Where do I start?

Where do I start today?

There are so many mornings where I don’t know where or how to start. How do I hit refresh? How do I start over? How do I do right today? How can I make peace, encourage, and lift up my family today? (Because yesterday, I may have let stress, discontentment, and sinful emotions upset us. Ouch, we are so human.)

It seems the answer always starts with thanks offerings. What can I be grateful for? How can I see the cup as half full today? How can I pick out the good and beauty today, instead of letting the less-than-perfects and the stresses overwhelm. When the list is done, I will realize the cup isn’t half full, it’s quite overflowing.

My boys. Photo | Taylor Monaco
So grateful for these two boys.  Photo | Taylor Monaco

It’s humbling, but sometimes we just need to head back to the basics, and that’s okay. That’s where we need to start.

My thanks offerings for the day:
1. Friends who are willing to share their gifts and teach.
2. A forgiving and patient husband.
3. The joy, joy, joy of children.
4. The lost little ones who will join us in heaven someday.
5. The knowledge that God is GOOD in THIS life.

I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. | Palms 27:13

6. New mercies each morning; oh how we need them!

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. | Lam 3:22-23

7. Family that invests in us.
8. Music that moves and inspires.
9. Long summer days.
10. Hospitality of friends that feel more like family.

Yes, the cup is quite overflowing indeed. We just need start over at thank you to have eyes to see.

I pray you see the overflow today.

Ever-Present Help

Lake James House
Our vacation home. Photo | Taylor Monaco

I’m finding myself so overwhelmed this week. Coming back from a vacation and entering reality again is tough. There are too many demands on me, and so little time to do them. So little time to do them right! To really focus and give 100 percent to it all.

When I’m honest, that is my true desire — to do these jobs well — work, mom, wife, family-planner, keeper of home and finances. I can’t stand when I’m torn between the tasks. I was reminded this morning to prioritize and to put Him first, cashing in on his promise that the rest will fall into place if we fix our eyes on Him first and foremost. Stop what I’m doing, open my bible, in the moment I least feel I have time for Him, do that very thing and spend time with him. His peace will follow.

So I’m taking a deep breath, and I am chewing on these verses. I’m singing a song to the one who is all I need. I am choosing to rest in Him even as I carry these heavy tasks of busy, though meaningful, work.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. | Philippians 4:6-7

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.| Psalm 121:1-8

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans. | Proverbs 16:3 

Stress & Worry

Stress and worry are something most of us are intimately familiar with. Whether it’s because we are moms worrying about our little ones being safe, or hard at work to provide for our families, or dealing with a sickness of unhealthy in the family – most of us have something to ring our hands and panic about – if we allow ourselves to.

Taylor Monaco Photo
Photo | Taylor Monaco

Ann Voskamp asks, “are stress and worry evidences of a soul too lazy, too undisciplined, to keep gaze fixed on God? To stay in love with him?” When I read the words, the question stopped me in my tracks. Of course they are! Of course if we just stop and ask God to remove our worry, replace it with faith; remove our stress, replace it with rest in Him – He will be faithful to do so.

He is faithful, and He is the peace-giver. We know this. When we stress and worry, we are making a choice not to cry out to God to replace those emotions with a confident faith in Him. Why is it so hard for us to remain amazed by His ability to lead and love us?

We forget. We forget to keep our eyes on Him, and we forget to ask.

 Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. | Hebrews 12:2

Lord, help us keep our eyes on you the stress-remover, the soul-comforter, the worry-killer. Fill us with peace, with confidence in you, and help us rest in the all-powerful savior.

But, how?

I’m not a great cook, but I can follow directions. I tend to lean toward baking because if you follow the instructions, it’s sure to come out right. When seeking advice I constantly ask “but, how?” I want instructions, step by step directions, to get results. When I land on something successful, I’m quick to share those exact instructions with others. The equation of how to get where you’re going intrigues me, and I feel I’ve hit gold when I can pass on those steps to someone else.

DSC_0069 (1)I ask the same of Jesus. I know that He is at work in my life and encouraging me to move a certain direction, grow in a certain way, face a certain hardship head on, encourage a certain friend. I’m always asking him, “How? But, how Lord can I do that? What exact steps am I to take here?”

With a God we can’t always see or hear clearly, this can be hard. I’ve been listening lately, trying to hear the steps and find the clear way forward.  And He has answered. Let me.

First, seek me.
Then, let me.

Once again I’m reminded that it isn’t about what we can do. It’s about what He can do when we are still, listen, seeking, He is found, and He moves. The action is His, not ours, we just have to be seeking, willing, and ready.

Philippians 2:13 | For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

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Pride & Joy

James 4:6 | But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

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Photo: Taylor Monaco

I have been studying gratitude recently and find myself stumbling across pride. At first, I didn’t see the clear connection; I do now. Now I see that pride slays thanksgiving. “A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for a he never thinks that he gets what he deserves.” What a miserable way to live. Never feeling appreciated, never feeling acknowledge, never feeling rewarded the way we think we “deserve” to be.

Well, what do we really think we deserve? Materials possessions? Countless comforts? A life free from hardship, pain, suffering? Do we think we deserve everything that we want? That’s what this culture teaches us. Our poor children may grow up to be even more entitled than we were. Entitlement robs our joy; entitlement will job our kids of joy.

As a mom, this makes it even more important to learn now how to give up that pride – the joy thief – and replace it with a grateful heart. If I can do that my children will understand what gratitude and humility are, rather than receiving an model of pride. I want to give them an understanding that all good things in my life, in their lives, are truly gifts to be thankful for, not rewards that we somehow earned.  With that gift of gratitude, comes the gift of joy.

“No one who ever said to God they will be done and mean it with his heart, ever failed to find joy – not just in heaven, or down the road in the future of this world, but in this world at that very moment.” (Peter Kreeft)

When we give up the pride of receiving our own will, and live in gratitude that we live out his will, joy will always follow. (Psalms 143:10)

The God We Serve is Able

Daniel 3:16 | We do not need to defend ourselves in this matter. The God we serve is able to save us, and he will rescue us from your hand.

I often find myself in a defensive position. Defensiveness. Not a trait I’m proud of. This verse stuck out to me immediately because of that buzz word: defend. With Christ, those three men – about to step into a fire that could set them ablaze – knew they didn’t need to defend or explain their belief. In Christ, we can stand with confidence, even if we are standing in fire. The God we serve is able.

And the more we abide in Him, the more able He becomes.DSC_0024 (1)

John 15:4 | Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

When we abide in him, remain in him, he is grooming. Pruning. Removing bad branches and tending to our fruit. He goes about this grooming work with extreme love, care, and gentleness so that we can thrive and grow. And, produce lasting fruit. Heavenly fruit.

Jesus, I so want to produce heavenly fruit. To do something that matters, not just to this world but to you. There’s so much we work toward in this life: a bigger house, better this or that for our children. More elaborate vacations. Ultimately, we know none of that is of importance. I want to grow heavenly fruit. I want to show my children, my friends, the people around me how wonderful you are. How worth it you are. How wildly thrilling you can be when we go all in. How you are the ultimate adventure and love story.
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Apart from him, we can do nothing. With him, we have no reason to defend or explain away the choices we make to serve Him. He does that for us. We obey, he handles the rest. He comes through. He is power. He is able. He will rescue, and woo, and groom, and bring about the fruit that lasts.

The Joy Well

DSC_0413It can be nearly impossible to find joy in the midst of life’s hard. When things are bad and you’re hurting. When you’re stuck, or suffering, joy is the last emotion that seems within reach.

Genesis 21:19 | Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

God can open our eyes to a well of water, a joy well. We just have to want to see it there, waiting for us to take a drink. If we stop and look beyond the circumstances we’re standing in, take the time to notice, we will see it. It can be soaking in the laughter of our spouse, smiling at the kind neighbor who waves every time you pull out of the drive, or taking the time to appreciate new life in a bird’s nest or new blooms in the spring.DSC_0408

The point is, I am learning, if we are willing to see it — the joy – it is always there. In every situation, relationship, circumstance, it’s there. God is at work, for our good. I’ve recently been encouraged to seek God in the hard places that I doubt I will find him. And, I think he might surprise me. I expect Jesus will show up in the hard, in the situations where I am stuck. That expectation alone is like a long, cool, refreshing drink from the joy well. And in the middle of the daily hard, the small sufferings, it’s enough to remember that the joy well is always there, God just has to open our eyes to see it.

The Full, Colorful, Wild, Big, Joy-Filled Life

slip and slide
Slip and Slide | Photo: Taylor Monaco

Sometimes we fall so flat on our backs, thrown by emotion, hormones. Hurt by those we try so hard to love; disappointed by those we have such hope in. It is hard to get back up with any amount of grace.

When we can’t get up, we can seek him right where we are. We can be bold and forthright in prayer, spill out to God how you really feel. (I dare you to be honest with him.) Tell him your hopes, and where you are hurt. Guard yourself against resentment, by praying against it.

Call Jesus boldly to your side so he can be your aid and your defense. Ask for buckets of wisdom and a compass to move forward. Ask him to clear the path right before your eyes and show the foot steps you are to take forward.

Then plant your feet in steps toward the purpose you were born for. Take the first step, for in him is the fountain of life. (Psalm 36:9) The full, colorful, wild, big, joy-filled life.

Seek

She said to Jesus, “why are you asking me for a drink?” Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, YOU WOULD ASK ME, and I would GIVE you living water. | John 4:6-10

If we just ask, seek, he will give, be found.

Seeking Photo
Seeking | Photo: Taylor Monaco

Keep asking. It will be given to you. Keep seeking. You will find him. Keep knocking. He will open the door to you. (Matthew 7:7)

In Training

Potty training photo
Potty training. | Photo: Taylor Monaco

This little one is potty training. There are so many accidents. So so many. But when he messes up, he is forgiven. Undies are thrown in the wash, and we start anew. The past is quickly forgotten because we are in training.

Jesus reminded me today as I beat myself up over sin that I just. can’t. shake. that this 2 year old and I aren’t much different. Jesus forgives and remembers my sin no more (Jeremiah 31:34). I hate knowing I may sin this way again, but the truth is I am in training, and I am learning. He is there to forgive and to give the gift of righteousness. (Romans 3:22) That gift comes through faith in him, as I believe in him. To be righteous means to be free from guilt.

Forgiven of my sin, freed from my guilt. I am glad to start anew with him. I am free to do better next time, as I continue in training to bear good fruit. (Matthew 7).