top view of a family praying before christmas dinner
Advent, Christian Living, Intentional, Relationships

A dinner of hope and celebration – a Slavic Christmas tradition

Sauerkraut, peas, cream of wheat, and evergreen stems on the table – not the first thing you think of when someone is referring to a Christmas dinner. But, in my husband’s family, it’s a yearly tradition.

Vilija dinner foods

Passed down through generations

Twenty years ago I married into the Suvar family. I knew that they had family roots from the Czech Republic and Slovakia but didn’t know how much of that had carried forward from the move to America. But, like many traditions that get passed along through families – food and holiday traditions were part of it.

A tradition that has become special to me is the Vilija dinner that we enjoy together every Christmas. There are specific decorations used and certain foods that we eat. Each part points to the story of Jesus in some way and I love the reflection that comes with it as we gather together as a family to commemorate Christ’s birth.

As with every great meal, the prep starts way beforehand. Special nut breads are made called Kolace – grandma teaches the grandkids how to make them – and the whole house fills with the scent of fresh baked bread. Everyone joins in with the setting of the table and going down the list to make sure everything is accounted for. The house is warm, the noise is high, and the kids bounce around with excitement knowing gifts are coming later that evening.

The Vilija Dinner

The Vilija Dinner is like a Passover Supper. Everything we eat and do has a special meaning. To begin, a candle is lit in the window to tell the Holy Family that they are welcome in our home. The table is covered in a white cloth, signifying Christ’s purity and how He covers us with His righteousness.

Down the center of the table is placed hay – to represent the manger Jesus was laid in, evergreens – to represent eternal life, candles – to remind us that Jesus is the Light of the world, and money – to remind us that all good and perfect gifts come from God. There is an empty place set at the table to help us remember the less fortunate and that we should always open our hearts and homes to those in need.

A Slavic Christmas —> hold your own Vilija Dinner – a free downloadable resource! Click To Tweet

The dinner is traditionally held on Christmas Eve, when the first star appears. This reminds us of the star that guided the Wisemen who sought after the King.

Connecting it to Christ

Twelve dishes are served at this dinner – to represent the 12 disciples of Jesus. In Slovakia, foods varied depending on what village you lived in, especially since the mountain villages were so remote.

To begin, the oldest son leads the family in a prayer of thanks and a blessing for the meal. He then takes honey and makes a cross with it on everyone’s forehead wishing them a sweet new year. Oplatky, a thin wafer used for communion is shared. One large one is passed around the table, each person breaking off a piece and wishing each other Merry Christmas. Then each person gets their own oplatky to eat with honey and drink with wine. This is done in remembrance of Passover and Communion.

The oldest son picks up an apple and cuts it in half. If the seeds form a star, then the family will have a healthy year. The apple is cut into slices and shared around the table. Three walnuts, still in their shells, are placed at each person’s plate. Everyone takes turns opening them up. Good nuts mean a good year ahead, bad nuts mean hardship.

Dinner is shared

After this, the rest of the dishes are passed around and shared.

There is no doubt that our Vilija dinner does not look like the Vilija dinners from generations before, tucked away in the cold, snowy Slovakia mountains. But, for certain, the meaning remains. Family gathers, joy is shared, Jesus is celebrated, and hope continues. It’s a beautiful way to celebrate Christ’s First Coming while we wait in hopeful anticipation of His Second.

If you want to try out your own Vilija dinner, there is a free download available below!

Want to celebrate your own Vilija dinner?

Get your own free printable instructions – recipes included!

silhouette of trees under starry night
Advent, Christian Living, Depression, Encouragement, Intentional

When there is one less this Christmas season

silhouette of trees under starry night

The first holiday after a family death is disorienting. The usual practices of the seasons are happening around you – parties, gatherings, celebrations – but you find that sometimes you either go through the motions or want to just run and hide from it all.

Gathering together when your family is fractured by death feels out of sync. The usual rhythms that you were once used to have to be re-coordinated, new roles assumed, and traditions shift.

In times like these, when you are no longer as you once were and those who remain are trying to find their way – this is a time to gather in holy defiance.

When there is one less this Christmas season: In times like these, when you are no longer as you once were and those who remain are trying to find their way – this is a time to gather in holy defiance. Click To Tweet

Death, though it has lost it’s final battle over eternity, still gets it’s punches in while we walk this earth. The enemy continues to pull us away from hope and the promise of life in heaven. It likes to tug at us in our grief, pulling us into despair.

We could choose to let the Christmas celebrations go to the wayside. We may very well want to stay away from the cheery crowds and joyful celebrations. Or perhaps you’re joining in the merriment – the cookie making, the gift giving, and the carol singing. You’re going through the motions but they’re not necessarily coming from the heart.

And that can make the feeling even worse because you know the real reason to celebrate. You know that Jesus is the reason for the season. You know it but you just aren’t feeling it.

Believe it or not, this season is for you. This is exactly why Jesus came.

He didn’t come for the happy, the healthy, and the no-care-in-the-world.

He came for the sorrowful, the sick, and the low.

It was for those walking in darkness – THEY saw a great Light. It was for the poor in spirit, the downtrodden, and those who have lost hope.

He didn’t come for the happy, the healthy, and the no-care-in-the-world.He came for the sorrowful, the sick, and the low.It was for those walking in darkness – THEY saw a great Light. It was for the poor in spirit, the downtrodden,… Click To Tweet

What if we saw our choice to gather, despite our feelings, as an act of holy defiance? A stand-up against all the things the enemy wants our life to be consumed with? He wants isolation, pain, loneliness, and heartache. We can choose fellowship, hope, and healing.

If you’re feeling low, if this Christmas is a bit harder to conjure up the cheer, please, take heart. Spend a moment in quiet, celebrating in stillness the joy of a Savior made flesh, dwelling among us. Allow yourself time to grieve what once was. There is goodness found even in the house of mourning. He brought hope in the dark, quiet night all those years ago in Bethlehem. And He can bring hope to your heart, too. Jesus isn’t looking for the most festive and joyful Christmas spirit. He desires the hearts that come to Him broken, knowing He can heal.

top view of a family praying before christmas dinner

He wants hearts tuned to him, even when they’re broken. Hearts looking to Him, the true joy-giver. Hearts that know that the only hope, the only path to healing, is found in the Hope of Jesus. Hope came all those years ago in a small stable, and it’s still available for each of today.

So, this year, will you join with us who keep going forward despite the heartache? Who look up to the sky with expectant hope of our coming Jesus? Will you celebrate this Christmas in holy defiance to all that the enemy is trying to steal?

We may do it with tears glistening in our eyes, but we’ll also have a spark of joy in our hearts. Because we can take comfort in the words of the prophet Isaiah who spoke of the coming Messiah with the same holy defiance, despite the darkness that surrounded him –

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has Light shone ✨ Isaiah 9:2

pexels-photo-90639.jpeg
Christian Living, Encouragement, Help, Intentional

What to do in the waiting

pexels-photo-90639.jpeg

Even as I said the prayer out loud, alone in the car, I imagined the words hitting the ceiling and bouncing back down. Not heard. Forgotten.

It’s how my heart felt as I had been crying out the same prayer over and over for years and still there was no change.

Did God even care? I imagined him sitting up there, arms crossed, a smirk on his face. He knows He can do something about it, but He won’t. Like a judge  who has the ability to let someone go but instead smirks and slams the gavel for a more worse fate.

It wasn’t a pretty image. And I knew in the deepest parts of my heart that it wasn’t true. But the seemingly endless years of an unanswered prayer was weighing heavy.

But I know this truth: He who promised is faithful. The sun rose this morning and it will set this evening. It is unwavering in its progression across the sky and in its setting on the horizon. Just as our God is faithful. And he’s not the uncaring judge, but in fact is the loving Father. He isn’t withholding for His own amusement. Instead He is providing exactly what we need when we are supposed to have it. We have a limited view. We only see the present and a bit in the past. However, God’s omniscience means He sees along the whole timeline of the ages, knows how it’s all supposed to work out, even when we do not.

We have a limited view. We only see the present and a bit in the past. However, God’s omniscience means He sees along the whole timeline of the ages, knows how it’s all supposed to work out, even when we do not. Click To Tweet

Maybe you’re in the middle of heartache, unanswered prayers, and waiting. What do we do in the middle of all of this?

I have found encouragement in Hebrews 10:23-25:

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

1. Hold fast to your confession of hope – for He who promised is faithful


2. Stir one another on to love and good works


3. Meet together with friends and encourage one another

It won’t make the prayer become answered or the waiting end, but it will remind us of the hope of our salvation, help us to get the focus off ourselves while we serve others, and remind us that we are not alone as we gather with friends.

family having picnic on terrace

God is not afraid of our angry questions. Take them to Him and sprinkle a bit of Hebrews 10 into your day as well.

Through these 3 steps we’ll find that perhaps, without us realizing it, God has been answering our prayers all along. Just not in the ways that we had imagined.

man running in marathon
Encouragement, Health, Intentional

You’re not ready

man running in marathon
Photo by Genaro Servín on Pexels.com

In February 2010 I delivered my third – and final – baby via C-section.

Four months prior to that I had seen my husband train, run, and finish his first marathon.

It left me inspired and wanting to also do some kind of big race. Something that felt way out of my comfort zone.

I had done 5K’s before and had run 3 mile races in high school. But it had been at least a decade since I had run anything more than a few steps to catch up to a toddler. And truthfully, I kind of missed the challenge.

Our daughter was born February 1st. And February 2nd, while still sitting in a hospital bed recovering from major surgery, I signed up to run a half marathon.

Believe it or not, I wasn’t ready. In fact, I was far from it.

Recovering from major surgery, it would be 8 weeks before I was even cleared to do more than walk and lift 10 lbs.

The day the doctor gave me the go-ahead, I went out for that first “run.” I barely made it a quarter of a mile. My heart was racing and I could hardly breathe. The stitch in my side caused me to stop, hands on my knees, trying to recover.

As I walked down the sidewalk the thought constantly running through my head was, “What have I signed up for?!”

I had committed to running a 13.1 mile race in 6 months and I was so far from being ready.

Running 13.1 miles doesn’t just happen. It takes time, planning, and a lot of positive self talk. But it also begins with the choice to start.

That following October, when the gun went off and the crowd of runners surged forward, I felt as ready as I could be. I had trained and planned as best as an amateur could do.

But the big kicker to why I was ready? 

Because I had committed to it BEFORE I was ready. I chose to start.

A lot in life never gets done because we keep waiting until “we are ready.”  Something looks kind of difficult or we know it’s going to make us uncomfortable. We may be afraid that we are going to fail, so we put it off for another day – until we’re ready.

But, if you put off these things until you are ready-  

You. Never. Will. Be.

A lot in life never gets done because we keep waiting until "we are ready."  Something looks kind of difficult or we know it's going to make us uncomfortable. We may be afraid that we are going to fail, so we put it off for another… Click To Tweet

Even the healthiest among us still have things that they’ve been thinking that they need to change.  For each of us, let’s ask the question, “What am I putting off because I don’t think I am ready?”  

What can we choose to change, or start, or stop this week that we can commit to, even if we don’t think we are ready to do it?

It doesn’t have to be physical – though it certainly can be! Maybe it’s committing to meal planning so you get those veggies in your diet (not as bad as you think). Maybe you’ve been contemplating taking a social media break (highly recommended!). Or you’ve been talking about quitting the Hulu-watching-binge and go to bed earlier (worth it).

Living a healthy emotional, physical, and spiritual life doesn’t just happen. You need to be intentional about it. This week let’s choose to be intentional with taking that first step towards health, whether we feel we are ready or not.

Cheering for you, friend.


people walking on spacious concrete square
Anxiety, Christian Living, Encouragement, Intentional, Rest

Rest from the endless-effort life

We buy into the lie that we are only worth what we produce.

Without even realizing it, we live this out in our day to day existence.

We create, we produce, we make more. We share it with the world and then wait with expectation, hoping for acknowledgment, desiring someone to tell us they like what we do. Because if someone likes our work, then we matter.

Then we project that same thought process on our relationship with God, telling ourselves that each thing we do will make us better in His sight.

woman sitting in front of macbook
Photo by energepic.com on Pexels.com

We keep striving, doing more, producing more – believing it will fulfill us and define our worth.

But instead of fulfillment, we are exhausted. Instead of worthy, we continue to feel like we fall short.

We’ve taken the lie that we are only worth what we produce and have made it our mantra. And it has left us tired and weary.

How do we fight back? What is the cure for the endless-effort life?

turned off laptop computer
Photo by Ken Tomita on Pexels.com

Do the opposite.

Whenever you feel the need rising up in you to have to prove your worth, or the voice in your head starts telling you that if you aren’t moving ahead then you’re falling behind – then fight the urge and do the opposite.

Do nothing. Rest. Set your work on the shelf. Do something that no one else can acknowledge or see or know. Take a nap. Journal. Go for a walk. Bake muffins and then sit on your porch and eat one warm.

Hebrews 4:9+10 (ESV) is a beautiful invitation to cease from the endless-effort life: So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.

Fight against the endless-effort life —> Whenever you feel the need rising up in you to have to prove your worth, or the voice in your head starts telling you that if you aren’t moving ahead then you’re falling behind – then fight… Click To Tweet
people walking on spacious concrete square
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When we seek Christ as our Savior, then we can cease from the endless-effort life. We have nothing to prove and no worth to claim. Christ has sacrificed his life for ours and in Him we have our purpose and our worth.

Any work we do and any thing we create are just embellishments. They aren’t needed, but they are welcomed. They are beautiful works that can point back to Jesus.

We are invited into this Sabbath rest, not just on Sundays, but every day. We are invited to rest from our striving in life and instead rest and trust in God to give us our worth and fulfillment.

What part of your endless-effort life can you set aside for a life of Sabbath rest?

Fight against the endless-effort life —> When we seek Christ as our Savior, then we can cease from the endless-effort life. We have nothing to prove and no worth to claim. Christ has sacrificed his life for ours and in Him we have… Click To Tweet

Are you also tired of the endless-effort life? Click for your free download – a guide to Quitting the Endless-Effort Life.

brown grass
Christian Living, Encouragement, Intentional

You have a choice to make

A few years back we moved into a new home. It had a decent sized yard so the first thing my husband wanted to do was start a garden. Unfortunately, the whole yard was grass. There was no previously cut spot of exposed dirt for a garden. We had to start from scratch.

brown grass
Photo by fabio.tsu on Pexels.com

This involved cutting up the sod and tilling up the dirt. Many sweaty and exhausting hours later, we finally had a rectangle of space for our garden! We planned out the rows, decided on what we wanted to plant, and put the seeds in the ground. Within a week or two, the sprouts started to appear. 

But, they weren’t the only ones. The grass wanted to take it’s space back. For a time, we let the grass go, mingling in with the newly sprouted seedlings. But the grass was more aggressive than the beans and peas and we couldn’t let it go any longer.

We took to weeding, pulling out the grass and weeds at their roots. Unfortunately, because the weeds had become so prevalent, it was hard to pull the bad plants out without disturbing the good ones. The weeds would have caused a lot less havoc if we had gotten to them sooner.

selective focus photography of white petaled flower
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

a lesson in the garden

Sometimes we find ourselves wanting to experience the goodness of God without first having to go through the pain of acknowledging our sinful state.

Admitting we are sinful and selfish and of no worth in ourselves is painful. The roots of those thoughts and patterns run deep within us. Like weeds that have grown knee-high, the tendrils have wrapped themselves around the soil of our hearts and it takes more than a two-finger tug to free them. When you rip those weeds out, you end up disturbing the dirt around it. Imagine your heart like that garden dirt and having the weeds of sin and self, with their well-established roots, being ripped from your soul. There is going to be pain. There are going to be tears.

He does it because He loves us

In order to get to the mountaintop of joy, that deep worship experience with your Father, there has to first be pain. This isn’t because God is hateful and vindictive and wants to see us suffer. It’s because He knows, if left to our own self, we will create more havoc and pain than if we would turn to Him and allow Him to work in us. It’s better to fall on the mercy and discipline of a God who knows all, than be subject to the revenge and punishment of a fallen world that is temporal.

If you are relying on your feelings about God to be your basis for why you follow Him, then you are planting your garden before even tilling up the ground. You don’t have to be a green thumb to know that if you plant seeds in a garden that has not been weeded or the ground worked, then those seeds have little chance of getting past the hard earth and overgrown weeds

Be willing to go through hard things

To experience God in His fullness, to know His heart of love and mercy, you need to be willing to let Him do the painful process of tearing out the roots of sin and working the ground of our hearts so that the seeds of Truth can have fertile soil to grow. We can take comfort in knowing that if we bring a humble heart to God, asking Him to root out the sin in our lives, that we will be forgiven and healed. King David knew the experience of admitting sin and falling on the mercy of God. He had committed murder, adultery, and lies – to name a few. And he sings of God’s goodness and speaks of it throughout the Psalms.

man in black shirt and gray denim pants sitting on gray padded bench
Photo by Inzmam Khan on Pexels.com

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

 (Psalm 34:18 ESV)

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

(Psalm 147:3 ESV)

Those who do not think they need healing will not seek a physician. But those who know of their injured and sinful state, desire a Healer.

Those who do not think they need healing will not seek a physician. But those who know of their injured and sinful state, desire a Healer. Click To Tweet

Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5:31–32 ESV)

The reason we seek after Him matters

We need to be careful that we are not seeking something to just treat the pain, but instead something to heal the sickness. Are we going to God to feel better, to have an experience to play to our feelings? Something that can make us happy in this often-despairing world? If that is what we are after, just like a medication, it will only last until the effects wear off. But, if we seek something to cure our sickness of sin, then we are searching for a good thing. Because Jesus, who dies once for all, has made a way for our sin to be forgiven, for the sickness to be healed, and a path to our Father made clear.

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. (Acts 3:19)


So, the question is this: what are you going after? A God who makes you happy or a God who makes you whole?

What are you going after? A God who makes you happy or a God who makes you whole? Click To Tweet
Uncategorized

On disappointment and hurt

David hunkered down behind a boulder, gasping for breath and trying to slow his heart and mind. Once again, he was pursued. He had done nothing wrong. In fact, he had gone out of his way to go above and beyond to prove to his enemy that he meant no wrong. Yet, King Saul wanted him dead and was relentless in his pursuit.

You’ve most likely not had to hide in caves, lead a band of men devoted to protecting you, and navigate the tricky relationship with a king who wanted you dead. But, you’ve most likely had someone speak wrong of you, tarnish your reputation, or treat you in a way you didn’t deserve.

Psalm 43 is a heart’s cry for when we feel wrongly accused or treated unjustly. It’s only five verses long but it leads us through the process of crying out to God, seeking His truth, and resting in His promises.

To read the rest of the article, head over to A Good Day blog where this post is being featured!

https://livewithintent.org/resources/
Depression, Encouragement, Intentional

a message to Jeremiah is one for us, too

You may be familiar with Jeremiah, also known as the weeping prophet. At around 20 years of age, Jeremiah was called into service by God, prophesying the coming exile of Israel and Judah. The Israelites were wandering away from God and God was trying to call them back. Jeremiah was faithful when God gave him a strong word and challenged him to execute that word. 

If you’ve read through the book of Jeremiah, you know it’s heavy reading. There is a lot of warning and devastation. Jeremiah didn’t have light-hearted things to say, but he was faithful to the task that God had called him to. However, Jeremiah had to have had low points, especially when everyone around him despised him for his words and doubted what he had to say.

At one point, in chapter 15, Jeremiah cries out to God. Despite Jeremiah doing exactly what God had called him to, he was met with hatred from others and a life of isolation. He likened it to “pain unceasing, a wound incurable, refusing to be healed.” (vs 18)

mountains with author quote

You’ve most likely not been in the same spot as Jeremiah, crying out to a large, lost people group who refuse to listen. But you may have felt alone as a Christ follower in the middle of a world that seems to be getting increasingly troublesome. You may look around and see people who are not following God’s ways, prospering and seeming to have it all. You may be in the middle of a calling that feels hard, unending, and isolating. Jeremiah felt that, too.

God had an answer for him, and He has an answer for you:

If you return, I will restore you,

    and you shall stand before me.

If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,

    you shall be as my mouth.

They shall turn to you,

    but you shall not turn to them. (vs 19)

God’s reply is relevant for us today as well. Three things we can do when we feel overwhelmed by our pain, circumstance, or position:

  1. Return and be restored. Repent of any sin in your own life. Be restored so you can serve God with a pure heart.
  2. Speak good words, not worthless ones. When we speak the words of God, if we are immersed in His scripture, then the words that we speak to others will be truth-filled and loving.
  3. Be the influencer, don’t let them influence you. It can be easy to get swept up in the latest news, ideas, and fads. But we are called to be in this world, not of it. We are effective servants of Christ when we choose to be influenced by the Word, not the world.

And with this command comes a promise. God said that if Jeremiah would do those things, He would follow through.

And I will make you to this people

    a fortified wall of bronze;

they will fight against you,

    but they shall not prevail over you,

for I am with you

    to save you and deliver you, declares the Lord.

I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,

    and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless. (vs 20-21)

A simple command and a beautiful promise.

Jeremiah 15 command with mountain image

Return to God, speak good words, and influence others. Your enemies will not prevail, you will be delivered, you will be redeemed.

Intentionally go to God with your heart, pour out your complaint as Jeremiah did. And trust Him to be the keeper of His promises. 

Encouragement, Intentional, Relationships

How are you smelling?

A few years ago, when my grandparents were moving from their home into an Assisted Living facility, I helped them sort through their things in storage. I came across some old pillowcases and sheets and thought they could be repurposed into a craft project someday. They gladly passed them on to me.

Not long after, I pulled out one of the pillowcases from my grandparents’ home. I loved the vintage flower pattern and I could remember summer nights, falling asleep on that pillow, listening to the peaceful sounds of the country and farm life.

In preparing to use the fabric for my project, I needed to iron it. As I pressed the iron to the material, a sweet scent wafted up from the fabric – the scent of my grandparents’ house.

The scent was so reminiscent that it stopped me in the middle of my activity. I stood there at the ironing board and cried.

wildflowers with quote

It was such a nostalgic, beautiful scent that it took me back to the nights I would snuggle under one of my grandparents’ comforters, falling asleep on their couch. It evoked happy memories with cousins and the security of my grandparent’s home.

It brought back so many wonderful memories of time spent at their house.

In II Corinthians 2:14-16 Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (ESV)

quotes with wilflowers

In the Old Testament, priests would offer up sacrifices to God for the sins of the people. The aroma of a good sacrifice would be pleasing to God. It wasn’t so much what was actually burning on the altar that created the pleasing aroma, it was more about what the sacrifice represented – substitutionary atonement for sins. The shedding of blood is required as a payment for sins and the animal sacrifice was given as a substitute for the sinner themselves. The same was said for the grain offerings, those given as the first-fruits back to the Lord in thanksgiving. These sacrifices, when given with a humble heart, were a pleasing aroma to God.

Jesus came and fulfilled the Law by becoming the ultimate sacrifice for all of our sins. And we, when claiming Jesus as our Savior, claim that ultimate sacrifice to cover our own transgressions. And, in doing so, we become part of that pleasing aroma of Christ to God.

So, how are we smelling? Just as Paul was encouraging the Corinthians, are we “spreading the fragrance of knowledge of Christ” in how we live? What aroma do we give off when we are living our daily lives and the pressure and heat of life, like an iron, is pressed upon us. When we encounter other people are we giving off a pleasing aroma or one that stinks and causes the other to wish they had just stayed away? Are our actions ones that reflect our Jesus; grace-filled and loving? Our actions and words are born out of where our heart is rooted. Our truest nature comes out when we are put under pressure or the heat is turned up. It’s not difficult to be a pleasant and loving aroma towards those who compliment us, make us happy, or fulfill a need. But when someone makes us late, misunderstands a conversation, or takes from us without permission it can be challenging to continue to give off the aroma of grace. In order to be a pleasing aroma to those around us, we need to have our heart’s scent rooted in Truth and Love.

flowers in bloom with quote

Is our scent one that reminds others of Jesus? Does it fill other believers with joy, and maybe a few happy tears, as they long for their home in heaven? Does your aroma give life to other believers, encouraging them on their journey?

If we are truly living for Christ, our aroma will be a sweet reminder to our fellow believers that our Jesus is a living and redeeming God. It can also smell sweet to those who do not yet believe, but have a soft heart, ready to receive the Truth. They smell that sweet fragrance and want to have that aroma, too.

Just like how that little bit of material’s scent reminded me of happy memories, I want my aroma to be pleasing to God; a scent that glorifies Him.

So, how are you smelling these days?

quote with wildflowers in bloom

This post originally was published with Kingdom Edge Magazine.

Encouragement

when you’re not the first choice

“I feel like I am never anyone’s first choice.”

Those words broke my heart. Not only because they came from the mouth of my own child, but because they were words that often echo in my own heart as well. Friendships can be hard to navigate. I thought by the time I was 40 that it would be simple and straightforward, not like the precarious friendships of middle school. Maturity and age do help, but it turns out that the trials that make friendships tricky are still there, it’s just looks different.

With the fast pace of life and the jammed-packed schedules of families, it’s easy to assume that everyone is just busy. But then you hear of other women getting together and you wonder, “what about me?” You may get asked occasionally, but usually it’s because everyone else was unavailable. You’re never the first choice. You’re on the B list.

There is an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry is competing with a step-mother for the first spot on a certain woman’s speed dial.  Certain actions and words puts them in this woman’s good graces and therefore, #1 spot on the phone list.  There’s jockeying and threats that go on between Jerry and the stepmom and a general unease that they know at any moment they could lose that spot to each other….or to another.

We can laugh through the silliness of the whole thing. I mean, who really cares if you are #1 on someone’s speed dial? And, to be honest, how many people these days even know what speed dial is? But, if we take a more serious look at it, when the laughter dies down, we realize that we may have fought, though inwardly, with a very similar kind of feeling.

Because you have never been #1 on anyone’s speed dial.

Many people can point out friendships that were pivotal for their young years. Those best friends who, when they had great news to share, were the first person they wanted to tell. Friends that they knew always had their back. Those besties that, if you found one, you always found the other. Either you were one of those, and didn’t realize how great you had it, or you were one who was watching from the sideline, wondering what you were doing wrong – the B-list friends.

The B-list friends were those who you would call your friends, but not best friends. They were nice and polite. They were good for an occasional sleepover or a birthday party. If you look at snapshots of a group hanging out in the bleachers, they were 2 rows above, a slight smile, trying to not look too awkward or out of place.

There are a lot of things about school that are far, far in the past, praise the Lord. But, shouldn’t mid-life friendships be easier? It seems we’re still hanging out in the back row, trying not to look awkward.

Because when the good news comes, we’re not #1 on the speed dial. We aren’t the first person anyone thinks of when they want to share good news. We aren’t the person that someone is calling because they finally have a free morning and they want to catch up. We aren’t the shoulder that someone is looking for when they need a good cry. But, we really would like to be.

This is a reality for many. It can feel isolating, as if you are the only one. As if everyone is hanging out without you.

What do we do? Do we wallow in self pity? Complain to our spouse? Scroll social media and feed our insecurities? Those are all natural responses that will breed only jealousy and contempt.

As I sat on the couch, trying to come up with the words to comfort my daughter after she uttered those jarring words above, I honestly felt at a loss. Because I needed comforting words spoken to me, too.

So, I started with the first response I have whenever I’m stuck on how to act and what to do: follow Jesus’s example.

  1. If you want a friend, you need to be a friend. Jesus approached His friendships as a servant. He made Himself available to help others. Offer to make a meal for someone who’s struggling. Remember birthdays and send cards or texts. When you ask someone, “how’re you doing?” mean it and wait and listen for the answer. These aren’t done to manipulate people into liking you, but rather to show genuine love and caring for other human beings.
  2. Make a “U”, not an “O.” Be inclusive. If you happen to be standing with a group of people, be sure to leave room for more. Look around outside your circle and see if there is someone standing alone. Invite them in. They may refuse, but most appreciate the invite nonetheless. Though Jesus had his 12 disciples, He never turned away someone who wanted to be a part. In fact, He was constantly inviting.
  3. Be the initiator. We can wait around for someone to reach out to us, but in reality, there are a lot of others out there waiting for the same thing. It may take some courage and even a few false starts, but boldness in Christ’s grace has broken down many doors. If God has placed someone on your heart or mind, don’t hesitate. Offer the hand of friendship, praying as you go, seeking God’s glory in the relationship. Jesus invited many to be fishers of men for the Kingdom. We can’t ask people to follow us, we don’t have the glorified position or authority, but we can invite others into our lives, share the Light with them, and encourage them to walk after Jesus as well.
  4. Pray. Though this is listed last, it doesn’t mean it should be the last resort. If you are feeling lonely, left out, or forgotten, take it to Jesus first. He understands all those feelings because He has been there Himself. Ask God to reveal to you why you feel this way. Is your loneliness misplaced? Perhaps your eyes need opened to the friendships right in front of you that you aren’t even aware of. Pray that you may have a heart for those that also ache for friendship and that He would be the One to first fill that need in you so that you can go out and be a friend to others.

Father, I know you have made us for community. Our hearts long to be included, accepted, and loved by others. Help me to not misplace this desire. I pray that I long to be included, accepted, and loved by You first before all others. Give me a heart for the hurting and open my eyes to the needs of others around me. I know in order to have friends, I need to be a friend. Give me opportunities to be a friend to others. May it be a way for me to shine Your light and give you glory.

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