Tell Your Mother’s Day Story

Telling our stories with gratitude can literally enlarge the dimensions of our hearts.

Brenee Brown writes, “There’s a surprisingly simple reason we want to own, integrate, and share our stories of struggle. We do this because we feel the most alive when we’re connecting with others and being brave with our stories of struggle … stories actually cause our brains to release cortisol and oxytocin. These chemicals trigger the uniquely human abilities to connect, empathize, and make meaning. Story is literally in our DNA.” – Rising Strong

Holley Gerth says, “All women are mothers. Because all women bring life to the world in some way.”

Everyone has been influenced by a life-giving woman in some way. Who are the women you are celebrating today?

Take time to tell her story. Tell her she matters. If she has passed on, thank God for her story and influence in your life. Telling our stories with gratitude can literally enlarge the dimensions of our hearts.

I wrote this Mother’s Day note to my mama this morning.

Mamma, You are magnificent. You taught me to garden, to work hard, you delighted in my bouncing, you encouraged my writing and signing and took joy in my exploring. You held my hand when I was sick or sad and you provided for every need I’ve had. You’ve given your time, energy and heart. You have loved with passion and explored your dazzling interests, books, learning and reading. You have modeled determination and courage and have sat by m side on the piano harmonizing for the love of music. We’ve planted flowers and watered and watched shepherds and biked back roads and I’ve watched you walk circles around our kitchen when you were unwell and celebrated each lap. You are an innovator and a brilliant thinker and you take joy in Jesus’ creative character through nature. You loved your mama until her last breath and continued to learn from her until she went to be with Jesus.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles … The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who errs and comes up short … who spends himself on a worthy cause … and who – if he fails – at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Mama, you live in the arena – and I am cheering you on as you continue to cheer me on in all I do. Happy Mother’s Day, Brave-Hearted Woman.

This is my Mother’s Day Story. What’s yours?

Choose Life

Possession: “Visible power or control over something, as distinct from lawful ownership; holding or occupancy.”

Ownership: “The state of being an owner.”

I own a road bike, but if it sits untouched and I don’t exert visible power to use it – it doesn’t enhance my life much. When I exert visible power in my life to occupy that bike, my blood pumps, health improves and my soul lives large.

Joshua wanted his people to live large too.

“So Joshua said to the people of Israel, “How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land, which the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you?”

This morning, I am grateful for mind-power. I have choice. I take possession of God’s power by choosing to think God’s thoughts. Gratitude. Purpose. Chosen. Loved. JOY.

“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life.”

The Invisible Important

My mom was sick and we were waiting for answers. I was in junior high school and literally sick with worry. I couldn’t concentrate at school and I constantly felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest cutting off my airways. I remember school classes feeling like they would never end – and I just wanted to escape that awful feeling. Fear was becoming normal to me and I was feeling squashed inside.

Fear.

This is a shared human experience – we all face fear at different times of life. Recently, I sat with an elderly friend who feels helpless in her care home – and I recognized the blazing fear in her eyes that I’ve felt in my spirit before.

Frustration fumed in her voice as she described the helplessness she feels currently in life, unable to do tasks for herself and having others do everything for her – usually doing things differently than she would prefer.

Fear often grows when you know you are not in control. When the roadmap ahead is unclear or nonexistent.

When Jesus gives instructions for overcoming fear – He says perfect love casts out fear.

God is love.

When Moses felt fearful about the future and was seeking God for answers about His life – God didn’t show Moses the future but instead showed Moses more of Who He is. He revealed his glory to Moses and passed by Him powerfully. God didn’t solve Moses problems right away or change his circumstances. He changed Moses’ perspective.

Fear squeezes out the most important priorities of life – Love God. Love people. When fearful thoughts invade, the “invisible important” things and people begin to feel unimportant and autopilot takes over – we do what needs to be done – and have energy for little else.

The tangible important things still get done. The laundry and the bills – but the invisible important like visiting the sick, practicing gratitude, prayer and play get cut from the schedule. There is no energy for such things. Love gets pushed to the sidelines.

The problem is – often it is the unseen important that bring healing, perspective and crush fear.

It is often the unseen important that helps us to see more of who God is. When fear is rising, let the invisible important trump the tangible important in your life.

Stephen Furtick says we bring the natural and God brings the supernatural. He reminds us all that we need to make the effort to make changes in order to experience the good life Jesus intends – to live fear free.

Too often the “tangible important” trumps the  “Invisible important” and fear grows.

Jesus lived differently. He always prioritized the seemingly invisible. This is what made his life on earth remarkably rich…

Jesus visited the unpopular tax collector Zacchaeus, who was perched in tree branches to catch a glimpse of the radical Rabbi. Jesus saw the lame man at the city gates, begging and healed him. He noticed the bleeding woman who touched his cloak and received her healing by faith. He valued the children everyone else deemed unimportant.

Keep the invisible important on your schedule.

See more of who God is.

Feel fear flee.

2018 Praise Promise

The hospital room was quiet and dim. A man who spent his whole life farming, feeding, growing, leading, and singing sat in a small Saskatchewan hospital room with flowers and cards on the wall on New Years Eve. He knew me, my sweet uncle.

A few years earlier – we had sung together on Christmas Eve. We sang his favorite Christmas worship song boisterously, Go Tell It On The Mountain. My aunt Vera, who passed just over a year ago, had bobbed with marked enthusiasm as we harmonized.

This New Years Eve – his sparkless eyes met mine with weariness. I asked several questions, but he was having a hard time hearing and understanding me. It seemed unlikely to bring life this difficult hospital room.

I remembered The Christmas Gospel chant.

Mountain Measurer becomes Creative Carpenter. The love song. Grace.

I asked my uncle to sing. His eyes grew large and his voice bounced down the hospital walls and halls.

And we sang, Go Tell It on The Mountain.

And the Gospel lived loud in the silent hospital on New Years Eve.

And we joined the choirs in paradise where Vera lives now.

And God reminded me, I can count on His promise.

Whatever 2018 may bring you – supernatural joy is at your disposal and praise will lead you there.

Praise births passion. Passion drives a purpose-marked life.

Jesus himself gives joy-filled passion as we celebrate Gospel truth.

Our relationship with Him is restored. Acceptance, forgiveness and freedom.

He has a unique path marked for your 2018, and as you practice praising – you will unleash all you need for your 2018 God-breathed mission.

Let songs of gratitude and praise fill and spill from your days in 2018.

Whether you find yourself performing for massive crowds or tucked in a silent hospital room – the joy of Jesus will be yours in full as you go tell it on your mountain.

“…The joy of the Lord is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10

Be Strange in 2018

To make strange means to “act up or be nervous or shy when encountering a stranger or strange situation.”

This Christmas was the first for my niece – and all of the overwhelming firsts had her distraught at our large (my dad has 17 siblings – I mean LARGE!) family gathering. There was no consoling her or quieting those monstrous lungs – the girl was out of sorts and the strangeness of the situation was too much for her.

Her dad spent some time calming her in a quiet place in the lively hall and finally contentment painted her face adorably. There is so much that little girl cannot yet understand – but the whispers of her dad were deeply soothing. She returned to the Christmas celebration ready to interact and be pleasantly present in the midst of the clamor that continued.

Christmas can be a mix of beauty and struggle. The lights flicker, the celebration chorus’ ring, and the contrasting pain – for many – is deep. For many, food and festivities are plentiful – but others find themselves in hospitals, funeral homes and arguments.

A brand new year is emerging and it holds 365 days to be spent with care, intention, joy and God-given direction. People around the planet script personal resolutions wishing for varied results during this season.

Studies show that happiness is our greatest desire. Happiness means to “feel or show pleasure or contentment”. We want strength to show up in friendships, workplaces and families present and content in the midst of shifting circumstances, just like a quieted young one.

However, a quieted life wouldn’t typically classify as an exhilarating list topper for 2018 resolutions. This sounds mundane and the commitment to practice being still doesn’t show the instant results many of us are conditioned to desire.

However, over time

Results will be felt.

And undoubtedly, what is felt will eventually alter what is seen.

Mother Teresa was not yet a celebrated international figure when she spent her days with the dying and the sick. She routinely slipped away for hours to be still – in contemplative prayer. There were unmet needs … there will always be needs … but she stopped to be still. Mother Teresa understood she needed to experience God in order to return to the craze of the world powerfully present. There is much she did not understand – but to be with God is to be okay.

To be with God is to accept whatever life is and to perceive the guiding light for what is to be.

This year, as 2018 lurches close – Mother Teresa’s life reminds me that unglamorous silence is invaluable and is the grounding needed for any action plan to truly succeed.

This seems strange …

And making strange is undesirable both to the person experiencing it and to everyone around.

But to be strange means, to do something “not previously visited, seen or encountered; unfamiliar or alien.”

It is a strange thing to be quiet in our culture; untrodden territory for many.

But to be strangely silent with God in our bustling world helps us to avoid making strange.

Perhaps the best uncomplicated resolution we can make, is to prioritize quiet, in order to live powerfully present and contented in 2018.

Where Hope Sits

Hope always sits within your reach, always.

Hope is “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”

Some days, It’s downright hard to Hope.

One frustrated student joins our math class late most days with little motivation to lift a pencil. Her name is Hope.

The promise I’ve made her is this: I am on your side. I will support you in every way I can while you persevere and grow your skills and understanding. I won’t change my mind about you, decide you are not worth my time, or give up on you. I believe in you, this is my promise. Will you believe me? Will you trust that what I am saying is true? Will you choose to hope?

Sometimes, I feel unmotivated too. Why does it matter? What’s the point?

The promise Jesus makes to me is this: I am on your side. I will support you in every way you need while you grow and learn all I have designed for you. I will not change my mind about you – I completely love you. I will not decide you are not worth my time or give up on you. I believe in you, this is my promise. Will you believe me? Will you trust that what I am saying is true? Will you choose to hope?

This is the ground-shaking promise of a committed God, to me.

And I am reminded:

Hope doesn’t come through believing in myself, my abilities, or that my circumstances will change.

Hope appears when I believe what He says about me is true. Hope is trusting.

Choosing Hope brings change:

  1. It changes how we view ourselves

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come” – 2 Cor 5:17

  1. It changes what we value

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” – Matt 6:21

  1. It changes what we do with our lives

“When Jesus saw him laying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, Do you want to get well?” – John 5:6

Hope always sits within your reach, and the brave heart reaches out and opens up to receive it.

Hope reached out and it’s changing her heart. She recently wrote to me:

I believe in myself in this class and I will keep going because I know I can do amazing!

Hope is not the belief that you can change – or your life can change.

Hope is the belief that Jesus can change you – and there is enough for everyone to reach out and take it.

Fierce Hearted

Early this morning I moved with gym beats while watching the interviews of hockey players on Sports Center. Oh, what it must take to live a life under a microscope. Sports icons spread messages to masses with their words and actions and their fame makes them far-reaching influencers and they can choose how to use it. The recent devastation in Las Vegas is a reminder that darkness encroaches when people use their freedom and influence to damage. As Christians, we carry the light of the world and the shock of the shootings is a reminder to move light into all corners and shadows of the world.

Two things we all have; freedom and influence.

As I kept the elliptical moving this morning, I remembered the retreat I recently attended near the Great Falls of Ontario. As I sat around tables with leaders from across the nation, Author and speaker Holley Gerth shared about living as a public figure and influencer. Holley spoke a poignant message with tear-spilling passion, reminding me of our shared call, as light carriers, to influence.

The title of Holley’s message and new-released book is, Fierce-Hearted.

Fierce means to be “marked by unrestrained zeal.”

To Holley, A heart full of zeal coupled with God’s love is unbeatable, and blazes with true light.

By every standard of success society would use to measure, Holley meets the mark! She is a best-selling author, speaker and life coach and her blog, incourage, is wildly popular! But Holley is a fierce-hearted influencer with a Kingdom measuring stick…

When asked about her successful writing career, Holley’s eyes were pricked by tears and passion – the kind that begins deep down in your belly and compels you to speak honest words. She said a person should write to serve readers … It is a service; an act of giving – of generosity. It is not about self-promotion or an ego boost. That kind of influencing will always disappoint.

She said, “It is about loving and serving your reader and publisher … it is about stewarding your gifts … it is about generously sharing your heart with people.”

Holley’s words sat with me and spun in my mind. “To have a soft heart in a hard world is not weakness, it’s strength.”

The Gospel spreading founder of the Alpha Program, Nicky Gumbel says there are two ways to live. Either we live in strength for God’s glory or weakness for our own.

He says we give God glory by:

  1. Becoming more like Jesus.
  2. Serving humbly, and sometimes secretly.
  3. Loving people, one at a time.

Sometimes, I complicate this sacred faith journey that is meant to be joy –but Holley’s fierce hearted commitment to be light has reminded me to fix my eyes on the greatest fierce-hearted influencer of human history, Jesus.

So, when the world seems in an upheaval, remember to be fierce and trust,

Greater is He living in you, child of God, than He who is in the world (Paraphrase 1 John 4:4-6).

Check out Holley’s blog at holleygerth.com!

The Writing’s On The Wall

“According to Dr. Siegel, while nobody wants to be ill, many patients say that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to them. It helped them appreciate life and to express their feelings to their loved ones. They were able to pick up the paintbrush they previously had been too busy to hold. Even illness can be a blessing.” – Lori Beth Jones Jesus CEO

Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor wrote, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Sheryl Sandberg confirms this in her book Option B, as she discusses grief, resilience and her path to finding Joy. She says her life is better after losing her husband because of the joy and gratitude that she has cultivated as a result. Although she wishes she could have her husband back – she acknowledges her life has improved greatly since his passing.

Hardships can produce personal growth and can be catalysts for the creation of monumental works. Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman writes, “Adversity can provide powerful inspiration for work that strives to make sense of the artist’s inner life and emotional state” –Wired to Create. In fact, some of the world’s most celebrated works have been squeezed from dire tears and lonely hours. Some examples are Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. There is a strong link between trauma and creativity, and varying modes of creativity have proven to be healing – this is not surprising.

God can transform the lowest moments of our lives to make mighty movements of restoration in and around us by building gratitude and resiliency in our hearts – and helping us to find meaning in adversity.

The good news is we don’t have to experience difficulty in order to grow or obtain inspiration for great conceptions or creations. We can choose to make meaning today no matter our circumstances.

Recent research says, “Positive events grounded in meaning – as opposed to accomplishments, relationships or events evoking pleasure – are most likely to lead to growth.” These experiences include awe, wonder, inspiration and connection to God. These experiences can lead people to see the world anew, experience inner growth, and produce great works. If people choose to make meaning from these positive experiences, they are able to “Move towards new goals, change their relationships, priorities, identities and even spiritual beliefs” – Wired to Create

We don’t need to wait for tragedy to strike in order to grow resiliency and joy and we needn’t experience grief to create with robust fervor. Perhaps we can have gain without pain after all.

We can do this by pausing at the painted sky, stopping throughout the day to re-align the heart, mind and soul with God through prayer and meditation, and we can pause to ponder the unfathomable love of the cross. These experiences can be catalysts for growth and creativity in the same way suffering can be.

I have been spending days making meaning of the world as a camp speaker with energetic teenagers. The cabin walls of this rustic place are covered with names scripted by campers from decades past. The writing on the walls tells stories of people who have experienced the wonder of God here. I recognize many of them to be people who were impacted and grew in astonishing ways through experiencing God in this place.

Choosing to make space to experience God is choosing to grow and be inspired. Don’t wait for mighty storms to hit in order to pursue the best life. Today waits for you – with moments of awe and wonder to be uncovered and discovered. We can indeed have gain without pain; the writing is on the wall.

The Moment You Were Born

At the moment you were born, your mom’s brain got a shot of oxytocin and she was likely feeling love towards you as a result. (Thank you oxytocin!)

This week, my sister accomplished what I would argue is the greatest feat known to human existence… (giving birth!) She said exuberantly, “I didn’t know I could feel this way about another human being!” Oxytocin was flying high in her brain at this moment and this surge felt like love. It was designed by Love himself.

Did you know – It’s not strong legs that keep a person standing through life’s instability – it’s strong chemicals! The right chemicals…. It’s all part of God’s divine design. People prosper when they feel loved.

A common church message is … the unimaginable, unconditional love of God can satisfy the soul in the midst of all kinds of circumstances – and that we thrive when we receive and give love. … This is true. But there are brain factors that make it tough for us to experience this … A few years ago – I sat with my Bible open and read the words, “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” – Psalm 90:14

Instead of pretending I was experiencing this satisfaction God promises – I honestly admitted – I wasn’t feeling satisfied at all! What did it even mean to be satisfied by love? I remember praying to experience this kind of divine satisfaction.

Simon Senik, human psychology researcher, says that a happiness chemical called oxytocin surges through our brains when we feel secure, safe, like we belong and are valued. Senik calls this the “trust” chemical – and everyone knows it takes time to establish trust! This chemical increases slowly over time in a body and mind that lives and enjoys healthy relationships where deep trust is cultivated. This requires vulnerability – and openness – NOT an easy way to live!

Oxytocin in a body means a resilient life. Most of us have had life-changing moments that define our days and paths. Those moments remind us that we are not in control – we will all face these. This week I heard many tales of people facing uncertain life moments: My sweet sister with a new baby, a brave entrepreneur, the mama of a child with down syndrome, and the audacious adventures of a committed ministry leader. Each one faced the unexpected – dopamine doesn’t sustain satisfaction through struggle. It’s a short term happy feeling producer. Oxytocin, on the other hand, gives strength for the long haul. It builds a foundation that stands firm in family life, business challenges and personal endeavors.

The brain is a tricky grey matter. Dopamine is also a happy chemical, and we get a shot of it when we buy something new, check something off of a “to-do” list or finish a project. Senik calls this the “greedy chemical” in leadership because it is released instantly when we do something for ourselves. This chemical is highly addictive and easily accessible! We don’t have to be vulnerable to experience this one – and we don’t have to wait for it to build up over time. When we get dopamine flowing lavishly, our brain can be tricked to think it has all it needs in the department of “happy chemicals” – and the commitment to build deep, trusting relationships can disappear. When this happens – our deep resiliency disappears too. This is a fast-acting happy chemical!

An experience of unconditional love produces oxytocin – and God’s supply is endless and always available and accessible. People with high levels of oxytocin live longer. They are happier. Their immune systems are strong. When we build a deep, trusting relationship with unconditional love – we have lots of love to give away. We get all the courage and desire we need to love people well, even if we have been hurt.

Senik says organizations thrive when they build a culture of trust – the key for all of us is to: build up oxytocin in the body – and God’s love in the heart. This is lasting satisfaction – and it is connected to the right chemical! When people feel safe, they flourish – it’s part of God’s divine design and it begins the moment we are born.

Does God Want You To Be Happy?

It’s been said that happiness is fleeting and that joy is deep down and lasting. Joy is a choice and happiness an emotion. Some suggest happiness is trivial and should not be pursued. After all, joy is spiritual while happiness is, well … not.

For North Americans, happiness sits at the top of the “want list.”

So, what is happiness anyways? Why does everyone want something so badly that doesn’t seem to last?

We want what we can’t have. We can’t have real happiness without Jesus.

The Hebrew word in the Old Testament for happiness is ashre, translated as “well-being,” “flourishing,” and “happiness.” This word carries the idea of someone experiencing authority, peace and rest in God. It is used through the Psalms and Proverbs to describe the happy state of those who know God. Tim Keller teaches that happiness is indeed an emotion or a feeling and it happens deep down in the soul. Bible scholar Jonathan Pennington writes, “This flourishing can never occur fully apart from a proper relationship with the creator God.”

For those who want some, listen … Jesus shouted nice and loud for the crowds gathered near the mountain just off the shores of the Galilean Sea… Can you hear Him?

“You’re happy when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God …”

“You’re happy when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re happy when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re happy when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re happy when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re happy when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re happy when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 “You’re happy when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. – Matthew 5:3-10 msg

Recently, I went along with a brave girl to deliver cards to elderly friends with words from Jesus scrawled inside. The words were gems of hope and produced happy hearts. What stood out to me though, weren’t the smiles of the elderly, but of that girl … that selfless girl who has been spending days in palliative care with her family as cancer wages war against her dad. Her warm smile. Her peace. As we walked out of the building – she smiled wide with tearful eyes and said, “That made me so happy.”

Happy is she. No one can steal that kind of happy. No one can explain it. Everyone wants it because it makes smiles in the wasteland. Jesus’ famous echoes from the Mount take us right to it. It’s there waiting for us.

No, happiness is not shallow or superficial. It is deeply spiritual – in fact, it’s born in the Spirit – in the very place your life is connected to Christ through the cross – if you believe the cross was enough. Through relationship with Him. This kind of happy is starkly durable. Paul writes about it saying, “Happy are those who are declared righteous without working for it…” – Romans 4:6 NLT paraphrase

Kay Warren says, “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of the details of my life.” Maybe joy and happiness are not that different after all – maybe choosing joy – a settled assurance – brings feelings of happy – peace and rest.