Two Steps Forward

Did you automatically finish the saying that accompanies my title? I have heard it all my life and said it myself more than a few times. 

Two steps forward, three steps back. 

Some days, some weeks, maybe even some entire seasons of our lives feel exactly like that. You finally identify what needs doing and you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get at it. Then, out of no where, there’s a set back just when you were beginning to make some progress. It feels like sabotage!

I mean we work and work for weeks to lose a few pounds and one weekend of indiscretion results in finding them again with a bonus pound or two.  We struggle to get out of debt and pay off credit cards when the car breaks down or a major appliance breathes it’s last breath and the debt grows. We are diligent to build healthy boundaries with those difficult people in our lives when they start boundary busting  

 and things seem worse than ever. We step out in faith and risk it all when it all backfires and we find ourselves wondering why we even tried and if we ever should again. 

You’ve got a decision to make. You can stay where you are, let things be, stop trying to improve or change or grow. Or, you can press on in spite of set backs, wipe away your tears of disappointment and decide the risk of being disappointed again is worth it. 

How do you decide? How do you know when it is time to cut your losses? How do you know when enough is enough? How indeed?

First of all, don’t make a decision until your pain has diminished enough to think clearly. Emotions are real and necessary but, they aren’t good decision makers.  Second of all, consider the possibilities of success and compare them to the possibilities of what could be and consider the cost. 

Before you decide if you can continue and keep trying, you’ve got to decide if it is worth it and how important it is to you. If it is, if being healthy again or debt free or in right relationship is truly that important to you, then you know what you’ve got to do. 

When you feel like you’ve been sabotaged and you’re losing ground, remind yourself of this truth. You have a source of strength outside yourself when it seems like yours has been depleted. You have a source of joy available when all you feel like doing is weeping in despair. You have a Father, a Savior, a Helper that is there right beside you. You are not alone. 

The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. (‭Psalms‬ ‭37‬:‭23‬ NLT)


Buried Safely

I’d like to share a bit of our family Bible study with you. I’m hoping that there may be another person out there who reads this and says to themselves, ‘I needed this reminder.’  That was my reaction. 

We were discussing the parable of the talents. If you’re familiar with this particular parable then, you have likely discussed it a few times as well. It is intriguing. I you are not familiar with it, you can read about it in Matthew 25. 

As I read the familiar words to my children, I faltered a bit as I thought of my own handling of what God had put in my care and was surprised by the conviction I felt. Conviction. That’s a rather unpleasant sounding word when you first roll it around in your mind. But, contrary to first impression, conviction is a good and necessary experience. 

Spiritually speaking and when tenderly delivered by the Holy Spirit, conviction means being made aware of needed change and that change, while not easy, will result in betterment. A better you, a better life, a better relationship, better as in for your best. 

I asked my children what they thought the word ‘talents’ represented. Some replied money. Others mentioned abilities to sing or such. Then one commented that it was something of value. I think they were all right. 

With those definitions in mind, think for a moment of what God has invested in you. What do you have at your disposal?  Is it money? Time? Abilities? Skills? Gifts?

There may be a very few of you who don’t know or haven’t discovered yet what strengths or passions you possess. But, by in large, most of us do. We know because it’s an important part of us. 

I could only guess at what your answers may be and I won’t attempt to do so with so many possibilities. Instead, I’m going to share my own. When I said I faltered as I read the parable to my children, it was at this verse. 

“But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.” Matthew‬ ‭25‬:‭18‬ NLT

I looked up from my reading and found the eyes of my children watching my reaction. There are times in parenting when we must make ourselves vulnerable so that our children can be strengthened. This, I believe, was one of those times. 

I told my children that I believed that I was that servant who dug the hole and hid what they had been given. I explained further that although I had a passion for wordweaving and felt that God had gifted me with an ability to inspire others through the written word, like the servant, I was afraid. 

I was afraid of failure. I was afraid of criticism. I was afraid of looking foolish. I was afraid of the opinions of others when it came to my writings. I was even afraid that someone may think too highly of me. That’s a lot of afraid. 

I suppose it is because I write so close to my own heart. I write about my faith. I write about my family or families like mine. I write about foster care and adoption and racism. I write about broken families and broken children. I write and when I do I sometimes allow the reader a glimpse into the messiness of life as a mom of many. 

I have taken a few steps out of the shadows of the forest of afraid. I’ve blogged here for over a year. I recently created a page on Facebook for my devotional writings. Now, I’m ready for more steps that will require more courage. I’m determined to proceed towards publication of several completed books that I’ve kept hidden away in a safe place for a long while. I’ve chosen self-publication for a variety of reasons and I’m admittedly afraid. But, I’m not going to bury my talents safely away. They may not best talents, the greatest of all talents nor the most successful of all publications. That’s ok. At least when my Father says to me, “Come here daughter and show me what you have done with what I have given you.”, I will be able to say, “Look how I tried! I gave it my best effort! I took a risk!” Instead of, “I was afraid”. 

Prayer-Worrier or Prayer-Warrior?

It seems only right somehow that I have struggled with writing this post. I deleted it twice and now still worrying if I will be able to clearly express what is on my heart. These thoughts started percolating in my mind last evening. I was singing my heart out as thousands around me did the same. We were worshiping. It was a beautiful moment, full of energy, full of passion. Suddenly, although I was surrounded by friends and family, I was alone. Well, it was as if I were alone. Just me, just my voice, just my God. If you’ve experienced the same type of moment I know you’re nodding your head in understanding. If you haven’t you may wonder at such mysteries.

I’m not going to say that a booming voice from the heavens spoke audibly to me. But, I am going to tell you that I believe with all my heart that the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart. All at once I felt a bit chastised, though tenderly delivered. Worrier or warrior? I knew the matter at hand was prayer. I knew I was being reminded to pray more and worry less. Tears stung my eyes as I humbled myself under the loving admonition of the Lord. He was right. Of course, He was right.

It seemed like such a very long time since I could remember not being worried about something. After all, I am a mom of many. I have been told that I have a great capacity to love and unfortunately I think that is often accompanied by a great capacity to fret.

After the time of worship and a time of communion that increased the sense of spiritual intimacy, the message was delivered and the main verse was my all time favorite one. Romans 8:28. As is often the case when studying the Word of God, I gleaned new truths from familiar teaching.

Here’s how The Message rewords it. “That’s why we can be sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” You know what, I believe that with all my heart, I truly do. So, then why do I so easily slip into a state of worry? Why then do I catch a glimpse of myself at times and see that instead of a prayer-warrior, I resemble a prayer-worrier?

This morning I was having my devotional time and was listening to the book of James, my favorite book, being read from the Message as well. Right in the first chapter, here is what I heard.

“If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves.”

Wind-whipped waves. Mercy, that was a fair description of how I’ve felt on more days than I can count. I’m pretty sure that prior to parenthood, I was convinced I knew what I was doing (and what most other folks should be doing). But, then, suddenly I was given responsibilities for young lives that were broken and scared and scarred as a foster-parent. Almost immediately I realized I did not know what I was doing, not in the slightest, and I desperately needed spiritual guidance and wisdom and strength beyond my own.

I’m going to make a concerted effort to make sure that I am not  ‘worrying my prayers’. I am going to practice taking the stance of a warrior instead of a worrier. I’m going to ask those close to me to keep me accountable. I’m going to be cautious about picking up loads far too heavy for me. I’m going to choose to ask boldly and believe. I’m going to give myself permission to not understand it all, fix it all or even get it all right. I’m going to take the offensive rather than the defensive stance.

I think that is the bottom line. As a warrior, we feel empowered while a worrier is instead cowered. I do not want to live my life in a state of distress and feeling overwhelmed constantly. I want to face life with courage and hope.

How about you? What will you choose? Prayer-warrior or prayer worrier? Will you waste energy and time rehearsing, retelling and reliving the things that have happened or may happen? Or will you choose to trust the Lord with the details, with the results, with the future?

Father, you designed us and know us better than we know ourselves. You understand how easy it can be for us to worry our prayers. You also love us too much to leave us in that unhealthy place. I am so glad. Help us Lord, help us to resist the urge to be a prayer-worrier. Remind us how it feels to make a real difference as a prayer-warrior! Amen!