What Ties You Down? What Lifts You Up?

I was recently honored to be asked to speak to a group of women at a local congregation. They asked me to speak with the topic of their retreat: "What Ties You Down, What Lifts You Up." I knew what tied ME down and what lifted ME up, and felt qualified to speak to that, but I am not delusional in thinking that everyone thinks precisely like me. So I polled about a dozen of my friends. Married, single, widowed, with kids, without, empty-nesters, career women, stay at home moms to little bitties. 

I spoke this weekend, but I wanted to share my findings with you. I found them to be really interesting. In short, whatever stage of life we are in, we are burdened by generally the same things, and lifted by generally the same things.

In order to speak to them, I put them in categories.

What Ties You Down:

Outside influences/ result of living in a fallen world: 

I described these as things that came our way through no fault or action of our own. Illness, accident, other people's behavior or actions.
  • Words. Someone at church (one of those nice Christian perfect ladies) said something really mean to me
  • my daughter's mental illness, borderline personality disorder
  • Dealing with family members who don't do what they are supposed to do - the constant drip-drip of irresponsible behavior and deceit.
  • Stressful job - I have a "pearls before swine" kinda job, and it is a real burden at times. I often feel like I am getting nowhere.

Inside influences:

This seemed to be taking on things the Lord didn’t intend us to take on, usually as a result of listening to lies of the Enemy about expectations, commitments, unforgiveness, entitlement:
  • Guilt--MOSTLY self-induced of course; feelings of inadequacy when I think I am putting my needs ahead of someone else
  • kitchen stacked a mile high with dishes because I've been too busy/exhausted to wash them
  • fear (of failing, usually), unforgiveness
  • the lack of time I have to give my all to everything I want.
  • What burdens me?  I do.  Life always has challenges, and I add to those challenges when I stay within myself, try to 'fix' it by myself and don't lean on Jesus and the people who I *KNOW* God has put in my life to help me.  I believe one of Satan's biggest weapons is the 'divide and conquer' method.  He knows my tendency to isolate when I'm experiencing problems in my life and in my 'aloneness' and then I become stuck in the cycle of negative thinking.
  • Burdens are usually the things that I create myself. Example: having a clean house and not doing all the work....make the kids do more to help that burden but at the same time as a working single mom it is easier to do it myself so that I don't have to do it again when it didn't suit me. The burden of having another driver in my insurance and gas bill.
  • an overpacked schedule.
  • My people pleaser personality. Do I really need to elaborate? Wanting to please and love people is one thing........letting them be your measuring stick or source of approval is entirely another and can lead to disobedience and removing glory from where it belongs.
  • There is the weight of unbelief.......believing what eyes see, facts say instead of trusting 100% that God is bigger and knows what He is doing.

Family Concerns (Primarily Children):

These are a subset of both of the other 2, but it was such a recurring theme, it deserved its own category.
  • concerns I have for my children and the decisions they make with their life that I have no control over.
  • my family: if they are not doing good off track again that is what brings me down.
  • it's the mundane of the everyday of being a wife and mom with young(er) kids. (homework while keeping preschool sister out of the way, ortho appointments, baseball, trying to eat together as a family)

What Lifts You Up:

These were more fun just to list out. I left any duplicates as duplicates.
  • A good laugh. 
  • A long talk with (friend). 
  • A good talk with my Momma. 
  • A walk with (my husband) and the kids. 
  • Connecting with a student at school--or knowing I helped them in some way. 
  • Hugs and smiles and conversation after church. 
  • Music. 
  • Perfectly timed lyrics.
  • Time to write and think. 
  • An uninterrupted nap.  
  • An empty, quiet house--and then everyone arriving back home to make it full and noisy again.
  • A HIGHLY carbonated Sonic Diet Coke with the PERFECT ice to Diet Coke ratio. 
  • This e-mail from YOU!!!
  • Texts from friends.
  • Walking beside a well as my sisters that walk beside me.
  • Knowing I have someone I can call if I need to.
  • Knowing others are praying for me and my family.
  • My "village" (helping me raise my children).
  • when (daughter) plays a certain piece on the piano.
  • Words can lift me so high, but I HATE superficial compliments. Like if someone knows you are on a diet and they say "wow you look like you've lost weight" and you have lost a pound and a half. They are just saying that to make you feel good and it's not true. But (a friend) walked by me and said "funny girl. You are a funny funny girl. And you write really well. I like reading what you have to say." That make my spirits SOAR.
  • when (my children) are doing great. Nothing makes me happier than when all is right with each of them.
  • Writing.
  • Quiet time.
  • Nature.
  • Physical activity
  • Teaching - watching light bulbs go off as they "get it".
  • Watching my kids grow up into decent human beings.
  • music
  • chocolate cake
  • coffee
  • truly knowing others pray for me. Many days I am too tired to even tell God I'm tired.
  • Saturday morning coffee with my sisters and parents.
  • Working on a project with (my husband), where we dream, plan, etc.
  • Quiet time. There’s never enough of it. Reading whole books from the Bible at a time, or sitting outside and just thinking, or writing a song, or playing in my kitchen (with no interruptions).
  • watching my (children) succeed
  • when (husband) helps
  • being reminded of the freedom I have in being who God created me to be, where I am now with all my faults, fears, failures... FORGIVEN!!
  • When I live intentionally/mindfully taking care of my mind/body/soul.
  • When I stay in the moment, trusting God has prepared the path ahead of me, always keeping in mind that He's in control, and provides what I need.  
  • Helping others,
  • being kind and gracious,
  • seeing the big picture of God's plan, and
  • actively participating in building a deeper, more intimate relationship with Jesus.
  • TRUTH!!!!
  • having time to spend meditating on the Word, building relationship with my Father.
  • Being able to speak truth and encourage others
  • my total faith that Jesus is God's son
  • there is a heaven waiting for me
  • God hears my prayers for my children
  • the unexpected kindnesses of others.
  • Evidence of Gods presence, provision, protection.
  • Scripture.  
  • Knowing that love covers a multitude of sins... (1peter 4:8)

Categories of What Lifts You Up:

  • Using Your Gifts/ Living in Your Purpose
  • Community
  • Creating, or appreciating the creation of others’ (music, etc.)
  • Solitude
  • Awareness of being in the presence of God/ the love of God 
 Of course, my overall point was that the world will bring those things that tie us down to us. We have to plan and be intentional to put IN those things that lift us up. It's a battle, but we are in a battle.

What about you? Do you see yourself in any of these? Would you add anything?


Considering Valentine's Day

originally in Abilene Families

My family experienced some minor medical drama the week between Christmas and New Year's while traveling out of state. On one of my many trips to the drug store, I had to stop dead in my tracks. I was perusing the Christmas decorations and wrapping paper on clearance. I turned around to look for more, and was faced with a shelf full of boxes of Valentine's cards that children will use to declare love for classmates. Before the confetti of the New Year's holiday is swept up, the shelves in stores are fully stocked with hearts, balloons, and all manner of Valentine props and paraphernalia.
Image: Salvatore Vuono /
 Maybe it's age, maybe it's motherhood, maybe it's global warming, but I don't think of Valentine's Day the same way that I did as a young, single woman or newlywed. Valentine's Day is a fun, light-hearted opportunity to lavish love on those around you, but life has shown me that love rarely looks like the front of a Hallmark card.

Love is not running along a beach hand in hand. Love holds the flashlight in the middle of the night, make-up long gone and tempers flaring, holding your tongue while your sweetie attempts an emergency home repair. Love isn't demonstrated by dewy eyes across a candlelit meal, but rather by one more run to the doctor or pharmacy when you are exhausted beyond reasonable or rational thought.

Valentine's Day lends itself to romance. Romance is wonderful and exciting, but won't take you very far when the stomach bug hits, or your "Love Shack" floods, or one of your parents is critically ill and/or dies. Romance will not be found in any of those situations, but love is there larger than life. Love brings the cool wash cloth again and again for the stomach bug, and mops and covertly repairs damaged keepsakes during the flood, and cries and holds and works and loves with an ill family member.

Love is not rose petals and champagne, but aching backs and work gloves. Love at my house never dances in an evening gown or tuxedo, but love supplies the elbow grease, the patience, the encouragement, and the clean clothes to face each day and, Lord willin' a comforting place to come home to when the day seems to come out on top. Love is holding tight when no words will fix it, and tears the only language uttered.

Love is not a polished, glimmery state. Love is messy, inconvenient, and frustrating. Love is giving up the last ounce of energy, sleep, time, or chocolate for the well-being of another. Love isn't found in romantic restaurants or destinations, but in hospital waiting rooms, the lobby of funeral homes, and kneeling in prayer next to race-car or princess beds in the middle of the night. Love is less about flowers and cartoon hearts, and everything about the value of another soul on this planet. I guess that's a little harder to put on the side of a coffee mug.

I will play along this Valentine's Day, like all the others, and I certainly hope for you to feel cherished on that day. But, later in the year when the toilet overflows while the drama at school comes to a boiling point and work causes too many demands to keep everyone civil, love will be there with a plunger, Kleenex for the tears, and hugs, pats, and kisses for all the things the plunger and Kleenex won't fix. Consider that your own Valentine's Day -- but don't look for Hallmark to make a card for it anytime soon.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

(Update: This was originally published in 2009 and has been borrowed for sermons and published in various places around the Internet. It still is one of my personal favorites.

This Valentine's Day my Valentine and I will spend the day in a hospital waiting room with my mom while my dad has surgery. Our Valentine's dinner will likely be in a Whataburger between Houston and Dallas as we make our way home so that the next day we can change out clothes in suitcases and go 200 miles in the opposite direction for daughter to go to an information session at her future college.

This is what 21 years of marriage Valentine's Days look like. It is not sad or boring. It is love out loud. It is love in action and in truth. )

"Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth." 1 John 3:18


I Was Wrong, Part 1

Many moons ago, on this very blog, I promised to tell some of my thoughts on nutrition.

And many moons ago, on this very blog, I said that my first post would be: "I Was Wrong."

I started that post, and it got to be SO! LONG!! You see, there are many things that I have been wrong about.

There are things that I may say now that I will tell you later: "I was wrong." Any good professional will do that: give the best information s/he has with the information available at that time, and continue learning CONSTANTLY.

Nutrition is certainly an ever-changing landscape, and voices clamor from your grocery shelves, your doctor's office, and always the internet. I will do what I can to pass along what I believe to be current and valid information.

Back to me being wrong, though.

A phrase that I have uttered MANY times, perhaps even to you:

"All things in moderation."

Sometimes I even had a really good spiritual reason for that -- God created everything, blah, blah, blah.

But the reality was, that meant I didn't want to give up what I knew I shouldn't be eating and I felt like just a little was okay. And for some of us, it is.

I really hopped on here tonight specifically because I was so blown away by Kris' passionate article on the same stance: Why 'Everything in Moderation' is Killing People. (I rarely read anything on Kris' blog that I DON'T like, and he always puts science-y things in "bottom line" and easy to understand language for all of us). 

I HIGHLY encourage you to take a look at that article -- says it all so much more passionately than I could!

As far as God creating all of our food... yes. Yes, He did. Let's even consider the lovely cocoa bean (YAY!! Chocolate!!) You've got your chocolate, you've got your anti-oxidant -- what's not to love?? Then man comes along and finds a way to process the heck outta that little bean -- and now you have your cocaine.

Wait -- it's "natural"! It came from a plant! God made that plant. It must be okay, right? Notsomuch.

Man has continued to process the heck outta what God has put on this earth as our nourishment so that your body barely knows what to do with it anymore. But that's a whole other blog post.

So... I was wrong.

What do you think? All things in moderation, or stay away entirely from unhealthy foods?


Winds of Change at the Cleft of the Rock

The biggest change here at The Cleft of the Rock you will immediately notice is that I actually wrote something.

Tah. Dah.

And, while making no promises of regularity, I have things on my heart to write about. But it isn't usual Cleft of the Rock stuff.

Last year, it all finally came clear to me.

What I finally wanted to be when I grow up. And, honestly, I can't even completely name what the occupation will look like, but I know the education I must have, and that is enough for now.

In my teens I struggled with my weight. Then in my 20's I wanted to get off the diet wheel and learn to eat healthy. I am still learning, but sharing my knowledge and what I've learned is my favorite thing on the planet. I know the struggle -- it's different for each of us -- but I know how it feels in your soul to feel less than because of the number on the scale or the number on the tag of my clothes. And I don't want anyone to feel that way.

We do not have to be thin to be beautiful, but we all feel better at a healthy weight. And when we care about ourselves, we care FOR ourselves. Feeding ourselves properly, plenty of rest... all those things.

So I've done my "never." I was never going to go back to school. And last spring, I enrolled in General Chemistry 1 (oh, yeah...). And this fall there will be GenChem2. Ugh. But each class is a little tiny step toward my goal of Registered Dietitian (that will take me a very long time to achieve).

'Nutrition On Sale' photo (c) 2006, Ed Schipul - license:
Nutrition is on sale!!
So the Cleft of the Rock will be shifting more toward nutrition and fitness.  Of course, I will still tell you about funny life as it comes. (Follow me on instagram at sarah_stir for a peek at the world's worst parking job -- mine - this week). But more and more I will be speaking to my heart and my passion -- which is honoring God by honoring the body he blessed us with to the best of our ability on this day. Whatever our current level of fitness, whatever our current level of nutritional knowledge, we can honor God with our body to the best of our ability on this day.

Can't wait to tell you the first thing that is on my heart. Coming up: "I was wrong." :-)

Stay tuned!

"...You were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies." 1 Corinthians 6:20


You're Stronger Than You Think You Are

I've mentioned running on occasion. If someone says that I'm a runner I make them do air quotes around the word and call me a "runner." It doesn't come naturally to me. I didn't start really running until my 30's. I am slow. My running plans never go how I want because there are few plans out there for 40-something beginners that are turtle-slow.
My last 5k. I finished before they cleared the course. 

Photo courtesy Celebrated Images

If you are a Facebook friend or follow me on Twitter you know that I run in the morning, sometimes horrifically early. I'm not necessarily a morning person, but that is when the running must be done if it is to get done.

My legs don't work well and my brain doesn't work well at still-too-dark hours of the morning. Thankfully, my brain only has to figure out to put one foot in front of the other and stay out of traffic. That much I can usually manage.

My legs take a while to get going on these runs. I give myself a few minutes to warm up and then begin to wonder why I didn't stay in bed.

Lately, though, a sentence has been echoing in my head. A sentence that has propelled me further and faster (relatively speaking, of course) than any training program or motivational thought.

Less than ten words spoken to me over a year ago keep my legs in motion.

When we first moved here (almost 2 years ago) God almost immediately brought me a running partner knowing that I needed the running to keep me sane and the partner to keep me faithful.

She is a much stronger runner than I am but is eternally patient and helped me get on track. I was discussing some training I wanted to do or something I hoped to accomplish but bemoaning my lack of ability.

And there it was:

"You're a stronger runner than you think you are."

I don't know if she was just filling the air -- though she isn't one to say something she doesn't mean -- or if she really believed that.

It doesn't matter.

What matters is that I believed it. Okay -- I didn't believe it at first. But I considered it as a possibility. So I somewhat tested it. Maybe I can run a little longer before a walk break. Maybe this isn't as fast as these legs will go.

My running partner has moved away. I am left to train on my own. It's been a tumultuous winter of illness and injury for me. But out the door I go, starting over again and again. My legs complain. My lungs burn. But I hear it.

"You're a stronger runner than you think you are."

So I keep at it. And run just a little more and a little more.

Turns out -- I really am a stronger runner than I thought I was.

It took just a few words of encouragement from someone for me to find that out. Someone else had to believe in me before I could believe in myself.

The power of encouragement. You are probably stronger -- physically and emotionally -- than you think you are. And you probably need to tell someone close to you that they are, too.

Great video about the power of one person believing in another:


Can't We All Just Get Along?

A rare occurrence has been taking place at my house.

Like... "call the Smithsonian" kind of rare.

My kids have been getting along. Working together, asking each other's advice -- then actually listening to the advice offered.

It is a beautiful thing.

To hear your children getting along warms the cockles of  my heart (I love to toss out the word "cockles" -- you just don't get to use that every day) and ranks right up there with their decision to accept Christ in baptism, as well as watching them use one of the many gifts God has given them.

I wonder.

I wonder how God feels about his own children getting along.

How He feels when I can't see past the fact that my brother in Christ chooses to tell God he loves Him and worship a different way than I do, so dismiss my brother altogether.

... or how He feels when I can't see past which lever my sister in Christ pulls on election day or the sign she has in her yard so speak venomous words about her to others.

I wonder how He feels when I judge my sister who was raised in an abusive home, or by a single parent who worked 3 jobs to make ends meet, so she shows up at worship dressed inappropriately and doesn't speak to her husband or children the way I think she should. I wonder if He wishes that I would come alongside her and love her instead of judge, and show her a better way... since no one ever has.

I wonder how He feels about us getting along? I'm pretty sure He told us:
'Having a laugh' photo (c) 2011, Lars Plougmann - license:

"I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
John 13:34,35

P.S. The littles are not my adorable doodlebugs. But they appear to be getting along. The bigs are mine on the first day of school. This is how we do "first day" pics.


Doing Great Things For God

Hello there. It's been a while. A very loooong while.

I finally have a thought. Would love to hear your thoughts on it, too. But, the reality is... no one is probably out there. It may have just been too long.

And this thought launches from another blog post I read almost a year ago. I would encourage you to read that one, because it says it way better than I will here.

 The general idea is that in the Christian culture/ lingo, many of us are encouraged/ told/ have the idea that we will/ need to "do great things for God." Of course, in our minds, "great things" can only mean either giving up your whole life to start an orphanage in a third world country, or becoming a well-known speaker and/or author so that your words touch thousands.

The deal is, God has a vastly different definition of "great things" than we do. My friend who will take someone to dinner when they ask her for money on the street -- and give them not only the gift of a full belly, but her attention and time, too, is doing great things for God, I believe. My friends who consistently and unselfishly care for their neighbors and family are doing great things for God. My friend who ministers to those on the fringes to let them know they are loved and not forgotten is doing great things for God.

You don't know any of these people's names, and likely never will, but surely you know people just like them, doing great things for God.

An enthusiastic, well-meaning gentleman tells me EVERY. TIME. he sees me, "I can't wait to see what great things God is going to do in your life. I just know God is going to do great things through you!" Sweet, I guess, but I just think, "What has He been doing in my life? Is raising babies not enough for God? Changing diapers in the nursery at church doesn't count for anything? Those HOURS that I have spent on youth trips -- praying and laughing and losing sleep with teens -- nada?"

I know people are doing more than me and other things --- but not all of us will do great things in the eyes of the world -- though lives will no doubt be changed by those things, as well. But all of us can do God's great things. I say this because I've been feeling the "woe is me" lie again -- the lie that I don't matter, that God isn't using me, that my years on this earth are amounting to nothing, and "everyone" is getting a book contract/ awesome job/ the right degree. I finally had to claim that as the lie that was. Sure, I have let many opportunities slip by me and I have learned beyond my fair share of lessons from mistakes.

But just because I am not doing things that thousands can see, it doesn't mean it isn't great in God's eyes. And I continue to pray that He is the only one I aim to please and impress -- and THAT is a whole other struggle unto itself.

May you do something great for God today -- one of God's great things.

"The greatest among you will be your servant"Matthew 23:11