Masthead header

From Pain to Hope

Happy Monday, friends! I wanted to hop on the blog today and tell you about something I discovered a few weeks ago that has really helped my mind stay focused during church!

Do you ever find your mind wandering to lunch plans, the week ahead, and Susie’s new haircut during the sermon? I have always been a notetaker, but recently, my pastor hasn’t had an outline or even a fill-in-the-blank section on the back of the bulletin. It’s left me a little susceptible to the day-dreaming. (We can all be honest here, right?)

I took my prayer journal with me to church one Sunday in January, thinking I could pray and meditate on my verse for the day during announcements. I read over the prayer requests in the bulletin and transferred them to my journal also… because, usually, the bulletin gets lost or chucked as soon as we get to our house.

I was so glad I did this. I didn’t know the title of the message, but I was wading through some deep-seeded pain at the time, and this sermon brought me back to the Word and reminded me of God’s goodness despite the hurt I was facing. As Christians, our pain should always be a catalyst that draws us close to the Lord. Maybe you have some tender wounds that you are trying to avoid. Maybe they’re getting you down and taking you to an unhealthy place. If that’s you today, let you soul bathe in this truth today:

 My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.
 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

Lamentations 3:20-24

As the pastor began the sermon, I felt convicted about some things. I wrote those in the confession section. As he brought out passages that left me feeling overwhelmed with gratitude, I wrote those in the praise section. As people came to my mind (I wish my brother could be here– this sermon would be good for him!) (and other such atrocities that we think during church instead of self-reflecting), I wrote them in the prayer request section. I jotted down names to pray for in light of the sermon or passage. And, as the sermon closed with personal application questions, I wrote these in the make me more like You section.

As an example, I’ll share what a page in my prayer journal looked like following the sermon. (You can listen to the sermon From Pain to Hope on Lamentations 3.)

praise: Thankful for hope! Thank You, Jesus, that Your mercies are new every morning. Thank You for loving me unceasingly, with my bad breath and bedhead and bad attitude. Thank You that Your affection for me is not dependent on my performances. You love me! Period.

confession: I often feel without hope. I often feel like collapse is happening around me. I’m sorry that I allow my security to be in the state of my house, or the behavior of my child or husband. I’m sorry that You have seen me lose hope and cave to depression and forget Your goodness.

make me more like You: Shift my hope to YOU ALONE. Take my eyes from my disappointments or to-do list or failuures. Root my hope in You– because YOU ARE GOOD. Even though I am not. Help me release the ineffective hopes and methods that don’t deliver. May You be “the only Thing on my plate.”

Obviously, there are a million ways you could take notes on Sunday morning. There are lots of resources out there that are specifically created to take sermon notes and study a passage of Scripture (find my favorite here and here). But, if you can’t afford to have a different journal for each thing, OR if you like to have everything all in one place, this is a good option!

Do ya’ll have any other ideas for how to keep your mind focused during sermons and teaching? Comment below and share your tips with us!

 

IMG_4383Cara Cobble Trantham is a freelance writer whose passion is to encourage women of all ages to draw closer to the Lord. She lives in Greeneville, Tennessee, with her husband and one-year-old daughter. She loves to send cards in magazine envelopes, counsel ladies over sugar and cream (with a little bit of coffee), and read a good book at the beach. Her bucket list includes eating pizza in Chicago, staying at a bed and breakfast in Savannah, and following a recipe without leaving out an ingredient.

Share on: |Facebook|Twitter|Pinterest

How God Redeemed My Mornings

redeemedmornings-graphicAbout a year before my daughter Eden was born, I began doing the large majority of my ministry in the mornings. (And by ministry, I mean serving the Bride of Christ and in turn, being ministered to.) (I love how those two go hand in hand.)  I had someone over for breakfast before work about once a week. I met people at our local coffeeshop to talk and pray. Thankfully, I didn’t have to be at work until closer to 9, and that gave me an hour and half or so to meet up with people. I found myself getting up earlier and earlier each day to be ready for the day and not rushing around at the last minute.

And as that cranked up, I started getting cranky. Not because of the ministry, but because of the time crunch it put on my day. I started lamenting that my morning routine was taking too long.

There were all of these things that I wanted to do on a consistent, daily basis, and there just was not enough time to do it. The morning seemed like the best time for me to do my devotions, to exercise, take a shower, wash my hair, pluck my eyebrows, floss my teeth, lotion up, take my vitamins, eat a healthy breakfast and pack a healthy lunch, start dinner in the crockpot, and leave my house in decent order as I walked out the door.

Are you exhausted yet?

So while it seemed like a vain prayer at the time, I asked the Lord to maximize my time in the mornings. I wanted to get as much stuff done while my husband Brandon was at work so that when we were both home that evening, we could spend time together and I wouldn’t feel the need to be running around finishing the routine I didn’t get to in the morning. I also didn’t want to be consumed with myself, and it seemed like the more time I spent on myself, the more I thought about myself. I didn’t like being that person. So I began asking the Lord to somehow make the morning longer, and/or to rearrange my priorities so that I could focus on what mattered.

I had no idea how He would answer.

It started innocently. My aunt came to visit and I complimented her on her beautifully curled hair. She told me it had been that way for over a week.

My first thought was, “That is disgusting.” Followed by, “Wow. How can I get in on THAT??”

So she told me about dry shampoo, and I didn’t believe her. But I was intrigued.

I wanted to go a week without washing my hair, but let’s be realistic. Some days, I almost felt like I needed to wash it twice. My hair is so oily and would get limp and stringy quickly.

But I decided to give it a whirl. I went to Sally’s and bought some fancy dry shampoo, and it got me through the day. No one else noticed my hair being different but me. It turned out that the first month would be a psychological battle of deciding that I really looked fine. I learned that it wasn’t all about me and no one was critiquing my hair on a scale of 1 to 10 every day.

I started small, just trying to beat my last record and go a little longer without shampooing. At first, I counted the hours and days until I could wash it again.

Somewhere along the line, I heard about cornstarch and baby powder. Those are what really did the trick for me. Had I had those at my disposal at the beginning, I may not have fought as much of a psychological battle as I did. The powder would actually absorb the oil and give me more volume on top.  The perks were numerous. My hair had extra volume. I used less shampoo. My hair fell out less. My hair grew faster. It kept curl and color longer. In fact, shortly thereafter, I got red highlights, the red lasted two months, and the next time I got my hair highlighted, I STILL had red streaks from the year before.

The biggest perk was the hour (plus) of washing, drying, and styling in the morning that I gained.

I found a recipe on Pinterest for DIY baking soda shampoo. It also did wonders for me. It includes a vinegar rinse, and that smell was less than awesome. But rinsing my hair in it with cold water closed my hair follicles and added shine. I seemed to be able to go longer when I wasn’t using chemicals to strip my hair of oil with my cheap 99 cent shampoo.

I write this post not to brag or encourage you to be obsessed with your hair, but to encourage you to talk to God about the little things. He cares about time management, and He loves to answer in creative ways. Put Him to the test and see for yourself!

Some battles I still have to choose. My eyebrows don’t always get plucked and my nails aren’t always polished perfectly. (And you know what? No one seems to notice but me!) But I was able to start having coffee dates in the morning and inviting people over for breakfast without sacrificing my time in the Word or exercise. If you make Him a priority and make the Gospel a non-negotiable item in your day, He will make good on His promise to add all these things to you.

These days, I have to think hard about when I washed my hair last. But I CAN tell you the last time I had coffee with someone who needed to hear truth– and who spoke truth to me in return. I can tell you the last time I had someone over for pancakes and blueberries. I can tell you the last time I spent an hour in the Word soaking up God’s promises.

And I would much rather remember those things.

 

 

Cara Cobble Trantham is a freelance writer whose passion is to encourage women of all ages to draw closer to the Lord. She lives in Greeneville, Tennessee, with her husband and one-year-old daughter. She loves to send cards in magazine envelopes, counsel ladies over sugar and cream (with a little bit of coffee), and read a good book at the beach. Her bucket list includes eating pizza in Chicago, staying at a bed and breakfast in Savannah, and following a recipe without leaving out an ingredient.

Share on: |Facebook|Twitter|Pinterest

Perfect In All of Your Ways

The Christian life often has the reputation of being a happy-go-lucky existence. Everything goes right and all the endings are happy. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The Bible actually shows us the opposite… that following Jesus is hard. There are trials and enemies and temptations and suffering. The message that the Gospel proclaims is this: The Christian life is far from easy, but Jesus is worth it. 

You see, anyone can follow a God who promises safety and ease and comfort. Anyone can follow someone like this when everything is going well. But it’s in the tough times, when the onlookers see us heartbroken and still faithful to our God, that they see the message of the Gospel. He remains faithful, no matter what. Discomfort and tragedy doesn’t mean He loves us less, just as prosperity doesn’t mean He loves us more. It is not for us to understand. It is only for us to believe.

But in this we can trust: all things are working for His glory. He is good, regardless of circumstances. We cannot see His bigger purpose, but we can trust that He will keep His promise to be faithful to us. I’m not sure how, but He loves us with a constant, unchanging love.

The first time I heard the song “Good, Good Father,” I immediately bathed my fears and guilt in its truth:

Oh, I’ve heard a thousand stories
Of what they think You’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whispers
Of love in the dead of night.
And You tell me that You’re pleased
And that I’m never alone.

You’re a good, good Father.
It’s Who You are, it’s Who You are, it’s Who You are,
And I’m loved by You.
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am…

This love so undeniable I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable I can hardly think
And You call me deeper still
And You call me deeper still
And you call me deeper still into love, love, love

You are perfect in all of Your ways to us.

Three years ago today, my dear friends Jeremy and Kristin lost their sweet Sophia at 37 weeks along. And I promise you that singing that line–“you’re a good, good Father”– is not something they do lightly. They know it deep down in their soul, because they have felt Him every step of the way. He became even more real to them when they rested in the “I-don’t-understand” and whispered, “I will trust you anyway.”

God has turned so much of my own mourning into joy. It’s my favorite thing about Him.

 

GoodGoodFather-graphic

He is PERFECT in all of His ways to us.

“Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” Psalm 116:7
“But let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 9:24

“This God—His way is perfect; the Word of the Lord proves true; He is a shield for all those Who take refuge in Him.” Psalm 18:30, 2 Samuel 22:31

 

Cara Cobble Trantham is a freelance writer whose passion is to encourage women of all ages to draw closer to the Lord. She lives in Greeneville, Tennessee, with her husband and one-year-old daughter. She loves to send cards in magazine envelopes, counsel ladies over sugar and cream (with a little bit of coffee), and read a good book at the beach. Her bucket list includes eating pizza in Chicago, staying at a bed and breakfast in Savannah, and following a recipe without leaving out an ingredient.

Share on: |Facebook|Twitter|Pinterest

Mightier than the Waves

When I was a young girl, we went to the beach every year with my mom’s extended family. All 15-20 of us rented a big house and had a blast. We would walk to the bakery for donuts in the morning, followed by a bike ride on the boardwalk. We would take turns cooking dinner at night and then usually go play mini-golf or several rounds of Phase Ten. But my favorite part was the hot sun beating down on me as I jumped waves with my uncles. As I got older, they taught me how to “surf”.

Our family is very “board” savvy, and often you’d see a row of the men (and me) far out in the water catching waves to the shore. The rush of adrenaline as the water pulled you under and rocketed you back to the sand was not to be rivaled. When my younger brother got old enough to join in on the fun, he got caught in an undertow one day. His board knocked the wind out of him and he swallowed a lot of water before he could get his head above the waves. As they dragged the poor water rat up on the shore, I tried to come up beside him and comfort him. All I could come up with was, “Don’t worry, Christopher. I’ve drownded many times, and it is NOT fun.” My family has never let me hear the end of it.

Sometimes life feels that way. We can be having the time of our lives, when all of a sudden, the very things that were giving us a wild ride can trap us underneath and threaten to knock us out of the game. It can feel like instead of saving us, God is using all that power of His to drag us around, allowing our heads to go beneath water, floundering for breaths. The waves can easily become something we shy away from, afraid that the water’s power will sink us.

It’s only a difference in perspective. I often view God as being just like me, thinking my thoughts and doing the things I would do. I can attempt to understand and control Him that way. And then when He doesn’t comply with my worldview, I am left hurt, disappointed, confused. There is so much unknown in the mind of God, and instead of comforting me (Isaiah 55:8-9), it makes me fearful. I am uncomfortable with what I can’t explain. And yet, this is a truer picture of our God. He is in no way predictable. The things that seem “good” to us are often not best in the long run. And the things that seem harsh are often exactly what we need to crash the dreams we have for ourselves, in order to make room for the indescribable things He has for our future.

I can’t explain why babies die or why some are born with Down’s or why cancer eats away at our loved ones. I can’t give a good reason for divorces and diseases and natural disasters. But what I DO know is that our God doesn’t prevent all the consequences of sin. He could, but He doesn’t, because that would not always be the MOST loving thing He could do. Perhaps we will only know the full extent of His love if everything isn’t always perfect, where we didn’t need Him. Perhaps only in the dark, cold, lonely places can we best feel His presence.

He is loving. And those same waves that can knock you under and crash your sand castle? They represent His love for you. The strength with which He crushes your dreams is the same strength with which He loves you. His affection for you is that strong. And if we trust that He loves us this way, we can trust that–somehow–everything He allows is only loving.

One night recently, I was rocking my daughter to sleep, all the while thinking of as many negative thoughts at a time as I possibly could. I was mourning the loss of a precious friend and fuming about a silly situation in my marriage. I was sizing up my to-do list against my energy level. I was feeling overwhelmed by life which led to feeling underwhelmed by the Lord’s faithfulness. I looked down at my baby and realized that she would not much longer be a baby. Here we were, a year into this thing called childhood. This thing we prayed so long for. It was here. And I was missing opportunities. Right then, I decided that I would not miss this joy because I was focused on the things that didn’t seem good to me. I wouldn’t waste time trying to understand why things in my life were such a mess, when I was holding in my arms the biggest blessing. I would stop asking God why and worship instead.

IMG_3948

I kissed her head, learned back, let my breath out, and looked around the room. My eyes rested on a pallet plaque that my friend Angela made for our nursery. And I whispered it in her ear: “Mightier than the waves of the sea is His love for you.” Stronger than the undertows that threaten to drown us. Stronger than the infertility shots and the chemo treatments and the Alzheimer’s and messy politics. Stronger than the bitterness and the unfaithfulness and the guilt. His love is mightier than anything that would threaten to zap joy from us.

If we really believed that truth, it would change everything. No, it wouldn’t suddenly put money in our account or restore the marriage or raise to life our loved ones. But it would work a miracle in our hearts. It would change our attitude and adjust our outlook. It would remind us Whose Hands we are in. It would assure us that we don’t have to handle this alone.

No matter where life finds you, let the words crash over you today: Mightier than the waves of the sea is His love for you (Psalm 93:4).

Share on: |Facebook|Twitter|Pinterest

Some Thoughts on Sabbath

Sundays have traditionally been a hard day for me.

It is so hard for me to grasp that God loves me despite my performance. I spend all week over-working, over-tidying, under-resting, that come Sunday? I don’t know how to take a break. Sometimes church seems like performance. And then lunch still has to be made. And then the cleanup. And then usually not much of anything going on, which can drive a person who is used to going ninety miles an hour absolutely crazy. (The only time I sit around and do nothing is when I’m sick.) (And to me, the doing-nothing part is worse than how bad I feel.) When the schedules and nap times are all off kilter, I tend to unravel.

Edited-119
How can I get off the hamster wheel and simply rest? How can I turn a blind eye to the sink full of dishes to soak in the Word? To read a book that points me to Him? To strategically plan conversations and get-togethers that stir my affections for Jesus? The only solution I’ve found is to schedule other things instead.

One of the most profound quotes I’ve ever heard is by Matt Chandler. “Find the things that stir your affections for Christ and saturate your life in them. Find the things that rob you of that affection and walk away from them. That’s the Christian life as easy as I can explain it for you.”

In the last two years, I have come to realize not only how much I really do want rest, but how much I need it. More than that, the Lord is teaching me how vital it is to pleasing Him. It is not in the performance, or the sacrifices, or the burnt offerings (in case you’re reading this, and your name is Saul). It is in obedience to Him that I find His blessing. He rested on the seventh day, and if the God of the universe had to do that, then how could I consider myself exempt from rest? I can cop out and say that it’s simply my personality to be a planner and be busy, but when I feel the need to be in control and producing  every minute of every day, busy is an idol that is robbing my affections for Christ.

The lists of “stirs” and “steals” will look different for each person. There is not a right or wrong answer. This list may even fluctuate over time for a person, as seasons of life come and go. What once brought joy may now be a chore. What once carried dread may now lead to excitement.

Obviously, we can’t neglect the laundry in order to take bubble baths and go to coffee with our girlfriends every day. But one day that is a good time to focus on the things that stir our affections for Jesus is on our Sabbath. For most people, that day will be Sunday. For ministers and laymen who serve primarily on Sunday, that day is anything but restful and another day will suit them better. For some, dedicating an entire day to “Sabbath-ing” is completely out of the question. God sees your heart and desire to focus on Him. The idea is to set aside a chunk of time to revive your soul.

Matt Chandler mentions that your habits may stay the same, but your motivation should change on this day. You may still go on a run like you do the other days, but this day, you do it to appreciate nature and pray instead of to lose weight or beat your time. For some, it may mean grabbing lunch in a drive-thru to eliminate work and mess. For some, it will be making an elaborate meal and sharing it with others. There are no rules. Just listen to the Holy Spirit and take note of the state of your soul. Do you tend to feel discontent or depressed after browsing social media? Avoid that on your Sabbath. Do you feel joyful after blogging? Your Sabbath may be a good day to schedule that.

favoritethings

Some things on my list are listening to uplifting music while soaking in the tub, reading a Christian magazine, writing thank-you notes, doing my homework for discipleship group, letting my husband cook lunch. Oh yes, please. (And, he just brought me breakfast in bed. This doesn’t usually happen, but I’m going to put this on my “stirs” list and let him know I need this more often.) Some Sundays, my bed doesn’t get made. I’m learning to be okay with this. Maybe my email won’t get checked. I don’t generally consider watching tv to be something that stirs my affection for Jesus. (Usually, if anything, it’s a steal.) But it so happens that on my Sabbath, my husband and I watch our favorite show together. We talk during commercials, eat icecream, and go over our finances. Something that used to be a chore is now something we look forward to.

So today, my discipleship homework is to plan my next Sabbath. Will I go read at a coffeeshop? Will I hike a new trail? Will I decorate my prayer closet? This is where my planner-personality-meets-practicality.

Slowly but surely, Sunday is becoming one of my favorite days.

 

Share on: |Facebook|Twitter|Pinterest