Selfish Ambitions

I recently was given an opportunity to attend six college classes related to my museum-related career.  This opportunity includes not only attending the courses but a portion of the coursework would be financed.  It would only cost my family about 50% of the original price.  The coursework would culminate with a Master of Art in Museum Administration degree.  I’d love to do it!

The catch?  I have to apply within the next two weeks, as courses start at the beginning of March. That’s okay…I’d love to do it!

As a lifelong learner, this is right up my alley. I love school and learning.  As a historian, this thrills me to learn more about how to showcase history.  And a discount?  That is the icing on the cake.  For sure…I’d love to do it!

But do I need the extra degree? Should I take the discounted classes, when someone else could possibly utilize the scholarship?  I already have a terminal degree. I’m already employed in museum work.  This degree won’t help me get promoted.  And frankly, without the discount had I even been considering another degree?   Yes, but…I’d love to do it!

More than the career implications, I want to consider what God has to say about ambition.  Was I being selfish in considering my application? 

James 3:14-18 (NIV) states, “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.   But the wisdom that comes from heaven is, first of all, pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”

The two-week deadline is what I initially struggled with.  I wanted time to pray about it and fully analyze the financial and time commitment that it meant for my family.  There’s nothing about selfish ambition that I want to be a part of.  It sounds horrible.  Even in my career, I want my ambitions to be God driven…God approved. 

Rather than jump the gun in selfish ambition, I’ve decided to wait. I’m changing that heartfelt desire to do this coursework to I’d love to do it…when it’s God’s timing for my career and my family’s schedule!

I pray that the Lord unveils any selfish ambitions in your own life!

~Emily

Tornadoes of Life

From my sliding glass door, I once watched a tornado form and touch down.  That was in Cheyenne, WY.  It wasn’t until I bought a house with my husband in Alabama that I was actually within a polygon for a tornado watch or warning.  And now…I’ve been in more than I can count.  It wasn’t until we settled into retirement in central Alabama that we found out this area is called “Dixie Alley,” as a parallel to “Tornado Alley” in the mid-west. 

In the last week, countless communities and lives have been impacted by a string of tornadoes that powered through Alabama.  The day of the storms was a tidal wave of emotions.  At first, very little concern over the weather.  Then I rush home to pick up outdoor furniture before deciding to go check my son out of school early.  While waiting in a mile-long line of parents picking up their own children early, we learned that a huge tornado had already touched down in Selma.  And we learned that the same supercell was heading toward the communities around us. 

It was a rare moment where I spontaneously began praying out loud while in line (although it was under my breath and not very “out loud”).  I prayed for protection over our small town that has already endured so many tragedies over the last year, but specifically, I was praying for the communities that had already been hit.  I had full confidence that the Lord heard these prayers.  Why?  Because in John 14:13-14 (ESV) we read, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

Do you want to know what was more touching than my simple prayers in line?  The response to those who were in need.  Within hours, massive clothing and food drives were organized. Teams of chainsaw-welding men patrolled neighborhoods.  Linemen from in and out of state restored power to all the homes of Alabama.  Social media sprung to life trying to connect photographs tossed miles from home to families. 

Why was there such an intense outpouring of love and response in the moments after these tornadoes touched down?  In some cases, it may be out of kindness or because you would hope that someone would do the same for you. 

For the Christian, it may be because Jesus told us to.  In John 15:12-13 (ESV) Jesus said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”   Jesus demonstrated an extravagant love for people.  While we can’t literally lay down our lives for others in daily life, we can choose to love extravagantly in smaller ways.  For instance, we can donate to those who need tangible items after losing everything in a natural disaster. 

God told us in Galatians 6:2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  This means that we do not have to do life alone and that we should be trying to assist one another in burdens and tragedies.  When we see others struggling, we can choose to help with our support, our love, our finances, and any other resources that we may have.  This is a physical outpouring of the love Christ shows us and we in turn can show others.

In the midst of a natural disaster that doesn’t directly impact your home, it’s easy to praise God for sparing you and yours.  However, Hebrews 13:16 reminds us “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”  This is a practical reminder to continuously look for ways to impact others with blessings.

The tornadoes that ripped through Alabama last week were devastating.  Yet, it’s been refreshing to watch how much love and care is being shown to the families who lost loved ones and those who are having to rebuild their homes and businesses.  The reality is this: we should react this way during a disaster.  But we should also react this way daily…even when it isn’t tragedy. 

I truly pray that we can act this way towards one another during a crisis and during the calm. 

~Emily

The Christmas $100 Bill

When my son was young, I deliberately started teaching him about using his time and his talents to help other people or causes. He loves to volunteer…his favorite was probably spending time at the animal shelter (usually petting kitties or reading to the shelter dogs).  Although, it does love combing through sales racks to find items for Isaiah 58, a ministry that provides a suitcase of items to women leaving prison.  He’s also spent hours coloring pictures for people he’s never met in nursing homes or military members in deployed locations. 

We also talked early about money: how to share it, how to save it, and how to sow it into causes that he most believed in.  Each month I budgeted $100 for him to spend in this manner.  He got to choose if he was donating it, tithing it, buying something for someone else…whatever he wanted. 

Never once has he chosen to spend the money on himself. 

Christmas becomes one of my favorite seasons to watch him choose how to spend the money that has been set aside for others.  In the past, he has used it to purchase angel tree gifts, foodbank items, presents for his friends, and blankets for the humane shelter.  This year the $100 bill went to a waitress who served us breakfast.  She literally started crying and hugging us both. 

Luke 3:11 (NASB) states, “And he would answer and say to them, The one who has two tunics is to share with the one who has none, and the one who has food is to do likewise.”

Scripture tells us that it’s our obligation to share what we have with others.  I understand that for some, $100 is too much for their personal budgets.  Likewise, I understand that $100 may be too little for other budgets.  The reason I’m sharing this on the iron porch is not to discuss the actual amount of money we budget, but rather so that we are aware of how much impact we have on others.  And how much influence we have over training our children to simply be kind. 

After sharing with the waitress, my son said, “I love doing this so much, mom…I wish we could do it every day!”  This presented an opportunity to have a conversation about how sharing the Gospel can be a daily activity…and that it is just as important as caring for others’ physical needs.  

A gentle reminder of this is seen in 1 John 3:16-18 (NASB).  “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers and sisters. But whoever has worldly goods and sees his brother or sister in need, and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God remain in him? Little children, let’s not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” 

I’ve learned so much by watching the care of a toddler through a pre-teen in selecting how he will help others.  When I created a budget for my little guy, I had no idea how much of a lesson it would be for my own heart.  Do what you can financially…but know that you have the ultimate gift to share when you tell others about Jesus Christ.

~Emily

Hot Flashes & Other Middle-Age Suckiness

I hate being hot.  Hate it.  Over the last weekend, Erin and I stayed at a Bed and Breakfast that had the heat on…I insisted on opening the bedroom windows because I was so hot. 

And I am so over these power surges that are also known as hot flashes. I’m over being hungry all the time but having to muzzle the urge to plow through a gallon of ice cream.  And I’m over this brain fog that my physician assures me will go away…when the hot flashes do.

Ugh.  I’m chatting causally about menopause.  Middle Age.  Transition. 

There are lists of all the symptoms, but not every woman experiences them all.  Nor is there a timeline for them, but it is a rite of passage for women experiencing this stage in their lives. 

Typically, the menopause process takes years to complete, but post-menopausal women say that they either feel stronger and content…or they feel old with less standing in society since they are past childbearing years.  Regardless of how they feel post-change, they went through the challenge of change.

And this challenge is not for the weak.

However, the Christian woman can take comfort in turning to God during middle-age transitions.  Hebrews 13:5 reassures us that God will not leave us, despite the aging process making us feel less than we were in our youth.  We have assurance from 2 Corinthians 12:9 that God’s grace is sufficient, and His power is made perfect in weakness. 

The reality is that a post-menopausal Christian woman should feel strong and content.  We’ve reached the stage where we can share our experiences and mentor others.  Those experiences may have included allowing the Lord to see those middle-aged anxieties and fears.  1 Peter 5:7 says, “cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”  At no time in our lives do we have to feel alone in our struggles…and this is true also of pre-during-or-post menopause. 

Challenges are always hard. When we have others around us encouraging and leading us through, it makes it easier to navigate. The ultimate gift is knowing that this is also part of God’s plan.

I’m over the hot flashes and the brain fog…but I’m taking comfort in God’s provision.  This too shall pass. 

~Emily

Hiding Under the Couch

In the late 1990s, I was stationed in California.  While there, I lived next door to a young family in a condo-style building.  The oldest child, Merissa, was about 3 years old when I first met her.  Anytime she was in trouble or afraid, she’d hide under the couch in the living room.  Imagine the sweet little face of a toddler half smooshed under the couch, peeking out to see if the coast was clear. 

Do you have a spot you “hide under” when you’re in trouble or scared? Is it under the covers? In a bubble bath? In a tub of ice cream?  Does that hiding spot also include times you want to try to hide from God?  Notice I used the phrase “try” to hide from God.  Trying to hide is a human quality that does not consider God’s omnipresence.

Jeremiah 23:24 (NASB) shows us that God is everywhere.  “’Can a person hide himself in hiding places so that I do not see him?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?’ declares the Lord.”

The infinite spirit of God includes omnipresence, which means He is present everywhere in creation. And that my friends…is really hard to wrap our minds around. That omnipresence is awe-inspiring and difficult to understand, but it should also motivate our own sanctification. 

In regards to sin: It helps us with blatant and deliberate sin to remember that God is in all places at all times.  He is a literal witness to all of our sinful behavior.  When I remind myself that God is watching, it often makes me more hesitant to commit the sin.  On the other hand, when I let myself forget that God is omnipresent, I find myself making poor choices.   

In regards to service: It helps us with creating a ‘servant’s heart’ in our own life when we remember that God is in all places at all times.  He is witness to our kindness, our sweet words and actions, and our giving of talents, time, and tithes.  We should not be acting kindly simply because God is watching, but rather it should assist us with becoming more eager to please Him.   

Regardless of if you are hiding under the couch like a toddler or under the covers with ice cream, remember that God’s omnipresence misses nothing. 

~Emily

Go Away “Ms. Motivated Volunteer”

Recently I became interested in volunteering for a military-related non-profit organization that matches mentors to new hobbyists.  I’m too new to the hobby to be a mentor and I’ve already got a fabulous mentor of my own.  So how else can I assist? Fundraise? Graphics? Social Media?   They couldn’t really give me an answer, but a couple of suggestions were simple jobs.  I’m happy to do whatever will help them…even if it’s pushing a broom or passing out flyers.

It got me thinking about the excitement and motivation of the new Christian in our churches.  We tell them they are too new to teach a Sunday School or be in charge of a children’s program.  We may or may not assign someone to help disciple them, but I’d venture to guess most newbie Christ followers are not relying on others to mentor them.

That new Christian is motivated in their excitement to learn…and to serve.  And yet, we hand them bulletins to fold or a serving spoon for a potluck buffet line.  We give them simple jobs until they are deemed worthy in experience to perform other tasks.  The simple task may be exciting to the new person, but it could also be de-motivating.  In essence, we tell them ‘Go Away Ms. Motivated volunteer.”

Make no mistake; I understand that there is a need to have experience in any given field to teach and/or mentor.  I’m commenting on the perception that we give the newer people in any given field simplistic jobs in response to their high motivation. 

1 Corinthians 12:4-6 (NASB) states, “ Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.” 

This means that each of us has unique skills to offer and that those skills will impact with differing results.  What is most important is that we volunteer to serve our church communities.  The structure of the church lends itself to serving to be central to the growth of a Christian. The commandment of “love one another as ourselves” (Matthew 22:35-40) directs us towards love, but indirectly towards volunteering to serve. 

This nicely backs up the verse in Philippians 2:4 (NASB) where we are told “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”  Once again God lets us know that volunteering allows us to serve others rather than our own personal interests.

When a volunteer is able to give time, talents, or tithes, they should not withhold that ability.  Likewise, if they are able to serve, we should not prevent them from doing that.  This is an example of Proverbs 3:27 (NASB), “do not withhold good from those to whom it is due…”

In regard to the volunteer who is new to the field…we should be supportive of their desires to serve.  We should also take the time to discover their strengths and interests.  We may be surprised to discover that the new person, who doesn’t have the experience to teach and mentor, may be very qualified to fulfill other roles…not just the simple ones of folding Sunday bulletins or cleaning after an event.

In the next week, I pray you are able to concentrate on scenarios when you can encourage a volunteer…rather than indirectly tell them to ‘go away.’

~Emily


Childhood Nostalgia

Recently, my Mom and I were reminiscing about the chaos and joy surrounding the arrival of the Sunday Paper in our living room when I was younger.  Everyone pulled their favorite section and as a family, we poured over the paper for a couple hours. Before he could read, I remember reading the comics to my brother and later we would fight over who got them first.

This small conversation with my Mom had me recalling other aspects of my childhood that I remember fondly.  For instance, if the summer temperature in Oregon went over 100, we had ice cream and fruit for dinner.  I remember walking to the comic book store with my Brother so he could spend his allowance…and on the way, there was one particular ‘barkless’ dog that we would play with through the fence.  I remember going crawdad hunting with chunks of hot dogs tied to a string.  I also remember my parents dancing in the kitchen.

These are each endearing memories of my childhood.  Each remind me of how family can be structured in moments of happiness.  

I recognize that not everyone had such pleasant childhood memories or parents who were so involved in the children’s lives.  I also recognize that I’m remembering great memories and often gloss over the not so amazing memories.  It was not all sunshine and butterflies for me.  And I know it wasn’t for others either.  

However, the not so nice memories are cloaked in the comfort of scripture.  

A scripture that I often lean on when thinking about family is from Ephesians 3:15 (NASB), which reads “from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”

When reading this verse, it’s important to know that the word ‘family’ is closely transplanted in the original language as ‘father.’ In both the Old Testament tradition, as well as our current society, it’s easy to think this verse is referencing families taking the name of the Patriarch’s family.  This is still seen now, as brides take their husband’s last name.  

In reality, the verse is much deeper.  It refers to ‘every family,’ as in ‘all believers’ in Christ.  All of us…as one big family.  Furthermore, we all derive our names from that belonging to Jesus when we adopt the name ‘Christian,’ as derived from the name ‘Christ.’ 

This is a family of hope and love. Can you imagine how that family will interact?  How much greater Heaven will be than pursuing the comics out of the Sunday paper?!?!? There’s no need for nostalgia with a future like that!

No matter what our childhood’s looked like, our future is one of hope through Christ. 

~Emily

“Vacation” on the Appalachian Trail

Last week I spent six days hiking and living on the Appalachian Trail.  It’s been a lifelong dream to hike the entire 2,195 miles of the Appalachian Trail.  Instead of deciding to be gone from my regular life for 5-6 months, I thought I should start with a small chunk to see if I really wanted to do it. 

At times it was hard.  The hike was 38 miles of up and down steep rocky trails. But there were flat parts, water crossings, and cool breezes. 

At times it was smelly—my feet were worse than a teenage boy and don’t get me started on my arm pits.  It was truly dirty camping night after night without showers or toilets.  But there were glorious moments like the smell of the trail as the rain started or the first sniff of shampoo off the trail. 

At times it was scary.  We saw a bear, a rattle snake and a tiny little black snake.  There were encounters with 78,000 spiders. But there was safety in numbers at the campsites and sharing of food and stories late into the nights.  There was even one night when a senior hiker got up to check on all of us at 2am when a falling branch startled us all awake.  

One of the most rewarding parts of the adventure was the time spent with God.  Each day included a conversation with God.  Each sunrise, sunset, waterfall, and mountainside view got comments of gratitude to the Lord.  Every single hard step included a plea for help.  The long sleepless nights tossing and turning on a blow-up mat included prayers.

And I used the time to concentrate on one particular scripture.  I’d tried to memorize it prior to going and just didn’t have my heart in it.  So, I wrote it in my journal page and carried it with me the entire hike. I looked at it often and while hiking mediated on the words and the context of the scripture.

“It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.” ~Luke 6:12

He went off to the mountains to pray.  Jesus went to the mountain to pray.  And then He spent all night in prayer.  Have you ever wondered what Jesus was praying for that night?  We know snippets that indicate He was asking to not have to be tortured and have a horrific death.  We know He prayed that He would accept that death if it was God’s will.  But did that take all night?  

Have you ever prayed so earnestly for something that it was like you were conversing all the possibilities with God?  Hours went by and you were still content to continue talking to God.  No answers yet, but just talking to God.  

That’s how I imagine that night was for Jesus. Prayerful conversations with the Father, in which He continuously talked through how He was feeling, how He wished it would go, how He loved the Father, and how He would do His will.  

What a beautiful example of how we should pray.  In the midst of chaos and challenges we can turn to the Lord and find rest.  Constant prayer is like having a consistently open phone line directly to God.  If I’m honest, I rarely take advantage of that type of prayer. I get caught up in daily life and forget to chat with God for everything.  

Except this last week while I was in the woods. I was able to connect to God like I haven’t in quite a while.  In the midst of the beauty of nature and the difficulty of a physical challenge, I was able to focus on talking to God.  And it was a remarkable time.

I want to encourage each of you to take time this week to really focus on talking to God.  Find the hypothetical mountain where you can pray…and then do it without ceasing.

It’s your own personal “vacation on the Appalachian Trail.”

~Emily

Honey Extraction

In the spring, I got my first bee hives.  I’ve used the time learning about and caring for our bees over the last several months to pray for specific people and situations, as well as reviewing scripture. Because the extra time with God and the bees has been such a blessing to me personally, I made a vow to ‘gift’ the entire first batch of honey to family and friends…many of whom had been the focus of my prayers. 

I spun my first frames last week and harvested the first honey.  It was nerve-wracking.  It was exciting.  And it was time consuming.   

From the moment I opened the hives and started making decisions about which frames to harvest to the moment I tightened the last lid on a jar, I discovered that I had to dedicate a substantial amount of time for the entire process.  

The same deliberate dedication to time well spent also applies to the relationships in our lives.  Whether it’s repairing, maintaining, or cultivating relationships within our families, church or school it takes time and deliberate actions to make those relationships impactful.  

One of the most time-consuming relationships is the one where we are forging friendships or acquaintances with non-believers.  These types of interactions are important because we literally pouring into people who may make decisions to follow Jesus based on their experiences with us.  By no means am I saying that more time equals greater chances of them becoming a Christian.  Instead what I’m saying is that the more deliberate the time we invest, the greater the chances are of them seeing Christ’s love through us.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NASB) stated, “Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you also are doing.”

Deliberate investment of time…to encourage one another and build each other up.

Seems easy enough if we’re willing to make the time to do the investing.

The harvesting of honey seems easy enough too…if I’m willing to take the time to care for the bees and go through the process of extracting the honey.

In this case, I was also able to deliberately speak to all the honey recipients about how the first batch was all gifts. It offered a chance to tell people that the bees were a quiet time with God opportunity…and it’s lead to more than one conversation about how to accept Christ as their personal Savior.

I want to encourage you this week to find someone in your life that you want to make some deliberate time for…and then invest. 

~Emily

Hitting the Wall

This last week I had several moments of anxiety and I’ve felt so overwhelmed.  I have been super weepy and easily irritated.  I told my mom that I felt like I’ve hit a wall.  

According to internet idiom sites, “hitting a wall” is to become completely exhausted, fatigued, or worn out. By that definition, I truly have hit a wall this week…at work, in finding a church, with my knee diagnosis, with family dynamics, and with coordinating schedules. 

I’m anxious.  I know I’m not alone.  Anxiety is an issue for several people, but I’m seeing more and more people talking about their mental health issues.  It’s important for us to recognize that God has always been concerned about every aspect of our lives, which includes our mental health.  

Even King David experienced anxiety.  In Psalm 94:19, he wrote, “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”  David’s heart was overwhelmed, just as mine has been this week.  David expressed confidence in God and choose to find joy and peace.  

As I continue to walk through this week of ‘hitting the wall,’ I take comfort in knowing that there is noting that God doesn’t already know.   And there is comfort in knowing He is always available for me in times of need.  His Word provides the comfort when I can’t find comfort myself.  In John 16:33 God told us “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 

This assurance helps me know that through His victory, we can claim victory over all anxiety.  

I may have hit the wall, but soon I’ll either go through it…or around it.  With God’s help.

~Emily