Overwhelmed For What?

The planner.

The planner with all the meetings, appointments, work hours, to- do lists, and an insane amount of sticky notes to plug any holes left in the day.

People, what are we doing?

Why are we doing all of this? Are we okay?!

We’ve got all manner of supermom and superdad things to do that MUST be done in order for us to feel that our day has been fruitful. At least this is what we are learning from our society.

As a budding missionary who needs a part-time job to help sustain my family, I have recently stepped back and taken a good look at what an average day looks like for me. What I see is an impending train wreck if I don’t learn the difference between productivity and busyness. You see, work is honorable and fulfilling, but toil is absolute drudgery, and that is how life feels when it is too cluttered and overwhelming.

So, what to do? Cry, complain, embrace the mania, or just lie down in defeat? I’d rather not (although there have been tears…lots of tears).

I am, however, a huge fan of dealing with problems rather than hiding from them. Full disclosure: I have been known to run at break-neck speed only to find myself right back where I started just to end up doing what I should have done in the first place which was to deal with it so it wouldn’t be a thorn in my side anymore.

5 Steps Through a Cluttered Life

Accept that You cannot do Everything Yourself.

Life has enough problems on its own without our behaving as though we have control over every aspect of life. We simply don’t. We only have control over our decisions, and the rest is a marble run. The question I am learning to ask is this: Why would I rob God of His willingness to do my heavy lifting if I just trust and obey Him? Just who do I think I am here? The verse doesn’t simply say that I can do all things. It says the I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phillipians 4:13). Running on my own strength and counting on my own intelligence is a master plan for the loss of my own mind. And like I said, I’d rather not, thank you.

Is it Really a Priority?

Not everything is an emergency. If we look at the people around us who seem to have it all together at all times, it can be very easy for us to feel the apprehension that comes with the feeling of not measuring up. So, we try to be super heroes in ways that are not fitting to our lifestyles. This needs to stop. Your life is your life, and the things that are important to others don’t have to be important to you. We all have needs, but why are we trying to satisfy them all at once like life is some kind of get ‘er done Olympics? As a wise woman once pointed out to me, it is highly probable that the Proverbs 31 woman hardly did ALL of those things at once. She prioritized!

Are you asking yourself what’s important to you? What comes first, the job or the family? Do you need to focus on your spiritual health or your physical health? Only you can answer those questions for the life God has given you. Whatever the answer, you can trust God to fulfill His promises no matter how difficult the journey.

What Steps are Taken from One Thing to the Next?

Everything is a process. Even something as simple as making our morning brew requires a process: add water, add grounds (or pod), grab mug and fixins (if you like), wait, pour, sip! That’s an entire process. Imagine what would be in your mug without the water or the mug itself. No? Yeah, I don’t want to imagine it either. Coffee is fantastic and the process of it becoming my go-juice is almost as good as the drink itself.

That’s why it is so important to pay attention to the details of making something happen. The only thing ever created out of nothing was the Heavens and the Earth, and even they came with a plan and happened in a particular order (Genesis 1-2). So, whatever items remain on your to-do list, be sure to ask yourself what it will take to actually do them.

Check Your Baggage

Oh, the baggage of life! And it’s not even ordinary baggage when we are overwhelmed. Somewhere in the forest of lists is that all-important list of things we wanted to do, started, but never finished. When we look at them from an organizing perspective, do we even need to do these things if it has been 5 years since we started…and stopped? Even if we still what to do it, if we know we cannot right now, why aren’t we tucking it away for such a time as we are able or until God provides? On the journey of our lives, unnecessary baggage causes much stumbling and falling. Let it go…for now or all together.

If it is yours to have or do, God is better than free 2-day shipping. It will be exactly what you need and exactly when you need it.

Get Motivated

How, you ask?

Answer: I have no idea!

I do know this: not all things require the same motivations. Sometimes we can be emotionally motivated, and at other times, we can be motivated by different things like money, survival, passions, or any other reason we might have for making our decisions. The key is in your knowing why you want or need to do anything on a daily basis. Disclaimer: if you don’t know why you are doing something, it might need to be re-evaluated as to whether or not it even belongs in your brain. When you know why you are doing something and that reason really matters to you, you have the perfect recipe for motivation.

If you need to address your physical health, why is it important to do it right now? Do you just not want to die, or do you just want to look better in those jeans?

If you want to go for that promotion, why do you want it? Do you simply want to make more money? Are you chasing a title, or are you answering a calling?

If your bed needs to be made, why do you bother making it (yes, even the little things have reasons)? Are you OCD, or is this just what you’ve always done? Is it as simple as you just want a tidy home?

Whatever you need or want to do, let your reasons be honorable ones that edify you, edify others, and edify God.

Being overwhelmed is a big part of the grey space we can so easily find ourselves in. Having so many things undone or waiting to be done can fill us with the kind of anxiety that takes our attention away from God and makes us start trying to tackle our mountains on our own – with no power, no guidance, and no protection. Is that really how we want to live?

My dears, not every priority is yours. Not everything that is yours is a priority. Look closely and decide what has to happen right now and what really can wait until tomorrow. As my kids seem to think, just because it’s on your plate, it doesn’t mean you have to eat it.

Be blessed

New Year, Better Love

My dears,

It’s pretty easy to find an image, article, or witty meme to express just how heinous this year, the now undoubtedly historic 2020, has been. A good writer would provide a good recap here, make a few tasteful jokes about it all, relate a little bit, then make a perfect-10 landing with a very wordy form of we’re all in this together. But, I’m not a good writer. I’m a storyteller.

While we have been focused on our woes, God has been topping off cups that have been long overdue for hefty refills. In our autonomy and sentience, we make it easy to forget about the lilies of the field – the needs and desires being fulfilled in spite of the rat race we insist on running, desperately toiling to satisfy ourselves in business, home, and community when satisfaction is not, has never been, nor will it ever be our job. That’s God’s business – providing for, guiding, and thoroughly loving His creations. And so, it was. While we were scrambling trying to figure out how to adapt to the good, bad, ugly, and wild aspects of this year, God seemed to up His relationship game, and if we are paying attention, we will notice the overflowing cups of love and grace, literally, all over the place.   

Psalm 145:16 boasts that God opens His hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing. No exceptions are listed.

So, when the Puckett household had a rather messy entanglement with the Coronavirus, the last thing expected was the destruction of a friendship over ethics. The fears surrounding this virus (and other things, of course) have brought out some very interesting character details in people we thought we knew, and I have to be honest when I say that I wasn’t even ready for some of my own, the worst of which was completely cutting off someone who loved me because I felt like my boundaries were disrespected. It was rude, and it hurt her badly. To even greater shame, this went on for several weeks with God disturbing me about it before I decided to gather my spine and call in an attempt to be understood and validated (Really, Adi?).

I didn’t even call this person to better understand her, and it’s a little sickening thinking about that detail as I’m writing this. I called her with my desire to be justified in my ugly behavior. Yuck!

This poor woman’s heart poured out over the phone in the form of tears and a desperation for us to not lose one another. I have to praise God for her tears in spite of the pain she was experiencing, because it pierced my heart, and suddenly, the desire to be understood disappeared in the shadow of a greater desire for my friend to not be hurting. Hearing her apologizing for something she was completely unaware of was almost too much because that feeling is an all too familiar one. So, I made myself listen to that suffering, watch the real-life train wreck my hands caused, and I then wished silently that I could take her place. Her broken heart broke my heart and God slipped into that crack and immediately aligned my desire with His own desire which was to rightly love my friend. Period.

This is the moment in which God revealed that the real problem was that in the years we have known each other, our relationship was simply not close enough for us to have avoided the errors that had been made. When I spoke this, she quickly admitted to not understanding how vastly different we are, and in that lack of awareness, decisions were made that had hurt me in ways she never would have expected. And in truth, her decisions had been quite harmless, but I had allowed my programmed defense mechanisms to go before me instead of going in heart first. My dears, that is bad business all day long.

As we reached this clearing in the forest of malcontent, we determined to work harder toward a healthier friendship with one another, blessed each other, and called it a night. Of course, like usual, as I drifted off to sleep, God’s word fell into my spirit:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed“.

James 5:16

I called her again the next day with a suggestion; that we enter into a private Bible study together. Lunch and Jesus, right?! I mean, what better way to really get to know someone – to establish a true, concrete relationship with one another – than to do so through the eyes and ears of God? In response to the suggestion, my dear friend was overjoyed and we both committed right away, kicking off the study that very week. Since then, every Wednesday with the exception of Christmas Eve, we have met in my kitchen over lunch with our Bibles, books, tears, laughter, struggles, desires, encouragements, and loving chastisements.

The things we have learned about each other could not have come about any other way than through the prism of God’s enduring love and desire that we have good relationships on this earth with one another. I only thought I loved her before, but now I just adore her and never want there to be a time when I can’t call her up to be goofy or bawl my eyes over silly human stuff. And I never again want her to feel like my love for her is conditional. The very idea that I did that to her still makes me cry, and I don’t want God to ever let me forget the view of her from His heart. His commandments for us to love Him and to love one another are not mere suggestions. They are the two most important ingredients to our abilities to persevere through this life with hope, grace, and unity – not just for our own sake, but for that of others and Jesus Christ.

I recall this story in this year of my life because it was full of lessons that must be shared. I need to share that God is bigger than politics, viruses, skin color, upbringing, socioeconomic status, or any other petty thing we could ever cook up to separate ourselves from one another out of fear, personal convictions, or whatever excuse we come up when we fail to love rightly. And let there be no doubt: Next to the greatness of God, every bit of the nastiness within our human condition is petty, and pettiness is not in the makeup of an ambassador of Christ – or simply a decent adult human being, for that matter.

So, as we careen, at break-neck speed, into 2021, I would like to encourage all of us to love harder than we ever have before – to rebuke pettiness in the name of Jesus so that in every interaction with those in our lives, we choose love EVERY time without exception. On my own mission to love rightly, I resolve never to consider myself infallible as if by virtue of this mission I am above anyone else in my treading of the same ground as everyone else, but to instead strive every day to check my gut (the goofy defense mechanisms I’ve had to live on but no longer need…get it?) against the word of God, and only that. I resolve to listen better, to look deeper, and to hold tighter to Jesus so that I don’t get lost in my own garbage. My dears, I desire the same things for you.

May your new year be full of lessons from the Lord in all things love, in all things grace, and in all things unified for the sake of Him who loves us from the depths of the earth to the limitless expanse of the Heavens! May your choice be joy in all circumstances, no matter how bad, because the source of that joy is Jesus, for Wonderful is His name!! I pray that the Lord enriches our relationships with Him and with others no matter how much it seems the world is burning down around our ears. I pray that He gives us resolutions of purpose, substance, and endurance so that our next steps forward will leave imprints of triumph, victory, and everlasting hope. Amen!

Here’s to a willfully happy and graciously blessed 2021. God bless you all.

Graciously yours,

Adi

As Your World Spins

Are you stuck?

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Ephesians 3: 20-21

Are you feeling like everything in your life is spinning all around you, and it’s all going so fast that you can’t reach out and control not one single element of it all? I’m telling you: I get it.

Seasons of life can be so unpredictable and so much of it really is out of our control. That can be such a horrible feeling when we know how intelligent, creative, strong, and resilient we are. It begs the following questions: If I’m so awesome, why are these things so hard to control? Why am I so depressed? Why is my anxiety constantly getting the better of me? Why aren’t my children listening? Why is my spouse grating my nerves so badly? Where did I put my motivation, and what do I do with it when I find it? WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON?!

Life changes can increase the intensity of these questions, and the bigger the change, the faster the spin seems to be.

My 19-year old daughter has finally left the nest to start her own journey through life – without me! While I can’t say that it was too soon (it was quite overdue, actually), the void she left in my heart has been emptier than her bedroom was before it was transformed into the office I’m sitting in right now. Of course, I know it’s time for her to fly, and I also know I have to let her. We are close, though, and not hearing her sing through the house every day is almost more than I can stand some days. In this transition of life, all other parts of it just began to spin.

I no longer knew what to do next. I had no idea just how much of my mind and heart my child occupied while under the roof with me. The talks, the laughter, the arguments, the snacks we shared while everyone else was asleep, the borrowing of make-up or nail polishes, the tears, the joy, the struggles – all gone. What was I supposed to do to fill all the space these things occupied? Who is going to catch her if she falls too hard? Who is going to help her avoid so much of the pain and uncertainty of this life? Who is going to mother-hen my child?

These questions led to God using book shelves to bring it all back into perspective.

My daughter and I are both avid readers, and while our tastes in literature differ, there is a little bit of crossover. While helping her clean the books out of her room, I found some titles she no longer wanted but was happy to let me add to my own living room library. Of course, this meant that I would have to reorganize the whole thing since my OCD simply wouldn’t let me just add them to the shelves and call it a day. As I was finishing up, my husband walked through the room, and I asked him, “What do you think?”

“About what?” he asked. “I just reorganized all the books and décor on all of these shelves,” I replied in shock that he didn’t notice a difference at all. “What difference does it really make?” he asked. “It’s not like we can actually move the furniture around or anything. The layout of this house is crazy, so we’re stuck with everything the way it is – FOREVER!” Now, my first thought was not very kind at all, but on the heels of this unpleasant thought, I heard a whisper: “Bloom where you’re planted.”

While I have this statement on a cute coffee cup, it was suddenly not cute or inspirational. It was absolute truth! So what if we were silly enough to buy a ginormous sectional sofa that can only go in the room one way? So what if those book shelves can only be where they are until we get rid of them or change houses? So what? Why can’t I change what I CAN change? Why be so focused on the weight and magnitude of the depressing big picture when I can find joy in the creativity God gave me and let Him handle the things that are completely out of my control – things like my precious adult daughter whom I love with my whole being.

No, I can’t move the sofa, the book shelves, or the television. I can put all my books in order by subject matter and go even further by making sure they are in alphabetical order. I can also rearrange the video game consoles and put the pictures of my and my husband’s parents in a new location that will better showcase their beauty. To put the icing on the cake, pieces of my daughter’s artwork have found new homes along these reordered shelves.

In my worry and anxiety, thinking I wouldn’t be able to pass by my child’s room without bursting into tears, my spirit was quieted by a promise that has allowed me to sleep soundly ever since.

“She’s mine now,” whispered the Lord to my heart. He reminded me of the promises He has already made good on in this life – how time and time again, He has made a way when I didn’t see one. As He has been a light in my darkness, He promises to do the same for my sweet girl.

So, don’t worry. If your world is spinning, just reach out. God will put the thing in your hand that you need to do next, however small or mundane. When that happens, simply do it. You will be in awe of how He will start settling one thing after the other, calming the storm as only He can. You DO NOT have to fix everything, and there are so many things in this life that you’re not even supposed to control. So, open your hand and let God give you the little things you can control while He does the heavy lifting. He is strong. He is mighty. And not only is He able; He is also willing to do above and beyond all we could ever ask or think.

Now, the hard times before no longer matter. Angry words and dramatic fall-outs are distant memories as I simply look forward to the relationship I will have with this grown woman who I get the honor of calling my daughter. This coming weekend, my child will be cooking me a whole meal from her own kitchen for the first time in her life, and while simple and mundane, this is her next thing, and I could not be more proud.

Easier Said, Better Done

Love is Not a Feeling. It is Action.

In the humble village of Mahomet, IL, there is a bit of confusion surrounding something we Christians seem to take for granted. The new school season is about to kick off, and a lot of things are going to be different this year. Not only do we have issues surrounding Covid-19, but now adjustments are being asked to be made in the teaching of history and anti-racism. School board meetings have lasted for hours at a time in attempts to get everyone on the same page about how all of these things will be accomplished, and somewhere in the fog of confusion, there has been a fairly consistent snag.

On more than one occasion loving our neighbors as ourselves has been offered as the bulk portion of the solution to racial injustices, bullying, and other forms of inhumanity. In every instance of this suggestion, there has been push-back that says that doing so is simply not enough to affect positive changes to systemic racism within our community.

To be honest, I also believe that loving our neighbors rightly is a gigantic step toward bridging the racial divide. However, I have to admit that it has taken me quite a bit of time to understand why the push back against such a simple and kind principle is so strong. After having several conversations with other citizens in the community, it has occurred to me that saying that we love our neighbors is a whole lot different from actually doing it. What we’ve been missing is the practical application of what it truly means to love our neighbors as ourselves.

As Christians, we bear a responsibility to everyone around us to live the life we profess to believe. Anything other than practicing what we preach is mere lip service and makes us disingenuous. The push back, in my observation, is mostly from those who do not believe as we believe but are asking us to walk our talk. In their own ways, they are saying that if we truly believe this works, we should be able to prove it. So, for the sake of everyone involved (that would be all of us), I’d like to provide a breakdown of what ‘loving your neighbor’ looks like, where we got it from, and how we can all put it to good use.

Of course, we Christians get our instruction from the Holy Bible. There are many translations of it, and we each use the one that we best understand. Personally, I use several translations as I study. For this piece, I will be using the ESV (English Standard Version).

In our Bibles, the request to love our neighbors is not an empty one. In fact, it’s actually not even a request. It is a commandment.

Mathew 22:36-40 describes a conversation between Jesus and a lawyer.

Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

“And he” [Jesus] “said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Jesus gives the importance of His statement in Mark 12:31

There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Here’s why. Love, as explained in 1 Peter 4:8, covers a multitude of sins. This means that, when applied correctly, love has the power to diminish all wrongs committed by anyone. This isn’t saying that people can just run around doing whatever they please without consequences, but it is saying that we can choose how we treat people based on how much wrong we are willing to love them through. What everyone needs to understand, though, is that this love business is SO hard! Yes, I said it. Loving everybody is hard work. I cannot allow it to be thought that we Christians somehow have this magic switch that flips when we accept Jesus, and we suddenly become these perfect, lofty beings who automatically know what love really is and always get it right. Trust me, we don’t.

Life as a Christian requires us to do a lot of things that go against our human nature. We are tasked with loving our neighbor, practicing self-control, being gracious – in EVERY situation! I would be lying if I said I don’t struggle with it. Sometimes, I could force myself into days of repentance in exchange for one opportunity to put someone in their place. It’s never worth it, though. As hard and messy as love can be, people are worth it. We are all human and desire to be treated fairly. We don’t, however, always have a clear view of how to go about treating everyone fairly.

Thank goodness for a comprehensive list of what love looks like.

Many of us have read or heard of 1 Corinthians 13:1-8, but I want to paraphrase it for the purpose of perspective.

No matter what we do, none of it will matter if we do not have love. Whether it’s speaking up, educating ourselves, practicing our faiths, giving to the poor, or sacrificing ourselves, if love is not our basic motivation, we are wasting our time. We might make someone feel good for a moment, but the gain is woefully temporary. Love is faithfully enduring.

Love is patient: Being silent while someone else is talking, giving people time to think and process information, thinking before you act or speak, not being angry when things don’t happen in the time frame you’d like, letting life be a process, etc.

Love is kind: Holding doors for the people behind you, picking things up that someone dropped, cleaning the table where you eat, complimenting someone on their shoes or achievement, offering an objective ear, being there when you’d rather be elsewhere, etc.

Love does not boast: Keeping your good deeds to yourself unless asked about them, being a good winner and a gracious loser, not filming and posting that time you give a homeless person a sandwich, etc.

Love does not envy: Not being upset when someone has something you don’t have, congratulating others on their accomplishments, being a gracious loser (again), learn about new things you don’t understand, etc.

Love is not arrogant: Being humble in your victories, putting your pride aside even when you’re right, listening to understand, remembering to be grateful, etc.

Love is not rude: Being gracious in your answers to questions that might concern you, not saying anything if you don’t have anything nice to say, controlling your facial expressions and body language, putting a lid on your gut reactions, etc.

Love does not insist on its own way: Not having that fit when you don’t get what you want, adapting to the needs of the situation, being willing to compromise, considering the fact that your way is not the only way, etc.

Love is not irritable: Finding your calm before entering a stressful situation, choosing to walk away rather than argue, actively avoiding personal triggers, considering the fact that life is hard for everyone, etc.

Love is not resentful: Remembering to be grateful (again), learning how to forgive, allowing yourself to be forgiven, letting go of past wrongs, taking every situation on a case-by-case basis, etc.

Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth: Acknowledging a truthful thing from someone you don’t like, interrupting bullies, graciously calling out wrongful speech or behavior, standing up for the unpopular, etc.

Love bears all things: Not allowing everything to become a fight, walking away even when offended, understanding that every action has a root reason, etc.

Love believes all things: Accepting the struggles of others as belonging to them, validating the existence of another’s feelings, separating the thoughts of others from your own when in conversation, etc.

Love hopes all things: Desiring good for everyone, looking for the best in everyone, expecting the best when preparing for the worst, actively practicing the change you want to see, etc.

Love endures all things: Working your way through hard encounters, knowing when to leave the past behind, choosing joy over anger or vengeance.

Love never fails: The practice of the above definitions of love creates the atmosphere necessary for healthy relationships to prosper. While it is not necessary to have a ton of close friendships, it is necessary to keep our relations with one another civil and gracious.

Working backward through my Bible, I’d like to point out why God finds it so important for us to love our neighbors. Not everyone has an understanding of the depth of God’s love for us. I believe, however, that his primary motivation for our existence is so that He can love us and be loved by us in return. As the creator, He could very well demand this love, but He would rather it be our choice. Choosing to love Him makes our love authentic and solidifies the relationship between us. And so it should be with our relationships with one another.

For every relationship, there should be ground rules and boundaries. The commandment to love one another stems from the first-ever ‘ground rules’ given which are the 10 Commandments as listed in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 6. These commandments are guidelines by which we can all build enduring relationships and set healthy boundaries within them. To explain:

The first 4 Commandments give us guidelines and boundaries for our relationship with God.

1. You shall have no other gods before Me. (God made us, loves us, cares for us, protects us, and has given us dominion over every other living species on the planet. There is nothing else worthy of being placed above the God of all creation.)

2. You shall not worship any carved images of ANYTHING, not even Me (God’s power cannot be harnessed or controlled through any object, so there is no need to bother with statues of Him.)

3. You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain. (Unless we are praying to or speaking about God, we should not use His name loosely, especially as part of a curse or swear. If it isn’t holy, keep Him out of it.)

4. Remember the sabbath and keep it holy. (We all love our mental health days, and we could very well consider this commandment as such. Even God, the creator of the universe, took time to rest and reflect over all He had done. In like fashion, He wants us to take care of ourselves, and a big part of that is taking at least one day per week to rest and reflect on all that God has done for us.)

The remaining 6 Commandments are guidelines and boundaries for our relationships with one another.

1. Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long on the Earth. (While many of our child-to-parent relationships are strained, honor is still required from us as children. This guideline is not easy to follow at times, but knowing its purpose helps.)

2. You shall not murder. (This is all about respect for the value of human life. God knows the difference between self-defense and homicide, and He wants us to understand it as well.)

3. You shall not commit adultery. (This guideline warns us against having physical and/or emotional relations with a person who is…)

a. Not your spouse

b. Someone else’s spouse

4. You shall not steal (If it is not given, purchased, earned or inherited, leave it there.)

5. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (God is not a liar, and bearing His image, we should be delighted in the truth. One of the best ways to avoid lying – speculating, judging, bashing, gossiping, etc. – on your neighbor is to mind your own business. It is way more profitable for everyone to have conversations with one another than to assume we know things that we really don’t.)

6. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house (To covet is to desire and to desire is to be tempted. To be tempted is to consider action. From there, it is a whole train wreck. Sweep around your own front door, and let others sweep around theirs. If you like something that someone else has, go buy your own, but there is no benefit to being jealous or sour over someone having something that you don’t.)

All of this is being shared to say that the position of the Christ-minded individual is not to only pray or to just passively observe with our hands folded in our laps. We are called to act, but our actions have guidelines attached. We see no need to be angry, force agendas, or inspire guilt. They weigh too much and are incredibly exhausting.

What we can do is include ourselves in the efforts being made within our community. It is notable that many non-believing members of our community are attempting to do things that we believers have also been called to do. They are fighting against bullying and racism, advocating for special needs individuals, donating to charities, fighting for equity, and pushing for policy changes to benefit everyone. While we might not like some of the ways these topics are approached, that doesn’t mean we get to dismiss them or avoid taking action ourselves. In fact, we too are asked to:

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, please the widow’s cause.” Isaiah 1:17

By this instruction, we should be helping our neighbors in this fight. We have powerful tools on board that can add proper fuel to their efforts and help get things going in the right direction. We were never meant to oppose non-believers, but to instead, attract them to the love of Jesus by our own examples of that love.

There are way too many of us Christians butting heads with non-believers in this land. If we are arguing with one another, we are off course. If, however, we are using what we understand to walk alongside our neighbors without expectation of their seeing everything from our perspective, our relationships will become more solid, more enduring, and more productive.

To my non-believing friends and acquaintances, I am very sorry for the times I have been a bad example of my own beliefs. Please, forgive me and allow me to do my part in helping us all be the change we want to see. I have not always been gracious when you didn’t understand, and I regret that. Instead of pushing my own narrative, I should have been more patient and more kind. You deserve better.

My intent is to do better – to show what loving my neighbor truly looks like in thought, in speech, and in action. I don’t want to do it just because God commands me to do it. I want to do it because He loves me and I know He also loves you, too. Call me an old softy, but that’s good enough for me.

Welcome Sisters!

Your Tribe is Here!

In the “Let’s Get Basis: Sister Circle”, we create a welcoming, judgement-free atmosphere that allows room and time for everyone to get to know and trust one another. We are all women, and in a culture of so much shame and anxiety, the last place we need is another place to hide. Here at Root To Branches, I offer many things. The biggest and best thing you can walk away with from this Circle is the things our hearts desire all day and every day: FREEDOM!

Formal Guidelines

Each Session will be moderated by one Facilitator (accountable for group attendance, topic selection, welcoming and closing) and one Guardian (accountable for maintaining the pace of the meeting. There will be times when we may need to pause for reflection or even adjust the subject matter based on the needs of the group.)

Who is it for?

Women of all ages, in all stages of life, in all professions, of all races, of all backgrounds, of all faiths. In short, it’s for you!

Purpose

• To share stories, experiences and feelings around a set theme
• To discuss important information about current events
• In a corporate meeting to discuss an agenda
• To discuss community needs
• To work through and resolve conflict

Agreements

• We will hold stories or personal material in confidentiality.
• We listen to each other with compassion and curiosity.
• We ask for what we need and offer what we can.
• We agree to employ a group guardian to watch our needs, timing, and energy.
• We agree to pause at a signal and to call for that signal when we feel the need to pause.

Construction

• Each circle session should last anywhere from 1 to 2 hours depending on the needs of the group.
• Each session will open with a check-in from each member (introduction, perhaps why you decided to attend the group, what you hope to gain, or even updates on your life since the last session).
• This is an all-member led circle. This means that at any time, any member is the leader of the group as long as she is speaking. Depending on subject matter, the facilitator may change for depth and the sharing of experience.
• Each session will close with a check-out from each member (what you learned from the session, what you will leave the session with, or what has resonated within you from your experience).

Love: A Wholesome Illustration

Love is work.

Love is hard work.

Love is worth work.

Love is…

“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13:13 (NKJV)

Relationships are hard.

We all know that.

What we aren’t always clear on is why they’re so difficult.

Regardless of how our relationships start out…at birth, at first sight, by chance, a gradual pull, circumstantial, environmental…at some point they just go off the rails in ways that confuse and misdirect us in our efforts to repair them. Sometimes, a relationship can go so far off the rails that the love we profess starts to feel like a huge lie, and suddenly we find ourselves in a season of loss that could have been avoided if we had a deeper insight into how relationships actually work.

First of all, things in a relationship are going to go wrong. In our humanity, there is simply no way to avoid it. In our frustrations, it’s very tempting to start using words like ‘toxic’ and ‘narcissistic’ to make it easier to start building our exit strategies, but what if what we define as toxic has nothing to do with the designation of victim vs. villain? What if our view of love is passing through environmental filters? What if those we regard as enemies are just as lost and bewildered as we are?

Our friends who are brutal in their honesty. Our spouses who trust us so much that they are careless with the worst parts of themselves in our presence. Our co-workers who have very different definitions of healthy competition. Our children who are at their absolute worst at home but just ‘the sweetest things’ to the old lady down the street. The stranger who has no sense of personal space or the manners required to say, “Excuse me”. These people are not our enemies, and neither are we theirs. We are all simply human, each one of us different according to the lenses through which we view this world.

The only lens, however, that can ever show us the truth about ourselves and one another is that of love.

In all transparency, when I started this business, I only had one motivation in mind: to love people. Period. No conditions, qualifying standards, or filters. I simply want to meet people right where they are, regardless of how high or low of a point they may be on their journeys. With love as my weapon, going up against fear, division, and hatred has always seemed a worthy task to me. John Lennon says it this way: “There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance.” In an ideal nutshell, if we all understand and apply the basic attributes of love, we will stop being so afraid to love one another rightly. I realize, though, that loving people, while hard on the surface, is even harder the more you dig, and that is only because the definition of love itself is no longer clear in the national society we live in.

When I speak of love, I am only referring to romance when working with couples. Every other time, I am referring to the actual characteristics of love which are all necessary to every interaction we make in our lives amongst other people. Love isn’t fluffy, pink, or made of chocolate. It is the hard work of internal battles that must be fought every time our thoughts and feelings get knocked out of alignment. Consider the passage below:

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT)

I have no problem outing myself about the fact that I often get an ‘F’ on my life report card for patience, and that’s just the first one! Looking further into this passage, it’s no wonder we struggle so much with love. It is chock full of the things that are the hardest to hold ourselves accountable for. We, as human beings, want to have pride in ourselves, don’t we? It’s not easy letting go of those receipts when we know we’re probably going to have that same stupid argument all over again. We most certainly don’t want the pain and pressure of enduring through every hard circumstance. I mean, who does?

That’s just it, though. No matter what Alannah Myles told us, what love IS and what we want it to be are two different things.

Months ago, I’d asked Trinity, my daughter, if she would consider helping me with some things for Root To Branches. Since I do all of it alone and she works such short hours, it seemed reasonable to utilize her downtime and social media savvy to lighten my load. After a couple of days, she agreed, and I thought it was all fine. However, after the agreement, any mentioning of content, pictures, or schedules sent my poor child into some kind of weird attitude episode that I just did not understand. Eventually, I just stopped mentioning it and left her alone because I didn’t want to argue about it.

Yeah, right. Not arguing with my teenage daughter? How did I think I would get away with that one?

I don’t know what got into me, but just today, I asked if she would like to go over some content, and within 5 minutes, both of us were heated and distraught. She explained that the only reason she agreed to help me was because I’m her mother and she felt backed into a corner. She felt that saying ‘no’ would have made her a bad daughter. Even though I explained that I wouldn’t want her to help under duress, she was still angry and we had to part ways for a while.

10 minutes later, I receive a text from her that included the following:

“Love is…Putting aside your pride to help someone when you know they need it.”

Apparently, she had taken the issue to a friend who told her that she was being selfish, and that her helping me was a reasonable thing to do, all things considered. She gave it some thought, calmed down, and picked our media content up right where she had left it. She did it with her heart, and it blessed me so much! After crying and hugging it out, she explained to me that she is very selfish and anxious about her own time, and that she was very sorry for including me in that. I apologized for being unkind when it seemed as if I wouldn’t get the help I desired from her. I truly needed help, and she is truly comfortable in her own space. Neither of us was wrong in our needs or desires, but we were both wrong in our handling of one another.

I had wanted her to help me blindly with no consideration for her own feelings in the matter. She wanted her time all to herself. What we needed, however, was patience, kindness and circumstantial endurance. In this, we have several things to be grateful for, including friends who don’t co-sign our BS, but are bold in telling us the truth and holding us accountable for it.

While this seems so small and wholesome, the truth is that loving my child is hard work sometimes because it is by choice, not nature. She is, after all, a totally separate being from myself and is in possession of her own mind and feelings. I choose to listen, guide and comfort even when I’m feeling selfish with my own time. More importantly, though, I choose to give her and myself a break when those things don’t come easy. My choice is a healthy relationship with my daughter in spite of my feelings. This basic illustration of love is what it’s all about.

Healthy relationships are more honest than our feelings will ever be.

With whom do you need to be more patient? What do you not need to be so prideful about? What is wearing you down in the areas of hope and faith?

I encourage you to remember that we are all fighting against the same tides in our pursuits of happiness. If you are hurting and confused, I am very sorry that this is your ‘right now’. Think. Pray. Phone a friend, coach, or mentor who will be honest with you, and let them help you dig deep to find the root of your position. Give yourself and your opposition a break in your shared humanity for the sake of the relationships we all work so hard to build and hold on to. If they must go, let them. But hold your ground in loving well and loving rightly.

Love is work. Love is hard work. Love is worth work. Love is…

What is your definition of love?

Beat the Stay-at-Home Blues

| 10 Steps to Keep Yourself Motivated |

For many of us, the stay-at-home orders are looking less and less like a blessing every day. Even introverts are feeling put upon and are not appreciating the feeling of being obligated to be introverted. What started out as a great opportunity to reconnect with our families and reorganize our homes has turned a corner, and now, the days are running together, sleep patterns are being disrupted, and motivation has gone on a leave of absence. This time of refreshment and relaxation has grossly over-stayed its welcome. Unfortunately, there is no getting away from it for now, so what do we do to reclaim our motivation and get our biological clocks reset?

I firmly believe in keeping things simple, and I’m here to share the little things that can have a big positive impact on your day.

Start Your Day with Completion

When you get up in the morning, finish one small task. It doesn’t have to be anything major or life-changing. Whether it’s brushing your teeth, showering, reading your devotional, or taking the dog out, finish something. Simply don’t allow yourself to slip into your day too slowly.

Don’t Stop

Use the momentum from your first completed task to guide yourself for the rest of the day. While the days are looking a whole lot alike, there’s no reason they have to. Do the next thing.

Control the Scroll

Many of us are spending more time on social media than normal, so why not make it work for you. Be more intentional about what you consume while scrolling through your platforms. Look for the things that are going to fill you with hope for the future that we are sure to have once this all blows over. Filling our heads with conspiracy theories, political propaganda, and time-stealing questionnaires can rob you of both valuable time and peace of mind.

Reflect

This is an empathetic nod to those experiencing occupational and financial loss during this time. It is unfortunate that many of us have been taught to gauge our worth according to our abilities to provide for our families, because when our livelihoods are taken from us, we feel like we’re disappointing our loved ones. I’d like to encourage you to remember why you’re alive. Whatever your family dynamic, somebody loves you and wants you to know that your value revolves around so much more than money. I am so sorry that this is your ‘right now’, but remember that trouble doesn’t last always. The sun will set on this, and a brand new season is sure to come.

Like a Boss

Just because we are forced to remain indoors, there is nothing written in stone that says we have to slum it. Jogging pants are super comfy, but they also make it very easy for us to be okay with laziness. The more that happens, the less we want to be motivated. So, get up and get dressed. I’d like to challenge you to do those extra things that you would normally do for yourself when preparing for work. Do this for at least 3 days if for no other reason than to refamiliarize yourself with the good habits of self-care. Do your hair. Put that makeup on. Spritz that perfume. For this day, at least look like a boss.

Lighten Up

We don’t have to take ourselves so seriously. Yes, this is a challenging time, but there is no reason to throw in the towel on anything, and this includes having a little fun. Just to see if I could accomplish a set number of things in my day, I sometimes make a game out of it. I set timers, put on some music, and get cracking.  No, life is not a game, but lemons are no longer bitter or sour once you learn how to turn them into lemonade.

Take a Snapshot

When we look through our social media walls, we see various pictures from people who just like to share their lives with everyone. My suggestion here is that you take a snapshot of at least one thing that makes you smile each day. It can be a little difficult to remember the good things when the bad things seem to be so overwhelming, but we can be intentional in our gratitude.

Write it Down

Perhaps this is a time to start keeping a journal of some kind. Just like this publication, make a list of some of the challenges you are facing and write out the possible solutions for each one. We can’t fix everything, but we can see things more clearly when we get them in front of us for acknowledgment and processing.

One Thing at a Time

As mentioned in number 8, we simply cannot fix everything, and it benefits us greatly not to try. Grieving over the things we can’t do anything about can cripple our abilities to be grateful for anything. So, take stock of the whole mess and separate what you can do from what you can’t. Then, only focus on the things that you can do something about. Even if it’s only something small, just do something!

MOVE!

Get up and move! How many pounds have we gained while taking advantage of not having to get up and move? Not to out myself, but holy buckets! Your girl is gonna need to start running! I am determined to turn back the clock a little by means of moving myself around a LOT more, even if I can only walk back and forth down my hallway for 15 minutes at a time. We don’t need this stay-at-home order to increase diabetes or high blood pressure cases. This is not a time to become unhealthy versions of ourselves. So please, let’s back away from the chips, grab a vegetable and go for a nice walk…run…dance…jump…something!

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Intentionally Planted

|Every Thing for a Purpose and a Purpose for Every Thing|

It’s such a good thing that labels come on the items and products we buy. We know what’s in a can of peaches because it says so on the label. Even if it hasn’t bloomed yet, we know what kind of trees we’re about to spruce our yards up with because of the label hanging from the young branch. If only we were born with such labels. I consider it an unfortunate fortune that we do not. 


In a conversation with my daughter recently, we discussed talents and patterns of behavior we share, how differently they manifest, and their purposes. I dream a lot! They are very vivid, and I always believe that dreams are the way God chooses to talk to me because while I’m sleeping is the only time I’m guaranteed not to have anything to say in response. I would say the same for my chatty daughter as well as she is also a dreamer. 

In our discussion, I shared that my dad also dreams. To this, my daughter says, “Oh, so that’s why God made him your dad; so you would have the dreams and use them for God”. It was stated very casually, but it wasn’t received that way. Suddenly, I could see a well-known piece of scripture in active parts. 

God’s word says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28). As a person raised without her mother and father, it has been easier to see them both through hurt and abandoned eyes. I cannot, however, ignore the fact that God wastes nothing! For all their wrongs as parents, that’s not all they are. My dad is a very intelligent man, full of fantastic ideas, and insanely hilarious. My mother is musically gifted, and even her speaking voice commands attention. On her best day, she is gentle of heart and quite charming. Many of the qualities listed have been gifted to me and inherited by my daughter, seemingly by simple genetics. God is not simple in His intentions, though. Everything He does has a purpose. 


In spite of all the things that can disrupt or destroy a parent/child relationship, nothing stands in the way of God accomplishing His will. As believers, we do not have to be the sum of our painful experiences. If we believe in the grace, mercy, and sovereignty of God, then we also have the luxury of believing that He indeed has plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11) and that He is faithful to make them happen (Philippians 1:6). Believing these truths is what makes it safe for us to accept the good in the midst of the bad. 

Unfortunate circumstances will always exist, but how fortunate are we that we have a Father who looks ahead of us and paves our way through this life, letting nothing go to waste…not even our suffering. For in our suffering, we are being conditioned to use the good things given to us with responsibility. We get to learn how to use our voices, hands, and even our dreams by the words and the might of the Master who created us. 

We are not born with labels because we are not yet complete until God has completed His work in us. The most beautiful part is that His work in us began before we were ever born. To that, I am not only grateful to God for being so intentional in His design of me. I am also compelled to say, “Thanks, Ma and Dad…just as you are”. 


In text references: 

Jeremiah 29:11 (NKJV) “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” 

Philippians 1:6 (NKJV) “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;”

Beauty for COVID-19

Rising From COVID Ashes Blog

•Out of The Ashes•


Not everything that burns is destroyed, and not all unfortunate circumstances end in tragedy. It is hard to remember this, however, in the face of so much frightening information coming at us from various media sources. We want to stay informed and make intelligent decisions for our own health and that of our families and communities, but even that is difficult to achieve when there is so much fear and panic going on around us. In fact, it’s hard to have peace of mind at all when it feels like our world is burning down around our ears. That’s the curious thing about fire, though. It’s not all bad.

Depending on who we are, the word ‘fire’ is usually a bad one because it’s usually associated with destruction. We must remember, however, that fire also purifies. With pressure and time, fire helps to produce precious jewels. From the fire of a refinery, the strongest steel and precious metals emerge for work, battle, and even decoration. From the purified ground, covered in the ashes of destruction, life struggles forth…fresh, green and beautiful. It rises up in spite of the ugliness and desolation. With fresh roots, it reaches for the sky on a brand new journey with the hope that one day, it will be exactly what it was made to be…whole and fruitful…from its roots to its branches.


The deepest lessons come out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires.

Elisabeth Elliot

We are so much like the trees that force themselves through insurmountable obstacles. We are also designed to grow right where we are planted and thrive against the odds. No matter what it looks like, I want to encourage us all to remember that, even when it all burns down, We, the People, are meant to rise.

As we find ourselves in a time of uncertainty due to the threat of illness, economic downturn, loss of livelihood, or other negative repercussions of COVID-19, let us not be afraid of the fire. For all we know, it is divinely appointed to burn away fear, stress, and anxiety so we can refocus our priorities. We get to spend more time with our families and realign our minds and hearts with one another. Even better, we have been given a new opportunity to reconnect with God, to learn to trust Him more in our day-to-day operations and get to know ourselves through His eyes. This time has turned us back to the basics of living and loving, something so many of us have been in need of.


Now that we have set new rhythms to our lives, gained mega empathy for our children’s teachers, taken on new hobbies, started writing those books, baked all the goodies and fallen in love with our spouses again, what do we do when the social ban is lifted and our lives return to ‘normal’?

When we return to our regularly scheduled programs, let us not forget these blessings in the blur of the 9 to 5, but instead, use them to make more intentional decisions in our homes and fuel better relationships in our jobs and communities. Let’s not forget the basics…breathe, pray, listen, talk, write that book, play that game, read, and crack those jokes. Hold on to that new, healthy habit and leave the old, bad one behind. Keep living, loving and laughing for real!. Let this fire destroy what poisons us while it purifies what makes us truly beautiful as priceless human beings with invaluable purpose.

When My Kid Sees A Cop

I would hazard a guess that we all get a little sweaty in the pits when we see flashing lights in our rearview. It’s just our gut reaction to the possibility of getting a hefty ticket or maybe something worse, depending on the circumstances. As adults, we have so much to consider when encountering law enforcement, but children don’t have bills, vehicles, or homes. So, why are they having gut reactions to the sight of police lights or uniforms?


I call my step kids ‘bonus kids’. It took a while, but they have done wonderful jobs of accepting me in their lives, and they have learned to trust me with some of the goings on of their minds. In fact, some things just fall right out of their brains. While taking them to school one day, we passed a police officer who had a car pulled over, and the oldest, a 13-year old girl, blurted out, “I hate cops!” This simple statement was said with such venom that one would assume she has already had some kind of horrible experience with law enforcement that had left a bad scar on her heart. She hadn’t, of course. She is a high-achieving student who never lets herself slack in her school work, hardly ever has to be made to do her chores, and chooses to be respectful even if she’s mad as a hornet. Not once, in her young life, has she placed herself in a position to have anything to do with harsh disciplinary action.


When I asked her why she hated cops so much, she said it was because they [cops] are always just messing with people, and that they [cops] seem to only pull over or arrest black people. The best I could say in the moment was that part of the job of law enforcement was to interfere with any crime committed by people of any color, but I did understand if it seemed to her that black people suffered at the hands of the police more often than white people in her world. It did, however, feel important to point out the fact that from the moment a police officer leaves his home wearing his uniform, he has a target on his back. It is simply the nature of his job. Under that uniform, though, he’s just a guy who eats, sleeps, and lives a life just like the rest of us. Someone loves him. Someone wants him home safe. I suggested she try to look at him as just a man doing his job. It sounded like sound advice, but I didn’t know if it was clear enough for her particular brand of upbringing. She nodded, and I could tell that she understood what I meant, but there didn’t seem to be any real acceptance. I can’t say that I blame her.


Her mentality regarding law enforcement comes from the unfortunate circumstances of her having to go from our home to that of her mother on a regular basis…from a suburban conservative home to a liberal inner-city one. Because of the information our kids are exposed to on social media, it’s really hard for them to know what to believe. Throw in the concrete beliefs and passionate opinions of their parents, and these poor kids form their own version of what they think the truth is even if the words aren’t their own. Obviously, the opinions of her inner-city community have more weight because it looks like her and speaks her language, whereas the community surrounding our home is nothing like her. It makes sense that she would be confused and unconvinced by someone who does not live where she lives 50 percent of her time.

She needed a better answer…an answer that could meet her on her level and give her a real-world perspective. No matter what I thought of, it never seemed enough. So, when a police officer found himself in my workspace in a coffee shop, I didn’t hesitate to ask him the question that had plagued me ever since that interesting trip to school. After introductions and a little small talk, I asked him what he would like for our children to know about his life as a police officer in the current state of our nation. His response was so good.


He just wants our children to know that, outside of his choice to be a police officer, he lives a normal life. He breathes oxygen, cuts the grass and (I have to quote this) “picks up dog poop” like most other homeowners with a family and pets. He made no mention of the details of his job. He talked about himself as just a man in a uniform. He also mentioned that when his shifts are over, he just wants to go home. I imagine that he wishes everyone he had to pull over or arrest knew these things about him…that he is just a man who happens to work as a police officer. I say this because he freely acknowledged that an irresponsible driver or a suspect wants to be known as just a person as well…a person who made a bad (or even horrible) decision, but a person nonetheless. The empathy required to acknowledge something like that was refreshing coming from a person who, on sight, would strike fear in the heart of a 13-year old black honor student who has been taught to fear him.

Empathy is supposed to create new eyes that see people and their circumstances more clearly. These new eyes should be capable of looking beneath surfaces and seeking the whole picture. These new eyes are low in cost and only require caring enough to have conversations that matter…to listen for the purpose of understanding and manage our encounters with one another accordingly, even in the face of danger. The pay off is often much bigger. Seeing the faint smile on the face of my bonus kid while sharing this story was well worth what had to have been no more than a 5-minute conversation. I do not want her to be afraid, and if I can alleviate her fear in the slightest, I will do so. In fact, I will also do what I have to do to help her see the whole world…not just opinionated pieces of it.


That’s the twist here: the officer and the suspect both have families. They both want to be treated like human beings, regardless of which side of the line they are on. Somewhere in the clouds of blue cries for order and black cries for justice, we have lost sight of these facts.

Now, I do not know what kind of police officer this man is, but I do know his name. I also know that he loves coffee and hates picking up dog poop. In the interest of teaching a child how to really see people and have compassion, that’s a perfect place to start.

Thanks, Officer!