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!!



Lent Resources

Lent Resources

It’s the season of Lent now.  And even though I didn’t grow up in a faith community that ever observed Lent (nor am I a part of one that observes it now), I am nonetheless drawn toward this idea of taking time to intentionally focus on Jesus and to prepare my heart for the celebration of Easter.

I know a lot of people give up something as part of Lent…some people fast, others spend extra time in prayer, some people give things away or serve others in some special way.  The idea is to focus on simple living, fasting, and prayer in order to grow closer to God.  I love that.  And it seems like there could be many ways to observe Lent, even if you’re not part of a church or a faith community that corporately observes it.

Maybe you’re a little like me and would like to do something this Lenten season but aren’t really sure what to do or where to start.  Here are some resources I’m using this year in these weeks leading up to Easter:

SheReadsTruthShe Reads Truth, Near The Cross Plan – this is a daily Lent devotional that I am reading along with.  I’ve done several of their other studies, and they are great!  You can access each day’s devotion for free on the website, or you can download the app and purchase the devotions that way.  I will be reading this Lent devotion every morning as a part of my personal quiet time.

ALentToRepent_LargeRectangleA Lent To Repent And Refresh, by Ann Voskamp – I adore Ann.  And she has put together this new, 40-day set of daily prayers to pray during all of Lent. They also double as ornaments that can be hung each day on an Easter Tree.  (Link to the printables is at the bottom of her post) I love this resource.  I will be praying these prayers every day right up until Easter, asking God to draw me closer to Him, repenting of the sin in my heart, and reflecting on all that He has done.

Family Easter Devotions & TraditionsEaster Family Devotions Kit – this is a little kit I put together last year for our family, to help up prepare for Easter.  It’s not necessarily a “Lent” devotion kit (it’s only 14 days of devotions, ideas and activities), but we will be using this again this year in the two weeks leading into Easter to help us focus on Jesus and prepare our hearts for Easter.  Feel free to use parts or all of this kit for your own family if you want! 🙂

 

What does your family do to observe Lent or prepare for Easter?  What is your favorite resource for this season? I’d love to hear some of your thoughts and ideas! 🙂

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!}

Sink My Feet

I’ve had this song playing on repeat these past few days…


Just Keep Me By You

My prayer today.
To sink my feet deep.
Not asking for anything…just to stay by Him.

 

Getting Organized {& sharing my new 2015 printable calendar!}

 So I’m a little behind the power curve here…we’re already almost a week into January and I am just now getting my calendar together and getting organized for this new year.  I blame it on being sick a couple of times since Christmas…and on the fact that the girls just started back to school today, so we are just now getting back into a somewhat normal routine. 😉

I also think I’m still in a bit of shock that we are actually in a new year…2015?!  Is it just me, or do the years just seem to be flying by faster and faster somehow…

Emma will turn 12 this year, and Lilly will turn 10.  In a few short months, I will no longer have any children in single digit ages…they will both be double digits…that’s crazy to me…seriously.  Where did all that time go?…

Days turn to weeks.  Weeks turn to months.  One year flows into in the next.  Time just keep ticking by.  And it’s way too easy to get caught up in the rush and the hurry of the every day…it’s so easy to be so busy filling my time or worrying about what’s coming up next, that I miss the moments that matter most…I miss right here, right now.

And what’s crazy?  When I hurry, when I’m rushing from one thing to the next…time flies fast. I look back at the seasons in my life when my pace was fast and hurried, and it all is just one big crazy blur.  But…when I am intentional with my time, when I slow down and really live in the moment right here and now…time actually seems to slow down.  And when I look back at those kinds of days, when my pace was slow, when I used my time intentionally, when I embraced the moments in front of me…those are the memories that I cherish, the moments that make my life full.

So this year as I fill in my calendar, I’m going to keep two words in mind: slow and intentional.

I want to fill 2015 with moments that make my life full.  I want to embrace each day, whatever may come.  I realize that there will still be days that are busy…there are still tasks that must get done and obligations that must be met and things to do and people to see and places to go.  But…if I’m not intentional about family time, intentional about time with God, intentional about adding in margin and white space into my days…then the pace will quicken fast (because that’s just what the pace of this world and this culture tends to do) and the year will fly by in a blur and I’ll look back in a year as we enter 2016 and wonder where in the world all the time went.

I’ve been given a gift.  Today is a gift.  This moment is a gift.  And how I spend this day, this moment, this year…it matters.

So I designed this little calendar.  It’s pretty simple, really.  Just blank little boxes, one for each day of this whole big year.  My intention with this calendar is simple: to organize my days so that I can embrace each day to its fullest.

I’m going to fill in a few Family Nights or Family Adventure Days each month, intentionally planning some time together as a family….these are always some of our most favorite moments that we slow and embrace our time together…but if I don’t intentionally plan them, they simply won’t happen.

I’m also going to plan for Sabbath time to rest and just spend time with God…every week.  (I have a separate journal for my daily devotions…but I’m trying to do better about really taking a Sabbath day every single week, so I want to be sure to block out those days so that nothing else takes that time).

I’m also thinking of adding in some service projects and planning for some specific ways to love others throughout the year…and I’ll write down birthdays and appointments and all that good stuff too…but if the calendar starts getting really full, if I feel the pace of our family start to get too hurried and fast, then I’m also going to be very intentional about erasing things. 🙂

And in case you’re like me and need a simple little calendar to organize your days so you can embrace each day to its fullest, I’m sharing this little calendar I designed for 2015.  There are two options: a black and white version, and a color version.  Feel free to download and print either (or both 😉 ).  But please just note: this calendar is free for personal use only (please don’t take it and sell it or any of that kind of crazy stuff 😉 )

2015 CALENDAR – BLACK & WHITE
{click to download PDF file}

2015 CALENDAR – COLOR
{click to download PDF file}

Enjoy!!!  And have a wonderful year full of moments that make your life full!!

A New Year, A New Word: Listen

Listen2015Well, here we are on the cusp of another new year!

2014 was quite a doozie.  It was a year full of amazing blessings and difficult challenges…there were super high highs and incredibly low lows, and everything in between.  It was a hard year, a good year…a crazy, incredible, trying, difficult, wonderful year.

I have no idea what 2015 will hold, but I have a feeling it will have its own share of ups and downs.  There will be days that are full of joy and laughter, and days of sadness and struggles.  Good days, bad days, boring days, busy days…this year will be full of all kinds of days.  But through these next 365 days, whatever may come and no matter how the path twists and turns, there is one thing I know: God is good.  And I know that He loves me, and I know that He is working everything, all the days, together for the very best good.  The days may not unfold the way I think they should or the way I want them to or the way I expect them to (do they ever, really?), but God is still the God of all my days…and through all these days, I will hold on to Him because He holds all my days – He holds everything – together.

And for this next year, as I lean into Jesus and as I trust Him with all my days, I am going to focus on one word….just one word, all year.  This is the second year I’ve thrown away the long list of resolutions and instead just focused on one word.  A year ago I chose the word “Peace”…and even though I’m nowhere near an expert on the subject, by focusing on peace and intentionally seeking peace…when I think about all that I learned and all that God showed me…it changed me.

This year I am choosing a new word…one that I think will challenge me and stretch me and possibly even break me in some ways, but one that I think is so important for me right now where I am:

Listen.

It’s a word that just keeps coming up…in things I read, in things I hear, in my quiet times, in my prayers, in my life.

Listen.

I even wrote a little about it back in August…and ever since then I just keep circling back to it.

Listen.

Listen_Verse_Isaiah55_3_Ears Wide Open

Listen Courage quote

Listen Quote_Ann&;Amena(This quote is from an amazing spoken word poem [found here] by Ann Voskamp and Amena Brown…listen to it if you haven’t…it’s so so good…)

1 Kings 3:9

I want to listen.

I want to listen to others.
Listen to my husband.
Listen to my kids.
Listen to my family.
Listen to my friends.
Listen to my neighbors.
Listen to those who are not like me.
Listen to those who are hurting.
Listen to those who are outcast.
Listen to the lonely, the orphaned, the widows.
Listen to their stories.
Listen to their hearts.

I want to listen to my life.
Slow down and listen to the rhythm of my days.
Listen to the beat of my life.
Listen in light of God’s Word and see my life in a new way, through a new lens, and evaluate where I am and where I need to be.

And more than anything, I want to listen to God.
Listen to His voice, above everything else.
Establish and continue holy habits that will keep me ever-aware of His presence and leaning in close to hear Him speak to my soul.

In Matthew 13:3-9 Jesus gives the parable of the seed and the sower.  He begins with the word “Listen!”…and then at the end, He says, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

I want ears to hear…I want to listen, to understand.

I’ve been reading this book by Mark Buchanan called Spiritual Rhythm (I’ve actually been reading it slowly for months now…I read it in small bits, digesting it slowly…it is so so good).

But he wrote about this whole listening thing, and I love what he says here:
“Ears to hear doesn’t mean, always, a mind to grasp.  It means you listen.  You lean in.  You wait, you pester, you dig.  You hang on to God and wrestle him all night if you must, and refuse to let go until he blesses you.” – Mark Buchanan, Spiritual Rhythm

That’s what I want to do this year…listen, lean in, wait, pester, dig, wrestle, and refuse to let go.  I want to listen with my ears wide open…and with my heart wide open.  I want to listen, not just so that I can respond better, but so that I can SEE better and so that I can LOVE better.

This year, I want to listen.  Really really listen.

Even if I don’t understand what I’m hearing, even if it’s difficult and hard and I have to wrestle with it for a while…I’m going into this year with ears wide open…this year, I’m going to listen.

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

Fear Not

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Today…just this verse:

Daniel 10:19

You are greatly loved.

Pause for a second and just let that sink in…let it sink down into the marrow of your bones.
You. Are. Greatly. Loved.

So don’t be afraid.  There is no reason for fear.

Instead, be strong and courageous.

Remember…He loves you.

And that love, that great amazing love of God that is deeper and wider and longer and higher than you can fathom…that love gives you courage and peace, no matter what you may be facing today.

So fear not. Peace be with you.  You are loved.

(Want to print this verse and hang it up as a reminder?  Just click on the image above and you can save it and print it (for personal use only) 🙂 )

To see more posts in this series, click here

The Enemy of Peace

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Day 15. (Well, technically it should be day 17, but I’m still a couple of days behind 😉 )

I’m finding that it’s getting harder for me to figure out what to write.  One topic for 31 days in a row is not quite as easy as I thought.  But I’ve learned a lot, and I am still peeling back layers of understanding as I continue to study and search for peace.

So far, I’ve found that peace comes from these things:
Righteousness
Fellowship/Intimacy with God
Trusting God
Meekness
A Love of God’s Law
The Presence of God
Jesus

If these things bring peace, and I know that this is what brings peace, then why do I so often struggle to have peace?

I believe the enemy of peace is wrapped up in one little word: sin.

Billy Graham wrote it this way:
“We have seen that the most terrible, most devastating fact of the universe is sin.  The cause of all trouble, the root of all sorrow, the dread of every man lies in this one small word: sin.  It has reversed the nature of man. It has destroyed the inner harmony of man’s life. It has robbed him of his nobility. It has caused man to be caught in the Devil’s trap.
….It is a tornado on the loose.  It is a volcano gone wild. It is a madman broken loose from the asylum.  It is a gangster on the prowl.  It is a roaring lion seeking its prey. It is a streak of lightning heading toward the earth.  It is a guillotine cutting off the head.  It is a deadly cancer eating its way into the souls of men. It is a raging torrent that sweeps everything before it.”

Sin brings everything that is opposite of peace.  It is the enemy of peace in my life.

Worry
Pride
Selfishness
Jealousy
Envy
Self-Centeredness
Gossip
Bitterness
Selfish Ambition
Greed
(and so many more…)

All are enemies of peace.

1 Peter 3:8-12 says, “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.  For ‘whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.  For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.  But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’

Psalm 35:14

Those verses that Peter is quoting come from Psalm 34.  From the Old Testament to the New Testament all the way to today, people have desired and continue to desire to “love life and see good days”…but so often we go about achieving it in the wrong way.  Sin poisons our intentions and our desires…we seek peace and life and good days, but we seek it in things that end up causing us strife and stress and worry and fear.  We fill our days with so much stuff, with mile-long lists of things to accomplish and do…we pursue careers and achievements and power and prestige and success…we seek after the latest cool gadgets or the nicest clothes or the biggest houses.  We pursue lots of things in this life.  And they’re not all bad things in and of themselves.  But often I think in the process of so many pursuits, we lose sight of the most important pursuit…and we lose sight of the purpose of it all because we lose our focus…and peace gets lost along the way.

God’s way is the only way that brings true peace.  God’s way is the only way that brings truly good days (even on the “bad” days). And God’s way is the way of righteousness…righteousness through Jesus, through obeying His Word and through intimacy with Him.

We have to seek peace and pursue it.  This implies an active faith…a faith that spurs us to DO good…a faith that calls us to BLESS others.  The things Peter mentions – unity, sympathy, love, tenderness of heart, humility of mind – these require action on our part…we have to pursue them.  Because our hearts wander…sin creeps in and wages war on peace and on righteousness and on our relationship with God.

Sometimes we don’t even realize it’s there.  Sin sneaks into the hidden corners, the places we ignore.  It comes when we’re busy, when we’re distracted, when we lose focus…when we’re pursuing other things.  It comes through apathy, when we’re coasting on auto-pilot, or when we’ve switched over to survival mode.  We can justify sin, call it by other names, but the result is the same: lack of peace.  Instead of peace we feel discontentment, fear, worry, stress.

And if we stop long enough to pay attention, we can recognize the warning signs in our souls.  The missing peace.  The discontentment.  That little red flag that tells us something isn’t quite right.  That lack of intimacy with God.

Our souls crave intimacy with God.  Peace comes from that intimacy.  But sin is like a wall that separates us from that intimacy…it’s like a poisonous fog that blinds us to the reality of God’s goodness and love.  We have to fight sin if we are going to pursue peace and righteousness and intimacy with God.

Jesus already paid the price of our sin on the cross…we can have victory over sin in our lives, we don’t have to allow it rule. Instead, we can let peace rule, we can let God rule.  Like Colossians 3:15 says, “Let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts.”  But we have to let it rule.  We have to intentionally pursue peace, intentionally pursue intimacy with God, intentionally pursue righteousness.

Psalm 139:23-24 should be my daily prayer: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Test me and know my anxious thoughts! Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”

Psalm 139:23 - Search me, O God

Search me, O God

Sin is the enemy of peace.  I have to be willing to take an honest look at my heart and allow God to show me any sin that is hiding there.   I have to actively “turn away from evil, and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Ps 34:14).

But this requires slowing down the hurried pace of life…setting aside all those things that pile up in my days, all those other pursuits that take my focus away from God, all those things that distract me from  my relationship with Him…and taking time to care for my soul and invest in my relationship with Jesus.

Sin is the enemy of peace.
Today I am taking a deep look at my heart and my soul, and allowing God to reveal to me anything, anything, that offends Him…anything that is poisoning the peace in my life…anything that is hindering intimacy with Him.

Today I am pursuing peace.

 

For more posts in this series on Peace, click here

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