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Living simply, loving deeply!

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Happy Anniversary, Heidi

Today marks 15 years I have been on staff at HCC. When I graduated from Bible College I never thought I would ever get to come back home. I am so grateful to God I did. I have blogged about how I ended up back in Vermilion.

Last night at Women’s Bible Study, I was sitting in the back while we were watching a video. Between the two Bible studies, there are 60 women. Women who are hungry to know Jesus, to find peace, to have joy in the journey. Sunday night we had a worship and healing service at our church. We have them periodically. We were expecting about 80 and probably had 160 plus. I get to walk with people and watch them discover how cool God really is and how much they really matter. I was so overwhelmed at what I get to do.

 

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It is not always easy. The hours are long. The pay isn’t great. People are never done. You witness first hand the ravages of sin. In our world today we never want to talk about sin and how it destroys us mentally, physically, relationally, and most importantly, spiritually. I have sat with a family as the parents told the kid’s they were getting divorced and saw a kid changed completely in a moment. I have intervened in someone’s life who was addicted to drugs. I have helped people pick up the pieces after betrayal in marriage or a loss of a child.

But I have also seen the power of God transform lives. I have seen the drug addict get clean. I have seen marriages restored that everyone else counted as dead. I have seen kids come back from their parent’s divorce. I have witnessed teenagers finally get how good, real and loving God is. I have seen God physically heal the blind and lame. I have slept under the stars of an African sky and worshiped Jesus with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I have friends in Jamaica that have become my family.

Last fall I was asked to consider taking my own church in another community. This isn’t the first time I have been asked. This was the first time I seriously contemplated it. As my pastor and I processed through it, he told me that question I needed to settle was, “Do I see myself as a Lead Pastor?” (I am so thankful for Pastor Jim in my life. He is what a strong man in ministry should be. He is not intimidated by strong leaders; women or men. He embraces and releases them. He seeks them out. I have met people in ministry who view staff members as competitors, not comrades. We are comrades in arms. And he makes us all feel valuable and appreciated.

There are very few women Lead pastors in my denomination. That is not a criticism at all. I am proud of the fact that we have women Lead pastors. And I believe our denomination is open to them. I take very seriously what I model for younger men and women going into ministry. I want them to see a healthy, fulfilled, FRUIT-BEARING woman of God. I want them to see someone who enjoys life and ministry but isn’t afraid to share struggles. Life is hardly ever perfect and easy. I want to demonstrate how we honestly and gracefully walk through life’s trials. And I have mentored just as many young men as I have young women. I am not in competition with men. We complement each other…or we should.

I need to digress for a moment…please humor me. I have met women in ministry who try to make room for themselves simply because they are women. They fight for themselves. It appears that is all they care about. Believe me, I get it. I have met men who are against women in ministry. God asked me early on, “What do you want to be known for? You can’t fight everything so what is it you want to fight for?” I wrestled with this in my late 20’s. The answer I came to is I want to be known for fighting for souls and people. I want to be known for love. Scripture also teaches that God raises people up and casts people down. If there is something that God wants me to say He will open the doors. And He has. I have done some amazing things. Being a woman HAS NEVER KEPT GOD’S PURPOSES AND PLANS FROM BEING FULFILLED IN MY LIFE.

I am a strong woman and a strong leader. I know what it is to come under fire for decisions. I served on City Council for 8 years during some very bitter struggles. Standing for truth cost me. Reputation and money. But I did not waver. But that does not mean I have to be a Lead Pastor.

In ministry circles sometimes it is communicated, albeit unintentionally, that the Senior/Lead Pastor is the pinnacle of having arrived in ministry. That is simply not true. And it grieves me that people think that. I am reminded of the Peter Principle which is the belief that workers rise to the level of their incompetency. The main premise is that once people are in the spot in which they are most productive and fruitful (and happiest), they get promoted for doing such a good job and end up in a job they hate and are not equipped for. I don’t know how much I buy into this but there is a kernel of truth.

In my position, I get to do whatever I want to do (because I do everything I am asked). I am doing, for the most part, everything God has placed in my heart to do. I still have some big dreams (the biggest yet), but I am slowly but surely working on those dreams I believe are God-given.

Success and respect in life are not a title. Or a position. It’s not getting the big office down the hall (though it is the warmest 😉 ). Respect may come initially from these things but title and positions don’t maintain respect. It is what we do with it and how we treat people.

The Bible defines success in ministry as fruitfulness. Jesus says when we produce much fruit we bring glory to the Father. Fruitfulness is better than fame or a title. When I look over the past 15 years, I see fruit. And I believe in my soul, I have just entered the bearing much fruit phase. God is doing amazing things here in Vermilion and in my life. I work with the best team. We do not compete with each other, we complement each other. We bring out the best (on most days) in each other. When someone else looks good, we all look good.

I hosted our staff Christmas party this year. As I was on my hands and knees scrubbing baseboards (yeah…I’m that girl), I was praying about the decision. These are the thoughts I was thinking, “I could be a lead pastor, I could sit at the big people’s tables, I could have more influence, I, I, I, I.” (How do you like me now?). And I heard God speak, “Heidi, you’re not done in Vermilion. It’s not about title or position, it’s about fruitfulness.”

I love my community. And the staff I work with share the same love. This unity. This love we have for each other and our community is rare. Why would I leave this? To be known more? By who? Obviously, my answer was “no”.  And once I made up my mind, Jamaica happened. And God used it to reinforce the dreams I have and am currently working on.

I will be celebrating 20 years in ministry in May…I am sure there will be blog then as well (I am way too introspective) and looking back over all these years, I pinch myself that I get to do this.

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Our incredible staff, led by Pastor Jim and Joyce. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Ain’t No Sin to Be Glad You’re Alive

I love the beginning of a new year. I love reflecting on all God did in the previous year and look forward to all the challenges and adventures that await in the coming year. My birthday is January 10th so it seems like everything is new at the beginning of the year. I love it. It truly is a new page. Every year, I pray to God for a Scripture and word that will set my path for growth for the year. I ask Him, “What new thing do you want to do in me this year? In what area do I need to grow?”

Last July I started working on my Masters in Strategic Leadership. (I have discussed much of this in a previous blog). It is the best decision I have made in a long time. I love learning and I am very impressed with the program I am in. The very first class we took was The Personal Life of a Leader. Basically, the premise is if you want to be a great leader and lead others well, you first need to learn how to lead yourself. This class changed my life. My dear friend and mentor, Harriet Mouer, always tells me that you cannot say something is life changing until six months have passed. It is only then if you can see if the event’s impact went beyond your emotional reaction and led to changed behavior. This class met her criteria for changing your life. At our residency and in our reading there was a lot of talk about finishing well; ministry and life. We had to identify things that would keep us from finishing well and make a plan with measurable goals for the next two years (the duration of the program) on how to grow in these areas. After prayer and contemplation, the two areas I identified were physical and financial fitness.

Since I was in middle school, I have struggled with my weight. I have tried every diet known to mankind. Atkins, Southbeach, Cabbage Soup (what?!?), Weight Watchers (multiple times), the apple diet (made that one up on my own…don’t ask…I was 13), starving myself, and the list goes on and on. I knew if I was going to finish well, I needed to get serious about taking care of my body. I want my body to last as long as my mind. I want to be able to serve Jesus with all of me until my last breath…as much as it depends on me. I also want to be an example to my nieces and youth that watch me. It matters how we treat our bodies. So I made an appointment with my doctor.

I just have to say that I have the best doctor in the world. He is compassionate, honest, and firm. I told him everything I wrote in the previous paragraph. I asked him to send me to a nutritionist (and I have tried this before as well). He told me “no”. I was shocked. He went on to explain that I would count calories, get frustrated, and give up. He was right. This was my pattern my whole life. He wrote down a podcast to listen to and asked me to give NSNG (no sugar, no grain) a try. He explained the science of it and why he thought it would help me. After much research (that is still ongoing),  I changed how I ate beginning August 24. I have lost 40 pounds, dropped 4 sizes and feel the best I have ever felt in my life, and it seems so easy. Non-restrictive. My schedule is pretty busy and I now have endless energy. I am way more productive and happy. I am working my plan on financial fitness. That is a little harder simply because my profession does not pay as well as others (but there is no way I would do anything else).

At the end of December, I led a team of 19 on a missions trip to Jamaica. Before we left, I was praying for the trip and some of the teaching I would be doing. My Scripture for the year came to me one morning in the shower right after a time of studying for the trip. The Scripture was Habakkuk 3: 17 – 19 which says:

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
    and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
    and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
    and the cattle barns are empty,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
    I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
    He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
    able to tread upon the height

If I were to put this is today’s language it would say something like this:

Even though I have no money in my bank account,

And I have no idea how I am going to pay for groceries,

Even though my family life is in ruins and my car won’t start,

Even though the doctor has given me a bad report and I don’t know what the future holds,

YET I will rejoice in the Lord!

I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

The sovereign Lord is my strength!

He makes me not only able to stand firm like a deer on a steep mountain,

He also helps me to walk through it without slipping.

My word came for 2017 as well. There were actually two of them. The words were “more” and “healing”.

 

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Our missions team. This is the third trip I have led there. We live as one with our Jamaican brothers and sisters up in the bush. I will blog more about the trip later. ❤ Love each person in this picture. This was at an infirmary we visited. There is nothing like it in America. Very sad.

 

I felt the Lord speak to me that this coming year would have some challenges and from the beginning, I needed to determine that no matter what comes my way, I will be thankful to God and choose joy. Every day. How I walk and honor God in adversity is important. He will not let me slip and He will give me the leg strength to climb the mountains in my way. A couple weeks before Christmas I had my first mammogram. On Christmas Eve (after God had given me the Scripture) I received a letter that they found something suspicious and I needed further diagnostic testing. No phone call, just a letter. On December 27, nineteen of us from my church left for a missions trip to Jamaica. I was leading the team. The last phone call I made before boarding for Montego Bay and being off the grid for ten days, was to schedule further testing when I got home. I didn’t think much about it while I was gone. The trip was physically challenging and very busy. And healing was a primary focus of the trip. God taught us a lot. It was an amazing time. God did so much in and through the team.

The Monday after I got back from Jamaica, I had further testing done. The doctor informed me that what they saw required a biopsy to be scheduled. I have microcalcification in my right breast. More than likely it is not cancerous. Even if it is, it will have been caught so early that all that will need to be done is surgery removing the area affected with no chemo or radiation. I was very surprised. Breast cancer does not run in my family. Diabetes, heart disease, and alcoholism 😉 do, but not breast cancer. My biopsy is next week.

I am not afraid or overly worried. I am surprised. And frustrated. I don’t have time for this. It has made me think through some things. I have always loved life. The great poet of our day, Bruce Springsteen, has a line in one of my favorite songs, Badlands, that states, “For those who had a notion, a notion deep inside, that it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive”. Earlier in the song he sings, “Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king, and a king ain’t satisfied until he rules everything”. I think Bruce’s point is to enjoy where you are. Don’t keep wishing for more. You end up wishing your life away. Be glad you’re alive. Enjoy the moment. Enjoy hanging with your kids instead of doing the dishes. Stop and appreciate a sunset. Count the blessings you have, not fixating on what you don’t have.  I truly am grateful every day to be alive. I think because I have lost so many family members and have walked through the valley of the shadow of death numerous times and grief has been a constant companion to me that I have learned cherish life. I am not in a hurry to get out of here. I know the purpose for which I was born has not been completely fulfilled.  And there are still so many dreams that I believe God has given me. A couple of months ago, Pastor Jim was talking about a picture God had given him during worship. It was a picture of someone wringing out a towel or a sponge. You know when you spill water and you are cleaning it up, you have to wring the water out so you can fill up with more water? That’s the picture of how God wants us to live our lives. He wants us to wring out every possible purpose, plan, and gift He gives us. Nothing is wasted. He wants to get the most out of our lives. I want to get the most out of my life so I can give it away.

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So this year I have started telling people what I admire and appreciate about them. (Some of my family and friends have already received sappy texts or cards or a Facebook message from me). When I get good service at a restaurant, I am emailing the manager. I wanted to hug my doctor today when I saw him, but I thought that might be inappropriate ;). And you know those thoughts you sometimes have when you notice a kind act? “Wow, that was sweet” “He’s a good man” “She’s a great mom” but we never say them? I am choosing to say them. In the moment. I think 2017 may be filled with a lot of kumbaya moments 😉 I am choosing kindness and joy over hate and despair. I am choosing to learn once again what it means to die to myself and live for Jesus and others.

I marvel on how back in July how God got my attention to begin to take care of my body.If it were not for that two-year plan, I probably would not have had the physical and mammogram done this year. I marvel at the people He has strategically placed in my life to help me along the way…my doctor, my professors, Vinnie Tortorich (the NSNG guru)…and the list goes on. I pray and thank God for them daily.

No matter what happens this year, I am thankful for Jesus and this amazing life He has given me, I will daily choose joy and love over despair and hate. I will wring every moment of this life God has so graciously given me. Will you join me?

Mid-Life Crisis: Good or Bad?

I have been thinking a lot about mid-life crises. By definition, a mid-life crisis is an emotional crisis of identity and self-confidence that can occur in early middle age. I witnessed a good friend of mine go through one years ago leaving a wake of destruction in its aftermath. I have seen others go through them successfully. I don’t think mid-life crisis are bad things unless handled badly. I think there is something healthy about reassessing your life periodically. I tend to be extremely introspective. One of my life mottos is “If you’re not growing, you’re dying”. It hangs in my office so it must be true. 😉 Scripture talks about examining ourselves in several places. An examined life is a healthy life.

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I think I have been pondering it because over the past two months I have had four different people say something to me that struck a chord. Two of the four were in the form of a question and the other two were observations about my life. Three out of the four were basically asking the same thing, “What are you doing with your life?” They obviously took root and have been germinating in my spirit. I honestly believe God is trying to get me to see something so I can grow. My daily prayer is to be more like Jesus in all areas of my life and to daily walk out the good works He has for me (Ephesians 2:10). These are prayers He delights in answering.

Before I get to the four things people have said to me, let me give a little back-story. In July I began to work on my Masters in Strategic Leadership. I have wanted to continue my education for years. The idea of going into debt did not appeal to me at all. I had a friend tell me that I needed to not look at it as going into debt but as an investment in my future. That resonated with me so I went for it. And I am so glad that I did. Our first class and residency were on the personal life of a leader. The premise is if you are going to be a great leader, you need to be able to lead yourself well. How can you lead others if you cannot lead yourself? We learned a lot of great theory and practical tools in that class. We talked a lot about finishing well: life and ministry. We had to identify what would keep us from finishing well. My two areas were physical and financial health. Our final paper was thirteen pages. The last two pages had to be a personal growth plan for the next two years (the duration of the MASL program). It was a painful process. But healthy and life-giving.

I have two goals to be physically and financially fit by 50. There are concrete goals that I am working on. I will probably blog more on these two areas in the future. Needless to say, after scheduling an appointment with my doctor and some very frank and honest conversation, he set me on the right path of cutting out sugar and grains. I have lost 30 pounds in twelve weeks and feel the best I have in my life. I have a way to go but the accountability and desire are there. I do not want my body to give out on me before my mind and my dreams. Finishing well means taking care of the one body God has given me to do all He has called me to do.

I read a quote somewhere that said, “Men with dead eyes, dead hearts, just waiting for the rest of their bodies to catch up and die as well.” I don’t want to be like that. I think when we hit mid-life, we can choose to tread water (security) until retirement, thinking then we will do what we want or we choose to continue to take risks and grow in the present. We cannot wait for someday to do what God has put in our hearts to do.

In September, Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography came out. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge, huge fan. There was a companion album that came out with it. The album had a tag line describing it as, “a hard-working Jersey boy living out his wildest dreams”. I wrote in my journal, “Am I living out my wildest dreams? What are my wildest dreams?” God has given me so many.

At the church I serve at, we are going through some restructuring. It is healthy and exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time. I love it! In September, I met with our youth pastor to discuss a change in roles and responsibilities. He would be taking some of mine and we were discussing what that would look like and where I would fit into all of that. He asked me the first question that has been causing me to think about the next season of my life. It came the day after I had read the tagline from Bruce’s album. He asked, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” He’s 26. I’m 46. And he so hit the nail on the head. (Side note: our future is in good hands. God is raising up a generation that can fix the things we have messed up. Do not fret! Our best days are ahead!) I have done about everything in church life from children to youth to missions to women to senior pastoring to pastoral care and I love it all. I am living out my wildest dreams. But I sense God is refining my wildest dreams (I am sounding like a Taylor Swift song). I have said from the time I graduated from college that I want to do it all before I die. I wanted to experience every aspect of ministry and life. But I feel God is doing a refining.

In pursuit of living a healthier lifestyle, my doctor encouraged me to listen to some podcasts. There’s a guy I have been listening to plus reading his stuff. The information is so good and makes so much sense. It’s all about the why you should not eat sugar and grains. It has changed my life. I am convinced God has used this to save my life. I believe we will look back on white sugar and it will be this generation’s version of nicotine. My mom and dad’s generation started smoking in the day in which nicotine was “good” for you. It wasn’t until the 70s the government admitted how terrible nicotine was for you. White sugar is killing us. Our health care system will break under the weight of our obesity not the Affordable Health Care Act (though that needs help, too).

I have struggled with my weight my entire life. I remember being in seventh grade and starving myself. I would eat an apple a day because you know what they say, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. I have lost the same sixty pounds five times during my life. I have done Weight Watchers, the cabbage soup diet, Atkins, South Beach, counted calories, and on and on. I was honestly quite concerned that I had permanently messed up my metabolism with all the yo-yo dieting. I was on the phone with one of my sisters talking about this new way of eating and working on my Masters. And she said the next thing that made me think. She said, “Heidi, any goal you have ever set, you always achieve it. You do whatever you set your mind to do. You are great at setting goals and meeting them. You are driven. Your problem is once you achieve it, you are lost, and you don’t know what to do with yourself.” That hit me like a ton of bricks. I am so thankful I have people in my life who are honest with me. God uses them to push me and examine my life.

As a result of my conversation with my sister, I began to think through my new lifestyle of eating. I was not viewing it as a diet but I knew eventually I would. What could I do now to prevent slipping back into my old behavior? The guy I have been listening to on the podcast offers paid consults. I have never done anything like that in my life. And remember my goal of being financially fit by 50? This did not fit into the budget. But I knew I needed to do something different if this was going to be lasting so I scheduled it. And I am so glad I did. He was so incredibly helpful. He was firm but genuinely caring. It was like having a personal trainer to get you started. The only way I can describe him is he is the Howard Stern of fitness. Growing up Strickler prepared me for that 😉 He asked me a question on the consult when I told him I was working on my Masters (he wanted a snapshot of my life…age, height, weight, what your schedule was like, etc). He seemed shocked that I was going back to school at 46. I thought it was normal. He asked, “What made you go back for your Masters at the age of 46?” The emphasis was on the age. I never once thought about my age when deciding whether or not I was going to go back for my Masters. It was always money and time. I never want to get intellectually lazy. And I don’t want to coast on what I have learned previously. We are to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, all of our strength, all of our souls, and all of our minds. And I think it is part of whatever God has for me in the future.

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The last incident that happened was a dear friend called me a couple of weeks ago to inform me he had re-married. I jokingly said, “Maybe it’s time for me to think about getting married.” I remember a couple of years ago I woke up one day and thought, “How did I end up at the age 44 not married?” I knew I never wanted children but marriage had always been an option. I just never thought about it much until two years ago. Life has been so fun and so full and time just marched on and before you knew it, here I am. His reply to me was, “You have such a unique life, and it would be hard for someone to come alongside it.” In my journal that night, I wrote, “It (his statement) caused me to think what am I doing with my life?” At first, it stung. That statement made me feel like a freak. For a nano second. In the end, it caused me to appreciate the uniqueness of my life. I have never been lonely. I have amazing friends and family. The community I get to live in and serve is full of great people. I am not rich in material things but I am with the things that matter (now I feel like I’m going all George Bailey on you).

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As I contemplate those four incidents, I am so filled with excitement. God says in His Word, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

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Re-assessing your life mid-way through can be a good thing. It becomes a crisis when you fill it with things that will rob your soul and hurt those around you. The self-examined life is the healthy life.

 

 

 

 

 

Baseball & Believeland

If you live in Northeast Ohio, you know that the Cleveland Indians are in the World Series…the first time since 1997.

My love for the Cleveland Indians stems from my childhood. Cleveland Indians baseball playing in the background was the soundtrack of my childhood summers. My mom would sit on the back picnic table listening to the game on the radio, drink Pepsi, chain smoke while keeping box scores of EVERY. SINGLE. GAME. Every year she would say, “This is the year the Indians win the pennant.” And she believed it.

The names Herb Score, Andre Thornton, Joe Charboneau (remember the song, “Go, go Charboneau…he’s Cleveland’s rookie of the year”), Mike Hargrove (the human rain delay), Len Barker, Joe Carter, Julio Franco, Toby Harrah, Brook Jacoby, Duane Kuiper, Rick Manning, Pat Tabler just to name a few were common names heard in my house. Buddy Bell was her all-time favorite player.

She passed away the summer of 1987.

 

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Me and my mom a month before she passed away.

 

I fell more in love with Cleveland baseball in the 90s. This was the era of Sandy Alomar Jr., Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez (he made me laugh with his antics), Carlos Baerga , Jose Mesa, Charles Nagy, Kenny Lofton, Eddie Murray and my all-time favorite play, Omar Vizquel. I was able to go to spring training with my sister and brother-in-law when the Indians were in Winter Haven, Florida. So fun.

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I still have my Omar Vizquel socks..and t-shirt… ❤ 

In 1995, the Indians made it to the World Series for the first time since 1948. I was a junior in college in Virginia. My sister, Nancy, called me at school and said she had an extra ticket to game 3 of the World Series. My brother-in-law could not go. Did I want to go? DID I WANT TO GO? The game was Tuesday, October 24, 1995. I got up early that Tuesday morning drove 450 miles to my sister’s house. My dad came to her house so I could see him for a couple of hours before we went to the game.

I thought of my mom as they raised the American League pennant at the game. I remember feeling overwhelmed by emotion, wishing she could actually see it happen. The Indians won that night in 11 innings by a score of 7 to 6. When they scored the winning run, I remember the Jake going crazy. The place was electric. Strangers were hugging. It was incredible.

 

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We got back late to my sister’s house. I got up early again the next morning and drove 450 miles back to school. It. Was. Worth. It.

The Indians did not win the World Series that year. The Atlanta Braves did.

Two years later, the Indians returned to the World Series against the Florida Marlins. I had only been in ministry six months. I remember for game 7 I had strep throat but my boss made me go to an appreciation banquet the church was having for us because no one would believe I was really sick. He thought everyone would think I was faking it to stay home and watch the game. I wasn’t. The antibiotics I received the next day were proof. He recently apologized to me for that. Ha! I am still bitter about that series. It went to game 7. The Indians lost in the 11th inning. I cried. I was mad, as well. What frustrated me most about this series was the Marlins assembled a team for a year to simply win a championship. They dismantled the team the following year whereas the Indians had systematically built a strong team through time and their farm system. I am still really bitter. 😉 I have really strong opinions about loyalty and the purity of baseball. That’s what I love about this year’s Cleveland Indians. There are no real superstars. It is a team working together to get the job done.

The Cleveland Indians are the underdogs this year. That’s okay. The Cleveland Cavs came back when they were down 3 – 1 to win the world championship. The Cavs winning did something for Northeast Ohio’s psyche. It broke something. Some people say a curse…I don’t know what it is but it’s tangible and real.

This is our year. There is a pride and solidarity that comes with being from Northeast Ohio. I have not seen it in other parts of the country. A feeling of camaraderie and brotherhood that comes from going through battle together through the leanest of years. Watching Cleveland rebuild itself and rise from the ashes from the time the Cuyahoga River caught on fire and was called the Mistake on the Lake, through our tough sports years (the Drive, the Fumble, the Shot, Art Model taking the Browns out of Cleveland to Baltimore in the cloak of night) until now is inspiring and something we all should be proud of. Downtown is bustling. When the Republican National Convention came to town this summer, Cleveland shined brightly. The friendliness and unity were a beacon. After a few days, the professional protestors from both sides realized they could not get anything started so they moved on to Philadelphia, leaving our city the way they found it…full of pride and peace.

I guess after watching the Indians win game 1 of the World Series, I am feeling nostalgic. A family friend from childhood said to me tonight through Facebook, “your mom is keeping score”. I miss my mom. I am grateful for the love of baseball she instilled in me. And the optimism. She really did believe every year was THE year. I am also grateful for where I grew up. I love where I live (harsh winters and all). I especially love the people. Northeast Ohioans are gritty, tough, outspoken, fun, and optimistic. This is our year, Believeland.

Readers are Leaders…Or are they?

I am rethinking one of my favorite sayings. “Leaders are readers.” Not all readers are leaders but I have never met a good leader who doesn’t read a lot. I have heard this a lot in the circles of church leadership development that I run in. And it is true, leaders are readers but I don’t believe it is in the way we think. When I hear this or say it myself, it gives people a sense that they must only read leadership or spiritual development books. And there are SO MANY books out there on leadership development. And I am reading a lot of them since I started working on my Masters of Strategic Leadership in July. I think what is meant when we say leaders are readers is that a characteristic of a good leader is someone who reads a lot of different types of books. It’s kind of like the age old question…what came first? The chicken or the egg? Does reading a lot make good leaders or do good leaders read? I think of reading as a characteristic of a good leader, not necessarily a prerequisite. Reading develops critical thinking and gives us different perspectives and expands our mind.

I love reading and writing.  I don’t just want to read about life, I actually want to live it and I don’t want to just write about life, I want to experience it. There is a balance in all things. I am trying to maintain a balance between reading, writing, and living (with school, reading is winning right now ;).

I have composed a list of my favorite books. I thought I would share and would love to hear some of your favorite books.

  1. The Bible – no book has changed my life like this has. It has shown me who God is, what He has done for me and how He wants me to live my life. I am in this book daily.
  2. Elie Wiesel’s Night. All of the books I had read on the holocaust before this book mentioned the atrocities of the concentration camps and loss of loved ones but always highlighted the hope and the good that came out of it. This book made me see the reality of the evil and terrible things that happened inside the concentration camps. I believe every high school student should read this. Mankind is capable of great evil. 9780553272536-us-300
  3. The Nancy Drew books -I know this sounds silly. Of all the books to be able to make it to the top 10, these make it? (I still have all the hardcover books.) I read them all multiple times as a kid/pre-teen. The hero of the story was a GIRL who could think  and solve problems on her own. She was also brave and independent. I was going through an exercise a few months back in a book I was reading and realized the significant impact these books had on me. I could be the heroine of my own life.
  4. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. He is my favorite author. This is the first book I read after I became a Christian besides the Bible. He impacted me profoundly. I discovered Christians do not have to check their brain at the door. Christianity really is a thinking person’s religion. Faith and the brain are compatible. We are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our MIND, and all of our strength. Lewis also introduced me to apologetics. 927275-_uy200_
  5. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I try to read this series every couple of years. He was brilliant with apologetics, science fiction, and fiction. The allegories and spiritual truths portrayed in these books are phenomenal. I never get tired of reading these books. My favorite quotes come from them.
    1. “Aslan,” said Lucy. “You’re bigger.” “that is because you are older, little one,” answered he. “Not because you are?” “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.” Prince Caspian
    2. All their life in this world and all their adventures had only been the cover and title page: now at last they were beginning chapter one of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever in which every chapter is better than the one before.  The Last Battle
    3. “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…” “come further up, come further in.”
    4. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you!” The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. img_0646bookbox2.jpg
  6.  How People Grow by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. This book has had more impact on me in my ministry and view of how people grow spiritually than any other book I have read. The one issue as a pastor I have always struggled with is why do some people really get what it means to follow Jesus and live a full, productive, joyful life while others remain stuck. This was life to me.yhst-20550167876698_2167_8150648
  7. Risk is Right by John Piper. His teaching on the supremacy of God and finding satisfaction in God that leads to joy have deeply impacted me. In this short pamphlet, Mr. Piper teaches on taking risks and Romans 8. So good. I have probably bought and given away 20+ copies of this book.4369a1167ecd879969b6075e83738285
  8. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I am a romantic at heart. This may surprise many but it is true. A couple of summers ago, I read through every book Jane Austen wrote. I loved every single one of them though this will always be my favorite. prideprejudice423x630
  9. Love Does by Bob Goff. I read this book about two years ago. It is a story of an ordinary man and how he chooses to live his life actually loving people instead of just talking about it. He lives such a BIG life. This book set into motion a lot of things for me. I took some risks and made some changes. I also became a stalker of his and got him to speak on a conference call to a WIML group I was helping lead at the time. I have bought this book over 10 times to give away. 41sigmrxqal-_sy344_bo1204203200_
  10. Winds of War/War and Remembrance by Hermann Wouk. He also wrote The Caine Mutiny but these are the two books of his that I absolutely loved. He wrote them in the 70s. I read them both in the mid-80s as a teenager. The first book is about the lead up to World War 2 (I love history). The sequel is about the war, the holocaust (which is why he said he wrote the book),  and the birth of Israel as a nation. These books have stuck with me since then. f0bbdcc0bdd0cb5c04d9c5302f6c08ce
  11. Honorable Mention: These next two books I have read in the past year and have made me think. Time will tell if they remain in my top 12. I think they will. The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt. This book is mom and son e-mailing back and forth getting to know one another later in life. It made me wish I could have known my mom better. And there is a quote that has resonated with me. It is Gloria who writes it. She says                                                                                         “I find it reassuring knowing the rainbow comes and goes. It helps me accept the way things often are. In every life, you have moments of blinding beauty and happiness, and then you land in a dark cave and there is no  color, no sky. Then the rainbow returns, sometimes only briefly, but it always does come back. You have to believe that it will, even in the darkest of times. That belief is what is really important. Nothing is meant to last forever. Our lives are fleeting. We surround ourselves with objects, collect things, try to hold on to people and money and status, but it doesn’t last. We are not meant always to be happy, and who would want to be? Happiness would become meaningless if it were a constant state. If you accept that, then you will not be surprised when something bad occurs, you will not gnash your teeth and ask, “Why me? Why has this happened to me?” It has happened to you because that is the nature of things. No one escapes. The rainbow comes and goes. Enjoy it while it lasts. Don’t be surprised by its departure, and rejoice when it returns. There is much to be joyful about, so many different kinds of rainbows in one’s life: making love is an incredible rainbow, as is falling in love; knowing friendship; being able to really talk with someone who has a problem and say something that will help; waking up in the morning, looking out, and seeing a tree that has suddenly blossomed, like the one I have outside my window-what joy that brings. It may seem a small thing, but rainbows come in all sizes….the searching, that’s what I think life is really all about. Don’t you? 27859751
  12. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. This book is so good. It is about a shepherd boy going on an adventure to find his personal legend (follow his dream). Such a powerful allegory with an incredible twist in the end. A personal legend is,               “It’s what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their Personal Legend…There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” 9780062315007_p0_v2_s192x300

So what are some of your favorite books?

 

Beach Encounters

September is a busy month for me. I was in Pennsylvania this weekend speaking at a women’s retreat. I got home yesterday afternoon and had to write a three-page paper by midnight. I think I finally fell into bed about one in the morning, exhausted. This week is a busy one as well with Women’s Bible study starting back up and a Variety Show at our church on Sunday evening for missions plus another three-page paper due on Sunday (I love this pace…so not complaining).

I planned on sleeping in but I remembered I needed to go order my glasses…(I am wiping away a tear as I mourn the deterioration of my eyesight). I also looked at the forecast and saw today was supposed to be gorgeous. Summer is slowly fading away and I did not want to waste one minute of this amazing weather. So I decided that after I did my errands, I would head to the beach. The beach has been my haven this summer. I do some of my best thinking (and resting) there. My last blog was inspired by one of my  visits to the beach.

Since I had to go to a different city to order my glasses I decided to go to a different beach. I am so glad I did! When I got to the beach, there was hardly anyone there. School is back in session so weekdays are pretty desolate at the beach. The birds outnumbered the people about 100 to 1. Lake Erie was so blue and was like a sea of glass.

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Lake Erie was like so blue and clear and like glass.

I found my spot, put my blanket on the sand and grabbed my books out of my bag. I really intended to get some homework done (and I did…just not very much).

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Ready to soak up some rays.

Not too far from me were two older men and a woman.  As I was reading, I could not help but hear their conversation. The wind was blowing right. I knew they were about 67 because one commented on how the summer of 66 was his best ever. He was 17.  I did the math because I was curious (or nosey…take your pick). They were in such great shape. At one point they were playing frisbee like teenagers in the sand. One of them dove into the sand to catch it! I was beyond impressed.

As I listened to them talk, one of the men was recounting a story of a time he had a near death experience by drowning. It was very intense. He said he blacked out for three minutes and during that time everything that ever happened to him and everything that was going to happen to him flashed before his eyes. The lady asked him, “So what’s going to happen to you? What did you see?”

His answer was simple but profound.

“I’m going to live until I die.” 

And they were living this. Have you ever known people you wish you could get to know better? Their zest for life and joy is a magnet? Maybe, just maybe, if you spend enough time with them, you’ll catch it through osmosis?

I texted my niece and told her about these three cool older people I was watching. I told her I was working my nerve up to go talk to them. I am the opposite of shy. Her response “DO IT DO IT”. But I didn’t want to freak them out.

While they were playing frisbee and I was gathering up the nerve to introduce myself, we all noticed an eagle. He was circling the shoreline fishing. Everyone stopped what they were doing to watch this amazing sight. After a few minutes, the eagle finally dove headfirst into the lake and came out victorious with a fish in his claws. We applauded!!! It was amazing!!!

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The best picture I could capture on my phone of the eagle.

The eagle broke the ice. I marched myself over to their blanket and introduced myself. I confessed to eavesdropping. They introduced themselves as Klaus, Marilyn (they were married), and Chas. They were friends from their freshman year of high school. I asked them how old they were and told them how I hope I am like them at their age. They were feisty and adventurous. Chas commented on how he has some regrets. I assured him there is no room for regrets because everything up until that point has shaped him into the person he was today. They appreciated that perspective.  Chas said I sounded like I was in the military and the Klaus said I sounded like I was a pastor. 🙂

Their love of life and activity level and freshness of mind was inspirational. They were so grateful I came over. Klaus told me a story of how he almost caught Manny Ramirez’s ball in 1995 (for those Cleveland Indians fans). He is such a great storyteller. He wrote a poem about it. I gave him my address and he is going to send it to me.

Klaus showed me a book he was reading. It is very similar to the diet I have just switched to three weeks ago. Chas is already following it (and it shows). I told them the reason I switched is I want to be able to finish ministry and  life well. How I treat my body will be my biggest problem if I don’t get it together.

Klaus replied, “You have already finished well.” Tears sprang to my eyes.

I knew he meant me coming over and telling them I so appreciated their adventurous spirit and how they seemed to be living life to the fullest. Not everybody understands just because you body ages, your mind doesn’t have to nor your soul. When I see examples of it, it moves me to my core. Life is so short and fleeting.

Because of their example, I texted three of my closest friends from middle/high school just to say that I am praying for them, I am grateful for them, and I love them.

Because of their example, I resolved to continue to work hard to get my physical body fit.

Because of their example, I was glad to be alive.

 

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Next to Jesus, people/relationships are the biggest gift from God. I told these three that they would make my blog!

Jesus says he came to give us abundant life.  “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10:10)

I’m going to LIVE until I die. 

And like Klaus, I will hopefully be diving for frisbees at 67.

 

The Riptides of Our Lives

I have spent a lot of time swimming at the beach and floating on my raft this summer. Any time a couple of hours open up, I grab my swimsuit and head to the beach. I keep a blanket, towel, and raft in my car at all times.  It has been so hot and humid this summer that walking and biking have been replaced by swimming. Last Saturday, I had an unexpected few hours free so I thought I would go to the beach and swim and lay out for a couple of hours.

I have a routine when I get to the beach. I sit on my blanket for a while and watch the waves crash to shore. I also people watch. After I get hot enough, I take my raft and swim out to the buoy and then hop on my raft and drift back in. This usually takes me about 45 minutes.

There are markers I use to see if I am making progress. To my left is a flag pole, to my right is the break wall. There are three buoys straight ahead and I aim for the one on the left. Every other time I have come this summer, there have been white caps on the lake which makes it fun but tiring. I need my markers to see if I am making any progress. And sometimes the waves are so big, I can’t swim that far out.

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This particular day was perfect! It was hot with a slight breeze.  The sky was blue and white, fluffy clouds dotted the sky.There were lots of boats, jet skis, sailboats, and kayaks out on the water. Lake Erie appeared relatively calm. In fact, I made it out the buoy the quickest I have all summer.

Once out there, I hopped on my raft and began to drift like I always do. I watched the clouds rolling across the sky and listened to the jet skis and boats zip around the lake. The breeze was amazing. It was perfect. After a little time had passed,  I sat up on my raft to see how close I was to shore. I was surprised to find myself still by the buoy. I realized the current was keeping me out by the buoy. I was in a riptide. I slid off my raft and began to swim to shore. It was not happening. The current had me trapped where I was.

I was not panicking. Yet. I had my raft so I hopped back on and floated awhile longer. I began to notice I was drifting closer to the break wall. I realized I would probably end up hitting the break wall or getting sucked out further into the lake so I got serious about getting to shore.

I was on my raft kicking and making no progress. After awhile of this, I got a terrible cramp in my right calf. It was a Charlie horse kind of cramp, the type that wakes you up in the middle of the night screaming in utter agony. I had to stop and massage the cramp out. Once I did that, I assessed my situation. I realized I just needed to head towards the break wall and not worry about the rocks or whatever was living among the rocks of the break wall. Eventually, I could touch bottom and walked the rest of the way  to shore.

I collapsed on my blanket when I got to shore. My arms and legs were tired and sore. I looked at my phone and realized I had been trapped out there for an hour and forty-five minutes!!!!

As I laid on my blanket, looking up at the sky, I thought about how we get stuck in the riptides of our own circumstances. I thought about the times I was in over my head and never thought I would make it back to shore.

We get stuck in the riptide of  hopelessness. It overwhelms us and makes us want to quit swimming. We have  convinced ourselves this is how it will always be. 

We get stuck in the riptide of anger.  We are mad at God, mad at family, mad at friends, and mostly we are mad at ourselves. And we lash out at everyone around us. And we choose to stay stuck instead of forgiving and allowing ourselves to be forgiven.

We get stuck in the riptide of pride. We refuse to ask for help because of what others may think.  

We get stuck in the riptide of fear. We are so afraid of the “what-ifs” that it paralyzes us and makes us stop dreaming and taking risks. 

Jesus can get us back to shore. He truly is the lifeguard of our souls. He has given us everything we need to break through the riptides of our hopelessness, anger, pride, fear, and sin. We need to let go and trust Him to do it.

It took work to get me back to shore on Saturday.  My arms and calves were sore for a few days after my time stuck out on the lake. I was also sunburnt. All reminders of the cost of getting out of the riptide. The Cross is our reminder of the cost Jesus paid for us so we can get out of sin. Trust Him to bring you safely to shore.

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North shore of  Lake Erie: Main Street Beach at dawn.

 

 

 

What Makes Good Friday So Good?

Today is Good Friday. I have been reading my friend’s thoughts about this day on Facebook. So much of what I have been reading is encouraging. But what’s so good about today? Didn’t seem to be too good of a day for Jesus. I am reminded of a comment a friend of mine made when the movie “The Passion of the Christ” came out several years back.  We had been talking about the intensity of the beating Jesus took and how in the movie they would have to break away to a memory of Jesus  to give the audience a break from the horrific beating Jesus was taking.  I had said “the movie only captured a small portion of what Jesus went through. It was mild compared to the hours of relentless beating He actually took” My friend’s response “I don’t care how you look at it, but in the movie, Jesus got His ass kicked.” He was not being facetious. He was clearly shook.

I have been thinking about that conversation a lot this week. Jesus did get way more than just His ass kicked on Good Friday. He was separated from the Father, ripped from the Trinity, forsaken, deserted spit upon and mocked. For us. For me. For you.

I don’t know fully know what it cost Jesus and will never fully understand the sacrifice He made. My Pastor always says when we get to heaven, we will clearly see Jesus gave up something, the price will be more felt and understood by us. Jesus did it so I can live life fully, freely and forgiven. He did it through the Cross.

He hung on the Cross for each time I hurt another person. Each time I gossiped. He was beat for the times I hated my mom and refused to forgive her. He died for the times I have sinned sexually. He was mocked for the lies I told, for the times I chose what I wanted at the expense of others. He was separated from the Father for times I spent money I didn’t have to fill emptiness that could never be filled. He died so the addictions in my life could be broken. And He died for the wrongs done TO me.  And the list goes on and on.

Jesus took it all and rose from the grave three days later as proof the sacrifice was accepted by God. The power that raised Him to life, now lives in me.

So I don’t beat myself up. That is not the point of the Gospel or what Jesus wants. Jesus died so I could be restored to relationship with Him and with others. He wants me to be grateful and to take full advantage of the love God lavished on us. To try to earn it or feel guilty about it is not honoring to Jesus or what He did on the Cross.

Shame, guilt, and condemnation have no room in my life. To wallow in any of these is to live way below what Jesus accomplished on the Cross.

Good Friday. Good for me. My whole life rests on this day. My foundation, my starting point. The price paid on this day makes everything else possible. This amazingly, wonderful, beautiful life I have starts here — at the Cross of Christ. My forgiveness comes from here and the power to do what He has called me to do.

My response? Gratitude, awe, thanksgiving. And a determination to make my life count.

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Cross of St. Mary’s

 

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Cross on Lake Erie outside of town.

 

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Cross at Camp McPherson

Keep Dreaming

“I dream a lot and I hope one day some of them come true.” Journal entry from June 11, 1986 by 16-year-old Heidi.

This weekend I am speaking at a youth winter camp. I am excited and nervous. The theme of the camp is “Encounter”. I will be speaking from Ephesians 2. The first evening I will be sharing my story of when I first encountered Jesus. As I was preparing,  I dug out my old journals. I spent an afternoon revisiting my 14, 15, and 16-year-old self. It was very enlightening, sad, encouraging, and funny all at the same time.

I read of my first concert to see Bruce Springsteen at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. I read of heartbreak from unrequited love and drama with my friends (there is NOTHING new under the sun). I read of the turmoil in my home life. I read of my coming to Jesus and how He completely changed my life. I also read it was not as easy as I remember to follow Him. I watched my life as a follower of Jesus unfold. I teared up at the pain of some of the friendships and things I lost. I swelled with pride as I watched a completely unchurched girl persevere and make tough decisions to follow hard after Jesus. It definitely was not pretty or graceful or perfect but it was real and honest and raw and full of love for Jesus.

And on June 11th, 1986 in the midst of teenage angst,I penned these words: “I dream a lot and I hope one day some of them come true.” With the following Scripture “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” written after it.

Before this entry was an entry of concern for my dad’s health, below this entry was venting about my geometry and biology exam.

I wish I knew why 16-year-old Heidi wrote those words. What was she thinking in the midst of family stuff and high school exams?

There is a song by Rich Mullins called Home. It is one of my favorites. And I want it played at my funeral (many, many years from now 😉 . In it, he sings;

What I’d have settled for
You’ve blown so far away
What You brought me to
I thought I could not reach
And I came so close to giving up
But You never did give up on me

God has blown the dreams of a 16-year-old girl away. He has allowed me to do far above and beyond what I thought was possible.

I wish I could explain how important it is to dream. To take risks. To dare to believe life could be more than we think it could. To believe we can make a difference.

I wish people knew the dream giver…Jesus. And how He wants to help us reach for things so much bigger than us. And how life is meant to be lived fully.

Dreaming is important to me. I am currently looking for songs which speak of dreaming. I am printing out the lyrics as I come across them and am keeping them in the folder of a class I teach on helping others discover their purpose and dreams. There is in all of us a desire to do great things. It is God given.

I still dream. A lot. I still hope one day some of them will come true. I hope 56, 66, 76, and 86 year Heidi is still saying the same thing.

 

Bike & Baggage

A few weeks back I began chronicling the adventures I had this summer and the lessons learned. Once I began writing I realized one blog would not be enough. This is the fourth and last installment. I am ready to leave summer behind me and embrace all God has for me this fall. Ministering in Africa and North Carolina are just a few of the things to come!

At the beginning of the summer,  I went for a 17 mile bike ride on a trail not far from my house. The trail extends from rural Kipton, Ohio to the city of Elyria. It is a gorgeous ride. The trail winds through farmland, woods, a golf course, the city of Oberlin plus more. I usually pack a lunch, take my Bible and journal and ride to the city of Oberlin and eat lunch and read and write in a park in Oberlin. I decided to go further along the trail before turning around and heading back.

Scenes from the Kipton Trail

Scenes from the Kipton Trail

On the way back, I got tired so I stopped at CVS (a drug store) to get crackers and something to drink. I ended up buying two facial washes, a huge bottle of body lotion (they were on sale) plus two drinks. Mind you, I still had five miles to go and the grade is higher going back. These purchases added an extra 5 pounds.

It made no sense for me to buy facial wash and body lotion on a scenic, long bike ride.

Not one of my brightest moves.

As I was peddling my heart out with an added five pounds of baggage, I thought about my walk with Jesus and the Scripture I had just read in the letter to the Philippians. Chapter 2, verse 14 said “Do all things without grumbling or complaining.”

Early summer was the end of a tough season for me. I was tired. Spiritually and physically. And frustrated. And angry.  Did I mention how tired I was? Bone-weary tired.  When I’m tired I end up picking up stuff/baggage I don’t need.  I begin to think in my heart “this is too hard, this season is going to kill me, I have it harder than anyone else, God where are you?” I had picked up grumbling and complaining.

I had to stop my bike and pray. And confess and apologize to the Lord for my current frame of mind and how I had been acting.

It was amazing. Once I confessed, peace and joy flooded my soul. This act of confession and repentance set me up for one of the best summers of my life. God was able to move in and through me once I put the baggage down. The ride has been smoother and easier and way more fun and fruitful!

What have you picked up? What is weighing you down in your walk with the Lord? What is God asking you to lay down so you can freely live this life He has given you with joy and peace? Confession is really good for the soul.

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