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 –

When You’re Too Tired to Dream

blue-water-and-white-waves

Dear sisters, each of you needs to hear something slightly different today. Some of you need encouragement to stick with your plans and achieve your goals. 

But others of you may find yourself in the place where I was recently…too tired to dream anymore. Especially if you are a natural go-getter, this is my story for you. I pray that it encourages all of you to trust our God and take the time to be still in His presence.


I wonder…do the waves ever get tired of rolling in and out, day and night? Rushing forward, surging back, all in sync with the silent pull of the moon so far away–you’d think they would wear down after a while.

I feel like the tides sometimes, crashing up against the same rocks day after day, wearing smooth tracks on the sand in the same place I washed across just a few seconds before.

Routine. Normal. Everyday. And I get so restless. It is easy to wonder–am I making a difference at all? 

You feel so small sometimes. Maybe you’re just one drop of salt water riding a wave you can’t control. Life is going crazy around you and you feel like it’s all swirling by, and what if you aren’t doing something that matters?

After working from October to nearly the end of November in another state, I came home just before Thanksgiving. Coming off of a “just-had-the-coolest-job-in-the-universe” high, I plummeted into dishes, cooking, stress, a noisy house, and lots of decisions to make.

Over the next few weeks, I tossed out a year and a half of plans, failed to get a couple jobs I wanted, and ended up a bit breathless. Truth? I wasn’t so upset about the ditched plans as I was about the uncertainty that followed.

A change of plans? Sure, I can deal with that. Total restlessness? That was a bit harder.

You ever have those days when absolutely nothing sounds enjoyable? I’m talking the “bookworm can’t get up the motivation to pick up the new book” kind of restlessness. Yeah, that’s serious all right.

But at the same time, a very basic routine intervened. So…I didn’t want to do much at all. I still had to get up. I still had to do dishes and cook some healthy food for my family. I still had to play the songs I was about tired of hearing on the piano. I still had to pull on my rubber boots and slog up our red-mudded road with my mom on our daily walks. I read the books that I needed to return to friends. I cleaned my drawers and closet.

I didn’t have a big job or project. I just did what I could think of to do.

A host of negative emotions followed my restlessness: Guilt that I wasn’t getting anything important done. Nervousness that I wasn’t doing what others thought I should be accomplishing. Absolute terror that I would never get back that spark that I somehow lost along the way. Worry that I was missing out on something God had for me to do.

I was afraid because I didn’t want to live from one task to another for the rest of my life. But I was all dreamed out, and somewhere deep inside, I knew that the restlessness would pass.

My 2-month stint away from home with the writing job had left me a writing cripple. I gained fantastic experience, became a better writer, and learned a huge number of things, but when I got home, something was wrong. I didn’t want to write. Yes, it’s true. Me, the writer. Me, the girl who has a few book ideas a week. Me, the girl who gets excited about words like “synecdoche” and “asyndeton.”  I. Did. Not. Want. To. Write. It was truly frightening.

I wondered if I was just being lazy. Should I have pulled out my laptop and put in a few hours of staring at the screen everyday? Should I have forced myself to snap out of it and get busy? Maybe.

But what I did instead seemed to work a lot better.

I rested.

Yes, I kept up my basic routine. I ate, exercised, read, did things with my family. But I let myself stop my projects and just recover from all the recent ups and downs of life.

Wave in. Wave out. Wave in. Wave out.

And in spite of my fear that the waves would never end — that I’d be stuck in the tide for good — that’s not what happened.

Since I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself, I talked to my parents and we found some wise ways I could use my free time to be a blessing to others. My weeks were finally free enough that I could drive across town and help out my music teacher friend if she needed me, spending a day showing a group of children how to hold a violin and pluck the strings. I could go play piano for someone who needed a smiling face.

And somewhere between the waves, a new rhythm emerged.

Instead of worrying about all the projects that I couldn’t bring myself to plan, I slowly built up what was important to me. Guarding family time. Working on my relationship with God. Having the freedom to drop everything to help out a church friend. Cooking healthier meals with my mom. Taking walks on that wonderful muddy road.

The small, repetitive, seemingly-unimportant tasks became the things that freed me.

I’ve written on this blog about the importance of the “small things.” However, being worn-out gave me a vivid illustration of just how vital these tiny pieces of life are.

Maybe those in-and-out waves aren’t so awful after all. Maybe they provide exactly the subtle rhythm that each of us needs to thrive.

Instead of fearing the restlessness, I learned to rest in the middle of it. 

Do you want to know what happened?

My “free-time” spent teaching music to little kids or playing music for a nursing home resident became the highlights of my week. Soon, I found words creeping into my head–an idea for new song lyrics, a theme for a blog post, or a hankering to write a scene in a novel I’ve never quite finished. My writing returned!

Opportunities began to spring up, making me smile at my silly fear that I’d have nothing to do. 

Resting prepared me to dream again.

It can be hard to know when to take this kind of breather. People around you might wonder what happened to your packed schedule and productive personality. They might ask what you’re doing these days. They might wonder why the projects are on hold.

But sometimes we just need to be still. Yes–be still and KNOW He is God. He is God when we’re worn out. He is God when we can’t get up the oomph to plan one more project. He is God when all you can accomplish is the bare bones of a routine–and He is faithful to make even these small rhythms of the day into times of growth and refreshment.

This isn’t a call to be irresponsible or lazy, but there is truly a time when it is wise to step back and breathe. If you have been plowing full-steam ahead for too long, consider if it is time for some rest.

If the things you are passionate about suddenly grow dull, try taking a break and focusing on the basic, everyday tasks that God has entrusted to you.

Most of all, if you need to take a breather in your small corner, remember that your value is not based on how much you accomplish. As Christians, our value rests in the undeserved love of God. His grace and creative touch make us valuable–not anything we do on our own.

Take this time of refreshing to dive deep into God’s word and prioritize the vital rhythms of your life: personal faith in Christ, family relationships, and fellowship with your church family.  Put nonessential plans on hold and give your body, mind, and emotions time to recover their normal energy. 

 Is it time for you to rest a while?


“Great are you, O Lord, and exceedingly worthy of praise; your power is immense, and your wisdom beyond reckoning. And so we men, who are a due part of your creation, long to praise you….You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.”

– Augustine of Hippo –

In These Hands, Part 2

rain-1 (1)

       2013 is almost over. New Years is approaching. 2014 is days away. And you’re back! I’m so glad we can share Part 2, after In These Hands, Part 1, was published two weeks ago!  Let’s dive in!

“God dispenses gifts, not wages. None of us gets paid according to merit, for none of us comes close to satisfying God’s requirements for a perfect life. If paid on the basis of fairness, we would all end up in hell… In the bottom line realm of ungrace, some workers deserve more than others; in the realm of grace the word ‘deserve’ does not even apply.”

– Philip Yancey, emphasis mine –

– Perfect Gifts –

God is really good at filling open hands.

If faith is ” two empty hands held open to receive all of the Lord,” as Alan Redpath says, then what is it that we receive?

Most important, if we belong to Christ, the most glorious gift is Him. God with me, God with you, always.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

 – Romans 8:31-32, NKJV, emphasis mine –

So, “all of the Lord” encompasses not only His sparing us from wrath but also His freely giving us all things.

I’m coming to realize, like a bright dawn that slowly lifts out of the darkness, that open hands are not necessarily empty hands.

Augustine had something to say about this: “

God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.”

This goes beyond a cotton-candy gospel and reveals that our sins are still clinging to us–or that we are clinging to them. Our self-will, our determination to hold on to our own ways, the control we crave–all of these show our fingernails-dug-in grasp on our idols.

That age-old quest, the prelude to the angelic fall–“I will be like God.”

Like God, able to hold on tight to things. Like God, controlling every detail. Like God–that power would feel so good, fill the empty places. We think so, anyway.

And so, even in our nice Christian wrapping, in our church-face facade, we bow before idols, wrapping our power-hungry hands around their feet.

Our hands are too full of trash to hold the good things.

In order to hold Him, to cradle the Best there is, we have to believe that He rewards the seeker. We have to trust that He is Who He says He is. We have to be awakened to the fact that our idols are coals burning us up even as we hold them tightly. We have to turn away in disgust at the filth we’ve been clasping fondly. Repent and believe. That He is. That He will reward you when you seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

When we open our hands and release what we’re holding so tightly, our Father doesn’t strip anything away without giving us much more. This isn’t a health-and-wealth prosperity gospel or a follow-this-formula princess theology, as worldview teacher John Stonestreet calls it. This is God’s promise.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

– Matthew 16:25, NIV. emphasis mine –

When He awakens us and we see that He is a far greater treasure than anything else…

When our eyes open and we stare up into the face of a God  who comes down to our level….

When we throw off all we call life for a Better Prize

He strips off the sin, washes the guilt, pries our fingers off our idols, and then pours abundance into our open palms. He’s a God that blesses the cursing, gives gifts to the thieves, and ransoms the mockers. He’s a God that washes clean our pig-sty hearts and makes us hate the sin-wallows. He’s a God that tells you to let go.

Not because He doesn’t want you to have good things.

The truth is…you will never have good things if you always hold on to your things. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words can penetrate our “God wants to make me miserable” fears:

“The right way to pray is to stretch out our hands and ask of One who we know has the heart of a Father.”

It’s faith again, girls. When we open hands, we have to keep stretching, keep unfolding, keep those fingers pried back. But the good new is that faith isn’t mustered up. You see, even faith is His gift to us.

And one step of faith gives birth to another. Stormie Omartian, a writer of women’s books on prayer, says,

“When we step out in that faith, God increases our faith. In other words, acting in faith begets more faith.…We have no idea what great things God wants to do through us if we would just stop out in faith when he asks us to” (The Power of a Praying Woman, page 232, emphasis mine).

Open hands are the only way, you see, to hold His gifts.

“God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.”

– Elizabeth Barrett Browning –

Open Hands are Brave Hands

When I was a little girl, I loved a book series about a girl stolen away by Vikings. I adored her fortitude and how her faith flourished in exile, as she became so much more than she ever could have by staying safe in the Irish hills.

When I read those books, one of her prayers thrilled me. It still is almost like a heartbeat to me:

“Give me a heart of courage.”

But now I see it’s not just my heart that needs a bravery boost. It’s my hands.

Only brave hands are strong enough to open.

Only brave hands can open and then receive God and all His gifts that He delights to shower.

And only brave hands can use those open fingers to reach out and grab another hand.

We can’t reach if our hands are balled into fists. We can’t receive anything. And we certainly can’t give. Closed hands reveal a closed heart. Whatever the reason for withdrawing, closed hands close off relationships.

Join me, will you? Join me in opening my hands from now on.

And those of you who are already working up New Year’s resolutions? Forget 2014 for this one.  A year’s too small. Let’s make this the Life of Open Hands.

Open, Gift-filled, Brave, Blessed Hands.

The prying-back might hurt. But can’t you see how much it’s worth?

And it all starts with saying yes to Him, in this moment.

“Yes Lord.”

Always yes.

“Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise….

Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love….
Take myself, and I will be,
Ever, only, all for Thee.”

–  Frances Havergal, emphasis mine –

 

Thank you, Atalie, with Atalie Bale Photography, for today’s photo!