Thursday, December 12, 2013

Deliverance at Christmas

When words don't come eloquently, they're just not expressed. Thoughts spin in my mind but never get recorded. So many times I think that I wrote a thank you or articulated my gratitude to someone only to realize it was only in my head. I play things out over and over again and then get distracted by the busyness of life. It's difficult to align my thoughts of appreciation with intentional words.

For some reason, when our thoughts are bothersome, there is no hesitation to find the perfect way to express those feelings. In our home, we haven't been able to plan well these past months. My husband's employer has dictated our calendar more than usual and it has swept us up into a dizzy of worry. Complaints are uttered easily to our family and friends, painting the picture that we are petitioning others to support a declaration that "life is not fair".  It's natural, I suppose, to grumble and whine when expectations aren't met and someone else seems to be calling the shots.

For weeks our minds have been mulling over what today would look like. My husband and I have worried and wondered and grown frustrated about what might be. When information came home a few weeks ago that our 8-year-old's school Christmas program was the same night as our 11-year-old's band concert, it wasn't only the logistics of the evening that set our minds spinning. Concern wasn't just over how we would get from one school to the other on time. We didn't even know if their dad would be in town for these important events.

Part of the problem is that we have been here before. We know what life is like when an employer takes control of your calendar and family life is threatened. How are we back here again? Why is God allowing a season to replay itself over again when He had saved us from it previously? Our eyes were on our problems and our fears. Despite the fact that God had delivered us in the past at just the perfect timing, we lacked faith and trust that He would do it once again.

Deliverance... bondage... grumbling and whining... sounds like a story similar to the Israelites.

A short time ago, we were informed that a January 1st deadline was pushed back a couple months. While that means the crazy is extended a little longer, it also means that the added stress during an already intense season of holiday happenings was greatly reduced. We have been worried and irritated and angry despite the fact that God tells us not to be. Yet He appears to have delivered us in His perfect timing once again.

Despite our rotten attitude and lack of gratitude... deliverance again.

God proves Himself faithful over and over again even though we are not. The Creator of the Universe has a BEST plan for our lives. We need to trust Him that He cares about the details.

Today, my girls have some important productions. Sure, "A Martians Christmas Musical" and a band concert aren't life altering moments... but to our girls, their dad's presence is. Their dad is home today and details seem to be taking care of themselves for the scheduling conflict between the schools. Why did we waste so many hours on worry?

I am overwhelmed with gratitude today. As my girls fill their schools with music and we take pictures and applaud, I want to remember. As I sit by my husband tonight, thankful that my girls don't have an absent father, I will choose to remember. Our Heavenly Father is not absent. He is present in every detail of our lives. That's what Christmas is all about. He left Heaven to become one of us so He can share in all of our burdens.

It's so easy to run from one obligation to the next... without a thought of God's goodness in that moment. I don't want to be so inundated with the busyness of the season that I am like one of the nine lepers. It may be natural to gripe and complain. Going from one event to the other without a thought to God's gifts might be normal but God tells me I am to be different; set apart.

In the midst of normal Christmastime activities, God wants to give us the extraordinary. We just need to keep our eyes on Him... not our problems. As we reminisce in the future over photographs from this season, it will be fun to discuss the special moments. More than that, however, it will be exciting to recount His promises and deliverance in our life. Through remembering, hopefully, our eyes will look to God instead of our problems in the future. Maybe then we will be delivered from our grumbling and worry.

Tonight, I'm being intentional to utter the words and thank God for His goodness.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

No More Perfect Holidays (HAH Blog Hop)


Norman Rockwell, Freedom from Want, 1943


Thanksgiving is exactly one week away. Hands down, it was my absolute favorite holiday asa kid. That's not a big surprise considering my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins usually gathered around a cake to celebrate my birthday each year on this national holiday. (I might also possibly teach my children that the reason our nation celebrates a day of giving thanks is because I was born.) Maybe it is because this one day each year I could count on my tongue savoring the flavor of sweet potatoes topped with melted marshmallows and butter. Most likely, however, it was the fact that I was surrounded by loved ones, young and old, to offer thanks for the abundance of blessings in our lives.

These days, with Christmas music filling retail stores long before trick-or-treating ever occurs, it's difficult to focus just on a day designated for counting blessings. Growing up, my dad was insistent that EVERYTHING Christmas waited until our short drive home from my grandparents. In a way, I'm grateful he did. Even the holiday television specials were a treat because we only watched them once a year. All of that said, I now have trouble decideing if I'm irritated or elated when Christmas music flows from the mouths of my babes to my ears... in July.

NEVER did I ever envision the holidays as they are now. For some reason, this Norman Rockwell favorite encapsulates my ideal holiday. Maybe it does for most of the world and that is why it is so famous. Thanksgiving and Christmas, in my opinion, should be a time for great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins to gather and share the day together... with nowhere else to be. In my mind, the moment could last forever. Great conversation intermingled with playing games and cards... I'd even mix in singing and children putting on theatrical productions (because that is what I always did)... what could be better than that? My life was a picture of perfection as a child... maybe because my parents sheltered me... I don't know... I just know that I'd go back to those days in a moment. They are my ideal.

The year after I lost my paternal grandpa, we said goodbye to both my dad and father-in-law all in a matter of months before we said hello to our rambunctious youngest daughter. To this day, I stuff my confused emotions over the fact that she will never know her Grandpa and Papa. If the holidays are always lacking the patriarchs of the family, how can we ever hope to achieve the beauty portrayed in this picture? I know there is still much to appreciate in the life as she knows it. It's just not my ideal. We will never have the PERFECT Christmas I had always envisioned.

Irving Berlin's classic may find us dreaming of a White Christmas but NEVER can it fulfill my deepest longings. I suppose that is why the holidays still twist my emotions in a painful way. I'm pining over unrealistic expectations. There may not be a perfect holiday here on earth, but one day, we will have an ideal Christmas... eternity in Heaven.

I had my mom hunt down a copy of an album my dad like to listen to. (In particular, the January that his dad died.) Thanks, mom. Now I was able to find a recording of it on You Tube. The first 1:12 of the video, and than again at about 8:00 until the end, encapsulates what I'm trying to remember in these years since my own dad's passing. I just need to embrace the true meaning of each holiday.

I can picture my dad listening to the record and can't wait to be reunited again! We're going Home for Christmas... really Home for Christmas... going home to celebrate God's love!




(Today is the Third Thursday of the month. Time for the Hearts at Home Home Blog Hop! This month's topic: No More Perfect Holidays. Head over to Jill's blog to see what other women have to say.)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Knock it Off! (Hearts at Home Blog Hop)

HAH-Blog-Hop-graphic (3)

I sat on the park bench fighting my natural tendency to judge. Invited for a play date, we discussed our mothering stories. As the tales of others were weaved in to our conversation, the temptation to fit each one into my own little box was irresistible.

Every child should have a consistent early bedtime.

Families shouldn't fill their schedules to a level of crazy.

There are laws for children riding in vehicles. It's simple really: follow the rules.

I had to tell myself to STOP.


I am a mom to three beautiful little girls. Each one is very different. My opinions on mothering have changed drastically in the eleven years I've been doing this job.

Early on in my life, before I even earned the title of "mommy", it was my belief that I knew well how to raise children. Not just my own (who would come in the future) but those of others as well. When my compliant, laid-back firstborn entered the world, my parenting philosophies were reinforced.

I rocked at motherhood.

I knew what I was doing.

Others apparently did not.

Maybe they just needed a good example.

Then daughter #2 came into our life.

And now we have 3! (With each daughter added to our family, their personalities morphed to reveal a little more of myself.)

Oh, how I wish I could apologize to each and every mother I ever frowned upon!

It is one of my high hopes that others do not judge me. After all, I now know that I am failing miserably as a mom. My heartfelt prayer is that God will work in spite of all my mistakes. No longer do I believe Mother knows best. (Although that is a line from a song from the Disney movie, Tangled. I love to sing it to my girls. The same line. Over and over again.)

Here's my new parenting philosophy: God gave my children their personalities. It is my responsibility to help shape them into the well-adjusted adult He designed them to be. (Or not-so-well-adjusted because I've sent them running to a counselor's office. My husband says we will screw them up. He encourages me that it's all about damage control.). Really, much of it is beyond my control. Ultimately, God gave me these children to sharpen my rough edges. I believe He desires to transform me through my children.

For that reason (along with Jill Savage's book, No More Perfect Moms), I've decided to Knock it Off! I will actually verbally tell myself to "Stop judging others." "My way is not the only way." (And there are many other phrases of the sort.)

Yes, I actually talk to myself. I realize that may cause you to judge me. I'm just hoping you'll agree to Knock it Off as well.
 
HAH2126 Knock it Off FINAL
I’ve signed the Knock It Off commitment. Will you?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Slowing Down to Rest: Mark 1:35

"Before daybreak the next morning,
Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray."
- Mark 1:35

If Jesus needed to pull away from the world to spend time with our Heavenly Father, why oh why do we think we don't?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Slowing Down to Rest: It Takes Work Sometimes

I have to wonder if I am only creating more chaos for myself. Today, as we celebrate our middle daughter's eighth birthday (early), I can't help but contemplate my choices. When an upcoming birthday party consumes all my time and energy, it has to be reconsidered.

Growing up, birthdays were simple. I remember sitting in the church pew debating between my favorite restaurant choices. This annual milestone meant mom and dad were splurging on a rare treat: going out-to-eat. It was truly a special occasion.

I don't recall ever pining over what I missed as I attended the birthday parties of my school classmates. Somewhere along the way, however, I decided my children were going to have grand celebrations. Another year of life beckoned a party with all of our family and friends.

Now that my oldest is eleven, party planning has honestly become a bit of a chore. She has had celebrations (often two) for every year of her life. Add two more girls to the mix and this momma is losing her creativity. Unfortunately, our medium girl has her birthday the latest month of all our children. Not only is she sandwiched between our oldest and youngest in the birthing order, her due date was stuck right between the crazy start of school and the busy holiday rush.

"She justifiably will have middle-child-syndrome!" was the response I gave to my friend's inquiry on the high stress level this week. I can have a home that says, "welcome" to our guests. That isn't my worry. Everyone invited is coming to help Jaycie know she is loved and celebrated. Food can be purchased and even a cake for that matter. It's the future adult-child casting judgment that was wreaking havoc on my emotions. I'm worried she will see pictures one day and wonder why she always appeared to get the short-end-of-the-stick.

So why bother with a party anyway? Am I creating selfish little monsters who demand their moment of glory? Are we begging for a shower of presents every year when our house is already overloaded? Is it worth the time, energy and money to throw this type of a shindig every year (x3)?

After some soul-searching, I'm jumping in with both feet for today's celebration. Today we remember. Once a year (although it should be constantly in a much simpler way), we take time out of our lives to say thank you to God for our daughter's life. There is so much to be grateful for.

So why the big fiesta? It's not about the presents. I don't care if people come empty-handed or bring a candy bar to show their love. Simply put, we want those who do this life with us to reminisce with us. We want our girls to know they have a community of people to count on. In the Bible, God's people set aside times for feasting. The feast was a reason to gather. The purpose was to remember God's goodness.

This past week felt a bit like I was doing anything but slowing down to rest. Today, with a cake in the fridge, a DVD of this past year put to music set to watch, and a home that can welcome our community even with the threat of rain, we are celebrating. We are thanking God surrounded by many of those we do life with.

Sometimes it takes a lot of work in order to be able to rest. Keeping the purpose in mind helps us to stay focused. Resting today... surrounded by those I love... celebrating all our gifts... it is all worth it.

Maybe REST isn't so much about sleeping, zoning out, or stopping all activity. Could it be that rest is more about redefining our purpose? Does rest help us become more intentional?
 
"This feast will help you remember, like a mark on your hand or a reminder on your forehead. This feast will remind you to speak the Lord’s teachings, because the Lord used his great power to bring you out of Egypt.  So celebrate this feast every year at the right time." - Exodus 13:9-10


 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Slowing Down to Rest: Five Minute Friday (Write)

Five Minute FridayToday I'm linking up with Lisa-Jo (from (in)courage) for a Five Minute Friday. The writing prompt for today is the word "write".
 
 


I’m working on slowing down. My goal is to achieve some rest for my weary soul. One way I am doing this is by setting aside time to write. At times, it is with pen and paper. At other moments I just allow my fingers to fly across the keyboard pouring out every thought in my mind. There is something freeing about taking this spaghetti dish of thoughts in my mind and sorting them out with written words.

Did you know some schools are choosing to no longer teach cursive writing? My heart drops at the thought. One of the greatest gifts I know of is the speed of writing thanks to that technique. Many of my prayers to God are in cursive. Note upon note of encouragement and gratitude flow in that way.

While I embrace the keyboard and all that computers offer us, we need to quit rushing. Taking time to write and express ourselves is one way to slow down. I’m thankful my children are still learning this art. I’m not looking for us to pull away from the world into seclusion. It’s just that forward progress doesn’t mean we need to get rid of everything in the past that worked.

You will often find me with a journal and pen on hand. Rarely do I go anywhere without it. My girls are following this trend. Sometimes it’s just because they love to draw but by soul does flips when I find their written words… especially when they are expressions from their deepest parts to God’s ears.

The written word is a gift.
 
How do you take time to slow down and find time to write?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Slowing Down to Rest: Waking up Earlier

In effort to slow my day down, I’m waking up earlier. More often than not, I’m tempted to sleep away the quiet of the morning. Even though I know the early hours are my most productive time. There have been seasons in life which I’ve used this time for exercising. During other periods, I’ve chosen to express myself through writing in the wee hours of the day. Still, many days I’ve chosen to dive into the tasks on hand such as laundry and dishes and all there is to do. Thankfully, I’m slowly learning that the most precious hours of my day are wasted on any of these.

Just this morning I wanted to sleep in mainly because I didn’t want the wheels to start spinning yet. Once they get started, it’s hard to get them to stop. I knew the thoughts I planned to communicate today so I turned off the alarm prematurely, getting out of bed and down the stairs. Grabbing my journal and Bible, I was soon immersed in the very thing I needed more of. And honestly, I can never get enough (although I don’t always live that way).

I need to start every day renewing my friendship with God. “I am worn” were some of the words I spilled out to my Savior this morning. As I poured out my heart to Him through prayer and read Scripture so I could hear Him speak to me, I was filled.

I’ve heard this song many times before on the radio but it struck me a chord in me recently.



"When I’m worn…"
"When the weight of this world is too much…"

I need to realign my thoughts with God's.

"Redemption wins."
"He can mend a heart that's frail and torn."

"I'm worn so Heaven come and flood my eyes." It’s in spending time focusing on my relationship with Jesus each day that I have the strength to continue on. I don’t think it matters if it is first thing in the morning or late at night. It just matters that we give Him the best of our day.
 
When do you find time to work on your relationship with our God?

"Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine." - Proverbs 3:9-10 (ESV)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Slowing Down to Find Rest: A Season to Grieve

For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet 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

 
I needed a time to grieve. Deep inside, I knew there was pain I had yet to sort through. If only life would cooperate long enough and give me time to stop and reflect, I wouldn’t have had a morning where the floodgates broke open.

It had felt like every day was a battle to keep my emotions at bay. My job was to comfort our girls in the loss of our family pet. But I was failing. Evidence came from the mouth of my preschooler, hands covering her ears. “Don’t talk about Pup. It makes mommy cry!”

I knew my tears had to stop. The last thing I wanted to do was stir up unsettled emotions in my children because I had yet to cope with my own. However, life kept prodding us on and stuffing my feelings was the only I knew to make forward progress.

Every time I see a dog my heart aches. As the girls and I set out for the bus stop each morning, I have a sense of loss. Our dog was Lassie-like and wanted to be with us to see everyone off for the day and welcome them home.

On this particular morning (well over a month since we said goodbye to our furry friend), two wet, shaggy dogs came running across the street straight into our garage. Living near a busy intersection, my mind immediately went into pet rescue at the sight of them. I was torn between needing to get my daughter to the bus stop and knowing what I would want someone to do if it were my Pup.

Not wanting to see those sweet little animals in the middle of a busy street, I corralled them into the safety of our fenced-in backyard. My daughters and I headed to the street corner just in time to turn around and see one of the puppies escaping. I left my two young daughters at the bus stop to attend to the lost dog. Thankfully, I got the animal back to safety and myself out to meet the bus in the nick of time. (Despite the fact that my daughter was reprimanded by the bus driver because her mother instructed her to cross the street before the stop sign arm was out, everyone was safe.)

With only my youngest left to get off to school, I had some time to look for the concerned owners of the little shaggy animals now locked in my garage. A short walk revealed a woman driving slowly in her vehicle. I directed her to my house and delivered the beloved pets. I had hoped to feel a sense of joy to overwhelm me. While our family pet was no longer with us, I was confident of the part I played in preventing this type of pain for others.

My heart dropped when the woman informed me, in broken English, where she lived. Despite the fact that the dogs came from the opposite direction, I had just rescued my neighbor’s dogs. All the details became clear. These were the same yapping animals who keep me up in the middle of the night!

Tears took over. Had I really just tried to rescue a couple of dogs whose owners apparently don’t care much? I tried to comfort myself with the thought that the woman must have missed her pets (she was looking for them after all). How could I leave my girls on the street corner as I ran after an animal? I knew everyone was safe but guilt still won out.

It shouldn’t have surprised me when the damn broke. A short visit to a friend’s house later in the morning revealed the raw emotions inside me. This wasn’t just guilt from a morning filled with bad choices, this was unresolved grief. Greeted by my dear friend’s black-and-white pooch, I couldn’t hide the emotion tugging on my soul. My tears were evidence to me that I had never taken the time to fully grieve the loss of our Pup.

Running my fingers through this dog’s fur left me longing for the one I’d always called mine. I think I could have cuddled with any canine this morning. There was a longing to bury my face in their neck full of soft fur for comfort.

I knew it would never have brought me relief the way Pup could do. She knew when I was sad and would walk over to lick the salty tears from my cheeks in an instant. I miss being able to wrap my arms around the animal I loved. My heart aches for this faithful friend. It doesn’t matter that she was just a dog. She was mine. She was family.

It was over fourteen-years-ago that I begged my husband for a puppy. My brother had offered us pick of the litter and I couldn’t think of a better gift. As a cat-lover, my husband did not see eye-to-eye with me. After two weeks of nagging on vacation, He gave into my request anyway. He chose the whitest dog out of the litter of brown and we named her “Pup”. Despite the fact that she behaved just like Disney’s Lady on her first night home, Rod assured me we weren’t allowed to return her. Thank goodness! For this dog became part of God’s medication for my soul. I had no idea how much I needed her.

The day we had to say goodbye to her, my husband and I sobbed together. I thanked him for choosing our beloved pet who believed she was alpha dog. He assured me “I didn’t choose her, she chose us… she chose us.” As she lay without a fight on that clinic floor, we knew there was no other choice. I had prayed this day would never come but now I had to find the blessings in the hard times.

That my husband could be there…
That the girls would not soon realize the decision that had been made…
That we weren’t in Disney when it happened…
That my husband wasn’t away on a business trip…
That school had not begun yet…
That we had fourteen wonderful years…
 
I am reminded everywhere that God gave me Pup as a gift… even if it was for a season.



When I see someone walking their dog…
When I return home and am deceived by vacant barking to welcome us home…
When I walk into our front door and look at the empty, silent front window…
When I carefully step at night only to remember it’s without reason…
When I imagine hearing the clinking of collar tags…
When scratching of nails on hardwood floor is only in my imagination…
When plates of food are left on the table untouched…
When there were no dog treats handy for pet rescue…
When a leash was no longer convenient to reach…

I miss her. She was the one friend I could always talk to. There were no strings attached to her love. Always welcoming of my hugs, she would kiss me on the cheek even if I didn’t want my space invaded. She was loyal to a fault. We introduced each one of the girls to her and she loved them fiercely. She brought with her a sense of protection. While a bit psycho, she was ours… separation anxiety and all.

I’m taking a season to grieve. Finally allowing myself to feel the separation, I’m grieving the loss I should have dealt with many weeks ago. It took a crazy start of a day to make me press pause on the busyness of life for a moment. Long enough to process my thoughts and emotions, even if my children have to see me cry.

I need to be intentional to stop and process my thoughts and feelings more often.

I’m grateful there is a season for everything… even a season to grieve.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Slowing Down to Find Rest: The Changing Seasons


1 Busyness

October gives me freedom to embrace a wardrobe of hoodies and jeans allowing comfort in my world once again. The brisk air fills my lungs and my whole being is energized. I can’t help but breathe thanks to God that the draining heat of summer is over. There is a hope of change that comes with the changing seasons.

The crunch of leaves under foot has my oldest declaring the excitement we share. “Do you hear that sound, mom? Fall is here!” My girls beg for the bin of decorations and costumes to come out. They discuss jumping into piles of leaves and other rare memories I’m surprised they can recollect. Colors fall from the trees, decorating the ground and my soul longs to welcome it all in.

Instead of jumping in to the season as if a pile of leaves, I resist flipping the calendar like a child fighting sleep. I need it. Deep down inside, I have to admit that I want it. Yet I cannot embrace it. Just like the young ones kick and scream to continue their play, I fight to finish tasks left undone.

As the changing colors on the trees seem to proclaim a God-ordained need for them to rest, I find myself wanting to join them. I want to be in this moment. As Author Jeff Goins challenges, I need to slow down.

Why can’t life just slow down? It’s my complaint with life every year. Things just keep moving faster and faster. Wisdom from years ahead told me not to blink. I must have done just that. How did my kids grow up so fast? Why can’t I keep up?

Still, it’s not enough to just slow down… I’m fighting to follow through on Goins' Day 2 Challenge to savor today; the right now. I need to be intentional in not just slowing down but also savoring the here and now.

Agendas will never end. From what I hear, summers will continue to drain me. Not just from the heat but because life get busier as my children get older. The beginning of the school year will always feel like a whirlwind. Seasons will continue to change. My challenge is to embrace the hope that is offered.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." - Matthew 11:28 NLT
 
 
 
Southfield Church is beginning a new sermon series this October and November entitled “Rest: learning to embrace one of God’s greatest gifts!” It entices me in a new way in particular as retailers push the holiday season earlier and earlier. Come join us!

I’m working through "The Slow Down Challenge" by Jeff Goins. (Check out his book The In-Between.)

As we welcome in the Fall, would you join the trees shedding their leaves to embrace a season of rest? I’d love to hear how you intentionally slow down and savor the moments.

 

 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Mullings on Mercy

“And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8 (NIV)

Micah 6:8 is one of my favorite verses. I’ve claimed it for my life. Anytime I wonder what direction God wants me to take, I think about this verse. It always directs me with confidence.

As a rule-follower, I have no problem with the command to “act justly”. Honestly, I tend to be a bit over-the-top with being sure I do what is expected of me. It’s this command that has me realizing how very much I struggle with the next: “love mercy”. While my focus is on being obedient, I tend to notice and judge others who aren’t.

 As my sixth grader was getting ready for school she looked at her pants and asked “Why do my pockets bulge out like this?”

Slightly frustrated that her bottoms didn’t fit perfectly, I replied “I don’t know.” Noticing the irritation in my voice, I continued, “It’s a uniform. Is there really anyone who looks good at your school?”

“Some of the kids get away with wearing different colors…” my daughter started explaining.

Shaking my head, I remarked a little too openly, “I don’t understand it. Why make the rules if you’re not going to enforce them?” Almost as quickly as the words left my mouth, I realized how condemning I appeared.

God grabbed hold of my thoughts, aligning them more with His. “Actually, I can think of a lot of times people don’t follow God’s rules and it seems they are rewarded in life. I guess it’s a good lesson to learn. There are many people out there breaking His commandments and it doesn’t appear they ever receive their just punishment either.”

In hopes of participating in Lisa-Jo's Five Minute Friday writing prompt, I had been pondering the morning’s conversation all day. Why do I think every person should be punished for breaking the rules every time? Even I desire a little mercy sometimes.

Somewhere I heard that “mercy” is defined as “NOT getting the punishment you deserve”. There are numerous times in my life that I haven’t received the necessary consequences for my actions. The ultimate example being the mercy God has extended. A sense of freedom and gratitude overwhelms me when I think of this clemency.

If I can keep at the forefront of my mind the penalty I actually deserve, maybe I won’t be so inclined to cast judgment on others. Instead, maybe that is where love reigns.

It bothers me when people talk about God being love without a balance of justice. At the same time, God is not characterized as just without the balance of mercy. We cannot attribute one characteristic to God without the balance of all the others. Maybe this symmetry is what makes Him the ultimate definition of Love.

Maybe that is why the final command in this verse is to walk humbly with your God. It helps keep it all in perspective.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Worship (Five Minute Friday)

Five Minute FridayToday I'm linking up with Lisa-Jo (from (in)courage) for a Five Minute Friday. The writing prompt for today is the word "worship". Why don't you take five minutes to write on the word, "worship", too? I'm doing it to exercise my brain and my writing and hopefully get this blog started up again. Here goes...


I don’t know about you but the word worship takes my mind immediately into a church building… pews in a row… crowds singing… and therefore, “worshiping” God. Lately, however, the word worship has changed in my world.

When I heard Amy Grant’s song, Hallelujah, it rang true in my heart in so many ways. She just put it into words so clearly. God doesn’t want our pretty. He wants the raw part of us. Worship is giving ourselves completely to God because we understand He is God.

We acknowledge Him for who He is; tell Him about how wonderful He is. It’s praise; gratitude; tears; joy. All of it pleases God when we acknowledge Him as Lord. That is worship: understanding who we are and who He is; aligning ourselves in the right place with the Creator of the Universe.

“God loves a lullaby
 in a mother’s tears in the dead of night
better than a hallelujah sometimes…”

I just want to be honest with God. That’s when He is able to take my heart and transform me. It’s my desire: Him giving me the desires of my heart because my heart is aligned with His.

I know who He is: Everything comes from Him. I know who I am: A sinner saved by grace; His grace… And nothing would be without Him… every blessing… every gift… everything. It’s all from Him. Yes, He even allows the pain. But He’ll work it for good… His good. It’s His world and He knows best what He intended for it to be.

 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Expectations of Magical Moments

When visiting the “Magic Kingdom” one would expect a dreamlike vacation. While I’ve never been to Florida, I did experience the magic of Disneyland, California as a child. We knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as children of a self-employed carpenter and stay-at-home-mom! I remember being encouraged to share all of our loose change in a large coin bank that was being saved for our vacation. Dad had a goal of finishing laying the brick on our home which we all helped with in an effort to make our dreams come true. In hindsight, I can now imagine the sacrifices my parents must have made to make this magical vacation happen.

For my dad to take two weeks off of work to drive out west was unheard of. I don’t remember him as a man who could relax easily. Construction is a hard-working job where he had to take advantage of the good weather in the summer months to get his work done to provide for our family. The fact that we gardened much of our five acre property didn’t make it any easier to get away. Somehow, he was able my parents were able to let go of everything to create memories that are cherished in my dad’s absence today.

(My mom teases me that I always talk about the way my dad created memories. I do realize the part my mom played. It’s just that my mom was always there for us. I didn’t long for her time the way I did my dad’s. Thank you, mom, for being humble enough to cultivate memories that likely left you feeling on the sidelines. I’m grateful for all you did to make family memories happen.)

While we were given incentive to make our vacation happen, my husband and I are taking a different approach. For the past couple of months, we’ve been planning a SURPRISE vacation for our kids. With our oldest entering junior high in the fall, we want to be sure to create our own enchanted experience before she loses the simple awe that comes with being a child. More than anything, I want them to have memories to take with them into adulthood.

So here I am busy planning a fairytale vacation, all the while doing my best to keep it from our children. That means I’m still hosting an open house for my daughter’s 11th year of life. And when my mother-in-law’s neighbor unexpectedly gifted us with a set of bedroom furniture, we decided it was God’s nudging to graduate Nikelle from the dorm style bedroom shared with her two younger sisters to her very own room (birthday wish list #1). Ideally, this would all happen before her birthday party (one week before we leave on vacation).

I had just about given up on this idea when grandma offered to take the girls overnight. It was the ideal opportunity to set my plan into motion. I was determined to create the best birthday surprise for her, fresh paint and all. Yep, I’m crazy… and I want it all to be perfect.

I once heard it said that if you procrastinate on projects until you can do it just right, you are a perfectionist. That defines me to a tee. It’s also why I get nothing accomplished.

Last weekend I finally admitted the need to give up on my idea of perfect. Reality hit that I had bit off more than I could chew and I had to admit my limitations. My daughter was surprised with her own room painted exactly the same way it was when she entered the world 11 years ago (with a mural of Little Suzy’s Zoo characters in Noah’s Ark). It doesn’t match the rest of the d├ęcor but we could still present her with her own room.
 

Nikelle was so overjoyed that she was choked up as she thanked God for her own room during family prayer time that evening. Later, as I explained my desire to paint her room, my daughter surprised me. “I don’t want you to paint over the mural! Carrie made that for me when I was born.”

I need to remember my daughter’s response. While I thought I had let her down, she was thrilled. Rarely, do my girls’ react to the disappointment I create for them.
As we set out to surprise them with a magical vacation, I must let go of my expectations. (PLEASE REMEMBER WE ARE STILL TRYING TO SURPRISE THEM. SHHH!!!) The enchantment will not be in the experiences I try to create for them. Our children have no hopes for this experience. They don’t even know where they are going! Magic happens because we are sharing this time together away from all the demands of home. That’s the captivating experience I’ll be reaching for this summer!
 
What expectations are you setting your children up for that you need to let go of this summer?

(Today is the Third Thursday of the month. Time for the Hearts at Home Home Blog Hop! This month's topic: No More Perfect Vacations. Head over to Jill's blog
to read more.)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

A friend was talking to me recently about the signs from God she was recognizing in her life. Honestly, I’m not really sure how I feel about this topic. It’s not that I want to put God in a box. He can talk to us in any way He wants. He is God after all. Moses heard Him from a burning bush; Balaam's donkey spoke to him; and Nebuchadnezzar's future played out just the way the dream revealed. What makes me hesitant to embrace “signs” is the way we justify God’s hand at work when our “signs” clearly contradict the Bible.

Left to my thoughts the other morning, I recalled a time my husband attended an Illini football game in Champaign with his dad. It was a memory about the time my father-in-law was smacked in the face with a sign…. literally. To save money, they parked in one of the empty-field-turned parking-lots off campus. After the game one night, they were walking in darkness back to the car. Before my husband could get the words out to warn his dad… face plant right into a street sign. Ouch! (Is it rude to say he resembled a raccoon for quite some time?)

I feel a bit like my father-in-law with signs God has smacked me over the head with lately. No, I didn’t walk into a street sign and I’m not referring to signs that reaffirm my choices. I’m talking about the ones that give directions like we come across on the roads every day. These sings are pointing me toward life-change. There are WARNING signs that I must change my current thought patterns to avoid negatively impacting my girls’ futures. DETOUR signs have appeared all over my path changing the direction of my course. Just when I think I am picking up the pace toward the finish line, another DETOUR. I am told to YIELD and STOP more than ever before.

This is where I have been at in my life for some time now.

On the first day of summer vacation, my husband took the day off and we set off to the cheap movie theater for some family time. We ordered a large buttery popcorn to make the experience complete. Have you ever watched those machines make the tasty treat? Kernels pop all over the machine in every which way to perfect the idealistic movie snack. My mind has resembled the popcorn machine lately with my thoughts going every direction in order to line them up with God’s.

I realize my thoughts are not God’s thoughts. His ways are higher than my ways. Unfortunately, I don’t know that I’ve ever really believed it until now. And I’m still a work in progress. I’m seeing that I do put Him in a box too often. While I continue to apply for the job of the Holy Spirit, the position is already filled and God just wants me to live with purpose where He has called me. I’m in a season where God is opening my eyes and my heart. It’s a bit different for what I’ve always thought was right and true. That’s the problem. I’ve relied on my own thoughts for too long.

If I’m not blogging much these days, it is because the current sign in my life is UNDER CONSTRUCTION I’m attempting to watch, listen and respond to God. In this, is a struggle of breaking away from my selfishness and embracing humility. This is a difficult season for me but I’m going to remember the satisfying taste of luscious popcorn on my tongue and know God’s work will be so much more rewarding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Good and Perfect Gift (No More Perfect Days)

(Today is the Third Thursday of the month. Time for the Hearts at Home Home Blog Hop! This month's topic: No More Perfect Days. Head over to Jill's blog to see what other women have to say.)

In my mind, the perfect day would be one in which I could focus on my agenda without any interruptions. Waking up before the sunrise, spending time with my Bible and journal meeting God, all while the rest of the house sleeps would be an ideal start to my day. I would be able to follow that up with some exercise and a healthy breakfast that would leave me feeling strong and confident in what lies before me. My house would be clean and I would be able to write and enjoy time with friends. Opportunities with my children would be embraced for the memory-making, faith-inspiring moments that they are and I would love my husband perfectly.

My day NEVER goes like that. However, if I would change my perspective, I could find perfect moments in every day. The opportunity to sit and hold my preschooler as I mourn over how quickly my soon to be junior higher has grown is a gift. While I don't want my 7-year-old to nap after school, I cherish the moment that will soon be gone in the revealing hindsight. I give thanks for friends coming to the rescue due to my lack of focus... again and again. A husband who takes care of our family, house and yard is a treasure even if that means I have a little more responsibility on my shoulders today than I would like. And while God's plans are very different than my own, He is faithful through it all and works everything for good.

I would see those I love less as interruptions to my agenda, if I would change my perspective to see everything as gift. Looking through different glasses allows me to count my blessings when stress wants to consume me. Every good and perfect gift is from above and each day is one of those.

(Read here about how God is helping me to see my days as a ministry of availability rather than interruptions.)

What can you embrace as gift today?

Friday, May 10, 2013

I want to be comfortable (5 Minute Friday)

Five Minute Friday
Today I'm linking up with Lisa Jo Baker for a Five Minute Friday. The writing prompt for today is the word "comfort".

This word leaves me longing. I think more than anything in this world, I long for comfort… above all. It leaves my heart twisted because I am well aware of the fact that I am supposed to love God above all. Nothing else. So comfort becomes my god. My idol. My sin. I have fallen short of God’s glorious standard in my pursuit of comfort simply because it has me pursuing everything in light of it.

I curl up on my sofa with a blanket and journal to meet with my God and realize that even in this, I am seeking comfort. I am not on my knees pouring my heart out to Him. I am keeping my toes warm with a blanket, sitting in comfort on my butt, coffee with flavored cream in hand and a bottle full of water within arm’s reach. Comfort is my everything and it is my distraction for pursuing my Creator with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.

I tell my girls that they need to deny themselves in order to be a follower of Christ. This is what He tells us and yet what do I deny myself? When I want to taste something scrumptious, I buy it. If I am tired; I sleep (warm and cozy under my covers or cooled off in the summer with fan and central air). When I am exhausted, I justify checking out in front of the television or with a book.

But God is supposed to be my comfort. He is supposed to be the source of it all. Why is it so difficult for me to turn to the pages of His written word or fall on my knees to beg Him for help in my time of discomfort? This world makes it too easy. I want to be comfortable.
 

2 Corinthians 1:2-7

“May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.

 

Friday, May 3, 2013

An Altar of Memories, Healing in Relationship

 
“The thing that wounds us is often the thing that God will walk us through again to heal us.” – Mary DeMuth

The introduction caused me to flinch. Her name brought flashbacks of memories I desperately tried to leave behind. I was broken and the reminders were painful. The walls I had built around my heart resembled garlic and crosses in motion pictures warding off vampires. I may not have needed protection from fictional predators but the fear I experienced at the thought of friendship was certainly comparable.

Shortly after I was married at the young age of eighteen, I felt the pain of abandonment sharply. While my husband has been alongside me for the entire journey and experienced much of the heartache together, I resented the way he encouraged me to pursue community. After being excommunicated from the church of our marriage union,  relational betrayal was magnified in my life. I wanted nothing to do with religion anymore. Memories from my growing up years revisited and confusion flooded my thoughts at friendships that no longer were. My plan was to shut the door of hope and my heart for good.

Too many times I had been wounded by friends. Keeping everyone at arms-length was the only way I could be certain to avoid being scarred again. Truth be told, I longed for friendship but was tired of getting burned. I set boundaries and allowed self-talk that only fueled my feelings of loneliness.  In my opinion, it was better to feel unloved than to experience pain. My heart was cold and hard and, I thought, impenetrable.

While my husband saw value in searching for a healthy community, I went like a child forced to obey. Somehow God tore down the walls I built. Even in my resistance, He brought healing through these very relationships I dug my heels in against. But just like the Israelites were reminded of His deliverance in their lives, He continues to remind me of the freedom He has brought to me as well.

I have come a long way from the young married woman who refused to allow anyone into her world. This past Saturday, ten women gathered in my family room for the very purpose of pursuing community with me. Few of them would likely believe that I was once an avoider of conversation. The irony of my now hosting one of the many (in)RL 2013 meetups is surreal. For now, embracing my responsibility to incite authentic connection is with an intensity that has been admittedly intimidating to some.

Listening as each woman shared their reason for attending, I thanked God for the healing He has performed in my life. I found myself reminiscent of the way God used my community to transform my heart of stone and make it flesh once again.. A phone call yanked me away from my thoughts. Caller ID showed the name of my friend that once brought hesitation but now acts as a magnet. She would only interrupt the moment with good reason.

Her daughter’s birthday kept her from attending this year’s meetup. And now, on the very day of celebrating her oldest’ life, my friend was calling to inform me that her water broke. What are the chances of two siblings sharing a birthday five years apart? While everyone else gawked in amazement at this wonder, God was tugging at my heartstrings in the same way he did five years ago.

It was only two short months after my dad's death rocked my world that my sweet friend’s oldest was born. I claimed her daughter as a gift from God to me that April 27th date. It was a painful day for my family as we should have been celebrating my dad's 56th birthday but instead we were still wandering in the desert at our loss. That day, I chose to accept the birth of her daughter as a sign that God would carry me through the darkest of days. I built an altar of memories in my heart to remind me of God’s faithfulness in the same way they did with rocks in Bible times.

This year, once again on my dad's birthday, wrapped up in a women’s conference focusing on community, God gave me a gift in her newborn. With this sweet baby’s birth, a reminder came straight from God to my soul: He restores the years the locusts have destroyed. I felt Him whisper in my ear, “I created friendship to give you an in-flesh example of My relationship with you. If you will continue to trust Me, I will bring healing where others have caused wreckage. I will show you this over and over again. Just keep living out My greatest commandments and I will give you life overflowing.”

This year’s message was a challenge to stay in community. As I reminisced on the depths and peaks of friendship, another hugged me as she spoke into my ear, “Thank you for staying.” It was a simple statement that revealed how very deep our friendship roots have grown. Tears pooled in my eyes with recollection of the struggling times as well as the thriving. To stay is not easy. Annie Downs’ words are true: “The choice to stay has been the choice to pursue even when it’s hard.” I firmly believe that the reward on the other side of the sometimes-seemingly-impossible, however, is rich, healing relationship straight from the hand of our Creator.

In this season where I can sit among a group of women and truly be myself, I can recount the faithfulness of God. Proven friendships cut pain in half and double the joy. Over more than a decade now, through the valleys and mountains, my friends now speak life into my soul.

It’s been over fifteen years since that awkward introduction that almost sent me running in the other direction. Over and over again, God has confirmed in my heart that authentic friendship is worth the risk every time. The Israelites had the Red Sea. I have April 27th. We all have the Greatest Commandment.

This is my story to tell.

You have one too.

God’s faithfulness.

It’s there.

Pursue it.

Embrace it.

Tell others about it.

This is where healing begins.
 
"And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart." - Ezekial 11:19
 
"Surely He has done great things... I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten... you will praise the name of the Lord your God who has worked wonders for you..." - Joel 2

Friday, April 19, 2013

Equipped in Times of Fear

(This is a picture posted by Proverbs 31 Ministries on Facebook yesterday.)


"Bombs went off at the Boston Marathon today." I heard my friend's voice inform me of the horrific tragedy. My fingers fumbled to turn the television on. The footage left me in disbelief.

There must have been children involved was my first thought. While never in Boston, we have gathered as a family numerous times as spectators for Chicago. Immediately my mind went to the people watching on the sidelines that make the race complete. How could anyone do this? It's just evil.

I was careful to shelter my children from the news of the day. It's difficult enough as an adult to take in the capacity of evil people can possess. How could I expose my children to it? I had to force myself to quit watching the replay of images. They are etched in my mind. My heart truly aches for those involved.

The way information is presented has a way of shaping our outlook on the future. Everything in me wants to protect my children from this type of news. However, I have learned the importance of educating my girls firsthand. If I don't give them the initial information, someone else will with a spin difficult to combat. We know it was our responsibility to be our children's first informers. This was confirmed by my 5th grade daughter following the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. "I wasn't as scared when people talked about it because you and dad had already told me."

As our family sat down to dinner Monday night, we made the decision to prepare our children for possible unfiltered conversations they may encounter. "People were hurt today... we do not need to live in fear... the only way to protect against evil is with God..." It's difficult to talk to children 10 and under about these things. At the same time, I realize I am unable to protect them from every evil. It's only knowing God that allows me to send them out into the world each day. I am not entrusting my children to the world. I'm entrusting them to God. Even that is difficult for me some days.

I really can understand how people live this life paralyzed with fear. Without God's Word, I am certain that would be my fate. Maybe that is why I felt such sadness as I read Amos 8:11-12 this past week. "The days are coming," declares the Sovereign Lord, "when I will send a famine through the land - not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the Word of the Lord, but they will not find it." I realize all Scripture needs to be read in context and this is probably referring to the spoken words of prophets in that day. However, I cannot fathom what I would do without the Bible. It is the source of my hope and strength and the reason I can carry on. It's also the only way I know to encourage my children.

As I listened to the President speak at the prayer service for Boston yesterday, I couldn't help but think about the power Scripture plays in my life. I don't know how well the President knows the Bible verses he used or if he truly understands the words he shared or not. For me, however, the two verses he chose are powerful anchors in my life. 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us that "God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline." It's a verse I have used to empower my children as well. Still, verse 8 cannot be missed. "So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord..."

Part of Hebrews 12:1-3 was also quoted (see that in bold). "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race [God has] set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up." While I am often encouraged in the many races I participate in by this verse, the one Paul is referring to is the life of following after Jesus. We need to keep our eyes on eternity and what matters.

One thing is certain: there is power in God's Word. I cannot imagine life without God's Truth to cling to. It is my source of hope and strength. During times like these, this is the only anchor I know to have my family and I securely clinging to. There is more fear in my heart when I think of no longer hearing God's Word than there will ever be due to evil. I am so thankful God has equipped us with the Bible in times of fear.
 
“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid." - John 14:27

"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you." - Isaiah 41:10, 13

What is your source of comfort in times like these?