Lessons from the Ball Field

I don’t always hide my feelings well. My face tends to say it all- good or bad; but more often than not, my words say a lot too. I often speak about how I want my kids to be good winners and good losers. I want them to accept what comes their way and roll with the punches. Do as I say, not as I do, boys. I tend to let the smallest of frustrations set me off, especially when it comes to a rule that I don’t understand or a technicality. Case in point: baseball.

The other day, my son’s teammate tagged a player out on his way to first base. The ball touched this boy’s arm, and then the ball was dropped, deeming the out back in. To me, and my professional baseball opinion, the kid was tagged. What comes after shouldn’t matter. But it did. I was a little indignant. I flippantly dismissed the rule as nonsense. Meanwhile, my son was enjoying his time on the field. Soaking up his last game and standing with his glove open, ready to seize the opportunity. I was stuck in a play that happened five minutes ago, while the kids on the field were onto the next batter. We lost the game– not because of that out, we just lost. I was sad for my son’s team. I was hoping that the team we just played wouldn’t win the whole tournament, and I was anything but a good sport. Outside I brushed it off as “that’s baseball”, but inside (and a little vocally), I was still reeling.

For such a little hiccup in the course of the day, I ruminated on it. I let one minor event change my mood. I don’t want to be that way! I want to be the Proverbs 31 woman who “can laugh at the time to come” and return to tending to my household. I want what I tell the boys to be true of their mom as well.

Lucky for me, I have plenty of baseball games ahead of me to practice what I preach. More than that, I have life ahead of me where things are guaranteed to go in favor of others over me, where things won’t go the way I want, where life won’t always be fair. More than a quick fix to these, my prayer is for my heart to openly accept what God places in front of me. I want to be ready for the curveballs, if you will. My baby steps might be taken in the bleachers or how I react to less than thrilling news. 2 Timothy 2:22 says, “Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” Things that get me riled up are fleeting. I hear mamas yell at their boys at bat, “Settle down out there!” and that’s exactly what I need to do myself.

I know for sure that trying to fix it on my own is setting myself up for failure. Just like a player needs a coach, I need to go to the Word when I’m stuck in my feelings. I need to meditate rather than ruminate. I need to sing His praises rather than tear others down. It won’t always go my way, and that’s okay. You win some, you lose some. That’s baseball. That’s life.

Get it Out

On Saturday I had a migraine. Thankfully, that isn’t something I say much anymore, thanks to answered prayers and amazing chiropractic care, but Saturday was one of those rare exceptions. I was at the ball park, and it was hot. I mustered the strength to stay through my son’s game, and I promptly made my exit to the parking lot after the last out. I needed to throw up, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of publicly puking. I took deep breaths, I let the air conditioner blow cold on my face, and I started home, only to realize that I never stopped at Hobby Lobby. And they are closed on Sundays. It was my only chance for a whole week. I begrudgingly put on my mask and felt my breath, hot against my face. “Don’t lose it. Don’t lose it. Don’t lose it. Just breathe.”, I kept repeating in my head. Again, through an answered prayer, I made it through the checkout line, out of the store, and to my home. I walked straight to the bathroom, but I’d pushed away the notion so well that the feeling had subsided. Unfortunately, the headache hadn’t. I rested for a couple hours until I felt normal again. Later, I kept thinking that I probably would have felt better sooner had I just let myself release the pressure. My body was begging for a release, and I was refusing. Why? Because it was socially unacceptable? Because I didn’t want to be inconvenienced? I dug a little deeper. The same narrative seemingly continued to play out.

Just today, my son had a pimple. His first. It was huge, and tight, and red, and he was adamant that I was not getting my hands on it. We tried to clean it. We tried a hot compress. No luck. It needed to pop. (Why are bodies so gross, by the way?) I finally convinced him, and boy did he find relief. It hurt, but after the hurt came healing.

Recently, friend needed to talk. She was struggling with a situation and needed to unload. She later apologized and said she was crying about it, and wanted to stop. I refused to let her feel sorry–she needed that relief! She could identify that her mind needed to unload, but her body was screaming that it wanted to relieve the pressure, too. Like my denial when it came to purging, she was worried about the perception of her tears or the weight of the information she had shared.

Why do we forget how good it feels to let it go? Why do we hold onto things that are toxic rather than release them? I’ve been studying the book of Galatians, and Paul is trying desperately to convince the people that they can let go of the pressure to live up to the law. He wants them to experience the freedom of living in Christ’s gift of grace. Galatians 5:1 tells us, “For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm, then, and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery”. Who would willingly make themselves slaves? Yet we choose to do that every day. We grip our sins so tightly. We cling to behaviors that take us captive. With white knuckles we acknowledge what we want to attain, yet refuse to unclasp the very thing that’s holding us back.

Similarly, I’m reading Lysa Terkeurst’s book, Forgiving What You Can’t Forget, and reminding myself of the freeing power of forgiveness. When we hold onto grudges or untruths of our past, we are basically clinging to a pimple that needs to pop. That blemish isn’t hurting the other person’s face- it’s killing our complexion! Let it go. Let the Great Physician heal that wound. Yes, it hurts. It is uncomfortable, and it might make us feel like throwing up from time to time. But getting rid of the weight of bitterness and resentment frees us up for the life God planned for us (see Ephesians 2:10). Hebrews 12:1 says, “let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us” (CSB). Refusing to forgive is a hindrance, not to mention a sin. It keeps us from being close to God.

In Revelation 3:16, the Bible tells us that God will vomit out a person who is lukewarm- neither on fire for Him or completely turning cold shoulder. The idea that anyone is less than committed is disgusting to God. (Yikes!) And I don’t think God is ashamed of this declaration. He knows that anything less than our best is undesirable. If we are not completely sold out to him, we have left room for the gross, toxic, lesser-than rubbish the world has to offer. Guilty as charged, by the way.

Hebrews 12:1 continues on, “Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” What are we doing this for? Why are we “throwing up” our sin? Because it gets us to our ultimate finish line of eternal life in Christ Jesus. Not that we could earn it, but so that we can clear the hurdles with agility. We can carry the baton to our brothers and sisters. We can sprint without passing out. We know the One who can carry us and we don’t want to load our bodies down with trash, making us harder to lift. Throw that junk up. Push away the gross. Some of us might enjoy watching it fly on the way out. Just don’t hold onto what God has cleared the way to let go of.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your cares on Him, because He cares about you.” -1 Peter 5:6-7 CSB

Gospel Goals

I’m not one to give up on goals. Except that time I set a goal in January to write every month and then skipped February. In all fairness, we bought and sold a house in February, so my life was a bit of a blur. But I’m back! And I’m setting aside another goal.

So, I was inspired by Annie F. Downs to read the Gospels every month for a year. I have a 30-day plan, which involves reading 3 chapters each day. It is totally manageable, and it has proven to be beneficial, but reading about Jesus’ death four times a month has proven to be incredibly difficult.

I’ve been convicted by the fact that it should be difficult to read. Definitely more difficult than it has been. As a lifelong church-goer and decades-old Christian, I have heard the story of Jesus’ crucifixion more times than I can count. I know about the cross and the beating and the resurrection. I saw the Passion of the Christ, which was probably the first time the idea of His sacrifice ever made me cry. I have to admit, that is a little embarrassing that it took so long. It’s also embarrassing that it took three consecutive reads through the Gospels to overwhelm me.

Part of the problem is we gloss over the hard stuff. We make Jesus’ sacrifice into a pretty picture. We focus on the resurrection instead of the sacrifice. They are of equal importance. Without the sacrifice, we wouldn’t have forgiveness. Without the resurrection, we wouldn’t have fulfillment of prophesy, proof of His omnipotence, or the promise of His return. The resurrection sure is easier to talk about. I celebrate Easter, the Resurrection Sunday, but I didn’t even really recognize Good Friday until high school.

Maybe it just takes spiritual and emotional maturity to understand the difficulty. I remember watching My Girl as a child, never understanding why my mom was crying. Sure it was sad, but it didn’t wreck me. As an adult, and especially as a parent, I don’t even entertain the idea of watching that sob-fest. “The bee stings!!” No, thank you.

I don’t seek out the sad. I avoid clicking on videos of soldiers coming home or dogs being reunited with their owners. It hurts too much. Maybe that is why I don’t want to read about Jesus dying again.

There are a thousand ways to leave your lover read the Bible. I’ve read it through in a year. I’ve read it through in over a year. I’ve picked different books to read throughout the year. I’ve taken intense notes; I’ve taken no notes. I’ve used a study guide, I’ve read books about the Bible. I tried reading the Gospels every month, and it just wasn’t my fit. And I think that’s okay. Just like there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s (Hallelujah for egg season!), there’s no wrong way to read the Bible. Unless you don’t read it at all. I think Jesus is okay with growing through and growing out of a plan. If I read the Bible the same way I read it as a child, I’d be stuck in a simple understanding of what it has to offer.

I learned a lot from my three month endeavor, and now I’m onto a new plan. I sat in the sadness of Jesus’ death, and His torture. Honestly, I think what struck me the most this time around was the deep pain of betrayal. He knew what was coming, and He stuck by them anyway. It’s good to be moved and saddened by all of this because it makes me appreciate His sacrifice even more. It makes me look at the decisions I make to sin, and it makes me rethink them. Every time I gossip, I need to reflect on the cross. Every time I am quick to anger, I should remind myself of Jesus’ patience with Judas. Every time I complain, I can remember Jesus’ prayerful plea for God to “take this cup” (Luke 22:42), but His ultimate choice to take it Himself. I need to be moved to tears every once in a while, but I don’t have to sit in sorrow. I need to be affected enough to change my heart, but moved enough to say “now what?” and flip to the next page.

So where do I go from here? I’ve chosen to use a Bible study book on Galatians. I think it’s important to learn from other scholars and dive deeply into all parts of the Bible. I may return to the Gospel plan at some point, I might not. Of course I won’t neglect to ever read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John again. We just need some space.

Here’s the deal. Reading the Bible can be hard. It’s hard to commit the time. It is hard to understand. It is not always interesting. But gosh, it can be. It can make me laugh, it can make me yell, it can make me cry- did I mention I read about Jesus’ death 12 times in the last 3 months, and THEN studied it in-depth for my weekly Bible study? I want you to know that it’s okay to stop and regroup. It’s okay to quit mid-plan and find a new one. The point is that you don’t quit altogether. Keep reading. And when you’ve read it, read it again. Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word is “living and active”. I find new truths every single time. My eyes are opened to new stories, new ideas, new ways of understanding, new convictions all the time. And I’ve read this book a lot.

So maybe you need to read the Gospels this year. Maybe you just need to read them this month. Maybe you are needing Galatians or Genesis, or Revelation (peace be with you). Just read. That’s it. Just read it.

I pray that you will grow closer to God through whatever way you choose. Hear His voice in the words He’s given us. As John Piper says, “Do you want to hear God speak? Read the Bible out loud”.

A Crazy Case of Covid

Well, the Dumas Den has joined the ranks of those infected with Covid-19. It came as a pretty big shock last week when I lost all sense of smell. I had been feeling a little under the weather, but I hadn’t experienced anything alarming. In retrospect, what I thought was a caffeine headache turned out to be Covid. My tiredness was more than teacher-tired on a Friday, and my sniffles were not allergies.

Good news: By the time I realized I had it, my ten day isolation period was almost over. Bad news: I went to work, a couple pre-scheduled doctor appointments, and church. I practiced social distancing and wore my mask in each place I attended, but I can’t help but worry about who I exposed. I spent this last weekend feeling guilty about it. I was so overwhelmed with who I needed to tell, what procedures I needed to follow for school, and how it would affect my family for the next two weeks.

Here’s what I’ve learned. I watched a virtual women’s conference last Saturday, and the speaker, Nika Maples, outlined the difference between guilt and conviction. (Talk about God’s perfect timing!) Guilt is Satan’s way of making someone feel bad for something they cannot change. I cannot change the fact that I have Covid. I cannot change the fact that I did not recognize the warning signs. I cannot change the fact that I went to several places. Conviction is God’s way of nudging someone away from sin or wrongdoings. When I realized I couldn’t smell, I was convicted to go take a Covid test so that I could find out if I needed to quarantine. I felt a nudge, and I listened, and I stopped the spread at that moment.

I don’t know how I got Covid, but whoever gave it to me didn’t do it on purpose. I don’t blame them, so why was I feeling so guilty about who I affected? God certainly didn’t put that feeling there. I still feel a sense of responsibility for what happened. Looking back, I could have gotten tested earlier or just stayed home. On the other hand, I don’t want to waste a test every time I feel less than great. Like I tell my students all the time: just do your best. Make the best decisions you can with what you know. I’m sharing my story in hopes that it might help someone else.

I may not be able to taste, but I can still “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). He has protected my kids from the virus, and He has shielded me from worse symptoms. I have received so many encouraging texts and offers for help. Those mean the world. God placed people in my life to carry the burden of a sick friend. He placed a speaker (who just happens to be one of my favorites) on a TV screen for a virtual conference at the very time I needed those words about guilt. He knows what we need before we do (Matthew 6:8).

Stay healthy and well, wear your masks, and limit where you go when you can. Much love.

Celebrate

Today marks day seven of the Hope*writers challenge. I’ve written seven blog posts in seven days. After a pretty long dry period, I’d say that’s a win! It hasn’t been easy, but it hasn’t been particularly difficult. Even still, it’s something to celebrate.

I’m not celebrating my own ability. I know very well that the words at the ends of my fingertips are a gift from God. I am but a messenger. I’m celebrating God’s goodness even when I haven’t always been obedient. I’m celebrating God’s creativity in using technology to make His glory known. I’m celebrating because people have read what I have written and learned something new. I’m celebrating that tomorrow is a day of rest.

When Moses parted the Red Sea, the people stopped to sing of God’s strength. They didn’t praise Moses- they praised the One who told him how to do it. “Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11 NIV). After Mary processed what the angel told her- that she would be the mother of Jesus- she sang a song of praise. “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.” (Luke 1:46-49 NIV)

As we celebrate the milestones, may we remember to thank God who made them possible. When we sing “Happy Birthday” or go on a date to celebrate an anniversary, may we stop and praise His name for keeping us healthy enough to blow out the candles again and for giving us the grace to say “I do” for another day. When your kid makes it through the day with a great conduct grade, sing a loud Hallelujah to the Lord for self-control that only He provides.

I want this year to be a year of thankfulness and gratitude. I have so much to be thankful for. In the ups and downs, I want to be a person who focuses on the ways God provides through it all. I want to celebrate in a way that honors Him and leads me closer to Him. I hope to never lean on my own abilities. If I’m able to work hard, it’s only because God gave me the concentration, time, and skill. If I win, it’s because I have victory in Jesus.

I may not have any sparkling grape juice to finish off the night, and I may not have a confetti canon to end the challenge, but I have a grateful heart and more blog posts to write. Thanks for sticking with me and encouraging me along the way. Find something to celebrate this week.

Rhythm

If you know me, you know I love watching Dancing with the Stars. I probably talk about it way too much, and I get overly attached to the contestants and professional dancers every single season, but I can’t help myself. I love watching the way adults who have limited dance experience grow over the course of just a few weeks. Even the contestants who just can’t seem to get it together show at least SOME progress.

When a dancer shows real talent, and the professional gets to have a little fun with the choreography, my favorite thing to watch is when the dance steps find an underlying rhythm in the music. One you wouldn’t normally hear just by listening to the song. This happens a lot in tap dancing. The dancer starts adding a layer of a beat on top of the existing cadence, or they move in a way that accentuates or causes tension in the music. But even with these additions or differences, the rhythm itself doesn’t change. The drum beat still marches on.

Sometimes we refer to routines as our “rhythms”. We get in the habit of waking up at a certain time, showering, eating breakfast, packing a lunch, heading out the door, listening to music, and driving to work. It becomes the rhythm of the morning. If we have to stop for gas or we run out of milk, it interrupts the beat. We feel that something is not right. When drummers aren’t in sync, my husband, Daniel, refers to it as “shoes in the dryer”. Can’t you just hear it? It has the steady dryer drum rolling on, but the shoes don’t quite fall at the same beat. It makes him cringe almost as much as when someone claps on 1 and 3 instead of 2 and 4 counts.

We tend to get tired of the same beat. We need a new drum fill every now and then. Keep the same drum kit, same sticks, same drummer, but add something new.

I think one reason so many people give up on reading the Bible is because they get bored. They get stuck on a difficult book, or they find it less intriguing than watching a TV show. They desire sleep more than getting better at memorizing Scripture. There isn’t a quick payoff. On the other hand, maybe someone who has read the Bible for years is stuck in a rut. Keep the rhythm, but add an overtone. Find a new way to work with the beat. Start a morning devotional with worship music. Use a reading plan. Try meditating on just a couple verses rather than reading an entire chapter. Reread a book of the Bible several times throughout the year. Same Bible, same God, same stories, fresh eyes.

In Dancing with the Stars, there is usually a challenge toward the end where two couples are given the same music and the same dance style, but they choreograph their own routines. When they come together they do their dances, side by side, and the best dancers win. Not once have I seen two dancers come out and move in the exact same way. They were given the same beat, but heard it differently. Same rhythm, different interpretation.

Maybe that’s what you need to jumpstart your time in the Word. Find a new beat, work with the music you already have, and finally, ask God to show you something new- He won’t turn you down!

Fresh

A fresh start is always a good idea unless you’re the one giving it, right? “His mercies are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23) is a source of comfort when we are the ones who have messed up. We can wake up each new day with a clean slate, sins forgotten, no records of wrongs, in God’s eyes. But what happens when we remember we are supposed to follow suit? Easier said than done.

From a parent perspective, when my kids mess up, it’s really difficult to punish the crime and move on. I try my best not to bring up their offenses, but gosh I tend to hold grudges. It’s tough to catch your kid in a lie and then trust them the next time they tell you something. It’s hard to accept their punishment as paid in full, rather than dig up the past. Parenting is hard enough, but parenting like Jesus feels impossible!

But just as I’m trying to give new mercies every morning, I’m receiving new mercies every morning.

God gives me that fresh start every single day. Even when I’m unkind, even when I’m short tempered, even when I neglect to pray, even when…..

I know I disappoint him on an hourly basis. The feeling I get when someone wrongs me? He feels from all of us every second of every day, yet He gives more grace (James 4:6).

This year, as we ease into our fresh start, maybe we can look into giving others fresh starts as well. As we receive grace from others, may we overflow into more lives who need it too.

I love Revelation 21:5 because it tells us God is making everything new. We have the hope of one day living in a world with no tears, no death, no mourning, no pain (Revelation 21:4). 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” God is all about fresh starts. How much better will my year be if I remember that every morning? I’ve already been assured that I’m new- it’s time to start living like it. I have newness to look forward to, so I should start practicing now.

Be someone’s breath of fresh air this weekend, my friends.

Twenty-One

I’m starting this post a little late in the day. I’ll be honest and say today’s writing challenge topic wasn’t the easiest to explore. Should I make a list of 21 things? Focus on the year? Something about blackjack? Nothing seemed to fit; the later it got, the fuzzier my mind got, and the distractions piled up. So I went to the Word. I figured if I didn’t have it together, I should go to the One who does.

Psalm 21 CSB

Lord, the king finds joy in your strength.
How greatly he rejoices in your victory!
You have given him his heart’s desire
and have not denied the request of his lips.Selah
For you meet him with rich blessings;
you place a crown of pure gold on his head.
He asked you for life, and you gave it to him—
length of days forever and ever.
His glory is great through your victory;
you confer majesty and splendor on him.
You give him blessings forever;
you cheer him with joy in your presence.
For the king relies on the Lord;
through the faithful love of the Most High
he is not shaken.

8 Your hand will capture all your enemies;
your right hand will seize those who hate you.
9 You will make them burn
like a fiery furnace when you appear;
the Lord will engulf them in his wrath,
and fire will devour them.
10 You will wipe their progeny from the earth
and their offspring from the human race.[a]
11 Though they intend to harm[b] you
and devise a wicked plan, they will not prevail.
12 Instead, you will put them to flight
when you ready your bowstrings to shoot at them.

13 Be exalted, Lord, in your strength;
we will sing and praise your might.

I love how David, the author of this Psalm, praises God for His strength. I think that’s a quality of God’s that I forget about. I know that in my weakness, God is strong (2 Corinthians 12:9), but I really don’t give enough consideration for the power of God’s hands. The hands that made the whole world. The hands that can move mountains and control the earth’s forces. The hands that raise the dead. The hands that help me keep my life together.

In these “unprecedented times”, I am choosing to find joy in God’s strength. That doesn’t mean I have to choose to be strong every day- He has that handled. I can lean into that by going to His word when I don’t know what to say. Just like today, He will remind me and fill me with everything I need.

Shine

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

One of my prayers for my kids has always been that they would be a light. I pray that they shine in the darkness. That they encourage, provide hope, do the right thing, and bring joy to those around them. Now, if you have ever taught my boys or are currently teaching them, see yesterday’s blog, entitled “Progress“.

I realize that every day will not be great. We will all have moments where we are the problem. We need cheering up. We need hope on a hard day. But when people think about my family, I hope that we are lights. There is so much darkness in the world. Facebook is heavy. Twitter is heavy. The news is heavy. Conversations are heavy. To borrow a line from Hamilton, “I need someone like you to lighten the load”. Now, I understand that the “light” I’m referring to above is the visual kind, not weight. However, I think they can go hand in hand. Bringing visual light to the world can help ease a heavy heart.

People that emanate joy are people I want to be around. They have charisma, and when it boils down, they are more fun. The thing is, I think it is deeper than that. One of my favorite verses is Matthew 5:16, which says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (CSB) Just a little light changes the environment. We feel a sense of relief, but ultimately, we see God in the people that bring the light. Joy and peace are found in God. When we trust Him to take away the darkness and the heaviness, or to guide us through it, we are admitting that we can’t do it alone. For the lovers of control (talking to myself) this sounds scary, but I never feel more at peace than when I give my problems to God. 1 Peter 5:7 tells us to give Him all of our burdens. There’s no trick to that. God isn’t going to say “Now that I’ve taken care of this for you, here is what I need you to do in return.” The rest of the verse says He wants to take our burdens away because He loves us.

Don’t you feel more at peace around peaceful people? Don’t you feel more joyful around people who exude joy? They reflect the Lord, and in return, point us in the same direction. I want to be that person!

I believe wholeheartedly that when we ask God for things He already says He wants for us, He grants our requests. God wants us to be wise, so if we ask for wisdom, He will respond. God tells us the fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). He wants us to bear good fruit, so why would He turn us down when we ask for those things? Why would God tell us “No, I’m not going to help you get better at memorizing scripture” or “No, you cannot have my help avoiding sin.” Absolutely not! That goes against everything I know to be true of His character.

Will my boys shine every day, just because I asked God for that? No. They are still human. On top of that, they are boys. On top of that, they have imperfect parents to look up to. Thankfully, a little light lessens the darkness. We keep trying. We keep shining, and we keep asking to get brighter. Even better, it’s not just up to me. I have a responsibility to model that behavior, and to continue to sow seeds within their lives, but I can give it over to God’s far more capable hands.

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light— for the fruit of the light consists of all goodness, righteousness, and truth” (Ephesians 5:8-9 CSB).

Progress

I could probably write a whole blog post regarding “progress” and focus solely on Christian t-shirts from the nineties, but I’ll spare you and just discuss one. The phrase “Be patient-God’s not finished with me yet” graced t-shirts, posters, stickers, and slap bracelets during my elementary school years. You’d find a cute little kitten or a Kewpie doll-esque cartoon character looking in a mirror attributed to the saying. It was all super cute and inspiring enough to encourage multiple vendors to keep making the design. Many of us wore them or knew someone who did. It was a sweet way of saying “I’m a sinner, but I’m trying”.

What makes me cringe is not the way I probably wore the neon shirt, tied to the side with a scrunchie and rolled up sleeves. It is more that we feel like we have to give a disclaimer for trying to get better. We have to say “Please don’t be upset with me, I’m a work in progress!” Even businesses undergoing construction ask you to “pardon the progress”, but they point to the final product. Just take a look at the new renovations we are working on! Check out what’s to come! Here is an artist’s rendering of the new building. We focus on the end result when it comes to an inanimate object, yet make excuses and hide the baby steps when it comes to our own lives.

Progress means that we make small decisions to lead up to a bigger end result. Just like I mentioned yesterday, I won’t become a champion Bible reader overnight. But I will be consistent in reading it every day. And every day I’m becoming a better reader. Every day I know more than the day before. Every day I learn a bit more about Jesus. I am progressing in my walk and in my faith.

If I experienced this season ten years ago, it would have produced very different results. God prepares our hearts for what’s to come. He knows what we need before we ask it (see Matthew 6:8). I wouldn’t have known to ask for safety during a pandemic even 18 months ago. Or to ask for endurance during a roller coaster school year- between hurricanes, virtual teaching, the threat of exposure to COVID, actual COVID, etc. He gave me what I needed ahead of the current situation. Deuteronomy 31:8 says, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (NIV). God knew the progress I would need to make and knows the progress I still need. He’s not upset that I haven’t become perfect. He knows I will never attain that, but I believe God is pleased with the pursuit. Progress, to me, means stepping back, and letting Him lead.

To use another example, a person who wants to go to Harvard (I’m watching a lot of Gilmore Girls lately) shouldn’t be ashamed that they haven’t gotten in at age 14. Instead, we praise the A’s and celebrate the extracurricular involvement. If he or she is diligently studying and working toward that goal, we call it progress. Each baby step is moving in the right direction. In the same light, I can’t pick up a new hobby and expect to ace it on day one. Skills require practice and sharpening. The road to accomplishing a goal is long and difficult. Let’s praise the progress! Focus on forward motion.

Accept the guidance that smoothes out the rough edges and prevents us from backsliding. Listen to the trustworthy voices that advise against one direction or the other. Those are the people who want you to make progress. They will help you as you go. Progress is very much about realizing we aren’t in this alone.

Am I where I want to be? No! Am I closer than yesterday? Absolutely. I think that is what matters when we get right down to it. Be an encourager of progress. Recognize it in others and be gracious with others see it in you. Put one foot in front of the other, and realize it will be worth it one day.