Does Practice Make Perfect?

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Dear Sis,

A funny, “aha” moment struck me at the gym today. Who knew there were lessons to be learned from lunges? Yes, I’m completely serious.

My workout is an hour-long succession of movements. Starting on what I call the “dreadmill” we move to the rowing machine and then on to floor exercises. Just like most people I have my favorite parts of the workout. The parts I’m good at. The parts I can do easily and with skill.

Todays workout presented a challenge called the “skaters lunge”. It was an old foe. It is a movement where you launch yourself into a side to side lunge while reaching to the floor. It’s similar to what you see in the Winter Olympic Games, but without ice to glide on and minus the smooth moves.

I will never forget my first introduction to this move about 2 years ago. I was at the beginning of my fitness journey. I worked with a personal trainer who consistently challenged my balance.  Enter the “skaters lunge”. When he demonstrated the move it seemed simple enough. My brain said “I can do that”, but my body said “what you talkin’ about?”

Let’s just say his demo looked nothing like my execution. I’m pretty sure I looked like I was having a seizure. There was no evidence of the graceful side to side movement he performed.

So back to the present. Here’s THE PRESENT. Today, at my new gym, the trainer challenged us to do twenty skater lunges. In the middle of the reps, she walked over to me and asked if I was a dancer, because I did the lunges with such grace. I actually laughed out loud in between gasping for breath.

So maybe it’s true what they say. Practice makes perfect. Of course by the third set of those lunges my form began to deteriorate a bit. They weren’t looking as lovely and graceful as the first ones.  So maybe, just maybe it would be better to proclaim a new mantra.  Practice makes progress!

Practice makes perfect is a phrase that can make us cringe. When you hear those words you just know it is most likely going to be a long, painful process to get to the goal. It’s going to require steadfast, step by step determination.  But the biggest challenge is the fails. The fall down and skin your knees kinda fails.

Sis, do you know what I’m talking about here? Have you ever practiced and practiced and found yourself still tripping over the same spot? Maybe you are like me and you found yourself standing back up trying your best to recover gracefully. After a few tries, we begin to wonder if we will ever get it right. We begin to wonder if we have it in us to try again. And we just plain wonder if we have it in us.

Oh Sis, you need to know, I get that. I stand there with you with scars to prove it. They are deep, ugly scars that never quite go away completely.

Starting again requires a new perspective here. I am counting those scars as my badges of courage. Because I’m still here, I’m still standing and I’m still trying. Those scars are a  constant reminder that I got up again because I am able to do all things through Christ who strengthens me. It’s here in this confident belief I find boldness for a do-over.

Sis, I’ve started to realize something else that gives me hope. Real hope. If we are honest we will recognize that practice doesn’t make perfect. Only the love of Christ can do that. So I take a deep breath and feel the fullness of joy in the land of His love that takes away all my failures, my tripping, my stumbling attempts and makes them into the most graceful offering. Jesus stepped into the world and reached out his hand to help me up, to help you up.

So Sis, I invite you to come along with me. Tomorrow I will rise and practice again. Practice while depending on the Perfector of my faith. I will lean in and hold on when I feel off-balance. One thing driving my determination is the sweet assurance that God won’t give up on me if I don’t give up on Him. Let’s start a new day proclaiming practice makes progress.  I think Jesus will be the first to pin that badge of courage on us and celebrate our progress as a triumph.

Love You Sis,

Karen

My prayer for you and me:

Dear Father,

You found us trying to do our best, be our best and you knew we would need a little help. You knew we would have a few fails along the way and you covered the mess with a whole lot of grace and love through your Son, Jesus. We live thankful you never leave us alone in the journey. You stand beside us and guide us and remind us who we are in your eyes. It gives us strength to get up and try again. Knowing you are for us makes all the difference. Lord, we long to live for you too. Help us to live and love practicing what Jesus taught us. We know we won’t get it perfect, but with you by our side we will make progress. May your kingdom by glorified by our efforts. We love you Father.  Amen.

 

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New Year, New Word, New You

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Here we stand, breaking into another new year!  How will we begin? First steps are always a bit tricky. I’m just wondering how you have started in previous years. Are you a resolution maker, a list producer, or do you pray asking God for a word? I had recently heard of this idea and being a lover of words in general I latched onto it with enthusiasm. Because in my world, words have power. So a friend explained that you begin by praying for God to unveil a single word that would guide you as you go through the year ahead. Just one word.

If you are like me, you want to live a clear and focused life for Christ. And let’s be honest, having a neat, precise target lets us breathe a little easier. We are people who long for a plan, a little direction, and the freedom to follow at our own pace. So having just one single, solitary word seems like a good way to get that clarity of focus.

For example, my “word” for 2017 was “fearless”. I felt God was showing me that word over and over in the early weeks of January. So I adopted that word as my guidepost as I journeyed through the year. As the months passed by, I found myself measuring my level of “fearless” living against the lives of those I admire, those I see desperately chasing after Jesus.  I wondered if I was even close to the target I aimed my efforts at for the year of living fearlessly.  Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad thing to look in the mirror and evaluate your strong and weak places. A little quick glance into that reflection helps us grow, and lean in closer to Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I have found that sometimes singular focus can lead to a bit of anxiety because it gives me room to compare myself to the standards of my world.

So my friends, this year I am determined to fix my mind, body and soul on a different path. Instead of looking for a word to define the areas I need to reform, refocus and reset, I am determined to simply yield. Every day…just yield.

Are you with me here? Hi, my name is Karen, and I have control issues.

Not only do I like a plan of action, I want to be in charge of the charge!  Sometimes I allow my passion to lead me, and I leave Jesus in the dust.

So what if I fully embraced yielding?  When I looked up the word on my dictionary app, the thesaurus unveiled this stirring truth. Jesus was the living, breathing perfect example of the word yield. And if my intention, my longing, is to live a life like His am I willing to yield?

Here are a few words to turn over and examine.

Yield: to give way…am I willing to give up my way, for His way?

Yield: bend…am I willing to be flexible, moldable, movable?

Yield: let go…am I willing to embrace change, every day, every way, trusting Him?

Yield: surrender…am I willing to resign from leadership of my life, let God run things?

Yield: submit…am I willing to allow the Holy Spirit to break me and make me into a beautiful reflection of the love of Jesus?

Okay, these are the things I want to carry into the new year.  I want to declare there is no word I can cling to in order to be better, love better, live better without yielding to the One who takes my messy self and molds it into His likeness. Today I stand flooded with gratitude that He is able, if I am willing.

So, as I face a new beginning, I won’t pray for a clear “word” that points to a plan of action. I will pray that yielding to His Word will point others to Him.

 

My prayer for me and for you…

dear Father,

Thank you for new beginnings. Thank you for fresh, clean, do-over days. As we face the starting line, remind us to let you lead. Help us give way, knowing without a doubt your way is better than anything we could possibly dream up. As we face changes in the days ahead, help us to depend on your promise that you are with us. Father, we confess that submit and surrender are not words we embrace. We like control. Help us to relax and release that control into your loving hands. Lord, you have proven over and over you are trustworthy. Help us to keep our eyes on Jesus in this journey. Your Word has given us a clear picture of how a yielded heart lives and loves. Strengthen us for the course you have set out for us. Let our declaration to yield to You bring you glory upon glory.

amen

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The Best is Yet to Come

Dear Sis,

One September day 5 years ago, I was wandering the aisles of an arts and crafts store looking for a distraction. My heart ached as I stood on the edge of a decision that weighed heavy.

Have you ever straddled a line?  You’ve got one foot firmly planted on either side of a finish line. Stuck there by uncertainty. The future seems fragile at best.

Are you like me sis? You know God has a plan, but you just don’t see it. And to be honest, seeing is believing.

That morning I spent time asking God to help me believe there was something worth saving in this relationship. I cried out to God to just give me a glimpse of hope.  I just wanted one single moment of sweet assurance.  As I write these words, I recognize this sounds so composed, when in reality I wanted much more. I wanted a clean, clear answer to a messy, clouded question. Should I stay, or should I go?

As I waited for answers, I wandered down aisle after aisle of creative wonders. I found myself in the aisle of “misfit” items. The clearance rack was strewn with assorted novelties. But one small item caught my eye. It was a rubber stamp sitting up straight, its words clean and clearly printed in bold, block letters.

“The Best is Yet to Come”

Sis, have you ever known, just known without a doubt that words were intended for you?  As I walked to the checkout with my little piece of hope, I felt my heartache ease. I carried that stamp around in my purse for a year. I needed the sweet reminder that hope lies in the truth of those words.

Then one day a sweet friend was diagnosed with cancer. She stood brave through the trials of treatment. The only thing I held out to her was a little rubber stamp that held hope. I gave her that stamp because hope holds us up when we are straddling a finish line. She survived that cancer and a year later found a friend needing a dose of hope. The stamp once again moved into the hands of someone just longing for encouraging words.

Me.

Oh Sis, are you like me, finding yourself in need of hope on a regular basis?

I had just moved for the first time in 32 years and I was desperately lonely. Then my mom died. Cancer took her quickly. So standing alone in a new place, broken hearted, I needed a glimpse of hope. So that sweet friend dug that stamp out of a drawer and pressed it into my hand. Pressed it right into my heart.

Sis, today I sit here as my sweet friend straddles a finish line. Her cancer has returned this time with purpose. She lays in the hospital ready to cross right into God’s loving arms. Her future home is full of light and life and fresh beginnings. I tell her I look forward to embracing her on the other side. I tell her to breathe deep and know the love she feels flow over her is His. I tell her the blanket of peace that brings her comfort is His.  And I send her my love and whisper in her ear…the Best is yet to come, the Best is yet to come, the Best is yet to come.

Dear Father,

Each of us stands at the finish line wavering because we are weakened by hopelessness. Lord, thank you for giving us glimpses of Your hope. The hope of eternity. The hope of a new beginning when we just don’t see a way through. You promise that you go before us and stand behind us and are always with us. So no matter where we stand we never stand alone. We lean in and depend on that truth because hope is born there.  And peace follows and settles in and we whisper sweet prayers of thankfulness for Your Presence.  Amen

Call it like it is.

“we begin by trusting our ignorance and calling it innocence.”  Ozwald Chambers

Hey Sis,

Did reading that sentence pinch you too?  Did it reach in and tighten around your heart a bit? Please tell me it’s not just me who sees herself standing right there.

Because on any given day it’s how I think…it’s my subconscious stance.

I can claim I’m a good person.  There’s no “evil” in me. I can proclaim with complete certainty I am not a murderer, adulterer, thief, liar, slanderer, etc. etc. etc.

But, here’s the point that pinches me and wakes me from that certainty. I can proclaim it today, but where will my heart stand tomorrow?  Or the next day?  Or the next?

Do you wonder if the people who commit these actions start their day with goodness and trip and fall into sin?  Do they wake up like me and you and somehow find themselves living an alternate life before days end?

Sis, are you like me?  Don’t we stand assured we are better, we are good, we are safe? Can you look back and recognize how this is faulty thinking?

When I look in the rear view mirror, I see the truth. The truth of how I have stood on the very edge of those very sins and felt the Holy Spirit grab the hem of my heart and pull me back just in the nick of time.  Have you seen it too? The ugly truth of the darkness that lurks just under our pure hearts?

Oh Sis, I know what is in me.  And to be honest I am frightened by it.  Sis, maybe you are staring at me with wide eyes as I confess my broken self right here in front of all the world to see.  Okay, so I haven’t murdered anyone.  But my heart has inched over the line in other ways and my certainty of how good I am becomes blurred by that truth. The ugly truth of what lies within.  Oh, I don’t want to look at it, confess it, even give it a name.  But nevertheless, it finds it’s way to the surface on any given day.

The truth is that the only good in me, the only thing that is certainly good is Jesus Christ.

And the only assurance that His goodness will triumph over my sinful nature is the Holy Spirit.  Without Him the evil in me will win.  It will eventually convince me I am more.

Oh you may be thinking “evil” seems like too strong a word to describe what’s within us.  But if we temper it and call it anything else aren’t we fooling ourselves. It needs to be ugly, and dark or we won’t be moved to run from it.  We won’t be moved to spend every single bit of God’s power within us to turn away.

So Sis, here’s a bit of homework, for you and for me and for us.  Let’s be honest with ourselves.  Let’s sit in front of a mirror and look for the dark spots.  Let’s find them and pick them out of the light, before they have a chance to grow and multiply and eclipse the goodness of God in us.

“We cannot trust our ignorance and call it innocence”—we must believe and receive the truth of what Jesus says….we need Him.  Every single day.

 

Here’s my prayer for us!

Dear Father,

Thank you for planting the light of goodness in us, even when you see the possibility of darkness.  We trust You to keep us turned toward the Light.  Thank you for reminding us of how easily we turn away when left to our own choices. Oh Lord, we live in a world that determines what is good enough and trick ourselves into agreement with it all.  So Father let your Word set the true standards, let your Word remind us of how far we are from Your perfection.  Lord we cling to the only hope we have that we can get one thing right, the hope of Jesus Christ who paid the price to light us from within, so we are perfectly good in Your eyes.  Thank you for knowing exactly what we would need and providing the Holy Spirit to guide us.  We need You…Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen

 

Will we choose to break through or break down?

My Dear Sis,

As I stand at yet another crossroad in my life, I look around and wonder if you’ve ever felt the same anxiety the unknown future brings.  It drops in unannounced and unwelcome. Oh, I am confident in so many other places, but in the future there are unseen moments that make me quake and shake and stumble.

I am about to move to a new town. Again. I have been in this place just three short years. Honestly, I have only recently found my people. You know who I mean. The people who think like you, laugh at the same things, find joy in simple, silly things, love the same coffee places you do and love to sit and talk and talk and talk about Jesus til the cows come home. The people you call home. Your tribe.

If you’ve ever moved and had to rebuild your tribe, you know the anxiety I face. Starting over requires steps. You have to move out into unchartered waters and risk exposing yourself. You’ve got to find a way to trust there is a safe passage through to the new beginning.

Sis, have you ever stood in a similar place?  That place where you try to fool yourself into believing maybe you can just go around instead of through?  Oh yeah, I’ve spent days, months, yes even years declaring I would stand firm and not go through the thing that was just impossible.

I didn’t want to go through the sea of pain that threatened to pull me under.

I didn’t want to go through the roaring whirlwind of fear and anxiety that threatened to toss me about.

I didn’t want to go through the thunder rumbling in the sky all around me, loudly proclaiming I am just not enough.

I just didn’t see a way through when I stood blinded by the storm raging around me.

So sis, if you are standing in a storm, how do you take one step forward, how do I take one step forward? How do we move when all we see are crashing waves, one after another with no end in sight?

It reminds me of the Israelites and Moses. I picture them walking toward the Red Sea. A sea of uncertainty, with nothing to keep them afloat but a promise. I can just see them following Moses to the shoreline, looking out at the immense power of the crashing waves. They’re standing there sandals soaked, their spirits conquered by the plan that looked to be a dead-end. With the Egyptian soldiers coming toward them, their dreams of a new beginning seemed lost in the sea that stood between them and freedom.  I love their first response, because I would have done exactly the same thing. They decided it was time to turn back. Time to give up. This situation was impossible.

Because the Israelites could not see a way through, they were willing to go back. Back to pain, back to suffering, back to slavery. There was no way to break through so they broke down.

Sis are you like me? Do you find yourself standing at the edge of a sea. Are you hoping the water is warm and inviting and in the very same moment fighting the impulse to turn back because searching for a way through takes hard work. And some days it’s just plain exhausting.  We are willing to give up the promise of a new beginning because fear relentlessly whispers in our ear there is no way through.

Oh dear sis, I invite you and me to cling to the words of Moses. They may just keep us afloat in the wonder and worry of what tomorrow holds. “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the LORD rescue you today…The LORD himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” Exodus 14:13,14

As I read these words I realize God asks me to just stand still and watch. I have to laugh as I have seen Him go before me and work throughout my life so many times I have lost count.  But somehow, I still fear I am on my own. Do you do that too?

If only I could remember to depend on His promise that He will fight for me.

There is no fear in the future if I believe He is my rescuer.

Okay sis, Here’s the big finish…

When you look up and see there is no way through. You’ve hit that wall of waves. You’ve stepped into the deep end. You’ve fallen into the darkest storm.  Grab this life-line.

“Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters–a pathway no one knew was there!”

Psalm 77:19

The Psalmist tells it like it is! God’s road leads through the sea, His pathway through the mighty waters….and it was a pathway…NO ONE KNEW WAS THERE.  Once again, it’s a trust issue. The way through was there all along.

Ah, now that’s a sweet break through!

Here’s my prayer for you sis…

Father,

Forgive us for forgetting your promises. Forgive us for fearing the future You have planned for us. The same future that holds the assurance of love and life alongside You. You have gone before us and come behind us and stand with us, so we will declare we can go through. We can go through whatever sea threatens to overcome. Because Lord we know You have cleared a path. Even a path we don’t even know is there. So Father, we will take one more step, a step toward You, trusting you are standing with open arms ready to guide us into the new beginning You have planned just for us.  And we will praise your name in that very place! Amen.

 

Sis, Is it Good or God?

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Dear Sis,
What kind of God peers into the heart and ignores the shadows? Looks right past the things I have placed between us and tries to catch my eye with the beautiful truth? Truth that draws me back to Him. Truth so big and so wide it breaks like the dawn.

And in the warmth of that light, I no longer shelter the shadows. I let them disappear because they no longer have any power or purpose. And I stand face turned toward him, locked in the embrace of his love. It’s the same love that welcomes me back again and again, no matter how many times I let the shadows slip in.

Oh sis, don’t the shadows edge in so quietly, unnoticed? It’s like they tip-toe in when we’re not looking.
If they were evil things we would be on the alert. But, so many times they are good. Good people. Good places. Good choices. Until they become the good things between us and the God thing.
We are tempted to believe the good things don’t need to go. Because after all they are good. How do we determine if the good thing is good enough? Or is it standing in the way of a God thing?

I have asked myself this question so many times I’m sick of my own struggle with it. And every time I ask it, I already know the answer. Because God has given me the Holy Spirit to awaken me to wrong turns. And as much as I would like to deny I see it, there’s no denying the kick in the gut feeling I get when I begin to sense a need for turning.

Sis, have you ever seen the truth you didn’t want to face and just wish you could turn away and ignore the urgent signs he keeps giving you? Oh, how I have stood in that very place. Stood crying, kicking and screaming, because that thing I needed to turn away from was so very good. And I had convinced myself, God wanted to bless me with it.

But Sis, here’s the thing, obedience always requires turning and trusting. Turning away from the good thing, and trusting there is a God thing in the making.

Sis, I’ve learned to count on this, when we lay tired from the crying, kicking and screaming He lays out lovely things that remind us that turning toward his embrace is always the best thing.
He will use every word we read, every song we hear, ever friend’s encouraging words to remind us, he sees us, he hears us, and he knows how hard this living in obedience to his voice really is.

Because this God, this compassionate, forgiving God, peers past the dark places in my heart and still tries to catch my eye with his beautiful truth, I turn toward the light. I have to believe the one who can break forth like the dawn has the power to eclipse all the shadows of goodness that stand in the way of my drawing closer to him.

So Sis, let’s turn. Even when it doesn’t make sense. Even when it isn’t clear why. When you feel this thing standing between you and God, and you want it gone. Choose God over good. He’s looking right past your shadows, trying to catch your eye with the beautiful truth, He’s all you need

Love,

Your Sis in Christ,

Karen

Shine on Sis!

Dear Sis,
This letter is for you, and for me, and for us.
Time is short and the shadows are growing long.
We sit here, looking around at each other with the same question on our minds. What lights us up?

Sis if you are like me, you wonder at what “special light” you have to shine in a world just crying out for a little relief from the darkness. And here we stand. Stuck. And here we plant our feet, because there is no clear plan.

Oh Sis, I want to ask you a question, the same question I ask myself.
Was there a moment in your life,
A point of pain in your life,
A place of poverty in your life,
that propelled you into the arms of Jesus?

Did you long to be seen?
Not social media seen, but deep soul seen.
Did you long to be known?
Not known for what you do, but know for who you really are.
Did you long to be accepted?
Not accepted in the perfect Pinterest places, but accepted in the messy spaces where we really live.
Or did you just long to be invited?
Not invited by mass evite, but invited to really connect, heart to heart.

Here’s what I’m wondering Sis.
If we are standing in His light today, searching to and fro for a place to shine, could simply remembering how we once stood in the shadows open our eyes to possibilities?

Because whatever propelled you and me into the arms of Jesus will propel us to wrap our arms around the shoulders of our sisters standing in a similar place.

Sis, don’t we all know the desperate need to believe we are not alone?

Could it be that the answer to what lights you up, what lights me up is waiting to be uncovered in the pages of our own stories?
When we remember that place of longing, passion for compassion will be born there. It will burn there.
And Sis, there it is, the simple spark that grows into a full blown brilliant light.

Sis who knows where that spark will lead you, maybe you’ll share a meal, offer to help with the kids, or even invite someone to sit across the table and have a cup of coffee. And some days it might just be you’ll offer a hug, the kind of hug that says, I’M WITH YOU!

Okay Sis, listen closely here, I want you to hear this…
WE MUST NOT BELIEVE THE LIE THAT SAYS IT’S NOT ENOUGH!

The biggest hindrance to our light is looking for the big things to do. Jesus took a towel and started washing feet, he stopped to talk to a woman at a well, he had dinner with sinners. He paid attention and allowed his path to be interrupted.
What will we do?

Okay Sis, If you’re like me you’re probably wondering if we could do this thing. And in the wondering your mind is wandering through all the ways you could add a little glow to your world.
Let’s be honest Sis, we are girls who like a plan, and if it comes with a list that’s even better.
But, I can almost hear Jesus whispering right into our ears…
Hold on.
Hold on.
Stay with me here.
Because he wants us to remember he isn’t sending us out to shine FOR him…
He’s inviting us to shine WITH him.
So Sis, when we say yes to lighting the day with love, let’s remember Jesus stands beside us linking arms…and the one true God WITH US WILL SHINE THROUGH US.

Okay Sis, do you see what I see?
The only “plan” we need is to stand so close to Jesus everyone we meet will ask us to introduce him.
Because the common cord in our string of lights, the very lights that illuminate the darkest places is Jesus IN US!

So dear Sis, dear you, dear me,
Let’s let go of the plan, link arms with Jesus, and when we feel him nudge us toward someone, let’s just do it! Even if it feels a little crazy risky.

Let’s unleash compassion that grows from the light of His love.
Because Sis, THERE IS NO POWER OF DARKNESS THAT WILL OVERCOME IT!

Yes Sis, your little light, my little light, our little lights will make a difference for eternity.
And His Kingdom will be multiplied!
And His name will be glorified!
Let’s light it up girls! Let’s light it up!

Love,
Your Sister in Christ,
Karen