world is out stretching cobwebs across their doorways and setting skeletons in their porch swings, folks inside the 4 walls of the church are tiptoeing around trying to avoid the obvious elephant in the room: Halloween. We try to pretend like it’s not an issue, scheduling our Harvest Festivals the week of the 31st – but maybe not on that day so as not to promote the holiday – half joking about our family friendly costumes of super heroes or princesses for the “Boo at the Zoo” party while ignoring the door-to-door visitors that might be coming Halloween night. We ride this imaginary fence of whether or not to participate, all the while missing the forest for the trees.

This year I learned how to celebrate Halloween like Jesus would.

I have never been one to make much ado about Halloween. My kids have a huge collection of costumes that they wear all the time, so Halloween is just the day that everyone else joins their party. Plus the candy, of course, or the Frankenstein-themed notepads and plastic spider rings from those teal pumpkin’ed houses. A few simply-carved gourds is the most decorating we do for the occasion, and this year we even skipped that due to a severe reasonably-priced-pumpkin shortage when we procrastinated until the last minute. I hold no ill will toward others who go all out; I simply don’t have the disposable income or off-season storage to devote toward such items.

Growing up, my church always had a “Hallelujah Hoedown” (laugh all you want; this is East Tennessee) in place of Halloween celebrations, and by the time my parents wrapped their heads around us trick-or-treating, my brothers and I were in middle school and not terribly interested anymore. For the last decade of my adult life, I have spent nearly every Halloween at church, where we hosted a Trunk or Treat event, a “safe alternative” to walking door to door at strangers’ houses. I value that this particular church was open to the community, and while our church-sponsored trunks were always “family friendly,” no one batted an eye when community members showed up dressed as zombies or demons or scantily-clad nurses or whatever other non-churchy costumes were presented. (Okay, well, maybe my husband batted his eyes in the other direction of scantily-clad nurses, but it wasn’t a judgmental sort of way.)

This year we are serving at a new church, one whose Fall Festival was held on Wednesday night before Halloween. Our neighbor across the street is festive for every occasion, and she rang my doorbell last week bringing special treats for my kids. “I know you are always at church on Halloween,” she said, “so here’s something special since the kids won’t be coming to my house.”

“Actually, we’re not doing anything on the 31st,” I replied, much to her surprise, “so we will plan to come by and show off our costumes!”

Her excitement at my news should have clued me in that there was something special about this day in our neighborhood, but I have to admit it didn’t. I was actually a little disappointed that our church wasn’t having an outreach event on Halloween night, as I had grown so accustomed to this tradition being a blessing in our previous context. This year, however, we got to try something new.

Halloween night came around, and I honestly considered skipping the trick or treating. We had already been to our church Fall Festival on Wednesday, our new church campus’ Fall Festival on Thursday, and a local Freaky Friday event in the park, so we had enough candy to feed the whole neighborhood. But I already told our neighbor we would come by in costume, so off we went. As we walked down our street I realized something that made my heart sink:

I don’t know my neighbors.

I know R&C on my right, whose boys ride the bus with my kids and let them come over when I am late getting home after school. I know D&K on my left, who always go out of their way to be neighborly, including dying my hair pink a few years ago. (That’s going above and beyond, people!) I know C&C across the street, who bring my kids dollar store treats for every major holiday and give them shiny rocks from their garden whenever we go retrieve a ball that has rolled into their yard. And that’s it.

As we walked from house to house, I saw dozens of kids I didn’t know lived here, including two in my son’s class. We met dozens of parents and grandparents giving out candy. There was one man sitting in his garage with a box of cigars and a bowl of candy about 10 feet away so kids could help themselves without breathing his smoke. (LOL, by the way.) There was a little old lady who lives by herself and gave kids packets of hot chocolate and instant oatmeal in lieu of candy. (LOL even more, by the way.) There was a family on a cul-de-sac with a trailer hitched on the back of their truck, giving neighbor kids a mini-hayride in addition to sweets from Elvira at the door. (Okay, that was awesome.)

Not only do I not know my neighbors, but I am missing out on what it means to be a neighbor.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with Trunk or Treat (or Hallelujah Hoedowns) at church, as these can be a big blessing in certain communities. And yes, I should be spending time getting to know my neighbors all year long. But this Halloween showed me that a typically controversial holiday can be an opportunity to love people. No, I don’t mean hand out salvation tracts along with Blow Pops and Snickers. (That’s actually pretty annoying.) I mean coming together as a community, learning each others’ names and needs, loving people where they are, especially when that is just up the street.

For one night every year, my neighborhood becomes one big party where everyone joins in, and I have the opportunity to interact with people I normally never see. Rather than boycotting that with my self-righteousness or devaluing it with my presence somewhere else, I’m choosing to participate, dress up, share the fun, and share the LOVE. Body of Christ, rather than fighting about “the Christian response” to Halloween, let’s take the opportunity to get to know our neighbors, and serve them the way Jesus told us to. Because loving our neighbors honors him, and that’s what Christian holidays are all about.

Maybe next year I’ll remember to get pumpkins…