9 Prayers to Squelch Pandemic Panic (aka, anti-anxiety prayers)

A few weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic shelter-in-place, I knew I needed a different kind of spiritual discipline, one that focused my creative writing on Scripture God could use to lift me out of the sudden onset of anxiety. I began searching God’s Word for promises related to anxiety and fear, and what I needed most, peace.

From there, I wrote short prayers following the tradition of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury during King Henry VIII’s reign of England and author of the first Episcopal Book of Common Prayer: an address for God, a characteristic of God, a request, an intention, and the name of Jesus. While I used a traditional form, I also personalized it in ways Cranmer couldn’t have imagined.

Listening to God through the Bible and then listening for what my heart wanted to say in response has helped me channel my energy into making something meaningful. Praying these prayers resets my anxious mind, centering my focus on God’s presence here and now. I pray they’ll also share some peace with you. Please feel free to share with friends who might want to pray along with you!

Psalm 40:1-3 I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.

My Rescuer, always listening and quick to respond, rescue me now. Lift me up to new, safe heights so that I may bellow your praises. In the name of Jesus Christ I sing, Amen.

Psalm 94:18-19 When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

Loving God, though I fall, you never fail; you extend comfort when anxiety topples me. I’m slipping, Lord! Catch me in your strong arms of love and hold me so tight that, instead of fear, I am squeezed by joy in your presence. In Jesus’ name I squeak love, Amen.

Psalm 139:23-24 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Creator God, who sculpted my heart and knows me inside and out, excavate the junk I can’t, or won’t, admit. Take my hand and direct me in better ways to better days with you by my side forever. In your Son’s name I pray, Amen.

Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Lord my God, you who have been with me since before the beginning and will be for eternity, dress me in your strength, your courage, your nearness, so that I am prepared for the adventures of brave living each day. In the name of your Son who is the Way, Amen.

Matthew 6:25-27, 32b-34 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? …your heavenly Father knows [what] you need… But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Provider God, who feeds the birds and cares even more for me, give me what I need for body and soul. Set my eyes so firmly on your kingdom and plant my feet so firmly in today that my faith in you motivates my every step. Thank you, Jesus, Amen.

John 14:1, 27 Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Faithful Savior with arms full of offered peace, sprinkle your sparkly glitter dust of peace over the messy glue of my heart to create a down-to-earth and still frame-worthy work of art entitled “Confident Belief.” In your name I pray, Jesus, Amen.

John 16:33 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Hey Jesus, my Comforter, the world is in trouble and I feel stuck in the world. Wrap me up in your peace and show me how you are overcoming so that I can move forward into this braveheart life. I pray in your name, Jesus, Amen.

Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Jesus Christ, my near and gentle Lord, fill my mouth with rejoicing and drench me in peace so that your gentleness, rather than my anxiety, becomes evident to everyone I meet. I rejoice in you, Jesus, Amen.

1 Peter 5:6-7 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Servant Savior, who loved us fully by showing us how to be humble, I am tossing all my anxiety at you like a sack of dirty laundry–I don’t want it, please take it. Thank you for gently loving me, for cleaning up my messes and holding me tight. Humbly your child prays to you, Jesus, Amen.

Cover image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay 

3 Things I’m Learning About Anxiety and 5 Things that Help – part 2

This is part 2 of a two-part series on anxiety. Read part 1 here.

Let’s jump right in. Here are a few things I’m finding helpful in dealing with anxiety:

Routines
The pandemic taught me that I rely on imposed routines. When all normal routines vanished, it took me a while to find my way back to some kind of order. It hasn’t been easy, but intentionally developing consistent blocks of time for consistent activities helps. I also switch up my seating: writing in my recliner in the morning or at the patio bistro table in the afternoon, for example. I can’t control a lot, but I can control how I structure my days.

Well, mostly. Let’s be honest: sometimes life happens and even my own plans go down the drain…causing anxiety. Take a deep breath, acknowledge the mess, and move on, asking What’s my next right step?

Also, adding a touch of ritual to the routine, like a favorite mug within reach during my morning writing or lighting a scented candle during my evening reading, lends whimsy or beauty to the occasion.

Outlets
We need healthy ways to get out the Big Feels. When I wasn’t sleeping, exercise felt hard but also eventually helped me sleep better. Getting outdoors is especially important when exercise has been the only regular reason to leave home. Long brisk walks, running occasional stretches, and yoga locate me firmly in my body and help me feel healthy and strong. I can’t stand “stretching,” but call it “yoga” and I’m in; whatever works! I’m using the Down Dog app and love that it’s fully customizable to what I need.

When I over-exercised and injured myself, I doubled-down on writing. Every day I type fast and furious for 20 minutes, dumping on a document no one but me will ever read. Putting words to what life looks like and how I feel about it gets it out.

I’ve always loved to read and I’m reading more than ever to keep my mind occupied with something beyond me. I’d also like to create more art or put together some photo albums, but I’m wary of pandemic productivity pressure, of comparing what I know of myself to what I see in someone else (especially since what I can see are their curated social media posts); I will get to those things when the time feels right for me.

Interestingly, a synonym for outlet is safety valve, and these regular practices combine to help me feel safer.

Be
I tend to live in my head, either in the past or the future, so it’s always a challenge to be here now. But when anxiety grips me I need to do something – noticing the feelings in my body, walking away and taking intentional deep breaths, stretching – anything that healthfully disengages the immediate cause for panic helps. I also capture a few things each day for which I’m grateful; I have a journal specifically for that purpose.

One recommended way to ground yourself is the 54321 method; this hasn’t been as helpful for me, but naming my feelings and putting them in the clouds that gently drift away has – I may have a cloudy hour or even a few cloudy days, but eventually the sun will shine again.

If you’re a reader, I recommend Tara Brach’s book Radical Compassion. Let it RAIN: Recognize your feelings, Allow them to just be (rather than stuffing or numbing them), Investigate how they feel in your body, and Nurture your inner self. She writes that RAIN “awakens mindfulness and compassion, applies them to the places where we are stuck, and untangles emotional suffering.” As a Christian, it’s a course on prayer I didn’t get at church. (Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases).

Boundaries
I fell hard down the social media rabbit hole and my scrapes hurt. At first it made sense since a) it was a way to connect when we were all stuck at home and b) everyone had a different news source to share.

But alongside “news” I saw pictures of friends not taking things seriously and posts encouraging “you do you” individualism rather than “let’s all give a little for the common good.” I saw conspiracy theories and rants of many colors. I had to set radical limits.

And since the world is a wee bit scary right now, and everyone seems to be angry about something (I feel others’ emotions so hot they burn), when we can’t easily gather and seeing even a few people feels emotionally risky, I’m resigned to staying home as much as possible for as long as necessary.

To stay connected, I’ve started reaching out by mail; a note in the mailbox brightens someone’s day and often they respond with a text or email that brightens mine. Yes, I could call, but I like the phone less. Don’t even ask me to Facetime; I’ll Zoom only if it’s essential to you.

Anxiety doesn’t have to make sense, and my triggers will be different from yours. I’m paying attention to how I feel and giving myself permission to set the boundaries I need. Sometimes I feel guilty – everyone else can [fill in the blank], so why can’t I? – and I’m working hard to let that go. I’m not everyone else; I get to make my own rules.

Love
Jesus loves me, this I know… The fact that I’m dealing with anxiety absolutely does not invalidate my faith. God still reigns in heaven, and here on earth I’m having a rough go. Yes, I pray, and yes, I can pray while engaged in self-care practices.

My family has managed to balance time together with sufficient alone time even in our small home. I’m grateful for the support and joy they add to my life. But I can’t expect them to shoulder my burdens continually. I have to do this work myself.

I’ve been reading about anxiety and self-care. I have saved so many images to my camera roll that remind me to breathe, to be gentle, to tell myself a better story. I’ve asked myself what someone who loves themselves would do, and I’ve spoken to myself the loving words I’d speak to a hurting friend.

None of this is rocket science, and honestly, none of these approaches work on their own or all the time. So far I haven’t been able to banish anxiety from my life; this has become my new normal and I expect I’ll continue learning how to be me – and how to be kind to this version of myself – for the rest of my life.

What works for you? I’d like to know. And if you’ve found this post helpful, please share. We’re in this together.

3 Things I’m Learning About Anxiety and 5 Things that Help – part 1

Maybe I’ve had anxiety for years and called it “stress.” Maybe this is new. Either way, anxiety put me in a choke-hold when shelter-in-place orders went into effect in March. Among the long list of things I hadn’t expected was an entirely personal masterclass in mental health.

Five months later and I’ve mostly settled into my version of our “new normal.” While all of us have to deal with pandemic realities and increased political/racial tensions, most of us have an “and also…” to boot, other factors complicating our current reality. My “and also’s…” have been one-two-three gut-punches, the hits that keep on coming. Oof!

Let me be clear: my experience of anxiety has been exhausting but not debilitating. Even on days when I’ve decided to simply stay in bed, well, here we are in a pandemic and no one expects me anywhere. And while therapy would likely be helpful for everyone always, I’ve been able to manage my anxiety (mostly) with a lot of reading, research, and self-care. Anxiety has loosened its initial grip and now when I feel its cold fingers, I’m more aware and better prepared.

If your anxiety feels crippling and perhaps life-threatening, by all means get the help you need immediately. NAMI, The National Alliance on Mental Health, has a 24 hour helpline: 800-950-6264. If you don’t have the courage to call yourself, ask someone you love to call for you. Don’t suffer alone.

Meanwhile, here’s what I’m learning, offering it up in case it’s helpful for you. We’re all different, so I’m sure you’ve got your own acquired wisdom to share. Please leave a comment so we can support each other.

Mental health is physical, too.
For months I couldn’t fall asleep until the middle of the night, or I fell asleep and then woke in the wee hours to ruminate on random worries. It took about three months for my sleep to return to semi-normal patterns and even now I can expect occasional wonky nights.

Insomnia wasn’t totally new, but the vibrating sensation in my chest and stomach was. Similar to having chugged too much caffeine, I call it my “bees” since it feels like the humming of an angry hive. Other physical signs include destroying my cuticles or my shoulders hitched to my ears, tension head- and jaw-aches and unusually tight muscles.

Noticing the physical cues reminds me to breathe, stretch, investigate my feelings, and administer self-care.

It’s about control.
Things I can’t control: a global pandemic; the mess that is America right now; my son’s public educational experience; my mom’s health; friends who don’t take social distancing seriously; other’s thoughts or actions; anything outside myself.

We never could control anything anyway, we just acted like we could. Suddenly, we don’t know what to expect from day to day. All our routines have been stripped away and we find ourselves isolated from people who once played main characters in our communal sitcoms. Pre-pandemic we’d be thrilled to have an occasional blank day on our calendars, and now it’s all white space. We want that version of our lives back in part because we want to be able to pretend that we’re still in control.

Grief is messy and necessary.
We didn’t sign up for this and we don’t want it, but here we are. And while there may be some positives to this mess, we have to be honest about all that we’ve lost: to work at that job; to engage in public pastimes; to celebrate milestones of every sort with the fanfare we’d usually give them; to travel; to hug friends; and obviously, so many people have lost loved ones.

Admitting that grief is an integral part of what we’re all experiencing right now, that we’ve lost the lives we were living and the experience of life we expected, reminds us to be gentle with ourselves – and others. None of us have ever done life like this and it’s hard, sometimes it feels impossibly hard. Grief isn’t linear, either, and while it might feel easier with time, or easier some days, other days it will flip you to the floor and pin you down.

If you know me, you know that I’m a Jesus follower. Yes, the Bible says not to be anxious, to pray instead, so let’s talk about that. In telling us not to be anxious, the Bible actually acknowledges that we will feel anxiety. Anxiety is a normal part of human life. But we don’t have to stay anxious.

God created each one of us differently because He loves us individually in all the uniqueness He gave us. He created some of us to be more sensitive, more intuitive, more inclined to drama and all the Big Feels. We haven’t been punished, rather, we’ve been gifted with a different way of being and seeing our place in the world. We have things to offer precisely because our nerves lie a little closer to the surface. Exposed, we feel more and our unique perspective can help others appreciate life’s nuances.

Anxiety is not the problem, it’s staying anxious that’s a problem. We all have an anxiety warning light on the dashboard of our lives reminding us to attend to our issues; some of us will notice that light more often. That’s how we’re built and that, as God said in the beginning, is good…even though it may not feel good.

Stay tuned tomorrow as I share a few things I’ve found helpful in dealing with anxiety. Meanwhile, if you’ve found this post helpful, please share it with someone who will benefit from knowing that they’re not alone in their experience.

Fear & Peace

For two long days last week as my pastor-husband prepared a sermon, I overheard his end of several zoom interviews asking people two questions: What causes you fear? and How have you encountered Jesus at your point of fear?

I couldn’t hear their answers, so I pondered my own responses to questions I’d been asking myself for weeks.

Shelter-in-place brought on an anxiety I couldn’t control or explain. I felt uncomfortable, awkward, ashamed. What is wrong with me? I wondered. Not in a high risk category, I’m not really afraid that I’m going to contract COVID-19. And, at least on the surface, my life hasn’t changed that much. So where are these Big Feels coming from?

  • Sleep immediately flew out the window for me and our kids. “Bedtime” suddenly shifted to 3 am, which meant we also slept half the day. It took about a month to settle into a healthier sleep rhythm.
  • The loss of routine. Our family doesn’t easily set our own routines, meaning that we rely on external structure to organize our days.
  • With everyone at home all the time, there’s no solitude, little silence, and regular interruptions, which makes it hard to concentrate, to write, to be creative. I have been less able to plug in to my natural outlets.
  • The obvious loss of social outlets. ‘Nuff said.
  • I’m not working, and I don’t know what work will look like in the future.
  • The comparison game at which I keep losing: others claim to be living their best life, developing new skills and side gigs, while I want to crawl in a hole and cry, or at least, hole up with a book or three.
  • The fear of the unknown: how long will this last? And all the swirling questions: how long should it last to keep us all safe?
  • And the big one: I fear that others aren’t taking this seriously, that they’re not truly sheltering-in-place, they’re not social distancing, they’re going out too often and letting their kids hang out with others. And by not taking it seriously, they’re invalidating my taking-it-seriously actions.

So where is Jesus in all this? Sheepishly, I asked Guy if anyone had dared to answer that they didn’t know…or that their fear was not having heard from Jesus during this time. Good for them, but no, no one answered that way.

I know Jesus is with me, but He hasn’t exactly been dramatic about announcing Himself. So I keep doing what I do to cultivate an environment for peace: I persist in my daily gratitude hunt. I find joy in exercising with my dogs. I’ve rediscovered a yoga practice that I can maintain at home long-term. And I write Bible studies where Jesus helps me craft questions as He speaks to my heart.

As the days plod along, slow and steady, I am grateful for faith in His gentle presence in the heart of our home. Even when I feel less than peaceful, I trust He’s here with peace in hand.

Connect
Name one of your biggest childhood fears. Alternately, share about something that currently makes you fearful.

Study
Read aloud John 20:19-23.
Put yourself in the room with the disciples before Jesus shows up (v19). What are you thinking and feeling?
How does Jesus’ greeting also address the disciples’ fears (v19)?
Why did Jesus show them His hands and side (v20)?
Why did Jesus emphasize peace (vv19, 21)?
How are peace, the Holy Spirit, and forgiveness connected? Why are they important for the ones whom Jesus sends?

Live
When do you feel most peaceful?
What does it look like for you to receive Jesus’ peace?
If you can, share about a recent time when you felt afraid and how Jesus showed up for you.
In the midst of fear, how can you actively put your trust in God?
How does a sense of purpose help one deal with fear?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to meet you in your fears and fill you with peace.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on John 20:19-23 individually and with your family:
What are you afraid of?
How can Jesus help you feel peaceful?
Ask Jesus to help you trust Him when you’re afraid.

If you’d like to hear Guy’s sermon based on this passage, you can watch here. The Scripture reading followed by the sermon starts at 13:32.

Image by Raheel Shakeel from Pixabay

Bees (or, What Anxiety Feels Like in My Body)

On Easter Sunday we went for a hike in the hills beyond the end of our neighborhood. The boys went off looking for snakes, per usual, and texted us to stop at a turnout. After a quick photo shoot of our dogs amidst the wildflowers, we waited.

As I surveyed the surrounding green hills (big picture) and the lizard doing push ups on a log near my feet (close up), I noticed right in front of me a bee unlike any I’d seen before. Fuzzy, soft latte brown, it buzzed at me, zig-zagging near my abdomen. Then I saw another, and another, until suddenly I noticed they covered a nearby bush; I wondered how I hadn’t heard the buzzing.

Bees sense fear, so I consciously took deep, even breaths and watched it. I asked it nicely to please fly away and not sting me. Slowly, I took a step backwards. It flew off.

All during shelter-in-place, I’ve felt the persistent buzz of anxiety. Like too much coffee, which I haven’t had since C21 has discovered that he also likes coffee and so the pot is almost always empty by the time I reach for a second cup.

I don’t typically have anxiety. This is new for me.

I didn’t notice the actual bees in front of me because for weeks I’ve been annoyed by, denying, avoiding, or trying to manage the buzzing inside me. Sometimes the anxiety feels like background noise, the hum of one bee, or a few. Other days, I feel shaky, unable to take deep breaths and step back. The bees swarm in and around me.

I know these are just feelings. Like clouds moving across the sky, my feelings are not the sky. The anxiety will blow over and I will still be here. The bees can’t hurt me, but they sure can rattle me.

I have tried all the things: writing and exercise. Talking with loved ones and with God. I drink lots of water, make healthy meals, try to reign in the detritus of everyone home all the time. I’ve drastically limited social/media media exposure. I crawl in bed at a reasonable time with a book. I try to sleep.

Generally, I feel better in the mornings, a fresh start. And over time, now eight weeks into shelter-in-place, living with bees has become increasingly ‘normal.’ Always on the lookout for gratitude maybe–somehow, eventually–I’ll even learn to make honey.

 

Cover image by shell_ghostcage from Pixabay

Tell the Truth

stress

A few nights ago, just as I realized I had an unforeseen free evening ahead of me, my neighbor popped over to spontaneously invite me to a panel on teen stress at a nearby high school. I said yes.

An hour later I fought back tears as a well-dressed dad pointed to a picture of his teenage son on the big screen, a good-looking kid who committed suicide three years ago. That tragedy spurred the dad and other parents to begin a Wellness Committee aimed at addressing stress among adolescents. Ultimately, they want to change culture – students, parents, schools, teachers, systems, and society – the perfect storm as we all play a role in the overwhelming stress our students experience.

For the Committee’s first public event, they began with stress, which may lead to depression, which may lead to dangerous behaviors and, worst case, suicide. The Committee will do important work, but it won’t matter a whit if the rest of us don’t jump on board.

Teen’s pediatrician happened to be one of the speakers. A wise, well-grounded man, he received several rounds of interruptive applause for speaking truth. Things like, why do final exams come after winter break? In other words, why can’t “break” be a true break, with no finals, no homework hanging over kids’ heads? How about reduced homework, or a later start time since older teens need more sleep?

Other good exhortations:
Just because our kids are older, we are NOT life consultants but more like President of the Board to our kids; they get more responsibility, yes, but we don’t take a hands-off advisory role. We still have levers to pull, and it’s our responsibility to pull them as necessary.

Eat dinner together as a family – friends, we can spare fifteen minutes to be face-to-face with one another!

According to a recent survey, high school students in our district get less than 7 hours of sleep per night. They need more (they should average 9.5 hours/night), so parents and kids can work together to make that change.

Though teens act a convincing part that they do not want to spend time with family, family fun time is important, one of the levers we employ to keep kids healthy. Take a vacation or even a day trip to do something together.

Help kids focus on who they are becoming more than what they are doing. Just like adults, their identity is not wrapped up in performance, in their GPA or home runs; their identity is Who They Are, at their core, when all their accomplishments have been stripped away – as they will be once they have to “start over” in college or the work force.

Technology addiction has become a huge issue, and it’s not healthy that our young people are “on stage” through social media 24/7. Most of us give in to the positive stimulus response, parents may be equally addicted, and we all need to unplug more regularly. Tough love, perhaps, but Teen’s pediatrician thinks cell phones should be off by 8pm, internet by 9pm, and kids in bed by 10pm (my Teen said, “Uh, yah…No Way.” Not sure I’ll pull that particular lever, but we are going to have another conversation about a healthy bedtime routine).

That recent survey revealed that as many as 46% of local high school kids have had or currently have depression, feeling unrelenting sadness for two weeks or more such that it interferes with their ability to perform daily tasks. Staggering! Maintaining the status quo may be easier, but it’s killing our kids. How can we ignore the truth that our kids are drowning while we stand by, cheering them on?

As adults, we have to model better behavior. We can’t mentor kids in stress-free living if we’re workaholics who don’t stop to enjoy life, if we don’t make time to listen to them. We have to talk about stress. We have to put our phones away and sit face-to-face with our kids and admit our own struggles, our own mistakes.

Life is hard. Parenting is hard, and parenting adolescents can be downright crazy-making. What’s the point in pretense when talking about it helps? Every family, geez, every human!, struggles in some way or other. Talk to your spouse, your kids, teachers and coaches, friends, and neighbors. Talk to anyone who will listen compassionately. Find your safe people if you don’t already know who they are. We’re in this thing together whether we like it or not, so we might as well get on the same team and admit our weaknesses so we can build on our strengths.

Glennon Melton of Momastery wrote, “I’ve never made a friend by bragging about my strengths, but I’ve made countless by sharing my weakness, my emptiness.” Fear and shame keep us from vulnerability, but vulnerability is exactly what we need to combat loneliness. We need one another. Tragedy strikes the one who feels unnecessary and can’t talk about it. Let’s all tell the truth so we can offer one another hope.

If you need someone to talk to and don’t know where to turn, the National Lifeline has trained counselors ready to listen anytime, day or night. It’s free and confidential. Please call: 800-273-TALK.

Advent 2 – Finding Peace

Ironically, during a week in which I’ve intentionally focused on expecting peace, I’ve found distress more often.

The same hour I learned about the mass shooting in San Bernardino, I also heard that a neighbor, husband of an acquaintance, was in a suicidal stand-off with police. He alternately pointed a pistol at his temple and his mouth and, after hours of negotiation during which a nearby elementary school – his son’s school – was on lock-down, he pulled the trigger. He leaves behind his beautiful wife and four kids, his youngest only six and four years old.

Heart breaks. Lord, have mercy. Send your peace!

Far less dramatic: Traffic. Rushing. Deadlines. Botched plans. Carpools, worse, no carpool. Kid stress (aka, school stress!). Appetizers for two different functions. Overly full calendar. On and on.

Thank God for His Word! A few of our church staff did a Bible study on Philippians 4:4-9:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Interestingly, I’d most often read those few verses as three different points: 1- Rejoice. 2- Worry less, pray more. 3- Think about good things.

This week I realized they are One Point (as Peterson translates in The Message): “It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

When we rejoice, we put Christ at the center of our hearts and minds. When we present our requests to God, we put Christ at the center. When we think about good things, true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy things, we put Christ – the author and perfecter of all things – at the center. When we fix our eyes on Christ, Christ displaces the worry that has us spinning like hamsters on a wheel and in turn gives us peace.

Phew! Hopping off the hamster wheel as my head spins…

This hasn’t been an easy week. Looking back, however, I felt most at peace when I intentionally focused on Christ. Engaged in friendship, worship, Bible reading, serving loved ones, diving deep in fulfilling work, walking our dog, I can pray and allow Christ to displace worry. Sometimes peace “just happened” as I had already scheduled life-giving activities; other times Grumpy Me made a decision to pray and pursue peace (the dog got a few more walks this week).

Bottom line: The Lord is near. So much better than tossing sleeplessly or numbing the anxiety, we can rejoice, pray, let our loving God care for our needs, and think on God’s good things. As the angel declared to shepherds watching their flocks by night, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

Peace be with you!advent wreath

Week 2 – Finding Peace

Read and light two candles (purple)The first candle represents the expectation of the One who will bring Peace. The second candle represents God’s peace in us.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Isaiah 26:3 and Philippians 4:4-9

Read: How many times today did you think about yourself: your fears or worries, your wants and needs? How many times today did you offer to God your fears or worries, your wants or needs? We get so easily distracted, so quick to neglect the peace God offers us in His Son. God invites us to cast all our cares on Him because He cares for us. Set your heart and mind on Jesus and live in peace.

Pray: Dear God, help us to trust you and to let go of everything that keeps us from you. In the name of Jesus we pray for peace, Amen.

Monday Isaiah 26:3 Where do you need peace in your life?
Tuesday Matthew 6:31-34 What worries distract you from seeking God, and what will you do about it?
Wednesday Luke 12:25-26 How does worry sap your time and energy?
Thursday Philippians 4:6-7 When have you experienced peace in response to prayer?Friday Philippians 4:8-9 What are some of your favorite “whatevers” to think about?
Saturday Colossians 3:1-2 How do you actively set your heart and mind on God’s priorities?

 

Another blog I’m enjoying this Advent: lessnerismore. Grab a mug/cup of something warm and tasty and set aside a few minutes to check out her daily Advent blog.

Advent 1 – Expecting Peace

Stating the obvious: we do not live in a peaceful world. War and rumors of war. School shootings. Crime in all its variety. Job stress. Illness. Divorce. Even in my everyday mundane suburban life, peace seems elusive.

So today’s title made me wonder: do I expect peace?

Maybe my faith is too small. Maybe my focus is off. Jesus is the Prince of Peace and I’m a tightly-wound stress ball.

Maybe I’m operating with the wrong definition. The peace promised in Scripture is shalom, wholeness. It has less to do with lack of conflict or strife and more to do with God’s presence. Emmanuel, God with us.peace

Filled as it is with gatherings of family and friends, candlelight, holiday food, gift-giving and receiving, Christmastime may be the busiest – and least peaceful – time of year. Celebrating Advent helps us to refocus on the Prince of Peace, to be intentional about Christ in Christmas. During Advent (Latin for “coming”) we celebrate God coming to dwell among us in Jesus. We open our hearts to how God wants to come into our lives now. And we look forward in hopeful anticipation of everlasting life with God.

The Advent wreath candle lighting tradition is one meaningful way to celebrate God’s coming. The wreath (a circle) signifies eternity – God is, was and always will be. Three purple candles represent royalty and repentance; one pink candle (for week three) represents joy. The white center candle represents the divine nature of the baby Jesus. Evergreens represent everlasting life in Jesus and His everlasting love for us. The candlelight itself symbolizes Jesus, the Light of the World. Each week we light one more candle, lighting the center candle on Christmas to signify that the light of Jesus Christ has come into the world.advent wreath

 

My prayer for this season? To expect peace as I set aside time to worship the Prince of Peace. As The Message puts it in Philippians 4:6-7, “Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness [peace, shalom], everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” I want Christ to displace worry, for me and for you, and so I offer these Advent readings. May Peace be with you!

Advent Week 1 – Expecting Peace

Read and light the first candle (middle purple candle)The first candle represents the expectation of the One who will bring Peace.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Ezekiel 37:26-27 and Isaiah 9:6-7

Read: The prophets spoke God’s words of promised peace to distressed people. Walking in darkness, living in deep darkness, the people had lost their joy. Hold on, declares the Lord, I’m coming. I will shine my light in your darkness. I will establish my peaceful kingdom in your midst. I will send the Prince of Peace to rule over you with justice and righteousness. I will do this because I am your God and you are my people. I am zealous for you. Expect my peace. It will come.

Pray: Dear God, we look forward to your arrival and we eagerly expect your peace. In the name of Jesus we wait and pray, Amen.

 

Monday Psalm 40:1-3 How do you actively wait for the Lord?
Tuesday Isaiah 9:2 How have you seen God’s light during a dark time in your life?
Wednesday  Isaiah 9:6 What does it mean in your everyday life that Jesus is the Prince of Peace?
Thursday Ezekiel 37:26-27 How can you remain aware of God with you?
Friday Micah 7:7 How has God responded to your hopeful watching?
Saturday Luke 12:40 How do you prepare for the Son of Man’s return?

The Kids are Okay

We have completed Week 2 of the school year and I can happily report that we are all doing OK! At least mostly. I think.

We’ve only had…
…one lost backpack,
…one slept-through alarm clock,
…one forgotten bike lock combination,
…one forgotten lunch box,
…one “oops, I forgot to turn it in” homework assignment,
…a couple “oops, I forgot to do it” homework assignments,
…one seven-hour homework marathon (A+ for persistence! And Fail-on-Mom not checking on too-long quiet child),
…one minimum day during which Tween and friends went into town for lunch – a tip-toe into independence – where he purchased one authorized half-eaten sandwich and drink and $20 of unauthorized gum and candy (ew!),
…daily rush-to-get-everyone-out-the-door miscommunication,
…and one soccer ball to the face, resulting in smashed glasses, two hours at the eye doctor (all good!), dilated eyes, and a late night of all-hands-on-deck homework.

Dilated crazy eyes!

Dilated crazy eyes!

There have been highlights, too. Like Day 1 of junior year when Teen allowed me to read him the biblegateway verse of the day, a Psalm, and then proceeded to read his favorite Bible verse to me, also a Psalm, including explanation as to why it was his favorite verse, what it meant to him and what it says about who God is – in general and in his life. Miracles like that do this Mama’s heart good!

Also, twice this week Teen has chosen to hang with me, sometimes talking, sometimes not, sometimes showing me videos he thinks are funny, giving me a glimpse into his mind and his world. Okay, so he’s been stalling on bedtime, but he’s also been choosing Connection with Mom on his schedule. Cardinal rule of parenting teens: be available when they’re ready to connect.

And Tween and I have still found time to read aloud together. One day soon he might figure out that he’s “too old” for this and decide that he prefers to read silently and alone, but I hope not. It’s an easy connection place, shared story making for shared experience. Plus, snuggles.welcome-back-to-school-clipart-2

Last night we attended Back to School Night at the middle school. Having done this before – albeit five years ago – sixth grade doesn’t seem so intimidating this go-round. We know our way around the school and many of the teachers are familiar, as are the courses and expectations. And yet… Teen experienced sixth grade as a series of belly flops, fun in the air and painful when you smack down hard. We know Tween, too, will take his share of risks and flops and that the pain will radiate to the whole family. It happens. By design.

And yet… We know Tween’s strengths and limitations. We know his gifts and challenges. We can anticipate where he will excel and which teachers will suggest a conference in the near future.

The temptation to give in to the anxiety can be overwhelming. But I don’t want to live in fear. I want to delight in my children.delight

Glennon Doyle Melton affirms that all children are gifted and talented, their lives containing glittering Christmas gifts, and God decides when they get to unwrap their special gifts. School insists that all children excel in the same ways at the same age, but that simply is not the case. Clearly kids are not all the same, as people are not all the same – and thank God! The world would be so boring, so inoperable, if we all shared the same gifts.

As parents we have a responsibility to regularly, daily, more often than not, communicate to our kids that they are okay. To do that, we have to truly believe it. Deep down in our guts we have to know that, whatever bumps our kids take throughout a day, they are and will be okay.

We each have the opportunity to delight in one other, but so often we should on each other instead. Like this talented mom, who condensed Things Moms Say in 24 hours into a less-than-3 minute song. Funny, and True, but if our kids only hear these things we all miss out.

I am making anew a decision to delight in my kids. I want their first and last glimpse of me during a day to be smiling, loving, delighted. I request that they “Kiss your Mama!” as they depart for the day and arrive home again, a sweet connection to remind them I will always be in their corner. Sometimes it’s forced, but it’s a good habit nonetheless. I want them to know that, Yes, You are Okay!

Of course I want my kids to do their very best. But their best may not always measure up and that has to be okay, too. I will continue to advocate for my kids as only a Mama can, but I will do it in faith that God created them exactly the way He intended them to be, with their own delicious blend of sweets and savories. They may not be to everyone’s taste, but they will always be my favorite flavors.love not worry

At times it will be a struggle to resist the temptation to fear. To not let their bumps reflect on my ability to parent, or my self-esteem. To be my kids’ rock rather than a puddle of my own worries. To stand strong against this competitive culture and its constant comparisons one to another.

Stand with me and let’s delight together in our children. Their uniqueness can make us laugh, can cause us to think new thoughts, to wonder – with awe – at who they are and who they will become. So much better than worry, don’t you agree? The kids are okay.