Guest Post and a Giveaway!!!

I’m so happy to introduce you to my friend, Erin Mullins! She has graciously accepted my request to share how God is developing her soul. I know you will enjoy what Erin has to say. Be sure to read to the end for a special Christmas Giveaway!!

Unshaken

Guest Post by Erin Mullins

When was the last time you shivered from being cold-to-the-bone? For me it’s those drizzly Pacific Northwest days when the air is damp and I feel chilled and unsettled.

On these days  I want a cup of coffee most, a hot mug cupped between two hands, the heat of ceramic radiating onto my fingers. The nutty-bitterness of coffee mingled with a bit of sweet and smooth creamer seems to comfort and satisfy.

I gave up coffee about six weeks ago. Obviously, I miss it. 

Why did I give up coffee? One morning as I was pouring my regular cup, I felt a spiritual nudge to give it up.  This invitation seemed to come out of nowhere. I ignored it for about three days. Maybe it was just the fog of sleeplessness talking. Doubt creeped in. My desire for coffee in the morning was too strong.

But I couldn’t shake the idea. What did I have to lose? If I believe God is good, then there must be something good to gain by trusting and obeying. Do you know what I discovered? It wasn’t just about giving up something to drink. It was about giving up my first comfort of the morning and the thing I look forward to. It was disrupting my routines. 

Drinking water has never been my strength. I often confuse my body’s cues for thirst with being hungry. So I often grab a snack when I’m actually thirsty. In letting go of coffee, I found my thirst cues coming through more clearly. Instead of reaching for a cup of coffee, I reached for a tall glass of water, reminding me that Jesus Christ is the only one who satisfies my thirst.

My tastebuds started changing. Honey now tastes sweeter. Sourdough bread tastes more sour. Was I imagining these things? I looked it up and coffee does impact one’s sense of taste!  Psalm 34:8 says, “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.” This was quite literal in my case.

But the biggest thing I came to admit was that coffee had become an idol. Intellectually, I would tell you that God is my strength. Of course, I can survive without coffee. Functionally, I believed the coffee culture lie that I couldn’t make it through the day without it. In the early morning I would think, “Oh my, I didn’t sleep enough last night, I need coffee in my system ASAP.” Later in the morning, “I am dragging today, I need another cup.” And on especially tiring days I would scrutinize the clock between 2:00 and 2:30 p.m. deciding if it was too late for another mug.

Recently Psalm 62:1-2 began popping up in various places in my life. “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”

My soul finds rest in God alone. Soul. What is my soul exactly? I was led to a word study series produced by The Bible Project. This team developed a video that takes a closer examination of the word soul. What I learned fascinated me.

The ancient Hebrew word for soul is “nephesh.” On a basic level it translates to mean throat. However, it doesn’t just mean one’s actual throat, but takes on a larger meaning that one is a living nephesh. Initially that sounds strange, but it makes more sense when you consider that  our whole physical being depends on what goes in and out of our throats: breath, water, and food. Nephesh represents our entire living being.

Now I can see God’s sense of humor at play here. Coffee is the thing I want to chug down my throat on tired days. Here in the midst of giving up coffee, He teaches me about nephesh. “My soul finds rest in God alone.” My throat (my entire being) won’t find rest in coffee, but in God alone.

In the morning, instead of my first thoughts being for coffee, my first thoughts are tending towards God. He is renewing my mind and I can see that it is good. Coffee consumption is so minor in the grand scheme of things, but I am impressed by the big lessons in such a small cup. 

I am learning to surrender to God’s best for me. Practicing faithfulness in small ways is preparation for faithfulness in bigger ways. Exerting discipline over something small like coffee is developing my spiritual muscles. Trusting God in small ways will strengthen me for the greater things God is preparing me to do.

By doing so, when greater things unsettle us, we can respond with an unshakable faith. There will always be cold, rainy days that cause us to shiver. Undesirable things are always going to happen. We are going to encounter a social media post that ruffles our feathers, a car accident that jolts us, or a relational conflict that causes brokenness. Let us practice now, before deeper troubles come, trusting in the unshakable God.

Tapping into the joy of art and the lessons I’m learning, this art-prayer was created: “Her soul’s truest rest is in God alone. Planted by the stream of Living Water, her roots run deep. She will not be shaken.”

Not only did Erin create this beautiful piece of meaningful art, but she is offering to give it away to one of you!! How sweet is that?!? So here’s what you need to do to win: Simply follow this link to subscribe to Aiming at Heaven and you will be entered into the giveaway. If you’re already a subscriber, thank you! Your name will be added automatically so there’s no need for you to do a single thing :). All entries must be in by Monday, December 9, 2019, 12 PM PST. The winner will be selected that same evening.

Merry Christmas! And a huge thank you to Erin for her generosity!

If you’d like to connect with Erin, you can find her on Facebook (@Erin Mullins) and Instagram (@emullinsphotos).

Elbows Up

I smile when I think of how many times God has worked on my soul in unexpected ways. Just when I think I’ve reached some sort of completion in my spiritual maturity, He sneeks in a side door and SURPRISE! He reveals Himself by nudging my soul toward further growth.

My husband and I are currently in the midst of a free month of membership at a local crossfit gym. We’ve attended several classes and we’re feeling it! That’s to be expected. A change in exercise regime is bound to prompt physical growth (and soreness!). But it was on day two of our little fitness adventure that I realized God was going to use this to work in my soul more than in my body.

You see, for many years now I have exercised according to my own plans. I haven’t had any coaching and next to no input regarding my form or technique when lifting weights at our local commercial gym. And I’ve been fine with that. I’m a pretty independent and intrinsically motivated person. I don’t NEED a coach or a class or whatever to keep me going. I tend to take pride in this fact.

But something new and strange and troubling has been happening since I’ve been at crossfit. There’s an instructor. He’s pointing out my bad form. He’s telling me what to do. I’m hearing things like, “keep your elbows up,” and “straighten your back,” and “thumb under, not over, the bar.” And it’s kind of ruffling my feathers. Even after day one, my flesh inwardly revolted against being coached. The exact words that came to mind were, “Don’t tell me what to do, thank you very much!”

Yikes! Am I really that arrogant and unteachable!?! Surely it’s just in this instance, right? Lord?

But my Heavenly Father has gently revealed to me that my pride and resistance to coaching extends to many other realms besides fitness. He has been using this rather inconsequential example of pride in my fitness to dig deeper into the pride swelling in my soul. He’s lovingly showing me how often my inner monologue sounds like, “Don’t tell me what to do!” no matter what the situation.

God is confronting me with this truth about myself and I’m beginning to see how deadly it is to my soul. My resistance to heed instruction actually sets me up for destruction and failure.

The crossfit coaches aren’t pointing out my flaws just for fun or to ridicule me. They genuinely want what is best for me: to avoid injury, to gain strength, to be healthy. If I don’t listen to them, I only hold myself back from growth and set myself up for pain and failure.

It is good, valuable, and downright VITAL that I accept their coaching.

It’s true of my soul, too. It’s true of all our souls.

A crucial component of our soul’s growth is ‘coaching.’ This is one of the roles of the Holy Spirit. It’s also a role of the body of Christ. We need each other to tell let us know when to “keep our elbows up” and “straighten our backs.” In other words, we need to be lovingly urged to keep our eyes on Christ when our circumstances overwhelm us. We need to be gently rebuked when we are unkind to family or friends. We need soul correction.

Most importantly, we need to accept the correction for what it is: Love. God disciplines those He loves not in order to unleash His anger (Christ has already taken care of that), but in order to lead us in the paths of righteousness and life for His glory and our good!

In order for our souls to be healthy and hopeful, we must be willing to accept and heed truthful correction.

“For whom the LORD loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.”

Proverbs 3:12

So, I’ll be working on keeping my elbows up, all the while remembering to let my soul be coached, too.

The Accomplishment of Rest

Transitions can be messy. New boss, getting married, new neighbor, becoming a parent. These events can be awkward and punctuated simultaneously by loss and hope. Transitions can be beautiful – like the slow turning of summer into autumn.

September has been a month of transition in our home and in my heart. I’m afraid it’s been a bit more ugly than beautiful. As all my kids began school and sports, I was left with unusual amounts of time to myself. Some of you would probably do most anything for days like these. But, I somehow managed to twist this gift into a curse.

I failed to rest, or appreciate that I even had opportunity to rest. Instead, I worked my inner world into a frenzy of trying to figure out my new purpose and calling and life. I recognized the transition, but I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t have a map. Something ended and I wanted something else to begin, but I had no idea what. And God seemed so silent.

God, who knows all and holds all things together, wasn’t giving me even a trail of crumbs as to what good works He had appointed for me to do (Ephesians 2:10). I was ready for action. Heaven forbid I take time to relax. Rest is NOT an accomplishment. Is it?

So I filled my days with household work and worry. Wondering if I’d wandered too far to hear the Holy Spirit’s leading. Meanwhile, my soul was a turbulent mess. I felt like I was losing purpose and meaning – like God was silent and had stepped away. For someone who has tendencies toward depression, this is NOT a healthy path to trod.

So what’s a soul to do?

I’m learning, yet again, that there’s only one option. Believe. Trust. Have Faith. In the Biblical Greek language, it all stems from the same root word. But believe what?

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

Hebrews 11:6 NASB

I want to please God, to know that my Maker doesn’t look at me and shake His head, but looks at me and nods approval. But, I mistakenly believe that in order to please God I have to DO something: make meals for people, go to Bible Studies, win souls, care for my neighbor, be a better wife, be a better parent, change the world. But no! God is pleased simply with my belief in Him and my seeking after Him! My flesh and fallen mind cannot begin to comprehend how such a thing is true, and yet there it is in God’s Word.

So I am willfully choosing to believe. Regardless of feelings. Regardless of knowledge of His plans. Oh my soul, believe in God and believe that He is pleased as I seek! What a pleasant place to dwell.

Belief is ushering me into rest for my soul. Rest from the striving and yearning. Rest from seeking to achieve. Rest from comparing my life to others’. Rest from trying to earn God’s pleasure.

The nation of Israel struggled to enter into God’s rest too. And similarly, their issue boiled down to belief.

So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.

Hebrews 3:19

How often God beckons me to rest in and with Him, and how often I fail to accept it. I believe lies of self-sufficiency, of purpose outside of Him, of worldly comparisons, of self-imposed expectations. All the while, God is only desiring that I believe in Him and in the sufficiency of His Son, Jesus, with whom He is well pleased. Jesus Christ, in whom my life is hidden and protected. So I can rest. That is an accomplishment!

Perhaps there’s a transition happening in your own life that is sparking tumult in your soul. I offer a simple prayer for us all.

Lord God, Creator and Sustainer, we recognize You as the One who holds all things together, even our souls. We confess our default setting of unbelief. We confess we often strive when we ought to be still, we often scheme when we ought to surrender. Thank You for Your faithfulness, even in the midst of our unfaithfulness. We need You. We need Your rest. Help us to believe You and seek You as the world all around us is changing. Amen.

How Getting Away Can Bring You Home

We added 456 miles to our minivan earlier this week. We traversed the Cascades and settled in Central Oregon, with dear college friends, for two nights.

Even before we left, I had a gut feeling that this would be a monumental trip, in an understated sort of way.

It was.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the life God has given me and wouldn’t trade it for anything. But, getting away for a couple days was just what my soul needed. Leaving home, work, neighborhood, and responsibilities proved to be more than just a break.

Our getaway to the center of our state helped center my soul.

The more self aware I become, the more I realize how travel – whether across town or across the world – can bring health to my soul.

When I don’t spend time away, I start becoming dangerously myopic. All I can see is me and the people and possessions that I think orbit around me. I become the center. I become the hope for my soul. I deceitfully begin to think and feel as if I am the one holding my world together.

I go. I get away. I step out of my life. And everything changes.

This recent trip was no exception.

Reconnecting with old friends reminds me of that intangible bond we have with each other in the Body of Christ. Seeing differing topography and the myriad beauty of God’s handiwork reminds me of His vastness and my comparative smallness. Brief intersections with unknown (to me) humans – the fellow hiker or grocery store checker or gas station attendant – remind me there are billions of stories being written in this moment and billions more that have gone before and are yet to unfold. My story, but a single star in the night sky. So small, yet significant and loved by the Creator.

Each of these small reminders, the friends, the hills, even the strangers, are like stepping stones back to Reality. They usher me into a perspective more in line with Truth. Getting away brings my soul back to my true home, back to an earthly life lived in light of eternity.

The Painted Hills

Is Self-Awareness Selfish?

I inwardly cringed at the question. She asked me: What are you passionate about in life? As a logic driven individual, I try NOT to be ruled by ‘passion’, because ‘passion’ can be dangerous – unpredictable, illogical, potentially damaging. Following ‘passion’ feels like losing control. I know it’s not always the case, but there you have it, a glimpse of my fear of emotions.

I understand my fears, desires and motivations more now than ever. But, as I pursue greater self-awareness, a few questions haunt me:

Is self-discovery simply self-centered?

Is self-awareness the cosmetic cover-up for self-absorption?

Shouldn’t I be more focused on others rather than myself?

I recall how the Lord has dealt so gently and lovingly with my soul. He has brought me through valleys and put praise in my heart in the midst of darkest nights. He has tenderly formed my heart, shaped my soul. A significant part of His process has included my growing self-awareness; bringing what was hidden in the darkness into the exposing Light of truth.

Yet I am still haunted by these questions. I feel a sense of guilt as I pursue personal growth. Is there really any benefit to understanding myself better?

I’ve taken all sorts of personality profiling assessments that claim to tell me who I am: a melancholy-phlegmatic, INTJ, Thinker-Doer, Blue-Green-Red, Rosebush-PineTree, 5 wing 4, etc…

You’ve probably got a long list of personality labels too.

Personality profiles attempt to give us a language for what can never be fully expressed. The writer of Proverbs describes our inner-workings this way:

A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water,

But a man of understanding draws it out.

Proverbs 20:5 (NASB)

Deep water is dark, difficult to plumb, potentially dangerous. Our motivations and plans are often hidden so deeply that grueling work is necessary for anyone, even ourselves, to draw them out. Ultimately, such a task requires supernatural wisdom and understanding. To plumb the depths of the human heart and soul, we must turn to the Maker of all, “for He knows the secrets of the heart.” (Psalm 44:21b)

The wisdom of the sensible is to understand his way,

But the foolishness of fools is deceit.

Proverbs 14:8

No, self-awareness isn’t selfish. Quite the contrary. Self-awareness helps us walk in truth! Unless we seek God’s wisdom to understand ourselves, we live in deception. Yikes! That is not the path I want to take. Give me truth. Give me self-awareness, no matter how revealing and painful it may be. Do you feel the same?

So….

Is self-discovery simply self-centered? No. It is a necessary component of growth in all areas of life.

Is self-awareness the cosmetic cover-up for self-absorption? No. Rather it can lead to the beautifying work of God within us.

Shouldn’t I be more focused on others rather than myself? No … and Yes. Our ability to love and serve others well correlates directly to our own level of health. (More on this to come!)

Self – Awareness is a crucial initial step toward partnering with our Creator in caring for the one, eternal soul with which God has gifted us. I’m chasing it; I hope you are too.

Back to my cringing inducing question. What am I passionate about? More and more the Lord is stirring in me a longing to care for souls and partner in God’s work of healing and growth. Growth in my soul, the souls of my family, my spiritual family, and you! I pray that the words I offer here provide even a smidgen of care for your soul.

I suppose soul care is the emphasis my blogging venture has always orbited, even though it’s just now that I am beginning to put words to it all. I write my heart and soul for you as a way of caring for my own soul, in order that in some way I might help care for yours, too. I write to bring my dark things into the Light, and maybe, just maybe, help shine a light on your dark things too. If my handful of words can somehow help usher you into the Light of Christ, praise God! It’s how I’m Aiming at Heaven.

If the pursuit of soul care resonates with you, wonderful! I’ve got a lot more to share on the topic. Be sure to subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss what’s to come!