Category: Relationship with God

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 When You’re Feeling Less-than

 

Muddy water rolls onto the rocky shore like waves of hope, and I count my blessings with the rhythm of the surf: this perfect day with cerulean skies and just the right placement of high cirrus clouds, sailboats on the horizon, these rolling green hills that speak of life and abundance, a date with a six-year-old, and the fact that she begged me to bring her to this place with a Bible. It’s almost too much to really believe this is my child and my life.

I watch her as she watches the waves beside me. She’s past the age of hurling rocks and sticks for entertainment.  Today she simply wants to watch the boats and the clouds drift by.

I pray for words that might capture this moment and speak truth into the deepest recesses of her being. I want to make the most of the moment, make it teachable, and be intentional.

Her delicate hair dances in the wind, and she looks right through me with penetrating eyes. She wants to know what I’m thinking about.  I tell her I was watching her watch the waves, and I think she’s beautiful.  I tell her I’m so grateful for this time together.

That’s when I remember.  I remember Ann’s words from this morning:

“The world will say they will love you if you’re beautiful —but the truth is you’re beautiful because you are loved.  “God Loves YOU. He who is Love loves you unconditionally. Living as one truly loved and cherished by God is the cross- beam that supports an abundant life in Christ. Belovedness is the center of being, the only real identity, God’s only name for you, the only identity He gives you. And you won’t ever feel like you belong anywhere until you choose to listen to your heart beating out that you do—unconditionally, irrevocably.” ~Ann Voskamp

My daughter is beautiful because she is loved. She’ll face bullies in the days to come.  She’ll face boys who will promise to love her if she’s beautiful, but how can I teach her that it’s not the love of boys or the admiration that comes from other women that makes a woman beautiful.  A woman is beautiful because she’s loved by God.

I want her to know who she is without hesitation. She’s not simply pretty or smart or funny.  She’s not defined by her social status, her hobbies, or her aspirations.  Before all of these things, she is first beloved.  Belovedness is the center of her being, her only real identity, and God’s name for her.  How can I teach her this?

I open the Bible on my lap to Romans, and I tell her: “God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This is how we know for sure that we are beautiful: God showed us that we are beautiful and beloved when he sent his Son to die for us.  This is the ultimate act of love.  You are beautiful because of this.”

I think of the labels with which I’ve defined myself: athlete, teacher, backpacker, wife, mother. I remember when the injury happened, and I could no longer call myself an athlete.  I remember walking away from my career to pursue full-time parenting, and I could no longer call myself a teacher.  I remember the day I realized it had been six years since I’d worn the old Kelty backpack into the mountains, and I could no longer call myself a backpacker.  What then?

What do we do with all the labels that are eventually stripped away? Who am I if it’s all stripped away?

Ann’s words ring true: The only identity that never changes is the identity that says I am beloved.

Blaise Pascal said it this way: “Not only do we know God through Jesus Christ, but we only know ourselves through Jesus Christ.”

I tell my girl that the only part of her that can never be stripped away is the love of Christ that is sealed over her life. No matter where she goes, no matter what she faces, she is still beloved.  There’s no need to prove herself to the world or make much of her life for the sake of a simple label.  She is free to live and love as one who is fully defined by the love of Christ.

She crawls onto my lap and listens intently. “Does this make sense?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says, “God loves me, just because I’m his.”

I kiss her damp hair. “Yes, just because you’re his.”

~~~

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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.

~~~

 

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

 

 

An Invitation

I’m washing crusty marinara sauce from a plate that sat too long when she wraps her little arm around my thigh. “Come with me, Mommy,” she beckons.

“Just as soon as I finish these dishes,” I tell her.

“No, Mom – now. You have to come now,” she begs.

She’s been playing on the deck, and I’m sure there’s a caterpillar making an escape or a tower built of rocks on a patio chair. I really just want to clean the kitchen. But when I look into those sparking blue eyes, gazing up from the floor like a fairy, I surrender my desire and pursue hers.

She leads me by the hand through the open screen door, to the far corner of the deck, just as I expected. But what she shows me is not what I expected. Not at all.

The sky is a color I can’t even name – some combination of indigo, magenta, and coral. Clouds like translucent fingers reach to each other along the black horizon in shades of lavender. The sun is gone, but from where it descended, a white glow rises from the tree line as if Christ might come on his white horse, right through that blazing chasm, and call the trumpet to sound. To top it all off, the moon is high in the northern sky, white on navy, a contrast as stark white lilies on black water.

“Let’s go to the yard where we can see it better,” she suggests, eyes still dancing. Read more… »