Running with God – Breathe Deep!

Starting Block

I am a runner of the 5K variety.  I like to get out a few times a week for a few miles. This summer, however, I have been terribly inconsistent.  If you’ve ever taken a break from exercise, you know how long it can take to get back into it, both making time in your schedule and getting the old body back into condition.

While out doing the latter a few weeks ago, I got to thinking about breathing.   When I’m on a flat stretch, I need to keep my legs moving and breathe evenly.  Breathe in, two, three.  And out, two, three.   But if I want to be able to make it up a hill ahead of me, I need to breathe evenly and deep.  I’ve got to inhale and exhale hard, so I can still be standing when I reach the top!

On all types of terrain, a runner must keep breathing.  Lose control of breathing and languish.  Quit breathing and collapse.  Those realities remind me of our need as Christians to breathe deep of the Lord.  Life is a course with wide-open, flat stretches of routine, unremarkable days, steep hills that push us to our limits, downhills that bring peace and relief, and lengthy, low-grade uphills that require long-suffering endurance.

While running the terrain of life, we cannot stop breathing deep of the Lord.  For we, like a runner, will stumble and fall, or collapse, without faith-sustaining breaths.  The good news?  We don’t have to run through life gasping for air!  The Good Shepherd loves us and has provided for us.  Just as a runner trusts that deep breaths will fill her lungs with what she needs to keep going, the believer can trust that breathing deep of the Lord will provide what she needs to stay strong and press on in the faith.

How can we breathe deep of the Lord?

Thankfully, breathing deep of the Lord does not require any special degrees or spiritual superiority.  Everything we need to breathe deep is readily available to us: the Word, prayer, and worship.  We breathe deep by taking advantage of God’s Word and His presence.    Concerning these basics, it can be very helpful to do two things: establish a baseline rhythm and breathe deeper when life is hard.

  • Establish a baseline rhythm.  When I am out running, I often inhale and exhale in rhythm with my steps to help my endurance.   Walking by faith is similar.  Regular routines for Bible reading, prayer, and corporate worship help us to get in the habit of processing life through the lens of faith so we can endure to the end.
  • Breathe deeper when life is hard.  As I start going uphill when I’m running, I have to take longer, deeper, and more frequent breaths, maintaining a rhythm but quickening its pace.  It is tempting to stop trying to control my breath and gasp my way to the top, rather than fight to maintain even, deep breaths.  Similarly, on life’s hills, it is tempting to get frantic, pull back from faith-strengthening habits, and try to hurry away from the difficulty, and maybe even away from God.   But the Lord invites us to breathe deeper of Him on those hills – to suck truth into the lungs of our faith with determination and to exhale with zeal the lies that undermine our faith.  God is the breath of life for all who believe; we must breathe deeper when life takes us uphill.

May God uses these words to spur you on to breathe deep of the Lord, showing you specific ways to apply what you read here to the stretch of road you have before you to run today.

Keep running by faith, dear women, and don’t forget to breathe deep!

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

1 Corinthians 9:24-25

There is Hope to Conquer Your Mountain

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today’s post is by Jennifer Kindle

Whispers behind the closed door proved the mess I thought I was in.  My husband’s words are always full of wisdom.  I’m not always thankful for his wise words in the moment but gratefulness does come once I’ve settled.  Deb’s recent post on the beauty of marriage bubbled up in my heart a new love and appreciate for my own sweet, gentle man.

I held back tears and poured out my heart, but only in pieces, not the whole.  The stubborn part of me didn’t want to throw my bare heart out in the open, the selfish part of me wanted to feel sorry for myself and find fault in everyone else, the wise  part of me knew I just needed sweet fellowship with Jesus, but prideful me wouldn’t run into his arms. My flesh is rather ridiculous and I love that my husband trusts the Lord in my life enough to say just a handful of words, offer a gentle kiss, leave me hanging with them, and walk away.

In my pity party about life, people, relationships, to-do lists, overwhelming feelings, mountains too high to climb, impossible obstacles, even simple feats, I finally surrendered to the gentle nudging of Jesus saying, “Come to me, I will give you rest.”  What he gave me was the same thing he had already taught me before.  Why had I forgotten?  What derailed my focus?  Like Peter walking on the water, I took my eyes off of Jesus and gazed instead at the raging storms that encompassed me.

Apparently I’m a slow learner and need to be taught time and time again. I’m still in training, wise instruction is continually needed, so I will remember to make righteous choices, choices that honor my Lord.

I’m so thankful that he has kept nothing from me in this ridiculous moment of falling apart.  I was able to run into his arms, hear his comforting words, be renewed in the hope of his promises and fall asleep in peace, waking to his mercies that are new for me every morning. The thing is, I am victorious when Christ lives through me.  I am a conqueror of great feats when the Lord is my guide.  I can accomplish the impossible when I simply ask the Lord to show me the path.  He is so faithful to say, “Here is the path, now walk in it.” 

The Lord is the strength of his people, he is the saving refuge of his anointed.

The impossible has a different name day to day.  We all have diverse mountains to climb.  We may stand feeling helpless at the bottom looking up at our to-do list, our mounds of laundry, full calendars, books calling to be read, character to be instilled, finances to be managed, relationships to be healed or …..insert your own mountain.

Take courage today.  

One day at a time.

One action at a time.

One obedience at a time.

In my own family we say, “How do you eat an elephant?”  Of course, one bite at a time. Life can pile on and overwhelm us so.  Tomorrow always seems to creep in to today’s thoughts when they have no place there.  The Lord provided for the Israelites with manna, which lasted only for the day.  Believers have everything they need for life AND godliness.  I play these words in my mind and the Lord has to gently scrape off the rough spots on that bare heart of mine I don’t like out in the open. He reminds me that my job description as a Jesus follower is just that…….follow Jesus.

“Okay, Lord.  Where you go, I’ll go, lead me, I will follow.  Where?”

Follow me.

“But where, Lord?  What do you want me to do about this and that and tomorrow and next week, next year, on and on and on.  I’m willing to be obedient but to what?”  I must exhaust him, really.

Follow me.  Follow me in this moment.  Follow me today.  Wait to hear me before you speak.  Ask me before you act.  Hear me before committing to that activity.  Sit with me so I can show you how to pray.  Be obedient moment by moment.  Do not worry about tomorrow, I’ll guide you anew tomorrow.  Worry about following me today. 

The Lord comforted me in my desperate need to hear his voice and the following morning I purposed my day to follow him.  I don’t have any new clarity on the things that overwhelmed my heart yesterday but I trust that they aren’t my concerns.  He wants me to follow him today and how can I keep my eyes on him if I’m gazing at tomorrow or future anxieties?  Once again, like Peter, I will sink.

We shouldn’t survive, we should thrive.  The abundant life he desires for us to have is available when we follow him.  Simply and wholeheartedly, just today, follow him. I can very easily get caught up in my plans and ministry opportunities and school schedules and every single time I do, I feel my eyes gazing and my feet sinking.  When I purpose to hear God’s voice and ask him to show me the way, he gives me his vision, his creativity and his strength to walk in the path he puts before us that day.

I can still dream big because as I’m following him, he puts his dreams on my heart.  I can still make plans because as I’m following him, he puts ideas into my heart. The difference is that I offer them all back to him.  Take my dreams, Lord, and bring them to fruition but show me how to follow you today so you can get me there.  Take this creative idea and plan Lord, that I trust is straight from your heart, and work out the details for me because I can’t take my eyes off of you and work on that.  Here is my yes Lord, I will do that when you say to do it but until you bring it in front of me to act upon it, I will wait and keep following you today.  I will follow today.  I will choose righteousness today.  I will obey today.

Will you obey today?

photo credit

When Motherhood Includes Grief

 

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Motherhood.  The word conjures up a host of emotions and experiences that we long for and dream of for years.

Planning.  Expectations.  Anticipation.  Celebration.  Embracing.

Millions of women have experienced the miracle of motherhood.  The transition from a woman with a whole heart into a woman with a capacity to have her heart live both inside and outside of her body is a beautiful and miraculous process.

A woman’s heart is never again whole once she has children.  For each of her children carry a piece of her heart with them through life.  Our capacity for love grows with each new child.  We may think our hearts are full to capacity and yet with each new baby emotions shift and unexplainable reserves of love make their way into our hearts.

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Yet, because we live in a broken world suspended between the perfection of the Garden of Eden and Heaven, we understand that life is not always carefree.  Sometimes, life brings events that shake our foundation for a season.

Infertility.  Miscarriage.  Stillborn.  Pre-maturity.  Death.

Harsh, ugly words that no one wants to say much less experience as part of their journey in life.

Yet…too many of us do have one or more of those words as part of our life’s resume.  Known as grief, there is a process that we go through when our hearts are disappointed and we lose people or dreams that we had loved and held onto in our souls.

And when babies we carried beneath our breasts, those who lived and breathed and whose heart beat to its’ own cadence closer to ours than any other human being will ever be, leave us…part of our heart goes to Heaven with them and never resides again here on earth.

  • When we miscarry, hormones rage.  Ovaries and uterus contract and try to find their rhythm again leaving us with emotions that are often hard to control.
  • When death comes to a child, the word sorrow takes on a depth of unexplainable meaning.
  • When we long for a child and fertility alludes us, empty wombs and arms seem to betray our femininity.
  • Grief includes waves of sadness that suffocate us making breathing seem a difficult chore.
  • In our valley, words spoken by well-meaning and good intentioned friends seem shallow.
  • Maybe most painful of all is that human comfort is lost for a season.

But then…God

The One who created life and orders our steps, reaches through the clouds of grief and reminds us that He alone understands our pain and offers comfort that carries us through the storm.  Slowly, often painfully slowly, He shows us grace and strength and the only true comfort that exists that can penetrate the human soul.

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When healing begins, and it will, the next season is to find a way to remember and celebrate the life we embraced even if just in our dreams and in our womb for a few days or weeks.  The danger with grief is that it is so easy to get stuck somewhere in the process instead of moving through each phase toward healing.  We can get stuck in the stage of denial, anger, etc.  It will be that one season of life that becomes so commonly focused on that it emerges as that for which we are remembered if we are not careful.

All of those harsh, ugly words that we fear most about motherhood are just a few of the issues that the winds of life have blown my way.  And, while each event rocked me for a season (or more sometimes), no one event is the sum total of who I am.  I don’t want to be defined only as the mom of a premature baby, special needs child, mom of a stillborn son, the lady who lost four babies, or a number of other things.  While all of those statements are true, they are not the only part of the legacy I want to leave behind.  My goal for a legacy is to be remembered as a woman who loved God with all her heart and though she failed so many times, she claimed the grace of God and loved her family and friends with all her heart.

So, if that is my goal, then that must be the thing on which I focus every day.  I am not minimizing grief.  Please know that.  It is real, painful, and a life-altering process.  But it doesn’t have to define us.  Grief doesn’t have to overshadow everything else good and wonderful in our lives.  Oh, it will for a season, for sure, and that is healthy and wise.  Grief is painful, intense, hard, difficult, and sometimes the very act of taking the next breath is physically painful.  I understand that completely.

I also understand that God is bigger than grief.  His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23) and His grace is abundant and sufficient (II Corinthians 12:9).  But please know that if you feel “stuck” in the grief process, there is help available.  Seek out Godly counsel and ask God to help you move “through” the stages of grief so that your legacy will not be that one traumatic experience.

There are some benefits when motherhood includes grief.  We are given a unique perspective on the true miracle of life.  We can celebrate on a grander stage those who call us mom.  We can embrace a little longer and relish the presence of those children who grace our homes.  And we can reach out to others who are newer to the journey of grief than we are and assure them that even when despair is fresh and pain is great, behind the clouds the sun truly is shining and it will break forth again in their lives.

Motherhood is a celebration.  An amazing gift God has granted the females of the human race.  It is an opportunity to nurture, embrace, train, love, disciple the next generation of human beings.  How blessed we are to be in that group of women who have held motherhood in our hearts and life in our arms.

Photo Credit: Terri King (Timberlake, NC) and Laurie Whitehouse (Lexington, KY)

Think Before You Speak

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by Cherie Werner

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  Ephesians 4:29

 One of the greatest jobs I have as a mother is to instill godly character into my children. To do this, I intentionally utilize both resources and teachable moments. I have found that it is best to learn from life’s blunders.  Currently I am reading aloud and discussing the book Love As A Way of Life by Gary Chapman with my youngest daughter, Cayley, as well as the mom group I’m leading.  At the end of one of the chapters, I became convicted. There was a challenge to evaluate verbal interactions with others and determine whether or not the words spoken were kind. If any unwholesome words came to mind, the challenge encouraged you to take action and apologize.

My heart sunk as I remembered a phone conversation that I had with a friend. I sent the apology email below to my friend and then read it aloud to my daughter. Even though I was embarrassed by my blunder, I wanted to use it as a teachable moment. Words do matter and carry weight.

OK my dear friend, things just got real.  I just finished reading a chapter on kindness to Cayley and I was convicted.

I read, “To make kindness a habit, ask yourself after each verbal interaction with another person, what kind words did I say and what unwholesome words did I say?” I thought back to our conversation and was convicted.

 I realized that sharing with you about my disgruntles with ________ were not edifying or life giving.  I did looked up the quote you mentioned by Dave Ramsey concerning gossip which said, “gossip is defined as discussing anything negative with someone who can’t help solve the problem.”  So I’m apologizing for gossiping.

Words are powerful as they give life or death.  I desire to be known as one who spreads life. 

Love ya.

My friend wrote me back the following:

Your email made me think, what if the words about _______ were said in a happy, surprised, and excited tone, but because it was hearsay, and because of our filters, we assume it was negative?  It gave me a lot to think about.  The other thing that I want to sort through with you is where is the line between gossip and sharing our heart, and frustration with a friend.

Was I gossiping or simply sharing my heart and frustration with a friend? I wanted to know. Actually, I needed to know.

Two definitions of gossip:

  1. Dictionary – Casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.
  2. Bible – One who reveals secrets, one who goes about as a talebearer or scandal-monger.

Gossip is different from sharing information in many ways. Below are some ways I feel the two differ but I’m sure there are many others.

  • Consider your motives for sharing? Are you seeking to build yourself up by making others look bad? We often feel superior to the person we are talking about which is prideful and often gossip.
  • Gossiping wants to share and tell a story for reactions. It is done repeatedly to many persons.
  • If you are hurt or angry with someone and desire to draw others into your pain wanting them to side with you it’s likely you are gossiping.
  • What type of information is being shared? Gossipers speak of the faults and failures of others or reveal possibly embarrassing or shameful details regarding the lives of others without their knowledge or approval.
  • Gossip usually occurs when you complain or talk about one person to someone who knows both of you.
  • Ask if what you are saying is helpful for building up the person I am speaking about by sharing this? Charles Spurgeon said, “Tale bearing/gossip emits a threefold poison. It injures the teller, the hearer, and the person concerning whom the tale is told.”
  • Ask yourself why you want to share this information, do you have permission, and if it’s necessary? Then consider whether you would share if the person you were talking about were present? If not, you are most likely gossiping.
  • It’s gossip to say anything about someone that will lower the listener’s opinion of that someone as gossip changes the way we see people.
  • Do you have a complaint about someone that you take to someone else who can do nothing about it? If so, then that is gossip.
  • Do your words build up and edify others? Gossipers seek to tear down others.
  • Kind words see the best in people and call it forth. Gossipers tend to focus on the negative and nit pick.
  • When someone is talking negatively about others it become gossip on your part if you jump into the conversation.
    • Don’t participate. Excuse yourself from a conversation that becomes full of gossip, to avoid “falling into” gossip games or socializing-by-demoralizing.
    • Encourage them to speak directly to the person who is involved as it’s biblical, see Matthew 18:15
    • Let gossip end with you. Help navigate the conversation to whatever is true, pure, and lovely.
  • Always remember your words are powerful enough to give life or death.
  • Will what you share glorify God?

With this particular situation, I decided that my friend might be right as I truly was sharing my heart. Nevertheless, I realize that it is a fine line. Next time, before talking to a friend about something, I will ask myself if what I am about to say is true, kind, necessary, or helpful? This whole experience has reminded me that it is important to THINK before speaking. “He who guards his mouth keeps her life, but she who opens wise her lips comes to ruin.”  Proverbs 13:3

T –is it true?
H –is it helpful?
I  –is it inspiring?
N –is it necessary?
K –is it kind?

In closing, I encourage you to ponder the following poem by Ann Landers. Personally, this poem really made me think deeper about a few things.

Remember Me?
“My Name Is Gossip. I have no respect for Justice.
I maim without killing. I break hearts and ruin lives.
I am cunning and malicious and gather strength with age.
The more I am quoted the more I am believed.
I flourish at every level of society.
My victims are helpless. They cannot protect themselves against me because I have no name and no face.
To track me down is impossible. The harder you try, the more elusive I become.
I am nobody’s friend.
Once I tarnish a reputation, it is never quite the same.
I topple governments and ruin marriages.
I ruin careers and cause sleepless nights, heartache and indigestion.
I spawn suspicion and generate grief.
I make innocent people cry in their pillows.
Even my name hisses. “I AM CALLED GOSSIP.” Office gossip. Shop gossip. Party gossip.
I make headline and headaches.
Before you repeat a story ask yourself. Is it true? Is it fair? Is it necessary?
If not – KEEP QUIET.

GREAT minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; shallow minds discuss people. Eleanor Roosevelt       

Which are you?

How do you differentiate between gossiping and sharing?  I’d really like to know. 

These Few Sheep

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In the midst of raising little ones, a mother may find herself at odds with the future. Often, dreams and gifts are shelved in preference of little people with constant needs.

Conflict ensues between the privileged nature of motherhood and the long pause in what was a productive, somewhat predictable life.

How does a mother measure success?

Some say life is made up of defining moments. A typical Sunday revealed itself as one of those moments for me. While the speaker expounded on the life of David, I did not expect to be singled out by the Lord. No one around me suspected the arresting that took place that Sunday morning – of my mind, will and emotions – held captive by a thought which transformed into a desire to take the Lord at His word – at home.

Mothers of young children can feel overlooked in the church setting. From the pulpit we hear of mission trips, service opportunities, small groups, worship bands and all sorts of public endeavors. But with a van full of car seats and nap times looming – I was in no place to serve in public. I knew it – but needed affirmation from above.

The speaker described in vivid detail the life of David. Not David the king, but David the shepherd. As the sermon unfolded – time stood still for me. I felt all alone – in a good way – personalizing the story.

David’s brothers mocked him for having such a small job – tending to his ‘few sheep’. They were fighting the big battles, had the upfront positions and represented little brother to the world. David had no voice for public ears. His thoughts were relegated to the mound of sheep off the beaten path of real life and no one expected more of him.

But David sought the Lord in his isolation. He used the years of serving and protecting his ‘few sheep’ as an opportunity to know God. He did have a voice – and an audience of ONE. On the backside of a mountain David learned to pray – not in the, ‘I’m asking for things’ kind of praying but in the, ‘Lord, I want to know your more ‘ fashion. He turned his thoughts into songs (Psalms) which soothed the sheep and brought heaven to earth.

David fought off lions and bears – archenemies poised to steal, kill and destroy his flock. His sheep knew his voice and he knew their limitations.

While David was being faithful in the little – God was training his hands for war and capturing the shepherd’s heart for His own. Culture would eventually be shaped and history rearranged by the actions of this unassuming sheep herder.

I remember the Sunday service, like it was yesterday. I left church with my pile of notes – and mulled over the facts, chewing on the hard truths of God’s ways.

Little becomes much – Up is down – The backside of the mountain is in the presence of the King.

My eyes were opened to the possibilities. What if?

What if I embraced this role of mom/shepherd tending to my ‘few sheep’ with everything I had? What if I learned to know God during these busy, quiet years? What if  I was all right with being misrepresented without a voice?

Fast forward a decade, or two, and this shepherd/mom is in a whole, new place. The little lambs are strapping men and lovely ladies. Some days I long for the season when life was simple, kids were little and God was so near.

I’m  thankful for a church leader who ministered the word of God in a timely fashion – fitly spoken for my hungry heart in need of a defining moment.

Young mom – use these tender days to watch over your little ones. Learn the dynamics of spiritual warfare by protecting them and get to know your God while in the quiet place on the backside of the world.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
 Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.