New Year. Not New You?


“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 11:28-30 The Message (MSG)

It’s that time of year. You know . . . the time of year that causes you to think about all you didn’t do the past eleven months. You may contemplating the new you, for the New Year, right this very minute.

A Washington Post, article from January 1st 2018, stated that 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. But how many more of us don’t formalize resolutions but make inner promises to be better, to do better, or to try harder?

This is the year I’ll go back to church. This is the year I’ll finish my degree. I’m going to work out and lose weight. I’m going to drink less and eat better.

May all your troubles last as long as your New Year’s resolutions.

I think the number who don’t finalize resolutions, but still long for change, is quite high. There are many of us out there who silently long to change those things about our character, appearance, or circumstances that we wish were different.

But when the newness of the year wears off, where do we stand with all of those things we wanted to change about our lives? If you’re anything like I used to be, I found myself defeated, frustrated, and overwhelmed when I couldn’t keep up with my own demands {on myself!}.

How exactly does one go about making changes that are lasting and significant?

The article mentioned above has a couple of good tips – like “piggybacking” your goals or resolutions to something you really love. The example was to tie going to the gym to your Game of Thrones binge watching {i.e., only watch Game of Thrones while working out}. There’s some validity there.

Perhaps that might make those new goals stick around longer – if you had a tangible way to tie the “exercise” of working on your new goal, to something you already love.

Be stubborn about your goals, but flexible about your methods.

But, I found another way quite a few years ago now. When I really examined what my year had been like and where I had “failed” to meet my own standard, there was a common thread woven throughout my failures. There was also something in common with my successes.

Nine times out of ten – it was ONE single thing that kept me going to find success. And still other times, it was ONE single thing that kept me from meeting my goals.

Which brings me to how I started transforming my life, my goals, and chasing dreams. One word. That’s it. Not a list of resolutions that I’d never keep – a word.

It came about in a weird set of circumstances – this one word thing. All at once I felt this discomfort with my resolutions and thought I need to focus in. I heard about people using a word to live by in the new year. I liked the idea! Shortly thereafter, I heard from an online writer friend that used one word, too. The rest is history – it has been at least 10 years that this one word thing has touched my life in a profound way.

Friends – these words over the years have absolutely been right on. I may sketch out things I’d like to see happen in my life in the coming year. But what remains the theme throughout is always, always, always tied to this word. It’s in the living out and practicing of the word, I find myself meeting some of those standards I’d sketched out at the beginning of the year.

I find ways to act – ensuring my word is a verb. Other times, I find myself forced to live out the word because of circumstances beyond my control. Still other times, God shows me, much to my chagrin, when I’m not meeting the intent of the word.

This year, my word was fearless. In 2017 it was hope. There were never two more perfect words for the last couple of years. I have the evidence to prove it. This year, I did live fearlessly in all the ways it counts. I was fearful – but I pressed forward. And that’s what this is all about.

Resolutions stifle me. They hold me back and hold me down because I can’t meet the list of standards. But one word? It has changed me – every year, for the better. Even the year that I failed at being intentional – until December – when I learned a hard lesson through my lack of intention. But dude . . . did that word ever change me!

Guess what? I’m more intentional about everything now – including my one word for each year.

So here I am . . . in the final day of 2018 with a new word already being tested. My word is rest. I fail at rest. I fail at it in the deepest sense of the word.

OneWord365, OneWord, Rest, Abide, Faith, Elaina Avalos, Elaina M. Avalos, Chasing Dreams

Even now, I feel the pressure, strain, and tension beating at the door. But it is clear that rest is the word for 2019. Choosing a word over a list of resolutions isn’t easier. But it is easier to manage bite-size pieces of life – particularly when it’s areas of your life you want to change.

Rest. This might be my hardest word, yet.

So how about you, friends? Are you a resolution person? Or are you open to trying one word? I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you want to try the one word experience, check out, this website where you can register your word and find others with the same one.

Fear & Faith

faith, fear, anxiety, christmas story, virgin mary

I didn’t want to go to church last night. But I went. It’s a good thing I did. The last year has been incredibly challenging. I’m tired and worn. A few weeks back, leading up to last week, a series of events happened that have been the straw that has broken the camel’s back.

The events that started a few weeks back opened the door to a type of fear and anxiety I haven’t experienced in many years. I certainly experience stress. But fear and anxiety have not had a grip on me for a very long time.

But oh how bad the last few weeks have been. The story that has played out in front of me is not what I expected. As a result, I let fear overtake me. I have not understood what God is doing or the story He is writing.

When you want to react in fear, respond in faith. – Jason Brinker

My pastor last night talked about Mary’s story and the “plot twists” that surely must have left her confused, filled with fear, and anxiety about what God was doing in her life and family.

This Christmas season we celebrate the birth of Jesus. We have grown {maybe too} accustomed to His story, as my pastor pointed out. I think that’s certainly true for me. I know that in last night’s sermon, I looked at this story from a new direction. And one that fits my life so perfectly now.

An angel visited Mary and shared the “good news” that she would give birth to a child who would be called “the Son of God.” Yikes. Mary, a virgin, and betrothed to Joseph, was undoubtedly confused and fearful. Besides the obvious issue this raised in her relationship with Joseph, the culture she lived in wouldn’t exactly look kindly on news of a pregnant, unwed young woman.

This was not the story she would have imagined as a little girl. I can relate. She didn’t see her life taking shape in such a way. And yet, this was the story God was writing for her. He was writing her into His story of redemption and grace.

Below are the ESV and NIV versions of Luke 1:36-38 – which are the key verses for me, in this story.

NIV – “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

ESV – And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

The news delivered to Mary was what I sometimes like to call “backwards bizarro world” {everything is flipped on its head, nothing makes sense, nonsense becomes logic, etc.}. That’s what the plot twists I’ve experienced have been like. If it had been me in Mary’s shoes, my response probably would have been something like, “SAY WHAT, BRO?”

That’s what my reactions have been like lately, as I walked into backwards bizarro world. But beyond that, I’ve also reacted in fear and anxiety. But instead of reacting in fear, Mary responds in faith.

She responds by saying, “May it be done to me according to your word.” So what’s the antidote to fear? It’s certainly not focusing on the issue that’s causing the fear in the first place. Choosing faith over fear is just that – it’s a choice. But it’s not just based in my own ability to pull myself up by my bootstraps to get through.

It’s based on who I am in Him and what He says about who I am. It’s based on His unchanging Word. Replacing fear with faith requires that I actively take my thoughts captive and focus on what is true and right and lovely.

I don’t understand what God is doing. But in the last few weeks, instead of reacting with faith, I have been consumed with fear and hurt.

When you don’t understand what God is doing, remember what God has spoken.         – Jason Brinker

Besides being incredibly thankful for my pastor’s teaching, I’m also thankful for grace. God is incredibly kind to me that He allows me to change the track I’m on. I share this with you today in case you too are facing circumstances that have left you feeling fearful or confused about the story God is writing.

Do you sense that God is asking you to respond in faith, though you’re tempted to react in fear? I will challenge myself to respond in faith, if you do!

 

 

Waiting & God’s Will

Waiting, God's Will, Worship While Waiting

When I was young, I read a bunch of books by Emilie Barnes. Between her books, my desire to be a mom & adopt, my long standing love of all things homemaking, and entertaining, I was convinced I would be the best wife & mom . . . ever.

In one of Emilie’s books, The Spirit of Loveliness, she writes about how her home often became the center of action for her high-school age kids and their friends. Her son played football and her daughter was a cheerleader. She mentions preparing food with her kids and then feeding 50 football players and cheerleaders.

Her home became a gathering place because of the love, hospitality, openness, and joy her, her husband, and kids exhibited. I thought then {and prayed too} that this is what my house would become someday – full of love, noise, hospitality, and a bit of a revolving door as people came & went.

Waiting, God's Will, Waiting and God's Will

Fast forward to 2017. At 41, my life doesn’t look like that. I get to hang out with some young people. And sometimes I feed them. But, I don’t have kids or a family.  There is still so much of what I’ve prayed for, for so many decades, that remains a distant dream.

Whatever the circumstances might be, waiting when you don’t truly know what’s on the other end, isn’t easy. I wish I could say it was. There’s a tendency in the delays to despair. Or to believe that perhaps it’s just not meant to be.

Maybe it’s not. Maybe the life I always saw for myself won’t ever happen. But in all of the years of praying, I have continued to ask, and the desire is still there. I guess that means I’ll have to trust His timing.

There is purpose in your season of waiting. – Megan Smalley

Since I can’t see the future {that would be a useful skill, no?} and I don’t believe in psychics {eventually they’re gonna guess right}, trust is my only option. I’m not saying I’ve been getting it right all this time.

In fact, even this very week, I’ve struggled. But sometimes the struggle leads to our greatest lessons. And sometimes it means growing to trust God even more. The truth is, I want what is best for me and I want it His way.

So while I wait, I’ll keep looking forward to that vision of what I always wanted my life and family to look like.  In the meantime, I’ll keep writing, trusting, and praying for the hearts of the ones he’s drawing me toward.

Who loved me through my rebel way
Who chose to carry all my shame
Who breaths in me with endless life
The king of glory Jesus Christ

I will stay should the world by me fold
Lift up Your name as the darkness falls
I will wait and hold fast to Your word
Heart on Your heart and my eyes on Yours

Stay & Wait By Joel Houston

Foster Care Adventures – Part Two

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October 2015, a little guy hung around at work, for a week or so. On Wednesday of that week, he “helped” me work. He sat on my lap, we hung out with friends, and then he played with my calculator & drew with my pens. He feel asleep there at my desk, in my arms, and I worked around him {not so successfully}. I lost my heart. I think about him all the time. Mostly because he was part of the journey {part one anyway} that I finished tonight as my foster parent training classes came to a close.

He was a reminder of everything I’ve always known about who I am and what I was put on this earth to do. He was the happiest boy. I saw him the following week and he “talked” all about the book he had with him. I will never forget this sweet boy. And I’m grateful for how God used him to remind me of what I’ve always known.

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Throughout the last 11 weeks or so, I’ve grown more confident that though there is more work to be done, there isn’t anything I’d rather do more than provide a loving home for kids.

So with part one complete, I’m on to the next part of this crazy adventure. I don’t know who my first placement will be. I don’t know his or her age, name, or background. But God does and He’s already put me on this path to cross his or her path.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” James 1:27.

Foster Care Adventures – Week 1

Dream

My first foster care class is Monday night. This has been a long time coming. Maybe more than thirty years as I’ve dreamed of this very thing since I was a kid. There truly is nothing I’ve wanted more in my life than to have a family.

Beyond wanting a family, I have always known that I was meant to take care of kids who need someone to love them unconditionally and to provide a safe and secure environment to grow and heal. With foster care, I know I won’t be able to predict how long a child is with me. But for as long as they’re in my home, they will be cared for as if they were my own.

I know the coming weeks will stretch me. I know that I will learn and be challenged. I know that I will wonder how all of the pieces will come together. I still wonder how everything will work. I still feel loss of my job due to funding cuts. I still wonder how many people will think I’m crazy for doing this as a single woman.

But this new journey is long overdue. In the moments when I don’t have the answers, I know God does. And I know that He will not call me to do something {which I believe He is}, without giving me everything I need to make it happen.

So here we go! Week 1…

Dreaming

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One of the hardest things to face, for me as a childless woman {who doesn’t want to be}, is the longing that is deep down, in the deepest part of me, to be a mother. As life has marched on, over the years, when the desire surfaces, I have had two reactions – sorrow and grief or . . . I stuff it down, far down.

I have always wanted a family. I never imagined that I would turn 40 and still be without that family. For reasons I don’t want to explain fully now, I made choices that brought me here. Except I didn’t realize at the time that’s what I was doing. My career the last six years has been my sole focus. And prior to that, while I can’t say it was my sole focus, it took an inordinate amount of my time.

I made those choices. But I wasn’t actually intentional. I didn’t see then the cause and effect. I threw my life into work because I don’t do anything half-assed. But, I also didn’t feel fulfilled personally so I found fulfillment at work, particularly after a relationship ended. In the wake of that experience, I moved across the country and jumped in to work in a small desert town and made the families I served, mine. But that started a cycle that brought me here. Here. I’m not where I want to be, here. A few months ago, I was filled with an incredible amount of grief because I thought the only way I was going to get to this dream was thwarted.

But as I mentioned last time, I came to a place where I decided it’s time. I decided it was time regardless of my expectation of how it should happen.

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When I made that decision, I let myself daydream a bit for the first time in ages. Recently, I bought some clothes for a couple of kids I know. Standing in that store, making those decisions about what to buy was a tiny reminder of a simple thing parents do all the time. It was a sweet joy. I spent way too much time in that store.

Last fall I had a tiny boy spend some time with me over the course of a couple of days, at work. He was a baby really, but smarter than heck and the most joy-filled kid I’d met in years. He babbled. He scribbled with a pen, on scrap paper at my desk. He tried desperately to play with my keyboard while I answered e-mails. And then he fell asleep in my arms. Do you know what a gift your sleeping kiddo is, mama? What a sweet joy those moments were. So normal and every day.

I have allowed myself to think about moments like those in recent weeks. Those are just two examples of many. I’ve wondered about the first child who will step across the threshold of my home. For the first time ever, I let myself think about how wonderful it would be to have a baby in my house, or a five-year old. Or a big kid who wants a little bit of normal they’ve missed out on for the past ten years of his or her life.

What a sweet joy this has been. I am allowing myself to dream, without the sorrow of lost years, for the first time in ages. It’s a beautiful thing. It won’t be easy. But it is my dream.

Home

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Foster care and adopting a child {or children} from foster care, will not be easy. I’ve never done things the easy way. Not ever.  So I’m game.

There will be moments that are harder than anything I’ve seen before — and I’ve seen some ugly shit. But underneath all the uncertainty and yes, even fear, runs a swiftly moving current of hope.

For the first time in ages, I’ve allowed myself to dream a little of what might be ahead. I’ll get to that later. But today, filling my thoughts have been the stressful moments of where will we go next and can’t I just stay in one place for once?!

When I rented this house, it had two “empty” rooms. But it was still a very small house. When my mom moved to NC, it became clear that this house was not gonna work. As the days have passed without finding a larger house, that fits all of the “wants” and “needs,” I’ve grown frustrated. The list doesn’t fit the “vision” in my head of what home should (don’t should on yourself, as they say) be.

However, comma sometimes we have to let go of the image. What I want is a home. Not a house. I want a safe-haven that is peace-filled in all ways we can control, joy-filled as much as possible, and a place where you are loved unconditionally. Those goals require nothing physical in the structures and furnishings.

These are the intangibles that can be found on the inside of a two-bedroom apartment, a sprawling house in the country, or in a house that sits snug between neighbors on all sides in the city. These are the intangibles that I once thought I could find in a sort of temporary structure in a faraway land. Or in the inner city where I was willing to live in a one-room apartment, the sounds and sights of Skid Row on the streets below.

I have a dream of what this home looks like. There is no doubt about it. But focusing on the people that will fill that home should be foremost in my thoughts over what the structure looks like.

Someday, when I look back at this time, I will see the dream taking shape, not the structure.

Even This?

Jim Elliot, Joshua Tree, JTNP,

I had the privilege growing up of going to a church that had some pretty great youth leaders. In junior high we were challenged with a question. Will you follow Him no matter what it takes?

I said yes. Not a doubt in my mind. I was willing to die if that’s what it took.

My heroes of the faith were Amy Carmichael – a mama to countless children in India, Gladys Aylward – who saved Chinese children during WWII at great risk and peril, Hudson Taylor, Elisabeth & Jim Elliot {Elliot famously said, ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.’ He was killed by the people he had gone to serve.}, and many others who followed a path I thought I would.

At Forest Home, before I started seventh grade, I listened to a few people {college age and a little older} talk about their lives and the ways they had chosen to follow Him. One of these people became a mentor because she also happened to be part of my home church. She had spent time as a missionary in a place that seemed so exotic and unusual at the time.

Between her impact on me, and that of our youth leaders, I said I’d go anywhere and do anything for Him.

I don’t always think the decisions you make at twelve will stay with you. Sometimes they do. And sometimes? You probably wish they didn’t. I said, “Here I am, send me.” I said I’d follow “no matter what it takes.” The question today, in the midst of pain is, “even this?”

Even this?

Even this?

This?

His reply is twofold:

  • Do you trust me enough to pray wild, impossible prayers and to have scandalous, wild faith? Will you dream the big dreams and trust me with them?
  • And then . . . will you follow me no matter my answer? Will you follow me even if I say no? Will you follow me if the family you have wanted is not my plan?

Even this?

Yes. Even this.

Turns out He may not have expected me to spend my life on the mission field. Or die for my faith. But maybe He’s asked me to lay something down that I cling to even more. Like Abraham who finally had a son to take his name and birthright, is He asking me to lay down the one thing I want more than anything? Yes. Even that. He wanted Abraham, the Father of many nations, to be willing to lay his Isaac down. He asked Abraham, in different words but with the same weight, “Even this?”

Abraham, this great hero of the faith for so many said, “Yes. Even this.”

So here I am, declaring my public, “Even this.”

Even this.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot

Messy hair. Thirsty heart.


I drove my messy hair and thirsty heart here a short time ago. There are times when the pain is too much, and the ache too deep. Today? It’s one of those days. Oh is it one of those days.

Mother’s Day brings it out in me. At least in recent years. I try hard to let it slip by, but in the south, where politeness is a way of life, the constant refrain of “Happy Mother’s Day,” to every adult female, is too much.

I lost a baby. She would be close to 10. And now, at 40, I’m childless. The one title I’ve wanted for as long as I remember, I don’t have. I made it past my 40th birthday without facing this.

But I couldn’t escape it any longer. A few weeks back, I faced a disappointing moment in my career. I longed for a change because it was the only way I could fathom becoming a single mother through foster care & adoption. My schedule now, in my current job, is too erratic. It’s not that other people don’t do it – they do. But for me? I’m not sure I could choose to do it alone. I was raised by a single mother. I don’t have any lofty ideas about what it is and isn’t. But that’s the one reason why I needed and longed for this career change.

People I know from work were happy about this {they told me so} because it meant I would stay with them. But it broke my heart. They didn’t mean to hurt me, but the hurt piled up. What does one do when the only way you can imagine getting to the dream, goes up in smoke? Especially at a time that seems so ripe with meaning for women {turning 40}. Single women in particular.

Everywhere I turn today, however, are words and songs of encouragement. Last night, Ann Voskamp posted on her Facebook page about being brave. You can see it here. I saw it today however. I needed it. Right in that moment. Not last night when she wrote it. I have cried buckets today. And when feeling frustrated with my messy heart and tears, I read a quote that showed up “randomly” in my Facebook feed, about tears. It spoke comfort to my tired heart.

I could go on. There are other examples. I still don’t know if the pain will ever go away. I still don’t know why God answers some prayers and remains silent other times. I don’t know why some people are blessed with children and other dreams of their hearts, while others long. I don’t know why He hasn’t taken this desire from me if this isn’t to be my life.

But I know He is a good, good Father. Somewhere, beyond my vision, there’s peace – though I don’t feel it now. The things I’ve read & the songs I’ve heard remind me of this. I don’t know if there’s a reason, but I know there’s peace.

From the time I was a kid, the ocean brought peace into my life. My grandparents lived at the beach most of the summer and we stayed with them when it was possible.
We would nap with the fresh ocean air blowing past us and we would walk on the beach for hours. My Grandma Avalos was a woman with messy hair and a wild, artist’s heart. Our countless hours with her, when my brother and I were kids, taught me to dream big and wide. And as wild as my heart could take.

I’m sure she didn’t set out to do that. But messy haired women with wild, thirsty hearts will do that for you if you pay attention. Today, my messy hair & thirsty heart needed to sit by the sea to be reminded how to dream big and wide and as wild as my heart can take.

Because the God that made the ocean that gives me so much peace? He’s bigger still. And as wild and deep and wide as my dreams are, His for me are deeper still.

Trust || One Word 365

Trust 2016

A few years ago, I gave up resolutions. Instead of spending the year trying to keep up with a list of goals that seemed to be more about rules and regulations than actual change {and might I add, quickly abandoned} I decided I would go with a word – just one word for the year.

This one word feels as if it were ordained just for me. It has always fit. It has been laced in and out of my experiences, opportunities to grow, the good, the bad, and everything in between.

Some years, I haven’t been super happy with that word {like last year}. I struggled with the 2015 word. Oh, how I struggled. But, see that’s how God has a sense of humor. The struggle was the lesson. My word last year? Intentional.

I learned so much about being intentional. Although I don’t think I got it until December. I wanted to be more deliberate in certain areas of my life. I wasn’t deliberate. In fact, at the end of the year, I saw more of what I didn’t accomplish than what I did.

But sometimes the best lessons come from losing. I learned fairly quickly, in just a few weeks time this December, what I lost in not being as deliberate as I planned.

Which brings me to 2016. It’s a big year. It’s the year I turn 40. It’s the year I may step away from a path I’ve been on career wise. It’s the year I hope to make more concrete plans regarding being a foster parent. There’s more but I’ll spare you the details.

However comma, since I wasn’t very purposeful and intentional last year, it doesn’t seem on the surface of it all that 2016 holds what I hope it will. If you look at the circumstances, I should just phone it in, ya’ll. Give up. Walk away.

I may be a lot of things. But one thing I’m not? A quitter. So while it looks a little bleak, I am being challenged to trust the God that has my future in His hands.

Trust. My word for 2016.

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.

Deuteronomy 1:32 But for all this, you did not trust the Lord your God…

Psalm 9:10 And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, For You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.

Psalm 37:3 Trust in the Lord and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.

Psalm 37:5 Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.

I could go on.

I don’t know where the path is leading but the best way ahead is trust. Whatever that means.

It’s not too late to pick your word for 2016! You can check out the OneWord 365 website, here. You can join the Facebook group, here.

Will you join me? What do you have to lose?