Embracing the “Now” Instead of the “Next”

I would so enjoy the moment right now if it weren’t for that next glittery thing just beyond my reach.  The now is filled with the mundane, the commonplace, the grit of reality.  Laundry.  Doctor’s appointments.  Weight to lose.  A soul dream not fully realized.  The “next” holds promise of magic, adventure, a more-in-shape self and my dream job of writing and speaking as an actual career.

Maybe the idea of writing gives you trauma flashbacks to highschool research papers….but I’m sure you have a “next” too. Graduating college…completing a marathon…getting married…owning a business maybe?

This past weekend I tasted and sampled a full buffet of the joy and hope of my future dream while attending reNEW, a Christian conference and retreat for writers and speakers.  My heart soared with each story by dynamic keynote speakers.  I filled pages of notes with my feverish, sloppy hand-writing, soaking in each morsel of wisdom from seasoned workshop leaders.  I over-indulged in coffee and my mind practically popped as I sat to enhance and add fresh thoughts to my latest book.

(Photo Credit: Marla Darius)

Just picture me running free through a field of wheat and poppies and there’s probably a pony somewhere in there too.  (With a classy brick Starbucks building faintly visible in the distance.)

I was swimming all weekend in the potential of my “next” things.

And now I’ve swum right back home.  And I’m breathing in the now again.  And it’s actually a wonderful now, but it doesn’t smell deliciously like fresh ink.  It doesn’t feel like the electricity of speaking out a passionate message.  At least not always.  It feels a bit more tame and the smell is often that vague “not-quite-clean” smell that infuses most houses with small children.  I don’t know if it’s the shoes or the couch or the always suspicious bathroom.

As I pondered all the places I’d like to be this weekend, I sat down to let God show me what’s right in front of me.  Not later.  But now.  And do you know, the more I thought, the more I realized that my now is actually precious.  It’s a brimming full now.  It’s a weighty now, with gifts to invest, children to plant seeds in and create safe haven for, and breathtaking opportunities to serve.  Right. Now.

As I was praying with the wonderful community of women (plus a few brave men!) this morning, I had this beautiful picture that I can only attribute to God.

I pictured a girl on a path of large square stones weaving through a peaceful nature scene.  Like a childhood game of Candyland (minus the bright colors and edible characters), I knew the path meandered and ultimately lead to an important destination.  But the stone path was barely visible- in fact, only three or so steps were illuminated at all.  The rest were veiled in murky shadow and mysterious darkness.

But the girl was untroubled by what she didn’t see, couldn’t know.  In fact, she was completely oblivious to the fact that she could only see one square ahead because she was too busy chasing a butterfly.  That whimsical delicate creature so enthralled her that she seemed oblivious to anything beyond her now.  There was such a sense of peace washing over the whole scene.

I imagined myself on that same path with jarringly different emotions.  I was right up on the edge of the dark, straining to see, stressed and panicked over what I didn’t know how to get to.  Over the fact that the “next” thing wasn’t visible for me yet.  Never did I stop to consider the beauty of the now.  Unwilling to embrace those few bright steps as the very “next” I’d once strained to see, I couldn’t enjoy anything for the fear and discontent.

All the while the girl was dancing in her moment.  Unafraid.  Intoxicated with her now.

That’s who I want to be.  That’s who I believe you want to be.  Right there taking full advantage of the few steps right in front of us.  Embracing exactly what we have.  Not ignoring the path- occasionally standing on tip-toes to glimpse just enough future to keep blazing the trail.  But neither straining for what I don’t have yet, nor fearful of never making it.  Because my moment is too precious and dripping with purpose.  And when I embrace that, I find my partially lit path is actually peaceful.


What about you?  How are you learning to walk in your own purpose in the moment and live. now. instead of constantly chasing your “next”?  I invite you to share you thoughts and chew on some of these Bible passages to encourage you to trust in God and rest in the fullness of what you have today.

Psalm 131
A song of ascents. Of David.

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

Psalm 23:1-3 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.

Isaiah 42:16 I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
I will not forsake them.

Proverbs 3:5-65 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

 

This is Not My Country

I’m proud of my Home Country.  But it’s not the one you’re thinking of.

My Home isn’t subject to geographical boundary lines.

It doesn’t belong to one race or culture, but encompasses all.

It doesn’t diminish or even elevate some individuals over others- it is ruled by the equalizer of grace.

It doesn’t advance through violent force, but expands like a garden plant, quietly pushing through the existing realm of authority with beautiful fruit.

It is lead by the weak, the poor, the broken.

It can exist within any government, yet isn’t subject to any other authority.

Even in the midst of suffering or persecution, you can find peace and hope in its midst.

Its people aren’t held against their will by brute force or legislation, but are drawn of their own free will by sacrificial love.

It can’t die out- ever-because nothing can shake it or shut it down.

It’s people can never lose their citizenship because unlike any other earthly affiliation, My Home Country is a Kingdom that outlasts even death.

Its goal isn’t to conquer and subdue, but to liberate and renew.

It doesn’t pursue homogeneity but diversity.

It isn’t spread through flags, ships, or dominance, but through the Spirit that is gloriously unbound by such restraints.

You may have guessed…my Home Country…it’s the Kingdom of Heaven.

But trust me it isn’t just a happy pie-in-the-sky place for later.  It’s here. It’s now.  It’s real.

And even though the kingdoms and countries around us may be falling apart, dividing, stirring up fear, and leaving us questioning what we stand for- this Kingdom gives me hope because it is outside all of that.   It is spiritual, yes, but it has the powerful capacity to create change even within these broken political systems, places, and circumstances we find ourselves in.

And while I may struggle with national pride or pride in my governing leaders, I can tell you I’ll never lose my allegiance to this Kingdom.  I’ll never regret this Kingdom- never be embarrassed by the God who rules it- never cease to be proud of what it stands for: a freedom and justice that goes beyond anything we’ve ever witnessed in this physical world.  I’ll never wake up and wonder whether this Kingdom is good for me and those around me.  I’ll never need to be afraid here even if there’s plenty around me that gives reason to fear.  My Kingdom is stronger and my God is bigger.

And that is the hope I’m standing in today.

Luke 17:20-21
Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed,  nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

Matthew 5:3-3 
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Mark 4:30-32 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?  It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth.  Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

Matthew 6:9-10
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.

Revelation 7:9

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

1 Peter 1:3-5 3 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,  who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 

All Scripture references taken from NIV version:New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 


These thoughts flow partially out of reading a blog post where Roger Martin posed the question, “Can we ever love our country too much?”  I encourage you to read his provocative post because I think he’s onto something.  And please share your thoughts about your own hope when this world seems so broken.  Is there anything that you place unflinching pride in?

 

 

 

Moving On, Community and Letting Go (Friend Post Friday #6)

I still remember the first day I met Maura Eckels, my guest blogger for today.  We were at a mutual friend’s graduation party and her sweet love of children found her gravitating towards the playground where I was swinging my kiddos.  From the first conversation, I could tell Maura oozed passion to taste and change the world- and not just in a passing fad kind of way- the girl was ready to make a real difference.  I was amazed that someone so young was already aware of such a deep calling on her life.  It’s no surprise then that her faith and heart have since taken her to Franciscan University where she’s enrolled in theology and human life studies, with plans to graduate and carry God’s heart wherever He takes her.  If you ever have the pleasure of talking with Maura, you’ll find yourself caught up in her smile and eager dialogue, while simultaneously feeling challenged to fully live your beliefs and convictions the way she does.  Her journey hasn’t been easy, and in fact her life circumstances have made tuition alone very difficult for her.  I’m sharing with you her tuition go-fund-me page in the hopes that you will read more of her story and please help out financially if you are able!  And I hope you’ll stick around to be inspired as she shares her honest beautiful thoughts.

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“Moving On, Community and Letting Go”

by Maura Eckels

There’s this closing scene in a film called Brooklyn that deeply moves me. I’m not sure if you’ve seen the movie, but it’s about this young woman from Ireland who takes the boat to New York City and meets this Italian fella. The movie ends with her standing on a street in a city which became her home. She sees her husband after a long period of time (she married the Italian guy), he sees her and then she says this incredible line:

“One day the sun will come out-you might not even notice straight away, it’ll be that faint. And then you’ll catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past and you’ll realize… that this is where your life is.”

As I moved away from Connecticut and into a new home in my college town, I found myself on soccer mom duty for the children of a former professor. Three munchkins, one minivan and an afternoon practice seemed to be the perfect medicine for my soul after a restless day driving to Ohio.

It was here that I was overcome with this same realization. These friends and families around me have become my community. This poverty stricken town has become my home. And for right now, this is where my life is.

Just days before I was cleaning out the childhood bedroom of the home I’ve known for 21 years. I noticed that the mess I was either throwing away or organizing into storage bins paled in comparison to the mess of my heart. On the one hand, I could taste the sweet freedom of moving out for good and on the other, the daunting reality of now facing life with the baggage I’ve accumulated over the years, like dust on a shelf.

As I took one last look at the empty room holding nothing but my battered heart, a truth washed over me that perhaps you can sympathize with: We don’t realize how much crap we have until we sift through it and we can’t see how broken we are until we try to clean shop.

Somehow, I’ve painfully managed to grasp on rather than let go of that which weighs me down. This still small voice would keep asking to lighten the load and to share in my burden, but I couldn’t figure out how to concretely give it over to Jesus. And the truth is, I still can’t. So I resolved to carry it alone. Worse, I accepted that maybe I am alone. After all, how could He possibly be helping if he claims his yoke to be light and mine is so heavy?

Then a beautiful woman reminded me that God will allow you to struggle because He wants you to show up for your own fight. And I remembered all the times I made it through the valley with the help of His grace and once again I am reassured that just as I was victorious before, I will be victorious again.

His grace is sufficient for me. His power is made perfect in my weakness.

So I want Jesus to be my number one. I want him to be enough for me. He is the bridegroom and I am his bride. His love for me is covenant; it’s eternal. My maker wants to marry me. He gives himself totally and completely on the cross, holding nothing back. His body given up for me. Love without condition. And in response to Christ’s disinterested gift of self, I desire to be one right back. I want to love him for his own sake and goodness and not for what he does for me. And I can’t claim to fully love someone whom I fear because perfect love casts out all fear. Therefore, I will continue to ask for the grace to not put God in my own image because it’s a false one. Rather, I hope to see him for who he truly is.

The problem is this: Jesus is not as tangible as I would like him to be. I can’t see his facial expressions, hear the inflection in his voice or know what his laugh sounds like. Does he have a preference in wine? I mean he created the vines, but you never know. It’s the details which seem lacking. He feels less real to me than the people around me even though that’s the furthest from the truth. He’s more real…I know that. Yet my heart won’t consent. I hate admitting that he doesn’t feel enough for me because he is supposed to be. To love God for his own sake means to really know him. But I realized that I don’t know him well because if I did, I wouldn’t fear him.

Yet, I have to believe that the same God who created us for himself in whom we alone find satisfaction and fulfillment is also the same God who said to Adam in the Garden that it is not good for man to be alone. We need others just as much as we need God. I mean Heaven itself isn’t just us alone chillin’ with the Trinity. It’s us, Him and the angels and saints. Even our forever is community. Community is what we’re created for.

I know that soon enough I will have to say goodbye to this community that the Lord has blessed me with these past three years. He’s given me so much more than I could have ever anticipated for myself and for this, I am eternally grateful. As I’ve been learning to detach from objects, people and places, I’ve come to the conclusion that as Elizabeth Bishop says, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.” Letting go is okay, necessary and good. I don’t think any of us will ever be perfectly content with it, but I can only pray for a holy indifference so that when God asks me to leave, I’ll leave and when he asks me to stay, I’ll stay.

Just as God has given before, he will give again. I’m reminded of this even now surrounded by what feels like an abundance of blessings. Even when we are left with what may seem like nothing and no one, we can have confidence and peace knowing that one day he will fill our cup again. When our brokenness surfaces, we can trust that he will heal us in his timing. We can choose to believe the promise Jesus gives us that everything else will be given to us when we seek first the kingdom of God. So I’m choosing right now to seek him first. I want him to be my priority amidst the struggle of this life. In this pursuit of the one who brought me into being, I can find consolation knowing that he will take care of the rest.

Perfect (Friend Post Friday #4)

I’ve been friends with this month’s “Friend Post” blogger for over ten years!  (That can’t be right, I’m not that old.  And yet…hm…)  From the time I met her, I’ve watched Audrey Beatty pour her heart and passion into helping others in community.  She’s very active in “Epoch Arts“, a theater/ arts community for youth that fosters hope, positive change, and creativity. (Please check out their page to find out more about summer classes, their giant yearly tag sale, and ways you can get involved!!)  Having been involved since Epoch’s early years, she’s proud to have helped with everything from acting and grant writing to working on their garden!  I’ve also experienced Audrey’s deep heart for social justice while working alongside her with Love146, which seeks to end child trafficking and slavery.  Her beautiful heart continues to shine through now as a wife and mother as well.  But beyond all her volunteering and all around enthusiasm to make a difference in the world, Audrey has always been one of the greatest people to have an all-in conversation with.  She’s open-minded and genuine, not afraid to talk about things other shy away from, and always leaves me with a perspective I desperately need.  I believe you’ll agree with me after reading this timely post…so here’s Audrey:


“Perfect”

by Audrey Beatty 

43 You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

I have a confession to make.  

I am not perfect.  

Phew, it feels good to get that off of my chest!  But truly, it’s something that’s hard for me to accept or admit.  I try to keep a perfect home.  Be the perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect woman, perfect person.  I obsess.  I fret. I fall short.  Every.  Damn. Day.

But in the fall of 2016, I decided it was time to be the perfect citizen and activist too.  I, like many others, have all of the answers and obviously people in positions of influence need to hear from me.  Time for me to rise up and take my rightful place among the change makers in the world and make my mark!  So I started to attend meetings.  I started to join groups.  I started to take copious notes and do my homework.

I started to realize I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about.

If you are hankering for a nice big slice of humble pie, I would strongly recommend becoming involved with local government.  And I don’t mean showing up at a town council meeting with an agenda or something you’ve already determined you’re fighting for or against.  I mean just sitting attentively in a town committee meeting, prepared to learn about and engage with the process of running a community.  It’s often dry, bogged down in systems and traditions passed down through generations, and, frankly, soul-crushing.

But what began to unfold in my mind as my eyes glazed over and I started praying no one would try to engage me in any serious kind of conversation, therefore discovering I was really a total noob and out of my element, was the strangest and most crystal clear revelation.

This incredibly awkward, uncomfortable space is exactly where I’m supposed to be.  This is perfect.

Now hear me out.

This revelation may have started in a town committee meeting, but the thought wasn’t entirely fleshed out until I was attending church one Sunday.  I brought my son to his church school classroom and was settling into a pew.  I’d missed the readings entirely (shame) and don’t even remember most of the sermon (double shame), but on that Sunday in late winter the new associate minister spoke a short but simple phrase that pinned me into my seat and hasn’t let go of me yet…weeks later.  The words have become tattooed on my heart.

God causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust…and we know not which we are.  

She said it a second time and left pregnant pauses between each word:

We know not… which… we… are.  

What?!

I felt my throat clamp shut and my eyes well up.  She wasn’t even looking at me, and yet in that moment I felt stripped down to my inner most being and in the spotlight.

I know not which I am.

The truth of it shook me to my core and I realized…it’s not something I consider nearly often enough.

I could be, and often am, downright wrong in my thinking.

So what does this have to do with the town meeting?  As I learned more and more about government and became increasingly involved, I made some observations.  

  1. Most people find politics scary or, at the very least, off-putting…at least when they’re not on Facebook.  And honestly?  I can’t blame them.
  2. Things are rarely as simple as I thought.  If a problem seemed to have an obvious solution, that solution likely has negative repercussions I hadn’t considered.  Either that or the reasons for the problem are far more complex than I realized.
  3. If it’s hard for me to understand why someone is so worked up about something, it’s usually because they have a history that is different than mine or their current life circumstances are different.  Not better or worse.  Just different. It is rarely because they are, at their core, a bad or even irrational person incapable of hearing reason or holding a productive conversation when treated with respect.  Furthermore, to diminish someone else’s pain and suffering, regardless of my feelings about it, is to forever erect an obstacle to understanding between us.
  4. No one is ever going to get their way all of the time.  Not even me.  And if I can’t think outside of myself and take the needs and desires of others into consideration—even others that I disagree with on a fundamental level—I am never going to have peace or happiness in this life and likely won’t accomplish much.
  5. “Just” and “unjust” are a heck of a lot more hazy than I would have liked to believe.

Initially, these thoughts made me want to throw in the towel.  I thought, “That’s it!  It is impossible to know everything about every issue and understand every angle.  How is anyone supposed to do anything about…ANYTHING!  I’m going off-grid and I’m never speaking to anyone outside of my immediate family ever again.  And maybe not even them.  WHY EVEN TRY.”

But then I realized something else.  Committing myself to learning, growing, and being flexible in my understanding of the world and people in it doesn’t mean abandoning my convictions.  In fact, it’s in line with them.  Leaving room for others and their beliefs at the table is not a threat and there is no need to feel offended if others don’t agree with me.  I do not really know who is right and who is wrong and, in the end, it isn’t up to me anyway.

We are all just and unjust, righteous and unrighteous, evil and good, perfect and imperfect.  At the same time, all of the time. And seeing that truth – it was such a necessary dose of humility for me.   Not only that, but it was liberating and strangely empowering.  When I’m able to let go of the need to be “right” or the fear of being “wrong” (it’s not easy…actually it’s a devastatingly hard, continual process for me), I start to experience life differently.  I stop seeing myself as better or worse than anyone else.  I start being more open to people and ideas without feeling insecure or defensive. I stop hating and wanting to hide from the world…and find love and compassion in the space left behind.  I find hope for the future, whatever it may bring.

And do you know what I’m going to do?  I’m going to keep at it.  I’m going to keep showing up even when I’m dead tired and used up.  I’m going to continue arguing and getting frustrated and feeling embarrassed and screwing up and learning to do better.  I’m going to get mad and butt heads and hold signs and give up and start again.  Becoming woven into the fabric of a community and choosing to be a conscious, active member, however stomach-churning or complicated, is the most beautiful and authentic form of love for my neighbor, and my enemy, that I have ever engaged in.


Were you impacted by Audrey’s story?  Please comment or share to spread the conversation a little further!  And don’t forget to check in Monday for the first week of “Gray Faith” study!

Saving Our Kids (and Ourselves) From the More We Don’t Need

We navigated through the crowded woodland-themed lobby towards the canopied exit.  As we pushed the double doors open, fresh air filled our lungs and though the warm spring sun was fading, we caught  whimsical glimpses of its reflection on birds flying high above.

We exhaled.  The kids climbed a giant wolf-rock that was probably fake for all I know.  A fellow vacationer wrapped up her cigarette break and thoughtfully asked if we wanted her to take our family picture.  Where were we again?

That moment was like a reality-check-pause in our mini vacation to Great Wolf Lodge recently.  It’s really the perfect all-in-one place to take a young family.  You unload your light luggage and walk into a child’s dream: face painting, crafts, and balloon shapes, capped with a giant woodland character display.  And that’s just the lobby.  Whimsy is included in check-in, where you receive fuzzy wolf ears for all and head up to your hotel room.

There, the kids get to explore their mini wolf cave, complete with bunkbeds and wall mounted TV.  They even threw in some bottled water for free this time.

But that’s not really why you’re there…because the whole place is part indoor water park, part indoor ropes course with an arcade, spa, and mini restaurants.  Since the waterpark passes are included in your stay, this is the true highlight of the trip, and the big kids ooh’d about the wave-pool while the three year old mastered the mini-slides in his goofy, irrepressible way.  

Then we’d move to another area in the water park and my seven year old crossed a rope-over-water obstacle course while the boys floated in the lazy river or gleefully avoided the giant dumping water bucket.

Pure bliss, right?

Mostly.

But I haven’t told you about the fantastic water pass wrist bands, which were probably invented by a genius who loses things a lot.  The adult wrist band is your room key (*everyone freaks out and faints in amazement!*)…and you can conveniently use it at ANY of the Lodge’s on site locations to buy…well, anything: food, spa, arcade, even the Dunkin’ Donuts on premises.  Hallelujah, it’s convenience on steroids.  Except its alarmingly less convenient than we’d think.

We happened to have $50 free resort credit loaded on our card, so we used the wrist bands for purchases till that was used up.  But since my mind doesn’t know how to truly vacation from all thoughts probing, theological or otherwise, I started to actually be troubled by the stupid room-charge wrist bands. Because as easy as it is to swipe a credit card mindlessly to pay for things (which I often do), at the tap of a wrist band and a quick signature I could be on my merry way, hardly thinking about the total I was accruing.

Maybe it was the chlorine saturated artificial humidity or maybe it was my over-analytical brain but as I sat watching people walk through the water park area with their Wolf Lodge Pizzas and appetizers, I started picturing everyone with some dollar sign over their head.  I’m picturing invisible running tallies for that thick cut pepperoni, spa splurges, arcade binge, and plush wolf souvenirs.

I’m not even a math person which certainly didn’t help my sense of panic.

But back to my point, if I can find it somewhere in all the fake dollar signs and magical forest creatures: I don’t think it’s wrong to splurge sometimes to enjoy ourselves, to relax as a family, to embrace something fun and whimsical.  (Side note: Our family was blessed to go, and had a blast.)

Great Wolf Lodge is one of those places where you have absolutely everything you need to be happy, but you’re subtly surrounded by the idea that you could be MORE content if you spent MORE.  You can’t convince me it’s not intentional that you have to pass the arcade, spa, wizard wands and bubble blowers to get from the lobby to the waterpark, and it wasn’t lost on our children.

You have the whole amazing water park and THEN some, but as I’m not the first to point out, discontent is good business.  If someone can insert just a hint of discontent, we’re likely to buy into it in a literal sense.

And then we’re surrounded by vacationers who are spending it up with THEIR adorable kids, some of whom have themed wolf pajamas, spa glazed hands or collectible wolf coins (3 for  only $10!).  And there’s a part of all of us parents that feels like maybe we’re not giving our kids the best- the most fun- the world that they deserve.

But what if the “more” is not what we need?  What if the more is actually squelching something beautiful in our kids…in ourselves?  What if the more is actually feeding our discontent which feeds our more…which…well, you get it.

And I realized that the resort we were staying at was like a microcosm of real life.  Vacations are meant for a little splurge.  But our real world works a lot like that resort: I have really good things that many people don’t have.  I have a beautiful family, comfortable home, food and coffee and entertainment pretty much at my fingertips.  It’s my flipping waterpark bliss.

But I’m dazzled by the arcade and spa of my world, whether furniture or wardrobe or latte or must-have for my children.  And am I really any happier for all my spending and stacking of things?  Are my kids?  In reality, our more is suffocating us and overflowing in giveaway bags and trash cans.  It’s coming out our drawers, filling up the floor of my car with empty coffee cups and yet my mind screams for…more.

And I realized I need a moment, just like at the water park, where I intentionally force myself away from the crowd, out those materialistic doors into….the fresh air of a REAL Kingdom that is built on truth, love, and hope.  It’s a Kingdom that doesn’t run on our currency or pinterest wish list, that isn’t driven by profit or prestige.  It’s a place where the Bible says “I lack nothing” (Psalm 23:1) and God says that everything He has is ours already (Luke 15:31).  It’s not a magical unicorn place free from hardships on earth, and yet it’s a place where we can find strength to be content in every situation (Philippians 4:11-13).

It’s the place where I find that something eternal is growing in the midst of precisely the less that I thought I could never be happy with.  He literally makes my less more.

What are the things that draw me out those doors, back into that Kingdom perspective when I’m struggling with discontent?  Is it listening to others who don’t have what I do?  Is it realizing that while I’ve regretted plenty of purchases, I’ve almost never regretted giving money and things away?  Is it saying no to myself sometimes to realize my heart’s capacity to be content in Christ with less?

No matter what, I believe God is telling me I’m missing something in my excess.  (And trust me, I have a lot of it.)

If you’re looking for your own key to enter the perspective of that Kingdom, I’ve made a printable sheet of mini-contentment challenges for you and your family.  Print out a few and stick them in your wallet, car, fridge, or wherever.  Try a few of mine or use the blank card for you or your kids to write their own.

And if you end up with a cool story to share, or you have other ideas for being content, please comment!

CONTENTMENTCARDS 

*If you don’t want to download, I’ve listed the Contentment Card Suggestions Below:

  • Give Away One Thing a Day for a Week (Be Creative!)
  • Choose to Say “NO” To Yourself Once This Week (When it’s HARD).
  • Do Something As A Family That is FREE But Fills Your Soul.
  • Thank God for something when you feel discontent.
  • Make a List of Things You GAVE AWAY that made you HAPPIER.
  • Send Your Kids on a “Thankful Hunt”: Let them make a list or a Picture.
  • Take a break from Facebook, Pinterest or Social Media that feeds your need for more.

 

 

 

Encourage Challenge!

For my birthday this past month, I dressed up 80’s style and enjoyed a murder mystery party with a bunch of friends.  It was a bizarre mix of wandering fake accents, stuffed mushrooms, sweat bands and the realization that my natural hair volume doesn’t really belong in this decade.

I fear if I give you any more details or pictures I’ll incriminate myself, and I wasn’t even the murder.

But on top of being willing to dress up and be whimsical with me, my friends gave me one of the best gifts I’ve ever received:

The inspirational packaging is nothing compared to the inside.  My friends and family wrote me letters and labeled the different envelops for different occasions that might come up in my life.

From an envelop for when I’m bored, to an envelop for when I want to strangle someone, they pretty much have me covered.  I’ve been trying so hard to wait and savor my envelopes over weeks and months, but I’m telling you…this box is like knowing you have a bunch of chocolate hidden in your house.  (Actually, one of the envelops did have chocolate in it.)

The other day I had to go to my doctor, and seriously, does anyone jump up and down about that?  I packed a few envelopes to bring with me just in case, and just the knowing I had encouragement waiting on the other side of that appointment gave me joy.

This is a box of life, and humor, and compassion, and yes chocolate.

And this box challenges me too.  Because I realize that the worth of a letter, a well-timed bit of humor, and certainly a bar of chocolate, are lifters and soothers of our souls.  Could I be this kind of friend to others? Could I take even a moment each day to find someone around me to build up?

I can’t actually begin to count the number of amazing friends that have impacted my life.  You have been encouragers, meal bringers, supporters, deep-thoughts-discussers, coffee-joiners, breakfast buddies, How-I-Met-Your-Mother and FRIENDS watchers, character sharpeners, prayer-lifters, tear driers, road signs to keep me on track when I’m lost.  You friends have loved me well and loved me tangibly.

THANK YOU isn’t big enough.

And my challenge to myself, and my challenge to you is this:  Pick 3 people this week to encourage.  Send a letter, write a text, tell someone you appreciate them next time you see them…for the love, send them a really good chocolate bar.  Maybe start a list of people to encourage and make it a fun game.  Maybe it turns into a habit…but start small.

The action of love written out, spoken over, given freely, can carry us so much farther than we’d imagine.

Post or comment if you’re up for the challenge, or if you have a cool story of encouragement to share!

 

Jazz Flute Freedom

Agawam, MA, circa 1997- the monumental moment when I chose to play flute in the middle school band.  My teacher seemed to think I was a natural, and my parents splurged to purchase that elegant silvery beauty.

“Blow into the flute like you’re trying to spit rice.”  (A fine analogy, for those who are accustomed to rice spitting.  Is this some kind of carnival game most people are familiar with?)

But I played well, in all my fifth grade zeal, when I actually took the time to practice.  Here’s a roughly fifth grade picture to bring you into better focus.

And then came the announcement that jazz band would be starting up…but it turns out flutists weren’t invited.  If you played any brass instrument, or maybe a sax or trombone- you were good to go.  But a flute…well…that simply wasn’t jazz material.

My memory is fuzzy, but I must have vented my disappointment to my classroom teacher.  He was one of my favorites- a balding red-headed Jewish man who spent Friday afternoons pulling out his guitar and singing us songs like “One Tin Soldier” and “Why Must I be a Teenager in Love”.  One day he pulled me aside, oozing optimism, to tell me the name of a popular jazz flutist- I think he even wrote it down for me.  What was his point?  “Just because there’s not a spot for you as a ‘jazz flutist’ in the fifth grade band, doesn’t mean you can’t be one.”  (Of course this was long before I watched the ultimate Jazz Flutist, Ron Burgundy. 😉 )

Jazz is a music defined not by instrument but by soul- flute or trumpet…doesn’t matter…what you breathe into that instrument makes all the difference.

I’ve been thinking more and more about women’s equality- something I grew up thinking we had all but achieved.  I’m realizing there’s a vast chasm between where we are and true equality, and unfortunately the Church has helped perpetuate that chasm.  I should clarify..I’m not oppressed in my church- far from it- in fact it is here in my church that I’m finally learning to become freer.  But I believe there’s more.

Here’s what I’m beginning to see: gender equality isn’t merely about equal rights or opportunities for women.  No.  It’s a journey to remember Eden and restore the value of a women alongside of men.  It’s a desire to understand how men (God’s creation/instrument) and women (also God’s creation/instrument) were made to work together in harmony.  It’s a quest to know that the Spirit or breath of God in me, in this instrument, is no different from the Spirit or breath of God in a masculine instrument.  It’s the BREATH that matters.

It’s the growing belief that embracing my full identity as a co-heir with Christ is not selfish- it’s not simply about my liberation, but the freedom of many.  For as I rise- free- I no longer limit the call, the influence, the plan that God may have for me.  None of us can know the awesome scope of adventure God has for us if we’re limiting ourselves based on human traditions and values.  (Or the fifth grade band teacher, as it were.)

As each of us, men and women alike, are freed from restraints of brokenness and human tradition, we rise free to liberate others.  People say that “hurt people, hurt people” but as Christina Cleveland said once, “Free people, free people.”  Liberated people, liberate people.  You can’t walk in the full liberation of the cross of Christ without impacting those around you.

And that liberation is abundant.

You are as free as God says you are- and if Christ has set you free from the law of sin and death, from the curse of the Garden, then you are free indeed.  Walk boldly in your freedom because your influence is not determined by a title, by what other “creations” define for you, but by your identity in God and the good works He’s prepared in advance for you.

What do you need to be freed from to walk forward boldly into what God may be calling you to?  Invite God to simply breathe into you as His instrument and create the soulful notes that only He can.  Then ask yourself, “As I walk free, who am I meant to liberate?”


Further reading:

Galatians 3:28: There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”

John 8:36: So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Romans 8:1-2: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death.

Hebrews 2:10-11: In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.

Acts 2:17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.’

(New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.)

 

 

Wait. Remain. Rest.

Why has it taken me so long to post in the new year?  I could blame it on all the transition around me, a post for another time, but the truth is I’ve simply been a bit stuck.  Kind of in a funk.  2016 felt like such a big year for me, finally publishing my first book, being asked to speak on multiple occasions, and attending my first writer’s conference.  Then 2017 rolled around, a blank canvas…and perhaps for the first time in my life I saw that empty calendar as a threat instead of a challenge.

Instead of my imagination soaring through endless possibilities I looked at my baby steps of “success” last year and wondered, “What if that was it?  What if that was my season of living bold, my grand hurrah, and now God is saying, ‘Hey, Kid, really great effort back there.  That was your season.  So, yeeeaaah….I guess we’ll be in touch…(*awkward cough*)’ ” 

I’m hearing and I’m reading a great blog here and an inspiring message there about going and doing what God wants and having spiritual goals and it all sounds so wonderful…but I’m wrestling.  I’m not seeing the plan; I want to “go” but I feel a bit reckless without a map.  I’m not so much afraid that I’m bringing my baggage from 2016 with me into the future, I’m afraid my best self is stuck back there.  And I can yell pretty loud, but I’m just not sure I can get that me to follow me alllll the way to now.

And suddenly I’m keenly aware of everyone else around me who seems to be running wild and free with their dreams, like those pictures of jubilant youth scampering with abandon through open fields of wheat or daisies or…OK I’m not great with plant names I’ll just stop before I embarrass myself.

 

 

 

 

 

Do you ever feel that way?  Do you ever have that suspicion that you’re missing out on something vague and distant that you don’t even know how to get to?  Whether it’s weight loss or financial planning or a dream job or a more organized house…someone else has figured it out, but you’re not sure how to?

So where do you put your foot first?  (Out of bed helps, anyway.)

And I feel like God is whispering into my stubbornness… “Come back to me…rest…just enjoy being with me, your first love.  If you find your full satisfaction in ME then you’ll never have a reason to be dissatisfied.  No circumstance or success or failure can define your significance because you are simply Mine. Be strong, and take heart, and wait on me.  Just where do you think you’re running on your little hamster wheel?  Remain in me, because outside of me you’ll only find striving with empty results, but even the little you do in me will bear fruit.  I’m not finished with you yet…and whatever plans I have for you I will continue to accomplish. Do you trust me enough to stay close and obey?”

Wait. Remain. Rest.  Although they’re not my favorite, my Christmas tree reminded me why I desperately need those words.  See, my tree this year just wasn’t very full at the bottom.  Lots of gaps. Awkward and off-putting.  So I thought I’d just shove some of the extra branches we’d cut off into the tree stand to fill out the base.  My husband suggested we twist tie them on to the other branches, which worked wonderfully…and I basked in my DIY tree-hack bliss.  Until I noticed a few weeks later how my lower branches were looking a bit sparser than the others. Hm…

My hacked branches were no longer attached to the tree, no longer getting any water from the trunk.  They were dying quickly and shedding needles at an upsetting rate.  And yet this is the picture of what happens to me when I try to hop off the Vine and do my own thing, seek my own dream or glory apart from Him.  When I become more focused on how significant my life and dreams appear than on the One who alone breathes life and significance into me…I fall apart.

But if I Rest. Wait. Remain.  They don’t sound like the most productive words for the new year, but if everything we do, every dream we pursue, every passion we act boldly on flows out of those words…then watch out because the Kingdom is advancing.  I believe God is not done with us yet!

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Psalm 27:14: Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

John 15:4 NIV  Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

Isaiah 30:15 “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:

“’In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
    but you would have none of it.'”

Philippians 1:6 “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Community is a Pain

Guys- I’m going to make an honest confession here:  I’m not sure I like community.  Do I need it?  Yes.  Does it sound wonderful in theory?  Uh-huh.  Community looks cute on TV- like on that show “Extreme Home Makeover”.   All the neighbors and friends rally around a struggling family and show up to support them- the construction people come and give them a home that meets all their needs- and then that bus rolls away and there are tears of joy, and smiles all around, and sometimes even a cute puppy in the background for good measure.  Ahhh…community.  And then…click…I turn it off, and I get to pretend that community ends that way- that it’s always happy, feel good, tears of joy, a bus of blessing.

But real community is kind of…messy, unsettling, annoying, hard work.  Community is like what happens when you try to bake anything with children- it’s going to take longer, there’s going to be arguing, and you’re going to get a whole bunch of flour all over the place.015

Turns out I don’t want the flour all over the place.  I’m a bit of a control freak.  I like to plan my things on my time.  I don’t like waiting.  I’m not particularly good at knowing how to let people help me.  I prefer to be in the driver’s seat, literally, which is why I didn’t let my older brother drive at all on a 16 hour drive to see my parents.  (I didn’t say I was proud of it.)

And why should I ever be vulnerable ever?  Whose bright idea was it to make that a prerequisite for healthy community?  And depending on how honest I’m being, I’d tell you I’m between 68-100% positive that my heart is massively selfish and I struggle to really love anyone and everyone.  Case in point- I maaaaay have told my husband the other day that I was trying to “not seem selfish” but also “do what I want”.  (Like swinging alone for instance.)newport 3

I don’t usually say it out loud, but I think that’s an ongoing undercurrent in my heart, an undertow that threatens to suck me in and drown me in the self-absorption I thought was in my best interest.

Turns out community is really great till it’s inconvenient to me.  Community is fantastic until it means someone has to see my messy side- my needy side- the yelling, irritable, keeping-record-of-wrongs me.  Guys, I can win a complaining contest without breaking a sweat, and as an avid talker I find it easier to gab than listen, easier to use my mouth to complain about something than my hands to work towards fixing it.  Community requires that I use my hands and feet for more than just myself.  Community asks me to let someone else help me up when my pride would rather hide and nurse my struggles by myself.

Community is beautiful till I realize that everyone else is a mess too and it’s not like we’re all getting more and more perfect at a steady rate.  Oh no.  The deeper in we get, the more likely we are to step on an emotional landmine of some kind, more likely to find hurt and more depths of our selfishness and yet…and yet I marvel at how my heart aches for community all the same.  I marvel at how even the sandpaper of community is actually refining me, sanding me a bit smoother.  At least, I’d like to think I’m a bit less likely to give you a sliver today than I was five years ago.

I was made for being with people.  My church family might be the best example of that for me…It offers me hope and love, the faintest picture of what I believe heaven must be like.  I’m surrounded by friends who I know will laugh and cry with me, keep me in check when I’m being a word I can’t use in polite company, and challenge me to grow and love more deeply through their own love.

Yeah.  Community is such a pain.  But it’s the kind of pain that keeps me alive, keeps me from being numb, keeps me from dying in a selfish stupor.

What about you?  Do you struggle with community?  How have you kept your heart vulnerable towards others?  How have you learned to give up your own selfishness?  I’d love to hear because I so struggle with this myself!

 

 

 

Beauty in the Season

We were running late. I should know by now that running late to anywhere with three kids spells trouble. We were halfway to our destination when I heard a pitiful whine from my six year old daughter in the back seat:
“We forgot my tambourine! And my ballet shoes!”
She recently joined an informal worship dance class. Half the kids just wear socks, and they always have an extra tambourine on hand. I told my daughter these things reassuringly…she wouldn’t be reassured.
Her drama escalated so that by the time we arrived, she didn’t even want to participate in dance at all. Oh and, conveniently, her loose tooth started bothering her for the first time all day.
“What if I jump and it hurts more? This isn’t the kind of dance I want to be in,” she complained, though she normally loves her class.
But I had lugged my three kids out of the car, and her friends were relying on her to do her part in the upcoming performance, so I encouraged her to stay. I even told her I’d wait to leave until she felt comfortable.
But my two year old had other plans. As soon as I put him down he ran to the water dispenser, happily helping himself to a drink. He just kept refilling, water dripping everywhere, so I sat on the floor ready to block him whenever he made another lunge for the water. At this point we were making a scene in the middle of practice.
Just when I was getting to my breaking point, he dashed in the opposite direction, accidentally colliding with the dance instructor as she twirled towards him with her tambourine. Yes, my son was clocked by a worship instrument.
I scooped up my wailing toddler, gave the other moms a helpless look, and walked back out of dance class with two out of three kids bawling.
Sound familiar?
Some moments in life are so exasperatingly out of our control: The mortifying fifteen minutes at the library when your kid won’t stop screaming; the days when your medical condition flairs up and it’s all you can do to survive the day; the times when you feel rejected by your spouse or friends.
How do we keep these things in perspective?
I had this zany idea this past leap day to make a time capsule to open with the kids next leap year. How on earth am I going to keep track of a blessed time capsule for four years when I lose something daily?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Still, the kids enjoyed drawing about what they were like now and what they’d be doing in four years as 10, 9, and 6 year olds. I joined in the fun by including a postcard to my future self. I listed exciting things like my daughter starting t-ball and my goal of publishing a book. But I also wrote about some challenges, like my youngest son’s speech delay, and my husband’s stressful work deadline.
I realized that each thing on my card is part of a season. And I wondered how each of these joys and obstacles would seem after four years of hindsight and change.  How would my perspective on the challenges of today change through the lens of the future?  Would I see today for what it really is…a unique season with a unique purpose?
Ecclesastes 3:1 says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” (NIV)
If you’re like me, sometimes seasons feel suffocating or empty. Maybe you’re in the throes of raising young kids, watching work deadlines pile up, or struggling through relationships. Or maybe you’re just tired from winter and you’re so ready for the steady warmth of spring.
We may want to skip this season and go straight to the next, but we’d be missing out. Because a few verses later, in Ecclesiastes 3:11, we read: “He has made everything beautiful in its time.”
Rest assured God is working in your present moment, no matter what it feels like. There’s something beautiful God is unfolding, whether we see it in four years or in the Kingdom to come. Don’t give up. Please hold on to see the beauty, and remember you’re not alone.