Stronger

New photo by Lauren Varney / Google Photos

I took this picture a few weeks ago, after dragging myself outside to tend to my tomato plants.  It was truly a gift, a meaningful gift.  You will understand why as you read this post.

I’m coming out of a rough summer.  Sickness joined forces with sadness, frustration, disappointment and discouragement and they got the best of me.  Recently the clouds began to lift and, for the first time in a while, I began to feel more like myself.

In the midst of all of this, I was drawn to the pocket in my prayer binder that I use to save meaningful papers.  I pulled one out and began to read it.  It was a photocopy of a church bulletin that a good friend gave to me when we lived in Vermont.  On this page, Father Tom, who I have never met, wrote something he titled, “Be Proactive”.   I began to read it again.  I am amazed at God’s timing.  This time, it was more than a meaningful devotion shared with my by a friend.  It was a personal letter of wisdom and encouragement that came directly from God, through Father Tom, at exactly the time that I needed it.

Here is what he wrote, word for word:

“Every day in our daily life there is a lot of problems and fear along with physical and mental distress.  We are many times reactive to the problems in life.  We start to accuse and curse everything and everybody, even God.  But Jesus calls us to be proactive.  I grew up on my father’s farm where we grow pepper and tea.  One day as I was helping my father to collect pepper, I saw a butterfly cocoon hanging on a twig.  I clipped the cocoon with the twig and took it home.  I kept watching it and after a few days I saw some movement in the cocoon but the butterfly did not emerge.  The next day I saw some more movement but the butterfly did not come out.  And the third day the same thing but the butterfly still did not come out.  I decided to to help the butterfly to get out of the cocoon.  I took a knife and slip the cocoon.  The butterfly crawled out.  I was surprised it didn’t have fully developed wings and couldn’t fly.  So I asked my father why the butterfly could not fly.  My father explained, “God arranged it in such a way that a caterpillar must struggle to get out of the cocoon.  It is the struggle that causes them to develop and that is how they get their strength and beauty but now you have destroyed its life by helping it.”  Similar things happen with us. God allows us to struggle in our lives.  It is His way to help us grow strong.  God arranges things so that at certain points in our life both spiritual and physical, we must struggle. That does not mean He is not with us, he is with us but still we have to struggle to be better Disciples of Christ.  So let us not try to run away from the struggles we may have in our life or react to it but take it with a proactive mind and prove what we are.  God watches us close so that He will never let us fail, for He knows that everything has a reason.  Like the familiar poem says, “For every pain we must bear, for every burden, every care, there is a reason.  For every grief that bows the head, for every teardrop that is shed, there is a reason.  For every hurt, for every plight, for every lonely pain racked night, there is a reason.  But if we trust God as we should it will turn out for our good.  He knows the reason.”  God wants us to be like the lovely butterfly, He wants us to fully develop into His own beautiful image accepting and facing our daily struggles.”

-Fr. Tom (St Mary Star of the Sea, Newport, Vermont, 2014)

Thank you, Father Tom, for your words of wisdom.  I’m passing on your blessing in hopes that it will encourage someone else in the midst of their struggles.

I’d also like to share a song that goes along beautifully with what Father Tom shared.  Take encouragement from the words of this song if you are currently in the midst of struggle and pain, and especially these words:

“When the waves are taking you under, hold on just a little bit longer.  He knows that this is gonna make you stronger.”

“Stronger” by Mandisa

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3TPq8ZSvTk

Blessings,

Lauren

 

Teach Me to Love

The Greatest Thing in the World

As Easter approaches I wanted to share a sermon that I stumbled upon last year around this time and decided to read again this year as I prepare my heart for Easter. In it, Ray Stedman says, “But it seems to me that the true glory of this Easter message, the greatest message that this day can have for us, is to remind us that in the risen Lord Jesus we have an endless supply of power to love.  That is what Easter is all about–the fact that we have an ability to love.  Love is the greatest need of the world today.”  If you click on the link below, you will be given the option to read it or listen to it.  Even if you read it over a few days, I believe that it is well worth your time.

https://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/romans/the-night-is-nearly-over

I’ve been thinking a lot about agape love. I want to love well and love like God, whose love never fails.  How can I do that? So often I fall short.  I am right there with Ray Stedman when he says, “I am amazed to see how many times in my own life I pass over the opportunity to love.”  David Jeremiah addresses this question in his current radio series, “The Power of Love,” based on 1 Corinthians 13.

http://www.davidjeremiah.org/site/radio_archives.aspx

In his message on the topic of love’s power over time, he says this:

“Love never fails because God never fails and God is love.  Love never fails because Christ never fails and Christ is love.  But here’s where it comes down to all of us.  How can our love never fail.  Can I get in on this? I can’t be God and I can’t be Christ. How can my love have the quality of eternal value.  How can my love not quit when human love would give up?  Well, let me explain it to you, and here’s the truth: Love never fails when it is God’s love that is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  You see, my human love isn’t good enough to qualify under the Corinthians 13 passage.  I’ll fall short.  Have you found that?…How in the world do I do all of this?  How do I put all of this to practice?…Well, you can’t and let me just tell you right now that if what you are doing is listening to what I’m saying about God’s perfect love and then going home and trying to figure out a way to do it in the flesh, you’re dead.  It’s not going to happen.  Your love will fail…Human love is failing over and over again…and the love that should be God’s love shed abroad in our hearts is being substituted with what the world has to offer and that love will always fail somewhere…  But when you have God’s love shed abroad in your hearts it can have the quality that is given here (love never fails)…  Christian love is that which God gives to us when we come to him ask for it.  How can we be kind to those that are unkind to us? Humanly we can’t.  But if you have God’s love in you he will give you the strength to love those people in his love even though humanly you could not do that.”

Lord, thank you for loving me so much that you sent your son to die on the cross, for my salvation.  I want to experience your love, though it is too great to understand fully. I want to love like you.  Fill me with your love and control me with your Holy Spirit so that my love can be unfailing.  Remind me of your presence all throughout the day. May I look to your power to supply love when my human ability to love falls short.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Ephesians 3:16-19 (NLT) I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.  Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him.  Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.  Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Colossians 3:12-14 (NIV) Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Below, enjoy a beautiful song by Unspoken, called “Follow Through.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tlvi3bpGF4Y

Here’s an older classic by Hillsong called, “The Power of Your Love.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9_0jiO5ZRM

Blessings,

Lauren

Worry Through the Eyes of my Child

Haven and Darren Mulligan from the band, We Are Messengers.

A few weeks ago my 11 year old daughter, Haven, and I were talking about this blog and she asked if I could post something that she wrote.  When I asked her if she had anything in mind, she told me that she wanted to share what she has written about worry.  So, here it is, a post from my beautiful, real, courageous daughter, on a topic that is close to the hearts of so many children and adults.

 

My Worry by Haven

I struggle with worry.  When you worry a lot it’s hard to look at yourself and say, “You’re worth it, you’re loved and your beautiful.”  It’s easier to say, You’re stupid, you are dumb, you are ugly.”  Sometimes I feel as if I need to give up on myself.

I’ve worried ever since I was six or seven.  It’s hard to manage all the negative thoughts in your head.  My mom and dad have been the parents to have through this situation.  My mom has always given me sayings and verses to memorize.  This is an example of a verse: I prayed to the Lord and he answered me he delivered me from all my fears (Psalm 34:4).  An example of a saying is: faith not fear, hope not worry. My dad also supports me in all of this because when I’m sad he makes me laugh or tickle me.  Both my parents comfort me in the night when I wake up in the middle of the night scared or with a big headache.  The reason I wake up with a big headache is because I get scared in the night and it overwhelms me with bad thoughts.   I’m always afraid of everything.  I can make something that is not dangerous, dangerous in my head.

I still have trouble with anxiety but my mom told me something to remember. She told me fear is…

False

Evidence

Appearing

Real

When my mom told me that it helped me a lot.

I went to a concert on November 14th, 2016.  It was awesome.  At the end me and my mom were going around to all the singers for autographs. Once we got Darren from We Are Messengers we asked him to sign a CD for a friend.  Right as we asked him he turned to me and said, “Let go of your worries and fears because you are God’s daughter and He made you beautiful.” We hadn’t told him that I struggle with worry.  It was just God sending a message to me through him. This helped me a lot because I feel as if God sent that message through him and that I am BEAUTIFUL!

I still struggle with worry but know I know God is with me and I am loved!!!!!!


A long time ago I was listening to David Jeremiah preach on the topic of fear.  He asked what the opposite of fear is.  Immediately I thought of the word trust.  His response was not trust but LOVE.  I’m going to have to paraphrase here the notes I wrote in my Bible that day because they had such an impact on my soul:  “Just as a child with a nightmare will run to someone that loves him/her, God wants us to throw ourselves into his arms because He is our father.  When we understand how much God loves us, when we grab hold of that truth, we will not be afraid.”  David Jeremiah spoke this truth to me.  Darren spoke this truth to Haven and she received it and responded to it in such a beautiful way.

My prayer for my daughter, and for anyone reading this that struggles with worry or anxiety, is this:  Lord, you tell us in your Word that there is no fear in love and that perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18).  Thank you for loving us with your perfect love.  Help us to not just have a head knowledge of that love, but to understand exactly what that means as we get to know you more and more.  Transform our hearts and her minds with your love.  Teach us to answer with prayer whenever worries come knocking on the door of our hearts.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

LIVE LIKE YOU’RE LOVED!  HIS LOVE HAS MADE YOU MORE THAN ENOUGH!!!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oP4WFN-i9BM

 

Held

 I heard the dreaded thump on the window mid morning and turned to see a small bird laying face down on the deck.  My heart sunk.  I called my son to the door and immediately began to think about a plan for saving it.  After grabbing a broom, dustpan and cardboard box I picked up my phone to do some quick research.  As I frantically googled, “How to rescue an injured bird”, and started planning out loud our next steps, Cole walked out the door and approached the bird. It flipped onto it’s back and looked as though it was about to die.  I kept googling.  Cole then crouched down and gently picked up the bird in his hands.  He carried it to the door and held it in his hand. All we could do at that point was stare in amazement at the beautiful bird.  It looked peaceful as it simply rested in Cole’s hands for quite some time.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold onto you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

And then it flew away.

The next thought I had was about my striving in contrast to what Cole instinctively knew to do – lift it up and hold it in his hand until it had the strength to fly again.

It has been close to a month since Cole held that bird in his hand, but the image has come to my mind more and more these days.  As Christmas approaches,  the struggles of life don’t get put on hold.  For some, they are magnified.  And I want fix. And God reminds me that though I can’t fix, I can reach out my hands to others in kindness, love and support and point them to the hope that is found in Christ.

Lord, thank you for this powerful reminder.  This Christmas, and always, give us hands that hold, hands that serve, and hands that love.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope For Less Stress This Christmas

Christmas is one of the most anticipated times of the year, a season in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ our Savior, take time to bless others, enjoy Christmas traditions, spend time with friends and loved ones, and so much more.

Let’s be real, though.  Often the peace, the joy, and all that we long for as we anticipate Christ’s birth get lost in the shuffle of, well, the shuffle. Christmas joy can easily be replaced with Christmas stress as we try to pack into our already busy lives decorating, shopping, baking, caroling, wrapping, cookie making, card writing, traveling, fighting traffic, church services, work parties, family parties, school parties, etc.  Add to that other stressors such as the financial stress that comes with gift giving, relationship stress within families, and sickness that doesn’t get put on hold for the holidays and suddenly the joy of Christmas is replaced with STRESS.  And this stress can have a long-lasting impact on our bodies, our souls, our spirits and our relationships.

It probably won’t surprise you that…

  1. Women are more likely than men to report an increase of stress during the holiday season, have a harder time relaxing during the holidays, are more likely to fall into bad habits to manage their stress, like comfort eating.
  2. During the holidays people in the United States are much more likely to say they behave in sedentary ways, like watching TV, sleeping, eating and drinking to manage their stress.  Many individuals engage in comfort eating and other unhealthy behaviors to cope with their stress levels.

On a positive note, the APA survey also found that for most people in our country the New Year offers hope and a reminder that there is always opportunity for change and self-improvement.  In the New Year, most individuals would like to improve their health or lose weight, get their finances in order, or improve their relationships with family or a significant other.  I believe with all of my heart that our hope is not in the New Year.  How long do our resolutions really last anyway?  Our hope is in Christ, who loves us and desires us to be well- soul, spirit and body- right now in the midst of it all.  The easiest thing to do over the holidays is to ignore our health, telling ourselves, “ It’s the holiday season.  I’ll start over in January.”  Believe me, I’ve been there one too many times.

This year let’s choose a better way by choosing not to give up on our health.  Instead, let’s make it one of our holiday priorities.   God wants us to be whole, and He will show us the way, step by step.  When we are well, we are better able to love, care for and serve those we love.  Now that’s a gift worth giving.  http://www.faithandhealthconnection.org/the_connection/spirit-soul-and-body/wholeness-biblical-and-christian-perspective/

Making Our Desire a Reality

The thought of adding wellness to the list of holiday ‘to dos’ can feel so overwhelming, unrealistic and impossible, so much so that the temptation might be to give up before even starting.  But what if we decide to focus on a just a few decisions that we can make, or even just one, that will move us in the direction of the wellness we so desire.  Like a snowball effect,  our many small decisions over time will, over time, build upon themselves, leading to big changes in our lives.

Listed below are some ideas, some places to start, that I hope you will find helpful. Each begins with the letter P, for peace, which is the opposite of the stress that we don’t need or desire.  I will be reminding myself of these Ps each day, and inviting God to direct my steps in the midst of my Christmas busyness.

Ps for peace, not stress this Christmas season

PRIORITIZE

Focus on what really matters.  Make Christ your first priority. To help organize your other priorities, take time to identify six areas of your life that demand your attention during the holidays.  Then, list them in order of priority.   Keep a visual image of your priorities in an area you will see often as a reminder for you as you think, pray and plan.

PRAY

Invite the Lord into your days.

My prayer: Lord, we desire to have a joyful Christmas and we want to stay well through the hustle and bustle of this season.   Help us to identify the things that threaten to steal our joy this Christmas and do what needs to be done to prevent this from happening.  Remind us of what’s truly important when we begin to feel caught up in the materialism and the pressure to create the ‘perfect’ Christmas.  Help us to slow down enough to think and to plan now, before the whirlwind begins.  We know that a little planning goes a long way and will help us to keep stress levels down.  Help us each day to seek you first, trusting that you will give us everything we need.  Infuse us with your love and grace, Lord, and show us who we can bless this season with a touch of Christmas love. Amen.

PLAN

A little preparation goes a long way.  A great place to start is by making a holiday dump list.  Simply take a piece of paper and spend a good chunk of time dumping all of your Christmas thoughts – your to dos, to gets, to gos, to gives, etc. onto it. Getting it all out can actually help to bring focus to your cluttered mind.  Once you’ve done this, you can use this big picture as a starting point as you prioritize and plan each item into your days and weeks.  Keep your list of priorities in mind as you plan, and remember Matthew 6:33, which reminds you to seek first the Kingdom of God above all else trusting that He will give you everything you need.

PRESS PAUSE

Press the pause button each day by taking the time for short breathers.  They are so important.  Also, it’s extremely important to decide from the start not to burn the candle from both ends by getting up earlier and staying up later in the name of getting it all done.  Choosing not to sleep will backfire on you! Studies have shown that lack of sleep negatively impacts your mood and state of mind, leads to decreased focus and motivation, makes you less inclined to exercise, more inclined to eat more and drink more, and makes you less focused and efficient during the day.  Who wants all that??!!!

 

 

PLAY OUT THE TAPE

Before making decisions, play out the tape in your mind and ask yourself, if I do this/eat this/say yes to this then ____________.  If I don’t do this/eat this/say yes to this then _____________.  Challenge yourself to say yes to healthy decisions and no to unhealthy ones, not perfectly, but more often than not.

PRAISE

Psalm 92:1-2 It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to the Most High. 

It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning, your faithfulness in the evening.

 

I love what Ann Voskamp says about thanks:

“If gratitude is an antidote for anxiety…

and giving thanks is a real cure for stress —

why relegate thanksgiving to a holiday when giving thanks can revolutionize our whole lives?”

I encourage you to read her entire blog post on the topic of thanksgiving in the midst of stress, called, “Because Thanksgiving is more than a holiday.”

Because Thanksgiving is More than a Holiday

As for praising through song, simply let Christmas music fill your home and your mind.  Think about what the lyrics of each song mean.  Find a Christmas playlist on YouTube and listen to it while you do your daily tasks.  I’ve linked a few Christmas songs throughout this post for you to enjoy.

PLAY

Have fun, laugh, and enjoy family.  This one’s admittedly the hardest one for me to do in the midst of my daily to dos, and it’s high on my list of priorities this month.  You can be praying for me in this area 🙂

In the spirit of fun, here’s a fun version of Joy to the World by Pentatonix.

PAY IT FORWARD

What a gift we celebrate this Christmas- the gift of Christ.  For God so loved us all that he gave us his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life! (John 3:16).  God loves us so much and this season, may you receive that love and, in turn, share the love and light of Christ with others.  Little things mean so much.  A letter.  A phone call.  A kind gesture.  Reaching out to someone that God puts on your heart.

I wish you all a happy, healthy and blessed Christmas season.

Lauren

Grace Salon & Bridal Boutique

It’s all about grace

My first local business spotlight is on my friend Kristin Hull’s brand new salon that she has named Grace Salon.  About one year ago, as she cut my hair, she shared with me her dreams to open a salon that not only tends to the outside of women (and men too 🙂 ) but also is a welcoming place, a place that reflects God’s love.   Now, one year later, she has taken an amazing step of faith and is walking out the vision that God put in her heart so long ago. I love what she said when I asked her the meaning behind the name she chose.  She said, “God’s grace is enough for me and I want to share that grace with others.”  Grace Salon and Bridal Boutique has opened it’s doors in Queensbury (959 State Route 9).  Join them at their Grand Opening on Saturday, November 26th.  Visit her Facebook page (Grace Salon) for more information or call (518)761-9000.

Kristin Hull in her new salon perfectly named Grace Salon & Bridal Boutique

https://www.facebook.com/gracesalonbridalboutique/?fref=ts

Little By Little

Lessons From the Pineapple and the Poppy

“Fruit bearing is a beautiful process.  First there are leaves; then the flowers; then the fruit.  God provides the water from beneath and the sun from above.  Day by day the branches develop; day by day the fruit is produced.  If you are looking for instant fruitfulness, you will be disappointed.  Fruit must be cultivated.”    – Warren Wiersbe in his book, “The 5 Secrets of Living”

I have a print of poppys that was given to me by my best friend after her mother died of breast cancer.  It has traveled from home to home with our family as one of my treasured possessions.  I treasure it because Peggy’s mom, Beverly, painted it and her mom has a special place in my heart.  When we moved to Vermont, we bought a home with flowers galore.  As spring arrived and plants and flowers started to bloom for the first time I was so thankful for the beautiful flowers that kept appearing, and also frustrated with the many weeds that grew alongside of them.  One of the struggles I have always had in weeding is knowing what to pull and what not to pull.  Someone once told me that if I don’t like it, just pull it. One day, as I worked in a small bed on the side of our deck I noticed a prickly ? weed.  Though unsightly, perhaps because it was ‘different’ to me, I left it alone and forgot about it.  I’m not really sure how much time passed after that, but it was long enough that when I walked past this same flower bed some time later I was shocked to find this, my one and only poppy.  The others never had a chance to bloom because I pulled them, thinking they were weeds.

img_3045

My other story is about a pineapple.  When we lived in Guam, my neighbor was a master gardener.  She told me that I could take the top of a pineapple, put it in the ground and grow a new pineapple.  I took her advice one day and there the pineapple sat in the dirt for what seemed like forever.  When our house flooded and we had to move I went back to my old garden to see what I wanted to transplant to our new home.  The pineapple wasn’t on my list, but my friend, Cindy, later took it and planted it at her house.  A loooong time later I was visiting her home and this is what she was so excited to show me:

feb2008-020

I guess my point is this: Growth takes time, and it takes patience. It is so easy to desire so much of ourselves and then to place expectations on ourselves to, in our own strength, make change happen overnight.  Whether our desire is to eat better, exercise consistently, stop raising our voices at our children, start praying every day, stop eating junk, or whatever change or desire is pressing on our hearts, if we are looking for instant fruit we will be disappointed.  Most of the time (there are exceptions, praise God!) change doesn’t happen overnight, but rather one step at a time and one decision at a time.  If we tell ourselves that we’re going to change overnight, and then we don’t, or if we don’t like the ugly in ourselves that is revealed to us along the way, we’ll be tempted to give up on ourselves and the growth process that WILL yield fruit in time.  There is beauty in change and beauty through change.  Rather than setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves, let’s expect great things from God in time as we grow in relationship with Him, ask Him to show us our next step and, in faith, take it.

I want to share a little known children’s song with an amazing message.  After you click the link, play song number 3, “Little By Little.”  It’s a message not just for our children and about our children, but for us and about us as well.

http://tidido.com/a35184373620293/al55d60ab913b521ef223e5de5/t55d60aba13b521ef223e5e0a

Phillippians 1:6  (NLT) And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

 

 

 

On the Rock

Building on the Rock

Building takes time.
Building takes time.

A few months ago a friend reintroduced my daughter and I to one of my favorite shows growing up, “Little House on the Prairie.”   Actually, the conversation centered on Albert… the girls thought it hilarious when I told them I had such a crush on him.

I was unprepared for the wave of emotion that flooded my soul as we watched and for the tears that began to flow as I reflected on the timeless Biblical truths and values that wove their way in and through the lives of the Ingalls family. Life was so hard for them, and together they worked so hard simply to live.  Strangely, though, despite the many ‘storms’ they experienced – their life threatening travels, wolves, Indians, fires, lack of food, etc. etc., I found myself longing for that life.

Why?

As I thought longer about all of this, I realized that this longing doesn’t stem only, as I initially thought, from my desire for a simpler life. It comes from a deep longing for a culture that carries on those timeless values and truths, and from my fears of the very real dangers in today’s world that threaten not just our personal safety, but the wellness and wholeness of individuals and families. Life is hard today, just as it was hard for the Ingalls family. It’s a different kind of hard.  I admit that at times I feel overwhelmed by the struggles of this life and want to just run or hide. Yet, as Chuck Swindoll said so well in a recent podcast, “Storms and life go together. There is no place on earth where any of us can be free-completely free-of tension or pressure, trouble or pain. Escaping such is only a dream…a fantasy.”

But God

God always meets me in my fears when I let Him. Over the last few months, through various teachings on Matthew 7, a parable about building our lives on the rock, He has been reinforcing in my heart and mind principles that allow me to stand firm and to live with confidence right where God has placed me, no matter what happens in life. He has been teaching me the secret to not running from but going through life and it’s storms.

Continue reading “On the Rock”