Don’t Fear the Brokenness

 

I’m rushing like a mad woman to get it all done before slipping out the door to meet with a friend. It’s a haze of furious productivity, all so that I can be fully prepared to stand before the throne of God and tell him that my dishes are washed, the floors are swept, and the toilets are scrubbed.  It seems I can’t stop the frenzy of hurry that’s overtaken my body.

I hurriedly shove a white porcelain cup on top of a clumsy stack of plastic children’s dishes, and then it happens. It slides straight out of the cabinet, onto the countertop with a sort of bounce, and onto the kitchen floor.  It breaks into a handful of tiny pieces – white shards that threaten soft  little feet.  I hear the feet patter toward the commotion, and I bark a sharp command about staying in the living room.

Picking up the pieces with the ferocity of a woman on a life-saving mission, I double-bag them in the garbage and race to the basement for the vacuum cleaner. When I ascend the stares, Caleb’s standing in the center of the kitchen, staring at the shards.  His little bare feet are literally inches from the razor-like pieces of porcelain.

I yell. It’s all in the name of protection, but there’s no denying I’m yelling.  Instead of obeying my shouted command, he folds onto the floor in a million pieces, just like the cup that’s shattered on the floor.  And suddenly, the cup and the prayer meeting, and the million pressing things that need done don’t seem so important after all.  I crumble with him, scoop him up, and carry him to the safety of the living room.  We sit on the carpet in all our human brokenness, hold onto one another, and watch robins search for worms on the lawn.

I tell him I’m sorry and don’t try to justify the fact that I was only trying to protect him. We sit long and watch the robins.  The shards rest quietly on the kitchen floor.  Broken and undisturbed.

By the time Darrell and Bekah wander in from the garage, the kitchen floor is safe again, and there’s no evidence of the small disaster. I’m fifteen minutes late for my meeting, but everyone understands and smiles with grace.

Driving home from the meeting, the moon rises low and white over the horizon, and I find myself pondering all the brokenness of the day. It seemed to be anything but broken in the moments before that cup shattered, but as I look more closely, it’s as clear as the moon rising white.  It was all broken, long before the shattered cup.

It was the bad kind of brokenness that looks like a frenzied, striving woman – trying to keep all the pieces together, but coming unglued with every frenzied motion. It wasn’t until the cup shattered and Caleb crumbled and I fell with him that good brokenness came.  King David wrote: My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise (Psalm 51:17, NIV).

Godly brokenness comes when we let ourselves fall dependently into his arms and give up our striving efforts to accomplish and perform in our own strength. Good brokenness comes when we let others see our vulnerabilities and don’t hide the things we haven’t figured out.  Good brokenness comes when we go lower and offer our broken hearts to God, trusting that he won’t throw them away, but that he’ll piece them back together with greater beauty.

 M.R. DeHann says it well: “God used two broken stones tablets to cause the Israelites to repent of their disobedience.

God used broken earthen vessels to give the impression of an enormous army accompanying Gideon.

God used a broken heart to return King David to Himself. . .

God used broken loaves to feed five thousand and then some.

God used broken fishing nest to challenge the disciple to depend on him rather than their own efforts for their needs.

God used a broken ship to steer Paul to the island of Malta to reveal the gospel to the natives there.

God used a broken body, pierced for our sins, to provide salvation for all humankind.”

 

I walk into a still house after the meeting and turn on the hallway light. There on the floor, a small shard of white greets me at the entryway, flung fifteen feet from the site of the fallen cup.  I pick it up and hold it on the tip of my finger.  It seems we’re sweetly broken together tonight.

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Thanks to the Kelly Balarie link-up for including this post!

Four Ways to be Less Busy

 

It’s autumn in Pennsylvania. Autumn in this part of the world means cornfields that rustle beige in the evening thermals.  It means pumpkins on stoops and hay mazes towering in muddy alfalfa fields.  It means russet leaves applauding the sky and geese heading south with their human-like voices echoing overhead.

For our family it also means settling into a different routine – one that currently includes soccer games, hunting trips, and longer hours within the walls of our living room. Darkness comes earlier, and we find ourselves racing to fit more into days that seem shorter.  It’s the time of the harvest – a time for filling the freezers and picking squash and baking countless loaves of zucchini bread for who knows what.

In the midst of it all, we want nothing more than to slow down and embrace the season, but the current of our lives races by at a furious pace, and we see little choice but to let ourselves be carried away in its grip. I sit in the woods on a Sunday afternoon and watch sycamore leaves flutter to the yellowing earth.  It’s time to recalibrate.  It’s time to consider what it will take to slow into a pace that doesn’t feel frantic, and this is what I’ve come up with:

Refuse to hurry

What would actually happen to our lives if we refused to hurry – ever again? I consider the consequences: We’d probably be late for social gatherings more often than we already are.  We might miss the school bus a few times.  There would be less time spent in the waiting rooms of doctor’s offices.  And everyone would be ok.

Maybe everyone would be more than just ok. Maybe we’d be better for having killed the rhythm of the rushed.  Psalm 46:10 reads, “Cease striving, and know that I am God.”  For years, I thought this was a verse solely designated for quiet time with the Lord: Stop your constant thinking, worrying, and planning, and focus on God.  But what if it’s more than the mantra of the devotional time keepers?  What if it’s a Word for the hurriers, and what if it’s meant to be invoked outside of our prayer closets, in the midst of our important and frantic lives?

Plan margin time

Caleb and I walked to the creek this week. The day was blank on our calendar – a day for cleaning the house, cooking, and enjoying the season.  I pushed him in our worn stroller, and we walked to the creek – black water winding through a crimson and orange understory.  We threw heavy stones into the water and laughed at the droplets that splashed our legs.

We walked home without hurry, and the neighbor was in his yard. We stopped to talk for ten minutes or more – to encourage him and speak words of truth.  As we strolled away from his house, I considered how many times we’ve hurried past with a quick wave, off to the next thing on our schedule.  I also considered the way margin time in our days leaves room to actually see the people in front of us – to look into their eyes and silently ask God what he might want to speak through us.

Take a day off every single week

Sabbath-keeping hasn’t been a command I’ve honored well with my life. As an athlete in high school, there was often a tournament or track meet that filled my Saturdays, and Sunday was the only day left for studying physics or biology.  College was more of the same, and when a teaching career came, Sunday was the day for planning the week’s lessons and activities.

Life as a full-time mom has its own set of challenges. If we’re not careful, every day of the week starts to feel exactly the same as the others: scrubbing sticky floors, laundry, meals, and more.  We don’t live this perfectly, but we’re learning to live differently one day a week.  For us that day is Sunday.  Sunday is slower, more intentional, and more restful.  We take naps and force ourselves to slow down.

Slowing down one day a week recalibrates us and helps us slow down throughout the rest of the week. It breaks the frenzied cycle of rushing from one thing to the next.

Keep first things first

Saying no to busyness means we can’t say yes to everything. It means letting a few tomatoes spoil in the garden, letting the basement door remain unpainted for another year, choosing soccer over cross-country, and taking a break from the women’s group I once loved.  Saying no to busyness means stepping back and honestly assessing what matters most, and then arranging our lives to honor our highest priorities.

 

In the stillness of the woods, I write my list for a less-busy life, and I stand to slip away from the sycamores. A leaf cascades to the ground and lands squarely on my shoulder.  I’m thankful for having noticed.

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This post was shared on a Friendship Friday Blog Link-up

5 Ways to Celebrate Fall without Ghosts and Goblins

Celebrate Fall with fun family friendly activities and avoid the Halloween spookiness

5 Ways to Celebrate Fall without the Spookiness

 

It’s a pristine October day that feels more like early September than mid-autumn with all its color and brilliance and the scent of freshly fallen leaves blanketing the earth. We go to the woods in search of fall decorations for the house and come home with plastic bagfuls of sticky pinecones, acorns, leaves, ferns, and rocks.  The pinecones find new homes in baskets throughout the house, the leaves are scattered across the dining room table while crayons make leaf imprints on construction paper, and the acorns and stones find their way to vases.

Fall is the season of harvest in these parts, and the farmers are ceaseless in their combining, raking, and gathering. There’s something about the season of harvest that seems to warrant celebration, and the kids are eager to embrace this short season of pumpkins and scarecrows before the snow flies.

There’s an important standard in our home that faces cultural opposition this time of year. The standard is this: “Only dwell on what is pure, lovely, and good.” This standard keeps eerie programming off of our TV screen, leaves goblins at the doorstep, warrants the disposal of other types of media, and guards our hearts in the season known for making light of ghosts and vampires.  It keeps the spookiness from overtaking our home with the onslaught of autumn, and it keeps our eyes on what is pure, lovely, and good.

This week’s post is for anyone who is looking to celebrate this abundant season of harvest without embracing the spookiness encouraged by modern culture. Here are five family-friendly ideas:

Focus on Autumn Décor Instead of Spooky Décor

With aisles upon aisles of witches, ghosts, and creepy decorations filling most stores, it can be difficult to navigate this season. The kids beg for Halloween decorations, and the options entice them around every corner.  One simple way to overcome the pull toward the spooky is to focus on decorating with an autumn theme instead of a creepy theme.  Pumpkins, wreathes, and even inspirational wall hangings are easy to find.  Aim for autumn instead of Halloween.

Share the Harvest with Friends

Our fridge is full of red raspberries, cabbage, fresh green beans, squash, and foods straight from the earth. One way to embrace this season is to bless friends with the gatherings of the harvest.  Take a loaf of pumpkin bread to a neighbor’s house.  Invite a few families over for a bonfire.  Plan a meal entirely based around freshly harvested fruits and vegetables, and practice giving thanks.

Practice Gratitude

It’s easy to slip into self-centered thinking when the focus of the season is on costumes and candy collection. Instead of making these things the focus of the season, encourage your family to name the blessings of the season.  Encourage them to give thanks for the abundance of goodness around them.  Gear up for the upcoming Thanksgiving season with reminders to give thanks in all things.  Count blessings and write them on leaf-shaped papers to create a gratitude tree.

Bring on the Pumpkin and Leaf Activities

In lieu of parties and activities that focus on fear-based entertainment, keep the harvest theme going as you plan activities for your children and their friends. There are countless ideas for pumpkin and fall crafts and games.  Keep your focus on God’s creation, and you’re sure to avoid ghosts and monsters.

Embrace the Last Warm Days with Outdoor Activities

Finally, celebrate fall by embracing the last warm days before winter. Visit a pumpkin patch, apple orchard, or hay maze.  Many communities offer these attractions for free.  Explore a local park and collect leaves.  Enjoy a campfire in the backyard.  Pick a bouquet of fall wildflowers for the table.  Just as the daylight is fading quickly, so are the sunny T-shirt days.  Enjoy them while they last.

For a list of 17 fall-themed Bible-based craft ideas, click here.

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This post was shared as a part of the Fresh Market Friday Link-up.

How to Start Seeing What’s Right Instead of Seeing Only What’s Wrong

 

October has come with its warm, mild afternoons. It has come with clear skies and seventy-degree days – with rolling fields of gold and beige and tawny wood lines and promises about what’s to come.

I used to dislike October because it felt like the slow death of summer, and summer was the season I loved most. In October we said goodbye to any possibility of dipping our feet in creek water.  In October we stowed away all but our favorite pair of shorts and pulled out boxes of sweaters and scarves.  In October we snuggled under fleece blankets on cool, rainy days that foreshadowed the winter months to come.

Sitting in the sun on a cloudless October afternoon, I’m reminded that every day of my life, I face two choices: Look for what’s right, or look for what’s lacking. I can complain, on this sunny October afternoon, that it’s not warm enough for swimming in creeks, or I can give thanks for the beauty of leaves changing color and geese overhead.  I can focus on the long months of winter that will soon come and keep me from sitting on the deck in the sunshine, or I can embrace the ebb and flow of seasonal changes.

In his letter to the Philippian church, Paul writes, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

It’s noteworthy that this admonition is spoken on the heels of Paul’s encouragement for the people of God to live in harmony. It seems two women among the Philippian church were at odds, and it was stirring enough controversy that Paul saw fit to address these women from afar in his letter.  I’m reminded that dwelling on whatever is pure, lovely, and good can be applied to October afternoons as well as to the way we think about the people in our lives.

Surely this applies across the board of my life. Surely focusing on what is right, instead of dwelling on what is wrong, will have a positive impact on my parenting, my career, my marriage, my friendships, my current living situation, my financial state, my health, and more.

When I focus on what is right in my life as a mom, I’m immensely thankful for the opportunity to invest in two little lives and pour into them on a daily basis. Amidst the yelling, hitting, and occasional biting, reminding myself of what is right helps my perspective when it seems everything about this is difficult.

When I focus on what is right in my career, I give thanks for the moments that assure me that my words really do make a difference in the lives of others. I give thanks for the way this season fulfills a greater calling on my life, and I’m grateful for the lessons I am learning through the difficult parts.

When I focus on what is right in my friendships, I’m grateful for women who have walked alongside me through the valleys and cheered me along over mountaintops. Looking at the good in relationships reminds me to extend grace, hold shortcomings loosely, and believe the best about my friends when conflict arises.

Finally, sitting beneath the sun as bulldozers unearth pipeline across the road, I consider the struggle we’ve had with our current home and the longing to move to a cabin somewhere in the woods. It seems our neighborhood is constantly changing, and one construction project after another leaves our backyard anything but quiet.  It’s easy to focus on what’s wrong with our situation and squirm to change it.

A hawk screeches high above the poplar tree by the deck, and I resolve to fix my eyes on what is right about this moment. Suddenly, the roaring engines of the excavators across the road feel far less obtrusive, and I couldn’t be more thankful for waving fields of goldenrod and hawks circling above.

 

 

Six Promises for When You Feel Abandoned by God

 

Caleb stirs from his nap with red eyes and a cowlick that stands straight up in salute to the sun or praise to God – I’m not sure which. I always wondered why mothers of boys let their little ones run wild in public with hair sticking out in every direction.  Now I understand.  Little boy hair does whatever it wishes, and no amount of water, saliva, mousse, or hairspray can tell it otherwise.

We descend to the living room, and the slow and painful process of his awakening takes place as I hold him on my lap. We read books and watch blue jays on the lawn.  We’re half way through Corduroy’s saga of the lost button when Darrell’s white truck pulls into the driveway, and Caleb’s off my lap in seconds, pounding on the window to welcome his father onto the property after a long day.

After the welcome hugs and cheers, I kiss the guys goodbye and slip into my walking shoes for a little bit of time out of the house. Like clockwork, Caleb erupts into primal screams.  “No!  Don’t leave me, Mama,” he yells.  “Don’t leave me!”

“I’ll be back in a half-hour,” I assure him, but he’ll have none of it.

I come back from every walk, and yet he fears this might be the one time when I don’t return. I kiss him on the head again and leave, despite the crying.  It’s best to just get on with it.

Walking down the road, I’m struck by the parallels between my son’s thoughts and my own thoughts. I recall a dozen times when it felt like the Lord had completely forsaken me: that race I lost, that bad breakup, Bekah’s medical condition, forty weeks of sickness – twice, the day the car broke down at the bridal shop with my baby girl screaming in the backseat, and more.

Things don’t go my way, and I’m prone to find myself wavering. I’m prone to wonder.  Prone to leave the God I love.  But his promise is this: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).  Why do I, like little Caleb, doubt that he means what he says?

I think long on this as I walk, and I list the promises for the hard times:

God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28).

Nothing can separate me from his love (Romans 8:38-39).

He will go with me through the high waters and the fires (Isaiah 43:2).

He won’t withhold what is good from me (Psalm 84:11).

He is close to those who are brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).

He will use these fiery trials for his glory (1 Peter 1:6-7).

I’m suddenly struck by the reality that I often live like I don’t believe these promises. I live like they count for the struggles and trials of others but not for my own.  What if I actually lived like I fully believed every word that proceeds from his mouth?

I would have less fear and a greater capacity to love. I would give freely and store up fewer treasures on earth.  I would encounter an abundant kind of life that I’ve been craving all along.

Returning home, Caleb has forgotten about the meltdown that took place when I walked out the door. He’s chasing his dad and his sister around the yard with delighted squeals.  I kiss him on the head and go inside to finish cooking dinner.  The comfort of resting in these promises feels like an invitation to sheer joy.

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This post was shared as a part of a link-up at Fresh Market Friday.

26 Practical Ways to Encourage Our Kids

 

Author Toni Morrison once posed the question, “When your child walks in the room, does your face light up?”

I was not yet a parent when I first considered this question, but it stuck with me. It stuck with me that others can tell how we feel about them by the way we look at them.

She continued, “When my children used to walk in the room, when they were little, I looked at them to see if they had buckled their trousers or if their hair was combed or if their socks were up. You think your affection and your deep love is on display because you’re caring for them. It’s not. When they see you, they see the critical face. But if you let your face speak what’s in your heart…because when they walked in the room, I was glad to see them. It’s just as small as that, you see.”

I find myself remembering these words in the early hours of dawn, when fuzzy heads stumble from their rooms and greet me. I find myself considering these words when I’m tired at the end of a long day, when I just wanted to finish the dishes before he scooted the chair to the sink, and when I had hopes of staining the whole deck before the school bus rolled up.

I’ve been considering how to encourage the little people in my life, and I’ve been working on a list of practical ways to build them up. This week’s post is for anyone who has influence in the lives of children, and I hope it offers fresh insight.  Here are 26 practical ways to encourage the kids in your life:

  1. Listen with full focus.
  2. Leave notes by their beds.
  3. Affirm effort over fixed attributes.
  4. Remind them that hurt people hurt people.
  5. Show up at their events.
  6. Remind them that their mistakes don’t define them.
  7. Model humility.
  8. Don’t hold grudges.
  9. Tell them why you love them.
  10. Set aside time just for them.
  11. Go on dates.
  12. Cook special meals you know they’ll love.
  13. Make their beds one day a week.
  14. List all the things you love about them, and then share the list with them.
  15. Write notes on napkins.
  16. Laugh at their jokes.
  17. Pause in the midst of a task to closely examine their artwork.
  18. Review the enormous stack of school work with them.
  19. Tell them you believe in them.
  20. Tell them you’ll be there for them.
  21. Go on adventures together.
  22. Apologize when you blow it.
  23. Ask for their opinions.
  24. Help them when they’re stuck.
  25. Speak words that bring life.
  26. Make room on the couch.

If this post resonates with you, you might want to check out the link below. By clicking on it, you’ll sign up to receive a list of questions every child needs to hear from the adults who love him.  And no need to worry, you will receive only one email.  Blessings, friends!

22 Questions to Ask Your Kids

 

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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Why We Can Stop Trying So Hard to Prove Ourselves

 

I walk down the country road that slices through farm country, and these waving fields of corn and hay seem to envelope me.  Something about their verdant leaves bowing in the wind makes me feel secure here.

The corn fields will be ready for harvest soon. Any day, the tractor will come and sheer the fruitful stalks, and acres of stubble will blanket the ground like a four-day beard of golden whiskers.

I find myself remembering springtime, when I walked with the kids on this same road, and the farmer scattered seeds into muddy earth. I told the kids there would be corn here by the end of summer, and September seemed a lifetime away.

We drove past these fields as spring burst into summer and wild turkeys searched the soil for food. We spotted deer among the green sprouts as they grew, and we marveled at the slow change as stalks grew tall and lush.

On this evening, alone with the sinking sun and geese overhead, I can’t help but consider what it took for this field to bear a harvest. Every tiny seed of corn had to die and break open for the new plants to emerge.  I’m reminded of the way my body seemed to break with the birth of our two children.  I remember the way my body had to break if I was going to perform with excellence as an athlete in high school: burning lungs on cinder tracks as I prepared for big races and lying flat on the infield of the track in the aftermath.  I had to endure the pain of pushing my body in order to get better.

Looking at the corn, I’m also reminded of the bread Jesus broke so that he could feed thousands of people from five meager loaves. I’m reminded of his body, broken so that I might have life.  It seems life springs from brokenness.

John 12:24 reads: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

I memorized this verse sometime in my early twenties, but I haven’t pondered the implications for far too long. What’s this actually look like lived out in my life right now?

I list the applications in my mind: Putting the needs of others in front of my own; being vulnerable when I really don’t want to; connecting with God instead of feeding my ever-hungry flesh; biting my tongue; speaking hard words of truth that don’t come easily; reaching out of my comfort zone and into the lives of others; slowing down; forgiving; letting go of grudges; admitting I don’t have it all together; standing before a holy God and confessing my sins with a broken heart.

A subtle theme threaded through my applications seems to speak of living as a woman who has nothing to prove. A woman with something to prove makes sure others notice her, acts strong and controls her emotions, strives to achieve more, keeps it all together, and carefully portrays competence and confidence in all situations.  Living with nothing to prove is living broken, like the seedlings planted in damp soil.

When I know I have nothing to prove, I can be real. I can let my guard down.  I let the subject drop without having the last word.  I don’t have to be right.  And when I am right, I don’t have to make it clear that I’m more right than others.

When I know I have nothing to prove, I can bear reproach without falling into a pit of self-loathing. I can bear false accusation quietly and without a need to speak my side of the case.  I can be misunderstood, left out, and overlooked without being deeply shaken.

When I have nothing to prove, I am broken before the Lord, and I admit that I need him for life and breath and everything else. In my utter dependence upon him, I am set free.  I know that he is the only One who offers the kind of strength I need to survive, and I trust that his strength is only made perfect when I’m ok with being weak.

I breathe the truth in deeply, aiming to recalibrate my life as I prepare to walk through a door with shouting little voices and toys scattered across every inch of the floor. I trust that in this dying to self, the most beautiful kind of life will rise from the ashes.

 

 

Four Ways to be Allies with Your Child’s Teacher

In honor of Bekah’s first day of first grade, here is an article I recently shared with a parenting publication on behalf of all parents and teachers:

When “Parenting” magazine joined forces with the National Education Association to study the delicate bridge that unites parents and teachers, their 2012 study found that 68 percent of teachers report difficulty when dealing with parents. Meanwhile, 63 percent of parents indicated that they’d never had difficulty in dealing with teachers.

The question stemming from this research leads us to ask what we can do as parents to promote a positive relationship with the teachers who invest in the lives of our children. For elementary-age children, up to six hours of the day will be spent with one primary teacher. Even as our children emerge into upper grades and encounter dozens of different teachers, these adults will make a formidable impact on the lives of the students they teach. Parents are wise to facilitate positive relationships with the adults who will shape the lives of their children.

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