January Break

Hello dear girls! Somehow it’s February 6th already, and somehow I didn’t post a single syllable in January.

Blogging is very dear to me. I love sharing my thoughts and life lessons with you. Not only do I pray that my words are encouraging to you all, but blogging also gives me the opportunity to discover what I think.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
― Flannery O’Connor

God has been stretching me in many ways in recent days, and sometimes I come to the computer with only the whispers of ideas, hoping I can come up with some lesson worth sharing out of the many half-baked ones that He is still teaching me.

If you won’t give up on me, sweet readers, I hope and pray I’ll be back soon with some more tales of my heart.

Until then, “…let the mighty strength of the Lord make you strong” (Eph. 6:10, CEV).

He is up to something marvelous.

Season’s Change

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My blog informs me that it has been a month since I’ve written…and what a month it has been. A month ago, I started writing a post on autumn and change…and it rings even truer today than it did when I began.

For more than three years, I’ve tried to blog weekly. Earlier this year, it slipped to every other week. Now, I don’t know when I will write..and I think that’s okay. Sometimes I may write weekly…other times, weeks may slip by. Life is changing, teaching me things, and I pray that I will still find the words to share these moments with you…and that you will stick with me and keep reading.

Thank you for 3 1/2 years of joy. Here’s to many, many more.


This is my favorite autumn.

I’ve had twenty-three of them–almost a quarter-century of changing seasons.

I’ve never leaned quite so hard into the crisping air, leaves shaking off the summer green, scents of spice and pine.

This is my favorite autumn and–quite unexpectedly–as the earth tips away from the sun, my seasons are changing with it.

I do not fear the autumnal shift into mist, short days, and frosty-orange mornings.

But I do fear this other litany of changes….

I love adventure, the bracing wind, the shivering thrill of unknown opportunities. But these opportunities seem to come in the form of deep sorrows and strained souls. Change isn’t all adventure and wild expectation. Part of me wants to snuggle deep into the autumn leaves and keep it autumn forever. Perhaps all the change swirling around me has a pause button. All I have to do it press it, and the leaves will freeze half-fallen in the air. My life will suspend in a quiet, eternal moment. Maybe I can just hit pause forever, and then things will never change.

Driving up a steep hill behind a lagging log truck the other day, I watched the leaves crouched on the roadside. As the crawling truck lumbered up the incline, the leaves bounced to their feet and tumbled into the road, dancing and swirling like an impromptu flash mob of giddy children. Since the truck was only going fifteen miles per hour and I had nothing better to do, I watched the waltzing leaves. They were golden in the morning sun, sweeping in carefree circles. They were asking me to dance.

I see the way the autumn falls around me.

It is really carefree, like an exhale.  The world lets go of her summer with such delight. She never seems to stop and cry for what she is giving up…I’ve never known the world to weep for a summer lost. I only see the way her face lights up with autumn gold and the way she gladly casts off her confetti leaves like she is welcoming home the frost.

And I stand in frost-air, tuck my hands in my pockets, and wish I could let go of seasons as well as the world does.

I am trying to stare into unknown corridors of life and see where my choices might take me. Time spent here, hours worked there, memories made everywhere…each of these is a deliberate spending of a season, and each of these is a choice I must continue to make, even as things change around me.

Is anything drastically reshaping my life? No…maybe not yet. But little by little I feel the change of the wind. Frost begins to blow in even now, and my blushing leaves are rattling to let go and join the blustery dance.

“To everything there is a season,” Ecclesiastes reminds me.

Leaves drift down, and I want to let go and fly gaily with them.

I once wrote about living with open hands…and this is like that. Autumn is teaching me how to let go and trust that a good season will follow.

If the whole world entrusts herself to her Maker, who am I to doubt the timing of His seasons?  Summer will fade into Fall, and Fall will chill the air for Winter. And we all know what comes after the death of Winter…the whole earth bursts into life again.

Each of my seasons, too, paves the way for the next. Will it be a better season? It’s hard to say, I think. Maybe it gets better as it goes along, but a dear friend of mine in her 70s says it best. “Every age is the best age,” she tells me.

I think she is right. This is the best age, the best Fall, the best season I have known.

And the next one will be the best too, because my Jesus leads the way. And I’ve never known Him to fail me.

So, with the leaves, I too let go and join the dance of expectation.


“This means tremendous joy to you, I know, even though you are temporarily harassed by all kinds of trials and temptations. This is no accident—it happens to prove your faith, which is infinitely more valuable than gold, and gold, as you know, even though it is ultimately perishable, must be purified by fire. This proving of your faith is planned to bring you praise and honour and glory in the day when Jesus Christ reveals himself. And though you have never seen him, yet I know that you love him. At present you trust him without being able to see him, and even now he brings you a joy that words cannot express and which has in it a hint of the glories of Heaven; and all the time you are receiving the result of your faith in him—the salvation of your own souls.”

 – Phillips paraphrase from 1 Peter 1:6-9 –

 

 

Living Already

 

“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”

 – Omar Khayyam –

Don’t miss it.

I know you dreamers, because I am one. This is what I’m saying to me today, and to you today.

Let’s not miss the life we actually have while we’re busy looking through pictures of other people’s lives–their best moments–caught on film. And we compare ourselves to that, and we live in that world, a world of people’s best moments sewn together like a patchwork quilt of reality. And then we look at our own reality, and it doesn’t seem to quite measure up

We spend hours on Pinterest and Facebook, looking at all the things people are doing and the places they’re going, and the things they have.

On Pinterest, we save all the things we’d like to get or do for ourselves…and we forget the things we already have. The things we are actually doing. The places we actually go every day.

In books, we take adventures, make friends, come to love characters. When I finish a book, I often wish the characters were real, because I love them so much. I would never be one to criticize reading, that’s for sure…but I wonder. Is this another place where we can accrue to ourselves people that we like, people who we identify with…and then forget that there are already people in our lives who, like it or not, are ours? People whom we are not just asked, but commanded to love, by the God who loved us first.

We dreamers can live in the future…all the roads yet traveled, all of the beautiful things yet to be seen or touched. The beautiful family we might one day have. The wonderful people we might one day know.

And we forget the simple magic of the hum of our tires on the roads that we travel day in and day out.

Lost in dreaming, we can lock ourselves away form the hard work of making relationships here and now. Relationships that are strong. Relationships that matter.

And I’m as guilty of this as the next person. I’ve pinned up all of the future glories that I dream of. I mean, I’ve spent hours pinning pictures of boots. Short boots, tall boots, ankle boots, knee boots…and it’s not even that that’s bad.

It’s just…today I woke up and the boots I’m wearing are the ones that were already in my closet.

And the way I did my hair is the way that I always do my hair.

And my fake little imaginary world didn’t change that.

I can drive down the road that I drive a couple times a week, not even seeing it. I’ve let myself grow dull to it. I’m so busy thinking about Pinterest-board trips that I don’t stop to enjoy the one that I’m on today.  I told myself that I’m tired of this road.

But why am I so tired of it? I don’t want to be.

Maybe it’s because I keep looking for the bigger and the better and the next and the someday.

I think that’s it. Someday.

It’s not even that I don’t like this road…it’s that I’m too busy thinking about the next one.

So, to all you dreamers out there like me, please. All we have, all that’s been promised to us, is today. This road. This family. These people’s love. These moments. These realities.

Please don’t stop dreaming. But remember that those dreams are just that…dreams. They’re not real yet. And if they do become real one day, enjoy them then.

I don’t think they will taste nearly as sweet if we wring all the enjoyment out of them before we even get to them.

I’m not so scared of my dreams not coming true. I’m more scared of missing the dreams come true that I already have, that I’ve forgotten were once dreams, because they’re real now. And maybe when they’re real, we dreamers go to the next dream.

I don’t want to be like that.

Today, this dreamer is going to live in today.

And tomorrow this dreamer is going to live in tomorrow

And I’ll keep pinning the pretty boots on Pinterest, and I’ll keep budgeting for long vacations, and I’ll keep dreaming about what it would be like to have a special family of my own one of these days. I’ll smile and I’ll dream. I’ll always keep dreaming.

But I won’t forget that I already have a family of my own–a different kind, but my very own. And I already have boots that I really like. And I already go places with people I love.

Thank you Lord, for the alreadys.

And help me not forget where I really live.

Maybe this is called contentment. Learning to live and love where you are.

Today. Already. Now.

 “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 
I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
 – Philippians 4:11b-13, NIV –

The Lesson of the Peony

 

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“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 
and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”
 – 1 Peter 1:3-4a, NIV –

Today, my friend Lizzie and I drove back and forth across town on a wild treasure hunt for a flower.

I’ve never grown peonies before , but I’m reading Roots and Sky by Christie Purifoy and her Instagram photos of impossibly-delightful peonies inspire me. Fall is in the air, and with it, my dreams of fluffy, dreamy, extravagant blossoms awaiting in the next gardening year.

So I needed a peony.

Now, my town is quite small. Only the arrival of tourists a few times a year manages to tip us over 3,000 people. “Driving across town” only takes about ten minutes. And our gardening options were very limited. We started with our favorite all-American corporate chain, proceeded to a grocery store with a tiny, empty 8×8 greenhouse, checked the lumber store’s collection of plants –actually the most impressive thus far–then drove to the local farm supply. It was our last great hope. But alas. No peonies in the whole town.

We thought our search was in vain. I picked up a few discount packets of seeds in a distant hope of spring planting and waited in the farm supply line to check out…and then the lady standing next to us overheard us lamenting our fruitless search. “There’s peonies at the lumber store,” she says. We explain that we had already looked there, among the spring bulbs. “They aren’t displayed with the bulbs,” she tells us. “She has them in pots.”

Liz whips out her phone and calls the lumber store greenhouse. Sure enough, they have a whole collection of $12.99 peonies.

Back across town we go and there they are…a cluster of black pots with tiny, gnarled, crispy-leaved plants tucked into the top layer of dirt, poking up little wrinkled limbs well past their prime. The tag promises a giant, perfectly-coral blossom.

“They die back in the fall and go dormant in the winter,” the gardener explains. “They’ll come back in the spring.”

So I buy a big black pot with a tiny, crusty-edged leaf hanging on to a twisted root half-unearthed. It costs $12.99. Almost thirteen dollars for a dying hope that won’t blossom at all until later.

I hand over a $20 bill and continue to pepper the woman with questions about how to care for this tiny, twisted hope. “Don’t be surprised if it doesn’t bloom for a few seasons,” she smiles. “It has to get big enough first.”

I nod and let my mind wander to a possible planting place. I’m dreamy with thoughts of spring.

So Liz and I load up the almost-vacant plastic pot into the back of the van and drive home. We grin because our treasure hunt was not in vain. I think finding a treasure after a long hunt must be the best part of an adventure.

The peony plant is safely tucked into the garage now, waiting for me to decide on a sunny growing place for it to call home. As I go about my day, I keep thinking back to that tiny, twiggy promise of a plant. People look at it doubtfully, because it really looks like the dying end of something.

My heart keeps jumping when I remember that this is not a dead and dying thing. My peony is a living hope. It is quiet and sleepy and browning. But it is alive. Something stirs in me when I think that the whole glorious potential of a 3-foot tall bush brimming with giant coral blossoms lies dormant in this dead-looking twig.

My peony keeps telling me stories, because it is itself a story, and a tying-together of my story.

I have no idea what tomorrow brings, what I will do in a year, or what changes may crop up moment by moment. While still a fragile, uncertain thing itself, the potential of the peony teaches me about steady things that anchor us in the middle of the ups and downs of life.

Planting this little whisper of spring is like putting down my roots and saying, “I will be fully here, as long as I am here.” It is a reminder that what I do today lasts, even as the moments fade away. It is a reminder that my Jesus put me here now, for this season.

This peony teaches me that there is an overarching story to the moments that I string together like pearls. Unique and tiny as each moment is, it is adding up to something bigger.

Sometimes I think anxiously about the future, wondering what it will bring.

But something about the peony ties my today and my tomorrow together in a rhythmic strength. Spring will come, as long as the earth remains, and when that spring comes, this dead-looking twig will jump to life and burst up with joy and blossom out in abundance.

And I smile when I think that all this life is packed into the wispy, fading, half-buried root waiting in my garage.

Lizzie says that maybe we are not just planting the peony. Maybe the peony is planting  us, down deep into life. Deep into faith in One who chases winter away every year with a new resurrection of creation.

“Spring will come,” the peony whispers. “There is more life here than you could ever imagine.”

“Look, the winter is past,
    and the rains are over and gone.
The flowers are springing up,
    the season of singing birds has come,
    and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air.

 – Song of Solomon 2:11-12, NLT –

Lying-Awake Nights

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I’m lying in bed and it’s 11:31 p.m.

And my face is sticky, because I’ve been crying into my pillow. My nose is dripping. I’m hoping to avoid a mirror for a while. Good thing it’s dark in here.

I keep rubbing the back of my neck, hoping for the words to well up again.

All I hear is “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” It’s playing from my computer speakers, speaking to me in a language I’ve known so long. The words that I know by heart echo inside me, even though all I hear are simple piano notes.

It’s like my heart knows the way home, even when I’m tired and it’s dark and all is ajar.

I’ve been praying my thoughts with Psalmist-like honesty. I know that I’m not alone in these nights. How many of you, my friends, have also laid awake in bed kept awake by your fears?

I keep finding myself on the edge of a negotiation with God:

“Lord, I know you’re in control. I just don’t know what that means for me. What does that mean You’ll do? I trust that You’re good…but how does that help this situation? I still don’t know what You’re going to do. What if it’s painful? What if it hurts someone I love? What if Your plan isn’t the one I want? If You’re going to do what You want anyway, does it do any good for me to pray for what I want?

You know, at least for me tonight, I’m not really asking God if He’s in control.

I’m not even asking Him if He’s good.

I’m asking if He cares about what I care about. I want to know if He loves my hurting friend as much as I do. I want to know if He cares about my future as much as I do. I know He’s powerful and working out all that is good.

I just want to know how that applies to me right now.

On nights like tonight, the built-up emotions swirl in me until I’m left dry and tired.

But I lifted my head out of a soggy pillow in sudden joy and grabbed for my computer to tell you this story.

As I prayed gut-wrenching prayers, the knowledge stole over me.

“Lord, you love this friend more than I do.”

“Jesus, You don’t withhold anything good from me, not for one minute more than necessary. Something else better is happening right now, or this waiting would be over.”

THIS is what can sustain me through a night of tears. It’s not just that He rules and plans. The thing that puts my heart to rest is that HE LOVES ME! He loves me, He loves my people, and He cares about the things that weigh on my heart.

The idea of distantly-loving and powerful God doesn’t do much for me. But a personally-involved and caring One? He is a God I can rest in.

So I sniff and wipe my tears and smile in the dark.

“Rock of Ages” plays now. I will hide myself in Him.

“Rock of Ages, cleft for me. Let me hide myself in Thee…

Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to thy cross I cling.”

 – Augustus Toplady –

 

 

 

Doing Battle

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I wrote this post a few months ago, but I found it recently and thought it was still so applicable to my life..and, I believe, to yours. When we embrace the Good News of an alive and present Savior, how can it not change the way we see everything? Yes, today we do battle…but do not fear. He has already overcome, and is overcoming, and will yet overcome.

“We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.”

 – Ephesians 6:12, CEB –

Have you ever been on your knees, doing battle?

Today, I was.

“Certain thoughts are prayers,” author Victor Hugo wrote. “There are moments when, whatever be the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees.”

Although physically I was walking around the house, doing dishes, and trying to figure out the computer language HTML, my soul was truly on its knees.

Doing battle in your life means seeing how the present circumstances reach far beyond what you can see. Doing battle means taking everything to God. Doing battle means recognizing that you are not enough for what you face today. It means spiritual warfare, through prayer and Scripture reading.

Today, I was doing battle for a friend confronted with a difficult relationship. Some days, I am doing battle for my own heart, or for a situation close to my heart.

Over the past few years, God has brought several mentorship opportunities into my life, and I am completely in love with it. Mentorship teaches me something: Life just doesn’t work without Jesus.

I can encourage you, and you could walk away unchanged. But if God comes into the picture with His encouragement, neither one of us will walk away unchanged.

Christian mentorship–also known as discipleship–is like this. It is not enough for me to give someone a pep talk. Pep talks are powerless for real change. For habits to change, for hearts to heal, for attitudes to reorient, God has to step in.

 That’s what doing battle is all about. Real encouragement goes deeper than the surface, all the way down into the soul of things.

As we imitate Christ and bring His knowledge and love into situations, the tangled strings of life start to untangle. When your life is constructed around the framework and centrality of Jesus, the pieces fit together in a certain way. Life, although still hard, works. While not perfect or trouble-free by any stretch of the imagination, our God is so great that He is enough for even stormy seas. It’s not that the storms go away…but the vessel is equipped to sail on through the waves.

When a person’s life is built around anything other than Jesus Christ, life’s pieces don’t match up. Each person pieces together their own custom patchwork lens for viewing the world. There are holes between the pieces. There are inadequacies when storms hit. Just like the sand-foundation house in Jesus’s parable, their life system fails them, and “great is its fall” (Matthew 7:27).

When someone tells me about the way someone hurt them, or a friend shares about their hard day, I have a choice. I can skim the surface, or I can take their hand and point to Jesus.

Here is what I am learning:

The most vital part of Christian encouragement is doing battle.

When we acknowledge that life only works with Jesus at the helm, and we recognize that the people around us are shipwrecking their souls based on lies, there is only one remedy.

That remedy is Jesus.

Telling what our Jesus did, how He makes the pieces fit, is called the Gospel. Really, discipleship is just applying this Gospel to every aspect of our lives.

This is where the battle is. Gospel-sharing discipleship is a spiritual battlefield, because that’s where Satan attacks God’s glory.

Encouraging words can only go so far. They don’t have power to change souls–unless God’s own Word is part of our encouragement vocabulary. This is where mantras and  “girl power” speeches fall short. If inspiration’s power comes from you and me, people are in trouble. If we depend on humanity for the strength needed on the battlefield of life, we will fall. And great will be our fall.

There is power in the name of Jesus. And His name, His words, alone can break the chains of our past, our fears, our struggles, our failures, and our sins.

Do you want to encourage someone today?

Start on your knees.

And when you get up from your prayers for them, tell them about the Jesus who is both merciful Savior and conquering King.

It’s not just the lost who need the Gospel.

I need it. You need it. The Gospel is our lifeblood, and we should daily sing to each other the good news that Jesus saves us–not only at the moment we are made right with God, but He daily saves us and keeps us throughout eternity.

A pastor once asked his congregation how often they shared the Gospel with someone else. As we listened, my mom turned to me and whispered, “Does that count all the times we tell it to our people at home every day?”

Yes. Yes, it most certainly does.

You see, I don’t just want good news once, or once a week. I need Good News that covers every single breath of my life with light and hope.

So if you want to encourage someone, give them news that never stops being good: Jesus is alive. And His life can transform every minute of yours, without exception.

That’s where the battle is. This is where I stand my ground, in the transforming light of Christ.

Lift up your heads, my friends. Let’s do battle.

“Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you really will be free.”

 – John 8:36, CEB –

Starting Fresh

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You know who you are.

You already know that God brings us through challenges and difficulties that stretch our faith and perseverance. Your mind is full of words like discipline, schedules, diligence, work, and productivity.

Like me, you already know that there are times for pressing on and going beyond the limits of our abilities. After all, God meets us there and bridges the gap between our small showing-up and His great plan with His own strength.

But, maybe, like me, you aren’t so good at balance.

You recite endurance and success and good works to your soul, and then your soul whispers these habits back to you any moment that you stop to rest.

“You aren’t being diligent…” “A good mother wouldn’t sleep this late…” “You don’t have time to stop. You have to finish this now…”

Could it be true? Could you just be lazy or undisciplined?

I don’t think I can answer that question for you, because I don’t know your heart. I can just tell you about my discovery about myself. I hope that it blessed you and helps you “run the race set before [you,] looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of [your] faith” (Hebrews 12:1).


Over-analysis is my specialty, especially over-analysis of myself.

Even this week, my mental to-do list kept piling up in my head. Never mind the things I’d already done. Never mind how tired I was or how bad I felt. Never mind the things that I valued most were getting done. I felt like a failure, even if I wasn’t actually doing anything wrong.

This happens to me a lot.

It is a super-narrow logic, a short-sighted rubric, that I feel pressured to conform my life to. In this mentality, “the way I’ve always done it” and “the right way to do it” is queen. Success is a completed to-do list, so I can prove productivity to myself and anyone else who might wonder what I do with myself.

If you catch me off-guard and ask me how my week was, I will flounder to remember what exactly I did that sounds productive enough to mention. “Well, I’m not really sure what I did. Our routine just fills up the days,” I might say. My internal success meter drops a little as I reflect on the difficulty of encapsulating just what exactly I do. “I’m really busy,” I might say. “There are a lot of little things.”

Even though I’m incandescently happy with my real life, the moments are often deep, spiritual, and defy quantifying.  What often happens is a draining paradox: complete satisfaction with what I actually do every day, combined with the nagging internal fear that I am never doing quite enough.  

Even if I know that I’m doing the best I can, in the back of my mind something unsettles me. Maybe I could do more. Maybe I should.

But, oh sisters, this endless circle of restless work is so unhelpful.

How much better it would be to get half the work done with joy! How much more could we glorify God if we weren’t pushing, cramming, and otherwise stuffing the day with activities?

And since when did we get the idea that humans are supposed to be untiring production robots?

I think God knew that His humans would fall into this ditch. Perhaps that’s part of why He set the standard so early. The universe wasn’t even a week old before He took a rest. Since I know He didn’t need a nap personally, I highly suspect that the lesson was for our benefit. All through the Old Testament, the seventh day was set forward as the resting day. Scheduled rest wasn’t just part of the culture—it was one of God’s commands. And, I wonder, was it a coincidence that rest and worship intersected on that day? That the day of ceasing labor was also the day of lifting praise?

In the New Testament, Christians met on the first day of the week instead of the seventh, and they were reminded of Christ, their true Sabbath Rest. Although they were urged to be zealous in their faith, Paul also encouraged them to live “peaceful and quiet lives, to mind your own business and to work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).

Diligence is not the same thing as endless work.

Rest is not the same thing as laziness.

Success is not the same thing as production.

Abundant life is not the same thing as busyness.

So here’s what I’m learning.

When I get bogged down in the lure of unattainable productivity, I need to start fresh. You could call it a reset.

In the midst of life, balance is required and you won’t always be able to step out of the bustle and reset. But if you find yourself being your own slave driver, stop. Do something to quiet your soul and prepare you to step back into the game with grace. Take a few minutes in His word. Have your hands been busy? Fill your heart with something solid and true. Is your mind spinning? Quiet yourself before God, take a walk, sit down with a book you’ve been wanting to read, or brew a cup of tea and sit in silence. Don’t be afraid.

This is not the same thing as a selfish demand for self-indulgence. This is a thoughtful space where you can renew your body and mind so you can glorify God and love others well. This is a space where you discover that glorifying God in your body is not about how much you produced today, but about how much praise and honor your fervent love is bringing Him.

I hear it a lot, but I am a human being after all…not a human doing.

This is what the Gospel is about: our security in the identity of Jesus’ work, not our own. I usually remember that I’m not trying to earn my way into heaven…but I don’t always remember that I’m not trying to earn my way into happiness either.

As Gospel children, we don’t stop working when God rescues us, but we do stop working out of desperation. Our love powers our actions instead of our fear.

Author Sarah Young paraphrases the thoughts of God about our constant busyness:

“The world is so complex and overstimulating that you can easily lose your sense of direction. Doing countless unnecessary activities will dissipate your energy. When you spend time with Me, I restore your sense of direction. As you look to Me for guidance, I enable you to do less but accomplish more.” – Jesus Calling, page 252

That’s the beautiful paradox of rest. When we start fresh by refusing to give in to slave-driving fear and hurry, we go back to work with redoubled energy.

Don’t be afraid to slow down enough to actually enjoy God’s goodness and beauty, His “every good and perfect gift” as we travel through life (James 1:17). He really does give us all things to richly enjoy in this abundant life.

So stop. Take a breath. Remember why you work and Who you work for. Most of all, remember Who it is that accepts you because of His work, not yours.

And enjoy this beautiful, crazy adventure that you’ve been given.

It’s a marvelous one.

“Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

 – Psalm 46:10, NASB –

The Measure of a Day

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On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan,as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

 – Luke 10:25-27, NIV –

I measure days all wrong sometimes.

I like to be productive, useful, and successful–all very good, God-honoring things to be. The trouble comes when I start to think that one particular kind of productivity outweighs the others.

Countable things, particularly.

I like to lay out those responsibilities on a piece of paper, turn them into a to-do list, and check my way through the day. It’s very satisfying to make those check marks. So satisfying, in fact, that I can forget that there are other ways of measuring the success of a life.

When I get to a day when nothing seems to get checked off the list, it is easy to feel like a failure. To a girl who is tempted to measure her worth by her productivity, a list without checkmarks is a sure sign of inadequacy.

When my performance-driven soul gets tied up in knots about all the “important stuff” that hasn’t been finished, I have to remember.

Sometimes I tell it to myself. Other times, someone takes my hand and reminds me why I’m on this earth. Sure, Jesus tells us to do our work well. But what is our main work? What am I here for, after all?

To make sure my to-do lists are perfectly marked off, every day? Primarily to dust the furniture, exercise, clock time at my job?

Or to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength…and love my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:29-31)?

Some of the things on my list are important. They are even necessary to loving God with all of myself (Colossians 3:23). But do I really believe that, at the end of the day, they are the most vital parts of my life?

I don’t think I really believe that.

It’s possible to get so caught up in my to-do lists that I forget that the people around me are way more important than my agenda.

When I get discouraged about how little I’ve accomplished some days, I need to take a step back for a better look. Have I taken the time to look someone in the eyes while they tell me something important to them? Have I given out hugs and kisses, told the “old, old story” once again?  With my life, have I painted a living picture of the grace that I’ve been given? Have I loved, with all my heart and soul, mind and strength?

If so, my day has been undoubtedly full and rich and complete.

“Some think love can be measured by the amount of butterflies in their tummy. Others think love can be measured in bunches of flowers, or by using the words ‘for ever.’ But love can only truly be measured by actions. It can be a small thing, such as peeling an orange for a person you love because you know they don’t like doing it.”
— Marian Keyes —

There is something so compelling about a life centered around love of God and neighbor. Maybe it is the step out of “life” into “life abundant.”

I will probably always make to-do lists. God has given me jobs to do each day, and the little insistent voices of these lists help me remember my responsibilities.

But, when I get to the end of the day and inevitably find some piece of work that still needs to be done, I can set aside my notepad and pen and embrace the living to be found outside the neatly checked boxes.

I think I’ll call it “living outside the box.”

Or, better yet…

Loving outside the box.

“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
Who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
Who has left the world better than he found it,
Whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
Who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had;
Whose life was an inspiration;
Whose memory a benediction.”
― Bessie Anderson Stanley

 

 

 

Little Things

 

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“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Fellowship of the Ring ―

Tiny choices. Normal conversations. Daily routines. A few seconds spent here and there.

These little things are not occasional time-outs from the epic, world-shattering, defining moments of my life.

They are my life.

You see, life isn’t often reshaped by an earthquake. More often, the slow erosion of wind and time and age does the shaping.

Change creeps up on us. Growth comes so slowly sometimes that we wonder if we are growing at all. Our faces never look different from day to day, but we watch the mirror and they somehow morph from childhood to maturity to old age, transforming unnoticed in front of our eyes. We set the course of our lives and one day look around to see that this is not the place we thought we were headed, for better or for worse.

This is the power of a moment.

Today, I woke up with 16 hours to spend. 960 minutes. 57, 600 seconds. I won’t save the world today. I will spend most, if not all, of this day in what people call “ordinary life.” I will clock in at work, write a blog post, unload the dishwasher, paint with watercolors, read a book, take a walk.

I won’t reach perfection today. Instead, I will try to love in the moment, choosing to focus on the person in front of me instead of the project in front of me. I will pray to speak the right things and have the right attitudes. I will strive, fall, get up again, and dust off my scraped knees.

These moments that people call ordinary is where almost all of life really happens. These little things are the things that reshape my soul and reorient my life’s direction.

My glorious resolutions have to have feet–and their “feet” are today’s choices. How I choose to think, how I choose to spend my 960 minutes, how I complete the most basic tasks are the real me. My best and worst moments do not define me as much as all the in-between choices do.

My life is a process of being transformed and renewed.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

– Romans 12:2, NASB –

Jesus doesn’t generally call us to a life of non-stop action. He calls us to everyday faithfulness. I don’t have to hunt for a new adventure, a “more-important” adventure.

“It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God—but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people—and this is not learned in five minutes.”
 – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest –

And little things are not just about choices and change.

Little things are also about meaning and beauty and wonder.

Wouldn’t it be tragic if we could count all the beautiful moments of life on just our fingers?   A handful of exciting travels and life-changing events are just a tiny portion of the beauty of an entire life.

I don’t want to be able to number my treasures on one hand. I want to open my eyes and see the surprises and tiny gifts. I want to number every day’s gifts on a thousand fingers. I want to fall in love with the ordinary moments that God has granted to me. If He ordained for most of my life to spent in this way, how can I doubt the value of the small and ordinary?

“There is a daily-ness to my work, a small-moment perspective that whispers for me to connect with the work in my right-now hands, not because it’s going to become something Big and Important, but because Someone who is Big and Important is here, with me, in me, today.” 
 – Emily Freeman, Simply Tuesday
This past week, I’ve noticed some of these precious little things:

The hilarious quips of my ten-year-old movie buddy.
How children understand deep things.
How faces light up when people are encouraged.
Watching a boy grow into a man.
Finding insights in a Bible verse that I’ve never noticed before.
How beautiful people are when they are doing what they’re good at.
The way the light twinkles in the morning.
Problems that are leading to something good.
Growth even when I can’t see.

There is too much goodness around me to ignore, whether today is an easy day or a hard day. Whether the sun comes out or the rain falls. Whether I can see God’s hand in my circumstances or not.

The little things matter.

They change me, teach me, and grow me into who I am becoming. They teach me about a patient God who cares about the details.
And in their everyday ordinariness, the details of my life are spectacular.
“But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more [in love], and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you….”
 – 1 Thessalonians 4:1ob-11, NASB –

 

The Courtroom

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Hope is very important to me, which is why I always try to point back to the hope of the gospel in every blog post. This post dives into the discouragement we can face as Christians when we daily deal with our sinful selves and a confusing, sin-infused world. If you identify with my struggle below, I pray you will also identify with my powerful, joy-giving hope. It is an anchor for our souls.

 Every morning, I wake up up to preside over the courtroom of my soul.
I don’t mean to say that I am the Law for myself. I most certainly–first and only, body and soul— belong to my Lord and Savior.
But each day I climb up to the bench and try the cases of my heart, one by one.
I like knowing. I like certainty.
And sometimes facts and feelings plead their cases, memory and intuition wage war on the courtroom floor, prayers and fears duel on the witness stand, and I sink down behind the bench in dismay.
Because sometimes I can’t figure it all out. And when I do figure it out, often I, the judge, am implicated by the testimonies of my own courtroom.
Either way, the result is the same: my soul is left with a choice, to either despair or trust.
Despair, because I can’t figure out or fix myself.
Trust, because today I see more of my flaws than I could see yesterday—but I can also see more of my God’s goodness than I could see a day ago.

Coming Up Empty

As a child, it worked.
I could analyze all the pieces of my life and see how they fit together. Things were more black and white, people were more stereotypical, and my eyes saw through the rosy tint of childhood.
In my courtroom now, I have more evidence than ever. My storerooms are filled with interpretations, weights, measures, gauges, preconceptions.
And life takes on ever so many more shades.
Before, I could hold up the six stripes of the rainbow and match the color. Now, people and events are painted with shades I never knew existed and shadows I dared not imagine. Ever mixing tones on their own life’s palette, each person colors in their existence with shades of their own making, each creating never-before-seen hues.
The dazzling variety hurts my tender eyes. I don’t know the difference between azure and sky blue. I can’t discern between apricot, coral, and salmon pink.
I can’t even, often, decrypt the colors of my own soul.
So this judge cradles her aching head and sometimes has to leave the bench. And I’m learning that…it’s okay to lay down the gavel. Sometimes, I just have to find out how far God’s Word addresses the situation, pray for wisdom, ask questions, and–every once in a while–suspend judgment.
Sometimes swift and firm decisions are needed. I’m happy to bang the gavel on such occasions.
But others? I’ve worried my soul into a tizzy, pressing it for suitable evidence and arguments. I’ve harried my heart into tears, because I can’t split the fine hairs of my own thoughts.
In these times, I have to recognize my calling. Am I called to read my own mind and discern my own intentions, to the nth degree? Or is my utmost call the glory of God, as I rest and quiet my soul in Him?
Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this [love for one another] that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” 
 – 1 John 3:18-20, NASB –
It is so beautiful, so quiet, to finally lay aside my judging robes and commit my soul to “Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).

Coming Up Guilty 

Sometimes, I am my own worst critic.
And, many days, I am everyone else’s worst critic too.
Comparing, weighing their opinions against my own, sizing them up with my own peculiarly-developed standards—I am learning the unloving and selfish ways of my own heart when it is left to itself.
Not to say that I let it wander unchecked.
If you could step into my mind, you would hear the daily dialogue I have with myself. I raise criticisms and bash them down in a breath. I mutter and complain, following up with a “but you should really thank God for all the good things that happened today.” Then, the selfish part of me argues back.
I critique the behavior of those around me…then inform myself that I do the same things. Why should I hold them to a standard I don’t hold myself to?
And back and forth it goes.
So very often, my internal courtroom resounds with my own guilt. As I learn more and more of Christ’s worthiness and my own failures, I have to go back to the same place as I go when I cannot figure out things at all:
Quieting my soul at the foot of the cross…or, perhaps, restoring my soul at the door of the empty tomb.
“O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
From this time forth and forever.”
 – Psalm 131:1-3, NASB –
My faithful God sent His Son for the mess of me.
My resurrected Savior conquered death so I might live in His victory.
My heart is daily renovated by the Divine Comforter, the Holy Spirit that dwells in His children.
While defeat and imperfection raise their voices in my courtroom, they do not get to rule. Although confusion and mystery chase me around the bench, they are not judge over me.
I have only one Judge in the end, and He is making me new, day by day.
How I long to be new!
I believe that’s just what I’m becoming. “New, fresh, with no mistakes”—as Ann says.
One of these days, I’ll get there. One of these days.
I know it.
“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.”
 – 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, NKJV –