A Re-Creating Life
I was in a strange place, surrounded by people I didn’t know. I didn’t want to be there. And then a memory flashed–-my mom, talking about her joy bubble . . . Chatting about abiding in Christ and keeping joy in the midst of turmoil at Putting on the New today.
That year, the word God gave me was STRENGTH. I felt empowered by the word as I imagined how I would use it. Physically: I would exercise regularly, add strength training, and make healthy food choices. Mentally: I'd read more non-fiction, learn from the biographies of great people. Spiritually: I'd spend more time studying and memorizing scripture.
And then came a single sentence that opened a vein and siphoned every drop of strength. I couldn't breathe. Sobs came in waves, triggered by random thoughts, unexpected memories. The walls closed in. Questions ricocheted, waking me from a sound sleep. Why? Why? And eventually . . . What now? But no answers came.
Have you been there? Have you heard the sentence that brings the verdict: Guilty. Betrayed. Rejected. Ruined. Terminal. Alone.
I didn't have answers. I didn't have the faith to believe there would be joy in the morning. The future was forever altered because of the hole in my heart that would never fully heal.
But this I did know: Though I felt alone, I wasn't. Though I was powerless, he wasn't.
This wasn't the year God was going to increase my strength. This was the year I would lose it all. And he would show me his.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
I wonder . . . how do those who live without that promise ever get to the point where they can draw a full breath? How do you go on if you don't know the One who will be your strength when yours is gone?
I wrote the above this morning, then found this song posted on Facebook by a man whose son committed suicide. Lord, without you we can't go on.
I woke with a sense of heaviness this morning. Much on my
mind. Family members suffering, relationships strained. I checked Facebook as I
got dressed to face the day. More heaviness—two sets of parents helplessly
standing by bedsides of adult children with life-threatening health problems.
Tears blurred my morning routine. God,
where are you in all of this?
This past Sunday we listened to possibly the best message on
suffering I’ve ever heard. Yet still, with this fresh on my mind, the question
returns. Where are you? As I sat down to pray, looking out on a white, cold world, a
seemingly random thought came to mind. A cold January day. 1999. Still reeling
from the horrific news that my sister-in-law had died in a head-on car
accident, I stopped at the house of long-time friends. As I sat and talked, she
brought a blanket and tucked it around me. And then a cup of tea. And
listening. When it was time to leave, he went out in the bitter cold and
started my car. Small kindnesses, but exactly what I needed at the moment.
The memory brought to mind other moments of grace: The year
my husband was laid off—walking out to the car and finding the back seat filled
with bags of groceries. That same year—an envelope in our mailbox. $10. No name.
Then there was the day I answered the phone to hear my son was in the hospital
in possible liver failure, and a friend—a person who is definitely not a hugger—grabbed
me in a bear hug and said, “I’m so, so sorry,” as I cried.
I think back on so many perfectly timed phone calls. “How
did you know I needed this right now?” Or “thinking of you” cards—how could
that friend have known when she put a stamp on that envelope that I would need
that encouragement today, at this moment, as I opened the mail?
Where is God in these heavy times? Right here. Showing his
love in touches of grace from an anonymous friend, a cup of tea from a sister
in Christ, a perfectly timed phone call from someone willing to listen.
Lord, forgive me for the times I’ve mislabeled acts of
kindness, failed to see them as your presence. And show me, today, who needs a
touch of grace. Use me—to hug, or write, or listen, or make that call. Or that cup of
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Discussing my thoughts on our love for shimmer and sparkle and our longing for a prince (and showing off my beautiful granddaughters) on Putting on the New. Come on over!
There are not three levels of spiritual life— worship, waiting, and work. Yet some of us seem to jump like spiritual frogs from worship to waiting, and from waiting to work. God’s idea is that the three should go together as one. Oswald Chambers
I'm forming a support group--Spiritual Frogs Anonymous.
Anyone want to join?
Though I consciously desire an organic, constant, living-and-breathing ongoing relationship with my Heavenly Father, I so often compartmentalize and hop from heartfelt prayer to striving to please to genuine worship to doubt to waiting on Him to real caring for others, and then cycle back around, throwing in some false guilt and wrong motives just for good measure.
How does one get rid of the useless things on that list and live a vibrant, pray-and-praise-and-serve-and-wait patiently-without-ceasing life?
I fancy myself a free spirit, but I'm afraid at least part of the answer lies in the D word. Discipline. I want it to just happen, but some things don't come naturally. The key may be in not treating spiritual disciplines as things to cross off a to-do list. Prayer. Check. Fasting. Check. Worship. Check. Serving. Check.
The answer may be found in breaking out of the boxes. Leaving the lists behind. It's good to set aside a time of prayer, but when I rise from my chair or my knees, the conversation shouldn't end. When I leave a time of corporate worship, the praise continues in my spirit. Instead of jumping from one lily pad to the next, we can sit back and revel in the entire scene. Like an impressionist's watercolor, lines and colors blur and blend and flow into each other, creating a life of beauty and serenity.
By not setting an end-time for these "disciplines," we may create an internal atmosphere that is less conducive to negative thoughts and wrong motives.
Membership in SFA is free. All you need is a sincere desire to stop hopping!
How do you keep your relationship with God constant and free of boundaries?
. . . this year, the holiday is shiny and bright and you're looking forward with anticipation to celebrating with family and friends.
This message is for you if, this year, your smile feels a little forced, Christmas carols make you long for the joys of past years, and lights on the tree sometimes blur as you listen to friends talk about preparing room for family.
We've been blessed with many, many wonderful Christmases--too noisy and messy for Norman Rockwell, but brimming with love and laughter.
So what do we do when Christmas arrives with a dark cloud instead of sparkling snow? When the walls echo with the giggles of Christmases past, but the house is empty? How do we celebrate in the wake of the loss of a loved one, a serious illness, or distance--geographical or relational--from family?
Of course, we know we need to focus on the birth of Christ and think of others before ourselves. But I've found something--a little practice that I know will sound simplistic--that's helping me fight for joy this year. I'm finding it in captured moments. While the big picture doesn't look like I wish it did, there are those precious minutes, those snapshots of wonder and laughter, even here, beneath this cloud. There is the glitter on my dining room floor from a crafting grandson. And the pile of pillows and blankets in the living room from a sleepover by the tree. There is Marshmallow, the blow-up bear my oldest granddaughter gave me ten Christmases ago. There are the fifteen stocking hanging by the fireplace. How I long for Christmases past, when everyone was here to open them. But the stockings remind me to pray for each one. Important moments.
I think of a friend who is spending her first Christmas without her husband. The picture is not what she wants it to be. But there are moments--baking cookies with her grandchildren, watching them sing in a Christmas program. Sometimes it's as small as holding an ornament and remembering the person who gifted you with it.
For me, at this moment, it's the smell of 7-layer-bars. No, I'm not baking them for a houseful. But my husband loves them. And that will be enough right now. And maybe, by the end of tomorrow night, I'll have a list of wonder moments far longer than I could have imagined--and the big picture will appear much brighter than I once thought.
Even if this holiday is not all that you long for, I pray that this Christmas will be blessed with a long list of wonder moments.
Grandchild 1: You're not a grown-up, you're a grandma!
Grandchild 2: Yeah, you're past grown-up!
Wow . . . After I stopped laughing, it got me thinking.
Remember back to pretending you were a grown up? When putting on Mommy or Daddy's shoes or "helping" with housework made you feel "big." And then we move on to the words: "When I grow up . . ."
When did that stop for you? When you hit 18? 21? When did we stop dreaming of what we'd become when we matured? Shouldn't we still be asking those questions, dreaming those dreams?
When I grow more loving, I'll _________. When I grow more patient (or bold or selfless or giving or forgiving) I'll __________.
Can I challenge you to dream with me about filling some bigger shoes?
When I grow more surrendered to Christ, I want to walk where he would walk, love where he would love.
When we're young, growth just happens. Most of us had caring people feeding, teaching, nurturing us. At this stage it takes some intentionality to keep growing. Maybe something to incorporate into those resolutions that make change seem so possible at the beginning of each new year.
And anyway, what's the fun in stopping at "adult"? Now that you've learned, as I have, that there are growth stages "past grown-up," what are you going to be when you grow ____________?
Thank you to my three youngest adorables--Zoey, Leif, and Laiken--for the pictures. And to Keira and Caden for the conversation that inspired this post.
For those days when you wake to a messy life . . . I'm sharing thoughts on where to start on Putting on the New. Love to hear your thoughts.
Lecture alert: I needed one this week, so I thought I'd share the humbling. It's not a new message, just one I need to hear on a regular basis.
It started with an idle thought. A critical one--the kind we're supposed to take captive. The essence of the thought was: "If they'd only do it MY way . . ."
Raise your hand if you've ever entertained one of those.
It got me wondering how God sees his kids. . . I look down on you because you go to a church with only organ music. You criticize me because of the rock tunes at mine. She goes to a mega church. I belong to a home church. He reads his Bible before bed. I read mine in the morning. They like NIV. We like ESV. I'm post-trib. He's mid-. She says she's a Christian, but she still smokes. He claims to be a Jesus follower but he watches PG movies.
Whole families of believers have been shattered over more trivial matters than these. We criticize, argue, sever ties.
Our Father must be thrilled.
Years ago, I wrote a (never published) book inspired by my two oldest sons. I called it Night and Day Brothers. It was about two boys who were polar opposites. One wore a tie to gym class. The other collected rocks and rusty bottle caps.
While our boys did have very different likes and dislikes when they were young, little did I know how prophetic that story would be.
Today, my oldest son has three kids, five dogs and raises goats and ducks and chickens. He hates football. He sometimes wears a kilt. If he had a choice between a 5-star hotel and a day puttering in his shop with his kids, the shop would win hands down.
My second son is a chiropractor. He has three kids, no pets, and enjoys golfing, gourmet food, and taking his kids to the pool. He loves football. He wears dress shirts. If told he had to spend a day in his brother's shop, he'd probably say, "Just shoot me."
How did this happen? How did they get to be so different? They were raised in the same house with the same rules. They shared a bedroom. When I could get away with it, I even dressed them alike. We gave them the same amount of love. And yet, here they are, as different as night and day.
I wouldn't have wanted cookie-cutter kids. Remember Purple Panda on Mister Roger's Neighborhood? The monotone-talking guy whose favorite food was tapioca, who teleported from Planet Purple where everyone looked and talked the same? I think we'd all agree we'd hate a tapioca world of monotony. Yet why do we so often think "If they'd only do it MY way. . ."? I'm not preaching "tolerance" of sin here, but acceptance of the things that add texture, flavor, and color to our lives.
Gary Chapman wrote a song that Amy Grant made popular back in the seventies. Every time I hear Father's Eyes I'm convicted. Lord, I Iong to stop focusing on differences. Help me see what you see, look for good, and search for common ground. Help me love your kids.
Because, after all, we are family.
Time warp . . . to Thanksgiving 1977. We had only two little boys at the time. Scott was three
and Jeff was four months old.
If the term "going dark" even existed in the seventies, it was only in the business realm--referring to a company closing up shop. Or maybe in the world of espionage.
then, we didn’t have internet, email, cell phones or
social media. Yet there were plenty of distractions. We wanted to see if we could handle, and enjoy, a taste of a simpler life--without modern conveniences and the word "hurry."
So for four days, we covered the clocks, turned
off the heat, and didn’t use electricity. (We did, however, take advantage of
modern plumbing.) We heated with, and cooked on, the wood stove in our
night, friends came over with an acoustic guitar. We sat by the
fire and listened and let the busy world outside slip away.
Thanksgiving Day, we walked the half mile to my mother’s house with the baby in
an old-fashioned buggy. On our way home, it started to snow. Huge flakes
falling straight down muffled the sound of footsteps and laughter.
was something holy in that night. The experience made us more thankful for what
we had, but also made us long for a slower, less complicated life.
A few years ago I was in Door County, Wisconsin on a research trip for A Door County Christmas with writer friends Rachael Phillips, Eileen Key, and Cynthia Ruchti. One night, we sat beside a gas fireplace in a suite at the Eagle Harbor Inn in Ephraim. We
laughed and talked over each other as we plotted and brainstormed, each one of us typing
away on a laptop. And then, without warning, the lights went out. The
manager came to the door and explained that the power had gone out in
the whole town. He gave us each a glow stick.
shut off our computers to save battery power and curled up in our wing-back
chairs by the fireplace. We lifted out neon green sticks and sang “This Little
Light of Mine.”
hushed and slowed. Before long, we veered from talk of writing and started
sharing the things on our hearts. Not long after that, we began to pray.
fueling ideas, would we have ever gotten to that point? I wonder.
this holiday season look like for each of us if we even took an hour a day to “go
dark”? A time to turn off the electronics, silence the noise in our heads, set aside the to-do lists, and
just be still. Is it possible we’d be drawn back to the thankfulness of
Thanksgiving . . . the joy of Christ’s birth? Would we find ourselves calm
instead of frazzled and impatient?
Sometime before Christmas I'm claiming a whole day to "go dark." This time, I'll probably leave the lights on and cook on the electric stove, but I want a screen-free 24-hours. No texting, email, checking Facebook, listening to the radio in the car, watching TV, or even writing.(My heart rate about doubled at the thought—a sure sign of addiction.)
What will I do in that screen-free day? Maybe I'll linger over tea and watch the sun rise . . . and set. Maybe I'll snuggle under a down quilt and read a cozy Christmas novella, or go for a walk and wish I had, like the Alaskan Inuits, more than 50 words for snow. I might have a sit-down conversation across the kitchen table with my husband--without the backdrop of Fox News--or, like I did this past weekend, go sledding in the front yard with one of the grandkids. I could just sit in front of the fire and look at the stockings waiting to be filled and thank God for the family he's blessed us with.
I need this quiet, reconnecting time.
Care to join me?