I wrote a blog a few weeks ago about open communication in caregiving families and explicitly communicating our needs to those around us. As I was writing that blog, so many more thoughts flooded my mind about the importance of communication. There are so many simple things that we overlook as we try to connect with those around us. And isn’t our ultimate goal for connection?
Let me start by saying, I am not writing these blogs because I am good at communication. In fact, it’s probably more accurate to say that I’m writing these blogs because I’m often bad at it. But I guess when you hit a wall enough times, you eventually learn how to climb over it.
Connection is a two-way street and we all know it takes two to tango. However, we only have power over our own personal behavior and growth. So, that is what my blogs will be focused on. I want to share on what each of us can do individually to make ourselves more available for connection.
One of the keys to a good relationship in any area of our lives is communication. It sounds elementary, but if we take a good look, many of the problems we have in our relationships come from a lack of good communication. As much as we all would like to believe we are experts at this and it’s everyone else’s problem [cough cough], let me suggest that we can always keep growing in this area.
We have to learn to communicate because communication is an avenue towards connection. And our ultimate goal is connection!
If you want people to cross the line to connect with you, you might start by crossing the line to connect with them. The easiest way to connect is to be the first one to reach out the hand.
I understand that this can require some vulnerability, especially if the relationship is already strained. But the way I see it, you have a choice. You can live disconnected from those you long to be connected with most, or you can take baby steps to change and build connection.
Connection has to be built and maintained.
Have you ever been a part of a team at work, school, or church where you were assigned to a task with others and felt so connected to those people you were with that the task itself became simple? On the opposite spectrum, have you found yourself on a team that felt completely disconnected? Did you find it difficult to even want to do the task itself because of the team didn’t seem connected?
I’m convinced you can do almost anything if you feel connected.
As special needs families, we have no choice but to become a team. When that team feels connected, navigating the day-to-day care needs and high stress moments becomes a much lighter task. However, when that team feels disconnected, the day to day can start to feel very heavy.
Let me emphasize a truth we all know in our hearts, but sometimes forget.
We were not made to do life alone.
Or another way to say it: We were not made to do life feeling alone.
So what if we made it our goal this year to become better connected at all costs? What if we took this time, while many of us are stuck in our homes, to reconnect with those right in front of us — to make protecting and cultivating connection within our families a higher priority than anything else?
My upcoming blogs will be dedicated to this subject, because I believe that the only way to thrive is to live connected!
I hope that you’ll find helpful tools in my series and from all the writers contributing to the Walk Right In Ministries blogs. We hope something of our own stories, experiences, tips and encouragement will spur you on. I hope you’ll be inspired to rekindle connectedness with those around you and even think creatively about making some new connections! Time spent working on this is never wasted. I think we can come out of this most interesting season of our lives learning more about ourselves and creating new pathways to better things.
Let me encourage you. If you are discouraged reading this because of the state of some relationship(s) in your life, let me tell you something. No relationship or situation is too far gone. Connection can require intentionality, forgiveness and patience. But it is never too late to start building something together. The key is just to start!
So let’s start together.
Erin is a singer-songwriter and worship leader. Her songwriting, blogging, and speaking is often inspired by challenges and insights she experienced growing up in a family affected by disability. Erin serves with Walk Right In Ministries speaking on special sibling issues and assisting with social media. She has also served frequently in her community and home church as a worship leader.
Erin earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Songwriting at Belmont University in Nashville and currently lives in California where she completed three years of study at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. Her latest CD Come Alive (released 2018) and is available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, YouTube and other streaming services.
In the late spring of 2020 when it started becoming clear that Covid quarantining wasn’t going to end soon, I started realizing a lifestyle reset was in order. It took several months and an untimely accident to shake me to my core and get my soul powered up for the long winter at home parenting an adult child who doesn’t understand why her world has so dramatically changed.
You know how it is when you restart your computer. The process is designed to clear errors and bring the system to normal condition in a controlled manner. My phone reminds me on a weekly basis to restart all of my devices. I’m told that a reset puts less stress on the hardware than power cycling because the power isn’t removed. How interesting!
I would really like my life to be cleared of errors and to feel like it’s working in an orderly manner. And, as this computer metaphor suggests, I would benefit from staying connected to my Power Source in the midst of transitions.
Life sure does benefit from a ‘restart’ now and again. Many of us try to reset our priorities on New Year’s Eve. A new schoolyear and birthdays are seen like fresh starts for many. Spiritually speaking, repentance gives us a chance to begin anew too.
Acts 3:19-20 Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord, and he will again send you Jesus, your appointed Messiah.
2 Corinthians 5:17 Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
I’ve been desperate for refreshing lately while asking God to protect some old stuff I actually did NOT want gone!
My 22-year-old daughter Carly has Angelman Syndrome and lives at home. Her anxiety and difficult behaviors have ebbed and flowed through degrees of troublesome to exhausting throughout the pandemic. She’s confused. She’s lonely. She’s bored. She needs more physical touch — lots more. Like you and me, she’s sick of it all. But she doesn’t have effective coping skills or communication abilities to give voice to her many feelings and needs. She’s destroying clothing (chewing collars and sleeves, literally ripping pajamas off at night and risking damage to her teeth on zippers). She’s having trouble going to sleep at night and staying asleep throughout. She gets agitated during the day without our creatively offering as many choices as possible on laminated photo cards. I fear the poor girls feels like she has no control over her world anymore. Last week she bit me twice — hard. This from the girl who hasn’t bit me more than two or three times in her whole life until now.
In the midst of navigating Carly’s needs, the usual household chores and several pressing work deadlines, my husband and I sat down to finish recording a presentation we were doing for the Wonderfully Made Conference. We wrapped up just before lunch one day back in September and I decided to eat a sandwich on our deck while catching up on a few emails. After that I was going to record another of my personal presentations.
It was in that moment of sunshine when our already sideways world turned completely upside down.
I spilled a full glass of orange juice on my laptop. Let’s just say that the past four weeks since that day have been deeply disappointing, stretching and eye-opening. The irony of the situation was not lost on me. The conference presentation I was going to record after lunch that day was titled, “RESET: A Seasonal Necessity for Special Needs Families.”
My original inspiration for the subject was the pandemic. Now I was living a metaphor that had me squirming deeply. It took me to my knees day after day while we waited for the data recovery specialist to bring news that my badly damaged hard drive was restored. A couple of weeks went by and the conference organizers were graciously waiting on me. But their window of flexibility was quickly narrowing. Other concerns and timelines were looming too.
One morning, I had a caregiver staffed with Carly for the day so I could get back to regrouping and trying to record my presentation from memory — without my notes or PowerPoint slides. I was tempted to throw down breakfast and head straight into the battle before me. I longed to take a cup of tea and my Bible to our deck as the warm fall days will soon be past. But that felt indulgent on a day when opportunity to “take the hill” was in front of me and I had help with Carly for a limited time.
Reluctantly taking a lesson from myself and many past talks I’ve given to countless others, I leaned into Jesus’ prompting to carry His lighter burden and go to the deck anyway. Against all my task-oriented leanings and self-reliant ways, I tried to yield to that still small voice that wooed me, “be still, Lisa.” One of the original verses I had planned to reference in the RESET talk was ringing in my ears, “Come to me…find rest for your soul.” (Matthew 11:28-29)
I sat down wondering where to open my Bible but got distracted. My mind wandered to Joshua 3 and 4. Those are favorite passages that inspired the naming of Walk Right In Ministries back in 2008. And they continue to be reminder and inspiration to me about walking in faith, one step at a time, and trusting God to show each next step as I trust Him and obey Him.
For a moment I got curious. What, specifically, happened right after the Israelites crossed over the Jordan River to the Promised Land? I could specifically recall. I knew that their lives of slavery and then wandering in the desert were followed by a period of many victories in battles that seemed insurmountable. But I couldn’t remember whether the Bible gave any specifics about the transition period between marking the Gilgal spot with a pile of rocks and then heading into that first battle.
Immediately, I had a sense that there could be clues in Joshua 5 or a powerful example of a God-style, God-sized, power-packed reset. What I found there was, in fact, a gold mine. Within about 15 minutes time, I had a roadmap and encouragement to step back into my life with peace and a renewed sense of empowerment. My fear was gone and my frustration was released. The sense of pressure I felt to dig into my projects no longer had a grip on me or my blood pressure. I felt like the soldiers walking quietly and patiently around Jericho simply waiting for the final blast of the horn. I wondered what walls God was planning to throw down when I had the chance to shout praise for His perfect timing and process on the road to my Promised Land.
That was a holy moment in my life. Reading Joshua 5 and 6 with a deep personal need and new perspective was just what I needed. I was no longer stuck and my process for a course correction was clear.
As a bonus, I had a brand new (and much better) outline for my presentation. What would have taken me a couple of days to rebuild, had been reestablished with fresh perspective and new fire (passion) in just minutes. Once again, the Divine irony.
Here is the Joshua reset model God showed me.
REAFFIRM IDENTITY — Joshua 5:2-7
Remembering WHO and WHOSE they were was essential to claiming the promises and hope ahead. The only reason that circumcision mattered was because there was a promise on the other side.
We tend to let disability start to define us as individuals and a family. We can tend to give disability too much power over our grief, logistics, attitudes towards caregiving, etc.When one of our daughters once exclaimed in frustration many years ago, “We’re so high maintenance!” I knew we needed to review how we thought about disability in our family.
Romans 2:29 True circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit.
REST — Joshua 5:8
Before heading straight into battle, the Israelites spent time recovering and regrouping from everything behind them.
Getting adequate self-care feels impossible for many caregivers. We need to have compassion for ourselves in weakness and trust God while we fight for refreshment in mind, body and spirit. I fight as hard for sleep, respite, vacations, staycations and deep connections with loved ones as I ever did for Carly’s IEPs, quality medical care, therapies and healing.
CELEBRATE — Joshua 5:9-10
God told them to roll away the shame of their slavery in Egypt. He knew that the Passover Feast (a celebration of God’s faithfulness) would restore their confidence in Him, boost their morale and bond them as an army of warriors for the battle ahead.
Our investment in celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and family reunions — despite how difficult that can be to make happen — is a way to cultivate appreciation and grace for each other while developing relational bonds. Those bonds will be valuable to us and our children’s future in ways we probably can’t fully understand now.
FUEL UP — Joshua 5:11-12
The Israelites stopped eating the manna of the past and starting nourishing on the crops of Canaan (the Promised Land).
Ecclesiastes 7:10 Don’t long for the “good old days,” for you don’t know whether they were any better than today.
We have to keep saturating our minds with God’s promises, our future hope. There is too much temptation to dwell on life’s ease before disability or fantasies about what the future would look like without it. Fueling up on gratitude and God’s promises helps me keep my goals and priorities in perspective. Effective soul care keeps me energized too. Our family has used Christian temperament therapy for almost 25 years to understand how God uniquely created each one of us. And that helps us learn to optimize our strengths, recognize our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and teaches us how to tap our full potential by leaning into the power of the Holy Spirit within us.
WALK IN ATTENTIVENESS TO GOD — Joshua 5:13 to Joshua 6:21
The Israelites needed to pay attention to God every step of the way. As he walked toward his battlefield, Joshua asked God, “What do you want your servant to do? (Joshua 5:14-15) As God’s army of chosen people asked for His leadership, trusted His strategy, obeyed methodically and responded thoroughly, God made them strong.
Seeking God for guidance and help as a lifestyle impacts how we put supports in place and build teams (respite staff, volunteer helpers, medical providers, supports planners, church, IEPs, guardianship and wills, etc.). God is ready to help us handle crisis (illness/hospitalization, pandemic) and approach transitions (education, caregiving team, jobs) too.
Joshua and the Israelite army did not rush but walked methodically in faith and obedience (Joshua 6:3-5) trusting for the promise (Joshua 6:2). They had to be thorough in their obedient follow-through by destroying everything and not taking anything with them. All of the plunder was to be an offering to the Lord. (Joshua 6:17-21).
This day and this situation is not just about WHAT and WHOSE battles we fight but HOW we fight them.
Matthew 11:28-29Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you…and you will find rest for your souls.
I’m still unpacking the full meaning of Joshua’s reset model for my own march toward the promises of God. And I’m excited. I’m no longer stuck in regrets about the past or lamenting what is lacking yet today. I’ve captured the vision of my Israelite ancestors and I’m walking in freedom, anticipating the surprises of God’s love.
What can this look like for YOU? What are your next steps toward the promises God has for you and your family? What is on the other side of COVID, our marriage storm or disability? What is on the other side of anything that is disabling you or your family?
Like Joshua, let’s stop right now and pray, “What do you want me to do?” and then worship God. Joshua worshipped by taking off his sandals and recognizing the holiness of that moment on the edge of promise (Joshua 5:15).
Recognize YOUR Holy Moment! Walk closely with your God and let Him pave your way to His love.
LISA JAMIESON is a special needs family advocate and co-founder of Walk Right In Ministries where she serves as a caregiver coach and licensed pastoral counsellor. Lisa and her husband, Larry, live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome. Lisa’s books and Bible studies include Finding Glory in the Thorns and the picture book Jesus, Let’s Talk.
This pandemic season is creating a unique opportunity for intimate bonding with those we are closest to in life. Sure, it doesn’t always look or feel like creating sweet memories together. Bonding doesn’t always come easily in our home, that’s for sure! But our family is benefiting from learning to prioritize encouragement and cooperation. And I think — I pray — that a lot of us will look back and see that something very special happened in the grand scheme of this season.
Last week, we took some time out of quarantine tedium to play with friends on Facebook. Carly and Claire joined me for a Real Talk livestream we called “Pandemic Edition #1.” We sure had fun making some trail mix, playing a couple of online games with viewers and exploring what it looks like to “cocoon” well. The following notes share highlights from that conversation.
Thriving families have compassion for each other’s unique needs and they learn to cultivate a cooperative environment in their home.
Stress, anxiety, fear, fatigue, burnout and breakdown are minimized when we pay attention to each other’s unique needs for casual relationships, emotional connectedness, task orientation, control and decision-making. (For us, this includes paying attention to the family’s needs but also care support staff with Carly as well.)
Not everyone expresses their needs as openly or clearly as others. That doesn’t mean the needs don’t exist. The ways and degrees in which we express our needs to others can be influenced by our own natural inclinations but also by how we were raised, how safe we feel to speak up or whether we’re trying to protect others from others from more demands. Some of us simply aren’t that self-aware. And children are often not mature enough to know how to articulate what they are feeling or needing. In a cooperative environment, we are attentive to one another and help each other recognize and meet needs in healthy, God-honoring ways.
It’s not all about bonding and attachment to each other though. For many living in close confinement, there will be a need to learn/teach healthy detachment too. It’s okay for someone to take a break and go shut a door for a little while.
There are tremendous benefits in being intentional about caring for the soul needs of each person in your pandemic season cocoon. Why am I using the term “cocoon?” Cocooning is a term often used by adopting families for a period of seclusion they hold after an adoption. It allows for bonding while also protecting the immune system of an international child who isn’t yet vaccinated and wasn’t necessarily born to a mom with immunities to the various things someone might be exposed to in our country.
Cocooning is a term often used by adopting families for a period of seclusion they hold after an adoption. It allows for bonding while also protecting the immune system.
We all have our own unique soul needs. I used to read Psalm 139 with the focus of my attention on the way God had woven my body in a physical way. But God’s words took on deeper meaning when I considered that my “delicate” or “inward” parts included the way I think, how deeply I feel things, the way I express myself, the degrees to which I find fulfillment in tasks — all the complexities of my soul.
13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
When God calls us His masterpieces (Ephesians 2:10), He means every detail about who we are is His handiwork. That includes our physical anatomy as well as our soul. Our soul craves communion with Him yet we chase things of the world to fill our needs. In quarantine season, in caregiving season, in any season when the needs of our soul are strained, we need Jesus most of all. But Jesus has compassion for us and gives us gifts out of the world to reveal His intimate understanding and value of us too.
These are some general areas where we each have our own unique degrees of need:
SOCIALIZATION or how we are satisfied in relationships includes two very different layers of social-emotional need.
Inclusion — a sense of casual association and connectedness
Affection — a sense of emotional connection within deeper relationships that is expressed through words (e.g., appreciation, affirmation) physical touch (e.g., hugs, snuggling, holding hands), gifts, acts of service and more
TASK ORIENTATION is not everybody’s genius. Staying focused or disciplined with accountability or inspiration can be tremendously challenging for some. For others (and I’m talking about me here), the “almighty task rules!” One inclination is not better than the other, just different.
A few people are appreciating that there are fewer distractions so they can tackle their lists and even catch up on some things around the house. (Take advantage of your natural household project managers and use this time to develop administrative skills in younger children.)
It will help some people to alternate between tasks and social activities, avoiding a focus on one or the other for long periods of time.
Some will find it helpful to complete tasks when they are connected with some social component.
CONTROL & DECISION-MAKING responsibilities may be shifting considerably during this quarantine season.
Logistics (groceries, healthcare, germ management, household clutter) must be managed differently for now.
Circumstances out of control may incline some people to overcompensate with substitutes. For example, a tidy house can create an illusion of control when everything else feels like chaos. A purged closet may refresh and energize the person whose heart is heavy with worry.
Pacing time in new ways will be energizing for some and exhausting for others. A slower pace can be very satisfying or will trigger anxiety in those who enjoy being busy.
Changing your environment can be a way to lift spirits. For example, rearrange the family room furniture, let the kids change around their bedrooms, use special plates for dinner, have a crazy hair day or purge some toys and clothing into “junk” and “share” boxes.
Giving each other plenty of choices. (For our daughter with special needs, this means pulling out neglected laminated photos, objects and iPad apps like GoTalk Now.) This can feel freeing and empowering when so many of our circumstances feel out of control. But some people feel overwhelmed by needing to make decisions. Perhaps you are someone who likes to share decision-making responsibilities. Doing so alone triggers anxiety or frustration. Collaborate on decisions as spouses or family whenever you can.
Just like having physical needs (body), God created us with mental and intellectual capacities (mind), and also emotional and spiritual needs (spirit). None of these needs is bad or wrong. But if our needs don’t get met, we tend to sink into our weaknesses and experience things like anxiety, depression, exhaustion and even sin.
We thrive when we learn to let Jesus fulfill the desires of our hearts more than anything or anyone else. As our Creator, He knows us intimately and He only gives good gifts to His children. After that, we can enjoy His generous gifts from the world in healthy, godly ways. And that includes living in cooperative and complementary ways with others.
Psalm 38:9 You know what I long for, Lord; you hear my every sigh.
Matthew 6:33 Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Around here, we’re trying to be attentive to what each other needs and have each other’s backs. That starts with praying for each other and then includes examples like these:
Giving each other permission to express and satisfy soul needs (harder for kids and some temperaments)
Inviting each other to rest or take personal time (private places, dedicated time)
Leaving a bedroom or office door open or shut (or putting a sign on the doorknob) showing kids/others when interruptions are welcome and when they are not
Defining or redefining roles and responsibilities according to how each person is most energized
Making our home a safe space to process things like grief and disappointment
Trying to call out the positives at least four times as often as we correct/coach/redirect
Learning cooperation and teamwork but relying on Jesus first and foremost (which also prevents us from putting unreasonable demands on each other)
In a cooperative environment, we are attentive to one another and help each other recognize and meet needs in healthy, God-honoring ways. #CooperativeCocooning
These verses have been so helpful to me in the last several days:
Psalm 94:19 When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.
Psalm 139:23-24 Search me, O God, and know my heart; Test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Here are some more specific things that are working for me and my family:
Keeping track of my own thinking patterns and paying attention to shifts in my mood so I can take my thoughts captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5)
Listening to LIVE broadcasts that keep me feeling connected in the world
Having LIVE conversations that connect me emotionally to those I care deeply about (Note: turn-taking chat apps meet a different need than live conversations on the phone, FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, etc.)
Finding a person who gives me energy and spending a few minutes chatting
Texting in group chats with extended family who are geographically separated
Pacing my breaks (and what I do with those breaks)
Baking with Carly or playing a game
Going for a drive (sometimes getting gas or car wash)
Taking a prolonged shower or bath
Rearranging furniture or moving to a different room from time to time (change of environment)
Putting out some decorations for Easter or spring (you could make some new ones too!)
Building a fort
Getting off the couch and having a dance party
Playing favorite games (egg hunt)
Planning and doing a special project (We’re hoping to surprise our neighbors’ kids with an Easter Egg Hunt blessing. Hopefully, they won’t read this blog until Easter Monday!)
We thrive when we learn to let Jesus fulfill the desires of our souls more than anything or anyone else. After that, we can enjoy His generous gifts from the world in healthy, godly ways. And that includes living in cooperative and complementary ways with others.
What’s working for you?
Tell us in the comments of this post about how your family is trying to make the best of this highly remarkable experience of life.
During this season of social distancing, we can learn rest in Jesus most of all but also meet each other’s soul needs in ways that are complementary and cooperative too.
Lisa Jamieson is an international speaker, author, caregiver advocate and licensed pastoral counsellor. Her passion is spurring special needs families toward growing intimacy with Jesus and thriving relationships with each other. She is co-founder and executive director of Walk Right In Ministries and leads the Minnesota Disability Ministry Connection. Lisa is a member of the Sarasota Academy of Christian Counseling certified in Christian temperament therapy. Her books and Bible studies include Jesus, Let’s Talk which was inspired by her daughter, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome. Lisa and her husband, Larry, have been married for 31 years and have three grown daughters.
Loving and praying for each other is not optional and scripture doesn’t leave room for anything but whole-hearted engagement with people who are suffering. True, it’s overwhelming, scary and messy for us as individuals and as the church trying to meet a wide array of complex needs (e.g., disability, mental illness, aging, chronic illness). But people with atypical lives are not a liability to the community or the church. They enrich our lives, communities and churches! No situation is too big or too complicated for God.
LORD, forgive us for showing partiality with our love and compassion. You call us to love our neighbors and pray for our enemies. Move people into our circles of influence that give us opportunity to stretch our love muscles and prove ourselves faithful to YOUR ways! This is one of our spiritual acts of worship. AMEN
It’s December and, once again, Christians all over the world are celebrating Jesus’ first coming. I’ve been thinking about when I first experienced Jesus’ coming into my own heart and life in a way that I knew was real and deeply personal. I recall a sense of wonder and intrigue in my worship that year which was very different than years before. I want my current worship to reflect at least the same vigor and curiosity as it had in those early months when I knew my life and passions had been profoundly changed forever. That was a time when others noticed my new priorities and sometimes wondered about them too. I hope my life compels others to turn and look where I’m looking — toward the treasure of Jesus. I’ve been studying Revelation this fall. Three things are striking and inspiring to me about John’s vision of Jesus. First, it is while John was worshipping “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” that Jesus revealed Himself to John. Next, John “turned to see the voice that was speaking” to him. He paid attention and had an opportunity to see the manifest presence of Jesus for Himself! When John saw Jesus, he “fell at his feet as though dead.” And do you know what Jesus did then? Jesus touched John. I wonder. Will my life and faith reflect the kind of zealous and attentive worship that leads to such an intimate encounter with God? Will yours? How might the world around us be different if our Christmas worship reflects the kind of wonder and enthusiasm we had the first time we encountered Jesus in an intimate way?
Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. Luke 2:9-17 (NLT)
Do you ever wonder if you have a “calling” on your life? Have you noticed how many of your friends are wrestling to understand their own greater purpose? I believe that our culture at large is presenting increasing pressures to be contributors and world-changers. Even the Christian community and a plethora of books are promoting ways to find our purpose.
Having a sense of purpose is essential but our understanding of what that really means can become twisted. We can become tempted to define our value to God and the world by whether or not we are doing something “of significance.” This way of thinking is dangerous. It makes us vulnerable to dissatisfaction, comparisons, restlessness and low self-esteem. It takes our eyes off of God and puts our attention on ourselves.
Jesus didn’t tell us to go change the world. He said, “go bear fruit.” Jesus’ aim was not for us to feel pressure or shame. He said, “take my burden on you for it is light” and He assured us that it was through Him alone that the world could have “life to the full.”God doesn’t need us to accomplish anything. But he does want us to join Him in loving others. (See Psalm 139:7-12 and 1 Corinthians 15:10.)
Maybe it would help to change up the way we talk about this issue and redefine a couple of things according to the heart of God and His ways. Bear with me for a moment as I attempt to define two important words according to my understanding of God’s Word:
The reason for which you were created and exist
“ I was born to love the Lord God with my whole heart, soul and mind.”
“I was made to live my life as a spiritual act of worship (whether I am making dinner, mowing the lawn, playing with children, sharing the Gospel or any other such thing).”
“I must become undistracted by the trappings of cultural values (job titles, accolades, an accumulation of volunteer hours, etc.) and devote myself foremost to trusting God and demonstrating that love by loving others, moment by moment, as He would.”
References: Matthew 22:37, Deuteronomy 11:22, Romans 12:1-2, John 13:34-35
A cherished aspiration, ideal or hope impressed on a person by the Holy Spirit
“ I sense this prompting about an idea, vision or perspective is from God because it lines up with scripture.”
“I want a heart that breaks over the things that break God’s heart.”
“This specific passion or strategy I’m excited about promotes God’s plan.”
“I am experiencing a sense of urgency to see God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”
Friend, instead of a purpose, maybe all you lack is a dream. Ask God about it. He, after all, is the planter of passions and talents. He, of course, is the weaver of our soul and the one who appoints us in relationships. Until heaven we will not fully know what Kingdom purposes God has squeezed out of our often hum-drum existence. We can, however, trust that He is making much of our seeking Him and sharing Him.
Pray that God would help you see how He has already placed you in roles and relationships where you have significant contribution to make. Your daily routines may seem mundane but they are ripe with opportunity in God’s way of seeing. Ask Him to prompt you with a dream and show you any new places where He would want you to join Him.
I am learning something in my own life that gives me a precious sense of peace and freedom while reminding me how deeply I am loved by my Heavenly Father. Whenever I start feeling confused about whether I am following God’s specific “plan” or wondering if I am stewarding my gifts to their fullest, God whispers again this most basic request:
“Just love me.”
It is my prayer that everyone reading with me today will experience the fruit of a love affair with God — fruit like big dreams, big power (from the Holy Spirit in you) and a big love for others that motivates you to persevere in faith as a fully engaged disciple.
“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”
This is the final installment in a series of posts
meditating on Immanuel — God with us. Let’s continue worshipping together by thanking God for revealing Himself to us and by remembering how very near and accessible He is.
I have loved re-reading the experiences of the Israelites as the Christmas season comes around again. Not only does it fascinate and reassure me to “connect the dots” of covenant love and the fulfillment of Biblical prophecies, but I personally relate to the Israelite’s situation on a few levels.
It is encouraging to me remembering that j
ust as God’s presence led those freed slaves through a desert to the Promised Land, He is with me through times when I feel trapped in my circumstances or stuck in a wilderness. While God is moving me toward my Promised Land, the Holy Spirit dwells within me to guide me, inspire me, empower me, comfort me, advocate for me, equip me, protect me, reassure me when I’m discouraged, forgive me when I doubt Him, give me grace when I grow impatient and give me a restful peace when I feel frantic and overwhelmed.
I appreciate that the same promises God made to the Israelites remain true for me. And I understand those promises even more clearly now because Jesus’ presence brings new layers of enlightenment to what is happening then and now from the broader Kingdom perspective.
How does God teach or encourage you with these verses about His presence today?
Exodus 25:21-22And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you.There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.
1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
Colossians 1:26-28 The mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
John 17:20-22 [Jesus said,]“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.
Hebrews 10:19-24 19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
Luke 2:10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
Colossians 2:9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.
Romans 8:11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jsus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
1 Corinthians 1:9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Ephesians 3:12Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.
What are learning or embracing about the wonder and fullness of Jesus’ presence as the Christmas season arrives?
Encourage someone this weekend by sharing an answer to this question. Also, consider encouraging me and others here by telling about your experience in the comments below or by writing to me at email@example.com.
Today continues a three-part series of Christmas season posts thanking God for revealing Himself to us in Jesus.
We’ve had a stretching fall at our house being extremely short-staffed with respite/caregiving support. For a few reasons (some known and some unknown), we’ve had more difficulty than ever staffing PCA (personal care assistance) positions that opened up this summer when most of our helpers went off to college. My husband does some traveling for work also, so I’ve spent more time by myself with Carly (who is non-verbal). I’ve been feeling isolated and the physicality of her care has taken a toll on my body. Between Carly and me, we’ve spent far too many hours in physician clinics and physical therapy offices this fall. It’s frustrating to give away precious hours to appointments like this when I might spend them writing, Christmas shopping or at lunch with a friend. Knowing that God remains with me and for me stirs my courage and helps me persevere.
God has been revealing His presence among us in various ways since the creation of the universe. During the Christmas season, we remember and celebrate how very near, available and accessible He is. Since Christmas is the celebration of God incarnate — God made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ — let’s worship reflecting on ways God has been expressing His presence to us throughout history and creation.
Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God,and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Exodus 13:20-21Andthe Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.
Exodus 14:24And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic.
Exodus 40:35-38 And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out.But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up.For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.
John 1:9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.
Colossians 1:22 He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.
John 10:9-10 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
Revelation 21:1-3 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.
Psalm 16:7-8 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
How do YOU recognize that God is near to you?
Tell us how Immanuel is revealing Himself to you recently. Share in the comments below or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m coming into this Christmas season wearier than usual on the caregiving front and wrestling a bit with fears about the future for our 16 year old daughter who has Angelman Syndrome. My life, like yours, is complicated and sometimes scary. I can’t imagine doing this life without the confidence that God is always near, holy, compassionate, powerful and sufficient for all our needs. Despite that assurance, I still struggle too often between deep gratitude for His presence and longing for a greater sense of it.
How about you? Do you sometimes wonder what God is up to in your circumstances? Have you ever fought off feelings of abandonment and asked God to show you who He is in fresh and tangible ways? Although I see evidence of God, His love and His power every day, there are still areas in my life where I am waiting to more fully understand and see Him.
During this Christmas season, I invite you to join me in asking God to remind us and refresh us in the Truth of Who He is, how He keeps moving toward us and how He makes it a priority to be available with all of his compassion and authority.
Today begins a short series of posts meditating on Immanuel — God with us. Let us worship together by thanking God for revealing Himself to us and by remembering how very near and accessible He is.
Matthew 1:23“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his nameImmanuel” (which means, Godwith us).
Exodus 25:8And let them make me asanctuary, thatI may dwell in their midst.
John 1:14Andthe Wordbecame flesh anddwelt among us,and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full ofgrace andtruth.
Ephesians 2:19-22So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints andmembers of the household of God,built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Psalm 139:7-8Where shall I go from your Spirit?Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there.If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!If I take the wings of the morningand dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shalllead me and your right hand shall hold me.
What are YOU learning about the presence of God in your life today…in this generation, during this holiday season, on this particular day in history or in this particular season of your life?
Share with a friend, family member, neighbor, co-worker or even stranger. Tell us in the comments below or write me at email@example.com. Your encounters with God encourage others and honor God.
It’s my privilege to introduce you to the faith and work of Kenny Saylors today. I came to know Kenny through his brother and sister-in-law, Kyle Saylors and singer-songwriter Erica Lane. Together, these two gentleman are successfully using quality films to tell purposeful and powerful stories, many that feature the redemptive work of God. This is a talented and inspiring family folks! The Saylors Brothers are the creative force behind more than 18 years of industry success with award-winning national and international hit music videos, motion pictures, television series and critically-acclaimed documentary films. Their works have been featured on and in Fox News, Newsweek, BBC, Time Magazine, NY Times, LA Times, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Forbes, Huffington Post, Indie Wire, Charisma, Christianity Today, among many others. Last fall, the Saylors Brothers produced and directed the successful FOX Sports Television Docu-Series “The Gamebreaker” featuring NFL stars like Reggie Bush and DeMarcus Ware. You will definitely want to see their latest project, Veil of Tears, which hits theaters next month. But more on that in a moment.
First, I want you to hear something important and inspiring Kenny has to say about how we can experience God’s voice in our lives.
Sadly, I hear many Christians say that they’ve never heard God speak to them. More commonly, I hear “it’s been a long time” or something to that effect. After a few minutes of conversation, I find out that they spend maybe 5 or 10 minutes reading the Bible in a day, or even in an week. Many say they don’t really read the Bible at all. It is the same with prayer. The time they spend with God is so minimal that it’s difficult for them to recall the last time they spent more than a few minutes in prayer. And most of those minutes were spent in ‘request mode’ or times of desperation.
It’s no wonder so many who say they believe in the Almighty God are bound by so much adversity in their lives and live in a state of perpetual worry and fear. How can one expect to live victoriously in Christ without hearing from Him? How can we know that we are where our place is in His will? How can we follow someone we never hear? How can we successfully attain our purpose for His Kingdom if we do not even hear His voice to know where He is leading?
You see, the Bible is the gateway to hearing from the Lord. It’s not called the Word of God in title only. It still speaks to you and I today where we are. IT IS HIS WORD. Once you learn to hear the Lord through His words, then can you begin to hear Him more clearly with your heart. The Bible says in John 10:27 that “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
Following Jesus Christ is MORE than just knowing who Jesus is. It is HIM knowing each and every one of us in an intimate relationship—hearing His voice, knowing.
I am reminded of an incredible passage in 1 Kings: “Then He said, ‘Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” 1 Kings 19:11-12
As believers in Jesus, we often look for God in the thunder, in the lightening, in the fantastic and extraordinary circumstances. But it is often by these things we are distracted from hearing the true voice of the Lord. It is in the silence—alone, in the Word, in His presence—that He speaks in that still small voice to us.
My friend, don’t expect to hear from the Lord if you’re unwilling to “study to show yourself approved unto God” (2 Timothy 2:15) or unwilling to bow before Him—not with your requests but in denial of self to completely lay before Him your will in exchange for His.
My prayer today is that each of us reflect upon ourselves. If you have neglected your first love, I implore you to dust off that Bible and set aside time each day, not just to read a book but to experience a God who desperately wants to talk to you. He won’t take the step to you until you make the first move and you’ll never hear Him until you quiet your world to hear his precious voice.
Thank you, Kenny, for urging us to be intentional about stillness with God and drawing near to Him through His Word. Word of God, speak! Now don’t miss the opportunity to see the Saylor Brothers’ gripping new documentary film, Veil of Tears. It shares the untold story of millions of women in India who are culturally persecuted for no other reason than the fact that they are women. Narrated by Grammy-Nominated Recording Artist Natalie Grant, this film journeys where few outsiders have gone before to tell personal stories of tragedy, triumph and the resiliance of the human spirit.