Category: Bible Truths

The Power of Margin Time

 

I asked Caleb what he wanted to do for his birthday, and he wanted hotdogs and marshmallows for breakfast and a trip to the sandy beach. He settled for powdered doughnuts for breakfast, but I came through on the trip to the sandy beach.

The sandy beach is the name the kids have affectionately labeled a stretch of sandy shoreline along the creek behind our house. In winter we build fires at the sandy beach, and the smoke wafts up through a thick canopy of hemlock trees.  In summer we swim in the waist-deep water with the rock wall on the far side of the swimming hole.

We’ve been known to catch bluegills and crayfish in the shallow part of the pool, and surrounded by wilderness, the sandy beach feels like an escape to a different world.

The day of celebration dawns clear and cool.  I leave the calendar wide open and free of plans, and so our walk to the sandy beach is slow and filled with frequent stops. We stop to rescue a caterpillar from the middle of the dangerous road.  We pick goldenrod and ironweed and joe-pye weed for a late summer bouquet.  I gather a handful of green acorns for him to throw off the bridge when we reach the creek.

When we finally make it to the bottom of the hill and past the red barn, we notice that we’re not alone at the creek. Our neighbors made the half-mile trek to the creek as well.  The boys’ grandpa doesn’t get around as well as he used to, and so he drove the scooter down the road with his grandsons close at hand.

The boys are quick to tell us that they didn’t catch any fish today. Even worse, the fishing pole broke, and an essential part of the reel is submerged in the clear water just below the bridge.  We gaze down from above, and the lost part sparkles from the depths of the clear water.

“Go get it, Mama!” Caleb commands, and I know he’s onto something.

It wasn’t safe for the boys to head into the water on their own, but this is a task we can handle. Grandpa laughs and tells me it’s not necessary, but the pleading gaze of the little boy who is like a second son to our family captures my heart.  I don’t need to think twice.

And this is how I find myself wading across Wolf Creek on a sixty-degree morning in search of a piece of fishing reel.

The boys take off their shoes and stand in the mud along the creek, and I manage to wade into the thigh-deep water, reach to the bottom, and secure the treasure.  There are cheers and hugs.

An hour later, sitting along the bank of the sandy beach with Caleb, I consider all the times I’ve missed opportunities to bless others because I’m in too big of a hurry. My to-do list daily threatens to rule my life and dominate my decisions, but this is never God’s best.

God’s best is a life without hurry – a life that leaves margin time between activities: time to pick goldenrod, save caterpillars, and show kindness to neighbors. Surely, there are seasons when margins are narrower, but when there’s a choice – and there’s often a choice – wide margins hold the power to bless.  When there’s a choice, I decide to choose the wide margins and live with eyes wide open for what God is doing in my midst.

How to Boldly Step into the Next Season

 

It’s an overcast evening with light air hanging over the black-eyed susans that blanket the fields behind the house. The Conservancy planted them when they bought the land, and despite the fact that they tore down the old white barn, we’re blessed by the wildflowers.

Among our favorite parts of summer is dinner on the deck. I like it because the spilled honey and tiny pieces of shredded cheddar don’t end up plastered to the dining room floor for weeks on end.  The kids like it because the last bite of the meal is permissibly tossed off the deck to our three hungry chickens.  We all like it because the open sky and chattering red-winged blackbirds fill us with a deep sense that we are free.

I’ve spent most of the day cleaning the house, dealing with a frustrating computer issue, and searching the basement boxes for size 3T sweatpants, and I’m a bit frazzled by the time the food is on the table. After Caleb’s garbled prayer to give thanks for chicken nuggets, buns, and spoons (he thanks God for spoons twice), we eat with few words.  The company of family and the space to enjoy silence is a gift.

I feel myself unwinding from the frustrating parts of the day when it happens. Our sweet little girl winds up with a banana peel in her right fist.  I know she’s aiming for the weeds behind me, and I know exactly what’s about to happen before I have time to swallow my bread and speak a word.

She throws the peel as hard as her six-year-old arm can throw, and the peel smacks me in the center of my face.

Silent stares watch my face for a reaction, and in a split-second, I make a choice that will set the tone for the rest of the evening. I choose to unleash hysterical laughter.   We all laugh until our eyes water, and I consider throwing something in return, but I know where it could lead and resist.  The moment is priceless, and I’m thankful I chose laughter.

When the dishes are washed and the kids are busy making bubbles in the yard, I reflect on the banana peel. Something about the moment felt like I’d just encountered the heart of the Father, and I can’t put my finger on it.

For years, I’ve claimed Philippians 3:8 as my life verse: More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.

Thinking of the verse, I unlock the truth wrapped in the shriveled banana peel: I come to know Christ more deeply when I let go of my agenda, my rights, and my expectations of how circumstances should unfold. I come to know him more when I can laugh at the ridiculous and let go of what doesn’t really matter.

I recently read Emily P. Freeman’s post on 10 things she learned this summer.  Her words, combined with the banana peel incident, have prompted me to consider what we’ve learned around these parts this summer.  Her words remind me that sometimes the best way to close the chapter on one season and step into another is to reflect on the lessons learned.  This is my list:

1. Whenever possible, choose laughter over angry words.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come” (Proverbs 31:25).  And this is the kind of woman I want to be – not the kind who takes herself too seriously.

2. When the pace of my life feels out of control, I have the choice to deliberately step out of the raging current and recalibrate.

We spent quite a few weekends in the hills of northern Pennsylvania this summer. For most of my life, our family’s hunting camp has been a place of solace for us.  Darrell and I have often discussed our longings to move permanently to a cabin in the woods somewhere.  It was while reading Shauna Niequist’s book Present over Perfect that I was struck with the truth behind our longings.  Shauna writes about similar feelings as her family regularly seeks reprieve at a cottage on a lake:

It’s at the lake that I realize how far I’ve come, or how far I have yet to travel. Both, maybe.  It’s at the lake that my priorities reshuffle, aligning more closely with my true nature.

I’ve wondered from time to time if we should move here, permanently, to this small Michigan town. But it seems to me that we’d bring our bustling and hustling here, and pretty soon we’d need a new place to escape in order to recalibrate.  Part of the magic of the lake is that it isn’t home – it’s away, and away allows us to see the rhythms and dimensions of our lives more clearly.

Shauna’s words remind me that I have the choice daily to decide if my life will be frantic and frenzied or serene and steady.  My pace is about a mindset, not a place.

3. My life is richer when I’m increasingly aware of the small miracles in my midst.

I was struck by this quote in a blog post called “Chasing Smallness” by Shauna Shanks this summer:

These past few years God has been re-ordering my life. Rather than bigger is better attitude, He has asked me to stop all the chaos, hand him over my crumpled-up mess I’d made, and start again. Smaller this time.

These words remind me that bigger, faster, and more glamorous are not always best.

4. Hard doesn’t mean wrong.

I’m inspired by the words of Tsh Oxenreider. Tsh and her husband embarked on a 9-month journey around the world with their three young children.  Before leaving on the trip, she wrote a note to her future self – the self that would be doubting the decision at the beginning of the trip.  The note read:

You’re in China, which is hard. But you can do hard things.  You won’t be here long.  This month is the foundation for the year.  Lean in to the struggles: give thanks for the easy times.  Hard doesn’t mean wrong.  You’re on the right path.

Her words remind me that difficult doesn’t always mean wrong.

5. Confidence and vulnerability can coexist.

My time at the She Speaks conference in July prompted me to question many things about calling, life, and authenticity. Greatest among the lessons from this weekend was the realization that it’s possible to walk into a crowded room of gifted women and be honest about the difficulty of the journey.  This kind of vulnerability might be the bravest and most confident way to live.  My confidence doesn’t come from my own gifting.  It comes from the One who created me.

6. There’s only room for a miracle when I am unable to produce the outcome on my own.

I’m currently reading Unashamed by Christine Caine.  Christine reminds us that we are unable to measure up in our carnal, human selves.  It is the power of Christ in us that is sufficient in our weakness.

7. I’m not defined by the outcomes I am able to produce in my life.

I could list twenty more lessons from the summer. For the sake of illustrating this final point, I’m stopping short.  I’m stopping short as a reminder that none of us are defined by the outcomes we produce in our lives.  Coming up short doesn’t classify a person as lacking, and every failure is an opportunity to grow.

As summer fades to autumn in the subtle shift from light to darkness, warmth to chill, and green to crimson, we will keep growing deeper roots around here.  We will keep laughing at the ridiculous and smiling at the future.  This is how we step boldly into the next season.

References:

Niequist, S. (2016). Present over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

http://www.shaunashanks.com/blog/2015/9/7/chasing-smallness

Tsh Oxenreider (2017). At Home in the World: Reflections of Belonging while Wandering the Globe, Nashville, Tennessee: Harper Collins.

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For Anyone Who’s Been the Last One Chosen

 

I open the refrigerator in search of milk, but the sticker on the outside of the door catches my eye. It reads: “Star Student Award.”  It’s the size of a small nametag – white paper creased and worn and dirtied and so very well loved.

She wore it for two days. The first day, she bounced off the school bus in the blazing heat of a mid-May afternoon with a fleece jacket over her shirt.  She said she wanted to surprise me.  She ripped the coat wide open to unveil the prize she’d been longing for all year: the principal’s star student award.  She was spotted helping a friend, and someone noticed.  It feels so good when someone notices.

I convinced her not to slap it onto her pajamas that night, but she wore it to school the next day, gently pulling it from her turquoise T-shirt and placing it on her purple dress. She’d been chosen, and she just couldn’t wait to show the world.

After the second day on display, the sticker found its final resting place on an index card, and we taped it to the fridge for good measure. A treasure.  A reminder to be kind.

Staring at it in the early glow of morning’s rising light, I find myself thinking of what it means to be chosen. I think of a dozen times when I so desperately longed to be chosen . . . but wasn’t.  There was that day on the playground in second grade with all the boys.  I wanted to join their football game.  When the members of teams were drawn – one by one – I wasn’t last, but I was near the end.  I made sure to run faster and play harder than the rest of the boys, and from that day on, I was never near the end again.  The adult friends and family who have walked with me since childhood can attest to this.

I remember that boy in eighth grade. I desperately wanted him to dance with me, but he never walked across the wide span of gymnasium.  He asked the girl with the blonde hair and poufy bangs instead.  Two feet apart, they swayed to Boyz II Men for the full three minutes that could have been mine.

I turn from the sticker on the fridge and make my way to the couch to open the Word that will speak life into my day. I read, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,  just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Ephesians 1:3-4).

Chosen. I chew on the words.  I am chosen by the One who created the stars and the clouds and the mountains and the seas.  Before the foundation of all these things, he chose me.  I wasn’t always chosen for the team, chosen for the dance, or chosen for the promotion, but I am chosen by the Lord over all the earth to be his.  More than this, I am chosen to be blameless.

Me, with all my failures, all my besetting sins, my quick temper with the kids, my stained past, and my addictive personality – chosen to be blameless. Only the cross could have accomplished this.  Only the cross, with the shedding of innocent blood where the Lamb of God was slain for my failures.  Only the cross makes me blameless.

I swallow down the truth, and Bekah comes down the stairs with her hair matted from the pillow.  I hear her brother talking on the monitor – playing with the toys in his bed and singing with the little pink computer that sings the alphabet song.

She walks to the fridge and runs her little fingers – nails painted cobalt blue – across the sticker that reminds her she was chosen. I run my fingers across the pages that remind me of the same thing.

When she folds onto my lap, we talk about the sticker on the fridge, and I read words of life to her, praying they’ll sink straight into her thrumming heart. She smiles wide, truth sinking deeper.

 

How to be Happy with What We Have

Today I’m welcoming a writing friend as a guest blogger. While welcoming guest bloggers to my site isn’t something I’m regularly pursuing, Daisy and I met long before I ever imagined I’d have a blog, and her words have been an encouragement to me.  We met through Grove City Alliance Church, and Daisy passed her role as the Prayer Shield Coordinator onto me a few years ago.

We reconnected this spring, and it’s an honor to share her words with you today. Daisy is the published author of Homespun Faith, a compilation of devotionals.  She writes on her own blog at homespunfaith.com.

How to be Happy with What We Have

By Daisy Townsend

Recently I became obsessed with finding a rug just the right size for a floor area we wanted to cover in our bedroom. The size rug we needed wasn’t easy to find, not being a standard size. I measured several times and pictured what the different-sized rugs would look like in our bedroom. I hunted at Ollie’s and online.

One day I noticed the carpet remnant on the family room floor left over from when we’d had our upstairs carpeted four years ago. The longer I looked the more sure I became that this carpet remnant was exactly the right size for the area we wanted to cover in our bedroom. (A standard size rug would easily replace the remnant in our family room.)

When Donn and I carried the remnant to our bedroom, we found it was a perfect fit! I kept thinking of the irony of how hard we’d tried to find the perfect rug when we already had exactly what we needed. I wondered how often in life we do the same thing─go out searching for what we think we need when we already have it.

One woman I knew had been married many years to a good man but decided she wasn’t happy. Eventually she left her husband and found the man she thought she wanted. Things didn’t turn out well. I asked her gently, “Do you have regrets?” Sobs shook her whole body as she nodded. “So many regrets.”

I read of a similar case of a woman who spent many years complaining to her calm, easy-going accountant husband and her friends about the unexciting life they led. When Tim died of a heart attack in his forties, Diane found the man of her dreams. He was debonair and charming, an exciting date. However, after they married, she discovered he wanted to party every night and cared little about managing finances. Later, Diane told a friend, “I wish I had married someone who was content to stay home and good at managing money.” Her friend looked at her and said, “Someone like Tim?” God had given her exactly what she needed, but she’d been too blind to appreciate him.

This reminds me of two of my favorite children’s books: Old Hat, New Hat and The Best Nest. The moral of each story is the same. In Old Hat, New Hat the bear sets out to buy a new hat. He tries on or looks at 31 different hats, but finds something wrong with each one. (Do you remember? “Too big. Too small. Too flat. Too tall. etc.”) In the end, he puts on his old hat, looks in the mirror and says, “Just right! Just right. Just right. Just right.” He leaves the store wearing his old hat with a smile on his face.

 

In The Best Nest, Mr. Bird loves their nest and sings often, “I love my house. I love my nest. In all the world, my nest is best!” Mrs. Bird has a different opinion but in the end, after looking at many other nests, Mrs. Bird also realizes that the nest they have is, after all, the best nest.

Old Hat, New Hat and The Best Nest have happy endings because the “people” come to appreciate what they already had. However, in the real world, as in the other two stories I shared, the endings aren’t always happy. We may leave a marriage, a job, a house, or any number of places or situations, and later, when we realize the value of what we had, we discover it’s too late.

Charles Stanley recently said many people love to quote Psalm 37:4 (Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart), but fail to understand that the promise has a condition we must fulfill. Psalm 90:14 says, “Satisfy me early with your love that I may delight in you all the day.” As the Lord becomes our delight, He aligns our desires with His.

If we find ourselves unhappy and dissatisfied with our marriage, our job, our church, our home, perhaps the first step shouldn’t be to look for a new man/woman, job, church, home. Perhaps the first step should be to ask God to satisfy us with His love so that we can delight in Him and trust Him to give us the desires of our hearts. In many cases, we may discover that He already has.

Father, forgive us for trying so hard to find what we want that we’re blinded to the fact you’ve often already given us what we need. Amen.

 

–Daisy Townsend

 

 

 

God’s Desire for Communion

“The irony is that while God doesn’t need us but still wants us, we desperately need God but don’t really want Him most of the time.” – Francis Chan

The curtains wave in the breeze, and a dozen songbirds chatter on the lawn. I sit with iced tea and a craving for something I can’t quite name.  It’s quiet time at our house – a designated hour of rest and silence.  Caleb sleeps.  Bekah plays quietly in her room, and I gaze into a long list of goals to achieve by the end of the week.

Francis Chan speaks through the computer screen. There’s a tent on the stage where he stands before a crowd – a red and white camping tent: a modern-day illustration of the place Moses once went to meet face-to-face with the Creator of the world.  Francis speaks of the awe with which God’s people once approached him – how God spoke through thunder, lightning, and fire.  He speaks of reverence and glory.

He says: “And what’s crazy to me is nowadays how we treat this time with God as ordinary or even burdensome – to where we try to squeeze in like five minutes at the end of our day, like I gotta try to get some time with him . . . I feel guilty ‘cause I only got like two or three minutes . . . And now it’s like a burden, and we have pastors that beg us . . . just give him a few minutes –  just try, please, please.”

I think of our morning: me with coffee, racing through the daily Scripture reading, while Caleb murmured on the monitor. Just trying to get it done.  I think of last evening: a chapter before bed, but my eyes glazing over and sleep settling in before I absorbed a single word.  I think of all the times it feels more like one more chore on a long list than the greatest honor a human could ever receive: The Creator of the universe wants to meet with me.

And here I am giving him six minutes and checking it off the list. Six distracted minutes.  Six minutes that were more about finding direction for my day and getting my needs met than actually connecting with his heart.

What if every time I opened my Bible, I actually expected God to speak to me? Doesn’t he?  Isn’t there a promise that every verse is God-breathed?  Isn’t there a promise that no word from this book will ever return empty?

I put down the list of tasks and silence the sermon from Francis. I open the Bible and expect God to speak.  I read:

And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to minister to him. . .  these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. (Psalm 56:6-7)

If I bind myself to the Lord, he will bring me joy. If I keep seeking, pursuing, and attending to him, he will bring me to his holy mountain.  If I draw near to him, he will draw near to me.

I sit with the Book and the curtain and the songbirds. I don’t cross even one task off the to-do list.  And somehow, when the quiet hour ends, it feels like I’ve accomplished the very best thing.

~~~

 

For practical suggestions on growing in relationship with the Lord, enter your email to receive the free print out in your inbox: 10 Ways to Go Deeper with God.

 

Francis Chan, “Entering the Presence of God,” April 10, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdtNkjR-wFs

 

 

When He Speaks Your Name

 

I remember it with the poignancy of yesterday. I’m fiddling with the latch on my green Care Bears lunchbox, when Mrs. Nagel gently encourages me to take a step to the left.  It seems I’m the juxtapose member of an otherwise pencil-straight line of kindergartners.

I’m missing my mom like it’s nobody’s business, and this whole mess of leaving her for approximately 3.5 hours a day is just about more than my five-year-old heart can take. I have no idea how I’ll ever get married and leave the house.  But I leave that thought alone and just try to swallow the tears that rise every time I think of her throughout the long half-days in the kindergarten classroom.

The colossal correction from Mrs. Nagel triggers the tears again, and I gulp hard, staring at the Care Bears and the rainbow on my lunch box. That’s when I hear the word.  “Stacey,” she says it gently, and somewhere behind the words, I hear all the love in the world, and something about her voice reminds me of my mom.  But it doesn’t bring tears this time.  I look right into her eyes, and I see a kind of compassion that wraps me comfort.

When she says my name, I know she sees me. I know she sees my heart, and she’s telling me it’s alright.  It’s all going to be ok.  We’re going to get through this, and she’s going to walk with me.

“No tears now,” she softly says, touching my arm tenderly.

I nod. I want to tell her I’m trying not to cry, that we’re on the same page, that I’m on board, and that we’ll get there.  Instead I just nod my little head and clench my lunchbox handle with two hands, eyes straight ahead.  I’ve got this.  I’ve got this standing in line thing, and this getting on the bus thing, and this leaving Mom thing.  We’re gonna make it.

We did make it. Mrs. Nagel and I soared through kindergarten together, and by the end of the year, the tears were a rarity.  Her kindness and gentleness walked me through the hard transition.

This is the memory that comes to mind when I read the account of Mary, searching for the body of Jesus at the tomb. Her grief is deeper than that of a kindergartner missing her mom, but it is grief, nonetheless.  She has come to anoint the body of Jesus with oil, and something about the act feels like a comfort to her.  She has lost him, but she focuses on what she can now do for him in his death.

She arrives at the tomb to discover the body is gone. Double grief.  Not only is she grieved over his death, she’s now distraught over the fact that someone has taken his body.  It’s disturbing.  It’s disheartening.  It’s terrible.  Someone is going to rob her of the final consolation of at least giving him a proper burial.

That’s when it happens. A gardener comes to the tomb beside her.  She glances at him, then begs him to tell her where they might have put the body.  Her mind is racing, and her eyes are blinded to the reality that this is no gardener; this is the very Lord she vehemently seeks.

She doesn’t know it’s him until he says it. He says her name, “Mary.”

I imagine the tone. It’s direct, yet filled with compassion.  It’s an assertion that he sees her.  He sees her heart and her desperation.  It’s an assertion that good things are coming.  Surely, he knows the awe that will fall upon her when she recognizes him.  Surely, this brings him joy, and there’s anticipation in the proclamation of her name.

She recognizes him the moment he says her name. She responds, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher).*  And from that moment, everything changes.  The redemption of humankind is at hand.  His body was not stolen; he is alive!

The scene reminds me of Mrs. Nagel’s gentle proclamation of my name – of the day she saw into my heart and reminded me we’d get through it. It also stirs in me a deep longing for the day when I stand before the throne of God and hear Jesus speak my name.  It reminds me of the way he drew me to himself as a young girl.  It reminds me that just as he knew Mary by name, he knows my name.  He is watching, waiting, and walking with me through this season.

Jesus knows your name too. Imagine the day he looks into your eyes and speaks your name.  The day will come for each one of us.  Let’s live with prepared hearts, waiting, longing, and anticipating the day he calls our names.

 

 

*John 20:16