Monday, January 5, 2015

When You Are Brave Enough to Choose Love

Once again the “One Word” frenzy is upon us as a new year rolls in.  You hear the buzz: “Have you picked a word for 2015?” and maybe you have chosen a word or maybe you just aren’t the word-picking type.  For most of my adult years I’ve been asking God to give me a Bible verse each year which He wants to work out in my heart and life.   I start in mid-December or sometimes much sooner and I pray and ponder different verses.  I know any one of them would be great, but I wait until one hits me just right.  Once this “One Word” thing started gaining momentum, I decided to tag that onto my verse for the year so now I ask God for a word to connect with my verse.  

This year I considered several dozen words. I thought about "confide" and "trust" and "rest" and "simplify" and "gentleness" - all of those would have done well - but then this word floated up to the top. I prayed for a verse and I sensed deeply God calling me to know His love and reflect it wherever I go - through the trust, rest, simplicity and gentleness that I find when I confide and abide in Him.

Then I found the verse: Eph 3:17-19 

So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

So I set off with a vision and intention to love well … and then real life set in.  You know, the life where people we live with are grumpy and suddenly love isn’t as rosy and idyllic as it seemed it would be.

It was then that I realized {once again} that this “One Word” stuff seems catchy, but it is not for the faint of heart.  If we pick a word, laden with meaning, and really long for God to bring its reality in our lives and hearts, we have to know there will be growth involved – and where there is growth, there are the inevitable growing pains.  

This Sunday our pastor said, “Christianity is a comforting religion, but it isn’t always comfortable.”  

Yeah, baby.  

I don’t want to shirk back from this word: Love.  I want to embrace it and that means I’m going to have to roll my sleeves up and be willing to hurt.  Like today, when my teen son {ay yi yi, when did it happen that I have a teen?} got upset that his workload for homeschool is “way too big” and decided to consume about a cumulative four hours of our day with a variety of pouting, bucking the system and just plain old fashioned grumpiness.  I rode it out like one of those people at the fair hanging on for dear life to the bronco ride.  Truly.  At intervals throughout the day he would repent and show maturity and say he was wrong and try his hardest, but then he would start up again.  I get it.  None of us want to come back to hard work after some sweet time off.  Still, the roller coaster ride just about did me in.  Which is probably why the sight of my darling husband coming in the door at the end of his hard day brought every suppressed frustration in my soul up to the surface and I threw a tantrum of my own about how hard the day was and how much I had lived through and how I just can’t juggle it all.  

It occurred to me in the midst of my little meltdown that I wasn't quite fulfilling my vision of "love."  It's true I hadn't blown up at my son as I was more prone to do under stress in years gone by, but all the end-of-the-day rant proved was I have miles to go in terms of growing into love.  And that's okay.  We don't get to start anywhere but right where we are and God knows that better than we do.  This learning to love thing (whether it's your word for the year or not) is really a journey and God is aware of what we bring to the party.  He's just glad we accepted the invitation and He's got a plan to soften the rougher edges as we go. 

It takes courage to pick a word – if you really mean it.  If you really, really crave the Lord and His goodness like I do then you go forward, brave like the heroes listed in Hebrews, but raw like the real people God exposes all throughout His word and history.  We’re all just clay footed people longing for the goodness of God and stepping out brave into new years with a hope that maybe, just maybe we can be a bit more like the words we choose.  

Growing in love might not be so pretty after all.  But, I’m not giving up.  I’m going to hang in with my amazing son when he is feeling and expressing what I am not willing to say – “I just don’t want to go back to school yet and I miss break!”  I am going to hang in with myself when I come unraveled at the wrong time and unload on my dear unsuspecting husband as he walks in the door.  I’m going to go back and retread the paths to those hearts that mean the most to me – to say “I’m sorry” and to patch up broken places.  I’m going to rest in the love God has for me and learn even more what it means to abide as a broken, imperfect, seeking sinner-saint, daily needing Him if I’m ever going to reflect Him at all.  

Each attempt to love shows me more and more what it means to depend upon Him.  It’s easy to plan to love in those misty moments of vision where all goes well and Mother Teresa’s got nothing on me.   It’s the going out from those private moments into real life with real people that makes the difference.   When the rubber hits the road, love gets dirty and learning to love means deeply trusting God afresh and leaning into Him more and more.  

It’s not sappy and it’s not as easy as it might seem, but one thing it won’t be is boring or fruitless.  God is in favor of love and through this year He will make me into a better lover and one who receives love better and more fully than I do today.  Of that I’m sure.  Growth always starts from the point where we realize how far we have to go.  Stepping out from there is simply brave.  So I’m going to be brave enough to choose love. 

What’s your word or longing for the coming year?  I sure would love to hear. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Finding Peace in the Busiest Time of the Year

It's Advent and we're only a few weeks away from Christmas.  Usually, for our family, with one December birthday to celebrate and my long "to do" list of how to make this the most spiritual Christmas season ever, we are swamped knee-deep in activity, both in and out of the home.  All good, mind you, but still, a swamp by any other name can still bog us down and threaten to drag us under. 

What's different about this year

I've been asking myself that over the past few weeks as I've been feeling like a witness to my own life.  I think I've narrowed down a few key things and if they helped me.  If they helped me, they are bound to help someone else ...

First of all, somehow, without my own consent, I've started keeping away from social media for the most part.  I know that's a big blogger no-no.  I mean, if you want people to read your blog, you have to pump up the promotion on Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook, Instagram and while you are at it, drop index cards with your blog address in the bags at the checkout lines ... But, something told me to step back and it was that whisper - maybe even the same whisper Elijah heard in the wind - and I listened.  This time I listened without fear of losing.  I'm just not going to stay the course for the sake of keeping people reading my blog.  I want to write from the life I live.  That means I have to have a life.  Sometimes that means I just need a break. 

Deeper down, somewhere in the ever strengthening recesses of my heart I have known that I needed to step back.  If God is calling me to slow, and I persist because "that's what bloggers do" then I'm basically going against what I hear God inviting me towards.  These days I just don't want to do it my way.  I want to follow those deeper and more risky, against the grain calls of the Lord no matter where they lead (for those of you who read the Bible, you know that His call often leads to desert places for a while before anything visibly profitable happens).  I've taken an unexpected break from blogging.  I didn't decide not to blog, I just haven't had the time to put into the writing, creating images to go with the writing, etc.  So I stopped for a week ... or two ... which turned into four.  It is freeing to be able to back off in order to come back refreshed with something to say. 

As I dropped off of social media - from spending maybe an hour to two hours a day (not counting the two hours plus when I'm actually writing a post and embellishing it) to about five to ten minutes a few times a week, I've gained some free time and a bit of space to myself.  Sweet exchange. 

Secondly, I have been reading "The Best Yes" by Lysa TerKeurst.  Such a great book!  I have really internalized the messages I have been growing into for years but not quite solidifying.  The wisdom and personal sharing made this book one of my favorites.  Thoughts like, "Every decision has a direction and every direction has a destination" gave me focus when thinking through my own "yes" and "no" answers over the past few months.  Those "no" answers are hard for me.  In order to say "yes" to the best things, and to get to the place where this season is truly a joy, I have had to say "no" to thousands of things.  Literally.  Each declined opportunity I watch go on by just like watching a train leave the station while I sit firmly planted on the platform waiting for my own train to come.  How many times have I gotten on any train that opened its doors to me, just because I couldn't wait, didn't want to disappoint or felt it was something I could fit in without sacrificing anything? 

Every "yes" has a cost (or two or three) and I am counting the cost more effectively these days and making sure I am giving my "best yes" instead of just being a "yes girl."  Besides all this refined decision making, our whole family purged one item per person every day in November, so we learned the art of letting go and only keeping what is beautiful, meaningful or purposeful.  And, oh, girlfriend, there is so much more left to purge!  I'm on a purging binge if there really is such a thing!  It's so liberating and it simplifies life in the best of ways.  Let others have the things we aren't using while we appreciate and use the things we keep.

Letting go of much and saying "no" a whole bunch has left space which has created a sense that we have options.  We don't have to rush and there is plenty of time to connect and do what really matters to us.  As Ann Voskamp says, "Rushing is for amateurs." 

Finally, I'm seeking to be true to myself and what God is specifically fitting me to do.  I'm applying that to all areas.  In our home education, we follow on specific approach - Charlotte Mason.  I've been a hugely devoted follower and have read most of her books as well as books about her and her method.  I've been in Charlotte Mason discussion groups, taught others how to implement her methods and principles, etc.  At the end of the day I've figured something out.  You can let a method or philosophy become supreme in your life until you are adjusting everything to fit into it instead of letting the pieces that fit come into who you are individually and collectively as a family. 

It's subtle, but whenever we start holding up an external and then adjusting ourselves to fit into the mold, we can lose our bearings in the process.  So, I stepped back.  The group (whom I love) is studying a book that isn't a priority for our family right now, so I took a hiatus from attending the meetings.  I've been studying my boys and observing their unique needs and strengths and considering what things I need to do to help them grow.  Instead of looking out, I'm looking inward and upward.  It feels good to draw back and assess and not to measure myself against anything.  I am just seeking God and making choices to be true to the person He made me to be.  I'm following my true North. 

We have forgone a whole lot of our usual Advent flurry: 
We aren't doing a Jesse tree this year.  We put up the decorations a week later than we expected to do.  We aren't planning a giving activity for every day of Advent.  Those traditions are great, but they aren't a fit for this year.  I feel okay letting them pass us by this once - and I'm a way more pleasant mom and wife as a result.  Stress and worship don't mix and I've tried to force so many "good things" into this season in the past that I've burnt myself out and missed the heart of Christmas in the process. 

Instead of scheduling our Advent and planning in all sorts of spiritual to-dos, we are spontaneously giving.  We are talking a lot about God and His coming.  We are continuing our Bible Studies and we are going through an Advent prayer book.  We are reading various stories which highlight this season - but even in that we are taking them as they fit rather than compulsively working them into our week.  This week we sang at the nursing home with a group of local home educating families.  We have had friends over for tea.  I'm able to offer to have a friend send her children to me one day a week so I have a bigger brood to educate and care for that day.  I have the space to give from my heart because I cut out the online time drain, I focused on my "yes" and "no" answers and I am being true to myself and God.  

If you are feeling harried and frenetic this Advent, I encourage you to step back and choose well.  Pick the ways you can give your best "yes" answers.  That may mean giving a whole lot of "no" answers in the process.  Be true to yourself and let go of comparing, keeping up or even seeking to mold into something wonderful that isn't a fit for you after all.  Find the peace and joy of Advent by simplifying and allowing God - the God who broke through history for you - to guide you into His unhurried way.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Be Anxious for Nothing

A conversation with my dear friend this week brought up the thought – are we more anxious these days or do people just talk about it more?  Surely in our age with wars going on around the world, economic and political uncertainty and the barrage of information about situations over which we have no control, we have cause for more anxiety.  Our personal lives add stress and cause for fretting.  Yet, God’s provision and promises do not expire.  They weren’t for “back in the day when Jesus walked.”  They are for you and for me today in this moment and age. 

Surely there are many causes for anxiety and I never want to minimize the reality of panic attacks, anxiety disorders and overall fearfulness which can come as a result of old traumas, recent grief or physiological imbalances.  These conditions can plague wonderful, God-honoring Christians and they aren’t a sign of weak faith that merely needs to pray harder, serve more, or memorize more verses of Scripture.  The reality of anxiety in our lives has many roots.  While holding that truth in our minds, let’s look at what God invites us into.  

As we walk through Philippians, we come to this verse:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Php 4:6)  

The word for anxious in Greek is merimnaƍ.  It actually means “to take thought of,” “to be troubled with” or “to seek to promote our own interests."   God is telling us not to dwell on anything that would cause us to be caught up in fear.  We don’t need to be troubled.  We can come to God in prayer.  

You may wonder what the difference is between prayer and supplication.  The original word "prayer" as it is used in this verse means setting aside a special place to talk to God as if in a sanctuary.  The word supplication means asking and seeking.  I love the image God is painting here.  He wants us to set aside a private place and time to come to Him so we can present what otherwise troubles us.  We have an invitation to a personal sanctuary in and with Him. 

I was so intrigued to find that the meaning of “anxious” revealed a seeking of our own interests.  There is a selfishness which comes from fear that causes us to hoard and rely on ourselves instead of trusting God’s lavish provision.  We lean towards anxious self-reliance when we don’t trust in God.  In Matthew 6:25-34 God reminds us we don’t need to think of what we will wear or eat, how long we will live or what will happen tomorrow.  We can rest because God knows our needs.  

Elsewhere Jesus tells Martha (Mary’s sister) that she is “careful” (anxious) and troubled of many things.  He is encouraging her to trust Him and abide with Him instead of fearfully flitting about getting her external world in order.  Sometimes it feels as though we can contain anxiety by ordering our world.  Do you feel that way?  We fear the disorder because it makes us vulnerable.  Being vulnerable makes us open to hurt.  Keep it tidy, stay busy, and we don't have to risk.  We don't have to feel.  Oh, I get you, Martha.  I've been there done that.  

God offers something greater and simultaneously harder.  In order to find peace, we have to risk intimacy which means relinquishing control and allowing ourselves to come unglued before Him.  In this quiet, private place of entreating, we can learn to be safe and pray.  It means letting go and that's no small invitation.  He is patient and He waits for our readiness.  I have had to heal much from pains I held near and couldn't relinquish.  My internal, unseen wounds plagued me and held me back.  Let me assure you, God is relentlessly gentle.  He won't give up.  Never.  He'll hang out, hang on, hang in.  He's here even when every emotion in your body tells you elsewise.  Imagine the person whom you trust the most in the world and then amp that care and safety on spiritual steroids.  That love.  That patient love is His for you.  Come as you are and cast your cares on Him because He cares for you.  

If you stand at the edge of the pool, longing to swim, to go deeper, to be known and simultaneously safer than you ever imagined, yet you can't bring yourself to jump into His arms, ask someone to stand with you, hold your hand and jump in together.  Sometimes it takes that willing lifeguard to help us off the edge of our self-reliant hesitations.  Jump in.  The water is warm.  You will not drown in anything but love

We can experience such safety that we brim with thankfulness – not necessarily for what has passed, but for what we trust, in faith, is yet to come as we surrender to Him all that concerns us.  Certain of His goodness, we can know that no harm will come to us even though we surely will endure hurts.  We can present our requests and know that God who loves us will meet our needs.  As a matter of fact, His Word promises He provides more than we can ask or imagine.  

Today, as you go through your day, stay tuned into your heart.  When you find yourself fearful or anxious, pause.  Go to a quiet place, set aside for you and Jesus (even if that is the bathroom while your children are knocking at the door) and present your requests from the place in you that trusts Jesus, knowing God will surely meet your deepest needs. Oh, let Him in.  Take the chance to be more intimate than you have dared so far in your walk up to this moment. 

I pray you found a breath of fresh air here and a moment to reflect and recharge your battery.  I do love hearing from you.  If something you read here touched you, please share with me.  Come join the conversation at the Hearts Homeward Facebook pageLet me know how I can pray for you or if something I wrote here touched you. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Prayer Infused Parenting


It’s a given we pray.   

Or is it?   

The disciples wisely asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  We need to learn.   God makes it extremely easy to approach Him – the God of the universes.  He paved the way – not just on the cross.  Oh, on the cross, yes.  But, He paved the way from the beginning.  He made us for connection.  He is relational and He created us as participants in, responders to and dwellers in His love.  So, in some ways, abiding is prayer at its raw essence.  You know when you know someone for years and you love them well and there is comfort and security in their presence?  Words become somewhat unnecessary.  Just being together is communion.  

God draws us to Himself, yet we still need to learn, for our own sakes, how to enter into His presence and to trust Him well.  We need to learn how to approach Him like a Father and how to pray over every little thing.   

Throughout His Word, God is leading you to come to Him, to share your heart in the midst of all the range of emotions and experiences of your life.  He calls you His friend and invites you to confide in Him.  Jesus modeled intimacy with the Father and spent time alone withdrawing to pray.  Paul encourages to pray on all occasions, to present your requests, to pray for the saints, pray in your anxiety, pray with thanksgiving.  He constantly calls you to prayer.  He may be calling all, but know that He is calling you.  Don't miss the intimacy of this invitation.  

You may feel like you have been given a checklist and God is saying, “Check off the prayer box.”  It's not like He has told you pray at all times and in all places and then peers “down from heaven” while you are at the grocery store with two in the cart and one running ahead down the aisle and says, “Uh oh, she’s not praying.  Tsk, Tsk, Tsk.”  

You laugh, but the truth is that somewhere in the recesses of our hearts, we often think of God as being less than happy with us and way more demanding of us than He is.  Psalm 103 assures us He is mindful of our frame.  He knows.   

He knows what you are made of because He made you.  He calls you to a depth and connection in prayer, but He will bring you there.  He knows you cannot muster a good and effective prayer life without Him.  Hear His  assurance to you: “though you do not know how to pray, the Spirit intercedes for you with groans you cannot understand.”  He’s got you covered.

It does matter how we view God when we pray.  Not in the way that some say.  It isn’t a “faith” that makes God work for us.  We don’t change His mind or make things go a certain way.  He isn’t a vending machine or a short-order cook.  He isn’t beholden to our commands or demands.  Prayer isn’t an order given to God so that we get more comfort or our requests get met.  Prayer allows us to enter into His presence as we are, learning to see Him for Who He Is.  In this process we are transformed and our prayers become echoes of our connection to Him.  

The prayer of faith avails much.  I’m not making that up.  Jesus said so.  When we pray in faith, we are entering into the reality where Jesus lives.  We are believing in Him and His goodness and His love for us.  Faith involves knowing Him as He is and believing that He will do what is best.  Prayers of faith do not guarantee circumstances will change, though they often do.  Prayers of faith guarantee we will change – our perspective, our priorities, our passions – and through that inward change God moves mountains.  

My prayer life has not always been constant or deep.  I have struggled with prayer at times when I drowned in doubt and pain.  I have had seasons when I felt my words hit the ceiling, bounced around and rattled out into space with no response.  I have been bone dry and parched, aching for His touch and wondering why I felt so lost and empty.  If you are longing, I understand.  It is such a painful and sometimes private place to be.  Over time I have learned that longing is a gift.  It has rarely felt like a gift in the moments when I experienced unmet needs and barrenness where connection and comfort would have been my preference.  

One treasure of prayer God has given me came through unexpected places.  I have a dear sister friend who walks through valleys and celebrates joys with me.  She and I have prayed for our sons together regularly almost daily by phone for years.  We used to be neighbors and now we live in separate states.  God wove our lives together for many reasons – one of which has been to pray hard over our boys together.  We get the privilege and the responsibility as moms to pray our children through life.  We can pray blessings over them, pray for their needs and pray protection around them.  I strongly encourage you, no matter the age of your children, to draw near to a sister friend and commit to praying for your children together.  

Beyond praying for our children, we need to pray with our children.  Children learn to do what they experience and witness.  When prayer centers our home, they know.  When we reach to God with trust, they watch.  When we lead them into His presence, they come.  

Wherever you are in your prayer life, there is room for growth and increased intimacy with God.  His riches and goodness are too great to fathom.  We will never come to the end of Him and His love.  Come as you are and step into His presence.  Talk with Him, share your burdens, lift your praises, present your requests and give thanks.  Pray with your children, not just at set times.  Walk with them in the pattern of prayer. 

I would love to hear your prayer stories ... prayers answered, longings still unsatisfied, prayer warriors in your life ... Beyond that I would love to pray for you.  Share your request here or on the Hearts Homeward Facebook Page and I will be honored to pray for you. 

This post was shared on Christian Mommy Blogger, Renewed Daily and The Weekend Brew

Monday, November 3, 2014

3 Habits for November

So, I'll be getting the rest of my {ahem} 31 posts for October {shhhh ... don't tell that I didn't finish them all in October} out in the next few weeks.  I was going to post one today and then I thought I really wanted to share what I am doing in November in case it inspires any of you to do the same.  The good news is that I gave myself the grace to let those posts go when life trumped writing.  I let the important rule over the urgent and figured the timing of their release will fit you as well as me.  It is most important that we live well and then pour out from the well-lived life rather than meeting a deadline and becoming less of who we are called to be in the process ... But, I digress ... back to the reason I put those posts on hold ...

I'm taking on three simple habits this month.  Three little life-changing habits to help fix my eyes upward, make my life more intentional and give me a heart of gratitude in the season of Giving Thanks.  Controversial as it has become, Halloween has passed us by now.  Even when the holiday seemed more innocuous, I've always been glad when it is behind us because it means we all get to start focusing on gratitude - collectively.

Habit #1 - I'm purging.
Actually our whole family is purging one item a day in November.  I've even recruited some friends who are doing this with their families as well.  There's nothing like a group effort to make us all commit and feel a bit of camaraderie and accountability.

I've heard a lot of rumbling lately about how cool it is to be a minimalist.  I want to say it is awesome and I appreciate so much of the spirit behind simplicity and owning less.  I recently read this post that talked about simple living not always having to do with having less or doing less.  It has to do with intentionality.  Letting your yes be yes and your no be no.  I've written plenty about that, but also it goes deeper.  What Lysa Terkeurst calls our "Best Yes" involves truly choosing well.  I've decided I'm not going to be a minimalist.  I'm going to be an "intentionalist."  I'm coining it here.  You are among the first to hear the term.
Let's do it.  Let's be intentional.