Posted by: donnatallman | January 8, 2014

Running to Win or Running Amok?

Photo by Donna Tallman

Photo by Donna Tallman

“Back in the day” I ran track. I wasn’t any good at it because I mostly ran track to stay in shape for basketball and tennis, which were my true loves. One day we were forced to train inside the school because a Colorado snowstorm was too much to compete with. Once inside, my coach could see that I needed more motivation besides running laps inside the school building. She put three hurdles in front of me and dared me to run the gauntlet. In the process, my coach inadvertently unleashed a monster.

The rhythm, strides, precision, takeoff, and landing all made me feel like I was flying. I loved it. Hurdling gave me a chance to compete against other racers, the clock, and against myself. It was a perfectionist’s dream come true, and birthed the competitive streak in me that still exists to this day.

I’m not much of an athlete anymore, but I am still very competitive. I hate to lose ~ at anything. I can be wrong, know that I’m wrong, and still try to win an argument. For years, I was convinced that being competitive was a good thing until the day I was given a “time out” at a women’s retreat for aggressive behavior. I was playing a game of double solitaire and trouncing an 80 year-old woman who was thrilled she could even be at the retreat.

“Just how badly are you going to beat her?” a friend whispered in my ear as she wrested the cards from my clutched hands. I was just about to unload everything on the table and go in for the kill, but my courageous friend gently pushed me from my seat and dismissed me from the game.

“But I’m winning!” I protested quietly, and then with one of her famous false front smiles she hissed at me through her clenched teeth, “But you’re the speak-er, Dear. Don’t you want to set a better example for the women than this?”

Oh, oops.

Knowing what we’re tying to accomplish in any given situation is vital to living deliberately, so the next key to being intentional in 2014 is:

KEY #3 RUN TO WIN

Competition, the right kind(!), is a good thing; in fact, it’s a great thing. A properly focused competitive streak can bring out the best in us, and in those around us. It can also propel us into doing unimaginable things we’ve never even dreamed of. I thrive on the benefits of healthy competition because I know it strengthens my weaknesses.

Paul did too. He has a lot to say about competition in his New Testament epistles, the most famous one being found in 1 Corinthians 9:24: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.” 

In order to “run to win” according to Paul’s model, how we run is just as important as that we run.

Athletes are bound by a lot of “hows.” In order to compete in something they love, athletes willingly submit themselves to specific, outlined criteria. They contend with rules, equipment specifications, and drug testing to name just a few. An athlete could win, and win big, but if they violate the rules, they will be disqualified from victory. So all compete, some will cheat, but only one will win.

When Paul says, “Run to win,” in 1 Corinthians 9, he’s talking about fulfilling the purpose for which God called him. Paul is talking about living deliberately ~ intentionally choosing to participate in God’s plan for his life. The “how” of running, then, is every bit as important to the Believer as it is to the athlete. Just like athletes, Christians willingly submit themselves to the criteria outlined in Scripture that ensures our race will end with victory.

We do this because of our deep love for Jesus, not out of a sense of duty or religious obligation. Rules and regulations don’t motivate us; our love for Jesus does. True faith in Jesus is the result of His invitation to us, and of our eager response to enter into an intimate relationship with him. It doesn’t come through force, obligation, or external pressure; our journey with Jesus is a joy.

So, here’s an opportunity to apply one of Paul’s “hows” of running. Let’s just look at one character quality that is important to incorporate into our lives. 1 Corinthians 9:25 says, “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”

If I am running to win this “race” of life, I want to finish strong and finish well. To do that, I need to exercise self-control in all things according to 1 Corinthians 9:25. Bummer: I want to do what I want, when I want, for as long as I want. Physically, I’d like to run amok, but spiritually controlling my behavior, tongue, temper, attitude, service, competitive streak, etc., will ensure that I become more like Jesus and less like the world around me.

Here’s where I’m challenged ~ According to Galatians 5:22-23, the spiritual realm and the physical realm are connected. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” I’d rather they not be connected, but they are. I’d rather compartmentalize my life, but I can’t; not if I want to be like Jesus.

So, if the spiritual and the physical are connected, isn’t it logical that my physical life will show evidence of my spiritual condition? Spiritually, I run to win. That metaphorical race should spill over into the physical arena at some point whether I like it or not. Let’s say I never exert self-control over the things I put in my body (ie. food, alcohol, medication, drugs, etc), and I neglect exercise so I am in poor health. If my lack of self-control over my diet and exercise prohibits me from accomplishing the purpose God has for me, then there’s absolutely no way I can live deliberately this year. My body will stage a mutiny and prevent it. That’s not okay. In this example the physical arena is controlling the spiritual, and that never ends well. Gaining spiritual control over the flesh and its desires is one of the most common reason people fast.

Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “But I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” Everything we do impacts ourselves, those around us, and even impacts the gospel. If we are walking in the Spirit, we will exercise self-control; it’s one of the fruits of the Spirit. If we do not exercise self-control, we cannot possibly be walking in the Spirit. So, then, to live with intention as one who loves Jesus means that as we surrender to the Spirit, His power will increase in our lives, and the influence of our flesh will decline.

How do we do that exactly?

Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

To live deliberately this year, we keep our eyes focused on Jesus, for even Jesus had to master his humanity in order to finish well.

© Copyright, 2014 by Donna Tallman.

Advertisements
Posted by: donnatallman | January 5, 2014

Change It Up!

Photo by Donna Tallman

Photo by Donna Tallman

Henry David Thoreau dared me to change up my life and “live deliberately” in 2014, so that’s what I’ve been attempting to do for all of 4 days now. I was eager to take up his challenge, and many of you have jumped on board for the journey. If you need to catch up, just click the links for “Deliberately on Purpose” and “Present-ing Ourselves in the New Year.” It’s going to be an amazing year of adventure; I just know it!

So far, we’ve realized that living deliberately has to be connected to purpose. Otherwise, we’re just generating a list of activities and field trips for ourselves. As believers in Jesus, meaningful purpose comes from partnering with Jesus to fulfill God’s purpose in us and through us. We also realized, however, that positioning ourselves to fulfill God’s purpose may expose us to extreme difficulty that will tempt us to excuse ourselves from the present until the pain passes by.

Checking out of the present keeps us from growing, and it also keeps us from having a strategic impact on the people and events around us; it’s a ditch. The disciples checked out of the present when their pain became too intense, and they were completely useless to Jesus when he most needed them.

When was that?

In Gethsemane. Agonizing Gethsemane, where Jesus went to pray on the night of his arrest. (see Luke 22:39-46)

Jesus’s spirit had been troubled all evening because his torture and crucifixion were just hours away. Clearly understanding the enormity of what was at stake, Jesus asked his Father to alter the plan. “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me, yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Well, God wasn’t willing. Now, there’s an intense revelation.

In his humanity, Jesus was deeply troubled and needed courage, but he also knew exactly what to do with his intense emotions. He needed to care-take them so he could live deliberately and remain present in the present. To do that, Jesus retreated. He went to a place of peace, to Gethsemane, into his Father’s presence to seek the strength he would need for the extreme trial ahead.

Jesus brought along his disciples for support. It was one of the rare times Jesus ever asked his disciples for anything, but he asked them to watch and pray with him through the night. His closest friends were a wash. Luke 22:45 says they slept through it all because their sorrow was too much to bear. That’s unfortunate because Jesus was providing them an example of how they should handle grief.

As Jesus began to express his emotions to his Father in prayer, he grew deeply troubled. Scripture says, “His sweat became like drops of blood falling down on the ground.” That’s extreme. During the entire ordeal, Jesus didn’t deny his emotions or suppressed them. He never checked out of the present. Instead, he provided an accurate model for us to follow when we are overcome by our own emotions; he prayed. Yes, Jesus was thinking about his “tomorrow,” but he avoided speculation about it. Instead, he moved to disclosure. Jesus remained present in the present by disclosing his heart to his Father.

So, the second key to living deliberately is:

KEY #2 DISCLOSE OUR HEARTS TO THE FATHER IN PRAYER

God can handle our emotions; truly, he can. God is more than able and more than willing to hear our heart-cry. He can even handle your most extreme emotions. David knew that when he cried out to God in Psalm 42:9-11: “I will say to God my rock, ‘Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?’ As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, while they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’ Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?”

St. John of the Cross, a Spanish monk writing in the 1500’s, wrote a poem entitled, “Dark Night of the Soul” which has become a Christian classic. In the poem, St. John vividly describes the spiritual reunion he experiences with God after suffering through a soul-searing ordeal of his own. Many, many spiritual travelers since then have described their own “dark nights of the soul” when the bottom dropped out of their circumstances and they were faced with a severe crisis of faith in God.

Years ago Bob took a job on a congressman’s staff in Washington, D.C.; it was the opportunity of a lifetime for him…

…and the spiritual crisis of a lifetime for me. After uprooting and traveling 3,000 miles across the country to relocate to D.C., we realized that staying would not be possible. It was too expensive, too stressful, and too incompatible for our little family to remain in Washington, so Bob had to resign.

Panic set in the night we realized we had to leave. Seriously disillusioned with God, I bolted from the dinner table so the boys wouldn’t see my impending meltdown. I stumbled on the unfamiliar stairway looking for a bedroom, any bedroom, where I could be alone. I flung myself onto a bed, buried my head in a pillow, and sobbed until sweat dripped down my face and neck and the muscles in my sides ached.

Gethsemane’s gate. Wave after wave of inconsolable emotion crashed over me as I agonized over the realization that God had abandoned me in the midst of my obedience.

Only, it wasn’t true. It felt true, but it wasn’t. Emotionally I “felt” forsaken by God, but in reality, God did not, has not, and will not ever abandon me.

Not ever.

Staying present in the present that night was the most painful experience I’ve ever shared with the Lord, but mysteriously it has provided incredible strength during every hard time I’ve faced since.

If you ever have encountered a faith crisis in your life, or are in one at the moment, know that God can handle it. Don’t check out of the present and wait for the pain to pass by; it won’t. Instead, do what Jesus did; take your cares, concerns, and worries to the Father in prayer. Jesus gave his disciples the antidote for grief and worry: “Get up and pray…”

Disclosing our hearts to the Father invites him to enter our pain with all the resources of heaven…

Literally, all the resources of heaven. Why would anyone resist that?

So, change it up this year.

Instead of checking out of the present by reverting to the past, zooming ahead to a fantasized future, detouring off to a cyber-ditch, or sleeping through the pain, take your concerns to the Lord in prayer.

He can handle them.

He is able.

He is willing.

Change it up!

© Copyright, 2014 by Donna Tallman.

 

Posted by: donnatallman | January 1, 2014

Present-ing Ourselves In the New Year

 Welcome to 2014 everyone ~ Happy New Year!

DSCN4913

I made it!

Well, I did it; I started my year off with victory!

(Yes, I really am at the top of the hill right in the middle by the trees – arms raised in victory! My camera died, so this is the only shot I have.)

In the spirit of living deliberately, I determined to run to the top of a hill near our apartment that has been taunting me for the last six weeks. Really it’s just a hill, but seems so severely vertical to me that it probably stands out on one of those topographical maps we all studied in 8th grade geology class. You know, those maps with the squinchy brown lines indicating a terrain as steep as Pikes Peak.

pikes-peak-morning.jpg

Photo by Donna Tallman

Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. In reality it’s probably no higher than a mere mole hole, but it may as well have been Pikes Peak to me. What on earth made me think I could race up that thing when I’ve been sitting on a couch eating Fritos for the last 25 years?

Thoreau. Thoreau made me do it. He dared me to live deliberately and I took him up on it.

But this year’s challenge isn’t going to be about Thoreau. He can’t truly be my only motivation. This year is going to be ~ no, it’s got to be about Jesus or I’m out. Thoreau was not speaking from a Christian perspective, so I want to be sure that my intention to live deliberately is something Jesus would support. It was one of the questions I asked in my last blog entry:

Is there a place in Scripture that confirms living deliberately?

I believe there is and I believe this verse is going to become the foundation of our journey together this year: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

Usually, the first few words of Romans 8:28 sidetrack me. I often focus on the excitement that God is going to solve and resolve everything that’s going wrong in my life and turn it to good. We’ll leave that detour for the moment and come back to it another day. Instead, the Lord has been replaying the last few words of the verse over and over to my spirit and wants me to focus on them: “To those who are called according to His purpose.”

Those who believe in Jesus have a calling; we have a purpose, and God determines what that purpose is. If we get serious about living according to our purpose, we will automatically position ourselves to live deliberately as Thoreau encouraged, but it certainly won’t look like Thoreau’s life.

Problem. I have a problem.

What if I don’t like some of the things God has “purposed” for me? The Christian life isn’t always a day at the beach, you know.

Like 1 Peter 4:1 for example, “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.”

Or this little nugget, “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” Philippians 3:10

The fellowship of Jesus’ sufferings?

Being conformed to his death?

Really?

Photo by Donna Tallman

Photo by Donna Tallman

Living purposefully (or meaningfully) requires that we live “all” of life. I can’t pick and choose to engage only with the fun and happy times; I have to live all of them, but that’s really hard. I learned something interesting about myself when I was working on the Considering Jesus material last year and I want to pursue it a bit more in the weeks to come:

When I bump into something I don’t want to do, feels too hard to do, or is just outright painful, I withdraw from the present; I retreat. I find a place or a way to hide from the difficult and disappear. So, if I check out of the present, I cannot possibly be intentional about living. That behavior pattern absolutely has to change.

Arg!

In order to unlock the barriers of living deliberately, I hope to give you some keys that will help.

Key #1  REMAIN PRESENT IN THE PRESENT

Jesus had to fight to remain in the present during his final prayer time in the Garden of Gethsemane as he poured out his feelings about his coming crucifixion to his Father. He said in Luke 22:42, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Jesus was talking about a future event in a present moment. Jesus remained connected to his own present condition of agony while he talked with his father about the reality of his torture and death that were only moments away.

Peter, James, and John (Jesus closest disciples) couldn’t handle any of it. They totally checked out. The emotional agony of losing Jesus was so searing that they opted out. Instead of remaining with Jesus through his most difficult hours, the disciples whom Jesus loved chose the route many of us choose when things get too sad or overwhelming; they fell asleep.

“When Jesus rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow.” Luke 22:45

Sleeping from sorrow; that’s one way to avoid the present. Many who suffer from depression describe days and days of oversleeping because the pain they experience in the present is just too much to bear. The inherent hope of sleeping through sorrow is that when they wake, the pain will have passed and they will never have to face it. The disciples understood that.

What are some ways we avoid being present in the present?

  • Retreating to the past ~ Remembering and daydreaming about better times
  • Zooming ahead to the future ~ Fantasizing about an easier, happier life
  • Disappearing into cyberspace ~ Idling in neutral until the pain passes
  • Falling asleep ~ Escaping today’s hardship altogether

Not surprisingly, Jesus provides a great example of how to remain present in the present when barraged by difficulty. Jesus knew exactly what to do. We’ll look at Jesus’ solution to facing pain in the present in the next blog entry, but for now, today’s challenge is to reconnect to the life we are living.

Let’s start and end 2014 in victory, so consider what you can do today to reconnect with life around you. Stay on the positive side of things as you look for things and patterns that provide forward momentum.

Make a list.

Make a plan.

Grab a buddy to help you.

Let’s live this year!

© Copyright, 2014 by Donna Tallman.

Posted by: donnatallman | December 30, 2013

Deliberately On Purpose

Photo by Donna Tallman

Photo by Donna Tallman

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”  Henry David Thoreau

As 2013 comes to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about Thoreau’s experiment to live deliberately. In fact, my mind, soul, and spirit have so exploded with the possibilities that I’ve decided to try his experiment for myself.

2014 will be the year that I live deliberately.

There. I said it. I’m going to do this year what I absolutely refused to do last year: I’m going to set a New Year’s resolution. For those of you who joined our journey last year, you’ll remember that I pitched a Texas-sized hissy fit refusing to set any New Year’s resolutions because they had become encumbrances of failure instead of testaments of success.

Photo by Donna Tallman

Considering Jesus by Donna Tallman

Last year the only thing I was willing to do was to consider Jesus and get to know him better. In the process of rejecting goal-setting last year, I accomplished the most elusive one of all: I wrote my own book and published it.* Not only that, but I was asked to speak at several women’s events where I was able to use the material to encourage others. 2013 turned out to be a truly amazing year.

Ridding myself of the obligation to write, freed me to write with abandon. What is that? It’s not surprising to people who know me well. Tell me I have to do something, and I’ll finesse a refusal. Obligate me, and I’ll disappear into a vapor. Order me around, and I’ll dig my heels in all the way to China. I do not like to be told what to do. I dislike it from others, and I especially dislike it from myself.

So, why would I let some dead guy tell me what to do a hundred and fifty years after he died? What am I thinking?

There’s something compelling about Thoreau’s invitation. His enticement to the unknown feels exciting to me somehow this year, and I’m anxious to join him. I keenly feel his call to adventure and believe the intrigue will be well worth any adversity along the way.

Huh?

Donna Tallman, you are neither adventurous nor are you a risk taker!

Yeah, I heard that, whichever one of you thought that to yourself. Well, apparently I’m getting a lot more adventurous since I’ve been living on the road for the last two years. I don’t have much else to lose anymore so why not gallop off into the woods after adventure…it can’t be anymore harrowing than what I’m already doing.

So, off we go!

My first order of business was to write down all the things I have wanted to do but never had the time, money, or gumption to. I stopped after the second entry.

Something had gone awry.

Photo by Donna Tallman

Photo by Donna Tallman

Is living deliberately simply creating a “bucket list” and checking the tasks off one by one? I don’t think so; it has to be more than that. After stopping myself, I could see that living deliberately has hidden implications. Living deliberately must also include “meaning” somehow.

Accomplishing tasks on a bucket list may not mesh with the larger purpose of my life, so it won’t contribute anything to deliberate living. Intentional living has to also include “purposeful” living. Since I am a believer in Jesus Christ, that meaning or purpose is automatically attached to his love for me.

So, I’ll try this again…

Living deliberately in 2014 will offer me the exciting adventure of intentionally pursuing the purpose for which God has called me.

So that’s my starting point. But as soon as I figured that out, my mind instantly flooded with a list of questions, reservations, and anxieties about the whole thing. I’m just going to list them here for you – unedited – so you can see where I might be going this year and what may bar the way to my own “success.”

  • Why did Thoreau go to the woods to live deliberately? Do I have to go into “nature” to live deliberately? What if I can’t do that?
  • If I haven’t lived deliberately, have I ever “lived” at all?
  • Do I believe I will begin to live again when all of my possessions are out of storage and I have a place of my own?
  • If so, what am I doing in the meantime? Am I waiting to live?
  • I have financial limitations. Can I still live deliberately when I don’t have a lot of money?
  • Is life simply a series of cosmic events that I react to, respond to, resolve, or run from?
  • Is there a place in Scripture that confirms living deliberately? Thoreau was a transcendentalist; I’d rather not delve into living deliberately without Biblical support for the concept.
  • What impact does technology have on my ability to live deliberately?
  • How can I preserve what I experience this year?
  • What is my purpose for being here and how can I align my life with that purpose?
  • What are the keys to living deliberately?

You probably have your own questions and anxieties. Don’t be afraid of them. Write them down and let’s learn together. I’m anxious to make 2014 even more amazing than 2013!

Here’s my first opportunity to live deliberately:

Photo by Donna Tallman

Photo by Donna Tallman

There’s a hill near where we are living that has been antagonizing me ever since we got here. It’s an old dumping ground for fill-dirt complete with intense altitude, incline, and moguls. Whenever I look at it I wonder how many times I could run up the face of it, but that’s insane.  #1) I don’t run, and #2) I hate exercise, but the hill won’t release me. Yesterday, I went over and took pictures of it hoping to stop its antagonism, but it’s only gotten worse. (BTW the picture has managed to conveniently conceal the hill’s most formidable qualities!)

I may have to run up there today to shut it up once and for all. I’ll let you know what happens…

What will you do today to live deliberately?

© Copyright, 2013 by Donna Tallman.

* Considering Jesus was published in October of 2013 to give to groups I speak to or people I meet along the highways and byways of life. Because I am not business-minded, it is unavailable for purchase online at the moment. I will let y’all know when I get that sorted out.

Posted by: donnatallman | December 20, 2013

The Great Exchange

This may seem an odd choice for a devotional to include during the Christmas season, but I’ve been thinking a lot about those who are grieving the loss of someone they love this year. Grief doesn’t take a holiday during Christmas, so some of you might be contending with it while you are supposed to be celebrating, and I’ve been praying for you.

Hope in Mourning Bible

Photo by Donna Tallman

Zondervan publishing has just released a new Bible entitled, Hope in the Mourning, for those who might be walking through a season of grief. It includes several of my submissions and I’m including one of them below for you or others you know who might have experienced loss recently. My prayer for those of you who are grieving this Christmas is that God will come alongside you, strengthen you, and provide the comfort you need.

Read Matthew 5:1-12

Blessed are those who mourn… There it is – blessed. Some Bible versions say, “Happy are those who mourn.” I should be happy? I’m not. My Bible stares at me. It waits for me to adjust to its truth, but I can’t. Even though I know Jesus promises me blessing in the midst of my pain, I can’t even begin to embrace the words of this passage after having miscarried our third baby. My spirit is crushed.

The words somehow feel dismissive of my sorrow. They’re not. In fact, it’s no accident that our mourning comes right between Jesus’ blessing and his comfort. Jesus intentionally wraps our anguish with his promises so that we are surrounded with hope as we walk through the tremendous pain that grieving brings. So, why is embracing his blessing and comfort so difficult when we most need it?

Photo by Donna Tallman

Photo by Donna Tallman

Grief is often a solitary journey, one we try to take alone. If we believe no one else understands our pain, we may isolate ourselves when we most need support. As we navigate our way through the horrific obstacles grief erects, we might feel alone, but we are never actually left alone. Jesus always travels with those who are his.

“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry,” says the Psalmist in Psalm 34:15. There is never a time during our grieving process when the Lord’s eyes are not on us and his ears are not tuned to us. He sees our distress in the daytime, and he hears our cries in the night.

It’s such a paradox. In the midst of unspeakable agony, we can have comfort. In the turbulence of our suffering, Jesus wants us to have joy. How then do we adjust to that truth? What is the bridge between our mourning and God’s promised blessing and comfort?

Restoration is found in the mystery of the exchange. Jesus promised comfort for our sorrow. It is an emotional remedy to an emotional condition – perfectly suited for our pain. His comfort is exactly what we need and he has offered it generously, but we must relinquish our grief. We have to let go. We don’t deny our grief exists, but we bring it before him for his consolation. We offer our agony to him and exchange our pain for his peace, our grief for his comfort, his solace for our sorrow.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4

Heart Cry

Lord Jesus,

Thank you for your blessing and comfort in my grief. When the emptiness of my loss threatens to consume my hope in you, Lord, remind me that you emptied yourself for me. You exchanged your position in heaven to come to earth and ensure that I would never again walk alone. Help me to entrust my agony to you. Amen.

Donna Tallman.

(Copyright © 2013 by Zondervan and Credo Communications. Hope in the Mourning Bible. Published by Zondervan. All rights reserved.)

Posted by: donnatallman | December 7, 2013

Simplicity’s Splendor

Photo by Donna Tallman

Photo by Donna Tallman

It’s five o’clock in the morning as I quietly make my way through the dark. Not wanting to disturb anyone’s peace, I gingerly feel along the wall until I reach the dining room. A soft aura of white sneaks through the edges of the blinds hinting that the world outside may look much different today than it did yesterday. Like the curtain rising on opening night, I slowly pull up the blinds and gasp from my front row seat.

It is stunning!

Hunkered down under new blankets of snow, the trees and bushes provide perfect pedestals for God to display His morning splendor. I grab a cup of chai

Photo by Donna Tallman

Photo by Donna Tallman

and stand out on the patio in the sub-zero temperatures. Snow muffles the normal rattle of the city, and I enjoy the quiet of the pre-dawn hours. The extreme cold somehow exaggerates my hot chai and my hands feel like they are burning. I drink in winter’s arrival anyway and feel God’s warmth spread throughout my spirit.

Five ducks glide silently through the water in the pond waiting for the sunrise. I am filled and overcome by the majesty of God’s simplicity, and I cherish the solitude of this moment with Him. Time instantly stops as peace descends. I am sure that somewhere else in the city people are contending with nasty fall-out from this storm, but my mind rejects the temptation to wander into their anxiety, and instead, I remain focused on my own moment with Jesus.

Hidden away from the storm’s consequences, the beauty of the present engulfs me with contentment. I have no obligations, decisions, or responsibilities awaiting my attention, so I embrace the beauty of this moment and hear Jesus say, “Come away and rest,” so I do. I come away with Jesus untouched by the storm’s danger, yet profoundly moved by its wonder.

Photo by Donna Tallman

Photo by Donna Tallman

How is it that one person’s peace is another person’s peril? I know this storm killed at least five people across the country as it marched in from the west. How could I enjoy something that has been so treacherous? Navigating a raging storm can be difficult, particularly when it invades the Christmas season. Despite our desire to avoid the storms of life, it’s simply a matter of time before one affects us all.

You may have lost your job last week or received a troubling diagnosis from your doctor. Perhaps you’ve moved to a new city and don’t know anyone. Maybe one of your children or your spouse is deployed overseas this Christmas and you worry about their safety. Debt may have sent a cyclone of anxiety to your doorstep, and you worry that you may never be free from its interference. Some of us contend with broken relationships or unmet expectations in our lives and Christmas only seems to exaggerate the anxiety surrounding us. For others, this Christmas will be the first one since someone they love passed away, or it may be the annual reminder of who is absent.

What is God’s desire for us this Christmas season?

It is the same desire He has for us every other day of the year; that we be filled with His peace. John 16:33 says, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace; In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” 

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you,” said Jesus. “Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” John 14:27

Jesus has overcome the world and has promised us His peace. Sometimes, however, we live as if He hasn’t and we are still at the mercy of our own inner turmoil. I do know it’s really hard to be at peace when I’m afraid, and life certainly offers me plenty of fearful situations. But the apostle, Paul, offers us an antidote. He says in Philippians 4:6-7, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  

God’s peace will guard our hearts from anxiety, and that is never more important than during the Christmas season when everything seems magnified. Much like the frigid temperatures exaggerated the heat of my coffee cup this morning, Christmas expectations exaggerate the anxiety we feel when disappointment hits in the month of December. It is the contradiction of feeling sorrow in the midst of manufactured holiday cheer that makes contending for peace so difficult. The disparity of extremes can steal the peace Christ intends for us have not only at Christmastime, but also for every day of the year.

So what do I do? How do I find peace when my heart might be breaking or is filled with anxiety?

I behold the beauty of the Lord.

Photo by Donna Tallman

Photo by Donna Tallman

“One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple.” Psalm 27:4

Beholding the beauty might seem an odd solution for anxiety. What about beholding the beauty of God returns us to peace? It shifts our focus off ourselves. We are not the answer to our own pain. God is our resource. When we focus on His beauty, on the beauty He has created and surrounded us with, we will find that peace that Paul talked about. Peace that pushes beyond our understanding comes from keeping our eyes focused on Jesus and not on ourselves.

As the sun makes its way to the water’s surface, the ducks play tag in the snow-draped pond. Suddenly, every imaginable bird in the neighborhood shows up for the morning calisthenics and I wish my friend, Katrina, were here to see this. Katrina believes God made those beautiful birds just for her enjoyment and entertainment. Well, she might be right; they certainly have helped me focus on the majestic this morning.

…to behold the beauty of the Lord…

What’s beautiful in your world today?

© Copyright, 2013 by Donna Tallman.

Posted by: donnatallman | December 1, 2013

Cultivating Contentment at Christmastime

Photo by Donna Tallman

Photo by Donna Tallman

Thanksgiving Day has long been my favorite holiday because of its simplicity. Well, it used to be anyway, until merchandisers and marketers got a hold of it and turned it into an annual feeding frenzy. What Fantasy Football is to the avid football fan, Black Friday has become to the hoards of Christmas shoppers determined to join the thrill of the hunt to find the perfect gift. Armed with wads of credit cards and Excel spreadsheets, early morning Black Friday warriors top off their tanks with high-octane lattes before assaulting the malls like even the most highly trained soldiers – and believe me; it is armed conflict! Black Friday mayhem is the ultimate in suburban warfare; the definitive challenge for elite special forces.

Consumer creep on Thanksgiving began a little more than fifteen years ago, and really hit its stride after the economic crash when everyone jumped on the bargain bandwagon. Gone are the days when the focus of Thanksgiving was on family, food, and football. Black Friday changed all that. Black Friday fights and stampedes truly reflect what is hideous about American capitalism. Consume, consume, consume! But that’s not even the worst of it. The worst part of it for me after I joined a Black Friday binge one year was the discontented spirit I dragged through the entire Advent season that followed. The hysteria and hype left me disappointed and discontented for days.

Thanksgiving used to be the perfect lead-in to the Christmas season. Just before the hectic demands of the holidays descended on us, Americans would stop en masse. For one day our country stopped. We paused. We remembered and thanked God for all His amazing grace, gifts, and blessings to us as a nation. We thanked him for our country, and for the freedom we enjoyed in America. We looked around. We shared with those in need and invited in those who were alone; we embraced the stranger. Then, as the calendar turned from November to December, we began our Advent march toward the most anticipated day of the year when we celebrated the greatest gift of all – Jesus.

Last year at this time I sat alone in a bar in Colorado desperately trying to enter into the spirit of Advent’s celebration. We were living in a hotel and I had nowhere else to go but to the bar on the hotel grounds. I went to be alone with God, but instead ended up feeling isolated and forgotten by Him in that wayfarer’s tavern with its artificial Christmas tree and broken twinkly lights.

Photo by Donna Tallman

Photo by Donna Tallman

What a difference a year makes! Today marks the first day of Advent and I’m in Ohio about to begin the annual Advent march toward Christmas surrounded by a community of people who love what I love. While we are still without a home of our own at the moment, we are no longer hopping from hotel to hotel or housesitting for vacationers. Surely, Christmas will be a breeze this year, right?

Not unless I’ve learned how to be content in all situations. The Apostle Paul puts his finger on the challenge I’m facing this year in Philippians 4:11-12 when he says: “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” Philippians 4:11-12

“I have learned…” Paul said. What had Paul learned? He learned the secret of being filled or going hungry; he learned contentment. Contentment needs to exist regardless of our economic situation. Frankly, it’s easier for me to be content with little; it’s familiar. Struggling to provide a meaningful Christmas for my family when there wasn’t much money turned Advent into a living, breathing month-long running conversation with God about how we were going to pull the whole thing off. Poverty was adventurous; it was dynamic. It was also exhausting, but over the years I learned how to be content with very few financial resources and my dependence on God grew deep.

Contentment doesn’t come instantaneously when someone decides to follow Jesus; it’s a discipline. It’s something that is learned. Contentment is something we work at, maybe fail at, but eventually rise again to incorporate into our lives. The process of contentment for the Christian is similar to the process of completing a marathon for the long distance runner. A marathon is difficult enough to destroy them, yet attainable enough to produce power, endurance and sweet victory once it’s completed.

Sweet victory awaits those who have “learned” to be content, but there’s often a hidden unidentified roadblock. “Coping” with our needs is not the same thing as being content in the midst of them. In fact, I would go as far as to say that if we are simply coping with a struggle (ie. gutting it out until it’s over), then we probably are not growing as God intends for us to grow. One way to determine if you are learning contentment in the midst of your struggle (or simply coping until it’s over) is to check what is resourcing you.

What is helping you get through your circumstance? Is it alcohol, drugs, psychology, obsessions, extreme involvement in good causes, other people, a best friend, the church, busyness, or over-achieving? To what resource do you run to when you feel overwhelmed by your need or your prosperity? Coping is not the answer; contentment is. Coping implies that we’re just going to treat our symptoms until the trial passes by. Coping will never lead us Jesus; it distracts us onto a spiritual detour full of potholes and blind corners.

Jesus is the only source of true contentment; draw near to Him and He will resource you with all that you need.

So what produces contentment?

An unwavering trust in the Provider of all things.

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything you may have an abundance for every good deed.” 2 Corinthians 9:8

  • Our job is not our provider.
  • The government is not our provider.
  • Our inheritance is not our provider.
  • Our talent, ability, and hard work are not our providers.
  • Our clever cunning is not our provider.
  • Our spouse is not our provider…

God is our provider…of everything!

If He provides little, there’s a reason and a purpose for our journey through humble circumstances.

If He provides much, there’s a different reason and purpose for our journey through prosperity.

The key to contentment, then, is to find the purpose of God’s provision and exploit every opportunity to shine God’s glory through how you steward those provisions.

*     *     *     *     *

After leaving the hotel bar that day last year in Colorado, we went to a small town nearby to join their annual festival ushering in the Christmas season. It was the night they lit the star that would shine over their city every night until the end of December. Standing in the cold night air in the midst of a town of strangers, we waited. We had come as spectators and outsiders to share in their annual tradition and were welcomed as neighbors.

A woman from city hall climbed up on a fireman’s ladder with a bullhorn to address the crowd:

“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord,” she read from Luke, chapter 2. After she finished the Christmas story from the pages of the Bible, she led the town in singing Silent Night.

Instantly, a wave of contentment washed over me. I was standing among total strangers in an unfamiliar city, facing a Christmas without my own traditions and a future that was totally uncertain, yet I was more content that I had been in a long time.

Why then?

Why there?

Because the lady with the bullhorn had reconnected me to my power source; my Provider. I was no longer filled with anxiety about my circumstances because she reminded me whose child I really was; I belonged to Jesus and He was my resource; the only one I’d ever need.

Redirecting the excesses of Christmas is possible if we learn to be content in every situation. In order to be content in every situation, we have to develop an unshakable faith that God will provide what we need when we need it. How do we know if He will provide for us? We have to experience moments where we hang in the balance of the “lack” and then watch God meet those needs with His spectacular provision.

Contentment isn’t only about finances; it’s about so many other things. We need contentment when dealing with our health, relationships, job situations, church situations, family dynamics, and a host of other things that challenge us. Contentment in my life was born during seasons of poverty and I’ve had to contend for it in times of prosperity.

How do we cultivate contentment this Christmas season?

We won’t find the answer in Black Friday because the answer is in Good Friday. “For God so loved the world that He gave…”

You want to learn the way of contentment?

Give this Christmas. Give like you’ve never given before! Give your time, your abilities, and yes, give your resources. Give your encouragement to those in despair, and offer your strength to those who are weak. Give your song to those who’ve gone silent; wait with them until God restores their hope. Give your shoulder to those who mourn and accompany them to a cemetery during this most difficult time of the year. Send tangible reminders of God’s love to those hemmed in by disease, and seek out those who serve others to lend them your support.

“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” Philippians 4:11-12

Here’s the secret Paul learned – cultivating a spirit of contentment ensures that you will always have more than you need so you will have plenty to give away to others. Give joyously this Christmas season. Give, give, give!

Happy Advent everyone!

© Copyright, 2013 by Donna Tallman.

Posted by: donnatallman | November 7, 2013

Rest Stops

Photo by Donna Tallman

Photo by Donna Tallman

Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, says there is an appointed time for everything and a time for every event under heaven. If this is true, then there is an appointed time for work and an appointed time for rest.

Rest? Who has time for rest?

The last time I wrote a blog entry was August 17th of this year when I intentionally pulled myself off the “road” to a rest stop. I was exhausted after spending the entire year hopping from one hotel to another on our never-ending road trip, so I sought temporary refuge at the Oregon coast and my sister’s house near Portland.

Well, the weeks flew by and now my rest stops.

At 3:30 this morning I woke to God’s peaceful serenade as rain pattered against the window of my bedroom at my sister’s house. With each wisp of the breeze, Jesus gently roused me to consciousness. I breathed in God’s wonder through the open window and expelled any remaining fatigue left behind from this challenging season. I love the rain; it’s life-giving. I know it can be oppressive for people who live in the Northwest, but not for me; I’ve always loved it. The autumn rains remind me of God’s abundant refreshment after a long siege of summer’s heat.

Photo by Donna Tallman

Photo by Donna Tallman

I’m not a fan of summer; I endure it patiently, but anxiously wait for the fall when I come back to life. Fall is when football starts again, sweaters miraculously re-appear, my chai tastes better, apples come in season, and the changing leaves paint spectacular cityscapes across Northwest skylines.

This autumn has allowed me many moments of rest and reflection, but my timeout is over and I’m ready to rejoin the adventure still in progress. Somebody just revved up an engine out front so I’m fixin’ to think about gittin’ back on the road again. No Willie Nelson for us this time, however; we’re going to be serenaded by one of my all time favorites – John Denver:

“…Country roads take me home to the place I belong…”

Home. The place I belong.

Really? I’m going home?

000_0089

Photo by Donna Tallman

I don’t know about home yet, but I do know Bob and I are going east…to Ohio for a bit before returning to Colorado. Ohio…where the snow piles high, tornadoes threaten to make spring ugly, my ancestors made their mark on American history, and a tuba player from Ohio State dots the ‘i” of “Ohio” during their half-time shows. I’d love to see that in person one day – it’s on my bucket list.

So, stay tuned everyone. Our rest stops now and we’re merging back onto the interstate for more adventure. Should you hear a crazed woman singing Country Roads at the top of her lungs across the plains of Kansas somewhere, don’t panic, it’s probably just me.

Yes, there is an appointed time for everything under heaven – a time to sing and a time to be silent…

Okay, maybe I won’t sing.

© Copyright, 2013 by Donna Tallman.

Posted by: donnatallman | August 17, 2013

Come Away and Rest

Photo by Donna Tallman

Photo by Donna Tallman

“Danger, do not go beyond this point.”

I stare at the signpost and wonder how a beach sign can feel so metaphorical and prophetic all at the same time. I am exhausted. After a summer that has included a 4,020-mile drive across the country, sleeping in 18 different locations (including one horrendous night on the floor of Denver International Airport), planning a rehearsal dinner and two wedding receptions, and flying back to Portland, Oregon, I’m beat.

“Danger, do not go beyond this point.”

Yeah, no kidding. There are times when we need to just stop. Call a halt. Cease. Desist. Find the nearest parenthesis to crawl into and wait out the remaining chapter until we feel the wind in our sails again.

Take a break. Rest. It’s okay. It’s necessary.

Photo by Donna Tallman

Photo by Donna Tallman

“And Jesus said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.’ (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.)” Mark 6:31

Jesus understood the disciples’ need for rest and solitude after they had been traveling across the countryside. They, too, were exhausted. They, too, needed a break. They needed a pause button. And where did they go? Jesus directed them to a secluded place so they could get alone, be alone, and regroup. Mark 6:32 says they went by boat.

Photo by Donna Tallman

Photo by Donna Tallman

The sea. The disciples began their journey to solitude at the seaside.

I don’t know about you, but the ocean is always my first choice of places to go when I need to restore my spirit. There’s something so comforting about the ebb and flow of the tide, the roar of the waves, and the unbridled power of the ocean. The rhythmic ocean tide mysteriously draws away my anxiety and replaces it with a settled, quiet spirit permeated with Jesus’ peace.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

Restoring My Soul

Restoring My Soul

Stop. Wait. Pause.

Take a break…an interlude…an intermission.

Come away and let Jesus rest you.

Where do you go when you need to restore your spirit?

Posted by: donnatallman | July 1, 2013

Prairie Devils

(Two weeks ago I left Colorado to take a road trip across the country and back. Seeing the beauty of the land that I love so much from the ground always speaks to me. Today’s blog, while different from my usual format, contains some of the things God and I talked about during the many hours we spent together in the car.)

Prairie Devils

Go east!
where dust devils
spin dreams to dust
and drought hovers
beyond the rise of
lazy farmland and
gentle breeze.
Cultivating their future,
diligent wheat wrestlers
pace rows
of furrowed agony.

bring faith…

Photo by Donna Tallman

Go east!
to a well-watered valley
beyond the river.
Thunder,
then lightning
ominous warning
rivers of rain.
Spinning vortex –
heaven’s tears.
Crushing courage
begin again
vertigo.

bring hope…

Photo by Donna Tallman

Photo by Donna Tallman

Go east!
Combustible city
forgotten village
confounding strangeness
this land of the free and
home of the brave.
Stop ahead,
an oasis.
Gather the people; reunion.
Cloud by day
fire by night
stillness
peace…
a mirage.

bring love…

Photo by Donna Tallman

Photo by Donna Tallman

As America celebrates its 237th birthday this Thursday, I’ve been burdened by the tremendous needs we have as a nation. Despite the fact that I will be near many of the country’s great monuments and memorials this 4th of July, I don’t feel much like celebrating. Instead, I feel the weight of the farmer’s agony, the sorrow of our country’s tornado victims, the despair of our fire and flood victims, the grief of Boston’s bombing victims, the separation and injury of our deployed military families, the anxiety of our underemployed, and the despair of our nation spiritually adrift.

Instead of celebrating, I feel compelled to pray – to cry out for God’s intervention. To cry out for the church – no, to cry out to the church to rise up and draw alongside those who are hurting among us. We are a community. This 4th of July weekend, plan to do more than just set off firecrackers or have a barbecue…go to a cemetery and hand someone a kleenex, pick up a shovel and help clear debris from a neighbor’s yard, take a care package to a family who has lost their home, get a list of deployed military personnel in your area and pray for them, anything to help lift the load for others in our community. This is America, Church, and there are many who need to be encouraged this year – let’s all go out there and find a way to bring them faith, hope, and love.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,Where there is hatred, let me sow love;Where there is injury, pardon;Where there is doubt, faith;Where there is despair, hope;Where there is darkness, light;Where there is sadness, joy.”

© Copyright, 2013 by Donna Tallman.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

Categories

%d bloggers like this: