I know we’re almost a month into 2021, but I’m still processing what happened in 2020. You? Nothing looked like we thought it would last year. But in those changes I learned so much. When the routine didn’t just click away as usual, we had to adjust and revise and try different. And in the midst of adapting and being flexible I discovered some really wonderful new ways of doing and approaching things I’d like to carry forward, no matter what 2021 or the years after that bring. These are some of my biggest takeaways from the past calendar year:
4. Family church rocks! I love my actual church. I miss worshipping with a crowd of believers and seeing the people I adore. Live preaching from my pastor engages me more than when I watch him on a screen. But, oh my. Church with our family gathered in our family room, pajamas on, Bibles out, voices raised together is a beautiful thing. It’s not what we chose, but when church went online last spring, God did something mighty in our house. What a great reminder that church doesn’t have to look, feel, or be a certain way. Church is when followers of Jesus join together to learn, talk about, and praise Him. And when we do. He always shows up.
5. Unstructured Bible study is also phenomenal. I’ve taught Bible study for years. It typically looks like a room full of women. Sometimes we watch brilliant videos by gifted Bible teachers like Priscilla Shirer. Sometimes I teach a lesson to the group. There are usually snacks. And coffee. And discussion after the teaching. And it’s wonderful. But rooms full of people were not in vogue this year. So, every now and then two or three women and I would gather outside with our Bibles. There wasn’t a video or a lesson plan. It wasn’t on a certain day or at a certain time. But sharing what God was doing in our lives. Admitting our struggles. Encouraging and praying for one another was beyond powerful. It fed me spiritually during some of the hardest days of 2020.
6. My mental health deserves attention. I care for myself in a lot of ways. I try to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep. But my feelings? Well, I’m a pretty happy and extremely blessed girl, so no complaints. Right? Most of the time, that’s true. But I have some baggage. We all do. And recently I’ve been realizing it’s good for me to admit the hard parts, to feel the feelings, to ask for help in processing them. And although it’s hard to dive into the icky, painful, embarrassing parts of me, it’s good. It’s important. I feel God restoring shards of my soul.
There were more things God taught me. Some of them just for Him and me to process. Some seemed redundant to put on this list, but they mattered in different ways to me. What about you? What did God teach you in 2020? Leave a comment sharing something you’d like to carry into 2021 and beyond.
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You have it all taken care of, right?
You have a date with the Big Man scheduled in your Blackberry on recurring for every day. You have a regular prayer time, a routine for reading the Word, a group you meet with either on Sundays or during the week to talk about your relationship with Jesus.
It’s like clockwork. Until you go on summer vacation. And we all know vacation is a temporary thing, but time away from the Lord is bad any way you slice it. And sometimes, on vacation is when you need Him the most.
So, how do you keep up with your relationship with God when you’re on the road, at camp, at a relative’s house or as distant from real life as a foreign country? When everything about your normal schedule is out of whack, how do you stay in sync with Jesus?
In today’s electronic age it’s easier than ever before. You have a Smartphone. You have a laptop or access to a computer at your aunt’s house or hotel lobby. You have a sense of adventure. You’re all set.
Bible reading is a piece of cake online with www.biblegateway.com. You can look up any chapter or verse in almost any translation. Don’t have access to a computer? There’s an App for that – YouVersion – The Bible App – touts more translations than you’ll ever be able to read, bookmarks your spot for you, and has a search engine to help you find any chapter or verse on demand.
Churches are everywhere. So, it’s not your home church. So, it’s a little different. It’s still a group of Christians gathering together to proclaim God’s word, sing His praises and pray to Him. Find one with beautiful stained glass or an interesting history. Focus on the cross and the music and the readings for this week. If you’re out of the country, a church service in another language can still be amazingly spiritual and uplifting. The architecture and history of ancient European churches create a sense of awe, and help you realize how important God has been to generations upon generations.
Now, that you have the actual Word at your fingertips and at least a Sunday service to attend, how do you supplement it with discussion, advice, inspiration? There are so many cool opportunities on the web! Encounter Magazine has The Scene that takes a current event and tackles its relationship to scripture each week. You can download it at http://encounterface2face.com/category/the-scene/ and work through it personally. There are hundreds of churches that have podcasts of their sermons and inspirational speakers have podcasts for more online immersion in Jesus. Find one that meets your needs – male, female, sister, brother, athlete, musician, artist, dancer, bookworm, outgoing, shy, highschooler, homeschooler on-your-way-to-collegegoer -- there’s a website, a blog, a speaker on the internet who speaks directly to your heart via Jesus. Find them on your favorite search engine, plug in and make it part of your day.
You don’t have to stop with scripture and sermons. Download your favorite Christian tunes onto your iPod and an inspirational read onto your Kindle app, iBooks or e-reader for further immersion.
Just like at home where you had a set time of day, you need to commit to a daily date with God on the road. Do you wake up before the rest of the family or stay up past the rest of your crew – this alone time is perfect for you to hang out with Jesus. If your travels give you a little down time every day after lunch, make it then. Do you schedule a daily run? How about right before or after that workout?
But remember wherever you are, your Creator is there within your heart. He’s ready to chat, listen, comfort, encourage or just hang out whether you’re at home or on the road. Jesus wants to be your best friend wherever you go. So, even when you’re in new surroundings, you can still surround yourself with the Lord.
Where are you traveling this summer?
How do you like to incorporate your spirituality with your travels?
Pulling into our neighborhood after another adventure, this time to North Carolina for a mountaintop spring break, I felt myself ease back into the driver’s seat, release my grip on the steering wheel and audibly sigh. The trip was a lovely escape from calendars and clocks, but there is always something soothing about returning home.
Everything was as we left it – even the load of darks in the dryer (apparently they didn’t fold themselves while I was gone). Once back inside, the unpacking began -- the transition from vacation to reality. Traveling is a passion of mine. The more treks I take -- both in actual voyages and on the road of life, I realize how important this final step is. As much as there is anticipation and excitement in the packing for a trip, there is therapy and peace in the unpacking.
Pillows back on beds, iPods back in docks, jackets back on hooks. As each item is transported from car to home, it carries a story with it -- tales of the bunk beds the pillows rested on, the tune that became the theme song of the trip, the day it started out chilly, but we ended up building sand castles on the beach.
What happens to you in a day or week or month or year? Who did you meet? What did you learn? Who did you disagree with? Who pleasantly surprised you? What was the strangest thing you experienced? The funniest? Who are you worried about? What are you praying for?
From the time we leave our homes in the mornings to the time we return in the evenings, even if the only place we go is to our virtual office, we collect stories. At the end of it all, it’s necessary to unpack. After all, what good are stories if they’re never told?
Unlike unpacking a roller bag, to unpack our lives, we need a partner. This could be a parent, roommate, best friend, boy/girlfriend, teacher, coach -- whoever’s a good listener. For me, the unpacking is always with my husband. Some days we dump the contents of our daily suitcase in heaps, rattling off event after encounter in one run-on sentence. Other days we remove one item from our suitcases at a time, sharing one meeting, a new place we discovered, a confrontation, piece by piece. Some nights we take turns unpacking items from our mental luggage back and forth like a tennis match of show and tell. And there are times, due to urgency; it’s necessary for just one of us to unpack a steamer trunk of a day. The other’s carry on can wait.
And just as it’s satisfying to have my faded jeans back in my wardrobe, my clunky, silver bracelets back in their drawer and my favorite black boots back on their rack, it’s gratifying to share with my hubby about the route I took on my morning run, a quote from the book I’m reading and the phone call I had with one of our moms.
Life is a journey. You need to pack to get ready for each adventure, town and port along the way. But you also need to take time to unpack your bag, look at where you’ve been, how it will effect where you’re going and every once in a while do some laundry.
Who helps you unpack the stories of your life?
Laura L. Smith