Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Father's Love

He stares up at me with the big brown eyes that capture every inch of my heart and says, "Mommy, I love you."  I sweep him up into my arms and hold him tight, aware that every moment is slipping by faster than I would like and I want to savor this child like a sweet ice cream on a hot August day.  Something has shifted in me.  My dear friend said it.  She sent me a text that said, "I see a change in you ... you have this calm about you ... you are so free - calm, yet confident in what you need to do."  It's true.  Love is continuing to do its work - the work of transforming, the work of freeing.

Love.  That was my word for this year.  I prayed over it and chose it carefully.  I blogged about it as so many bloggers do when they find their word for the year.  Then I found myself missing the mark {of course} and that drove me deeper.  I relentlessly pursued love.  I determined to cut back until I made room enough to be available for Love.  I read "The Best Yes" and it prompted me further into paring down, scaling back, choosing well.  I revisited "Finding Spiritual Whitespace" and I remembered Shalom - the peace He longs to give me - peace that comes from wholenesss - wholeness that comes from finding my home in Him

just as I am.

Somewhere along the line something has slipped away and something else has taken its place - like a shifting of two pieces of silk gliding across one another.  My anxiety and need to control has drifted off and this calm interior has grown up in me stronger than ever.  I'm just more okay.  The best part of it is that I know it wasn't me doing the shifting.  I'm almost an observer to my own sanctification at times.

T.S. Eliot said "God breathes through us so completely, so gently, we barely feel it."  That's it.  

This friend of mine has a daughter.  When she dances ballet, her little five-year-old hands make these graceful movements that take your breath away and make you feel the world is alright in just that moment.  She twirls and flits around with a sheer love of dance and all things fine and beautiful.  Because she is completely in the dance she takes you with her.  Her father, the professional photographer, beams with pride as he captures every nuance of her performance with not one, but three cameras strategically placed around the auditorium.  He edits the film of her dance when they get home and puts it up on Facebook for the world to see with the caption, "I'm so proud."

It was then it hit me - a father's love is like that.

He loves her with his being and everything about him is focused on capturing all that she is doing.  He was proud of her before she ever set foot on stage - because a father's love isn't about our performances.  He loves her as is.  He doesn't want to miss one heartbeat.  Willing to make a display of himself for her sake, he ensures that he catches it all, soaks it in, documents it and shares it with everyone: "This is my daughter!  I love her!  I'm so proud of her!"

You get it, don't you, how our Father loves.  He captures the moments of your life.  He hones in on them as though you were alone on a stage, dancing your dance.  He doesn't want to miss a single second.  He wants to take you in and then He wants to show you off with great pride - not because of what you have done, but because He loves you so - with a Daddy love - just because you are His.  You aren't lost in the crowd.  You are singled out in His heart.  He just can't get enough of you.

Maybe your past is a bit like mine and your father wasn't able to reflect the consistency and safety that God extends to us.  Maybe your father was absent or abusive or neglectful or critical or just wanted you to be more than was reasonable.  Maybe your father was exactly what you wanted, but he wasn't what your mother wanted, so you ended up torn in two between parents who couldn't solve their differences.  When we live through human failures, we tend to lose sight of the pure goodness of God's love.  God starts to feel like He is an extension of our parents - broken, distant, uncaring, rejecting, demanding and even dangerous.  How can we turn to a God like that?  How can we not?  If we know He is God, we know we have no alternative but to follow Him.  If we fear He is cruel, rejecting or unpredictable, we have no option but to try to appease Him while keeping a safe distance.  We offer sacrifice but we dare not truly draw near.

I lived like that for years in my faith walk - coming close and then pulling back - leaning on myself for the harder things because leaning on Jesus seemed a bit too risky.  I kept the faith by going through the motions while my heart was divided.  I wanted connection, but feared rejection.

Yet it was for freedom that He set us free.  He simply won't settle for less.  We are settlers.  We are often willing to accept "good enough" rather than go through the hard places, feel the painful feelings and dig deeper into our longing for Him.  What if we cry out for Him and He never quenches that thirst?   Sitting back seems safer than risking.  We can live like that - running the Christian habitrail - Going to church, reading our Bibles, praying the prayers, serving in ministry after ministry ... yet never drawing near enough to find out if He is really, really good.  We keep the rules, but we neglect Him in the process

We can get on in this way, but He can not.  He died for our intimacy and He will patiently woo us into love with Him.  That's my story.  It's unfolding as we speak.  I'm learning to allow release.  I'm learning to risk.  I'm learning to do more than hope that He is setting up three cameras to catch my every move, all the while, He is not so far away as He cheers, "There she is!  That's my daughter!  Look at her!"

What if He's savoring me - like I'm savoring my sweet son.

Perhaps forever isn't nearly long enough to experience all the love we have to receive and give.
Maybe forever starts right now - as is - broken, imperfect and fully loved.  
Love is my word for the year.  I'll miss the mark, but He never will

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * 

Where are you today in the middle of this love story?  Are you coming to know His love more fully?  Or do you still fear He may leave you, judge you or reject you?  Have you risked getting closer?  Do you ache with longing for more of Him?  Please share here or on my Facebook Page or send me a private message if it feels too vulnerable to post a response ...
Let's encourage one another as we walk through what blocks us from greater intimacy, growth and freedom in Him. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Strength in Weakness

We were in church, singing this song which I have sung hundreds of times before ... and we came to this line:
I will find my strength in the shadow of your wings
I don't know how or why things sometimes evade me, but eventually, at the proper time, I have an "aha" moment and I see something I never saw before.  That's what happened in the middle of our musical worship.  As I sang that line, I saw myself, running into the shadow of His wings and I saw, clear as day, that He was hiding me in shelter, protecting me with His goodness and care.  It hit me then, that "my strength" IS HIM.  It won't ever be that I find my strength, like a car coming to a filling station and leaving to zoom around without the nozzle of gasoline pumping in.  I find my strength right there - in the shadow of His wings.  Near Him.  Under His care.  Fully connected.  Utterly dependent.  This is where I am strengthened because He is my strength.  

I think that up until that moment I never fully realized that the only thing I bring to the party is weakness.  I won't ever bring my own strength.  I will heal, yes, and I will find strength, yes.  But I will never be strong without Him.  Quite frankly, I wonder why I ever wanted it that way in the first place.  With him is so much infinitely better. 

I'm not saying we have no goodness within.  God made us all in His image - that means we are precious, unique, special enough to die for and beloved enough to indwell.  Despite that goodness, on my own I am weak and broken.  What is good in me was there by design or redeemed by His hand and even that is weak without Him. 

You know how God tells us in Romans not to be conformed to the pattern of this world?  Sometimes that pattern is so imperceptible.  We don't see how we have swallowed the culture around us and made it a part of who we are.  All around us messages clamor telling us to be strong and self-sufficient - sometimes even in our churches.  We come to believe we are supposed to overcome sin by our might.  We are saved by grace, but get out of the way sister, we've got this sanctification thing covered, thank you very much.  Yet, God is mindful of our frame.  He knows we are but dust (Psalm 103).  He doesn't expect more from us than is humanly possible. 

Instead of expecting us to muster our own goodness and strength, He is telling us, "Run to Me - find your strength in Me."

There's a line in another song we sing as Christians, starting in preschool Sunday School: 

Little ones to Him belong; They are weak, but He is strong

Those little ones, arent they all of us?  We are weak, but He is strong.  Why do we resist the truth of our own weakness?  I think it is because we fear.  We fear God will be like others who have hurt us or expected too much from us.  We'd rather clean up first and then approach Jesus than to come as we are and risk rejection or disappointment.  I spent years in the faith wondering why God seemed so far off when I was really just too hesitant to approach Him fully and freely.  My wounds kept me stuck.  My perfectionism blinded me to His abundant love and grace. 

The Apostle Paul boasts about God, "And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for strength is perfected in weakness' ... therefore I will boast of my weaknesses ... for when I am weak, then I am strong."  Paul found the secret.  When we let go of trying to achieve perfection, we are open to receive the grace of God - unmerited goodness and love freely given; we are free to be just as weak as we are.  Like a child in the safety of their loving parent's arms, we can relax and trust.  Ironically, this is when amazing things begin to happen.  From the ashes of our weakness, He brings inexplicable beauty. 

In the process of growing into trust, I have been led to encounter Bonnie Gray and have been going through her book, Finding Spiritual Whitespace (as those of you who come here regularly know).  This week I was reading a section of her book called "the Basement" where she recounts early abandonment and the longing for peace.  I had seen around the web this new movement of Bible Journaling.  All of a sudden while reading this chapter in Bonnie's book, I decided to journal about peace - the word Shalom in all its deeper meanings.  As I sat in the corner of a Starbucks, my legs folded and journal open in my lap, verses about peace began to enter my mind.  The process was slow and soothing.  I was worshiping God with my pen and paper as my mind was fixed on Him and His goodness. 

Shalom ... A Deeper Peace ... Real ... Wholeness ... Complete.  

It dawned on me that in wholeness we are lacking nothing.  He, the Prince of Peace, the God of Hope, can and does fill us with joy and Shalom as we trust in Him.  This dynamic healing process in my life has been just that - being weak enough to dare coming unglued in His presence and being filled with unexpected Shalom.  

But, trust didn't come easily or overnight.  As a matter of fact, it is still coming.  I'm a work in process, learning to find my rest in Him and to let Him into every recess of my heart.  So, tonight, I found a verse for us - for me and for you - a verse about the shadow of His wings.  I journaled this verse so we could ponder it and delight in the sweet truth it offers.  

Come run with me, into the safe shadows.  Come dwell in the love we find there.  
Come weak and broken sinners and find yourself singing 
as you dare to trust His goodness.  

^  ^  ^  ^  ^  ^  ^  ^  ^  ^  ^  ^

I encourage you to try your hand at scripture journaling or any other creative way you think of to abide in God and His Word.  Please share here or on my Facebook page.  I'd love to see your worship in art (which does not have to be Pinterest worthy at all).  As always, I'd love to pray for you - especially those of you longing to grow in trust and in coming to Him just as weak as you are

Linking up with 

Faith Barista (Bonnie)
Christian Mommy Blogger

Friday, February 6, 2015

Pick up Your Mat

Have you ever heard a call to something that made your knees knock - something that would require bravery you are more than sure you do not have?  I'm stepping out here into brave territory and writing from the heart once a week.  You might wonder why this personal "journal" is being written in such a public place as a blog ... It is because I imagine some of you may need to hear something of what I have gone through and how God can touch a heart to move a soul towards true freedom

A few years ago I "met" Bonnie Gray as I started reading her blog "Faith Barista."  A little over a year ago I started blogging and linking my posts to her weekly link-up.  We connected there and Bonnie extended me the privilege of being in a group of women who were a part of her book launch team for her memoir, "Finding Spiritual Whitespace."  If you haven't read the book yet, buckle up.  It's not spiritual cotton candy.  In it Bonnie invites us by way of her own self-disclosure to look at our own walk with Jesus and our longings and wounds so that we can find what it is He really holds out to each of us - Himself, and rest in our relationship with Him.

Now Bonnie is hosting a virtual book club which anyone can join in to be a part of a cyber-community going through her book together.  I have read Spiritual Whitespace myself, bought it for friends, recommended it to others, read it aloud to women I mentor and am walking through it with a dear soul-sister friend of mine now.  Every time I read that book it unearths me in the best of ways.

This week on her blog Bonnie shared a visit with her mentor and talked about a specific passage of scripture as it related to her feelings about longing for healing, but being attached to "the mat."

In John 5:5-8 we meet this man who has been laying by the pool for 38 years.  38 years!!  Jesus comes to him and asks him a question ... 
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.  Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”  “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”  Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

Jesus asks, "Do you want to get well?"  Isn't that a question for all of us?
I do want to get well, and yet I can fear, like this man, that healing won't be for me.  It's for the others who are ready to dive in and seem to cut in line to get their share.  It's for those more deserving.  It's for anyone but me.  "I have no one to help me," he says.  How often have I thought that very thing.  Feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders since around age four, I haven't always known what it is like to truly allow someone to help me.  Maybe there were people around this man who would have gladly helped him if he had only had eyes to see.  I know as I have healed, I have allowed more people to bless me and I have learned to be vulnerable enough to be incomplete, broken, needy and to receive.  When I was truly hurting, I needed you to see me as perfect. I held on to my self-sufficiency and my ability to do it all.  I longed for people to help me into the pool, but how could they when I wouldn't allow them near enough and they never saw my past my polished exterior to see my gaping need. 

Jesus said to him, "Get up!  Pick up your mat and walk."  At once the man was cured.  He never even got into the pool.  Isn't that amazing!  After 38 years of laying beside what he thought would be his solution, he finds complete healing without ever touching one drop of the water from that pool of hope.  Sometimes I'm laying around, like this man, though my "laying around" is way more busy and frenetic than actually sitting still somewhere for 38 years!  I, like him, have tried to put my hope in something I can see and touch.  Read more, pray more, lose weight, get to bed on time, drink more water, practice forgiveness ... and in comes Jesus, breaking unexpectedly into the traditional and saying, "Look over here, I am here and healing is with Me, not in these activities.  You are waiting for the wrong thing."

He tells me to pick up my mat.  This year I have spent time praying and thinking about what my "mat" could be.  Like this man at the pool, my mat is comfortable, though it keeps me stuck.  It is what I have known and relied upon while hoping for healing.  It is my poor substitute for God Himself:  Perfectionism, living up to external standards, caring what others think, fearing the future, fearing rejection - these threads make up my mat.  To take it up is to let it go and to live without both the hindrance and familiarity of my woundedness.  If only I were cured at once as this man was.  Maybe his 38 years of hopeful anticipation paved the way for a quick pass to healing.  In my case, the healing has come over time and with much sputtering. 

Tonight as I sit here, pouring my soul onto paper, I am sure of one thing.  There are two choices laid before me and you.  One is to stay by the pool, nursing our woundedness and hoping for healing, but fearing it will pass us by, all the while relying on what we have known and grown accustomed to - our mat.  The other is to take up our mat and walk into the healing journey Jesus is inviting us to take.  For me this means putting on blinders and losing my care about what others are doing and what they will think.  It means blazing new trails that bring me closer to Jesus.  It means living a life full of "no" answers so that I can say "yes" to time with Him and a pace that allows for me to feel emotions and be present with others who are on their own healing and growing journeys.  It means savoring my relationships (as Jesus savors His) and being authentic instead of conforming to the pattern of this world. 

How about you?  Are you feeling the knee-knocking call to bravery in the deepest places in your heart?  Do you long to pick up your mat?  Along with Bonnie, I encourage you to ask yourself, "What is my mat?"  and "What would it look like if I picked it up?"

I'd love to hear from you here or on my Facebook page.  I'd sincerely love to pray for you and support you as you courageously take up your mat. 
I plan to blog bold and brave once a week on Thursdays.
Come back and join me anytime

Beloved Brews LinkupLinking up with Bonnie (again)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Overcoming Homeschool Burn Out ... You Are Not Alone

I sat in my big green chair the other night, feeling like a failure.  In my right mind I knew I was tired, coming off a week of illness which had followed an amazing vacation away.  This was not the moment to measure my worth or my performance in any arena of life.  Still, I sat there, up later than I should be because my mind was buzzing with thoughts about the ways I hadn't lived up to what I wanted as a home educating mom.

It's funny how we create agendas for ourselves, set the bar at a certain height and then when we fail to meet our own self-imposed standards, we berate ourselves for not measuring up.  Why do we need these measurements?  I truly think it is fear that drives us into creating false expectations.  We fear letting go and trusting that our kids are going to be alright.  We worry that we aren't doing enough.  We burden ourselves as though we hold the key to their success and our efforts and input are going to make all the difference in their long-term happiness.  Truthfully we can get ourselves so worked up that we are burnt out before our feet even hit the floor to start the day.

As I sat there in my big green chair, I decided I ought to email all my inner craziness to a dear friend.  I told her she surely didn't need to respond - after all I was just venting and I'd be better after a good night's rest.  How little I realized I needed her response.  She lovingly answered.  {God is so good, you know?}  She took the time to jot down some wisdom about letting go and giving myself grace.  She reminded me how amazing my boys are in the ways that matter and how in her eyes I"ve had something to do with their love of learning and their sweet character.  I was so touched and encouraged.

The next day I opened my inbox to see a blog post from another friend.  According to her, February is burnout month for home educators.  I am just a statistic after all.  That, believe it or not, was very comforting.  My little middle of the night musings about how I've failed my boys are not unique.  Maybe you've had these dark moments too.  We all go through times when we want to throw the towel in. 

A few things saved me from my self-deprecating spiral ...

I didn't keep my thoughts to myself. 
Call a friend, email, text, put a sign in your yard ... do what it takes to let those who care about you know that you are tying a knot at the end of your rope and hanging on for dear life.  Don't fret that they will think you are less than amazing.  Honestly, most of them will be relieved to know there is one more mom out there who flounders sometimes.  Share your burden and you cut it at least in half.

I was reminded that I wasn't alone.
This is normal stuff - burnout.  It happens to the best of moms.  It's par for the course, so it will pass.  You will rise up again and do things with your kids that make you say, "Homeschool, baby!" all over again.

I stepped back to get perspective.
Remember your mission.  Why do you home educate in the first place?  What have you always loved about the way you learn together as a family?  What have your kids loved in the past?  Take some time to remember what is most important to you.  Sometimes this even means taking a day or two off of any structured school work just so you can step back, breathe, plan, rearrange and come back refreshed.  So you just took three weeks off for the Christmas season.  You can still take a day or two this week and in the long haul it won't matter one iota in terms of what you miss.  It may make a world of difference in what you gain. 

I recommitted to what matters most.
What matters to me is my boys' character and their relationships: with God, within our family and with others.  What matters beyond that is specific to each boy.  I remembered my priorities and I am still taking time looking over what I think we need to add, drop or rearrange to make the rest of this school year more of what I want it to be.  Home education, like flying, requires a constant adjustment to remain on course.  There is no such thing as autopilot. 

I took a breath.
Whatever you do, invest in recharging your battery.  You won't ever miss the little time you take off, but you'll make some memories you wish you could delete if you don't care for your burnout by filling your own tank and regaining perspective.  This can mean doing something fun instead of the same old, same old.  It could mean scheduling a field trip.  Maybe it's taking school out to the park or another setting.  Inviting another family to join you for learning one day can give you much needed time with another mom while giving your kids the connection they crave.  Sometimes we just have to allow the kids to pop movies in for part of the day while we step back and truly regroup by praying and planning. 

If you are a statistic like me and February hit you with burnout, be encouraged.  You'll make it through this.  Don't throw in the towel just yet - at least not until you try on a few of the suggestions here.

I'd love to hear from you and pray for you.  Leave a comment here or on my Facebook page

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.