“Grace mercy and peace from God the Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.”
These were the words the pastor at the church I grew up in uttered at the beginning of every sermon, every Sunday, for as far back as I can remember. Even as a young child, I admired the phrase. There was something so comforting and familiar about the words. It was like an utterance of God’s love reaching out to me. It wasn’t a benediction, but rather an invitation to sit back and soak in that love. The dust dancing through the sunshine mesmerized me as I settled into the creaky pew ready to hear the message that would encourage, inspire and, hopefully, remind me of how much I was loved.
But though I appreciated the words, I’m not sure that as a child I truly understood their significance, or even their meaning. In fact, until I stumbled upon them again the other day, I really hadn’t given much thought to the phrase, grace, mercy and peace. In the past, I thought of that phrase as a sort of holy greeting—a religious hello you might say, but nothing more.
But the neat thing about God’s word is that it’s always teaching us, always training us, always leading us into new knowledge. So, the other day, when I read these words in 2nd Timothy, I gained a new understanding and appreciation for the phrase: grace, mercy and peace.
To Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord (2nd Timothy 1:2 )
In two days, I will begin not one, not two, but three master’s level courses. To say that I am a bit worried would be an understatement. In a summer session, the content of a semester is crammed into six short weeks and, for me, that intensity will be multiplied times three.
While I’m not sure how it’s going to go, here’s what I do know. God’s grace is there for me. He’s going to be there to help me through the difficult days ahead. His mercy will be there, even when I mess up or feel I haven’t done something well. And maybe, most importantly, his peace is there for me.
You see, I don’t think God wants me to be a nervous wreck over this situation. I don’t think he wants me to be afraid. I think he very much so wants me to trust him and rest in his perfect peace.
Grace, mercy and peace. That’s what God has to offer us each and every day of our lives. Grace for the difficult moments, mercy for when we’ve screwed up, peace to guard our hearts and minds and keep us focused on the truth—the truth that we are deeply and dearly loved and that nothing can every separate us from that love. (Romans 8:38)
A few weeks ago, I wrote about what God was teaching me about stress, What God's Teaching Me About Being Stressed Out. That was when I was preparing a big project for the class I was taking. I think I’ll take a cue from those days and remember that stressing out is not of God. Trust is. Faith is. May you remember that as well in the days ahead. No matter what you’re facing, may God’s grace, mercy and peace be yours in abundance. Amen.
Have you ever felt that when life dealt you a tough blow, things were a little unfair? Whether you feel God was behind it, or it was a man-inspired struggle, tough bumps in the road are made even more so when we feel there is someone or something to blame for our misery.
If you’ve followed any of my blogs you know that back in December my family moved from our beautiful home in NE. I wrote about these changes in Coming Soon and It's okay to not be okay. This move wasn’t easy for many reasons. Mainly though, it was because we had been settled, happy and content to spend our days in a place we’d called home for several years. But, as so often happens in life, things don’t always turn out the way you think they will.
In today’s post, though, I don’t want to focus on the why’s and how’s of what brought us to Iowa. No, I want to focus on something better—on God, on his plan and how he’s worked even the toughest bumps we’ve been through these past several months for our good.
For starters, I have an amazing job to look forward to this upcoming school year. And really it wouldn’t have been possible but for my nine-year-old daughter mentioning that I was a teacher, which led to an associate’s job, which led to my upcoming position of a special education teacher at her school.
The move was also a much-needed reset for my son who was being bullied and having some other issues at school. Had we not gotten out of that situation, he could very well still be dealing with the messiness of all of that.
My daughter is beginning to make friends and though we haven’t seen huge changes for her, I know that there are things going on behind the scenes that I’m not even aware of yet. As for my husband, he has a stable and fulfilling job at a local hospital where he too is thriving and enjoying the work before him.
So yea, we weren’t expecting this move, but I can’t say it hasn’t been good. In many ways, it’s brought a lot of unexpected blessings into our lives.
This move being worked together for our good reminds me of a great story in the Bible, the story of one of my all-time favorite characters, Joseph. I mentioned him recently in another post, Hidden Moments, but I love his story so much, I’ll focus on it again.
The story of Joseph has always been a favorite of mine. Mostly because of how he chooses to forgive his brothers even after they sold him into slavery after nearly deciding to kill him.
But years later when the brothers reenter Joseph’s story, Joseph, who is now 2nd in command in all of Egypt, chooses to forgive them saying:
20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people[a] should be kept alive, as they are today.
You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Romans 8:28:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
All things—even the bad and the ugly.
This past week, I traveled back to NE for a doctor’s appointment. I couldn’t help but feel a bit sad and nostalgic as we drove past our old house and some of our favorite haunts, including Runza and their world-famous fries as well as the local pool. While driving past so many of our favorite places, I got choked up a time or two.
But as I was driving back home, because, honestly, IA is feeling more and more like home, I was reminded that we serve a good God—a God who works all things together for our good. Remember that next time life knocks you down. You serve a God who can take even the most evil of circumstances and work good through them. If you believe that, you will weather any storm in life no matter how severe.
I have been struggling again as of late, with depression. It sucks. I am tired of taking medication. I am sick of being bipolar, and I wish I could have someone else’s life right now. Can you tell I am having a pity party these days?
For those of you who don’t know my story, here it is. When I was thirty-one years old, I was diagnosed bipolar. It’s not something I’m ashamed of. It’s a truth that I am proud to share, and I hope it will give you pause to realize mental health is not about mental weaknesses, or lack of character or even about mental disorders. Mental health is about medical health, it’s a disorder of the human body and as such it deserves a post from me this week.
Being bipolar is not something I focus on a lot these days. I admit life is good for me. I don’t struggle often with debilitating depression or spend my days in the grips of mania. No, for me these days it’s pretty smooth sailing, a fact that I am grateful for every day.
But life hasn’t always been that way for me. There were many years that were an absolute nightmare. Really, a living nightmare. I was suicidal. I struggled with debilitating anxiety. I had many a sleepless, manic night. For me, life was one long endless day of agony. I could barely function.
But people didn’t know that about me. I was good at hiding my misery behind endless smiles and “I’m good,” responses to the “How are you’s,” we ask of each other.
I was dying inside, but no one knew it. I don’t know why I didn’t share. I think I was embarrassed and more than a little bit ashamed of my condition. If people saw what was going inside of me, I was pretty sure they would lock me up.
In fact, one afternoon while visiting a friend in the hospital, I stopped on the wrong floor and realized that I was on the psychiatric unit. A sense of shame and embarrassment filled me. This was me, though no one knew. I was crazy and that understanding filled me with shame.
Shame. Embarrassment. Fear. Loathing for myself. These were the emotions that filled my thoughts and feelings about myself every day. And so I suffered on and on in silence.
People have asked me why I’m so up front about my diagnosis. It’s because I’m not ashamed any more. I’m not embarrassed, and I don’t loathe myself. I am healthy. I am on medication that works for me, and I love life.
I don’t want one person to have to suffer silently like I did those many long years. You can recover. You can lead a healthy and productive life. Stop trying to hide behind those fake smiles and “I’m all rights.” Most importantly remember, there is hope. There is always hope. So, reach out and get the help you need and stop living life in the shadows. Step into the light of the truth that being mentally ill is not your fault and let that truth set you, your mind and your heart free forever.
Remember the story of Joseph—how he went from a favored son, to a slave, to a household legend, to a prisoner, and then finally to second in command over all of Egypt?
Do you ever wonder as I do, why God dragged him through the mud so much? What he was trying to accomplish in Joseph’s life during those down times?
Lately, I’ve been thinking about Joseph’s story, the ups and downs of his life and wondering if there was a reason he went through all he did—maybe there was a point to his becoming a slave and later on a prisoner.
I think what impresses me most about Joseph is the fact that no matter where he was in life, no matter who was watching, he gave everything his best effort. His absolute best. And after a while, people began to notice. Potiphar noticed and put Joseph in charge of his household. When Joseph was sent to prison, the jailer noticed and made Joseph a kind of honorary deputy. Finally, Pharaoh, king of all the land, noticed and put Joseph in charge of everything, except himself of course.
So what’s the point of my rambling. Well, it’s this. My time as a stay-at-home mom is coming to a close. Next year I will be teaching full time as a special education teacher. I’m super excited. This is what I’ve been working toward and waiting for these last couple of years. It’s been a long process and it’s good to know I’m on the other side of it.
But here’s my point, all those years that I was a stay-at-home mom, no one saw what I did. No one noticed if I put in extra effort, extra hours, extra energy to raise my kiddos to be the best they can be. No one paid attention and what’s more, no one probably cared.
But God did.
God paid attention. God cared. And God kept track of what I was doing. I have to believe that all those years of hidden work were his way of preparing me for this next stage in life.
What are you doing now that remains hidden from everyone’s eyes but God’s? What do you do when no one is watching? How do you spend your days? No matter what you’re doing in life right now, remember that your moments matter to God, so make them all count. Even the parts when no one is watching, except, of course, God.
1 Timothy 5:25 New International Version (NIV)
25 In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever.
I think I’ve shared recently that I’m been busy searching for full time teaching positions for the upcoming school year. I’ve applied strictly for special education teaching positions since that is what I’m getting my master’s in. Anyway, I’ve sent out several applications and so far, well, so far, it’s not looking great. No yes’s, no maybe’s, no interviews, no nothing. Quite honestly, I’m frustrated and more than a little tired of applying for jobs.
But here’s the good news. I’m not panicking, I’m not giving up, and I’m not worrying about the future. Mostly, I’m just trusting, trusting that God has a plan. Because he does.
I’m never one to advocate for audibly hearing God’s voice. In fact, I think it’s dangerous ground to stand on to say that God audibly speaks to us on a regular basis. I truly believe that he speaks to us mainly through his Word. Having said that, I think there are times in life when a breath of heaven comes down and whispers something to us, something that our soul needs to hear.
For me it happened this past Good Friday. We were in church and I recall praying at the beginning of the service that God would speak to each one of us in a way that we needed to hear him. Maybe through a confirmation of something, or a word of encouragement, or a truth we needed to remember. Anyway, as the Pastor began to pray, I closed my eyes and prayed along in my spirit.
But, as so often happens during prayer time, my mind began to wander. Mostly, my heart began to fret. I thought about jobs and my future—about what was going to happen. Where would I be next year? Would I have a job? If so, what would it look like? As all these thoughts swirled around threatening to consume me, a sudden sense of peace settled in and I felt this presence speaking to my soul, “I have a plan.”
Four simple words, “I have a plan,” and suddenly my spirits lifted. It was an ah-ha moment. God has a plan. And it wasn’t a generic, I-have-a-plan moment, it was like a general speaking to his troops with a commanding voice, “Men I have a plan.” It felt like God was standing right next to me, a chart of my life in his hands and a secret smile on his face. “Nici, it’s going to be all right. I have a plan.”
God has a plan. For me. For you. No matter what life looks like around you, remember that. Rejoice in that. It is good to know that the One who made you, knows your story and has a plan, an awesome and amazing plan for your life. Trust him and in that knowledge rest in his perfect peace.
Jeremiah 29:11 New International Version (NIV)
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Last week, I diligently sat at my computer eyes straining, neck craned, shoulders tense and fingers poised over my keyboard. In short, I was stressed out. See, I had this big project due for my master’s class and it just wasn’t coming very easily. My words weren’t making sense to me, the research articles I’d found didn’t really fit in with the points I was trying to make. And worst of all, I was running out of time. So, as I sat there in my pool of misery and wretchedness, I felt a sense of overwhelming overwhelmingness. Have you ever felt that way? Completely overwhelmed. Stressed out. Wondering how on earth the thing before you is ever going to get done?
Well, as I sat before my computer, I felt a gentle nudge from God, or maybe it was just a craving for sweets, either way, in my heart—not my head, mind you, because my head never wants to listen to God—but in my heart, I felt this nudge of, 'Okay, Nici, take a break. Walk away, come back to it in a bit. Gain some perspective.'
So, what did I do? I shouted for my kids, “Who wants to go for frozen yogurt?” and my kids who would normally ignore me every other time, miraculously appeared at the top of the steps, smiles on their faces and eagerly nodded their assent that yes, they wanted to go out for yogurt. For a fleeting moment as we got in the car, I was tempted to let the guilt monster take over, but then I thought, 'Why not? It can’t hurt to try it this way, maybe I would feel better if I just took a break.'
Later that day, I even posted a picture on Facebook joking about my choice to go out for frozen yogurt when I had a big project due. But you know what, I’m not so sure that in that moment of complete and utter stressing out, I didn’t do the exact right thing.
Why? Because I came back to my computer, ready to try again. I took a deep breath and dove right in. And I did my best. It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t, in my mind’s eye, a masterpiece, but it was good. Good enough to get me full points. Full points.
Does it pay to stress out? Does it make things better? Easier? No. In a simple word no. At least it never has worked for me. And I bet if you think about it, you’d agree that, really in the end, it doesn’t do anything for you either.
Don’t stress out. Take a break. Take a breather. Let God get hold of your heart and calm you down. Let God get hold of your brain and slow down your racing thoughts. He’s got this. And in his grace, it really will turn out okay. It always does when we leave it in his hands and stop trying to hoard it in our own.
Ever felt like you were the low man on the totem pole, insignificant, not important, disposable? I admit that it has been easy for me to feel that way about myself at times. But lately, I’ve begun to see the low positions in life can actually be some of the most important.
After my freshman year in college, I worked at a factory where rubber parts were manufactured. It wasn’t exactly a glamorous position. And, admittedly, it was easy to think more highly of myself than those others. After all I was going to college. They weren’t.
But after a while, I began to see things a bit differently. The people I worked with that summer were some of the kindest, most humble and hard-working people I’ve ever known. They looked out for each other and, though I was new, they looked out for me, too.
There was one night when I was working on the line and falling behind on trimming my parts. Panic welled up in me as I fell further and further behind. When one of the other guys on the line walked up, I thought he was going to chew me out. But he didn’t. Instead, he silently grabbed some of my parts and began to trim them, too. No questions asked.
9 Believers who are[a] poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. 10 And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field.
Currently, I work at my kids’ school as a teacher’s aide. It’s not always the most desirable job. I have two recess duties. And in the winter, it’s cold and windy and snowy. What can I say, it’s Iowa. Sometimes the kids don’t always respect you the best either. After all, you’re not their teacher. It can kind of be a downer—leave me feeling like I’m not valued. But, when I stumbled across the above verse in James 1:9, it reminded me that God looks at things differently than man does.
It’s not bad to be low man on the totem pole. It doesn’t make you weak, or insignificant, or unknown. God knows you. He knows everything you do. He sees it all, and when you do your work willingly and well, he is proud of you.
At the same time, if you have one of those high-profile jobs, it’s easy to look at your status in life and feel overly proud and confident—to look down on those you feel have less important jobs in this world. But as the Scripture says, man looks at the outside, but God looks at our hearts.
Remember Jesus. He was King of Heaven and Earth. But he didn’t stay there. When it was time, he humbled himself, came down to this earth as a little baby and gave up his glory to save you and me.
As Philippians 2:5-8 says:
5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
6 Though he was God,[a]
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges[b];
he took the humble position of a slave[c]
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,[d]
8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
It doesn’t matter so much what you do as how you do it. If it’s a job nobody else wants, do it with pride. Make the most of it. Realize that you are important and special in the grand scheme of things, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.
No matter what your station or status in life is, don’t consider yourself more important than others or, on the other end of the spectrum, feel that what you do has no merit or value. We are all children of the same Heavenly Father and in that way, we are equal before him. Equally loved, equally cherished, equally valued. In that knowledge, be and do all that you were meant to on this side of eternity so that, in the end, you can say you lived your years to the fullest whatever your situation in life was.
This past week a good friend and I were talking. I was sharing that I have been struggling lately-God seems so far off. It’s during these times that I wish I could hear his voice. Even a gentle whisper would be satisfactory to nothingness.
One thing that makes this time of life so tricky for me is the fact that listening for God’s voice, at least audibly, is what got me into trouble the night I was hospitalized. Up until my hospitalization, I felt like God was speaking to me. But as I began to come out of a state of psychosis, I realized that all the visions and voices of the past several days were simply a mirage—a promise that turned out to be nothing. I was left brokenhearted.
As I began to recover, I realized that if I wanted to hear from God, I would have to depend on something more reliable then a voice in my head. From that point on, whenever I needed to hear from him, I turned to his word, the Bible, for confirmation, guidance and direction.
Since that time eleven years ago, I’ve dabbled with the whole “listening” for God. In fact, there have been many times when I’ve longed desperately for a concrete sign or a clear distinct voice to guide me. But for me, it’s just not a viable option—too much of what I “feel” like God is saying to me has been tied up in lies.
My experience is an isolated one, and I am by no means saying that God can’t speak to us audibly if he so chooses. But when I want to hear from God, I go to the letter he’s written. When dealing with all of life’s ups and downs, the Bible is my compass.
While I understand that this is how I need to function, it doesn’t make it any easier when it seems like God is far off.
As I was explaining all of this to my dear friend, inspiration struck. I realized that life is kind of like a puzzle. You know how when you do a puzzle you group pieces according to color—whether the pieces are dark or light or in between, they all have their place. There are pieces that are sunny in nature and others that are deep and dark and rich. It’s the contrast that makes the puzzle so beautiful.
My mom used to say, “If you never experience the bad days than how can you appreciate the good.” That advice used to drive me crazy and, quite frankly, it still does. But when I look at life as a puzzle, I realize that part of the beauty of the picture is the balance between light and dark, shadows and sunshine.
When the puzzle that is my life is complete, I have no doubt that the result will be beautiful. And though I don’t understand these times, I won’t wish them away. Each day is a valuable, intricate part of the bigger picture.
On the darker days, I remind myself that the shadowy pieces balance out the luminous ones, making for a picture that is both rich and complete.
Whether yours is a day filled with sunshine or shadows, I wish you peace and leave you with the reminder that the gloomy days of life are just as important as the bright ones. Accept the bad as well as the good realizing that when your days on this earth are done, the picture that God has made of your life will be both a complete and beautiful work of art.
*Originally posted May, 12th 2014 on poolsofblessing.com
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
You've heard the saying, right? Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans. Interestingly enough, I looked this quote up, via google, and found that this idea of life happening while we're busy planning is attributed to many people including John Lennon, Allen Saunders, and many others whose names you probably won't recognize. But regardless of whether you recognize their names, you understand the sentiment. Life is what's happening to us right now . . . while we're making other plans.
I never took much stock in this saying . . . until quite recently. You see, I’m anxiously searching for a teaching job for the 2017-2018 school year. It has been a frustrating process to say the least. I’ve put in several applications at surrounding school districts, but what I’m really waiting for is for specific positions to open so that I can apply for those jobs. In my opinion, it is a process that is taking entirely too long. Meanwhile, I find myself becoming increasingly annoyed with a God who seems to be way too slow in handing me the future I think I deserve.
But the other day, my husband, ever the voice of reason and truth in my life, made a comment that brought my complaining, whining and dissatisfaction with my current life to a screeching halt. “You realize, Nici, that while you are busy looking for jobs for next year, you forget that you already have one.”
Ouch. He’s right. I do have a job. A pretty great job, in fact. I get to be a teacher’s associate in my kids’ school. It’s a great environment where I work with a fun-loving, hard-working, supportive bunch. In short, it is a fun and friendly place to spend my days.
Not only that, but every day after lunch, my son comes up and gives me a hug. My soon-to-be 6th grader gives me a hug every day with all his friends and classmates looking on. How amazing. What a gift.
And as if that weren’t enough, every day on her way to recess my daughter pokes her head in to the room where I work, smiles and says, “Hi Mom, I love you,” while her gaggle of girls looks on and giggles behind her.
What amazing, incredible moments. Ones that I am wishing away while I pine for my future—a future that is really unfolding one day at a time if I were just wise enough to realize it.
Life is what’s happening while we’re busy making other plans.
So, true. Too true. So, this week I’m making a resolution. I’m going to enjoy the gift of the present. I’m not going to waste the small moments of joy God lays at my doorstep every day by looking ahead into a future that I have no control over.
No, I’m going to let my future unfold one small moment at a time and take the course that God has given me one step at a time. I challenge you to do the same this week, to find joy in the gift that is the present. No matter how big your future plans are or what you're waiting for, remember that life is really about what's happening to you right now. In that knowledge, enjoy and embrace every single moment of every single day.
This morning as I was taking a shower, I was practicing a little artistic composing (as in shower singing and doodling.) Just call me the Mozart and Picasso of the showering world. Anyway, after I’d been in a while, I began to doodle on the shower wall. I drew a heart and a cross and that simple image stirred something in me. Some fond memories actually.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
If there was any verse ingrained in my brain from the beginnings of my Christian upbringing, it was this verse. The gospel verse. Pure and simple. So when I doodled a cross inside of a heart, I thought about this verse and how simple and sweet the gospel message is.
Oftentimes, when I write “Christian” posts I wonder what others will think about it, especially those who don’t subscribe to the Christian faith. Even as I type this, I wonder who thinks I’m being foolish by sharing my simple beliefs. But no matter what you believe, you have to admit this, the gospel message is a simple one, as simple as a cross inside of a heart.
Because it was a God who so loved the world that reached down to save us. Save us from ourselves, from our world, from our pain and loneliness and so much more. He sent his son, Jesus, down to this broken world to guide us back to our Father--a Father who never stopped loving us, even when we were the farthest from him.
I wish I had fancier words to put down onto paper today. I feel like I should have more to share, more to write, but maybe that's the point. The beauty and truth of the gospel is that it's pure and simple. As simple as a picture of a cross inside of a heart. So the next time you're doodling, draw a heart and a cross and see if it doesn’t stir something beautiful in side of you, something more beautiful than even a blog post can describe.