Tag: intentionality

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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There Are No Small Moments

 

I’m on my knees, camera lens inches from a dwarf ginseng, its tiny snowflake head bobbing in the breeze, when I realize we’re not alone. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” the khaki-clad elderly gentleman greets, and I’m drawn from my small moment with the ginseng.

“Sure is,” I say, somewhat embarrassed by the black dirt on my knees and elbows.

“Did you see the trout lilies?” he asks, and I notice the camera strapped over his neck. I’m less embarrassed.

We talk for a long while about trillium and bluebells, and he finally meanders off along the path. Returning to my photo shoot with the ginseng, I remember the way I once looked at thirty-somethings with cameras and wildflower books.  At twenty-two, I kept track of miles logged and elevations reached, not dwarf flora, like violets and ginseng.  At twenty-two, I mostly lived for big moments – summit moments, and the thought of bending low for small moments seemed nothing short of condescending.

We walk farther down the trail, kids running ahead in search of toads and moths, and I consider these changing seasons. When did small moments begin to take on such an authentic kind of glory?  It must have been before I dug the wildflower books out of the dusty boxes in the attic of the garage.

I remember when I started taking pictures of tiny mushrooms and sphagnum moss. I believe that was the moment.  The moment I pulled out the camera and committed to capture the miracles I miss every day, when I brush past in all my hurry, with my large-moment focus and my desire to prove something.

What if we could all live like we have nothing to prove? What if we never again needed to prove our worth through demonstrating our intelligence, beauty, humor, and talent?  What if these things were simply gifts with which we blessed others, and we were fully content to live in the midst of our quiet moments in utter contentment?

Have I really learned the secret of being content in any and every situation?

What if there really are no small moments – just quiet moments . . . And what if the quiet moments are worth every bit as much as the loud moments performed before the multitudes?

I think long on it, while the kids build castles along the sandy creek, and I’m sure of it: These quiet moments of walking with children in the woods, baking cornbread, stirring scrambled eggs with a rubber spatula, folding tiny T-shirts, and wiping down dusty furniture are the moments that will make up the bulk of our lives. There may be loud moments, platform moments, and moments that are broadcast before the world, but these big moments won’t make up the majority of our lives.

So what are we doing with our quiet moments? Because the quiet moments are the ones that seem small, but they’re really the ones that comprise the essence of our lives.

Sitting along the water, I commit to live with more gratitude. I commit to recognize the gifts that surround me and magnify God through naming them: dwarf ginseng, blue phlox, garlic mustard, and wild geranium; sandcastles at the creek, lunch on a hilltop, holding hands along the road; the mounds of dirty laundry that remind me of the gift of my family, the meat simmering in the crock-pot, the green crayon on the living room wall.  I won’t write these things off or roll my eyes.  I’ll embrace them and give thanks.

I commit to speak life. I commit to ask direct questions and bite my tongue when I’m in a bad mood.  I remember to tell the kids that I love them just because they’re mine, that their mistakes will never define them, and that they make my world a better place.

I commit to live intentionally.  We role play the whole way home from the creek, and Bekah thinks of responses to every playground dilemma I can conjure up.  We read Bible stories before Caleb naps, and I pray specific prayers over each of them before he sleeps.  We turn off the TV and dive into imaginary play on the carpet with our assortment of mini characters.  I make some calls and send some cards.

When the sun sinks low that evening, Bekah and I put together a pocket guide of wildflowers from our sanctuary at the Wolf Creek Narrows Natural Area. We find Latin names and study the history of each plant.  It all feels a bit small, but when she looks at me with dancing blue eyes, filled wild with life and passion, I know for sure that none of this day was small at all.

To check out our pamphlet, just click the link below. You’ll be asked to give your email address, and it will come to your inbox.  This is actually a terrific resource for anyone up for an outdoor adventure this month!

Western Pennsylvanian Spring Wildflower Guide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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