I’m dreaming of a [realistic] Christmas

I’m dreaming of a [realistic] Christmas

Why does television still boast the gold standard of the perfect Christmas?  Family (who by the way, actually want to be together) gathered around a beautiful tree, everyone laughing and sharing hot cocoa, and giving each other either a new car or expensive jewelry. Every time I see it I can’t help but go, Psh, Yeah right!

Reality check: Only God knows how many people will feel the sting of a lonesome Christmas devoid of peace. It’s just a painful reminder of what is lacking.

And each year, medication is taken in the form of Christmas movies, sweets, shopping, and tons of eggnog help to distract from and numb the pain of reality. All we need, we tell ourselves, is “to get through the holidays”.

But we were formed by God for perfection. Our hearts were meant to live in a perfect world. That’s why we will never be able to find peace anywhere else but in God himself. Christmas as we see it in commercials doesn’t have it. Rather:

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

Romans 5:8

God sent Jesus to be born here, to live a sinless life, and then to die on behalf of us. That we might repent and turn toward God, praising and glorifying Him. But how can we do that when we have so many confusing messages turning our heads this way and that?

I don’t have all the answers, but I know the One who does.

If you are struggling with the idea of another [insert adjective here] Christmas you’re not alone. There is a God who is Good and True. Your very existence and design was His idea and he is enormously proud of His work. His right hand is extended even now, to gift you with a kind of peace that will never allow you to hunger or thirst for the things that rot and rust (like a Toyota Christmas commercial). He will offer Living Water and Bread of Life that will keep you full and satisfied forever.

Receive that gift and watch it transform your heart. The gratitude of salvation causes hope, which is an ever-leaning upon God’s promises. The more we take His promises as unshakable truth in our life, the more we will witness His work in our lives. And that’s an expectation you can rely upon.

What I’ve learned from keeping a faith-based blog

What I’ve learned from keeping a faith-based blog

After 4 1/2 years of more or less consistent blogging, I feel I have earned a bit of wisdom I would like to share. This is not only what I would tell any beginner, but also what I use to preach to myself (no pun intended); sometimes the advice we most need to hear is what we are already telling others.

Trust your calling. love inspire encourage . How did you know you wanted to write

Stay connected to God. If I am not consistently walking in obedience and living step of God’s will, all is in vain.

Perseverance. breaking through the demon voices. conquering my own guilt over my sometimes unpractical expectations of myself.

Relevance is key. Care what people want to read. My calling is to share what I learn and teach through experience and writing. If it’s not relevant to anyone but me, it’s great but not helpful. “If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying? You might as well be talking into empty space,”1 Cor 14:6-9

Refuse to be limited. At the same time, don’t care what people want to read. Don’t be hung up on numbers. This is a real problem self employed creatives face everyday, and there are tons of opinions on the subject. Some people believe you need to maximize numbers in order to maximize your  arc of  influence. You want it to matter to as many people as possible, but at the same time, I’m of the personal opinion that you can’t grow in a box. Like all plants, you can start out small, but as your roots grow, they need space to stretch out and explore new and exciting places. I speak from experience when I say – It will not do to limit yourself to what brings in the numbers; you will soon find that you become a slave to likes and followers, instead of the One who called you in the first place.

Be yourself, apologetically. (Unless you are actually just a troll. Then I’d say do some soul searching) Boldness is non-negotiable. I struggle with this one. The age of the Internet is truly one for the history (e)books. Blogging and social media have totally changed the way I interact with my friends, family, and world. Being that Facebook/Instagram is the only means of interaction I have with many, many friends and acquaintances, what I decide to post (or not to post, that is the question) can be powerful. If my words turn someone off, they will probably unfollow me or unfriend me. If my words inspire and encourage, they might still not be interested in what I have to say next time. That’s not to say that we need to pander to what we think people want to hear; I am not in the business of tickling ears. Rather I think it’s important to be respectful. (A dying breed, it seems!) I’m not trying to troll, nor will I be so afraid of what others will think of me. Rather, I want to find a happy medium where I can be myself according to my best judgement and conscience. Sometimes my conscience will not allow me to continue unless I have said something (e.g. Cupgate) and then very often, I find myself writing back to someone’s comment I think is stupid – step back, take a look at myself and ask if it’s really something I want to have spent my time doing. Oh how Facebook commenters enrage me someimes! But – again, respect. And remembering my calling: love, inspire and encourage.

Don’t be discouraged by lack of response. 4.5 years of blogging has generated very very little response.  Anyone working hard at their calling can agree that it’s very encouraging to witness a response.  I have a few regular readers (that I know of) I will shamefully admit that I have personally reached out to several friends and family members to incite some degree of participation, to no avail. Like Eve with the serpent, I have little Stats demons whispering in my ear-  Did God really say you should write? Maybe you heard him wrong because I don’t see him coming on the clouds to ‘Lazarus’ your ratings… While my focus has never been Stats, I do realize that any response good or bad is something. At least I can discern it from there. And part of this is my own fault (see Boldness above). I am introverted (meaning I recharge and gather strength from being alone rather than being around people) and I am private about my thoughts. So I find it more difficult than others to be open.

In the next 5 years I’d like to grow to be more transparent in my writing, allow more of my personality to shine through, and be consistent. to never stop creating. Blogging is an excellent exercise in getting consistent with any type of dream you might have. Whether it’s writing, drawing, learning something new it’s a great way to jot down some thoughts and have a sort of journal of your progress. The fact that it’s made public is all the more exciting to share with others. because what is the point of creating something you were called to do if it is not shared with the world to add beauty?

 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

Matthew 5:14-16

Refocusing within the flames

Refocusing within the flames

Hi Friends! After a long break, Joshua chapters 23 & 24 are finally up.

Over the past several months I have come to realize that my focus has truly been split between wanting what the world has to offer, and wanting what God has to offer.

Joshua 24 speaks beautifully to that point. First he reminds us of where we’ve been and then where we are now. God has already proved his faithfulness to us – what more can he do to show he is worthy of our trust?

Joshua doesn’t demand the same answer from everyone. He simply requests that each and every one of us take a hard look at what we want out of life and then commit to it.

If you want to follow the world, do it with full-fledged commitment. If you want to follow the Lord in faith, don’t just say so – really do it and just watch God transform you and your path.

It’s up to you and no one else can make the decision for you. Not your parents, not your peers, not your pastor. Just choose something – or else allow yourself to become a terrible waste of perfectly good potential.

I love this word, not only because it’s challenging and bold, but because it is so applicable in every season of life.

As for me, you might have noticed that I’ve been MIA over the past several months. For those of you who don’t know, I’m now 5 months pregnant and experiencing all the pleasures of pregnancy, like being told the same cliche advice over and over, and having total strangers touch my belly.

It’s great, but it’s made me realize something important. There will soon be a little sponge who will witness everything I say and do, and naturally, want to imitate me. I am about to become an example -one of the first and most profound examples- of faith in Christ to another human being. Does that just blow your mind? It does for me.

As such, a holy fire has been lit under my bottom to strive for more scripture-soaking than ever before. If following Jesus was important to me before, it is now a matter of life and death.

Not that I look forward to coercing my child into faith – I’m not that naive. Rather, to practice what I preach. My goal is to be a living witness to the transformation faith in Christ brings – not only in our individual lives but here in the midst of a world falling apart. The last thing I want it to see is another hypocritical Christian family who says one thing on Sunday and does another on Monday.

I’m sorry that I haven’t always been this zealous, but He’s faithful in giving me a fresh new reason to go forth on the directive I received many years ago. It was to learn, live, and share with others how Jesus is the only thing I need to navigate my life.

I’m not sure yet what this will look like for the blog, but I’m planning – God willing – to incorporate more scripture study, more discussion, and more application to the 2017 world in which we find ourselves.

Molly

Faith as Fuel

Faith as Fuel

Let’s say you are working in a job that you can’t stand, or have duties/responsibilities that feel more like drudgery than blessing. Some of us have sick elderly parents to tend, or needy friends who constantly take and never give. You don’t feel that the paycheck of your 9-5 job is worth the stress you take home at the end of every shift. What do you do? To which thing or person do you go? What do you tell yourself? For me, it’s Netflix.

First, we should call it what it is. Ok so it’s not turning to the bottle or the needle. I’m not a traditional addict, but instead have chosen a much more “acceptable” way of dealing. I binge watch TV shows. It just wastes time and takes me into another world where problems are solved in 30 minutes. It’s not that bad right? Except that it is just another way of numbing the pain of an underwhelmed soul. There’s no public shame associated with distracting yourself from something you wish would change. Therefore it remains an untouched subject in my heart.

Second, remember that God blesses us in unexpected ways, places, and opportunities. Like I mentioned in my last post, I was enormously depressed because my first job out of college was “beneath my dignity” as a new graduate. Even so, I received many comforts and assurances from God that summer, through my coworkers and managers. (Not to mention a paycheck that got the job done) Then a few months later my favorite aunt invited me to live with her in Maui and work for her company. A job. In Hawaii. With a boss who is invested in my wellbeing. And all the people said AMEN.

What if I had gone straight into a brand new job after college and missed this opportunity? To be sure there are plenty of what-ifs, but this is a big one for me. God’s will for me in this season was the protection and love of family at this time. What might be just around the bend for you?

Third, consult the Lord. He has a plan and a future for you. Can I say it again? He’s on your side. If there’s a chance to make a change, jump for it. Some seasons are inescapable though, no matter how much you pray and try to change it. When we are hurting in this way the last thing we want to hear is an ignorant but well meant “It’s a blessing in disguise”. Let’s skip over those clichés and go straight to the truth.

  1. Pray for strengthened faith

“So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, ‘Some people have faith; others have good deeds.’ But I say, ‘How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.’” (James 2:17-18 NLT)

We believe in God’s sovereignty and that his purposes get worked out in his time and specific ways. So consider this trial an opportunity to tending our garden in a special way. (James 1:2-4) When we keep working in the face of trials, our faith is proven and strengthened. Faith is the trust that God will do what he promised. Use your faith as fuel to keep on going and god will direct your path.

  1. Pray for patience

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Read this verse over a few times. Do you notice anything interesting? It says that the Lord is patient toward you, not the other way around. He’s not up on his heavenly throne chatting with the Seraphim going, “Yeah, Molly is really getting impatient with this new plan I’m working on for her. I better finish up quickly so she can get on with it!” Ha! On the contrary, who am I to believe my plans and timing as better than the Lord’s? Let’s not forget either – our ultimate purpose is to love God and love each other. THAT is the calling with multiple expressions. So in this season, if I am stuck with no way out, I can still fulfill my purpose while I wait for something better.

Now all that truth sounds really good and all, but let’s be honest. It’s easier said than done. Just because I believe in God’s sovereignty doesn’t mean I like it all the time. The hard part for me is sucking it up and accepting the fact that I am not the master of my own life. Galatians 2:20 says “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me”. This is something that each person who follows Jesus must work on accepting but thankfully we don’t have to do it alone.

What do you think? Journal your thoughts as the spirit leads on the verses mentioned above:

  • James 1:2-4
  • James 2:17-18
  • 2 Peter 3:9
  • Galatians 2:20

Thanks for reading this month’s series on Work and Purpose, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please feel free to share how the Spirit moved you on the Tea & Testimony facebook page . As a thank you I have created free printables. Print and hang these words of truth where you will see them the most.

The Flawed Theology of Meaningful Work

The Flawed Theology of Meaningful Work

We all naturally want to do work that is meaningful. But what if your work isn’t? Some people have amazing jobs where it seems that the thing that they do for money is also the thing that makes their soul sing. That is awesome and enviable…and sadly not the reality for 99% of the world. If you’re like me, your job leaves you more stressed than satisfied at the end of the week, and you find yourself wishing it could be different. You have an overwhelming sense of dread that you will never be able to find what you are “meant” to do, and face the possibility of dying having only worked for something you don’t care about.

However it would be a mistake to equate your soul’s purpose with personal fulfillment you get from your job. Many people don’t take the time to reflect on what they functionally believe versus what they say they believe. As long as I am living I am liable to take God’s words and twist them into something incorrect. I discovered that I created my own god when I began to operate under the assumption that all my experiences and talents were only created for one job. I was getting depressed because I thought that if miss that one calling I am much wasted as a person. After graduating from college with my B.A. there were no jobs to be found in Santa Barbara. I was forced to take the only thing I could: a receptionist position at a company that fixed copy machines. This was deeply disturbing to me. “Is this why I just went $80,000 into debt?” I thought, “My time is so much more valuable than this.”

Pausing right here, I see a few things in my past self. First, the enormous sense of entitlement and pride of which I need to repent, but also the fact that I’m focusing on that mirage of “the perfect job” rather than seeing God’s purpose for me right then and there. My manager was a devout Christian and ran his office like one. He was always inviting me to his church and praising the Lord right there in the office. (Which I’m sure was more than a little uncomfortable to all who worked there.) I had some really deep conversations about God with my cubicle mate, and of course there was the fact that I had found a job at all in that climate. God was providing for me in droves but I would go home pouting because I thought there was only one dream job available to me and I had failed in procuring it.

When your functional belief is not the same as your actual beliefs, you end up with flawed theology on your hands. Flawed theology is dangerous because we base our thoughts motivations and actions on our personal theologies. If your theology is incorrect you are putting words in God’s mouth. And that has never ended well, just ask Satan!

Watch “One calling Multiple expressions” by Annie Downs. Aside from being one of my very favorite authors, she talks about how our vocations are expressed in so many unique ways throughout our lives. She says “You are not too old to find your calling, and you are not too young that you have not already experienced multiple expressions of it”. I have watched this particular talk probably more than 5 times since I discovered it a few years ago, and trust me friends, when I say it is full of gems. I can’t recommend that you take a few minutes to watch it yourself. And so we find that a shift in perspective is needed.

What do you think? Take some time to journal as the Spirit leads and hear how God is directing your thoughts on this topic

Work & Purpose

Work & Purpose

If you’re like me, your job feels oppressive and pointless – like a necessary evil to get to payday. I think back to my childhood days when that’s how it felt anytime my parents asked me to do something. “Chores are torture!” I would tell my dad. It must have made him think, “Girl, just you wait and see!” I spend 40+ hours per week moping at my desk and working half-heartedly because I don’t care about the work I’m doing.

We live in an individualistic society where we are focusing ourselves more than ever before. Everything is supposed to fulfill you, make you happy, feel good, or else we naturally want to avoid it. In his book Every Good Endeavor, Timothy Keller talks about this social “disease” of individualism which has caused our sense of community to die in popular culture. Today it’s easier than ever to not have to leave the house and go outside. People don’t rely on each other. Next door neighbors have never even met. It’s common to hear someone say in a jokey way, “I wanted to go out, but didn’t want to put on pants”. It’s funny on the surface, but deeply disturbing when we realize that these “harmless” ways of life are only symptoms of underlying sin. Put simply, when we only want to do what feels good to us and avoid work and responsibilities we are walking by our natural reasoning which the Bible says leads to death.

In contrast, we walk by the Spirit when we consider God’s will and purpose for ourselves to be better. Did you know that God assigned Adam his work before the fall, not after? I was surprised to find that in God’s eyes work is not a punishment, but a special privilege. “The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it” (Genesis 2:15 NLT). God had just finished creating the whole world from nothing. The Garden of Eden was beautiful but not complete until he gave it into Adam’s care and protection.

We have our own little gardens of Eden to tend and fortunately for me, gardening know-how is not required! It’s our choice whether we water and prune wisdom and fruit of the spirit. When we choose to operate outside of God’s will and purpose for ourselves, we suffer the consequences. Our wisdom withers away and the fruit of the spirit rots on the vine when we do not watch and carefully tend our little plots. But when we work hard at growing our characters within God’s will, we see results. Assurance, blessing, and hope in Jesus are only a few examples of the abundance of God’s garden. These are eternal things which never perish. Jesus tells us that we must labor for the “food” which endures, which can only come from him (John 6:27 ESV). How will we grow our virtues if we only spend time concerned about perishable things?

What do you think? Don’t take my word for it -Spend some time in the word and journal as the Spirit leads on these verses in their specific context:

  • Genesis 2:15
  • John 6:27

 

 

My Adovah

My Adovah

Friends,

<This article> has brought much needed breath and water into the parched desert of my calling. You may or may not have noticed my absence since May, which was unplanned and honestly, painful. Don’t worry, I’m alright. The kind of pain I mean is the kind of artistic pain that comes with being unable to produce.

Any artist  knows that when the block appears or inspiration runs dry we live in a constant world of – I need to be busy, but can’t. We are listless, unquenched, dry, like a dark night of the writer’s soul.

That I don’t write when this darkness overcomes, is my fault. This concept of Adovah has turned the table on my perspective. “Your adovah, your work, your art, and you are liberated from the bondage of praise power people-pleasing… Striving makes us slaves”

Indeed, I confess, that it was exactly striving that caused me to become exhuasted and frustrated. I began PD as an upside down blogger, as a gift to God first and encouragement second to anyone who needed it. I lost my way amongst comparisons, impractical great ideas and schedules that were too aggressive.

When I fell, I fell hard because my heart was no longer pure. Blog ratings, traffic had seeped into the mix, making it difficult to tell apart service and striving.

And yet, as always out God is merciful and faithful to continue his call on me to keep writing, even as days, weeks, months have gone by without so much as a journal entry, he knew what I needed because I’m beginning to suspect that it’s not actually writing I’ve been needing to do, but the sanctifying work of Adovah – my service, my art, my worship.

Discovering your heart’s design

Discovering your heart’s design

Facing your own heart is hard and even painful. But the precious ridges and valleys of our hearts were all designed by a loving God on purpose. He is the master builder of our natural talents dreams and personalities. Do you know what your heart was meant to do?

Some lucky people have known since day one. Shortly after I got married, we took my engagement ring to be appraised for insurance. As the appraiser peered at my ring through her microscope, carefully turning it over and inspecting it, she told us her story of how she became a gemologist. She said she had known since she was old enough to appreciate the lovely glints off her grandmother’s shiny dress jewelry. For 18 years she was obsessed with gemstones, geology, and jewelry. When it was time to choose a college, there was no contest – she was off to the gemological Institute of America in Carlsbad, CA. She had known her whole life the goal to which she was pointed. And what’s even better than knowing what you absolutely want to do with your life, is actually getting to do it. For money.

Sadly, we don’t all get that kind of conviction. Some of us just have to mine a bit, but once you start to unearth raw diamonds, you will find that you always knew all along. It just takes an honest look, and a willingness to separate your original heart-design from the world-facing facade.

What does your heart design look like? Here are some questions to help you get started:

1. Can you remember a time when you felt most “alive”? What were you doing? Where? With whom?
2. How do you prefer to “recharge”? In the safe company of friends, or alone?
3. Name 5 things that inspire you: (rolling green hills, an unexplored island, an ancient library…)
4. What did you want to be when you grew up?
5. What would you want to be now, if money and education was no issue?

My heart feels most in its element when I write.
I prefer to ponder and take in beauty alone, in a meditative way. I need alone time to recharge. If i don’t get time to myself every few days I become cranky and dissatisfied.
My inspiration comes from art, historic buildings and artifacts, ancient sacred music, a private space to write, and a brand new notebook.
When I was a kid I always told my dad I was going to be a writer and an artist. (I could never decide between the two so I said I wanted to write books and draw the pictures.)
Now that I’m a grownup, I want to be a writer and an artist. I still can’t decide so I’ll just have to do both.
I am content to stay still for long periods of time. I’m a total homebody and very patient. (I think!)

I have played violin for 21 years, but only just this year discovered the secret skill of resetting the bridge. The bridge is the thin wooden stint on which each of the 4 strings rest before being stretched down the long black finger board to be wound around the pegs at the top of the instrument.

For years I have hated to practice because my sound was so flat and clangy. Not pleasant to my ears, and assuming even less pleasant to those around me. I was recently browsing the internet to see how much it might cost to buy a new one. (After all a pro with 21 years of experience like me could surely substantiate the purchase of a second violin…)
One video on bridge alignment caught my eye and I was shocked to discover that not only was my bridge in the complete wrong position, it was on BACKWARDS. I, the “pro”, had not been working with a bad instrument, but an incorrect alignment.

I loosened the pegs, causing the strings to naturally try to recoil, freeing the bridge from the tension and falling into my lap. I set the bridge up exactly between the center of the F holes with the tall side on the left. I then re-tuned my violin and plucked a string. Instead of the tinny flat sound I had been struggling with for so many years, a beautiful rich ring sounded in my ears. I played a few notes with my bow – like butter. I excitedly found my husband, made him stop what he was doing and listen to the incredible pure sound I had just discovered. Not being a violinist, he didn’t really notice the difference. But I did so much that I couldn’t even be offended that he didn’t appreciate it. It was so beautiful to me that other opinions and comparisons became blurry and unimportant.

I was already working with everything I needed to create beauty, I just needed to rearrange some things. And I don’t think it is by accident that my heart beats faster when it gets to indulge in all of the above. When it hears the beautiful sacred music, when it stands in the same spot that a historical figure once stood, something in my heart-design recognizes its counterpart and rings clearly and brightly.