Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Joy of the Lord is my Strength

This morning, as I allowed myself to be still during our school’s customary moment of silence, a song from my childhood came crashing in. 

The joy of the Lord is my strength.

If you’re familiar with that song, you know it's the same line over and over.  It’s easy to sing and it’s one of those songs that embeds itself deep into a child’s heart.  Younger me didn’t necessarily understand its meaning, but it brought me comfort nonetheless. 

Some mornings I wake up with a song in my head, a gift from God whose mercies are new every morning.  There’s just something about a song in my mind that flows to my heart and allows me to meditate on His goodness first thing in the morning.

“Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his dwelling place.” 1 Chronicles 16:27

Other mornings I wake up with no song.  Only my thoughts.

I’m so tired. How many days until I can sleep in?

Lord, I haven’t even rolled out of bed and already I’m dreading the day ahead.

How will I make it through what’s waiting for me at work today?

Help me, Lord.

My quiet time rolls around and I force myself to sit still and praise the one who gave me life and every good thing.  It’s this act of thankfulness that brings a song back to my heart. 

Every morning He seeks me out, but I have to tune in to Him.

The joy of the Lord is my strength.

True joy cannot be swayed by our circumstances, our possessions, our friendships, or all sorts of external things.  Joy comes from a deeper place. It’s a fruit of the Spirit.  It’s a gift in difficult times and refuge from the cares of life.  It’s light in the darkness. Joy satisfies the heart.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forever more.” Psalm 16:11

If I’m being honest, sometimes it really hasn’t been my day, my week, my month, or even my year (thank you, Friends theme song). It’s easy to dwell on the bad and feel so disheartened.

The good news - no the GREAT news - is that joy is a product of the Holy Spirit working in us.  It is joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8) that helps us through each day.  We know that trials will come, pain is inevitable, and brokenness is always present, but the words of Psalm 30:5 bring peace. Weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning.  Can I get a yes and amen?

Paul tells us in Romans 8:28 that God works everything for good. The good he is speaking of is our spiritual growth, our sanctification. It’s us becoming more Christ-like. When we abide in Him, our trials are still present, but they are bearable because joy and peace rule our hearts. Our trials are dwarfed by the power of our God. 

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

In times that can be so stressful, so full of the enemy’s attacks, the joy of the Lord is our strength.  It allows us see the good in others, laugh in the midst of trials, smile through adversity, and trust that joy really does come in the morning.

The joy of the Lord is my strength.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Drifting Away in the Waves of Life

I stood in the sand and watched my two kids who were oblivious that the momentum of the waves had moved them so far away from me. They were laughing and jumping as the ocean pushed them farther down the shoreline.

Earlier that morning, our family chose an empty stretch of sand and set up chairs under the protection of beach umbrellas in various primary colors. It was our home base for the day. The kids ran to the shallow water to jump the waves as they rolled to the shore. I watched as the waves came in at an angle, the strength of the water pushing the two of them down the shoreline, away from me and away from our sandy home base.

The ocean can deceive its visitors into feeling secure in the shallow waters while it pulls them away from those who can watch out for them.

I walked down the beach until I finally reached my kids.  I called their names over the roar of the ocean, motioned for them to come to me, and showed them how far they had strayed. They never even knew they had moved. They were surprised to be so far from where they started, but I assured them I had never stopped watching them and knew where they were the whole time.  Then I pointed to the line of beach umbrellas and guided them back.

When Life Happens

Sometimes, the waves of life move us away from God. Work and family are stressful, or we get sick, or death comes like a thief to steal someone we love. We drift away in the waves of life, moving away from our home base, not realizing how far life has taken us. We look up and suddenly see how far we’ve gone.  We look around in desperation, in grief, or maybe in anger. We’ve lost our way without knowing, but then we see Him.

God has had His eye on us the entire time.

Psalm 89:9 tells us our God, who created the vast oceans and the crashing waves, is in control.

You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.

Our God, who created you and me, knows the number of our days, and chose us before the foundation of the world, also knows what waves will come crashing in on us. He knows our hurt, our fear, our insecurity, our heartbreak, and our loss. When the waves of life threaten to overwhelm us, He says:

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you… (Isaiah 43:1-2)

“Fear not,” He says, “I will be with you.” When you look up to find Him, He will be there.

His eyes have never left you.

When We Choose to Drift Away

Maybe we are having so much fun playing in the waves of life we don’t care where they take us.  We let the ocean pull us away from home and we purposefully play the prodigal running away from our Father. 

Don’t you know our loving Shepherd will leave the 99 to pursue the one who strayed?  To pursue me? To pursue you?

He never takes His eyes off us.

Come Back to the Living Water

Whether we are pulled away by the cares of life or allow ourselves to drift, we can become so consumed by the water we’re swimming in that we forget about the Living Water. The Savior of the World, the Living Water, never takes His eyes off you or me. He pursues us when we stray, and he points us back to home when we drift away. 

But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:14)

Turn your eyes to Jesus, friend, because He never took his eyes off you.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Reluctant Hospitality: When Opening Your Home Feels Overwhelming

I have a confession to make.  Practicing hospitality scares me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of hospitality. My shelf is full of books on the subject and I’m drawn to blogs that center around opening your home. My heart truly craves being hospitable to both friends and strangers, but sometimes I am self-conscious about my home and my ability to welcome people in. It’s a beautiful concept, but one I find myself struggling to put into practice.

About two years ago, my husband and I started building our home on some acreage out in the country.  We drew a floor plan on graph paper, then took on the laborious task of building from the ground up with our own hands. With each long day that we swung hammers, raised walls, put down flooring, and finally rolled on paint, I dreamed of all the people I would one day invite into this space. We would have more room, more outdoor space, and it would be better decorated and more welcoming. 

Now that we’re moved in, it has all those things, but it is also full of unfinished projects like baseboards and ceilings that still need paint, patchy grass that becomes a muddy mess with every rain, muddy floors from dogs that track in that muddy mess, and a honey-do list a mile long. There is always an excuse for me not to invite people. 

It all comes down to fear.

I’m afraid my house is never clean enough and I worry my guests will see all the imperfections.  I keep putting hospitality to the side until projects are done, or life isn’t too busy, or I feel like things are finally settled. 

Sometimes insecurity creeps in that has more to do with me than the state of my house. Truth is, I’m not the best at making new friends and social gatherings sometimes make me feel awkward and lonely. These same insecurities arise when I think about inviting others to my home.  What if it’s not the home they’re judging, but me?

So how do I get past this fear, especially when hospitality is a common theme running through scripture?

Years ago, I heard a speaker talk about loving others. He spoke of his desire to be a “there you are” person instead of a “here I am” person.  A “there you are” person puts the focus on others. It’s a beautiful description of loving our neighbor.  It is other-focused, instead of self-focused. 
It is Paul telling us, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Corinthians 10:24). It is Jesus ministering to the masses, and to the individual. It is scripture reminding us that loving others is part of the greatest commandment.

Being hospitable means putting others ahead of myself.  When I’m focused on the guest and his or her needs, the wall of insecurity and fear I built around myself crumbles.

What does real, honest, open hospitality look like? 

It is inviting people over for a pancake breakfast on a Saturday morning even though there are dishes on the counter from last night.  It’s a backyard bonfire, while your two elderly dogs and one skinny, yellow cat snuggle up to your guests.  It’s taco Tuesday, minus the crunchy taco shells you forgot to grab at the store. Sometimes hospitality looks like picking up a few pizzas and bringing them to a friend’s house, so she doesn’t have to pack up all her kids and haul them across town during nap time.
Being hospitable is not extravagant and it’s certainly not about putting myself or my home on display. True hospitality puts the focus on the people who walk through my front door. When I make loving my guests a priority instead of feeling stressed or self-conscious about the state of my home, I create an atmosphere of comfort and fellowship. 

Hospitality isn’t about me. Instead, it’s about seeking what is good for those God calls me to love.  It is being a “there you are” person. I invite people in because I am imperfect, and they are imperfect, but together we can create beautiful fellowship and beautifully imperfect friendships.

If you let people in your life, soon they won't be just knocking on your door; they'll be knocking on your heart.

And you'll welcome them in with open arms.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Life and Death are in the Power of the Tongue. Are you Speaking Life?

Today, someone I really admire gave me some encouragement.  It wasn’t prompted by anything I said or did; it was just given to me freely, without anything expected in return. And you know what? It was nice to hear.

I spend the majority of my day focused on others: my high school students, my husband, and my kids.  I pour out and don’t really stop to expect anything in return because it’s my job to tend to the needs of others. Encouragement doesn’t come often, but when it does it’s like taking a bite of chocolate cake.  I don’t really crave it, but when I take a bite, it’s like I should have been eating it all along.  Loving, kind, encouraging words just feel good. Maybe you can relate.

Words have power. They can build someone up or they can do major damage. Scripture is full of encouragement to use loving words, but also warnings to keep watch over our tongue because it is the most difficult member of the body to control. Sometimes the words just fall out of our mouths and before we know it, we’ve wounded someone we love.  James 3:5-6 tells us the tongue is a fire. “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” How do we keep more control over this dangerous weapon?  How do we use the power of words for good and not evil?

Hiding His word in our heart by memorizing scripture is a wonderful way to keep our words loving and positive.  Luke 6:45 tells us out of the abundance of our heart, our mouths speak. Speaking truth to ourselves, especially in times of stress or hurt, can help to keep us from setting fires with our tongues.

Speak Praise

My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day. (Psalm 71:8)

Sometimes I forget how big God really is.  It’s easy to think of God as a loving, gentle Father, because He is. But we also need to remember this is the same God who created all things, who is yesterday, today, and forever, who is holy, is good, owns the cattle on a thousand hills, who made the lame to walk and the blind to see, and sits on the throne. Psalm 147:5 reminds us, “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.”

When we acknowledge His attributes, it puts our own lives in perspective. He is so much bigger and holy than we can fathom yet loved us first and sent Christ to die for us.  Speaking words of praise exalts Him and reminds us to love Him, which in turn helps us to love others.

Give Thanks

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples. (Psalm 105:1)

Over and over we are encouraged to give thanks. There is no one more deserving of our thankfulness than the One who gave us life and every good thing. If our mouth is full of thanksgiving it is harder to speak unkind words and when we remember that God’s grace has covered our sin, it is easier to show grace to others.

Speak Life

The soothing tongue is a tree of life. (Proverbs 15:4)

Throughout our day, we have so many opportunities to build up by speaking truth and life into another. Take some time today to speak loving words to your spouse, your child, your friend, or a stranger.  A small gesture can make a significant impact.

Speak Peace

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)

When something annoys us, or conflict arises, our first response can be to lash out.  You know as much as I do that no good thing ever happens as a result of hurtful words.  One of our roles as a Christian is to be a peacemaker.  Notice I didn’t say peacekeeper. A peacekeeper avoids conflict, but a peacemaker will resolve a conflict using truth, respect, and kindness. A soft word can diffuse a tense situation so we must use self-control and gentleness.

Love God and Love Others

Part of loving God and loving our neighbor includes watching the words we speak.  We must give our praise to the only One worthy of that praise, we should have hearts of gratitude that express thankfulness to Him who is exceedingly good, and we must be careful that our words build others up and not be used for destruction.  It is not an easy task to control our tongue, but having a mind and heart full of scripture plus a desire to seek His face everyday can help to ensure that our words are “like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24).

How can you speak life into someone today?

Saturday, June 2, 2018

I Love Living in a Small Town (and Why You Might Also)

As a teenager, I had big dreams for life in the big city.  My plan was to be a journalist and eventually an editor of a magazine for women.  I was going to be married to my job and enjoy all the things that city life had to offer.

My, how things change.

On this lovely morning, I am on my porch drinking coffee, watching the cows graze across the road.  This is a far cry from big city living, but I couldn’t be happier.  Who knew living in a small town would be right for me? Who knew this once big-city-loving girl, really had a small-town heart?

Certainly not me.

But God did.  It was his plan all along that I would merge my life into this community and I am thankful for this every day.

It is a privilege to live in a small town and if you live in one also, I’m sure you’ll agree. There are aspects of a smaller community that cannot be matched in larger cities.  The town may be small, but the living is large. Not large in scale, but large in the benefits to those who get to live here: slower living, the beauty of nature not blemished by city life, and the comfort of a close-knit community.

Small and Local

When we first thought of making this town our home, I admit I wasn’t a huge fan of moving here. We do brave things for love, and for the promise of a Super Walmart being built in town.

After being here for 15 years, I’ll keep the love, but I’d trade the Walmart in a second. 

Small towns provide unique opportunities for local business to thrive and events and attractions to become ingrained in the community culture.  In the past few years, we’ve seen a revival in our downtown area mixing new boutiques and a lovely coffee shop with an established pottery shop and tried-and-true restaurant. Our library gives our kids plenty of opportunities to love reading and our bigger community park borders the river that runs through our town. Although our old movie theater is nothing but a lit marquee, it’s a pretty cool backdrop for local festivals and bluegrass bands.

Farther out from downtown, we enjoy legendary shaved ice, an ice cream shop, a local bakery, and every weekend night in the warmer months, the drive-in is open with current movies. If you love the outdoors, you may love our county’s waterfalls, caves, hiking, and camping spots that both residents and visitors can enjoy. 

Our town really is a gem.


We have small town charm and plenty to do on a weekend, but my favorite part of living here is the community. 

When I was young, I attended multiple elementary schools and even spent half a year in Canada.  My family didn’t put down roots until I was about 10 years old, and I was happy to blend in to my city.  We made it our home. 

But there is something to be said for being a long-term resident of a small town.  I have friends who have lived here their whole lives and have maintained solid friendships since Kindergarten. My own kids have been here since birth and we plan on being here forever, Lord willing. What a sweet thing it is to make memories and friendships for life.

Don’t get me wrong, being a part of this community has taken time.  Making friends has its challenges wherever you live and unkind people permeate every town, but there’s certainly a lot to be said for the closeness of a smaller community. My husband has roots here; it’s what pulled us to this town. Many of the opportunities I have experienced are a result of relationships he built prior to meeting me, but now our family benefits from the relationships we’ve cultivated together. 

God is so gracious in giving me a job at the local high school which puts me face-to-face with many of our families and lets me see the needs in our community. I have built solid friendships with fellow educators and have watched our community rally around those with sickness and those who have experienced loss. I have school spirit (sorry Hilltoppers, I’m a Warrior now) and enjoy hating on the town up the road when football and basketball season rolls around. 

He has also allowed us to put roots down in a local congregation where we get to worship and fellowship with people that have come to be dear friends. These friends, no matter if they are life-long residents or new transplants, love both our town and its people. This love doesn’t spread outside the walls of our church unless we are actively loving each other from the inside. We are Believers in community loving our community. 

I Love My Small Town

Fifteen years ago, I had no idea how blessed I would be living in a small town, but God knew.  He knew the Naaktgeborens needed to be here and that we would want to give as much to our community as we would receive. 

This town is as much a part of us as we are of it and there is nowhere else I would rather be. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Teach Us to Number Our Days

Today, I found Amy’s obituary.  As I unfolded the black and white clipping, her smiling face looked up at me from the page.  My eight-year-old daughter leaned over to see and asked, “Isn’t that the lady that was at your wedding? The one who helped you get ready?  I remember her picture from your wedding book.” 

Reading the small clipping, I did the math and realized it’s been almost 14 years since Amy passed away. She was 38. 

In a week, I’ll be 38. 

There are a handful of parallels between her life and mine and the truth is, she had a substantial influence on me as a foundational branch in my spiritual family tree. As a prodigal coming home to my Father, she gave me guidance and love. For that, I'll forever be grateful.

Life is hectic, so I don’t think about her as much now as I used to, but there are parts of her woven into the very fabric of who I am.  She came into my life at just the right time and left so suddenly that I never really had a chance to tell her how influential and important she was in my development as a young woman and a young Christian. 

“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James 4:14

The most sobering aspect of life is how it is but a vapor.  We are here one day and gone the next.  Every day we live, every breath we breathe, is a gift from our sovereign God.

I may only have today.

I may only have this moment.

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

We have the opportunity to live our days with intention, to squeeze the goodness out of every moment, and to love the people He places around us and sometimes right in front of us. 

Enjoy His big and little gifts.

Get up early to see the sky painted in various shades of orange and pink as it awakens to the sun. Watch a bird make a nest and listen to her sing. Walk barefoot in the grass. Sit back and watch the clouds float by.  Run in the rain. Eat a crispy apple.  Smell a spring flower.

God’s creation was made to be enjoyed.  And as you partake, remember to be thankful to the Giver of all good things.

"O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures." Psalm 104:24 (Read the rest of Psalm 104. You won't regret it.)

We were made to love.

Every day we have the chance to make an impact on someone’s life.  All we have to do is ask the Lord to open our eyes and prick our hearts.

"Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor." Romans 12:10

It’s so easy to float through a busy life without making contact with those around us.  I can go through my day just checking off my to-do list without looking up to see where God might want to use me.  

How many times have we missed a chance to be the hands and feet of Jesus?  How many times have we ignored the prompting of the Holy Spirit to stop and take notice? How often do we make ourselves the priority instead of being a vessel to pour out His love?

"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or a sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." James 2:14-17

Seek Him first.

The most important aspect of living an intentional life is time spent with the Lord. It is the foundation to living a life that matters.  The older I get, the more God teaches me about what it means to walk with Him. I know I cannot truly enjoy the people He brings into my life and all that He has provided, without enjoying Him first. 

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live, in your name I will lift up my hands.” Psalm 63:1-4

As I enter another year of life, Lord willing, He will keep teaching me to seek Him first, love those around me, and find the beauty in ordinary things.

Only the Lord knows the number of our days, so we should make each one count.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

See the Good; Be the Good: Why We're Adopting a Family Motto This Year

I love the promise of a new year.

As soon as Christmas ends, my mind starts anticipating the freshness that comes with starting on day one of the new 365.  When the calendar rolls over, I’m ready to make the leap into new adventures and, Lord willing, improvements to my life. 

This year, more than in years past, I’m looking forward to a blank slate and new perspective. It is not unusual for someone to make resolutions in anticipation of starting over, but I'm taking the idea of change and motivation a step further and bringing my family along with me. 

We’re adopting a family motto.

This past year was full of change for the Naaktgeborens.  We finished building our house and finally moved in at the end of summer. For the first time, both my kids were in school which meant more streamlined mornings.  I had the opportunity to write more, but was also bogged down by work woes. It truly was a year of highs and lows and, as a result, I found myself turning more inward.

Time for a change.

This year and beyond, my family will focus on loving God and loving people.  As we pursue God, our hope is He will use us to see the good and be the good in our own family, in our friendships, in our church family, and in our community.  

So, what does this look like?

See the Good

Sometimes it’s difficult to see the good, especially when a situation seems like anything but. It’s easy to get bogged down by trying situations, but much easier to endure when your heart is close to God.   Saturating your life with scripture and prayer gives you the ability to see the good in tough people and tough situations.

We walk through life sometimes with a black cloud of pessimism and defeat raining all over us, but it’s important to remember what Jesus tells us in John 16:33:

I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

Jesus has already overcome the world; why do we walk around in our day-to-day lives like He hasn’t? As Christians we know we have eternity waiting for us, an eternity worshipping our perfect, loving, sovereign God.

God has overcome the world.  That gives us the freedom to see the good, the silver lining, in every situation because God works everything for good. 

It also allows us to see the good in the people we encounter every day.  We are quick to judge a person by a particular situation, but one thing I’ve learned in my thirty-seven years is that there is more going on than meets the eye.  Every person is carrying his or her own burdens. We shouldn’t be so quick to throw stones while we have planks protruding from our own eyes.

Part of loving others as God loves us is to maintain friendships and relationships despite all the imperfections.

Be the Good

Loving others also gives us the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus.  We can live lives where our fruit can impact others. Lives where we are doers of the word and not just hearers (James 1:22).

I want my family to bear good fruit and, in doing so, learn to look outside themselves.  By creating opportunities for good, as a family we can make a small impact in the lives of others. 

There are two ways to “be the good.” 

1. Doing good in private or secret is desirable.

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:3-4

2. If doing good in secret is unavoidable, then ALWAYS give God the glory and the credit.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16

Here are some ways to be the good in someone’s life:
  • Write anonymous “just because you’re great” cards
  • Gift cards in small amounts (coffee, fast food, etc.)
  • Baked goods to bless others (my husband makes delicious homemade bread)
  • Hand-written notes or text messages to let someone know you’re thinking about them
  • Cards for nursing home residents
  • Family projects like raising money for or serving with various charities
  • Find random acts of kindness ideas on Pinterest and let your kids pick

Remember that putting God first in your family will lead to less selfishness and more selflessness.  My hope is that adopting this family motto and putting it into action will make seeing the good and being the good second nature in the lives of my family members.  And I hope they will pass along this tradition and legacy to their own children.

You’re Invited

See the good; be the good will be our family motto, but our hope is that you will join us in the pursuit of loving God and loving others.  Visit this page to download some simplistic designs to print or use as your desktop wallpaper to serve as a reminder in your everyday life.

Will you join us in seeing the good and being the good in your own families and communities?