Wednesday, April 27, 2016

could have

Spring schedules are bursting just as much as the gardens around me with new things popping up and the same familiar ones growing bigger.  It's almost May.  It's almost the end of the school year, so this is to be expected no matter how much I try, kind of like childbirth, to block out the memories from the previous year.

Today's schedule included a first grade field trip to the zoo, piano lessons, a quick dinner out and a baseball game complete with an hour long warm up then will end with finally getting back home to get boys in bed before putting away all the laundry and hopefully holding an intelligent conversation with my husband before passing out in bed and waking up to tackle tomorrow's to-dos. 

I'm even getting a jump start as I'm writing on a Tuesday while listening through the wall to a duet of This Land is Your Land that my oldest is practicing with his piano buddy for an upcoming recital.  Taking advantage of a brief quiet moment to center my mind and point my heart towards the One who is infinitely bigger than me brings an instantaneous peace to the scurry and instead highlights the joys and opportunities that come from delving into community.

He keeps me in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee.  Isaiah's words are a permanent fixture on my body so that they will one day become a permanent fixture in my heart.

Last week after thinking about deeper conversation, a deeper conversation occurred.  Pondering often encourages us to put those thoughts into practice and more often than not we are blessed with feeling the presence of God in return.  Not that He wasn't there to begin with but that our hearts are ready and willing to search and see and notice the effect of being in His presence.

I wish I could remember how the topic came to be, but like most worthwhile conversations it was a twisting maze of rabbit trails that stopped with an ever so brief sharing focused on thankfulness and what could have been before blasting off to the next topic at hand.  It's amazing what ground two women can cover in an hour or so of stolen time.  It's also amazing what can stick with you out of countless other things.

Triggered by whatever conversation was happening, from across the table my friend looked at me and said "I could have...and then relayed a possible negative consequence to choices made earlier in life. I in turn responded with my own equally negative outcome that could have drastically altered every part of who I am today and where I live. And so went, both female brains going back and forth as we said and thought about all the things that could have been that aren't.

Could haves are too often used for regrets.  Things we should have done but didn't, wanted to do but were too scared, did but wish we'd never, until we live life wishing for time back and never seeing the beauty in what we were able to live, and with whom we are able to live it.

Non stop since last week I have been thinking and listing over and over the things that could have been that I'm so thankful weren't and recognizes the new ones that occur on a daily basis.  The times I wasn't paying close attention that could have resulted in a car accident.  The stupid teenage decisions I made that could have resulted in more than high school heartbreak or bad memories.  The times my words and actions were not filled with love and kindness but relationships remained intact.  The times I ignored instead of helped but saw another helper come alongside instead reminding me to step out next when the opportunity arose again.  The times I didn't behave like a woman whose heart has been redeemed but felt loved and forgiven despite my sinfulness.  In all these times and many more being given grace, love, and mercy instead of what was deserved, being shown the true gospel over and over because it needs to be spoken to us everyday.

There are plenty of opportunities to learn from mistakes, to take the consequences from your choices and weigh them and allow them to change you and change others around you from example.  Too often it seems as if learning the hard way is a special skill that my love and I possess and there are many who are sailing in the same boat.  But for every hard consequence is a saving grace.  While we are asked to be thankful in all things, no matter the angle from which you look, these times spent feeling truly and deeply thankful for what could have been, for the grace given and tragedy avoided, for the tangible representation of slow to anger and abounding in love, draw you even deeper into relationship with your Heavenly Father as you see His character played out in your life.

Take a moment in the bustling of Spring and find a could-have-been that didn't, a non-coincidental, completely and sovereignly planned instance of an outpouring of grace, love, and mercy.  The more you look the more you'll find until you can't help but sit in silent awe at the way in which you are loved and cared for as you walk with Him.

Even in the hardest of hard, especially in that, search and find the could haves in your life and the life of those around you.  He has never left you or forsaken you.

I hope you'll try it and as you do, I'll be praying for you.  Pray for me.    

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

going deeper

A favorite book series of mine is the Mitford Series by Jan Karon.  I am well aware that admitting that automatically puts me in the not-so-hippest of groups. Just don't dismiss me completely yet, as there are many other books I love as well that might give me a little more literary cred.  The wisdom gleaned from this series of books written with thought and kindness, through a small community possessing everyday, real life heartbreak and triumphs is truly immeasurable, and these books are ones I often refer back to just as much as a non-fiction books written specifically for spiritual growth.

One of the many characters in these books is a girl/woman named Puny Guthrie.  During her typical day of keeping house for the aging Father Tim, she shares with him that her mother, who died when she was young, had a daily ritual as she lay sick in bed. She would gather her daughters around her and share a bit of wisdom for the day.  She would pick a topic and share a few short sentences about it, whether it be how to clean house or how to pick a fellow to marry, and then lay back down, spent from the activity.  Puny shares that she has never forgotten each of the lessons her mother taught because when someone says so little about something you remember what they say.  Even now I can't get over what a wonderful lesson this is on intentionality and conciseness.

Another popular character that comes to mind in this regard is Mrs. Gump.  As Forrest says, "Mama always had a way of explaining things so that I could understand them."  And while Forrest himself was a man of few words, he talked the ears off of whomever happened to be sharing his bench.  He also remembered everything the people in his life told him and not only applied it to life but also passed it on to others.  It is invaluable to "listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future." (Proverbs 19:20) but then in turn to "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom..." (Colossians 3;16).  Lessons don't mean as much if you keep them to yourself.  No bushel hiding and whatnot please!

Unfortunately, as wonderful, (or not so wonderful in some cases) as the 'influencers' in your life are, not everyone has a variety of wise sayings and lessons overflowing from their lives ready to pour out on their actions and impact their surroundings.  I have many people who I love and respect who impacted my life in a variety of ways, and the older I get the more thankful I am for them. But the problem is it has taken age and experience to truly realize how valuable the lessons I learned were, and on the other side how difficult it can be to not have learned certain lessons earlier in life.

I could share with you the all familiar "hindsight is 20/20" or the whining that might have come out of my mouth more than a few times during our difficult season when I would sit and say "but if someone had just told me ___________ then I could have avoided all of this."

Listed (because I love me some lists) in my head are the countless things I wish I knew, I wish I had learned earlier, or I wish I didn't have to learn in such hard ways. But no matter if it were my deaf ears at the time, or the lack of sharing from an authority figure in my life, my God is sovereign, and the things He brings up in my life in His time and for His purpose are for His plan and ultimate glory. So I'm trying to whine a little less about it.  Trying, yes.  Succeeding all the time, no.

One such lesson, or words of wisdom I should say, that came up recently and completely rocked my heart and mind came from a quote found when helping with research for a 3rd grade history project.
"Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people"  - Eleanor Roosevelt

I love when God throws things at me at times I least expect them, like a reassuring text from a friend just to let you know they are thinking about you. 
This quote did not technically provide any new information but it very clearly, concisely, and intentionally took all the mini lessons learned about words from late toddlerhood on up, and packaged them into a very clear answer as to why words are needed, and what it does when they are and are not used well.

I immediately started mentally scrolling through my conversations with family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers and measuring them to this new standard. I began to understand why some conversations are draining, some not fulfilling and others completely life giving.  As a self professed terrible small talker, I could see how I often took the easy way out and turned to the first level of conversation over and over again.  

It's tempting to assume "small minds discussing people" only refers to gossip and slander... typical of the mean girl conversations we all had in middle school or high school even if we won't admit it out loud, yet we still carry on, constantly convicted or not, well into the gray haired lady stages.  This is a huge problem in the hearts of many, myself unfortunately included. And if we stop at thinking that we don't speak in ugly ways about others, we are missing a vast part of the lesson, and in turn a big opportunity for growth.

One can also read into it a a type of shallow conversation. Chats with no depth, standing and talking about the simple topics of kids in school, family facts, jobs and new interests without asking deeper questions, without sharing vulnerable answers and letting emotion show, without being too transparent, without becoming uncomfortable or too revealing. Instead, we skim the surface of polite questions and answers. 

Simple is easy, small is easy, but when God calls you to a life in Christ, you are promised many things, the best of which is the Hope that comes with Christ. But we are warned, in no uncertain terms, that it will not be easy.  When Jesus says “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14) we see a glimpse of the difficult but also the beauty that comes through following it.

There is a place for updating others on the lives of people and the events that are taking place in your life.  The ones who love you or desire to know you, love all of you and desire to know all of you, and that includes the people you know and the events you take part in...but don't stop there.  

Uncomfortable or not, tread deeper.  Ask the harder questions, answer the harder questions, and take the wisdom you learn and the ease that comes through practice and pass it along to others. You will help them tread deeper as well, to instead walk through the narrow gate that will lead to more opportunities to obey God's call and influence others to do the same. 

So many things begin with just a conversation, and take on a life of their own, where ideas become realities that change the hearts of others and in turn change our world.

My husband has joked that guys' nights last so long because it takes a lot of staring into the fire pit flames, a good many topics, and a beverage or two, to ease past the small talk to then tread into the great and deep.  (I might be in trouble now for revealing such secrets, since everything that happens during guys' night stays at guys' night!)

For me, I become even more thankful for the friends I can jump right in with. The ones that no longer require easing, but instead the conversation just picks back up, covering all manner of thoughts, feelings, and ideas in the middle of a zoo day, in front of a basket of chips with salsa, or while navigating the confusing maze of IKEA aisles.

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found lacking; it has been found difficult and left untried.”G.K. Chesterton

My greatest desire is to share my heart, my screw ups, and my lessons learned, and hopefully encourage others to do the same.  We are but specks in the vastness of the world, but we are specks who are wholly loved by a Holy Father, and we are used to do mighty things.

I hope for great minds stemming from deeper words influenced by a loving Savior.

Pray for me, I'll be praying for you.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

be overwhelmed

Lots of words get a bad wrap, even when they hold two sides.  When the two parts of their definitions completely contradict one another, the 'good' one of the two gets lost somewhere in translation.  I've shared before about some of these words that can often get misinterpreted and can even dangerously effect your heart when you don't comprehend their true meaning and instead allow the negative assumption to take over the positive effect they should have.

Overwhelmed, in my opinion is one such word.  Just a brief glance at all of the self help and spiritual development books being published recently, and the ones I own and are stacked neatly on my to-read pile, will confirm that it is in fact an all too common feeling.  I would have added nowadays, but even in the midst of our technological strides and inventions that were invented to give us more ways to connect and more things to do, we did not create the act of busyness, the act of distraction, or the emotions that come when one thing after another happens whether they are of the difficult category or the day to day one.

Immediately upon hearing this three syllable term I can't help but hear defeated, engulfed, inundated, or drowned whispered instead.  Failing before beginning.  Wanting to hide instead of face.  Bracing yourself until it's all over without a desire to stand up and meet whatever is coming head on.  No wonder the word chosen for me to concentrate on this year was Wait.  In the waiting, the waves of get-things-done that eventually engulfs you, instead fades into a slower wake.

Its no wonder that we've turned 'overwhelmed' into something to be avoided or, even worse, something to be worn with honor as if you've battled a dangerous beast and won--busyness overwhelms and we dream-seeking Americans have a tendency to pile on as much as possible to prove something to ourselves and others but that is a thought for another day.

There are better ways to be overwhelmed.

There's beauty in the world that overpowers your senses.  The kind that makes you silent.  The kind that makes you sit in awe of a Creator who put places on the Earth to just look at, to view and see how small you are yet understand that even in your smallness you are loved completely and have been set apart.  Standing at the bottom of a canyon with huge walls of rock shooting up to meet a sky full of gray clouds was awe inspiring indeed but sitting and staring out the window at the Spring trees blooming below an immense blue sky in a simple neighborhood yard is beauty as well and all were placed by the same God for the same reason.  To look and know.

People like that are around as well.  Quite often they astonish and bewilder, these people who in their actions, words, or countenance just proclaim His glory.  They overwhelm you with their presence, a presence that sometimes is so small one might barely notice their gentle touch, or smile, or movement and yet it becomes burned in your memory banks as a moment that changed you if just a bit.   In this is the elderly man who lovingly grabs his wife's hand to guide her down a mountain path, the check out girl who smiled and chatted as if you were her favorite customer, or the child who toddles out of a run down shack just to laugh and chase bubbles in the middle of a Romanian field.

Events will happen too.  Monumental ones that become beacons in your life, those situations that blow you away so much so that you can come back to them and remember not just the circumstances that happened but the stark contrast of who you were before and how much better you are after.  I am in the process of going back and remembering and writing down those beacons in my life and can't wait to share them with you one day and can't wait even more for the new ones that will come and either be added to the list or replace ones because their effect is so much greater.

But even with all these wonderfully overwhelming things, they can not hold a candle to or even be appreciated without being completely and fully inundated with the overwhelming presence of a Holy Father and the Savior He gave and the Spirit He left behind.

This is anything but a recipe for a life of ease and happiness.  Of course hard things will happen.  We're never promised easy, but we are promised that we're never alone and in any situation, that will enable us to let go of the control we don't really have but like to cling tightly to regardless.

 A different outlook is just that, a different outlook.  A new vantage point through a lens that abides in Christ instead of our own sinful vision.  That is my prayer today.  That instead of letting things overwhelm and drown us out that we submit to letting God overwhelm and lift us out.  I pray that we can be overwhelmed.

Heavenly Father,
Overwhelm us with Yourself.
Overwhelm us and let us not be overwhelmed in the way the world so often defines.
Overwhelm our minds with your wisdom and knowledge given through Christ and the peace that passes all understanding.
Overwhelm our hearts with love that comes only from knowing how much we're loved and joy that flows through thankfulness of all we have been given through your grace and mercy.  We deserve nothing yet you have given us everything through your Son.
Overwhelm our actions with kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control so that you shine through, so that you are more and we are less.
Overwhelm our thoughts with Hope, with the promises you have given and are impossible to break.
Overwhelm our words with encouragement and love even when they are ones, especially when they are ones, that are difficult to say and more difficult to hear.
Overwhelm us with You so that the world underwhelms in comparison, then we can see You more clearly and love You more dearly and be drawn to you instead.

Pray for me, I'll be praying for you.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


My oldest is less than a year from double digits.  Presently I am sitting in the breeze watching him wearing his new watch, a backward hat, and pants-that should be too big for the four year old that's still ingrained in my mind-playing in the backyard I grew up playing in.  It's Spring Break and the former teacher in me as well as the mama I am knows how sacred this time is.  This blessed break before the final push to the end and we are spending the majority in the town where I grew up.  The one that, for a long time, held the status of hometown in my heart before it was replaced with the even smaller one I share with my four fellas.

Written in my notebook is a page full of bullet points and quotes ready to be set into sentences on this my day of restful work, but like it does so often to us all, nostalgia has swept in and taken my mind to another place so those carefully crafted notes will have to wait for another day.

It never fails to effect me, nostaligia that is.  Coming home or revisiting any places of your past self transports you to another time and another age.  Memories sweep in ranging from the sweet and precious to the hard and scary, all quite necessary in the growing up process even if somewhat unwelcome.  If you're like me, which hopefully some of you are or it's all a moot point or a moo point for those fellow friends fans, this is not an unknown feeling though the reactions that are brought to the surface are always up for grabs.  

Never do you know if a memory will make you smile or feel stupid, embarrass or delight, bring laughter or tears, give you regret or relief.  It's all a mix and for the emotional sort there's a chance for it to make or break your moment unless the Truth quickly floats to the surface and you see all of them for what they are in the details of the story God is writing in your life.  Hope is never far from the surface as the promises given permeate every ounce of the being of one who belongs to Him.

However, no future can come without a past, no ending has ever happened without a beginning.  As Oscar Wilde said, "Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future." and seeing the road to and fro gives glory to no other than the One who created the way.  

Next up on my Sunday mornings will be listening as our pastor starts a series on Ecclesiastes, the most modern of books though written thousands of years ago.  Thanks to a mother who grew up in the 60s and a white-mustang driving high school boy whose memories though surprising to some only bring smiles to my face, I developed an early love for "hippie" music and Ecclesiastes 3 is a well loved verse by many who might not know the source of the words.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

There truly is a time for everything. Sometimes simultaneously in big bursts of activity and emotion.  Sometimes in obvious sequential order like stairs leading to a new level.  Sometimes in the back and forth motion of a see saw that leaves you more than a little seasick with all the flips and flops.  Other times in quiet stages that move so slowly you are confident you are in the same place until you start to look around and see a completely different view or the same view with a completely different perspective.  But it's always at the hands of the Author who sees that big picture and knows the beginning, middle, and end and the whats that must drive you there.

I'll tell you a secret, there's a strong desire within my heart to walk with others through their moments, sitting and either literally or figuratively holding their hand as they process through their 'everythings' whether they bring joy or sorrow.  Then waiting and watching as they see and feel the way God changes them, see and understand the Hope that is brought through nothing but the work of Christ and the Spirit he left behind.  

This is an impossibility without diving in first, without testing the waters before convincing another that the leap is totally worth it, without tasting and seeing that it is good.  Through the widest range of emotions I can say, the water is rocky but perfect, the leap is scary but significant, and He is very, very good.

Pray for me, I'll be praying for you. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

sunday song

Nothing I Hold Onto
United Pursuit

I lean not on my own understanding,
My life is in the hands of the maker of heaven

I Give it all to you God, 
Trusting that you'll make something beautiful out of me

I will climb this mountain 
With my hands wide open
I will climb this mountain 
With my hands wide open

There is nothing I hold on to
There is nothing I hold on to
There is nothing I hold on to
There is nothing I hold on to

All Glory To God, Forever. Amen