Today is the first day of the rest of your life…

This month, we are focusing on celebration! Woohoo!  We recently celebrated our country’s birth and we tend to spend July vacationing, spending time with family, and generally enjoying all that this life has to offer.

So, it may seem odd to you that, in this celebratory season,  I have chosen to share with you the words I spoke at my mother’s funeral in January.  Until you read them.  

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, Go for it.

This was a statement used by my mom, Valerie Strouf, on a regular basis throughout her life.

As a child, she would practically sing it while waking me up in the morning, yanking open my white eyelet curtains.

As a teen, she would remind me, after a bad grade or tough day, that there was always another chance to get it right.

As a rebellious college student, she would write me letters of encouragement and sometimes with rebuking, ending the letters with this statement.

As a young adult, she would end many of our hour-long phone calls with this statement, reminding me that, no matter what, I always had another opportunity to “go for it.” This was especially uplifting when I was auditioning as a green actress in New York.

Once I returned to the path that God had paved for me, as opposed to the self-reliant, destructive road I had chosen for several years, this statement had new meaning to me. It felt best accompanied with Psalm 118:24 “this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, Go for it.

This is how my mom lived her life. She had a blessed life. But it wasn’t an easy life. She had hardships, hurts and plenty of health issues. I am sure that there are many people here that can relate. Life can be hard.

AND she had an amazing strength, given to her by God. God gave her strength, grace, courage, and perseverance. I have walked 44 years with my mom, and I have watched her overcome so much, because of her faith. Not religion…faith. Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance in what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, Go for it. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

There are so many things that I could share with you about my mom. I have lost the woman who knows me best in the world and I just keep thinking about all the wonderful times we had together. From a tiny apartment for two, road trips in the station wagon, perming my hair in the basement, ice cream at Beernsteins, shopping for prom dresses, Macys Thanksgiving Day parade, a perfect hair styling for my wedding, to high tea for two. She was an extraordinarily special woman. I could speak about my memories of her for hours. I miss her deeply.

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But I also know her quite well, and I can confidently tell you that the most important thing she would want me to share with you is that her beauty, strength, grace, perseverance, love, and joy came from Jesus and Jesus alone.

She faced the hardest moments and the most joyous moments of her life with God as her guide. Including throughout her final days. And she had peace in those days because she knew she would be with her Savior in heaven for eternity. And knowing her as I do, I know she would want each of you right there with her.

In the past couple weeks, I have heard many people refer to my mom as “such a special lady” with a “sweet smile” and a “beautiful soul.” Yep, that was my mom and what we all saw in her…that sweet smile and beautiful soul….was the love of God shining through her.

In these last several years of medical issue after medical issue, my mom made the courageous choice to face each day saying to herself, and all those around her, something she has been choosing to greet the day with for most of her life….

This is the the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life…..Go for it.

I love you, Mom, and I plan to do just that.

I pray that, whether you are riding high or at the lowest low, you would celebrate the life that God has given you and see that He has made this day…which is reason enough to rejoice…and celebrate.

www.sidebysideministry.org

 

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My Own Worst Enemy.

Romans 7:15 I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

Sometimes I am my own worst enemy.

There are some days that I literally look at myself in the mirror and say, “what were you thinking?”  Or I look behind me to see who my husband is staring at in horror only to realize he’s looking at me…because of something I just said or did.  And I think to myself, “How did that even just happen?”

Have you ever felt like that?  (Please tell me I am not alone!)

Well, actually, I know I am not alone, because the Apostle Paul tells us about something similar in his letter to the Romans.  And I gotta tell you…I really love this verse.  Not because I want to hear that Paul messes up.  Back up…yes, it IS because I want to hear that Paul–the Apostle, amazing follower of Jesus who led multiple people groups to the saving power of Jesus Christ–wasn’t perfect.  He made mistakes.  He did things he didn’t like and didn’t understand why.  Even the great Paul was a sinner….just like me.

I imagine him saying, “I am my own worst enemy.”

(It’s actually the sin within us that is the enemy, but I will get to that)

So, if the things that I do, the things I don’t understand but I know are wrong are coming from ME….then I am the only one that can change them.

If I am my own worst enemy, I–with the power of God–need to choose to change those things.

It’s super easy to look at others (especially those that are in close proximity-like your spouse) and see what they are doing that you don’t understand or things that you hate.  It’s easy to label them the enemy.  We seem to prefer to have other people to blame–scapegoats for our issues.

It’s not easy to look within ourselves and see the things we truly dislike, even hate.  And then, imagine being like Paul and publicly professing it!  What?!

Who wants to admit that they don’t have control over themselves?  Who wants to tell their spouse, or neighbor, or friend that they are doing something they don’t like to do?  It’s not such a fun task.

BUT it’s freedom.  Confession of sin is part of the process of growth.  Admitting our own faults–rather than focusing on everyone else’s–frees us to heal and grow.

We are always going to have sin.  We will always have something we are doing that we probably wish we weren’t.  But when we seek God to identify them, confess them and free ourselves from them, we have greatly lessened our burden and drawn closer to God.    That’s a win, in my eyes!

Sin (those things we hate that we do) separate us from God.

So, technically, I am not my own worst enemy.  My sin is most own worst enemy.  I am a child of God who daily needs to make the choice to kick that enemy out and make lots of room for the God I love.  The more I do that, the more open I am to loving those around me.

What do you do that you hate?  How can you ask God to help you remove it?

 

In Everything?

In everything, give thanks.  1 Thessalonians 5:18

In everything?

Really?  In Ev-er-y-thing?  In everything, we should give thanks?  You know you have asked that question.  Especially at this time of year, as we are about the celebrate Thanksgiving, we see this verse…and we probably think to ourselves…well, not EVERYthing.

I mean, how can I be thankful for natural disaster? For death? For illness?  For depression? For loss of a job or home? For my overbearing boss?  For my annoying sister? For my spouse’s annoying habits? For MOSQUITOS?!

The Bible clearly says, IN EVERYTHING.  Sigh.

Check out a portion of an article* from Bible.org about this verse and those surrounding it….

This command means that in every situation we are to give thanks to our sovereign and good God and Savior. In Ephesians 5:20, Paul puts it, “always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.” Giving thanks in every situation does not mean that we must be happy with every situation or resigned to accept matters without praying and working for change.

Also, we don’t need to feel thankful before we give thanks. When God takes us through hard trials, we don’t feel thankful. But by faith we can say, “Lord, I trust that You are good and that You know what You’re doing in this difficult situation. I submit to Your sovereign hand and purpose, knowing that You will work it together for my good.” So, like rejoicing always, giving thanks in everything is often a choice to believe God in difficult circumstances.

When we are connected to God and trusting Him and His plan for our lives, we are able to have gratitude in all circumstances.  (Read more about my “attitude of gratitude!”)

So many times this past year, I have looked at a difficult circumstance and saw a situation devoid of anything worthy of being thankful for.  My humanness, my flesh, my sinful nature could not see past the weight of the circumstance.

Then the Holy Spirit intervened.  Gratitude began to replace fear…or hurt…or dismay.

God is above all circumstance in life.  God knows.  He sees what we are facing.  And He knows the outcome.  These truths alone are things we can easily be grateful for!!

We have a God who loves us, knows what we face, will protect us, and ultimately has ALREADY saved us from the worst.

When we believe in the saving grace of Jesus and His defeat over the grave, we can be grateful IN EVERYTHING!

Not FOR everything.  (We don’t really need to be grateful for the mosquitos, ok?)  But, as believers, we can be grateful IN this life, even in the darkest moments of this life.

Our challenge is to truly have a heart of gratitude in those difficult moments.  It’s easy to be thankful when things are going well.  It’s so challenging to be thankful when they aren’t.

Guess what?  When we are able to grow our gratitude, we change the way we view those moments.  A heart filled with gratitude doesn’t have room for fear, anger, and resentment.  Rather, it opens us up for things like joy, peace, patience, forgiveness and mercy.

“When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.”

In this life, I don’t think God expects us to be grateful FOR everything…..but He does ask that we be grateful IN everything.  And because of His love for us, we are able to do just that.

In everything, give thanks!

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

www.sidebysideministry.org

*Read more on this subject through the link below.

https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-20-three-impossible-commands-1-thessalonians-516-18

Wait. Why do you do this?

People ask this question quite a lot.

Why do we do this?

Meaning…why do we publicly share very personal details of our lives with absolute strangers?  Why did we start a non-profit organization?  Why do we revisit a very painful time in our lives over and over and over again?

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Whose are you?

Whose are you?  No, it’s not a typo, I didn’t mean to ask WHO are you.  I am asking, WHOSE are you?  Let me explain why I ask.

We were privileged to attend an adoption ceremony recently.  A family in our church, who have fostered the children for years, were given the right to adopt them last week.

My brother was adopted into our family when I was six, and I was adopted by my stepfather when I was an adult.  So, this adoption ceremony brought back a lot of memories and flooded me with emotion.

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Deer in headlights.

“Lisa, every time I see you lately, you look like a deer in caught in headlights.”  This was said by a friend as I entered the threshold of our third event of the weekend.  I was not at all offended.  She is a trusted friend and I actually really appreciated her statement.  So much so that I am going to write about it today.  Continue reading

And….Action!

Believe it or not, the words “I love you” are not very meaningful for me.  When Steve and I were experiencing extreme strife in our marriage he would still say “I love you.”  At first, it was relieving to hear those words….like, whew, even though he’s treating me poorly, at least he still loves me.

But after a short time, those words were worthless.  Why?  Because they were not backed up with action.   Actually, his actions were the complete opposite of love.  Continue reading