The Merry-Go-Round Mind

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life…Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” Matthew 6:25-26

I love going on walks through my neighborhood. There’s this one place called the “wetlands.” When I was growing up, (I live in the same neighborhood as when I was younger), the road passed through a swampy area where various animals lived, including beavers who cleverly crafted dams for passerbys to enjoy. It’s so beautiful, especially in autumn when you can see beyond the wetlands to all the beautiful foliage. I always slow down there during my walks for a minute or two, but the other day was different.

I went for a walk because my mind was swirling and spinning about things going on in my life. Often it happens to me as work, writing, emails, phone calls, appointments, and school schedules all fight for the forefront. This day, however, I had really only one thing on my mind. Yet still my mind spun, around and around, like it was on a merry-go-round that had an explosion in the control panel, destroying the off switch.

As I started downhill on my way to pass the wetlands for the second time, I pumped my arms in an attempt to will my legs to catch up to the speed of my mind. I didn’t even realize this was happening, and yet as my legs went faster, my mind sped up. What a sight I must have been! As I approached the bottom of the hill, though, I heard that familiar still, small voice. It said, “slow down.” Slow down? My first response was no way. I can’t. I’m on a mission. I need to keep walking. And thinking. And walking. And thinking. But I slowed down. Ok, God. You know better than me.

“More.” What?!  It took all the strength I had but I forced myself to slow down even more. As I slowed my pace, I found my mind slowing as well. I approached the wetlands and that’s when I heard it. God was speaking to me through the sounds of nature. The birds sang, the crickets chirped, and God showed me something very important that day.

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Does It Matter What We Think? The thoughts that swirled through my mind on the walk that day were not bad thoughts. They weren’t evil, or unkind. But they consumed me. God showed me through that experience how important it is to train our minds to slow down and focus on Him and His glory, whether it’s a beautiful sunset, a field of flowers, or the animals speaking into the quiet air. Jesus continues the verses above, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (vs. 28-29) God created these things for us to enjoy, but I would’ve missed it all that day if I didn’t slow down and jump off the merry-go-round.

Has God ever spoken to you through His natural creations? I’d love to hear about it!

Does Your Breath Stink?

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” Psalm 150:6

Nurses are always surprised when I give them my list of medications whenever I go to the doctor. Why? Because my list consists of a few natural supplements and nothing more. Overall I’m a very healthy person. Recently, however, I’ve had a little hiccup, or mini crisis, where my health is concerned. I say mini crisis because for someone who has struggled with their thoughts, to find themselves all of a sudden having a difficult time taking a deep breath throughout the day, what might be a small blip that needs to be ironed out can quickly grow into a full-blown panic attack.

“Just relax and take a deep breath.” Right. That doesn’t work when the whole reason for the attack is that you can’t take a deep breath. After some testing I was put on an “as needed” inhaler for “environmental” reactions. Whatever that means. And being someone who can’t think on the spot, I did not have many questions for the doctor when she called me with the results. I was just so relieved to hear I didn’t have lung cancer and that it wasn’t anything structural, (I know, I’m a bit over the top), that I neglected to put on my common sense hat.

Since then things have gotten sorted out (for the most part), but through it God showed me something amazing. (Why is it that we usually learn the greatest lessons from such difficult trials?) One Sunday in church during my struggle we sang a song, Great Are You Lord. It contains a verse that says, “it’s Your breath, in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to You.” That’s when it struck me. God is breathing His own breath into my lungs, not my own! A week or so after that revelation was when the first panic attack struck. I had been having difficulty breathing and the panic attack didn’t help. God reminded me of the words to that song and I started to pray that He would breathe his breath into and through my lungs. As I meditated on that prayer, it didn’t take long for my body to respond to my confession!

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Does It Matter What We Think? How often do you take time to stop and just praise God for who He is and thank Him for all He has done? Maybe you believe in a God but have never thought about thanking Him for creating this beautiful earth for you to enjoy. For me, that’s something I’ve been consciously working on. As the days went by, God continued to show me things through this experience. My thoughts kept reverting back to the song we sang, and I realized that because I have God’s breath in my lungs, I can praise Him and thank Him. And in fact, I need to. It’s time to stop using my breath to speak negative thoughts and fears—in other words, “stinky breath,” and start acting obedient to the Psalm, “let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” I am filled with joy and love as I focus on praising Him and breathing His breath into my lungs.

Has there been a song that’s had a similar impact on your life? I’d love to hear about it!

The Grass is NOT Always Greener

“And He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

What’s your problem? We all have problems. Even Paul had problems. Lots of them. When the Lord said the above words to him, it was after Paul pleaded with Him to take away his problem three times. The Bible never tells us exactly what Paul’s big problem was, but what it does tell us is that it must have been so difficult that Paul had to plead with the Lord multiple times. Think for a second what it means to plead. My teenage son twisted his ankle the other day and we made him rest it because it was swollen and very painful. All afternoon he begged and pleaded with me to let him get up and move around. This super-energetic boy desperately wanted to be anywhere but confined to the couch.

One morning recently, I felt like Paul. Once again, I found myself lying on my living room floor feeling sorry for myself, asking God, no, crying to God, “God, why are you allowing me to go through these struggles?” Ever ask that? “Why me?”

It didn’t take long for me to feel the gentle yet stern voice of God in reply. My husband comes home to his family every night. Both of my children have good use of their legs, arms, eyes, ears, and bodies. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. While God allows us to go through trials, and in fact we are promised them, I was reminded that we all have our own problems, and what I am going through must be perfect for me, because His grace is sufficient for me. Just like His grace is sufficient for you and whatever struggle you’re going through right now.

The beautiful green lawn in the spring park

Does It Matter What We Think? We all know the old saying, “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.” Did you know it’s actually one of the ten commandments? Now I’m sure some of you, like me, learned the ten commandments as young children and remember them…mostly. The important ones, like, “do not murder,” or “do not steal,” right? Did you remember the tenth commandment—”you shall not covet your neighbor’s house… nor anything that is your neighbor’s?” (Exodus 20:17) I’m sure you might argue that is in the context of his house, his wife, his animals, all his material possessions. Maybe. But I don’t think it’s erroneous to apply it to everything. Including our neighbor’s struggles. Just like my son, when he pleaded with me, I heard him. However, as a parent, I know what’s best for him. God knows what’s best for each one of us and He wants us to grow and develop into the perfect person to carry out His perfect work for us. And that means allowing us all to go through different struggles. James encourages the early church to rejoice when trials come because ultimately, they make us, “perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:3) So I ask you again. What’s your problem? Allow yourself to rest in the fact that God knows your problem and His grace is sufficient for you to help you get through it. Don’t covet your neighbor’s problems, and just keep telling yourself that your trial is making you perfect and complete!

I’d love to hear from you: Have you ever wondered why God allowed you to go through a particular struggle? Have you ever wondered, “why me?”

Velcro Dog

“My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.” Psalm 63:8

20130910_193119 (2)This is our dog. Her name is Tess. And no, Tess is not normally allowed to use our dining room table as her own personal bed. She was mad at me. Yep, I committed the unthinkable – I went for a walk and didn’t take her with me! I know, some of you may call that spoiled. My children, (while they often profess that she is, in fact, spoiled), also have another name for it. They call her “Velcro Dog.”

A few days have gone by since I began to write this, and I am very sad to say that as I finish writing, our beloved Tess is no longer with us. She went peacefully home yesterday. And let me tell you, it’s been extremely difficult for me. As you could probably guess by now, she and I had a special bond. My husband told me he knew it was her time when I came home two different times in the same day and she didn’t get off the couch to greet me either time. She was like that. When I’d eat, she was there (and no, I did not feed her from the table). When I slept, she was there. And even when I would go into the bathroom, she was there. Now, while at times it was frustrating, I will admit that it felt good. Really good. I loved that feeling of being needed and loved. Now that she’s gone, I feel a deep emptiness.

But this experience has revealed a deeper truth to me than I would have had otherwise. The way I feel right now is the same way I believe God feels when we stray from Him. We may cling for a while, if we need something or things are going so well we promise to always trust Him, and then unconsciously we slip away. I wonder if He feels the same sadness and emptiness I’m feeling right now. He must. He considers us His children, and His friends.

Oswald Chambers, in his famous book My Utmost for His Highest, says in his August 4 devotional titled, The Brave Friendship of God, “The most important aspect of Christianity is not the work we do, but the relationship we maintain and the surrounding influence and qualities produced by that relationship. That is all God asks us to give our attention to, and it is the one thing that is continually under attack.”

Does It Matter What We Think? We must remember to cling to God always. We need to be like Velcro. How else can we effectively cultivate the relationship our loving Father wants to have with us if we are, instead of Velcro, like the duct tape my husband found loosely hanging on our garage recently? The glue had all melted because of the summer heat and it was like liquid. I don’t know about you, but I am very reassured knowing that God put me here to do His work and not my own, because I will always mess it up without Him. He loves us so, and He wants to be like Velcro with us no matter what we’ve done or what we will do. What’s keeping you from sticking?

A Chita Whaaat?

Mark 7:21-23 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Stimmungsvolles FeuerwerkOk, all you superhero fans. Anyone ever seen the first Avengers movie from 2012? Yes, I’m talking superheroes again. What can I say, they offer major life lessons!

Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, I’ll fill you in. Toward the end of the movie, as the climax approaches, war breaks out in NYC. Your typical superhero good guys try to (and always succeed) save the world from the evil monsters. We watch as this big, ugly, black, other-worldly serpent-like structure slithers its way into the atmosphere from somewhere beyond the clouds. It looks like a skeleton of the worst serpent you’ve ever seen, with hundreds of smaller creatures attached, representing the bones. I know, weird, but I’m not making this up. And fascinating enough, it has a name. Upon hearing me name it the big, ugly black thing that slithers through the sky, my son informed me it is called a chitauri.

Now, oddly enough, God gave me a vision of a chitauri one night. Here’s my journal entry. “God gave me this vision. This large, ugly serpant-like structure had several appendages that looked like bones. But they all broke away individually and left this bare rectangular piece-the core. Once the ugly parts fell away, I saw a priceless, beautiful gem set in the middle of the rectangle.”

Through that vision God revealed this truth to me: The priceless gem set deep within the core of the ugly chitauri is the beauty within me (and you). We only need to find a way to keep our ugly thoughts at bay, and not allow them to suffocate us. Wow! Think about that for a second. God has placed something so priceless within each one of us, but it’s up to us to let it shine.

Let’s go a step further. The gem was located deep inside the heart of the chitauri. Our hearts are extremely integral components of our thoughts.  Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” You know that old saying, “you are what you eat?” Same thing applies here. We are what we think. All those ugly, bony appendages latch to the core and begin to suffocate our hearts, dulling the bright gem and eventually destroying it if we allow our thoughts to stray too far. How are you responding to God in your heart, your mind, your life?

Does It Matter What We Think? This vision reminded me how important our thoughts are. Would you rather watch a movie with ugly, dark, snake-like creatures or a movie with bright, beautiful colors that sparkle and dazzle you, similar to beautiful fireworks that light up the night sky. Let that gem deep inside you shine brilliantly as you meditate on the good things. 2 Cor 10:5 of the Amplified Bible says, “We are destroying sophisticated arguments and every exalted and proud thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought and purpose captive to the obedience of Christ.” Are you ready to dazzle?

Be a Branch, Not the Vine

I thought I’d deviate a little this week. I originally wrote this post for the American Christian Fiction Writers website blog, but I thought it just as appropriate for our daily lives as it is for writers. I hope you enjoy!

Jesus instructs us in John 15, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing.”

New York Minute Book CoverWhy is it that we (ok, I) read verses like this one and automatically establish boundaries around them? Surely Jesus didn’t mean everything. He doesn’t care about what I write. Actually, He does. God wants us to abide in Him in ALL things. Strong’s Concordance defines “abide” as to sit, or remain, to dwell. We all know what it means to dwell. When we sit and dwell, we are home. Jesus is saying we can’t do anything unless we live in Him. And what happens when we do? We bear much fruit!

Six years ago, when God inspired me to write my first book, The Longest New York Minute, I certainly had no idea what I was doing. The extent of my writing at that point were a few pieces of high school poetry and a short essay in honor of my deceased father-in-law. Then one day my ten-year-old daughter inquired about 9/11 and voila, a new career was launched after searching unsuccessfully for any related age-appropriate books.

As this idea began to form, I felt a great peace settle inside. It seemed as if God was saying, “As long as you abide in Me, you will succeed.” I grew more and more excited as I began researching and developing an actual story. This peace remained as I sat at my computer and prayed, handing over the entire project to God. It was He who inspired it in me, and He would need to be the One to bring it to fruition. Many times, as I sat, ready to work, however, I’d become frustrated or antsy. The words wouldn’t flow, my mind wandered, or distracted by laundry, dinner, on and on it went. I know you’re sitting there nodding, feeling my pain. It didn’t take me long to realize it was those days I forgot to abide in Him. I wasn’t sitting and remaining in Him, I was trying to do the “works” for myself. I became the vine. As a result, confusion and chaos reigned in my mind.

Now, I’m not saying that if we give every writing piece to God, it will land on the NY Times Bestseller List (or insert here any plans of ours). What I am saying is this; Jesus promised us that we will bear much fruit if we remain in Him. He didn’t say how long it would take or how He would accomplish it. After four long years, the book was finally completed and I’ve seen God do amazing work through it in the lives of young people as well as my own life. During the writing of my second book, Tapestry of Lies, I felt an even greater frustration than I’ve ever felt before in writing. After almost two years I felt stuck. I couldn’t get it right. Ready to give up, I cried out to God. With intense prayer and hard work, He brought me to a new level in my writing and crafted ideas I didn’t think possible!

These difficult times are the tests. How will we respond when our writing (or dream) isn’t going according to plan? God has placed these passions and desires in our hearts. I encourage you to abide completely in Him and let Him lead you on this incredible journey!

Does It Matter What We Think? Keep your thoughts focused on God always and remember He has great plans for you, and you will see them come to pass.

Honesty Is the Best Policy Part 2

“For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high and lofty thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…” 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

swordLast week I shared with you the history of where WAYT247 came from. Now it’s important to share with you how God is helping me overcome the lies of the enemy that still threaten to haunt me today. Regardless of the circumstance, I believe the tools I use are the same tools you need to overcome your own struggles. Before I continue, take a minute and think about your name. We all have one. You may love it, or you may hate it. But you’re stuck with it – well, unless you legally change it. Do you know what your name means? If you’ve never looked up the meaning of your name, stop reading this and find out. Don’t worry, it will only take 30 seconds with the amazing world of Google.

My name means courageous. The Irish go so far as to use the terms “warrior,” and “war-like.” I’d prefer to interpret that as passionate! Recently, when I was preparing to speak at an event, a friend of mine made an excellent observation. She noticed that the exact meaning of our name is very often the one area in which we are attacked the most. Isn’t that interesting? I was given a name that means courageous, yet for years my struggle has been fear and insecurity.

I know I’m digressing a bit, but I want to tell you why I spilled my guts about something very private and personal to me. After a scary health concern and the death of a close family member, my eyes were opened to a hard fact. Our time here is limited. We don’t know the day or the hour when our time on this earth will end. I realized I wanted – no, needed to make the most of the time I’ve been given here before it’s too late. Anyone seen I Can Only Imagine? The movie is based on real-life events of Bart Millard, lead singer of the band MercyMe. In the movie, Trace Adkins (love him!), who portrays Bart’s music producer Scott Brickell, has a heart-to-heart with Bart. He tells Bart that in order to make a great song, he should write one that portrays his hidden, painful past. He says, “write about it, but to do that you’ve got to face your fears.” There’s that courageous piece again. It was as if God had spoken to me there in that theater. I took a deep breath, gulped down my fears and insecurities, and wrote about the situation, trusting that if God was calling me to share this, He would take care of me.

Ok, so here’s our help. Last week I talked about the “devil poke”, or the one thing the devil uses against us because he knows our weaknesses. We have a choice when we feel that poke. We can either choose to dwell on it, thinking things that make us feel worse, OR we can decide to put on our armor (I talked about the armor of God a few posts back). The best way to use our armor when the devil attacks our minds with lies is to speak the truth. Joyce Meyer said in her book Battlefield of the Mind, “The Word (the Bible) coming forth out of a believer’s mouth, with faith to back it up, is the single most effective weapon that can be used to win the war against worry and anxiety.” Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

Here’s the problem I’ve found. In the book of Ephesians, Paul tells us to PUT ON the armor. That means that it’s not going to magically happen. The sword of the Spirit, or the Word of God, isn’t going to pull itself out of its sheath and attack the enemy. Nor is the shield of faith going to automatically thrust itself into our hands every time our faith is wavering. No, we have to actively do it. But sometimes, it’s just too difficult. I know! I’ve been there. The armor feels way to heavy to bear in that single battle. There have been days when I know if I just opened my mouth and started reciting some of the verses I have in my journal for when I need them, (or in other words, heave that mighty sword out of its sheath), then it wouldn’t take me long before I started believing the truth and fighting the lies of the enemy. Yet for some reason, I just can’t do it. It’s easier for me to lay on my bed and curl up into that safe and secure ball and cry. Sound familiar? I’m sure none of you have ever acted like that before. Well I have, and I carry on in this manner until I hear that small voice that says, “Get up, Tracy. You’re right. You can’t do this on your own, but that’s why you have Me. Lean on Me and I will be your strength.” As I continue to lean on God and depend on Him to help me during the down days, I find it easier and easier to confess and believe the truth about my life and the lies become less and less intimidating.

I can’t tell you how many good things have already come from this testimony. For starters, I told you in part 1 about the woman whose best friend was currently in the midst of the same situation. There was also another woman that day who approached me with such relief, knowing she wasn’t alone. I shared this at a retreat in May and I can’t tell you how many people were able to relate a single part of the story to their own lives. And lastly, a new book idea was born out of all this!

Does It Matter What We Think? In the verse above, the word “carnal” means of the flesh. The Bible clearly tells us the weapons we have available to us are not of this world, but from God. They are so mighty that they can demolish a stronghold, or a “fortress” that we have placed our confidence in. So mighty that they have the capability to destroy every single thing that exalts itself against God. Where did Satan come from? Heaven. Why? Because he wanted to be greater than God, exalting himself against the knowledge of God. Now here’s the best part. According to this verse we have the means to do it, but how? By TAKING EVERY SINGLE THOUGHT INTO CAPTIVITY TO THE OBEDINECE OF CHRIST. If I begin to think something is wrong with my marriage, I speak against it. “My husband loves me. ‘A threefold cord is not quickly broken.’” (Ecclesiastes 4:12) If I am afraid, or don’t feel strong enough to handle a situation, I speak against it. “I am strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” (Eph 6:10) “I am strong, I will not fear. My God will come.” (Isaiah 35:4) “I am a child of God and He loves me. His thoughts for me are more than the grains of sand on the beach.” Whatever your struggle is, start speaking the truth against it and the lies of the enemy won’t be so scary. Remember to make the truth about YOU. Insert “I’ and “me” into the verses. As you do this, you will see a transformation taking place in your mind and before you know it, that armor won’t feel so heavy. Proverbs 19:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” As Toby Mac sings, “speak life,” and let’s win this war together!

Photo by MS