Monday, December 28, 2015

The Thing I Learned in 2015



The earth has traveled another 584 million miles. So, if you are anything like me and wonder what you just did with the last 362 days in 2015 ––there is that.

We've all been twisting and whirling in a wild path around the sun.

This year has left me spinning and wondering what I even did that matters.

I was going to post my favorite pictures from 2015 but decided to spare you.

I looked back at the things I hoped to cultivate more of in my life this year and laughed at some and felt grateful for the others.

I'm staring at the clean unmarked pages of my new planner that lies open on the desk.

I love a new year.

A fresh start.

New hope for the days that lie ahead.

But today ––it’s still this year.

It's been a good year.

It's been a hard year.

It may not have ended like I would have wanted, but in other ways, it went better than I could have hoped.

I always have to resist the urge to run ahead.

For some reason I’d rather do that ––run ahead, rush past quiet moments.

I’d rather do something even if it amounts to nothing. It’s easier that way. Distractions and constant movement keep me from doing the deeper work in my soul.

There are many things about how I’m wired––my passion and personality–– that I’d like to not be.

And every year I think I might become more, of who I long to be.

My best efforts to work out, eat healthier, be a better steward with finances, love people, spend time with those I love, be in the Word, journal, write and generally care about others..... well I've failed at most of it.

But there is good news.

Even if I had done it all well, it still would not be good enough.

Thankfully it's still all about Jesus.  And He is enough.

Today as much as any day, I am aware of the gift that Jesus is in my life.

He came to earth to die for my sins and as long as I'm here, He will be doing a deeper work from the inside of my soul to the outside of my life.

If I have learned anything this year, it is how His mercies are new every morning.

His grace falls fresh like beads of blessing, molecules of mercy, tears full of tenderness. And they trickle until they form a stream, that flow into a river and tumble into the sea until it fills an entire ocean.

An ocean of His grace.

And the ocean cannot contain it all.

At the end of the day, at the end of this year, until the end of all time ––that grace is enough.

And this spinning is like a dance. Twirling, bending low to the Son of God.

He holds the entire universe in place and will finish what He has begun.

I'm letting these final days of 2015, slip by quietly.

Tell me? What did you learn in 2015?


Monday, December 21, 2015

Merry Christmas





These final days of Advent.

The final hours before the Celebration.

The celebration of Jesus' coming to earth.

His leaving heaven to arrive on the landscape of earth in the form of a baby.

His story is unwrapped for us one page at a time beginning in the book of Genesis and weaves a red ribbon of grace all the way through the book of Revelations.

Beginning in the beginning. Adam and Eve sinned and we all followed the same broken path.

In the pages of history, God knew we had a problem that we couldn't fix ––no matter how hard we try.

His family line is full of messed up people, just like me. Their stories reveal the dark secrets of liars and murders. Those who committed adultery and families that didn't get along.

There were priests and prophets and prostitutes.

People. Messed up people who had been beaten down by life, carrying the shards of their unrealized dreams.

God called that kind of people and they made room in their hearts to believe it.

God still calls people. Anyone. Everyone.

You can be rich or poor. Old or young. Maybe you have lived a pretty good life or messed up everything you've touched.

No matter how beautiful your home, how great your vacations, how large your bank balance, nothing will fill us up except Jesus.

And speaking for myself..... I tried hard.

I tried too many things the world had to offer.

Then I tried religion.

I tried being better than I was before.

But I finally ran into the Gift that only Jesus offers.

The free Gift that is hard to receive because it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with Him.

But when I finally let Jesus be enough? Well, it's been a wild, amazing ride.

He is the best kind of high. He is the most beautiful kind of love.

I'm still unwrapping the wonder of it.

It changed how I see Christmas.

The Christ of Christmas has been what finally changed me from the inside-out.

Right now, everything around me calls to ––hurry.

The traffic. The people in line. The list that is unfinished.

The gifts that still need to be placed under the tree.

But I'm pressing into the hush.

Because of the One who hung on a tree.

Jesus did this for me. He did it for this whole messed up world.

There is more to these days then exchanging sweet treats, glossy cards, and gifts.

Christ gave us Himself as the ultimate Gift.

Not just this week, but every day of the year.

This moment ––right now.

Will you join me in making more room for Jesus?

Because the reality is....Jesus is no longer a babe lying in a manger.

His throne is no longer made up of hay and wood.

 Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, 
in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
Philippians 2:9-10

And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth 
and under the earth and in the sea. 
They sang: "Blessing and honor and glory and power 
belong to the one sitting on the throne
and to the Lamb forever and ever."
Revelation 5:13 says: 

I love you so!

Merry Christmas friends.



Monday, December 14, 2015

Deeper



In her book, A Circle of Quiet. Madeleine L’Engle called the word, “ontology,” her, “word-for-the-summer.” For an extended period of time, that word continued to unfold and come alive to her. The meaning of ontology has a lot to do with creativity and teaching. Both of those things are part of the legacy Madeleine L’Engle lived and left for us to enjoy.

Madeleine L’Engle was born in 1917 and died in 2007. She probably knew little of the thousands of people every year who choose a One Word.

I believe words have been finding people for a long time.

It has happened that way for me. Single words arriving uninvited and rearranging the furniture of my life and heart.

To focus on a single word seems narrow and small, in a world so full of words.

I wrote about my One Word for 2015 here.

Deeper.

I was sure that I didn't want a word like that.

I told you about my experience in the ocean while scuba diving. A vast body of water, magnificent and powerful. The liquid beauty that stretches out in all directions and seems to drop off on the edge of the horizon. Even on relatively calm days, waves can rise higher than buildings. 

But the thing about the ocean?  

Walking on the shore is wonderful. To sail in open water is refreshing. But to never go below the surface is to have missed the greatest part of the ocean.

You have to go deeper to find the greater wonders. 

When you dip below the surface there is an almost instant feeling of awe and freedom.

It is other-worldly.

Gravity is changed to buoyancy. You are held in its weightlessness and astounded at the silence. Even in all the odd trappings of SCUBA gear, you are no longer aware of anyone's appearance but entirely caught up in the wonder of your surroundings. It causes you to be enthralled with the experience and empty of thoughts about material things.

Your eyes are wide open and all your senses are on alert. 

That is a bit of what this year has been for me and going deeper.

That is very much how I see God.

According to 1828 Webster dictionary, the word deeper is to, "thrust or plunge." It is to extend far below the surface. To go beyond the superficial and obvious. To go deeper is to peer into the hidden, profound and secret things.

It is to pierce beyond the surface of shallow.

I think I need to hear that again. 

Going deeper is to move past what is shallow.

Oh, the joy of simply moving past small talk!

To get past the formal nice-ness of admiring each others temporal stuff.

I want  to hear your messy story and enter into your untidy life and rejoice in the broken places God is using to reveal His glory.

This year has been getting past that kind of stuff and pressing in.

Pressing into the Word.

My one word, deeper, has drawn me into the Word ––deeper.

I don't know why that would surprise me.

This has pushed me to get up early to make time to read. And I've been keeping a private journal which is honestly not my thing. And I've been uncomfortably learning to be okay with really imperfect blogging and the sharing of my heart in my public journal.

It's been about spending many days alone, in the quiet. Leaning in and listening to what the Spirit is teaching me.

Going deeper has been risky and a tiny bit a lot, uncomfortable.

This year I left a perfectly good paying job and working with a-m-a-z-i-n-g people, to do things that are unseen and unpaid.

And even though there isn't a shred of evidence that what I've been doing matters at all, I feel like, maybe for the first time in a long time, I am doing what really counts.

My going deeper has largely involved being in the Word more and praying more.

It has resulted in a deeper surrender and an unexplainable love that has risen even in the face of difficulty.

This year has been full of highs and lows. 

There has been great life events and drama.

The heaviness of death and the weightlessness of grace.

There has been the ever, surging, seasons of change.

There has been the hard and the familiar, the beautiful and the truly dark.

But to the God, I serve, even the dark is light. (Thank you, to my friend, Kathy who reminded me of this verse.)

This year, going deeper has involved deeper conversations, a deeper desire to know God. a deeper joy, deeper healing, deeper truth, and deeper hope.

I've spent far too much time walking along the shoreline and drifting on the surface ––of the vastness of who God is.

Madeleine L'Engle was changed by her "word-for-the-summer."

My word "deeper" has pierced the mundane and the apathetic and altered how I see life and hopefully how I live life.

Can I encourage you too?

Don't just stand on the shore. Take the risk and plunge into the deep places God is calling you to.

Going deeper isn't a way to play it safe, but it is a way to live life well.

Tell me what has been messing with your heart?

Tell me how I can pray?

Tell me, what I can do to help you as you journey this life?



   

Monday, December 7, 2015

When You Want A Soulful Christmas

I have a confession to make.

For more years than I care to count, I exhale a sigh of relief on the morning of December 26th. The added crazy, glitter-filled curve balls, which I allow to take over my days, too often deplete my soul.

The very holiday that is about the gift of Jesus is all but lost under yards of wrapping paper, blinking lights and noise.

Life is especially loud and fast during December.

And God is most often heard in the quiet and the slow.

Maybe this is why I found it so refreshing to run across this podcast by Bonnie Gray and Kathi Lipp.

The title drew me in. "How to have a more soulful Christmas."

Bonnie Gray is such a tender, soft-spoken person. Kathi Lipp brings great perspective to the pressures of Christmas.

I'll share two quick takeaways I found helpful.

The first suggestion was to write a Christmas mission statement.

It almost seemed silly, but when I jotted down a few hopeful words, I could see that my heart wants more of what Jesus is about and less of what the world has to offer.

The second thing that resonated with me was the word, "linger."

Kathi Lipp talks about making space in this busy season to sit across the table from people and ––linger.

And the only way for me to linger more with others, is to say "no" to some things so I can say yes to others.

The day-to-day stuff of life has already consumed eleven months of my year. And December is now a week short on days. But in the time that remains.... I'm letting go of the expectations that crush the hope of Christmas. I have a few plans that will create space for experiences which do feed my soul and hopefully the souls of those I love. And there is room for interruptions, because life and people don't fit into a bullet point list.

Because December 26th is coming and this year I don't want to miss the reason I celebrate Christmas.

So, if I were going to love on you all––just a little––I would share one of my families favorite Christmas cookie recipes. I'd much rather sit next to you and chat, but this is the next best thing, right?

I'm not sure why we only make these at Christmas.

I don't bake a lot since I feel a personal responsibility to eat more than I need, however, this is a recipe that I can make ahead and have on hand.

Cinnamon, chocolate, and coffee flavors blend together layers of flavor. Dipped in chocolate makes them beautiful. A great cookie to linger over coffee and conversation.

Through the years, I have altered this original recipe, since I don't cook with shortening. I substitute butter and I have also tried unrefined expeller pressed coconut oil and coconut sugar.

I almost always double the recipe since the dough freezes well. And right now there will probably be more opportunities to give them away.

Jesus came to bring us the gift of  Peace, Hope, FreedomLight and true Life. I can't reflect this truth if my soul is running on empty.

It's still early in the season isn't it? Share how you keep things simple?

How can we embrace the wonder of these days with wide eyes and deep slow breath?


Monday, November 30, 2015

When You Don't Know What To Do














Towering double wide doors opened to the large common area of the church. The south wall was made up of ornate etched glass which allowed soft light to fill the space. My traveling companion was a beautiful, shy woman whose life had been defined by many unfair things. She would be the first to tell you how it had been a long struggle to live beyond her painful past.

It had been years since the death of my young husband and raising babies alone, and losing most every temporal thing, but I still nursed pain and grief, as humans tend to do.

She and I both knew God had more for us, yet we still walked around cupping the ashes of our life. Together we hoped this conference would offer something to help us move forward.

We inched alongside tables filled with books, as the crowd made its way toward the auditorium.

I ran my hand over some of the titles: Shadow of the Almighty,  A Path Through Suffering, and Through Gates of Splendor.  –They were like old friends. I felt as if I knew the author, even though we had only met on the pages of her books. She had lived a wildly brave life filled with all the elements that would make up an epic movie.

Epic as in, the measure and scope and far-reaching impact of her one life lived in faith, for the world to see.

Certain parts of her famous story included young love, tragic loss, and hard choices. These had captured my heart for her, along with the fact that she was left to raise her ten-month-old daughter after her husband was killed. I felt like that gave us common ground.

When I met Elisabeth in the pages of her books, my faith had fledgling wings.

Her words resonated in deep places, but her life was hard to understand. How could she and the other families truly forgive the men who had killed their loved ones. when the church people I knew, couldn't forgive small offenses?

And how could Elisabeth have loaded her little blonde-haired girl in a canoe, to live with the very tribal people who had made her a widow? That was crazy faith.

Elisabeth rarely said things that were easy to hear. Yet, I still loved to listen to her voice on the radio say, "You are loved with an everlasting love. That’s what the Bible says. And underneath are the everlasting arms. This is your friend, Elisabeth Elliot." I wanted to believe her. I wanted to trust that God still did something beautiful with brokenness.

Somehow we were seated near the front of the venue where she was speaking. Elisabeth Elliot came out in a black dress that seemed too large for her. Her gray hair was swept up in a simple bun and she spoke with her distinguished inflection. An occasional smile revealed the space between her front teeth. She had not come here to impress anyone or deliver a flashy message.

At the end of her speaking time, there was a question and answer session. I couldn’t think of a single question for her that didn’t sound ridiculous and shallow compared to what she had lived.

The questions that were submitted covered topics of how to handle difficult people, jobs, and life situations.

Her answers could be summarized in the upside-down truths of the Bible such as; give to receive, lose to find, and die to live. 

And then there was an odd exchange between Elisabeth and her husband Lars.

It was his job to choose questions from the basket and after selecting one, he would place it in front of his famous wife. This had gone smoothly until the end. I watched as Elisabeth read a slip of paper and pushed it away, picking up a different question, which she read aloud and responded to.

Her husband gently slipped the rejected paper back toward his wife.

Again, she scanned the paper and pushed it aside, looking at her husband and shaking her head, “no.”

I was humored as they repeated this several more times. His nudging and her resistance.

Finally, with notable irritation, Elizabeth Elliot read the question aloud.

The woman who submitted the question held little back. Her husband had died. She described her bleak financial situation and how her faith was shaken. She had emotion-packed questions. "How can I go on?" "Where do I begin to pick up the pieces?" "Where is God in all this?" "What am I to do now?"

And this hero of relentless faith, who had endured seasons of great loss and lived through some of this life’s most difficult trials and uncertain times, simply stated: “Just do the next thing.”

Perhaps to some her answer would be cold and cliché.

If the brokenhearted woman had said that to me, I would have rambled on about how sorry I was to hear her hardship and agreed with her that life isn’t fair and maybe she should find herself a good counselor with the little money she could scrape together to work through the stages of grief.......

But knowing the depths of what Elisabeth had lived through––how she knew what it was to have eaten the bread of adversity and drink the water of affliction––gave us all reason to let her simple answer settle down into our souls.

Years have slipped by since I sat in the third row of that auditorium. And my faith hero went home to be with the Lord this year.

But those five simple words, "just do the next thing." I've hung on to them.

What does that look like?

Just wipe the next runny nose.

Just change out the next load of laundry.

Just hum the next song of thanks.

Just whisper the next prayer.

Just speak the next kind word.

Just do the next gracious act.

Just leave the outcome of this complicated situation to God and do the next thing in front of me.

When I, "just do the next thing...." ––there is peace.

And to know that all I have to do, is the next thing––it makes waiting on God a doable thing.

That friend? She and I were able to see a woman who allowed God to be God, in her life. And she gave us some practical advice on how to live that out.




Elisabeth Elliot made this anonymous poem famous. 

At an old English parsonage down by the sea,
there came in the twilight a message to me.
Its quaint Saxon legend deeply engraven that,
as it seems to me, teaching from heaven.

And all through the hours the quiet words ring,
like a low inspiration, ‘Do the next thing.’
Many a questioning, many a fear,
many a doubt hath its quieting here.

Moment by moment, let down from heaven,
time, opportunity, guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrow, child of the King,
trust that with Jesus, do the next thing.

Do it immediately, do it with prayer,
do it reliantly, casting all care.
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand,
who placed it before thee with earnest command.

Stayed on omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
leave all resultings, do the next thing.
Looking to Jesus, ever serener,
working or suffering be thy demeanor,
in His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
the light of His countenance, be thy psalm.
Do the next thing.
-Source Unknown



This post is in memory of Elisabeth Elliot. 1926-2015

She had a profound impact on many and I'm grateful to be one of those many.


Do you have a faith hero?


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Heading Home


We didn’t plan it.

Cancer unfolded like it does for most everyone.  A single appointment. A phone call. An unsolicited path that takes you to places you didn’t want to travel.

It certainly wasn’t the first detour in my life. I suppose it won’t be the last.

This pilgrimage has taken me on long stretches of desolate highway. Both literally and in other ways.

In the beginning, the actual commutes were frequent and filled with barren miles and hours to think about life and faith and what is really important to do with the few years that are given to walk all of that out.

We were pushed to step out of our small town and comfortable home and journey to the city where my surgeon, oncologist and a team of professionals uses the newest technology and protocol.

For us, things in the city seemed to be in extremes. The sheer numbers of people. The rushing and hustle even while they ate or shopped. In traffic, there was either a complete disregard of speed limits or four-lane highway traffic creeping along, taking an hour to move a single mile.

The buildings towered and stretched out in confusing layers of rooms and doctors and tests. Yet they acted as if I were the most important person they would see all day.

I began to settle into this new edge, grateful for life and time with my husband.

We found ourselves enjoying the time, just us together. We stayed in great hotels and ate cuisine that isn’t available where we live. We walked streets with outdoor cafes and quaint shops and found our way to the rooftop cafe where they make guacamole at your table and serve fire-roasted fajitas that make all the senses come alive.

Much of the landscaping features amazing art and well-manicured flower gardens, all dotted with fountains, waterfalls, and small bridges which arch over trickling man-made streams. No matter where we visit every scene is laid against the stunning backdrop of snowcapped mountains.

These last five years have changed me and therefore, it has changed us. 

There were some things I knew in my head before that I wasn't actually living.

For starters, I was living as if life would always just––be.

The sun-will-rise-tomorrow and I-can-live-today-however-I-please, kind of thinking.

I went to church. I might even talk about God. However, I wasn't wholly sold out to what God was and is doing. And what He is doing is reconciling people to Himself through the love He demonstrated by sending His son, Jesus Christ.

Before this detour, I don't believe that I really loved people like I should. And while this is certainly still true, now my heart sees people differently than I did before.

I'm more convinced than ever before, that prayer is at the heart of real transformation. There is something about coming to grips with the fact that humans came from dust and will return to dust that makes dropping to my knees feel like the right place to be.

This season has settled issues I didn't even know were issues, in how I love my husband. Seeing how he was in it for the long haul, no matter what––has brought a sweetness to our marriage that I could not have understood when we nervously repeated the words, "...for the better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health..."

Because no one plans, on getting worse or poor or sick. And for that matter––old. 

If history is any indication, at best I’ve lived the better two-thirds of my life. If I live as long as my mom did? I've got seventeen years left to travel in this one body and live this one life. All I know is that the last seventeen years went by too fast.

No, I don't know what age I'll live to be, but I know that this body is a fragile vessel and this world is not my home.

Cancer taught me how to number my days. The New Living Translation of Psalm 90:12 reads, “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.”

This journey has brought me some wisdom and a new resolve.

It's like I've been given a second chance to write a better ending to my story.

God has graciously invited me to become more of who He intended me to be all along. Because that's how He is. God invites us to join Him in what He is doing in the world around us, instead of us just being around in the world. 

He has made me more and made me less.

More tender. More loving. More focused on what is really going to last.

Less hurried. Less tangled in what this world says is important.

I've learned how great things and change doesn't happen in my comfort zone.

It seems like every time we travel this desolate piece of  highway it happens. We enjoy the time but are always ready to turn the car toward home.

So for hours, we drive.

We might talk about what we've seen and done or what the days coming hold when we get home. Sometimes we drive in happy silence, grateful to have time for our minds to be lost in our own thoughts. But as dusk settles over us, and the final leg of the journey still lies ahead, we get restless.  

We have to reset our focus and our intent. We find ourselves looking for something that will give us a boost of energy for the final miles and sometimes we turn up the volume on the music. Mindless coasting isn't enough to get us home.

That's how I'm feeling about the days I'm living. As if there is an urgency to press in. A need to adjust the focus on what is truly important. A longing to shed more of what will be lost when this life is over and an urgency to do more of what will last.

This week. In the busy days that are hushed compared to the season that is coming––I am so thankful.

Thankful for the countless blessings of health and people and the sheer abundance I enjoy in this life.

But this holiday I'm more aware of this journey I'm on and how the road will someday lead me to my real home. Until then, I want to press into living these days well.

So tell me?

What detours has life taken you on?

How has God rewritten your story?

What is pressing on your heart as truly important today?


A song to turn up loud?






Monday, November 16, 2015

About Rockets and "Rawrs"

The advertising may have slightly, completely exaggerated.

The photograph on the box displayed a shimmering jet stream shooting from the cosmic rocket that was being propelled into outer space, bursting past planets and ring-like orbits on its way to the firmaments of heaven.

This same box claimed in bold print, "This rocket experience could be life-changing and would inspire all young scientists."

This may have led to unrealistic expectations. 

I personally knew little about formal physics before last Monday. That whole, thing about, "an object at rest will remain at rest, or an object in motion will keep moving in a straight line unless a force come to act upon them?"

What I have pondered, is why Isaac Newton had such an odd hair-do choice and carried the title of "Sir" in front of his name instead of Dr. or even plain ol' Mr.

A bout of laryngitis was the other problem I had on this rocket launching day. I didn't feel terribly awful, I just couldn't talk. Not having a voice was a complete inconvenience to me, but to the six littles in my house, it was the best day ever.

I had no idea, the joy and freedom small children could feel when the only adult in their life could only speak an occasional raspy word. To which they always replied, "What?"

In hopes of establishing a working survival sign language for the day, I called a huddle. It turned into a bad game of charades. Thumbs up seemed like a perfect way to say, "Yes." Thumbs down would obviously be the opposite.

The problem with sign language is that people have to pay attention to the one who is silently waving their hands around.

So I had to find a rhythm in listening and just being present. 

It was profound.

With only a small amount of hushed coaxing, the seven, six, five, four, three, and one-year-old kiddos became a rocket launching team. It seems appropriate.

They took turns doing the different tasks of preparing the launch pad, loading rocket fuel (baking soda and vinegar) and filming the results. My little man Max, and his favorite-toy-ever were in the center of it all.  He loves dinosaurs, but calls them "rawrs." Max and his "rawr" were the search-and-rescue duo for rocket parts. I found myself amused.

The smallest girl was happy to run the perimeters making gurgling toddler-like noises. All of which I may have noticed because I wasn't messing up the noise level with my own voice.

After coming to grips with the reality that their rocket would never actually make it into orbit, they problem solved, why the rocket would lift off and fall over on its side compared to the times it lifted higher and flew into the yard.

What they figured out? Less was actually more. Less baking soda plus the correct amount of vinegar gave the most success.

Maybe physics is important.

They did this again. And again. And again.

The six of them laughing and working together. Me without words, admiring them.

We were winning at life.

As an adult, I get caught up in the daily, mundane, routines and forget to be fully present in life. Or I'm multi-tasking when I should be paying attention to what is the most important and currently happening.

As I wordlessly lived that beautiful, busy day, I felt an increased urgency.

I long to fully embrace the short time I have with the people God has given to me to share this life with. I can't do that with my face buried in my social media or any of the other one thousand ways I can be distracted.

With and for my children and grandchildren. Yes!

I want to live in real-time, loving my husband with all my heart, living life with an open heart, pursuing God's heart. 

But I want to hear and notice the cashier at the check-out, the waitress in the restaurant and the person that came in late to slip unnoticed into the back row at church.

In a season that has increased awareness on the word, "thanks" and "giving" and "thankful living," I want to be focusing in on loving every soul that I have the privilege of coming in contact with.

I long for people (like you) to know that we are really all in this life together. Every soul is sacred. Every day spent cannot be refunded.

It's a noisy world and often times––things gets lost in that noise. I get lost in my own noise.

This all comes down to living wholehearted and present.

This week I've been holding on to what rockets and "rawrs" and silence have shown me.

How most of the glossy advertising of the world is a distorted non-reality.

How too often I have unrealistic expectations of just about everything.

How having a voice, speaking words, sharing words is a solemn gift that I need to appreciate, but being present without words is often all that is needed.

How being a mac and cheese flinging, nursery-rhyme singing, non-scientist-like women is a beautiful gift.

What if ordinary is what is sacred and God is the One who adds the extra to it?

The time is short. We aren't going to live forever. Just look at the dinosaurs.

One more thing that Sir Isaac Newton said?

"Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, 
and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things."

I'm beginning to think I like this guy.

This week maybe you would join me? 

Where ever we are, may we be all there. 
- - -




















- - -
The days are fleeting. Grab hold of the moment friends.

And 5 seconds of sheer joy?

video


Monday, November 9, 2015

Every Day Heroes

Across the hustle of the busy restaurant, I noticed a petite woman sitting alone at a table for two. Her face was set straight ahead, lips pressed, while she cupped her water glass with both hands. Dark hair brushed the top of a white pin tucked blouse. It had been a half century since I last saw her. I remembered her soft her voice and how light streamed through floor length lace curtains in her Sunday school room. My favorite story was about the boy David and how he had faith to pick up a stone to take down the giant. The first tremors in my heart being awakened to Jesus happened in her class. When I glanced back her way, the place where she had been sitting, was empty. It made me wonder if she knew. Did she even have an idea that she made a difference? From looking at her, she didn't appear to feel like her life mattered.

Hebrews 11 has a long list of people who didn't see the fruit of their lives while they walked this earth. And those heroes of faith still haven't fully realized their impact, because it continues to unfold in history. Sometimes it helps to capture just a glimpse of the bigger picture, but I missed the opportunity to encourage her. It has made me think of others who've been like arrows in my life. Just living their lives, doing big and small things. There are of course countless women and men who have had an impact. But here are a few women that showed up on the scene at just the right time and kept me from thinking life was hopeless.

- - -

I was completely uncomfortable coming into her home to sit with the group of women gathered there, but the atmosphere soon melted away most of my fears. Their common bond was obvious, but not exclusive. Their laughs were deep and frequent. In the center of the table was an extravagant cake. I can’t remember what kind, I just know I’d never tasted one like it before or since. The woman who made the dessert had a great name like, “Corky,” and she was a writer.  I wanted to be her friend, even though I didn't write. Everyone talked about Jesus as if He were more than a story in the Bible. As if He were right there pulled up to the table with us. It wasn't long after that my life was turned upside down, but that day, I got a glimpse of women who loved Jesus, with elbows on the table, licking frosting off the edge of the platter. Thank you, Cherlyn Wahlgren. Thank you for being an awesome neighbor and for making a place at your table. Thank you for praying for me and for telling me how my life reminded you of Job. I had to read the chapter to find out who he was. It's still not my favorite chapter. Yours was my first women's Bible Study experience. It was a bit like the cake that was served. Savory and sweet and welcoming and tangible and memorable. Your hospitality may have been an everyday small thing to you, but it mattered in a very big way. 

- - -

She always sat quietly in the back row at church. I can’t explain it, but I invited myself to her house. She fussed over our lunch while I walked around her home looking at the things hung on her walls. Some were pictures of her family and some were canvases she had painted. Her husband had lost his short battle with cancer. Together they had served for decades on the mission field. Her modest home held reminders of their tender and beautiful story. We decided to study the book of John together. I talked her into reading to me in Spanish. She was reluctant, but agreed and it was beautiful. We took long walks and she opened my eyes to the detail and beauty all around us. Thank you for being open to sharing your life with me, Pauline Tallman. When you told me you were moving, I sobbed the ugly cry, my entire way home. For selfish reasons. It is a reminder to completely embrace the seasons we have with people. Our time together was a mix of mentor, friend and you gave me the nudge to start writing. You, the woman who was in the middle of writing a trilogy. Who can even say that? Your faith proven by fire encourages me still. {{Te Quiero.}} Forever.

 - - - 

When I met Janet, I was completely over what I knew of church and religion. (And all of heaven was applauding.) In fact, if it had been up to me I would not have walked into the building where she was the Pastors wife. That first Sunday, our family filed into the service fashionably late, with all our defenses drawn. But Janet Walker is the kind of woman who naturally disarms all pretense. She's like the super-hero of mercy.  She has eyes to see those others might pass by. She moves toward the broken and the shattered.  One day, she asked me to lead a Bible Study for women. I remember the script that ran through my head. The words were so clear that I may have actually said them out loud.  “If you knew how messed up I am, you would not be asking me to lead women in a study." Most likely she did know how messed up I was and she still asked. Bless her. She provided a sacred place to grow and learn and step my foot on the path to so many things. She saw in me what I could not see or believe in myself. Before knowing her, I didn't know that grace could reach that far. Thank you for your tender, beautiful life. Every little thing you do matters.

- - -

The woman who has consistently challenged me by the way she lives her one lovely life is my cherished friend Cherri Putz. We met because of food. Weird I know. Specifically bread. That could be a story by itself. Two decades later, I am profoundly in love with Jesus and she has helped me on that journey. She has a beautiful freedom about her that has a contagious effect on a soul.  That is what I needed to see lived. Not to hear about, but to see and experience the power of a changed life, impacting others to live out the reality of Jesus in this life. We have also shared adventures and the deepest secrets of blueberry shakes and tips for homemade bread. She has been a mentor, a friend, a confidant, and encourager. And when she prays it's like the sky spills over and rains grace.

- - -

You may not find their names in the top 100 of whos-who. But right where they were, amid the daily stuff, these women opened their doors, pulled another chair up to the table, threw arms around my neck and looked past what they could see on the outside, to invest in something eternal. It sounds daunting. But as I scraped macaroni and cheese off the last small plate, two of my granddaughters came into the kitchen, discussing how they wanted to play dress-up. One wanted to be a Princess and the other said she wanted to be a Hero-girl.

"But I don't know what a hero-girl does," said the Princess.

"They do small things to help people," answered the Hero-girl. 

My granddaughters already understand a truth that people have been teaching me for years.

"Do small things with great love."

Can you name some of the people that have impacted your life?

Have you let them know?

Monday, November 2, 2015

How To Buy Once And Give Twice

It’s the second day in November (okay you probably know that) and the holiday shopping season has officially kicked off.   

I wrestle with the reality that I will be part of this buying frenzy, even though no one in my family needs more stuff, just for the sake of more stuff, to fill our homes and closets and garages.

I want Christmas to be a sweet time. I want to give thoughtful, beautifully wrapped gifts and to focus on what really matters. 

Doing the important things like, eating handcrafted cookies, sipping hot chocolate piled high with real whipped cream, while the whole family gathers around our artificial tree.  

The astounding truth is, last year over the few weeks between right now and Christmas, we Americans spent almost 500 billion dollars. This year, sales are expected to be up by 3.7 percent. 

That is a lot of buying. And presumably a lot of giving.  

This report from ABC News makes a bold claim: if we each spent just $64 on American made goods during our holiday shopping, the result would be 200,000 new jobs.

If buying, "Made in America," could have that kind of impact on our economy, the implication is of course that much of what we purchase from big-box stores is not American made. The problem with this is as deep and wide as the pile of money we spend on stuff, but ultimately when our stuff is cheap, someone was not paid a fair wage to make it.

I've heard of buying fair-trade products and purchasing from socially conscious vendors. I shared this woman's heart for it here. But have still been unsure how to move in that direction in a tangible way.

Then my friend Cherri mentioned how her family was seeking to give gifts from only fair-trade resources this year. I loved the idea, and after a few months of letting the beauty of that to settle over my heart, I wondered how to take this super-sized subject and shrink it down to do-able thing?

Well, I want you to meet someone who is quietly, beautifully showing me how to step off the path of just, "buying stuff" and moving toward, "intentional purchasing." It's a subject that could easily be explored every day until Christmas Day, but today, we are going to peek at how we can say YES to small-business owners and aspiring artisans. In doing this we can actually wrap our arms around the world and allow our purchases to impact the lives of those we love, as well as the lives of those who crafted the gifts.

Win. Win. Two for one. Buy once and give twice.

Meet Sara. She is a  "momtrepreneur," who makes exquisite, handcrafted items and is also a Noonday Ambassador. 
Sara is modeling a necklace from the Noonday Collection
Sara shares her heart about the how and the why, behind this idea of fair-trade and using our dollar buying power to count in the bigger scheme of things. Keep reading. Her words touched me to tears, and I believe they will bless you too.

From  Sara:
"The poverty that runs rampant in 3rd world countries obliterates the kind of opportunities most of us have in America.  The consequent break-down in social structure serves to further the devastation, with people in power abusing those without.  Unethical working conditions are accepted, even expected, as men and women will do whatever work is available when there are hungry mouths at home.  At varying degrees, this could mean unfair wages, unsafe work environments or even modern-day slavery as seen in sex trafficking.  

In contrast to the popular idea that money can solve this issue, it's becoming clear in recent years that no amount of money in the world can get to the heart of the poverty crisis:  a lack of dignity.

Short-term missions and monetary donations are wonderful and I do not discourage this way of giving; but to be cliche; in order to perpetuate the "teach a man to fish" ideal we need to encourage hard work and fair wages.  

Noonday Collection has been built upon this intention.

Noonday partners with businesses in developing countries who have the same vision.  Many small businesses dream about growing and expanding to be able to employ their fellow countrymen, their neighbors and relatives.  They don't lack vision, talent or intelligence.  They simply lack a large enough marketplace.  

That's where Noonday Collection comes in.  They don't employ any artisans or businesses; instead they partner with them through design, collaboration or even no-interest loans, giving that small business the tools it needs to grow itself out of it's own limitations. 

One of my favorite examples of this is the story of Jalia and Daniel in Uganda.  They were the first business that Noonday partnered with, and really, how it all started.  They hired 10 people to complete the first big order to send to America and now they employ over 300 people in their community (through both daily employment and contractual training, if you will).  This year they watched their dream come true when they opened an on-site daycare, offering FREE childcare to their employees.  This is unheard of, and it literally bring tears to my eyes just typing it out.  

They are the longest-standing partners with Noonday and the rest are in varying stages of this same intentional model.

Noonday partners with businesses in 12 different developing countries.
http://www.noondaycollection.com/pws/sarafrank/tabs/where.aspx

Noonday Collection is a member of the Fair Trade Federation which means, in their business dealings they adhere to a high moral and ethical standard.  But they go so much further than that, truly working toward and desiring to restore dignity to a broken social structure and impoverished communities.  They are literally changing the world, and every trunk show is an opportunity to create a marketplace for these artisans and an increasing demand for handmade, fair trade products in the US.  This furthers their job security and connects us all across the world.  It's just beautiful. 

Purchasing handmade and fair trade items creates a sense of responsibility and awareness.

When I wear a handmade scarf, I can think about the possibility of it being woven by a young mama in Guatemala.  When I wear pieces from Ethiopia, I love knowing that they are made from melted-down artillery from their own fields.  The redemptive story of beauty from ashes is tangibly strung around my neck.  

This vision is catching, and certainly Noonday is not the only company to be making waves.


Here is a company that promotes Fair Trade and Made In The USA companies.  
http://www.lifestylejustice.com/ethical-shopping/

They have a long list of well-researched companies that meet their standards.  

I am not familiar with everything on this list but here are a few I know of or am interested in: In the slums of Guatemala there is a shoemaker named Otto and he employs and trains men and women coming out of gang situations.  They make shoes.  AMAZING shoes.  You can read more about the company and about the founder. (an American.): 
https://www.therootcollective.com/

(My mom has at least 2 pairs and I think it may be 3 now... )

Elegantees is a socially-responsible company that employs women who are coming out of the sex trade.  Finding ethical employment is ESSENTIAL to maintaining their freedom from that life.
http://elegantees.com/

I just ran across this Fair Trade kids clothing brand yesterday and I am itching to peruse it: http://www.hooliganskids.com/

If you like luxury plus minimalism, this company is for you:
https://www.everlane.com/

Another way to shop intentionally is to shop second hand, either locally or from online companies like thredup.com

Part of the journey is simply being aware.  Less "buying" and more "intentionally purchasing".  If that makes sense?  

As far as gifts and holiday purchasing go, I LOVE the concept that by one purchase I can both gift a friend AND support an artisan or maker.  

There are tons of handmade items here in the US, too!"  

------------

In addition to being a Noonday Ambassador herself, Sara has a beautiful blog: 

Sara loves to make natural products and encourage people, especially mamas, about options to adopt a simpler and more pro-active lifestyle. 

She hand crafts products that are made in small batches, with quality ingredients. I can personally testify that they are amazing.   

She is having an open house this Friday.  She will feature pieces from the Noonday Collection, as well as Made in the USA and handmade, hand crafted items as well.  

If you live in my area and are interested, contact me and I will hook you up. The beauty of this, is how you can choose to stay at home in your most comfortable clothes and shop. sarafrank.noondaycollection.com

These pictures are some of Sara's favorite pieces from the Noonday Collection. She does have an eye for style doesn't she?




Photo courtesy of Noonday Collection
Photo courtesy of Noonday Collection

- - -

The following photos are of some of Sara's handcrafted products. 
The healing salve is amazing.



So, this is just a small primer if you will, to fair-trade purchasing. A tiny peek into the why and some resources to get you started in the how.

What if this year we all made a slight shift in how we use our purchasing power to bless those we care about and invest in others at the same time?

That really is giving twice with a single purchase.

And remember. There are only 52-ish days of Christmas shopping left.

Do you have resources to share as we embark on this season of buying and giving?

What if this year could be different in how we bless others?

I would love to add your ideas to this list of resources!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Inside And Out

This man I married, we are of course opposites in so many ways.

He’s easy-going.
I’m impassioned (reckless) about most all I do.
Photo from Unsplash


He thinks before he speaks.
I talk too much.

He easily stays up late, late, late.
My best time is early. Really early.

He has an aversion to conflict which can leave issues to smolder under the surface.
I’d rather get things out in the open. Then I’m over it. Forever. This approach can cause extra, perhaps even unnecessary tension, leaving other people not over it. Forever.

He does not like change.
I'm more adaptable to change, but not super sensitive to those who are not.

Growing up, he moved on average, every two years.
The first eighteen years of my life, were lived in one home.

For high school graduation he got a Camaro. (Which he loved.)
For high school graduation I got a wicker chair. (Which I loved.)

His idea of unwinding is an overstuffed chair, in front of a television.
I verbally process to unwind.

Add to these fun facts a long, arduous, somewhat annoying list of other differences.

Not the least of which, would be the fact that I arrived in the relationship with my emotional baggage bundled neatly and tied with a beautiful ribbon of held together dreams of  “happy-ever-after.”

We didn’t open that package until after the honeymoon.

We’ve talked about it before, but it is worth mentioning again…. our honeymoon suite was a romantic getaway for four.

I don’t know of another couple who shared this celebratory trip with children.

Over two decades later, it’s a miracle that we are, where we are.

For all of our contrasts, we did two foundational things that were important: We both had placed our faith in Jesus Christ and we made a promise that is legal and binding.

In and of themselves, those two things aren't magic, but the reality of them gave us a place to land when things were not going well.

We were new to sharing lives, spiritual infants, packing emotional baggage, wrapped in selfish human bodies, bound by a covenant to love each other for better-or-worse.

And there is almost always the worse, before it gets to the better.

I am convinced that God has a sense of humor to use marriage to make us holy, more than happy.

He uses marriage as a living, breathing, illustration of His love for us.

The problem with learning to truly love another person? We mostly loved ourselves more.

We were willing to serve the other if we first got served.

Willing to forgive the other if they asked for forgiveness first.

We might move to meet expectations, if we were getting our expectations met first.

Most days we were committed to being married, yet lived lives that were going different directions and intersected at the checkbook.

I believe we were like many married couples. We wanted to have the kind of relationship that was supportive, loving and tender. The kind of love that looked like Jesus-kind-of-love.

But selfishness is the opposite of love. 

Wanting to be served is the opposite of being a servant.

Truth? I did many things, thinking they were for the Lord, which were most likely done for selfish reasons. Too often I was sitting in church, but not living the example of what that means.

This I know. If it isn't done in love, for God's glory, it doesn't count in heaven. 

The good, good news, is that God can redeem lost time when a heart turns toward Him.

At some beautiful point, there was a shift in our hearts that took us from selfish living, to seeking the well-being of the other.

It was never about our differences, but about our togetherness and how we lived love toward the other. 

It began when we displayed deep respect and being  for the other. A sense of reading the others heart and asking, “What can I do for you right now.”

Being served made it easy for the other to want to serve.

If one chose to love when it was hard, it made it easier for the other to move toward love.

Too often, we lived as if we were on opposite teams. As if  we were players in an individual sport.

All or nothing. Win or lose.

Me against him. Him against me.

In our immaturity we didn't grasp that when one of us lost, the other lost too.

We didn't understand we were on the same side.

When you are one, what happens to the other––happens to you both.

We are on the same team, going the same direction. A dance of give and take and being strong when the other is weak. Cords twisted together which are not easily broken. 

And the more we understood this, the more we actually lived this.

We either win together or we lose together.

Our goal isn't to be alike, our goal is to be together. Together with all of our differences and dreams, being lived for the glory of God.

Not to collect hurts, or assign shame, or issue condescending remarks.

Not to criticize, but to encourage.

Not perfection, or to change the other, but to embrace one another and spur one another on to be the best we can be.

Together.

To love and to be loved through valleys and tears, pulls back the holy veil and reveals the gospel being lived out in our lives.

Unity is the picture. The Church is the picture.

Single and married people both, get to work on these relational basics, but married people generally get to practice from sun up to the falling in bed, as they rub up against the imperfect person who shares their home.

Marriage is a living picture of  God's grace. His unconditional love. His complete forgiveness. His living through our lives and changing us at a soul level to live love like He did.

When we moved from wanting to be served, to having the heart of a servant, we began to grow up and grow together. 

Our marriages, as well as our individual lives, when lived for Jesus, display to the world the truth of  the gospel of Christ.

What is on the inside of us, will be lived on the outside of us.

Photo from Unsplash *Quote*


Are you single or married? 
What do you find the most challenging in the everyday loving like Jesus?
Share an encouragement?


Monday, October 19, 2015

Opening Our Life And Home

Studies indicate that one out of two people who visit your home, are likely to go through your bathroom cabinet and drawers. Reading this little bit of trivia last week, may have sent me off a small cliff of panic, as we prepared for company on Friday night.

Thinking about people peering at my toothbrush and makeup didn’t bother me. Dog hair that floats effortlessly across the wood floor in the kitchen and gathers into colonies of dust bunnies, enough to stuff a sock monkey ––that bothered me.
I’m hardly exaggerating. Our corgi, who is super cute and adored, is in her full, all-out, fall shed.

One of three, complete, on-going, sheds a corgi does every year. One more shed than the average canine. And when she hears that company is coming she will just sit in the center of the living room and release her hair in large tufts. It would be funny, except that it’s not.

Just a few days before, my spinach and blueberry shake blew up all over the kitchen cabinet, reaching to the ceiling. I had mopped some of it up, but found good reasons to ignore standing on the counter to get the rest. Now, it was a purple and green mosaic of concrete like texture, on light cabinet doors.

The past month has been a complete influx of stuff, as I may have mentioned, like nine-hundred and ninety-nine times. I feel as though I've lived through something epic.

My sister became the 'Keeper of the grave décor' and I became the 'Protector of the Polaroid and Kodak moments' of our entire family throughout their whole lives. Both of us accepted these jobs assignments and their respective crates, with some reluctance.

My new lifetime responsibility, literally lines the garage, so that you have to shimmy sideways to go from one end to the other. I warned my husband, “…you watch football, so use your skills to tackle anyone who dares to put a hand on the doorknob which leads to the garage.”

Since the North Central region of the United States just received its first frost, the entire garden blew up into my house the evening before. I decided to hide it all in the garage as well, along with a sack of very ripe bananas that someone gifted me, requesting I return them as banana bread.

While the kids were all home for my dad's auction, we squeezed in family pictures ––and the flu.

After I personally recovered from that flu, I sprayed and washed and wiped, but just thinking about our guests using the same bathroom where people may have hung out in the throes of throwing up, made me obsessed with toxic cleaners. The kind which would not make an environmental friendly blog post.

I was accelerating to a desperate state of mind. Who wants to hear that people came to your house for dessert and went home losing their lunch?

While using the noxious disinfectant, I went off on a teeny-tiny tangent.

This does annoy my husband, as I found out when he shared that information with our newly formed married people group. The very group I was stressing getting ready for.

After the glue-on-the-bathroom-vanity-incident, I could see he does have a point.

So, I may have taken Gorilla Glue and tried to address a problem with our bathroom vanity.

It was just a small problem, caused by grandchildren trying to reenact Noah’s flood in the bathtub. I can testify that water does weird things to veneer vanities.

This glue is good, and maybe better than duct tape for many odd jobs.

Unfortunately it added a new dimension to my dilemma, once it ate through the paint and formed a hard foam that will have to be sawed off and is of course, now, the first thing you notice when you walk in that room.

One more element to my crazy, was a black, extremely agile spider that galloped across the room while I was vacuuming.

I ended up rearranging the furniture in the basement.

I realize that spiders have to live too, but his timing was bad.

The black spider situation, really happened because my husband is a handyman.

One of the things I did not share with our new Grow Group, is how his handiness can be annoying, especially if someone is trying to talk over the screaming.

Not us screaming. Our vacuum. It screams.

This vacuum has died many times, but JQ keeps resurrecting it. It may be true, that this vacuum is the pinnacle of JQ's handy-man-ness.

He has repaired or replaced every part possible.

Even when flames came out of the cord, he somehow fused the wires back together. And it works unless you stretch the cable too far, then it makes a weird snapping sound.

The advantage is, we haven't had to spend the money we've setback for the newest, most amazing dog-hair-picker-upper machine on the market.

The disadvantage is that our old, but faithful machine makes a high-pitched screeching noise that causes black spiders, small children, and of course dogs to run.

Think fingers on a chalk board, only louder and more disturbing.

We vacuumed the couches and the silverware drawer.

Because nothing says, “welcome”,  like a clean silverware drawer right?

It was at that point that I realized how crazy I was being with, “what will people think.”

I want to open my home to real and meaningful relationships, with the folks one pew up or one house down.

It's risky to be known by others.

It doesn't always work out. Sometimes I'd rather put up a protective wall with a neat and tidy external appearance.

Me, trying to cover up the messy parts of my house could be my best attempt to hide the messy parts of my heart. 

It's a gift to gather.

It's a gift to push through the uncomfortable and the panic and invite people to just come and sit.

Romans 12:13 says, "Take every opportunity to open your life and home to others."

To do that, things are bound to be messy and unplanned and even uncomfortable sometimes. But the request is simply to be open with my life and home.

That takes the pressure off of having things perfect and puts the focus where it should be––on "others."

What if all I did was invite people into my mess and real life?

What if all I cared about was making them feel truly welcome?

That is where real community could happen and how God is glorified.

If you come to my house, feel free to check the cabinets, but enter the garage at your own risk. You already have an idea how things are around here.

How about you. How do you open your life and home to others?

Do you strive for perfection or relax in the details?








 
© Rhonda Quaney