How God Gets Our Attention

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Discovering God's Plan

The month of May just zoomed by, as I was crazy busy with adjusting to summer vacation with the kids at home, my part-time job, and everything that goes along with that.

Honestly, I’ve been doing a whole lot of “looking in my house.”

How God Gets Our Attention

Thinking over the last six weeks or so—as I take a step back from the busyness of life—I see some clear markers of what God has placed under my nose to get my attention:

  1. I’ve been presented with several different freelancing/contract work opportunities that offer some exciting, long-term benefits.
  2. I’ve been “cut loose” of some responsibilities that had previously demanded a lot of my time (which would have hampered time I could spend on #1).
  3. My husband has some exciting things going on right now with his work.
  4. God continues to feed my soul, as we worship at a new church hearing awesome weekly messages, many of which have focused on the same ideas I put forth here: God has a unique purpose for you as part of his bigger story.

I also believe that God continues to prune and chip away at the peripheral things that don’t matter, in order to make room for the things that do. Of course, these things that he prunes include sin, but sometimes they also include “good” things.

It’s hard to say goodbye to things that are good but have become idols: relationships, comfort, predictability, smooth sailing.

Another thing I’m trying to learn is the difference between things that I enjoy and am interested in, and the things to which God is calling me. This is hard. Super-hard.

For example:

  • I’ve always enjoyed school and learning, and I’m a terrific student. I thought I’d be a great teacher.
  • I’m a terrible classroom teacher.

I love the whole world of Internet marketing and social media strategy. I keep trying to wiggle my way into these business endeavors, but I can’t quite find my niche. Right now, I’m trying to decide if I just need to persevere or if God is trying to turn me around. I think I’d be a great niche blog site owner—with a targeted “product” to promote and sell—but I’ve been trying to discover what that may be, examining everything from pantyhose to door knobs.

Nothing’s really working out. Nothing is presenting itself as viable. Nothing excites to the point of I can’t imagine myself NOT doing it. And the last thing I want to do is “force” myself into a business endeavor—committing time, money, and resources—when I don’t see or sense a clear affirmation of what I’m doing.

For now? I wait. I continue to turn over and move the rocks that God places in front of me. Maybe I’ll find something underneath one someday soon.

But if not, I do know one thing: casting aside the rocks in my path just clears more space for me to pursue God. A clean path to Christ guarantees a greater access to him.

And God’s plans for me far exceed anything I could imagine or pursue myself.

God’s plans for me far exceed anything I could imagine or pursue myself.

Photo Credit: CountryDreaming via Compfight cc

Competition Is Irrelevant When You Follow Your Passion

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Competition is irrelevant | God's passions, purpose for life, blogging, competition

I’ve had a blog (albeit, in several different forms) since 2008. I’m amazed by a couple of things when I look around at other moms with successful money-making blogs.

  1. Some of these bloggers have been online and working for a shorter amount of time than I.
  2. There are a dang lot of women bloggers, but it seems like there’s always room for more.

So what that means to me is this:

Don’t worry about “the competition” and work your tail off.

Regardless of your area of expertise …

If God’s calling you to something, it means that the competition is irrelevant.
Faithfully following his call, your message will be unique enough that it won’t get lost and it will reach those that need it most.

We must believe this, friends. It’s the “partner” message to the primary one of “look in your house” to find your priorities, passions, and provision.

Let’s consider this idea—something I’ve wanted to do forever: write and sell an ebook.

But I have to tell you that part of delay in actually doing it has been wrapped up in my thought patterns. I have a tendency to think that my efforts would be in vain: No one would benefit from anything I’d have to say. Would my ebook be unique enough to stand out against an already-full market?

Let’s interrupt those thoughts, though, and turn them around. What if I were to approach it this way: God has given me a unique set of experiences, skills, and passions. God has created a passion in my heart to write an ebook. If God wants me to write an eBook then nothing else matters.

It’s a lot more fun to go through life wondering, God, what will you have me tackle today? What awesome thing that seems difficult or awkward will you have me achieve?

So, look in your house to see what’s there, follow your passion, and then shrug off everything else that hinders you.

Photo Credit: Johan Larsson via Compfight cc

Do You Know God’s Call for Your Life?

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“I sensed God was calling me to the mission field.”

“We really felt God was not calling us to leave just yet. We felt there was more work to be done.”

“I’ve always felt called into teaching.”

Have you heard people say these types of things when they’ve been discussing their life’s plans or work? Maybe you’ve said those things yourself because you have a clear idea of  “God’s calling” on your life; I hope you do!

I’ve got to tell you that mine has been rather muddy for most of my life. Lately, more and more of God’s call is coming into focus for me and my family, though, and I can tell you what’s helped us to better figure out where to go from here.

How You Can Determine God’s Callingfile0001525508692

1. Look in your house. Really. Walk through the rooms and halls of your house. What do you see? For so many of us, we choose to ignore the very callings that stare us in the face. Family, work, skills, gifts—all of these things show up in our daily lives, if only we’d recognize them for what they are: God’s nudge to say, “Hey! This is the way I’ve equipped you; get to work using what I’ve given you.” Pantry full of food and pots and pans? You may be missing God’s call to begin a meals on wheels ministry, a catering business, or to become a nutrition counselor.

2. Embrace your passion. What has God put you on the planet to do? What has God gifted you to do that only you can do? Now—go do it.

3. Seek the person of Christ. One of the most transformational aspects of Jesus is that he did not simply embody good, wholesome characteristics like kindness or truth, as you and I may do. No. Jesus IS goodness, truth, love, kindness, self-control, and more. When we are hidden in him, our relationship is more than mental ascent. We possess what he possesses. We have access to the Father and his power through Christ! Stop and think about that. We have access to resurrection power.

4. Get yourself out of the way. Believe that his way is far better than anything you can do on your own. Now, move over!

5. Accept and celebrate that this life is temporary. We are just passing through. God’s calling—whether it’s exciting, boring, dangerous, or mundane—is not for your comfort, your success, or your fame. God’s calling is to advance his kingdom and impact others’ lives. Period.

6. While you may live out several callings at once and many throughout a lifetime, you are always required to abide by one above all others. Your highest calling is to be an instrument of God, doing his work.

 

Interview With Alyssa Avant, Author of FaithLeaps

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FaithLeaps

 

Today I have the great pleasure of being the host on Day 7 of the Virtual Blog Tour for FaithLeaps: The Christian Mom’s Guide to Passion, Purpose and Profits by author Alyssa Avant. On the last stop of the tour, Alyssa visited Rosann Cunningham’s blog at Christian Supermom.

Below is the great interview I did with Alyssa about FaithLeaps.

Why did you write this book? Alyssa

ALYSSA: I was inspired to write this book several years ago, as I was attempting to navigate the overwhelming journey of working from home.  I had taken a “leap of faith” and quit my part time job and really needed to make an income from home.

Through trial and error, I found my way, but wished I would have had a guide or friend to help me along the way. There is also the issue of passion and purpose, which ultimately is what this book is about.  Yes I talk about working from home and ways to do that, but a stronger theme throughout this book is finding one’s passion and purpose and ultimately profiting from it (not necessarily financially).

What are the two or three main ideas you hope readers take away from FaithLeaps

ALYSSA: There are several main ideas that I hope readers will take away from FaithLeaps.  One of those is that we are all created by God with a God-given passion and purpose.  It is important, I believe, for us to identify and explore that passion and purpose.  Secondly,  I hope that readers will take away from this book that God enables us and can work through us to help us to accomplish our dreams and desires.

[Read more...]

Just Tearin’ Down My House—as Usual (The Wise Woman Builds Her House)

wise woman scripture Prov 14.1

wise woman scripture Prov 14.1

One of the Bible verses that stays with me through thick and thin and good times and bad is this one:

The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.

—Proverbs 14:1 (NIV)

I think I like it because it’s appropriately convicting, yet practical as it offers concrete instruction.
What does it assume? It assumes several things:
  • a woman’s sphere of influence is her house (household)
  • a woman can act foolishly or wisely
  • a woman’s work, tone, words, and countenance are important to her home and family
  • a woman’s actions will strengthen or destroy
I’m not trying to make any blanket statements about where or how a woman chooses to work. Whether you are working outside the home full-time or part-time, working a business at home, working full-time as a stay at home mom, or doing any combination of the above, you have a profound and primary influence on your house.

Desperately Seeking Passion

Desperately Seeking Passion

finding passion, purpose, and profits | God's passions, purpose for lifeMy daughter had a school project due. We headed to Michael’s, which is, of course, a requirement for all school project creations.

Something about that day’s trip was different for me. I don’t know. I’ve shopped in Michael’s hundreds—maybe thousands—of times. But that day, I was nostalgic. I longed to trim photo edges with scallop scissors. The glitter paper begged me to take them home. The sticker sets sprang to life and struck me as immediately useful. The beads, chains, hooks, and stones convinced me that I could make gorgeous jewelry. I even had to restrain myself from reaching for the latch hook rug kits.

I’ve always thought of myself as a “crafty” person. At one time, I was a pretty serious scrapbooker. I’ve wanted to learn jewelry making and quilting for years now.

But realistic, hard-working me has stuffed down these passions in favor for the more practical activities of the day: work, laundry, and errand-running.

But it occurred to me that crafting is one of my passions. Yes, that’s right.

My name is Mary and I am passionate about scrapbooking.

And cooking. And healthy/green/organic living. And keeping my family organized. And following a budget. And writing. Of course, writing.

But I’ve stuffed down all these outlets for creativity, talent, and skill. Most of the time, I believe, I’ve told myself that I don’t have time to do X because I need to be working and making money. And truly money has been a concern throughout the last few years, but I wonder how many times I’ve allowed it to become an excuse, even after its legitimacy has long passed? After that, my mind  has played over and over the mantra: “that’s silly; that’s not valuable/profitable/important; go do something to make some money.”

What passions have you pushed to the side? Has it ever occurred to you that since God has gifted you with those passions, he will and can use them to invigorate and deploy you to actually use them for his glory and your family’s good?

That’s what been running through my brain lately: all of these passions that I have used to describe myself over the years—scrapbooker, chef, family manager, green, writer, reader, teacher—were put there by the Creator himself. How might he use me through my passions to bring him glory and bless my family and others?

What about you? Would you like to wake up your passions? I’ve decided to lead a small group study for a new book, Faith Leaps,  that I just finished by my friend and Christian mom entrepreneur Alyssa Avant. The details of the study are still being ironed out, but I believe we will all read through the same chapter(s) and then discuss those online, probably on a weekly basis.

Will you join me? Will you invite your friends? Leave a comment so that I can gauge interest, and I’ll be in touch soon with more details.

Together let’s take leaps of faith to discover how God will profit our passions and purposes.

My Word for 2012: Receive

2012 Mayan Calendar

(My friend, Jamie at BlondeMomBlog, posted this cartoon with her year-end post.
I had to borrow it for mine. I love it.)

It’s a new year—the perfect time for reflections and fresh starts.

I’m a real sucker for cliched rituals like that.

And so, I look back and look forward.

I started this blog one year ago with the greatest of aspirations. I wasn’t completely sure where it would take me, but one thing was foremost. I was devoted to being intentional.

Intentionally, Chris and I set goals for our family surrounding faith, family, and finances.

And unlike most New Year Resolution Resolvers, I actually held to a state of intentionality for much of the year. In fact, I consider it somewhat of a triumph that I was at least still considering intentionality as I closed the door on 2011. I was intentional enough to at least assess my success with goal-setting.

Drum roll, please.

You know what? Most—if not all—of those “goals” I set about faith, family, and finances were not reached. In fact, most were woefully missed. As in not just “come up a little short” but more like “the target was way over there.” And I’m not being negative, just realistic. You know what this tells me? That simply having intention isn’t enough to cause change.

Hmmm.

I have a theory. I think that most (if not all) “success stories” are “accidental.” (And by accidental, I actually mean God-orchestrated.) Hard work? Intention? Determination? All of those are simply by-products of calling and God-given talent.

I think everyone has something (or a few things) that he or she is created to do. As imagers of God, we are creators. I think everyone comes hard-wired to do/be a unique something/someone. Period.

My particular temptation (for whatever reason) is pursuing everything under the sun. I see the possibilities in all things and try to fit my square peg in a round hole. No amount of “intention” or “determination” can change or improve something that doesn’t exist.

This fall, I attended the PCA International Women’s Conference in Atlanta. My friend, Nancy Guthrie, was the speaker and was absolutely fabulous. Anyway, one of the most important things I took away from the weekend was the idea that God was calling me to a special place. (And that wasn’t the topic of Nancy’s talks but was something I found to be kind of a residual effect of my learning and listening.)

He is calling me to a posture of reception. Of listening. I have always been praying and seeking his guidance about what to do. I believe he now is calling me to simply be. To watch for his moving. To identify his signs. To become still in order to hear the whispers of the Holy Spirit.

So, I enter 2012 with one word: Receive. And I’ve got to say that we’re only a few days in, and it’s tough. My mother is dealing with some health issues associated with recovery from breast cancer, and our family is navigating some sticky relationship issues. And yes, I still need to address faith, family, and fitness, just like last year.

But I come to 2012 in place of cautious expectancy with no agenda except to wait, watch, listen, and receive.

 

 

I’ve Looked in My House and It’s a Mess

This is not anything new, really. My house is always a mess.

By “house” I mean both my physical dwelling, as well as my mental/emotional/spiritual “house.”

And I straddle sanity between enjoying the permission to be unstructured with the overwhelming desire to “get it together” and get it cleaned up.

The first few weeks of school have been hard for us.  We’ve been dealing with all sorts of broken household appliances and behavior and sleeping issues with the kids while just managing the daily stuff, too.

Trying to juggle it all brings me to wallow in the low-grade guilt that I haven’t kept up with my blog or other online projects. But then of course, I begin to wonder, Why do I feel guilty? Is it awful or earth-shattering that I haven’t blogged on schedule?

I’m pooped.

And I’ve made a really hard decision. I’m turning everything off for a while. I love writing and I love dreaming about having a successful blog/online business. But something is wrong with this picture. When I start hating The Pioneer Woman because she has her own TV SHOW coming out on The Food Network, something is wrong.

I’m hoping that “pulling back” can reveal the truly important stuff.

See, I am not structured. I am not. I am not predictable nor routine. I live by a loose rhythm, I guess you’d say. Which is OK. I think it would be more OK if I just embraced it and sought the positives instead of always beating myself up that I’m “not doing so-and-so.”

And that’s what happens when I see The Pioneer Woman’s TV show promo or read posts from my blogger friends who homeschool their 15 children AND maintain three blogs AND have a book deal in the works. I just start the inner pummeling: If you really want to be successful, write books, have an online business, you’ve got to get with it, young lady. Nothing’s getting done while you’re sitting here playing Words with Friends on your iPhone.

And as true as that may be, I also realize that somewhere in a crucial and important way, it’s NOT true. Because it’s really dishonoring who I am. (And, oh, I’m a dang good Words with Friends player.) The problem is that I don’t know who I am. I know that I don’t thrive in this structured, you-must-Tweet-every-10-minutes-to-stay-viable-in-online-media world, but beyond that? Really—who am I? And what gifts do I bring? And really? What makes me happy?

What makes me happy?

Well, what doesn’t make me happy is jealousy, self-loathing, self-criticism, and constant regrets.

So, I’m off to discover how I can capitalize on how God made me. Why he gave me the gifts, talents, and preferences that he gave me. You know what? I think I’m facing the fact that I don’t think he wants me to be Blogger Extraordinaire OR homeschool my 15 children (kidding! I only have 3, but I don’t think he wants me to homeschool them, either—at least not right now). But I also know that I can’t hear from God when I have so many competing voices and pictures of “success” constantly bombarding me.

So, here’s my plan:

  • I will post here when I feel like it. Not sure what that looks like. I hope you’ll stick around but I totally understand if you ARE a structured person and like to hear from your bloggers on a regular basis. That’s just not me.
  • I’m going to unsubscribe/stop reading the “Blogger Barbies”—those “perfectly coifed” ones to whom I’ll just never measure up. It’s just not healthy for me. To the “Blogger Barbies”: I don’t fault you. I just think that I have an incredibly difficult time looking at you and your accomplishments from afar without comparing myself and obviously, we are differently gifted. But I can’t see that right now, so I must go away for awhile. I just can’t take any more posts in my news feed about how you made an entire clothing line from your discarded newspapers, traveled half-way around the world to minister to starving children, or stocked your freezer with (healthy! organic! made-from-veggies-you-grew-yourself!) meals for the next six months.
  • I do have a few ideas of upcoming projects that I hope to complete. I have at least one eBook in the works, but I’m not sure when/if it will be finished. I’m working on it and have a loose time frame for it. That’s exactly where I want to be with that. :)
  • I need more glitter in my life. Much to the chagrin of my children, I’m setting out to fill my life with glitter. Because? Glitter makes me happy.

I hope I haven’t come across as too gripey. I’m just tired of being a slave to my own emotions and suffocating behaviors. Enough. I’m ready to enjoy my positive attributes and really seek earnestly the ways that God has planned for me to live, work, and play.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially if you have traveled this road and discovered something new about yourself.

Thanks for reading.

I’m off to buy glitter now.

The Deception of Sin’s Sufficiency

Ready for a little bit of True Confessions?

Here we go.

I’m struggling big time lately with turning to my sin to mask and medicate my pain. And I realize I’m doing this. And it’s not working (duh), but I’m still doing it anyway.

And … it’s not even in the “big” stuff, either. It’s in the daily struggles and worries.

No. For some reason, I can see God on “the other side” of cancer, tornadoes, and the like. But it’s handling the pain of stubborn splinters that’s most difficult for me.

In any given day, I deal with some or most of these (I bet you do, too):

  • parenting issues, questions, confusion
  • overwhelm with work responsibilities, household responsibilities
  • financial concerns, worries
  • spiritual fatigue, hunger, and thirst
  • confusion over what’s God’s plan for my life, what am I doing here, and why does it all matter?

And, good gravy, if they don’t all but do me in!

Why? Because they all produce pain.

Sin is painful.
Photo credit: stockarch from morguefile.com

Identify what you feel when you experience these emotions, and I think you’ll agree that it’s pain:

  • boredom is painful
  • fear is painful
  • stress is painful
  • unrest is painful
  • anger is painful
  • loneliness is painful
  • hunger and thirst are painful

Here’s where I’m stuck. I’ve identified these issues. I realize these issues cause me great pain. I know that I don’t care to struggle with and experience the pain once or twice, much less multiple times over the course of my life.

So, I simply choose escape from the pain. I’ve noticed I—almost automatically—retreat to sinful thought patterns for a few moments of no-strings-attached imagination, which dulls the pain. For a second, sin is delightful, a welcome relief from the nagging pain of my life.

But then the deception is eventually revealed when the pain comes back, after the sinful thought leaves.

When is this cycle broken? When do I grasp that grace is sufficient for me? That grace is the healing balm for the pain? When do I have a greater appetite for the work of grace than for the deception of sin?

Like I wrote earlier this week, God is pruning me. I know by his grace, he reveals this destructive and sinful pattern to me. I know by his grace, he cuts away the death, in order to bring new and hearty growth.

I’m just eager to move on; that’s all.

~~~

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God’s Pruning Me—And It’s Not Fun

Growth (126/365)
Creative Commons License photo credit: LifeSupercharger

I heard a sermon a few months back about the idea of pruning.

At the Bernard house, we’ve learned the hard way that when plants, trees, and shrubs aren’t probably trimmed at certain stages of growth, they become unwieldy messes. Their limbs climb high and awkwardly or stick every which way.

During the last five years, we’ve lost three trees (or substantial sections of three trees) in storms because of our lack of pruning.

Yep. We’re pretty lousy at landscaping, but I digress. (Ahem.)

God, however, is a pruner and a refiner. He knows the right time to clip and crop. He knows how to shave away the awkward stubs.

He knows that dead limbs are hollow nutrient sucks, robbing life from our root systems and preventing real fruit-bearing.

He knows when and where to cut in order to maximize growth.

Ugh. This pruning is hard work. And painful. It’s just easier to let the landscape of our hearts go unattended, isn’t it? (It is in the Bernard yard, that’s for sure.)

For those of us in Christ, we know how our stories end.

But the stuff in the middle? That’s the hard part, right?

I’ll be honest. I’m having a tough summer. Maybe it’s the heat mixed with my kids’ boredom that parches my soul. But I feel particularly thirsty now. I’m counting on my “wild vines” to reach every which way, hoping to find water. When I’m parched, I don’t take cheerfully to pruning.

Yet I submit to the process. Sometimes willingly. Sometimes reluctantly. But I submit nonetheless.

So, what’s God doing?

God is cutting away the superfluous so that I must rely on the slating flow from my roots—his roots—the Living Water.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. —Romans 5:1-4 (ESV)

Oh, and it’s hard. That whole chain of suffering—endurance—character—hope stuff? Couldn’t I just skip that? Because I’d rather get a leaf or two damp than depend on God for sustenance during radical surgery.

But I pray:

God, you show me. You prune me. When I try to medicate with mindless entertainment, show me. When I medicate by stuffing my emotions and emptiness with food, show me. When I medicate by trying to rustle up my own self-worth by engaging in some behavior that’s self-serving and self-congratulatory, show me. Prune me. I want to endure the hardness of the pruning so that I may eventually possess hope.

God, may Jesus be my everything. Take away all my crutches so that Jesus can be my sole support.

Prune those stray branches that are nothing more than death wrapped in empty promises.

Amen.

How does God prune you? 

~~~

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~~~

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