Category Archives: Thoughts

The better to see with…

I got some new glasses today.

I’ve been wearing glasses ever since I was assigned a desk in the very back of the class in 9th grade and discovered that I couldn’t see the board at the front of the room. At first I didn’t like wearing glasses. It didn’t help that kids already were calling me names like “nerd” and “freckle face”…add glasses to my shy, insecure, freckled self and I was just the definition of a nerdy nobody. (High School was hard 😉 ) When I was finally able to get contact lenses, I jumped on the opportunity and put away the glasses for many years.  Since then, my eyes have been slowly getting worse, and contacts have been increasingly annoying and painful to wear. A few years ago I made a slow transition from always wearing contacts and rarely wearing glasses to always wearing glasses and rarely wearing contacts. In fact, this last time I had an eye exam I didn’t even get the contact lens exam…I’m an all-glasses all-the-time girl now. 😉 And I’m ok with that. I’ve become a LOT more secure in my own skin and have (finally) fully embraced my poor eyesight and my need for glasses. I actually even like them now. 🙂

I get an eye exam every year or two, which then usually requires new prescription lenses so I can see my best every day.

My most recent eye exam was actually over a year ago. I got a new prescription and everything, and really needed to get some new glasses. But in my typical procrastinator fashion, I kept putting off making the investment in a new set of frames and lenses. I made do with what I had, kept wearing those old lenses with my old prescription, even though I knew I needed new ones.

So finally, a year later, I broke down and ordered a new pair. I even mustered up enough courage to try a different shaped frame…they are much larger than the glasses I usually tend to get. They’re going to take some getting used to, but I think I really like them. 🙂 But the frames are not really what surprised me the most…when I put them on, I was actually kinda surprised by how much clearer I could see! I guess my eyes were getting worse than I realized. 😉 For a full year I’ve been using glasses with an outdated prescription, and evidently seeing everything more blurry and unfocused than I realized. I could have been seeing better this whole year…I had the doctor’s prescription tucked away in my purse this whole time…but it did me no good until I used that prescription to change my lenses.

That’s kinda how it can be when I read my Bible. Often God will reveal something that I need to change…He’ll even write me out a “prescription”…and I might even copy it down and tuck it away. But it doesn’t do me any good until I take those words and DO something with them…until I allow His Words to change my lenses, to change how I see.

It’s amazing what you can see when you change the way you see.

Kinda like how you can always find beauty in every day…if you look for it.  Kinda like how you can always find something to be thankful for…if you start giving thanks for ALL things.

So in honor of my new glasses and in celebration of being able to see clearly, I’m sharing this little “Eye Chart” printable today. It says: “Look for beauty in every day and every day becomes beauty-full”  If you intentionally look for beauty, if you hunt for joy, if you give thanks for it all…you’ll soon find that your days are actually full of beauty…even the hard and the crazy days can become beautiful in spite of, and sometimes even because of, the hard and the crazy in the days. It’s all about what kind of lenses you are looking through…it’s about how you see.

Look For Beauty Eye Chart

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE PDF PRINTABLE

Enjoy! And have a BEAUTY-FULL weekend!!

Our Not-So-Perfect Family Story…

I’m so honored to get to share a little of my heart over at my friend Dena’s blog today.  I’m talking about perfectionism and motherhood and embracing our family story.  Hop on over there and check it out! (There’s even a free printable at the end!!) 🙂

EmbraceYourStory_Printable by Little House On The Circle

It’s a war out there…

“Christianity doesn’t advance through killing, it advances through dying.”

I heard these words in a sermon at my sister’s church several weeks ago (said by their pastor, David King), and they have been mulling around in my head and my heart ever since.  

In a world where the headlines tell us stories of children being raped, of Christians being killed and beheaded, of slavery still stealing the freedom and childhoods of too many…in a world that wages war on faith, and in a culture that glorifies selfishness and greed…the Good News of Jesus still brings life, still gives hope, still rescues and saves and redeems.

Because Christianity doesn’t advance through killing, it advances through dying.

It’s a great paradox of our faith – that death is really what brings life, that the thing that seems to be utter defeat, is actually ultimate victory, that what seems like the end of it all is really only the beginning.

Worldly wars are fought and won by killing the enemy.  Battles are won by destroying the opposition. Doesn’t that seem to be how it works?

The world’s way to advance and to win is to fight your way to the top. But God’s way is a cross…sacrifice.

The world’s way is the kind of killing that brings death. But God’s way is the kind of death that brings life.

To win the war with Satan, the ultimate war over sin and death, Jesus gave His life.  To advance the Cause of Christ, we lay down our lives.

Killing Christ did not stop His plan – it fulfilled it. And killing Christians will not stop Christianity – it advances it.

Christians throughout the centuries have been persecuted and killed for their faith.  But that did not stop the spread of the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ. And it won’t stop it today. Those 21 Coptic Christians who were beheaded for their faith, martyred for Jesus? They made the ultimate sacrifice…a sacrifice that does not make Christians shrink back in fear, but that has spurred countless Christians to be bold and brave in their faith.  Their death did not weaken Christianity…if anything, it strengthened it. Their death was not a defeat, it was not the end…it was actually only their glorious beginning.  While others may try to weaken the message of Jesus or defeat the cause of Christ by killing Christians or attacking the message of the Bible, Christianity continues to advance not through attacking back or returning killing for killing, but through selfless sacrifice, through sacrificial love…through dying.

You see, I don’t believe that we advance the cause of Christ by trying to kill all the people and ideas and the groups who are opposed to Christ. We advance the cause of Christ by giving up our lives, by dying to ourselves, by laying down our lives for the sake of reaching souls who don’t know the love and forgiveness and salvation of Jesus.  

We won’t advance the cause of Christ by picking fights, but by picking up our cross…by laying down our lives, by reaching out in love, through humble obedience to the call that Jesus has given us.

  
This does not mean we don’t stand up for what we believe in, or that we are weak or that we don’t speak out for justice and righteousness. Quite the opposite.  It is in dying to ourselves and trusting in the power of God in us that we are able to stand up and stand firm and have courage to do the hard, dangerous work that God calls us to do. But we fight differently than the world fights, because we recognize that the battle we are fighting is not against flesh and blood – it is a battle for souls. “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12, NLT)

And we arm ourselves, not with swords or guns to kill, but with the Armor of God: 

We arm ourselves with truth, with righteousness, with peace, with faith, with salvation, with the Word of God…and with prayer, persistent prayer at all times in everything, which gives us the courage to die – die to self, die to selfishness, die to our own agendas and our own expectations, die to all that isn’t Christ so that we can really live, though we may die. 
We don’t advance the cause of Christ by picking up the sword of our own personal opinions and slashing another down with personal attacks. We advance the cause of Christ by picking up the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God and sharing the truth in love.
And when the enemy doesn’t fight fair, when he strikes to wound and to harm and to destroy…we stand firm, and we count it all joy. Because what the enemy intends as harm, God intends it all for good. Jesus said, “Blessed are you, when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my acccount. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

There’s a war being waged for the souls of mankind…a real and dangerous battle that goes beyond what we can see.  It’s easy to see the headlines and become angry or disheartened or overwhelmed. My heart aches and breaks for the children who are raped and abused, for the families who have lost fathers, for the communities that have been destroyed, for the bitter fighting and the untold horrors of this world.  But I must not turn away or put on blinders and pretend that the suffering of those on the other side of the world (or even on the other side of the street) have nothing to do with me…not when the Bible tells me to “Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” 

This world is a mess, full of evil and pain and killing and sorrow. But Jesus. Jesus is life and hope and peace, even in the middle of the mess of this world. And the Good News of Jesus is too good to keep to ourselves. And though it may cost us our plans or our comfort or even our lives, reaching out in love to share the truth of Jesus and the Good News of salvation through His death and resurrection…that is always worth the cost.

Will you pray with me today for the persecuted Christians around the world? We may not be able to hop on a plane and physically go to them to hold their hands and wrap our arms around them in love, but we can all wrap them in fervent and persistent prayer. We may not know their names, but God counts every hair on their heads, He knows them each intimately and He hears our prayers. And He will be glorified, whatever may come.

Where there are no oxen…

"Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox" Proverbs 14:4

“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” Proverbs 14:4

I read this verse this morning in my quiet time and it struck me. I know I’ve read it several times before, but for some reason it really stood out today. Maybe because I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with the “messy” side of life lately. Whether it’s scrubbing toilets or working in the garden or organizing paperwork or washing dishes or vacuuming up dog hair or picking up a trail of toys for the millionth time…life is full of messy chores, unpleasant tasks, downright dirty work.  Work that no one really sees, tasks that aren’t fun and seem to never end…life is full of manger-cleaning “stable” work.

“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean”

I almost rephrased that in my journal to say “Where there are no children, the house is clean” lol. Or “where there are no husbands…” or “where there are no wives who randomly begin projects that are left unfinished all over the dining room table to the point that the family can’t even eat at the table and dinner must be served in the living room…” (Not that I know any wives like that… 😉 )

(and I’m pretty sure these versions don’t have quite the same meaning and inference as the verse intended…but still 😉 )

If you want abundant crops…if you want success at whatever it is you are doing, as a homemaker or a mother or an employee or a boss or whatever it is you do…chances are there will be some “mangers” to clean, some messy tasks to do, some nitty gritty downright dirty work involved.

Sure, the stable would be sparkling clean and smell great if you had no oxen in there.  But without the ox, you can’t plow the fields. “Abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” Oxen are messy. They require a whole set of chores and care. But they are strong. And they are part of the “abundant crops” package.

I don’t have any actual oxen in my life. I don’t farm. At all. I am barely able to grow a little tomato in my tiny backyard garden, let alone harvest an abundant crop of any sort. I don’t even know if modern-day farmers even use oxen to plow their fields anymore. But I think everyone has some kind of “ox” in their life…some kind of necessary (though sometimes messy) thing that adds strength and helps you plow whatever kind of field you are plowing.

So today I’m thinking about what the “oxen” are in my life and I’m thanking God for them, and for the messes and the unpleasant chores and tasks and all the messy stuff that goes along with the work He has called me to do.  Because I know that my faithfulness in even the small, unnoticed, unpleasant tasks is important. It all matters. Even messy manger-cleaning stable work. 😉

One step at a time

We went hiking this past weekend with my sister and her family.  They live near Chattanooga, Tennessee and have some of the most beautiful places to hike all around them.  I love to explore new places when we go there to visit.  Plus, it’s just a great way to spend time together! 😉

This weekend we went to a place called Lula Lake. It was a beautiful day…the perfect kind of day to get outside and explore a little.  And when they said this place had a big waterfall…well, I was sold. 😉

We’ve been hiking as a family for about three years now…and the thing I’ve noticed about all of our hiking adventures is that they always require a bit of effort. Often they require some sort of climbing, some amount of sweat, some extra amount of energy.  But there’s really no way around it…you can’t just drive your car to these places to see these great sights…you have to put in the effort, you have to put feet to the path and take one step after another.

But it’s worth it.  It’s always worth it.

This weekend, we basically climbed a mountain.  We climbed deep into the valley to the very base of this big beautiful waterfall…then we had to climb back up, and then up some more to get to the very top, to the peak, where we could see the incredible view from the bluff.

It wasn’t the hardest hike we’ve ever done.  But it wasn’t the easiest either.

About halfway back up after going all the way down to the waterfall, Emma had had enough.  She was tired. The climb was a bit more than she had expected, a bit harder than she wanted.  So she planted her feet and said, “I can’t do it.  I won’t do it. I’m not climbing anymore.”

I tried to encourage her. I knew the top was not very far away…I knew she could do it…she’s done harder climbs before.  But she didn’t believe me.  “No. I can’t. And I won’t.”

Well, she and I both knew that not moving was not an option.  She had to keep going. I knew that. Deep down, she knew that – but at that moment, all she could see was the enormous task ahead of her – and it was too big, too much. So she just stopped.

It took a bit of prodding, and some encouragement from her Aunt Joy, and eventually Emma started moving again.  One step at a time.  Sometimes slowly.  But eventually….we made it!  She did it.  That thing she thought was too hard and too big…she did it!

Inevitably on most of our hikes, there is at least one of us who hits a point where going on just seems to hard.  They want to quit.  They don’t want to go on.  The task ahead seems too large. The distance left ahead seems like too much.  They don’t think they can do it all, so they don’t do anything at all. They just stop.

Sometimes the enormity of what lies ahead overshadows the small task right in front of us – just one small step.

Just take one step.

This journey that God has mapped out for me is quite the adventure. Deep valleys, high mountains, difficult climbs, amazing views.

But how often do I plant my feet in the ground and refuse to go on?  How often do I grumble and complain about the path?  How often do I get overwhelmed by the climb I see ahead of me instead of just focusing on the next step right in front of me?  Whether I’m tired or scared or hurting or overwhelmed, how often do I say “I can’t do it, I won’t do it,” and refuse to take even one step because the whole big thing just seems impossible?  How often do I miss the beauty all around me because I’m too busy worrying about all the things I can’t see or don’t know or don’t like about this path?

How often do I miss the joy of the journey because I don’t trust my Guide?

My dad used to have this old saying that he would repeat to us over and over and over as we were growing up.  I think it’s an old Chinese proverb or something, but I heard it so many times, it is forever engrained in my head.  It got to be kind of annoying back then…but I can now appreciate the wisdom in these words:

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

The journey ahead may seem long – too long.  The mountain in front of you may seem insurmountable.  The steps may be steep and the climb may be hard.  But don’t let the enormity of the journey overwhelm you – don’t stop.  You may not be able to do everything right now – but you can do one thing.  You may not be able to climb the whole mountain today, or even this year – but you can take just one step.  Then take just one more.

And then…just take one step more.

Because every great journey is taken one step at a time.

***

Pssst…I’ve made a little printable of this quote, with three color options, just for you. 😉 Simply click the color you would like to print and it will take you to the PDF file which you can then save and print 🙂  Enjoy!!



On Living Gloriously Lopsided

So…

There’s this book I’ve been slowly reading for months now. Months.

Spiritual Rhythm by Mark Buchanan.

Why it is taking me so long to read through it, I couldn’t exactly say.  Maybe it’s because I have about 3 other books I’m reading at the same time…that could have something to do with it 😉  But perhaps it’s more because each time I read a chapter, a page, a paragraph…I am underlining, pausing, thinking, mulling over it.  Seriously, I’m not sure of another book that has caused me so much pause as this one (other than maybe one of my all-time favorites ever, One Thousand Gifts…that’s one I have read and re-read countless times and still come away with a stirred soul).

But this book.  I’m not sure what it is.  It is just speaking to me at a soul level, shifting my perspectives and challenging my heart. I can only read a little chunk at a time, it takes me a while to digest it. It’s not that it’s a complicated subject…this whole idea of seasons of the heart, seasons of life, seasons of soul…it’s simple really, it makes so much sense, it seems so obvious. I’ve had so many “duh!” moments as I’ve read through it.  And yesterday was probably the biggest “duh” moment of them all.

Chapter 10.  Titled: “Balancing (or not)”

Just the title of this chapter alone sent quivers of anticipation through my bones.  Balance.  That ever-elusive goal of my life.  I just want to find balance.  I’ve forever felt like I’m swinging on this pendulum between extremes…my days are unbalanced, my life is unbalanced, my to-do list is unbalanced.  I’ve driven myself half-crazy trying to find some sort of balance amidst the crazy unpredictableness of the everyday.  Even when my calendar seems manageable and there’s margin and white space in my days, even when there is no drama and no sickness and no crisis happening, even when the skies are clear and everything is calm (which is rare, but still)…even when it seems that everything is in just the right place for balance to happen, even if I have a moment of balance when all things seem just right…the moment is so fleeting, like a vapor that disappears just as quickly as it came.  There is always something that is undone, something that is being neglected, something that is pulling me to one extreme or the other. And so the pendulum keeps swinging.

So when I saw the title of this chapter, part of me wondered if it would contain the “answer” to balance.  Because man did I need that answer! 😉

But what this chapter says is a game changer for me.  Game. Changer. It shifted my perspective in a way that will forever change how I approach my days, how I feel about my unbalanced life.  Because what Mark Buchanan so simply says in this chapter…it seems so obvious, so, just, duh! :

Everyone seeks balance

"We crave balance but need rhythm" Mark Buchanan

There is really no such thing as perfect balance.  It simply is not the nature of life, it’s not the nature of seasons.  So in all my pursuits and attempts to produce balance in my life, to find some kind of happy perfect medium, I’ve just been chasing unicorns.

It’s rhythm that I need.  Balance will flow out of rhythm…but it won’t look so much like balance sometimes, because sometimes I will need to swing to extremes to stay in the boat….I need to lean in, bend over, match thrust with counterthrust. It’s all about the pace and the rhythm that will keep me moving…not the balance.

And it’s going to be tiring.  It’s going to be wearying.  This idea that life should always be calm and peaceful and never utterly exhausting is just a myth.

I love what Mark Buchanan says later in the chapter:

Part of good rhythm

I love that.

“If our lives are always skewed toward something, out of kilter in some way, then let’s make the most of it and skew them toward light.”

 “You’re going to be tired one way or another. May as well be good and tired.”

Now, that’s not saying that I’m for being busy for the sake of being busy.  I’m all about letting go of the glorification of busy.  I’m very anti-busyness.  As a recovering perfectionist who has struggled with finding my worth in what I do and not in who God says I am, I try to be very careful not to fall into the cycle of glorifying “doing” more than “being.” But…I do think there is a difference between being busy and wearying yourself for Jesus. In Isaiah 43:22 (NIV), God accuses Israel: “You have not wearied yourselves for me, O Israel.” So maybe being wearied is not all bad…it just depends what wearies you.  Being wearied by the things of this world and the pursuits of this world simply wears you out…but being wearied for Jesus, being wearied by pursuing Him and His kingdom, I think maybe that’s the kind of weariness that brings the best kind of deep exhale at the end of the day.  And I do think that the pace and the pursuits of my life will look different in different seasons…and I think that is what is the key.  Because trying to do everything all the time in every season is what leads to a soul that is parched and unhealthy…I know this all too well from personal experience.

It’s not about finding some perfect balance…it’s about living in the rhythm of the season of my life and the season of my heart.  It’s about being aware of what season I’m in and leaning into that. It’s about living, as Buchanan says, “gloriously lopsided. Magnificently obsessed.”

So today, I’m going to lean into the rhythm of the season that I am in…I’m going to lean toward the light, pursue Jesus with all my heart right where I am…I’m going to stop chasing the unicorn of balance and instead just let my life flow in rhythm with the season of my soul.

Right now I think I’m in the middle of spring.  The long winter has past (though there is the occasional cold snap every now and then 😉 ).  But in this springtime of my soul, I am intentionally plowing and planting and cleaning.  I am preparing the soil of my heart, intentionally investing in holy habits, taking time to examine my heart and study my spiritual and emotional rhythms…I’m planting seeds and removing clutter and weeds and cleaning out the junk…I’m living in the rhythm of my soul’s spring.  At the same time, I’m adjusting to and embracing the rhythm of life with two pre-teens.  That’s a whole crazy season of its own, let me tell you!  And I need to move at their pace, be here in these moments with them (even if the moments are full of drama and emotions and lots of homework and projects and activities).  Because there will come a season when they grow up and mature and don’t need me the way they need me now.  But for today, in this season now, I will lean into the rhythm of our family.  And always, always, always, no matter what season….I will live gloriously lopsided, tilted toward the light of Jesus, I will lean toward the place where His kingdom swings closest.  Today, kingdom work looks a lot like cleaning the house and folding laundry and helping Emma with her big science project and building a Barbie hammock out of tinker toys with Lilly…it looks like taking a little extra time after the girls leave for school to read my Bible and journal and pray…it’s planting and plowing my heart, it’s nurturing and intentionally investing in my family, it’s doing what God gives me to do for today and just taking it one day at a time.

It’s not about balance.  It’s about living in the rhythm of this season. Living gloriously lopsided, magnificently obsessed.

"Live gloriously lopsided. Magnificently obessed."

{you can click on the images if you’d like to save and print the graphics in this post – as always, I’m happy to share the graphics I make here for your own personal use, just please don’t take and sell them or any of that craziness 😉 …thanks!}

My Christmas Post

(It’s been a while since I’ve written here. Holidays and school and life piled up and I just haven’t had a lot of time to write, or really had the words to put a cohesive post together.  I think I’m making up for all those missed words with this post 😉  I apologize ahead of time for the wordiness of this post…but it is my one and only Christmas post for this year, then I will try to get back to blogging a little more regularly after the new year 🙂 So here goes…my Christmas post…)

Christmas

Christmas.

If you look at today’s media, take a stroll through the local shopping mall, drive around our neighborhood, or even walk through my own home, it seems that Christmas is a lot about things like twinkling lights and glittery trees, festive music and fun traditions, candy canes and gingerbread, and presents…lots and lots of presents.  There are special church services, festive themed parties, reindeer on rooftops and Santa coming in his sleigh.  It’s exciting. It’s flashy. And it’s so. much. fun!

I love all these things about Christmas.  I really do.  We love to bake cookies and decorate gingerbread houses.  We love watching Christmas movies and driving around looking at Christmas lights.  We love stories about Santa and Frosty and Buddy the Elf.  Christmas is so much fun!

But Christmas can also be quite crazy.

There is a lot to do and a lot to buy…there are places to be and people to see…and lists upon lists upon lists can pile up fast and before I know it the pace quickens to hyper-speed and I barely have time to think, let alone focus on the most important things.

In my head and in my heart, I know that Christmas is about Jesus. But a lot of times, my actions say that Christmas is about everything else and Jesus is just a side thought, just a nativity set on the table or a chorus of Joy to the World in the middle of shopping and wrapping and baking and running around like a crazy person.

This year I’ve been trying to be very intentional about slowing down.  I’ve said no to a lot of events.  I’ve eliminated a couple of things that we usually do every year.  I’ve tried to keep more days blank on the calendar than are full.  It’s been a challenge.  And I can’t say I’ve done a super awesome job of it.  There have still been some very busy days, there have still been some very long lists, and there have still been more than a few moments of stress and chaos.

But intentionally slowing down the pace, intentionally making space in the schedule, has allowed me to intentionally focus on Jesus.  And that has made all the difference.

Isn’t that always what makes all the difference?  Time with Jesus.

And in those slow moments, I’ve been thinking a lot about that first Christmas, trying to imagine that night when Jesus was born.

Have you ever really tried to imagine it?

I know we see the Nativity scene a lot around Christmastime…the pretty little stable with Mary and Joseph looking lovingly at baby Jesus who is laying in a manger that looks a lot like a snuggly cradle.

I love Nativities.

But I’m not sure they quite capture what that night was really like.

Ours certainly doesn’t…

This is our Nativity.  It’s a Veggie Tales classic…we’ve had it for years, ever since the girls were little toddlers and Bob and Larry were daily friends on the tv screen.

I love it. It’s awesome.  It even plays “O Little Town of Bethlehem” when you press the star.  It’s so cute!

But I don’t think the scene in Bethlehem that night was quite so cute.

And I don’t think it looked anything like Christmas does now.

There were no twinkling lights and no glittery trees.  Just another plain old night…just a dirty barn and smelly hay.

There was no festive music or carolers singing outside the stable.  Just the sounds of Mary giving birth, the cries of pain and struggling, and the sounds of the animals bleating and snorting all around her. (Can you even imagine giving birth surrounded by stinky messy animals?!  Umm…ew!)

In those days there were no stories of Frosty or elves or a man in a red suit coming to bring presents…just one old promise that God would send a Messiah, a Present, a Gift that would bring hope to everyone.

But in the years leading up to Jesus’ birth, God had been silent.  No messages from above, no angels or visions of angels, for hundreds of years. Those old stories must have sounded more like fairy tales than truth in those days.

Hope was elusive.  God seemed so far away.

And then Mary sees an angel.  (What was that like?)

And the angel says she is pregnant with God’s Son. (Wait…Huh?)

He says that all those old stories are true and now is the time and she has been chosen and her son will be the Messiah. (Say what?!)

I keep trying to put myself there.  I keep trying to imagine what that was like to be Mary right then.

I know what I probably would have thought… But I’m engaged! What will Joseph say?  He will never believe me. He’ll think I’m crazy.  He’ll leave me. He’ll think I’ve done something awful.  Everyone will think that.  They will never believe this.  What do I say? What will I tell my parents? Do I tell them that God got me pregnant? That sounds insane. No one will believe me. They’ll talk about me. They’ll judge me.  And why me?  I’m not anyone special. I’m not a queen or a princess.  How can I give birth to the King of the Jews?  This doesn’t make any sense.  I don’t understand. This isn’t how they said it would happen. Like this? With me? I just don’t understand. How can this be?

I’m not sure what exactly Mary thought.  I’m not sure how everyone around her reacted to her news or how that made her feel or how hard it must have been.  Did her parents disown her?  Did her friends write her off?  Did her neighbors shun her?

This unwed young girl giving birth in a barn.

It must have been scary.  It must have felt lonely.  It must have been painful.

But even the scariest, loneliest, most painful things can be doors to the most holy places…God’s glory can shine pretty bright in the darkness.

I keep trying to imagine that first Christmas…

Mary crying, Joseph trying to comfort her…surrounded by the animals, the dirt, the stink, the mess.

But they believed. They believed the angels.  They gave up their own plans of how they thought their life would go to be a part of God’s story.

But the story wasn’t happening the way anyone expected.

I wonder if they ever wondered why it happened the way it did.  Why did the God of the universe come as a baby?  And why in a dirty smelly stable?  The God who birthed the stars and who breathed life into every living thing, He couldn’t at least give them a room for this?  He couldn’t have at least arranged a quiet place, a soft bed, a beautiful setting?  This is supposed to be the moment that all of history was pointing to…this is supposed to be the Big Event, the one thing that would change all things, the event that would forever change the course of history…and it’s happening in a barn? With two outcasts, two nobodies from nowhere special who couldn’t even get a room to sleep in?  It doesn’t make sense.  This wasn’t at all how anyone expected it to happen.

I wonder if Mary ever wondered about that.  I wonder if Joseph ever felt highly inadequate to do this thing he was asked to do…I mean, he couldn’t even get them a room.  The girl he loved was about to have a baby, a very special baby, and all he could manage to get them was a messy old stinky barn?  This baby was God’s only Son and all they could get to lay him in was a feeding trough?

The picture-perfect perfectionist in me shudders at the thought.  This is all wrong.  This is not the pretty picture of a Messiah come to save the world.

This is messy and bloody and loud and not at all the kind of entrance that the Son of God, the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace deserves.

And yet….God comes.

He arrives in the middle of the mess.

He comes right there, in the middle of all the stink and all the dirt, and he arrives like a light bursting through the darkness.

That dirty barn floor became holy ground that night.  Because Jesus was there.

Isn’t that how it still goes today?…Jesus comes to us, right where we are, right where we don’t expect Him, right in the middle of our mess. And all of a sudden, that dirt that we’ve been standing on is holy ground…that mess we’ve been surrounded by is suddenly shining with God’s glory.  Isn’t it always a miracle how that works?  Sure, we can glitter up and light up Christmas as much as we want, we can have the shiniest stars on our trees and the prettiest bows on our gifts, but underneath it all aren’t we all just a bit of a mess?  Aren’t we all just a bit dirty and stinky and downright messy? And yet…Jesus comes to us.  Right here, right where are, just as we are.  Seriously, who can ever get over the miracle of that?!

And there may not have been carolers singing songs of joy outside the stable that night, but there were angels filling the sky! Filling the sky with so much light, shining with the very glory of the Lord, so bright that I’m sure those shepherds had to shade their eyes for the glory of it.  And they sang…they sang the first Christmas song of all: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)

Oh my goodness, what was that like?!!

He came.  God came!

He said He would come, and He did! It wasn’t at all like anyone thought it would be, but it was completely everything that everyone needed it to be.

God. With. Us.

(Side note: So if your life is nothing like you thought it would be…if things didn’t exactly go the way you thought they would, if everything just looks like a mess, if you’re drowning in sorrow and sadness and Christmas is just plain hard…keep looking, keep waiting, because miracles happen where you least expect them…Jesus comes right in the middle of the dark, in the middle of your hurt, in the middle of everything that seems hopeless, right in the middle of all the mess…and He offers you the one thing you ever only need: Himself.  God with you. You get Jesus, this Christmas and always.  Is there ever a better gift?!)

Jesus came.

And the angels came too…a multitude of them filled the sky!  But they didn’t go to the kings in palaces…not in the town square for all the busybodies to see and hear…not even to the Temple or the priests or the faithful church people.  They went to the fields, to the shepherds, to those left out in the cold.  And they sang Glory to God.  And they told them the way to Jesus…they told them how to find the Messiah.

(Ever wonder if maybe you’re singing glory to all the wrong things in all the wrong places? If maybe there’s someone out there in the cold who just needs to be told the way to Jesus? I’ve been wondering that a lot lately…but maybe that’s another post for another day… 😉 )

That first Christmas.

I just can’t stop thinking about it.

That first Christmas looked nothing like the Christmases we have today.

And yet that first Christmas is what gives purpose and meaning to every Christmas…to every day.

I still love all the lights and baking and fun, all the movies and stories and traditions.

But I never want to lose sight of why we celebrate.

I want my girls to experience Christmas not as a time of hurry, but a time of slowing down…a time not full of crazy stress, but a time of intentional focus…a time that centers not around presents, but around experiencing the presence of Jesus.

Sometimes it seems hard to give my girls that kind of Christmas.  I have to be intentional.

And I’m not all that perfect at it…at all.

But any time focused on Jesus makes a difference.  Every conversation about His love makes an impression on their hearts.

So as we are busy making memories this Christmas – as we are baking cookies and making ornaments and singing songs and wrapping presents – we will make sure we remember Jesus.

He is Jesus, our Immanuel, God WITH us…with us as we bake those cookies, with us as we sing songs, with us as we wrap presents and sip hot cocoa and watch Christmas movies and light the candles.  He is Jesus…that baby who was God, born in the middle of a mess so that He could be with us in our mess and make a way for us to be lifted out of our mess and made right with God.  Jesus, that Son of God who laid his head down as a tiny baby in a wooden manger; Jesus, who was later hung as a bloody and broken man on a cross; Jesus, who three days later rose from the dead as our triumphant Savior and King, crushing the head of Satan, shattering the dark with everlasting light, becoming all our hope and all our peace and all our joy forever and ever!

And that’s something worth celebrating!

Merry Christmas, everyone!!!

Slow Down for Peace

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Whew…the last few days have been b-u-s-y.  They’ve been good days…but busy days.  And I haven’t had a chance to sit and write. So now I’m really behind on this writing challenge, and it looks like I won’t make the full 31 posts for this series.  And really, I’m ok with that.  Because every day I have to make choices about how to spend my time.  And sometimes writing on this little blog just doesn’t make the cut.  And that’s ok.

I’ve lived too many days in the hurt of the hurry.  Running around with an impossibly long list of things to do and accomplish…with a schedule so packed with activities and projects that I felt like I was spinning.  Too much stress and not enough sleep and sacrificing the important things on the altar of the urgent things.

For too many days.

And I can still very easily fall into a very hectic pace if I am not intentional about slowing down and making intentional choices about how to spend my time.  And when the days are busy, when I’m in a “busy season”, I have to be even more intentional and purposeful with my time or my soul begins to pay the price…and my family begins to suffer as a result.

Our culture is very fast-paced…we’re always late for something somewhere, always hurrying from one thing to another.  But in all that hurry to keep up with the urgent things of each day, I’m afraid we sometimes neglect the important things.  And I think maybe a red flag that this is happening…that our pace is too busy and our soul is too hurried…is when peace is missing from our days.

When we’re so busy doing that we don’t spend time being, our souls ache and peace becomes elusive.

It has taken me a very long time to learn how to slow down.  I’m still not really great at it.  But I am learning to be much more sensitive to those warning signs in my soul when my pace becomes too hurried, when my doing exceeds my being.

Slowing down the pace and making space in my day to be with Jesus…that brings peace to my soul, even in the middle of the busy days.

I like this verse from 1 Timothy 2: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people…that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

1 Timothy 2:2

This is the kind of life worth pursuing: a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. What a prayer for today, and for every day!  I have a feeling that if I pursued this kind of life every day, my pace would slow and my focus would shift and all those urgent things that keep pressing in and demanding my time and energy wouldn’t drown out the most important things.

 

So today I’m making intentional choices…choices to slow down, to care for my soul, to fellowship with Jesus, and to have peace.  Writing a little blog post made the cut today, but it may or may not make the cut tomorrow.  I may write every day for the rest of October…or may not.  I may end up with only 20 days instead of 31…or only 17…and that’s ok.  🙂

 

For more posts in this series, click here

On being quick to hear

I haven’t had a whole lot to say lately…and I don’t really have much to say today.  But I just wanted to share this verse that I’ve been thinking on this week:

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Our life group is reading through the book of James together…digging deep and really studying it.  When I read this verse, I got hung up a bit on it.

Because the world has been loud lately.  Really loud.

This broken and bleeding world has been crying out, yelling out, screaming so loud it is sometimes hard to hear anything.  Crisis upon crisis…injustice upon injustice.  Lives lost, nations at war, arguing and bickering and chaos erupting.  It’s easy to just want to shut it all off, and tune it all out…to deny and ignore.

That’s what I usually do.  I’m typically a quiet person anyway…an introvert who avoids conflict like the plague.  So when others are loud, I usually just stay quiet.  I say nothing.

But silence is not the same as hearing.

I may be quiet, but am I really listening?

“Be quick to hear…”

The Message puts it this way: “Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue”

What does that mean, to lead with your ears?  What does that look like in day-to-day life…in this broken and loud world…in the middle of chaos and emotionally-charged problems?

I’m not entirely sure…I’m still figuring it out.

But I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean to just be quiet and ignore problems.  I do think it means that it’s important to take the time to slow down and listen first.  To lead with my ears.  Not with my mouth, or my opinions, or even my eyes….but my ears.

Listen to someone enough…I mean really listen, really hear them…and you begin to see them as God sees them. Take the time to really hear them, and you start to really see them.  Because everyone has a story.  Every person is a soul created by God, loved by God, valued by God….and every soul, every single one, can be redeemed by God.

Those who are hurting…need someone to hear them.

Those who are crying out…need someone to hear them.

Those who are abused and neglected and treated unfairly…need someone to hear them.

The orphans, the widows, the homeless, the sick…need someone to hear them.

Those whose hearts have been broken and whose lives have been shattered and whose innocence has been stolen…they need someone to really hear them.

This world is really loud.  It’s hard to hear.  Hearing takes time and patience and empathy and humility.  And it takes love.  Because listening is a kind of loving…and when we are quick to hear, when we lead with our ears, we can follow up with our tongues with words of love that can build bridges and mend hurts and turn hearts to Jesus.

And the amazing grace of it is…sometimes it ends up being our own hearts that get changed and healed when we slow down and lead with our ears.  I don’t know about you, but I certainly do not know it all…I have my own tinted lenses through which I see the world…and by listening to others, sometimes it’s my own perspective that changes, my own heart that gets moved, my own eyes that are opened.

Because when I take time to really hear, that’s when I really start to see.

 

{ If you would like to print this verse and have it as a reminder, I’ve made it into a little printable for you to enjoy.  Just click the link below! }

James One Nineteen 5×7 Printable

Tending my soul in a season of change

As certain as the sun rises and falls,
as sure as the waves stretch to kiss the shore,
there will be change.

One would think that someone who has experienced as much change as has been crammed into my life would be somewhat of an expert in change.  I should be able to take change in stride, to handle it with grace, to face it without this fear that literally shakes me to my very core.

I grew up in a military family.  My dad was in the Air Force, and change was just a constant part of my life growing up.  We moved every 2-3 years.  Every couple of years we packed up all our stuff, our lives, and moved someplace completely new, surrounded by strangers.  I attended 3 different elementary schools, 2 different middle schools, and 3 different high schools across several different states and 3 different continents.  Change was the story of my life.

So you would think I’d be pretty good at handling changes now, that I’d be resilient and adjust quickly…that it wouldn’t bother me.

Oh, how I wish…
Sadly, that is not so.

Anxiety, insecurity, doubt, and fear have plagued me every time change comes around.

Although we no longer move all over the planet every couple of years (I’ve now lived in the same city, in the same state, in the same country for almost 18 years, which still sometimes seems crazy to me), changes are still a constant part of my life.  They may not be big changes to all new places surrounded by all new people, but the changes that shake me today tend come as subtle shifts – changes in jobs, shifts in relationships, transitions into new life seasons.  All of these changes, big or small, typically have a way of sending me into a whirlwind of anxiety and fear.  I feel unsteady, unsure, unable to find my footing.  I struggle against changes, against the unknown.  In short, I am a mess when it comes to change.

But I am learning, ever so slowly, that I’ve been seeing change through the wrong lens all along.  I’ve been viewing these shifts and changes from the wrong perspective, from the wrong angle.

The fact is, change is not going to change.  Things will change.  Life will change.  Seasons come and go and change is just a part of life.  Life is a constant series of changes.  And fighting against it and struggling with it has only ever caused me to miss out on all the gifts God has for me within and through each change.  Because in each change is an opportunity – to grow, to learn, to trust, to find joy.  And my goal should not be to reduce the number of changes in my life, or to control the changes, or even to manage the changes.  What I need to do is to simply learn how to tend my soul in the midst of change.

Tend my soul.
Care for my soul.
Keep my soul.

 

When I allow my heart to fill with fear and anxiety and worry and doubt, my soul hurts.  I feel unsteady, unsure, uncertain.
I lose my center.
Because I’ve put something other than God at the center.

It’s easy to say that God is the center of my life – but the proof for me is when change comes and when life gets bumpy and when storms roll in and beat down hard…

John Ortberg writes in his book, Soul Keeping, “A soul without a center is easily thrown.1

Sigh…I am far too easily thrown.

John continues…
My temptation when my soul is not centered in God is to try to control my life.  In the Bible this is spoken of in terms of the lifting up of one’s soul.  The prophet Habakkuk said that the opposite of living in faithful dependence on God is to lift your soul up in pride.  The psalmist says that the person who can live in God’s presence is the one who has not lifted their soul up to an idol.
When my soul is not centered in God, I define myself by my accomplishments, or my physical appearance, or my title, or my important friends.  When I lose these, I lose my identity.” 1

How often have I found my identity in things other than God?  Maybe that’s why changes in these things unsteady and unsettle me so much – my soul has been centered in something other than God.

If your soul is healthy, no external circumstance can destroy your life.  If your soul is unhealthy, no external circumstance can redeem your life. 1

For my soul to be healthy, God must be at the center.  And my soul must be with God.

The soul seeks God with its whole being.  Because it is desperate to be whole, the soul is God-smitten and God-crazy and God-obsessed.  My mind may be obsessed with idols; my will may be enslaved to habits; my body may be consumed with appetites.  But my soul will never find rest until it rests in God. 1

God wants to fill every moment of my life with His glorious presence.  Every. Single. Moment.  But in order to live in His presence, in every moment – including every good moment, every hard moment, every sad moment, through every change and every season – I must be aware of His presence, and surrender  to His presence in every moment.

John writes it this way, as a question for every day: “How many moments of my life today can I fill with conscious awareness of and surrender to God’s presence? 1

How many moments?  How many moments in the middle of change can I live in surrender to and awareness of God’s presence?  How will this change the way I handle changes?

God wants to make every moment of my life glorious with his presence….it’s not just that he wants to be with us, but that he desires to make our lives ‘glorious’…he wants to fill our souls with beauty, splendor, wonder, and magnificence. 1

Every moment.  Filled with His presence.  Filled with His goodness.  Filled with beauty and splendor and wonder and magnificence.  Every. Moment.
Even the moments of change, when life is shifting and everything else is unsteady and uncertain.  To be filled with His presence.

 

Can anything really shake us when we are fully aware of Him holding us?  Can any change, no matter how great or how life-shifting, be able to strip us of joy and peace if we are fully surrendered to His presence in every moment?

My life seems to have been filled with change over the last year or so.   And now my oldest, Emma, is starting Middle School in two days.  MIDDLE SCHOOL!  Sigh…this whole middle school thing and the teenage years to follow, they kinda scare me a little – I just feel so out of my element, so inept and unsure – I don’t know what in the world I’m doing.  But these girls just keep growing up…time just keeps ticking by, no matter how hard I try to slow it down.  And this transition to middle school, for some reason, has hit me rather hard.

So I sit here on the cusp of yet another change, and I have a choice.

I could be anxious and nervous and desperately try to hold on to how things used to be – OR…I can let go of control and invite God into these changes, and I can live each moment with Him in the center.  Because that death-grip of control that I hold onto so tightly?  All it does is squeeze the life right out of my soul.  But when I let go of that grip, it frees me.  It frees me to fully embrace each moment – whatever comes – and have joy through it all, knowing He is with me.

So I can fill these days, these moments with worry and fear…OR I can fill them with a conscious awareness and surrender to His presence.

I can hurt my soul by focusing on everything other than God, OR I can tend my soul through the changes by trusting Him and giving Him the control, and simply allow His presence to fill me.

That’s the whole point of tending to the soul – to fill us so completely with his presence that the brilliance of his love shines through us. 1

I want His love to shine through me, through every change and every shifting season.

So instead of letting the anxiety and fear and worry slip in, instead I will invite God into this moment.  Because no matter what comes and no matter how hard the winds of change blow, my soul can find rest, my feet can find a sure and steady footing, and my life can be filled with His glorious presence, when I am centered in the One who is holding everything together.

 

{  1all quotes are from Soul Keeping, by John Ortberg.  If you want to read more about intentionally caring for your soul, I cannot recommend this book enough. }

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