Tag: Embracing life

Finding Beauty in Ordinary Moments

I discovered a meatball under the china cabinet this morning. We haven’t had meatballs for two weeks in these parts, and I found it surprising that I saw the meatball before I smelled it. I pondered it while I continued my search for hidden treasures beneath the rest of the dining room furniture, and I also pondered the ordinariness of my daily life.

Ten years ago I spent my days teaching students with disabilities inside the walls of a respected high school. I used the knowledge attained through my master’s degree on a daily basis, and every day brought new challenges and changes in my schedule. My husband and I traveled overseas often, and when we had a week off, we regularly took off across the country with our camping gear in the back of the SUV. Life was filled with adventure and possibility.

To finish reading this post, join me at Her View from Home. . .

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If You’re Searching for More from Your Life

 

White light breaks through smoky billows of fog, and I watch a fluorescent orange silhouette meander through wilted fields of beige. We open the first window on our colorful advent calendar, and the kids scarf down thin squares of chocolate to mark this first day of waiting.  We’re waiting for the coming King.  Waiting for the day that marks Immanuel’s entry to the world.  Waiting for God with us.

The hunter climbs a tree on the northwestern skyline, and he’s waiting too. All this waiting draws my mind to a question Bekah’s been asking all fall.  She’s seven, and she thinks about profound things.  At least a dozen times she’s gazed at the clouds above and asked what kind of clouds Jesus will ride when he returns.

Why do I fail to regularly ponder the reality that Immanuel is coming back? Why don’t I watch the horizon for the King’s return?  Why don’t I live more intentionally – like this really might be the last day I have on this muddy earth with dandelions sprouting on brisk December mornings?

Autumn in these parts prompted me to pause often, to watch for Immanuel’s hand in my daily life and live each day to the fullest. The biggest reason for this was a shift in my soul that begged for more.

I wanted more depth, a greater awareness of my purpose, and more in my relationship with God. I asked for direction from above, and I was led into a four-month study of Matthew’s gospel, reading one chapter per week, rereading the same chapter every day of the week, and coming up with an objective and practical way to apply it.

This study has enriched my life on every level and provided the more I was searching for.  It has astonishingly aligned with the trials and life events of our autumn, speaking truth into hard situations at just the right times.  It has nudged me to pause and consider that Immanuel is always working in our midst.

Here are ten lessons I’ve learned through this study:

  1. Watching for Immanuel has the power to change everything.

The Old Testament prophecy that Immanuel would come was fulfilled in the birth of Christ. Matthew 1:23 reads, “And they shall call his name Immanuel, which means God with us.”

I spent one week listing the ways I saw God showing up in my life this fall, and while my goal was one event per day, the list filled pages. When we realize that Immanuel has come and continues to dwell among us, when we open our eyes to his hand, we begin to live in holy expectation that fills us and leads us straight to his ever-thrumming heart of love.

  1. Simple acts of ordinary daily tasks can be done with a grumbling heart or a worshipful heart. We’re prone to grumble more than we worship.

Inspired by the fact that the first thing the Magi did when they encountered Jesus was worship him, I spent a week practicing ordinary tasks as acts of worship. Somehow, learning to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, scrub toilets, and clean windows as acts of worship changed the overall countenance of my life.

  1. Sometimes the best way to break a habit is to discipline your flesh through fasting.

When we feel stuck in behaviors we want to change, sometimes the best way to produce change is to train our flesh to submit to our will through the discipline of fasting. Fasting is painful, and the flesh recoils, but once the flesh learns it’s no longer in charge, we step into a new kind of freedom.

  1. God wants more than “Please bless this day” prayers.

In Matthew 6, Jesus shows us how to pray. He offers a prayer that includes worship, confession, alignment with God’s kingdom purposes, asking for basic needs, protection from temptation, and a plea to glorify him.  Sometimes structured prayer is the gateway to greater intimacy with God.  Above all else, prayer is about a relationship.  Thoughtless prayers that ask for a quick blessing miss the heart of God who wants to commune with us.

  1. If we want to live transformed, we can’t live blind to our sins.

A discipline that’s often overlooked is the discipline of daily confessing our sins to God. If we want transformation in our lives, we ought to pray with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:13-14).

  1. Losing our lives for others looks like action, but it also looks like the right attitude.

We can offer our time and our acts of service to others without end, but if we do it with proud, bitter, or grumbling hearts, we haven’t followed Christ at all.

  1. Rest is a state of mind.

We’re called to rest in the Lord. This includes keeping the Sabbath and daily quiet time in his presence, but it also means

resting in his goodness when trouble, hardship, and daily stress threaten to undermine our souls.

  1. Every great accomplishment begins with one step.

Every great building begins with laying a single brick. Every great work of art begins with a single brush-stroke.  Every great work of faith begins with one step in the right direction. Do not despite small beginnings . . .

  1. Life and death are in the power of my words.

Every day I choose to speak life or death over my life, my future, my calling, and the people I love. I’m called to choose carefully and guard the door of my mouth.

  1. God wants us to ask for the things we need.

Some of us have fallen into a trap of over-spiritualizing our prayers. We forget to ask for the things we need on the most basic level.  We ought to pray Biblical promises more than anything else.  We ought to make sure every prayer aligns with Scripture.  But we are free to pray for practical needs in our lives.  Our good Father wants to reach down from on high and provide.

~~~

When I asked God to show me how to walk in greater abundance, I was a bit disappointed by the strong impression that studying the Bible was my answer. I was feeling overworked, and digging into the Bible felt like more work.

Looking back, it was work. But it was the best kind of work.  It was utterly fulfilling to find practical ways to apply the Living Word to my daily life.  It was satisfying and purposeful.  It drew me closer to the heart of God.  And now, with just two more weeks until I finish the study and application of Matthew’s gospel, I can say that I’ve found the more I was seeking.

Thank you, Emily P. Freeman, for inspiring this post . . .

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How to be a Difference Maker

 

Julio Diaz gets off the train like it’s any other day. His mind is fixed on grabbing a bite to eat at his favorite café. It’s an ordinary day in an ordinary place, and nothing about the day leads Julio to believe he might change someone’s life forever through the unforeseen chain of events that will soon unfold.

As Julio gets off the train, a young teenager approaches with a knife. The teen wants Julio’s wallet.

After giving up the wallet, Julio turns to the young man and hands him his coat, saying, “If you’re gonna be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”

What kind of love is this?

I put myself in the place of the young man with the knife. Surely he was overcome with shock. Disbelief. Awe.

Because really, haven’t we all been the boy with the knife – thinking only of self, thinking only of immediate needs and the flesh and moving up in the world for our own purposes. Not thinking a single thing of how our actions might affect someone else on a practical level.

Julio convinces the young man to join him for dinner, and he says to the boy, “What is it that you want out of life?”

The boy doesn’t know.   His expression is filled with sorrow. And really, haven’t most of us faced this dilemma? The empty canvas of our lives leaves room for endless possibilities, but we feel utterly stuck. Utterly clueless.

When the bill for dinner comes, Julio convinces the boy to return his wallet and treats him to dinner. He offers the boy twenty dollars in exchange for one item: the knife. The boy agrees, and for Julio, the story seems to end here.

~~~

I read this story on The Daily Good news sight not long ago, and it seems the story ends with Julio’s gift of money and the boy’s surrender of the knife. But surely, the story doesn’t end here.

Maybe the boy grew up to be a respectable man. Maybe he quit threatening people and asking for their money. Or maybe he went out the next evening and robbed ten more people. We might never know.

But what we do know is that an act of kindness never falls on blind eyes. Even when no one notices, even when it seems our sacrifice failed to make the difference we hoped, God sees every quiet act of act of kindness, and he is pleased.

It’s easy to grow frustrated when our kindness is met with disdain. It’s easy to throw in the towel when our sacrifice doesn’t seem to make the slightest bit of difference in another person’s life. Choose kindness anyway.

When a family member crosses you, and your blood boils wildly, choose kindness. Choose it if no one will see. Choose it if you don’t think you can.

When a young mom or elderly man struggles to put groceries in the car, choose kindness. When your toddler throws his seventeenth fit of the day, choose kindness. When you’re cut off in traffic, choose kindness. When it’s entirely tempting to have the last word – when you know you can win this verbal showdown – choose kindness.

I spent a decade as a youth leader at the church we’ve attended for eleven years. Throughout the years, I joined teens on trips to places like Brooklyn and Tijuana. I spent sleepless nights counseling hurting girls, sacrificed family time to invest in young lives, and poured my heart into the ministry.

There were times when I was met with defiance instead of gratitude and criticism instead of kindness. There were times when I wondered if the investment was worthwhile.

Years later, I now have the opportunity to see some of the fruit from those years. Many of the teens have grown to adults and moved away; however, a few remain. They live near our hometown, where they now serve as youth leaders, teachers, Bible study leaders, and loving contributors to ministries ranging from raising their own children to serving in very public careers.

We never know where the ripple-effects of our kindness might reach. Even when it seems to make no difference at all, choose kindness. And above all, remember that your kindness pleases your Maker. His pleasure is reason enough in itself.

 

References:

A Case for Kindness: Lisa Barrickman

http://www.dailygood.org/more.php?n=3678

 

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Fifteen Ways to Find Refreshment

 

I take her to the river on a Saturday. Billowy cumulous clouds make promises about what’s to come, and I lean in for the quiet whisper on the wind.  It seems to be an invitation to refresh our souls.

She’s five, but she’s begged me to take her to the woods with a tent for months, and I finally concede. I want to go too.  I want to tell her about the nights on this river with friends and open Bibles.  I want to tell her how I encountered God on these rocks – how I memorized Psalms and felt like new life poured down through the summer rain showers that always caught us unprepared.

I strap fifty pounds to my back: two sleeping bags, two sleeping pads, the tent, water bottles, snacks, extra clothes, a baby doll, playing cards, and more. I push the rest in a double stroller, and she bounces into the woods for three whole miles, overflowing with the excitement of this novel adventure.

We’re two girls in the middle of the woods, and our cares slip away. After erecting the tent, gathering firewood, and hanging the bear bag, we wander to the river.  The water slips past emerald, and she asks if I have my Bible.  We read Psalm 97 and I tell her about the rainy day when I memorized this very Psalm along this very river.

She smiles, thoughtfully, and asks, “Did you bring communion?” She wants to remember him on the river.

We retrieve a small hotdog bun and the bottle of juice I brought for her breakfast, and I break the bread. We eat it in his memory and give thanks for the new covenant.  We pour the juice into metal camping cups and drink, remembering the blood he shed.  It’s a holy moment.

After a song and prayer, she scampers up the riverbank in search of toads, and I think of the words of Job: “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12).

Something about this place makes me long to open a Bible and recite beautiful words. It apparently stirs something in my child as well.  But I pray that it won’t end here.  I pray that I’ll treasure these words more than my necessary food, even when we return home with the demands and requirements for daily living.  Do I really treasure these words?

“These are more than just idle words; they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47), I read, and I wonder how much I’m really drawing my life from these words. Bekah returns with a snail, and she’s jumping in sheer delight.  We put it into an empty peanut butter jar, and she hurries back to the rock where she found it.

This river feels like it’s refreshing us in the deepest way, but these words in my hand offer even better promises of life and rest. I cling to these promises and rest in them until the sun sinks low.

When the shadows fall long on the water, we go back to the tent, cook dinner on the fire, and talk about dreams and hopes. She sleeps deeply, and I watch her all night, this protective shield rising within me, keeping watch for bears and raccoons.

I also consider what it might practically look like, in this season of life, to stay in a place of refreshment. I turn on the flashlight and scratch words on waterproof notebook paper:

  1. Treasure the written Word of God more than food (Job 23:12)
  2. Get away to quiet places when I can.
  3. Spend time with people who refresh my soul.
  4. Stop striving.
  5. Stop hurrying.
  6. Count blessings.
  7. Look for toads and snails more often.
  8. Give thanks for the work I get to do.
  9. Stay in community.
  10. Speak words that bring life.
  11. Cast my cares on the Lord.
  12. Turn away from perfectionism.
  13. Stop trying to prove something.
  14. Laugh more.
  15. Live vulnerably.

I close the book and close my eyes. I trust that the One who led us on this journey will protect us from bears and raccoons, and I drift into the deepest sleep I’ve found in months.

~~~

For more thoughts on refreshment and joy, check out this link and receive a free printout: 10 Steps to Greater Joy

 

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How to Live Fully

 

The tulip poplar leaves are just beginning to emerge – tiny hands waving at the cobalt sky. I consider their short lives.  For six fleeting months, they greet the dawn with their flapping waves.  When October comes they’ll grow worn and weathered, thick and leathery, and they’ll fall black to the deck, swept away by the autumn winds or the broom that comes to prepare the worn boards for winter.

Six months isn’t long to stand under the sun, to dance wildly in the breeze, to laugh in the rain. Six months feels so fleeting – like a vapor.

You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away, James writes. We’re much the same.  These tiny waving leaves and my oh-so-short life.   Am I really using it well, I wonder as I watch the shadows flitter on the pollen-smeared boards.  Am I wishing away these days that will never come back?  Am I chasing something that’s been right here all along?

How do I live this one life well?

A red-winged black bird glides over the field behind the house, and our caged quail calls for a mate. I turn the pages for words about how to live this day to its fullest, and I find them: This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Could it be so simple?  I ponder the implications of these words and strain to apply them to my life:

I will acknowledge that the Lord has brought this day to pass.  I’ll receive it all as grace and count the blessings and the trials as grace.  Unmerited favor.  His hand working all things for his ultimate glory and my ultimate good.  I’ll give thanks for the muffins baked in the light of early morning, and I’ll give thanks for the little hands that drop all dozen eggs in the middle of the kitchen floor.  I’ll choose to believe that the long line of traffic is all part of some divine plan, and I’ll leave space in my days to talk to strangers.  I’ll hurry less and take photos of flowers in the yard.

I will rejoice. I will rejoice when we hold hands on the way to meet the bus, all three of us linked together in love, and I’ll rejoice when the littlest one falls down on the way back to the house.  I’ll rejoice over the food in the cupboard and the crumbs scattered across the kitchen floor, imitating the line of ants that will soon carry them away.  I will rejoice as I wipe fingerprints from the faucets and smudges from the mirrors.

I will be glad in it. I will be glad in the midst of this actual day.  I will be glad because I’ll see God in it.  I’ll see him in the leaves bursting forth from the poplar tree.  I’ll see him in the eyes of the delivery man when he comes with his tired shoulders and forced smile.  I’ll see him in the tenderness of my child and the frustration of the computer software that refuses to download.  I will know that he loves me in all my imperfections and that he is my great reward.  I will cease from striving and refuse to live in a hurry.  I’ll leave dishes in the sink and dirt on the floor.  I will commit to do whatever I do with my whole heart, as unto the Lord, and I won’t worry about what I can’t do.  I’ll believe the best about other people and refuse to dwell on negative thoughts.  I’ll let go of grudges and let go of what I cannot change.  In all the letting go, I will be glad.

 

I commit to embrace the days in a different way, here on the threshold of spring bursting into summer.   I commit to be all here, to live fully, to still myself and know  . . .

The breeze picks up, and the poplar leaves point heavenward – tiny hands, praising their Maker.

 

 

Scriptures: James 4:14, Psalm 118:24 NASB

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