Back to School Prayer Gathering

I hate things out of season.  It makes me feel irritated, sad, and confused.  Like last week when my daughter insisted on watching Elf- in her Grinch PJ’s- wearing a Santa hat- in Texas- in July… I obliged until she began playing Christmas music and asked if she could cut snowflakes from my coffee filters.  NO!  It’s 104 degrees outside!  Go sing Jingle Bells in the pool!  I can hardly handle Hobby Lobby right now either with their aisles of pumpkins and scarecrows, followed by row after row of Christmas ornaments.  I feel like the moment the kids get out of school for the summer I start receiving Pottery Barn Kids catalogs filled with monogrammed backpacks on children dressed in sweaters and boots.  Target has been filled with school supplies since early June neatly stacked underneath giant pencils boasting “Back to School.”  Shut up, Target.

FOR THE LOVE OF SUMMER, PLEASE CHILL OUT!

Honestly, I won’t even let anyone say the “S-word” in my presence until August.  You know the one… It comes with earlier mornings, busier schedules,  extra curricular activities, increased taxi duty, homework drama, and a million things to keep up with.  Obviously I do not have the best attitude about the “S-word” and you can pray for me as it comes crashing into my summer like a locomotive of stress.   I know that It’s Always a Beautiful Season and with all of those hard things there comes blessings as well.  Earlier bedtimes around here won’t be terrible.  A couple of days a week of quiet will probably serve my search for selah well.  The kids have been routine-free since May 5th and are getting a little bored and restless. Confesh- I have had my days of feeling…. um….crazy?  I do love school supplies and good grief –  It.  Is.  HOT!!   I find myself saying, “go find something to do that does not include standing there looking at me/following me around while I talk on the phone/eating one more snack” more and more.  I’m trying really hard to look at the positives.  And, because the calendar has officially been flipped to August, I guess we need to talk about the “S-word.”

Since mentioning it in Somewhere Between Pizza-Hut and Pinterest, I have had several ladies ask me about our “Wine, Cheese, and Prayer Night.”  Because this is one of my tribe’s favorite traditions, I thought I would devote an entire post to it and invite you all to join in.  Also, I thought the name of this important event needed a little make-over for the sake of the blog, so today we shall call it a “Back to School Prayer Gathering,” although I highly recommend the wine and cheese.

For a limited time, when you subscribe you’ll receive a set of our Back to School Prayer Prompts {We’ve included a set of printable cards for Parents, Students and Teachers!}

First of all, the WHAT?  As a tribe (Bible study/Life/Community/Discipleship group), we dedicate one night a year, usually the week before school starts, to praying for all of our children by name.  This is a night of focus.  This is a night of intentionally speaking words of life over our kids.  This is a night of standing shoulder to shoulder as mothers in agreement for answered prayer in the lives of each other’s children.  This is a night of dedicating the coming school year to the Lord.  This is an Ebenezer Stone in the life of our group, in the lives of our kids.  Remember ‘ole Ebenezer from 1 Samuel 7:12?  “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen.  He named it Ebenezer saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.”  It is like a monument to look back on for the next nine, hectic, crazy, rushing months to remember “thus far the Lord has helped us.”

So, next is the WHY?  Prayer is my jam.  At least I desperately want it to be.  Is there anything in the Christian life more important, yet more neglected than prayer?  Is there anything that can unite people like prayer can?  In her book Restless, Jennie Allen says, “If we only had an inkling of all we miss because we do not pray, because we do not believe the Spirit in us is able to do impossible things, we would shudder.

It seems harsh to say that “we do not believe the Spirit is able” but when our life is marked by the sin of prayerlessness, that is exactly what we are proclaiming to both the natural and spiritual realm.

If we could really get the picture,  the idea, the truth, that God has invited us to “approach His throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need ” (Hebrews 4:16), I don’t believe we would ever leave.  If we really understood what it meant for Jesus to be “at the right hand of God also interceding for us”  (Romans 8:34), we would see how anything outside of prayer, anything within our own power, is ridiculous.  Need a few more why’s?

Pray without ceasing. 1 Thessalonians 5:17

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6-7

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  James 1:5

The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man [Mom] avails much.  James 5:16

Pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord.  Lift your hands toward Him for the life of your young children.  Lamentations 2:19

So, what does this gathering look like?  The HOW is really up to you.  Invite your tribe over one night and ask everyone to bring a yummy appetizer, or put out a lovely fruit and cheese board and provide a couple of bottles of wine.

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Maybe you would prefer desserts and coffee. A little ‘ole fashioned pot-luck dinner, anyone? We have always just gathered as moms but I can see real power in inviting the dads to be a part of covering their children in prayer.  (And to you grandparents, I can think of no greater gift you could give to both your kids and grandkids than to host an evening like this.  What a legacy!)  The setting doesn’t really matter but I always look for the opportunity to have a little party!

And now for the prayer.  A few years back I was really convicted about “prayer requests.”  I absolutely believe in “bearing one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), and voicing our hearts’ cry to our community but praying together had really just turned into a big vent session.  Heavy on the griping, light on the praying.  Anyone else?   So now, when my tribe gathers weekly for prayer, we hear each other’s requests when they are voiced out lout to the Father.

We actually pray about our own junk rather than just talk about it.

Obviously, we agree with one another in those moments, there are times we lay hands on someone and all pray together, we take those prayers home and intercede for our sisters throughout the week. But there is some ownership in presenting our own requests to God.

So, when it comes to this special Back to School Prayer gathering, we all take the days and weeks before to search scripture and ask God to highlight a promise, an appeal, a need, a place of growth for each of our children.  I highly recommend The Power of a Praying Parent by Stormie O’Martin and Praying the Scriptures For Your Children by Jodie Berndt as amazing resources in both identifying places of prayer and providing scriptures for them.  I have the most highlighted, dog-eared copy of both of these books and I go back to them time after time when I need wisdom in articulating a hope I have for my children and help in finding an appropriate promise or verse to declare.  So for me, after pressing in closely to Jesus and being still to listen to His heart for my kids, I end up with 4 notecards with verses for each of my children on them.   I insert their names in them.  I highlight them in my Bible and write next to it, “for (name of kid), 2016-2017.”  I write it in each of their prayer journals and come back to it weekly to proclaim it, to stand on it, to sometimes beg it of the Lord in their lives.  Now that 3 out of 4 of mine are readers, I also give them a copy of the verse I am believing for them over and over.  It finds its way into lunchboxes, on notecards tucked inside of pillow cases, or written with dry-erase markers on bathroom mirrors.

When we all gather on that night, fresh notecards in hand, a fresh Word in our hearts, Bible’s opened to new promises with kids’ names written in, we just speak it all aloud.  We take turns to pray these verses over each of our children.  We carry our babies, whether they are 2 or 20, to the throne room and place them at the feet of Jesus.  We stand on the promises and we stand together.   We declare that “no weapon formed against them shall prosper” (Isaiah 54:17), as they enter this next school year.  We say of them, “The Lord will keep you from all harm – He will watch over your life,” (Psalms 121:7).  We proclaim that our kids will be “like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither- whatever they do prospers.” (Psalms 1:3). We lift their teachers up as well, the physical buildings they will be learning in. We agree in spirit saying, “May the favor of the Lord our God rest on them; establish the work of their hands for them,” (Psalms 90:17).  Well, you get the idea.

I am humbled every time I go home to my parents house to find a copy of Stormie O’Martin’s book The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children sitting by my mom’s chair on her sun-porch.  It is every bit as dog-eared as my copy of The Power of a Praying Parent.  It reminds me that this part of parenting is never finished…prayer.  It is the greatest gift we can give our kids.

So, as the “S-word” approaches and you are outfitting your kids (or grandkids) with backpacks and new shoes and school supplies, don’t forget the thing that they will need the most as they set out that first day- prayer.  It is powerful.  Whether you gather to “rejoice with those who rejoice,” or “mourn with those who mourn,” over school starting back, consider rallying your tribe for a prayer night like this and watch God be so very faithful to you and your children.  I would love to hear about your Back to School Prayer Gathering so I can say with you, “thus far the Lord has helped us [all].”  #BTSprayergathering  Blessings to you and yours this school year.

Back to School Prayer Prompt Image

 

 

The Daily Push Back

The Daily Push Back

I still marvel at it… the way that dreams can take twists and turns and dump you right out in a spot you never knew you wanted.  That is how I feel about my little Rancho among the tumbleweeds and sandstorms of west Texas.  Yesterday, as I pulled up to the gate, the old Dixie Chicks’ song “Wide Open Spaces” came on the radio and I began to cry.  I have loved that song since college (now I’m dating myself!!), but back then I didn’t even recognize the longing it was speaking to inside of me.  But yesterday I knew.  I saw it with my own teary eyes.  My very own wide open spaces, with my childhood cowboy, a herd of cow dogs, a flock of silly hens, and a bunch of free-ranging kids (and tumbleweeds and sandstorms).  The Ranchito really is my “unexpected promise land,” the one that little southern co-ed in the Dixie Chicks hat could have never imagined.

But do you want to know a secret?  My very favorite spot on these seven acres is not a wide open space at all.  It’s not the garden sprouting in the Spring, or the sunset porch showing off every evening.  It’s not the swimming pool filled to the brim with friends all summer, or the pasture where we pull the hayride every Fall Festival.  In fact, most visitors will never see this enchanting nook at all.  It’s a little patio enclosed by vine covered brick walls located between our bedroom and our daughters’.  We call it the “Bunny Courtyard” because in it our 3 pet rabbits run (hop?) free.  It also happens to be home to 2 turtles named “Cooper” and “David,” an accidental rooster named “Chickaletta” (long story for another day), quite a large family of not-so-shy mice, some free-loading dove, and unfortunately, the occasional slithering visitor.  (One day I am going to write a children’s book entitled “The Adventures of the Bunny Courtyard” because they are many- but for today, there are your introductions.) And in the warm Summer months, when the rush of school mornings are a memory, and postponed bed-times mean sleeping children, you can find me in the Bunny Courtyard as well… Bible, journal, countless books in hand… a mason jar of pretty pens, a cup of coffee, and. a sunrise.  Yes, and Amen!  So Jesus and I join the menagerie every morning, seated at the old garden table.  And sometimes He sends a hummingbird too, just to let me know He sees me… it’s kind of our thing.

bunny courtyard bible studySounds dreamy, right?

It is.  I feel like Cinderella many mornings out there holding a bunny in my lap while the turtles chomp a fresh leaf and the mice scurry behind the veil of vines, writing in my journal and reading my Bible.  The flowers bloom, the rooster crows, the bees buzz gently.  It is dreamy.

It is also a heck of a lot of work.

You see, those adorable little bunnies and I go round and round..  Literally.  They go around the edge to the dirt perimeter of the courtyard and they dig.  They dig and dig and dig.  And I go around behind them and I fill in the holes.  And I fill and fill and fill.  And that rooster, well, he poops.  He poops and poops and poops- usually on my pretty little table.  And I clean and clean and clean.  And the turtles are messy eaters leaving a trail behind of leftover tomatoes and old lettuce.  They munch and munch and munch.  And I sweep and sweep and sweep.

bunnies in the courtyard

Every day.  Every single morning.

Seriously.  And I have to do it all before I can sit and enjoy Jesus and the coffee and the dreamy and the hummingbirds.  Please get the very real picture in your mind of me at sunup, either in PJ’s, or sweaty workout clothes, slippered feet and a shovel, filling in holes, an old towel cleaning off poop, the push broom sweeping up the mess. Cinderella for sure.   The dreamy Bunny Courtyard mornings are very real.  The bunny petting and praying, the Bible studying and hummingbird watching – it is alive and well.  And so it the daily push back of dirt and poop and mess.

One could never be enjoyed without the the other being endured.  Every day.

I guess I don’t know any part of life that gets all cleaned up, all accomplished, all checked off and then it is finished.  I don’t know any aspect that stays beautiful and dreamy without the shoveling and sweeping.  Marriage?  Try shelving communication for a season – even a dreamy season- and see if you don’t have a mess to clean up.  Friendships?  Try just participating in the pretty and not the dirty and tell me how deep those relationships go.  Jesus?  Just show up in your Sunday best and ignore Him during the mid-week muck and mire and tell me if victory seems far off.   .

Here’s the thing: Rabbits were created with digging in their hearts.  If I am shocked every morning when I join them on their courtyard, that they have once again dug a makeshift den, then shame on me.  Chickens poop.  It’s what they do.  I know this and am prepared- why waste the energy on getting exasperated?  And the enemy of your soul, then enemy of all that is good and peaceful and dreamy in your life?  Well, he steals, kills, and destroys.  It’s what he does, it’s what he has always done.  It says so right there in John 10:10 so please don’t be surprised when he attempts to do just that- steal your joy, kill your relationships, destroy your dreams and peace and testimony.   The question is not if he will try to make a mess of things, the question is if you will push back.  Every day.

The truth is, we can get comfortable with the dirt and poop.  We can get so used to it, we forget there is something better, something beautiful underneath.  If I take a few days off from the Bunny Courtyard push back, do you know what happens?  The area shrinks.  That dirt takes over more and more space and I forget where the pretty patio is supposed to start.  I can’t find the boundaries, the part that belongs to me, belongs to beauty.  A part of my promise land is lost.  The work increases when it’s not done daily.  It’s harder that way.

We can get hopeless with the prospect that we will have to fill the same holes tomorrow… fight the same fights, take back the same territory, invest in the same broken people.   Romans 5:3-5 speaks to this very thing. “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.  And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.  And this hope will not lead to disappointment.(NLT)”

You see, we are not hopeful that the dirt and poop will not be there tomorrow.  We do not put our hope in a task finished, a situation conquered, a burden released. a win.  We put or hope in the one who gives us the strength daily for the push back.  And this hope “will not disappoint.”  This life takes endurance, the kind of endurance that builds strength of character.  The kind of endurance that picks the shovel up again tomorrow and takes back truth, hope, and the beauty underneath the mess.  Every time I pick that shovel up, PJ’s and all, I get stronger.  Every time you push back the darkness from your promise land, you get stronger too.

Galatians 6:9 encourages, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  We will reap a harvest.  That harvest just may be some spiritual muscle and strength of character rather than a tidy bow on the situation.  The Bunny Courtyard can be beautiful but it will never be tidy.  James 1:12 tells us, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”  He will reward our perseverance in this life or the next… that’s the win.

I wish we could see what God sees.  I wish, instead of seeing the young mom hanging on by a thread, we saw the spiritual strength it takes to do it all again tomorrow.  I wish instead of seeing the unhappy wife, we saw the mighty prayer warrior she is, fighting in the heavenliness for her marriage.  I wish, instead of seeing a burnt out man, we saw the solider he is as he stands guard for his home and his family, daily taking back any territory lost. I  wish instead of seeing an aging generation weakened by time, we saw the ferocious band of grandparents handing over the legacy of strength of character and perseverance.  That is real.  And that is only attained in the daily push back.

I don’t know where you have been called to daily push back… fighting for hope as you believe the best for your marriage, pushing back the lies that you are less than in your singleness, filling in the holes the enemy is trying to dig into your identity and security in Christ, cleaning up the mess of other’s expectations as you parent that special needs child, taking back the territory of a dream, that promise you know was from God, finding your purpose under all that dirt.  But I do know the hard work, the daily work, is worth it.  When God looks at you He sees the muscle you are building by doing the work today, and tomorrow, and the next day.  There is no short cut to perseverance, to endurance, to strength of character, to the crown of life.  It takes the daily push back.  It takes getting your hands dirty.  It takes hope placed in the things that will not disappoint.

So, do it again.  Love him again.  Forgive her again.  Get in the Word again.  Pray again.  Speak truth again.  Get up again.  Be vulnerable again.  Believe again.  Wade though the poop again.  Shovel the dirt again.  Take back your territory again.  The daily push back matters.  He sees you too.  He may even send a hummingbird to tell you so.

Now I have a few rabbit holes to fill in…

 

Hospital Blanket

Hillman with his Hospital Blanket

Last month I had one of the worst weekends of my life.

I say that cautiously, knowing that in comparison to what so many have walked through, it was a stroll in the park.  In the end, everything turned out fine and none of us are the worse for wear.  But in the middle of it, perspective seems far off and struggles in the mirror feel larger than they appear.

Part of the heartbreak was how very different the expectations for that long awaited weekend were from the complete mess of reality that unfolded.  You see, the adorable “Save the Date” card had been on the refrigerator for months… and the date was indeed saved!  The wedding was going to be out of town, and beautiful, and the perfect combination of time with friends, and time alone with the hubby.  The in-laws had been informed months ahead that the grandkids would be dropped off for the weekend, and their “Fun Aunt” was even coming to town to ensure, well, lots of fun!  Hubby’s suit to the cleaners, my new dress in the hanging bag, appropriate “alone in a hotel for two nights” sleepwear packed… CHECK!  Everything was taken care of and everyone was happy about it.

And then the blasted West Texas spring wind started to blow.  I mean REALLY BLOW.  In Florida we call those “hurricane force winds.”  In West Texas, evidently, we call that Thursday.  My youngest started having what he calls “rubby eyes,” then the next day it was a stuffy nose, and on the morning we were packing the car, it was a wheezy cough.  I followed all of my “seasonal allergy” protocols and we hit the road.  And he coughed.  And coughed.  And wheezed.  And cried.  And coughed the whole 5 hours to his grandparents’ house.  When we arrived, I sent my husband to the pharmacy to get some vapor rub and I put the little guy in a steamy shower.  Everyone went to dinner and I stayed behind to make sure he was going to be okay before we left for that glorious hotel room alone.  He wasn’t.

When the family got home we threw him in the car and took him to an Urgent Care for a breathing treatment… And then the nightmare spun out of control.  After a couple of breathing treatments, the doctors at the Urgent Care didn’t feel like they could get his O2 levels up enough to send us to the ER in our car SO THEY CALLED AN AMBULANCE.  All of a sudden, I found myself riding the the back of an ambulance with my (rather excited) son, instead of sipping wine in a fluffy hotel robe.  When we got to the ER they said he looked better but they would keep him for a 6 hour observation.

WE WALKED OUT OF THAT HOSPITAL 2 DAYS LATER.

No wedding.  No new dress.  No romantic hotel.  No fancy food.  No friends.

Instead it was a million hours on a hospital cot letting my 6 year old watch The Force Awakens at 2am for the 475th time.  It was the same t-shirt and jeans I had put on to travel in because, remember what I had packed?  It was trying to navigate pharmacies and doctors 5 hours from home.  It was being alone a lot because my husband was with the other kids and my entire support system was far away.  In the end, all that mattered was that my son was ok.  I am so very thankful for the care we received and would have cozied up to Kylo Ren on that cot for another decade if I needed to to make sure that my baby was well.

In the middle of it, though, everything felt out of my control… and my emotions followed.  Out of control.

When we made the quick decision to go to the Urgent Care that night, we didn’t change our little guy out of his PJ’s.  We didn’t even grab his shoes.  The only thing we threw in the car with us was his beloved blankie that his Belle (my mom) had crocheted for him before he was born.  He has never slept a night without it.  Even at 6 years old, I still catch him a few times a day holding it close to his face for a bit of a recharge.  It is tattered and worn.  There is even a hole big enough for him to put over his head so he can wear it like a cape.  When he was about one and I saw this blankie dependency growing, I asked Mom to make another one, in a little more portable size, just in case anything ever happened to the original (you know, like it had to go in the wash)!  Same pattern, same yarn, same colors, same hands making it… and he would have none of it!  He knew a fake, even as a baby.

So, in those first few hours in the hospital when he was scared and struggling, his blankie was there comforting him.  And for the days after that, when he was pretending to be a robot hooked up to the machines, and asking me to send his best friend videos of him making the bed go up and down (and up and down, and up and down), it was there too… like it always is, close at hand, by his side.

He had his blankie, I had my Bible.

Just like my son never leaves home without his blankie, I never leave home without my Bible. I know the app on my phone has the same words and is lighter in the suitcase, but I need to feel the weight of that leather bound book. I need to hear pages turning.  And though this particular Bible is just a year old, because you may remember last summer The Dog Ate My Bible, it is getting worn in all the good ways, marked, highlighted, falling open to the right places.  Just like my son, I feel a little panicked when I can’t get my hands on it, when it is too far out of reach and I need a recharge.  I can wear it like a cape too, like armor.  In the fog of those sleepless hospital nights and days that surely lasted more than 24 hours, I honestly cannot tell you what verses I read, but it was there, lending me comfort.

Over the last several years, I have cultivated the habit of writing the Word daily.  I have always loved to copy beautiful words.  The physical act of applying pen to paper helps solidify the spiritual act of applying truth to my heart.  Recently I have loved using Lara Casey’s Write the Word journals for this practice, but I write Scripture on notecards, on chalkboards, on mirrors, in the margins of books as well.  For me, it is grounding-first thing in the morning most of the time- to look up a Scripture, read it, write it out, re-read it, pray it, and then leave that sacred space with it on my lips.

I know Jesus is more than words on the page.  He Himself said in John       5:39-40, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life.  These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”  Jesus is life.  Jesus is alive.  He is dynamic, moving, loving, beckoning.  He is a person to have a relationship with, not just read about. And that relationship can be fostered and grown through spiritual disciplines and practices of all kinds… prayer, worship, fasting, service.  But the Word of God is foundational.  I know Him because I know it.  I spend time investing in this, the principle relationship of my life, when I spend time in those pages.

And that discipline, that resolve to dive deeply into the Scripture, that desire to be completely familiar with and transformed by those words… it comes before.

The commitment comes before the ambulance ride, before the diagnosis, before the pink slip, before the marriage is falling apart.  The life preserver is much easier to find in the sea of chaos and confusion when you have had it hanging on your boat for years…. when you recognize it for what it is- your life saver.  I think of Daniel, when he and the other captives were taken into Babylon.   I think of his resolve and I am inspired and convicted by it.  Daniel 1:8 says, “But Daniel  resolved (purposed in his heart [NKJ]) not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.”  I am sure it was much easier to make that commitment before the rich fare was placed in front of him.  His resolve strengthened him in his hunger and temptation.

My resolve to physically open my bible and apply pen to paper daily strengthened me in that hospital room.

It did not change my circumstances.  It did not magically transport me to the wedding I was missing or stabilize my son’s breathing sooner.  But it was my comfort.  It ushered in the familiar presence of Jesus to that cold hospital room.  Not only the words but the act of searching for them, the process of writing them. It was my hospital blanket.  My Bible.

Where do you go for your comfort?  Your phone?  Netflix?  Amazon?  Another person?  Pizza?  Wine?  Everyone of us will need a hospital blanket at some point, when our emotions are frazzled and our brain is foggy…  when life throws us a curve ball and we are crushed by disappointment.  What will ground you on those days?  What will pull you back?  What will be the most natural thing to reach for?

We must purpose in our hearts to be women of the Word before.  Every day.  In the mundane as well as in the crisis.  It is not about checking boxes or legalism, it is about resolve and strength and transformation. It is about getting to know Jesus and recognizing His face and His arm around us in the darkest of days.  You will find Him in His Word.  Touch it, read it, speak it, write it, feast on it, wear it, keep it as close as my son keeps his blankie.  It won’t let you down because He won’t let you down.  Resolve before. Resolve today.

 

My Before Screen Time Checklist

Kids and Screen Time

Kids and Screen Time

After 10:00am in order for my kids to have screen time, they must do the following:

  1. Make your bed
  2. Have your personal prayer, Bible journaling, or worship time
  3. Straighten your room (Mom must check it)
  4. Feed your animals (Skyler-Rabbits, Canyon-Chickens, Brooke-Cats, Hillman-Dogs)
  5. Do one chore (Ask Mom)
  6. Read for 30 minutes (ReadLive and Nessy count too!)
  7. Do one math fact sheet
  8. Play outside for 1 hour

Open Door Callings

Open Door Callings

Calling.  It is a bit of a buzz word in Christian culture today.  And for everyone of us who gets passionate about the subject of our “calling” I believe there are at least as many of us who get annoyed, or discouraged, or feel shame.

I know because that used to be me.

Not very long ago I was standing on the annoyed-discouraged-shamed hill looking over at the perceived “called” ones, all joyful and fulfilled on their hill, and I couldn’t figure out how to cross the space in between.  And honestly, I didn’t know if I wanted to.  Something felt flashy and superficial about those pretty “callings” and something felt a little more holy and gritty down here in the martyred trenches of “real life.”  “Oh brother,” I would think.  “Who has the time or energy for a calling?  My calling is to keep these kids alive.  My calling is to not kill my husband.  Maybe I can muster the ambition to read the Bible after I catch up on sleep/housework/laundry/ (fill in all the blanks to infinity). Is that a calling?  Whatever.”  And I was prideful.  And I was jealous.  And I was anemic and desperate for an adventure with Jesus that would rescue me from my hill.

And then I realized that I didn’t have to cross the chasm between the hills.  I did not have to tumble down one side and scale the other.  There was no magical bridge spanning the distance.

There was a door.  And it was open.

Open Door Callings

You see, when I did get that Bible out, I couldn’t get away from the idea of calling, of fruitfulness, of this whole thing having to turn outward at some point to really be the point.

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”  John 15:8

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit- fruit that will last -and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”  John 15:16

“For we are God’s handiwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Ephesians 2:10

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have command you.”  Matthew 28:19-20

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore to send out workers into his harvest field. Go!”  Luke 10:2-3

So, the open door… I began praying earnestly, humbly about my “calling,” my “what else,” my “fruitfulness,” my “good works.”  I had to lay down the mantle of harried stay-at-home mom just trying to get a shower.  I had to put down the shovel that was digging me further into the trenches of martyrdom, and genuinely ask.  And He answered.  He does that you know.  When we shut up for a moment with all of our complaining and justifying and whining (or is that just me?), He likes to speak to His children.  He likes to let us in on His plans for our lives, even if it’s just a little sliver at a time.  He has a lot to say to a humble, quiet, seeking, patient, surrendered heart.  He told me some things He wanted to do in my life.  He spoke clearly into my calling and He told me the things I would do (and with that so many things I would not do. For every yes there is a no).

The first open door I had to walk through was to choose believe it.

My first open door off of the fruitless hill of shame and discouragement was simply belief.  And I didn’t just secretly believe it in my heart.  Y’all, I wrote it down on the last page of my journal.  I boldly proclaimed in black and white, “I will be: _______,  _______,  and _______.”   Next He invited me through the open door of telling another human being what I thought my calling was.  Guts much?  I mean that feels risky, and presumptuous.  It feels like you are officially turning in your uniform, your allegiance for one team and bravely putting on a new one.  And what if it doesn’t happen?  And what if I look stupid?  And what if they judge me (you know, like I had been judging so many others before)?  It was a risky door down the corridor of calling but I timidly stepped through.

And before I knew it, there was another door opening to me, and another.  Not flashy doors.  Not doors that led to huge stages or followings or fame.  But new doors that led to fresh air and another “yes” from the Lord.  And it struck me that it just may be this simple.  Our calling just may be to walk through the open door in front of us.  I don’t think we need to manufacture the door, or crow-bar it open, just step through.  Maybe it gets super complicated when we spend more time looking at someone else’s calling rather than at the door standing in front of us.

Lately I have been reading through the Old Testament, following Abraham’s decedents, the Israelites, from promise, to slavery, to rescue, to wandering, to Promised Land.  God tells his people over and over that He will give them this land, that He will go before them and fight their battles, that they are to be strong and courageous and take their Promised Land.  But then I came across a few interesting verses in Deuteronomy 2.  Moses is recounting the 40 years in the wilderness and he says that God finally told him they were ready to head to Canaan, their Promised Land.  Along the way God says, “Give the people these orders: ‘You are about to pass through the territory of your relatives the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir.  They will be afraid of you, but be very careful.  Do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land, not even enough to put your foot on.” (Deut. 2:4-5). He says a similar thing about the Moabites in verse 9 declaring, “I will not give you any parts of their land,”  and about the Ammonites in verse 19 saying, “I will not give you possession of any land belonging to the Ammonites.”  

I find these verses so interesting in the middle of all the “TAKE THE PROMISED LAND! DO NOT BE AFRAID! GO FOR IT!” pep rallies.  God is saying, “This is the door I have opened for you.  This is what I have called you to.  This is your Promise.  Right here.  Come this way.  But be careful… That is their land, that is their’s to possess, not yours.  That is what I have called them to.. You can’t have that.”

Do you remember the scene from “Monster’s Inc.” with all the doors?  There were certain doors for certain monsters to walk through, leading them to their own jobs.  I think heaven may have a room like that.  Each of us have doors with our names on them, with our calling behind them, with fruitfulness waiting on the other side.  And just like in the movie, chaos may  ensue when we are swinging around in the maze of everyone else’s doors… all the while ours is ready and open for us.  It may be a small door and you may not even recognize its threshold as you sit at that lunch, answer that call to serve, intercede for that injustice, do that thing that just comes naturally.  But until you walk through the first one, you won’t see the next.

So if you are still on the seemingly “un-called” hill, know that really you are not.  If you can’t find an open door right now, then use this waiting time to train.  Read books about what you want to do/gets you fired up/feel passionate about/are good at. Pray.  Follow along as someone walks that path ahead of you.  That way, when the door does open, you aren’t starting at a 0.  You will be strong and ready.  God does His best training in the waiting.

And if you have timidly wrote a big dream in the back of your journal then under it write Matthew 7:7-8: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.. For everyone who asks receives, the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Believe it.  And  I challenge you to tell someone.  Scary?  Yep.  But Hebrews 10:38 says, “But my righteous one will live by faith.  And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.”  He takes no pleasure in our bitterness, in our envy, in our judgement, in our discouragement… It is to His glory that we bear much fruit.  So take a step through your door, timidly, boldly, just step.  And cheer someone else on as they walk through theirs.  Like so many things in the Christian faith , it is not easy, it take guts, but I think it is much simpler than we’ve made it.   And remember:

“The one who calls you is faithful, and HE WILL DO IT.”  I Thessalonians 2:14

Immeasurably More

Immeasureably more

I was honored to share a very personal story over on the TBarM Camp blog last week… a place we dearly love. Whether you are a “camp mom” or not, know that God hears your prayers…

Has God ever just knocked your socks off?  Has He ever come through in a way so personal and unexpected, you just had to laugh? We know we have a faithful Father, but sometimes He is just immeasurably more. 

I am a praying momma. I boldly approach the throne of God daily on behalf of the 4 children we have been entrusted with (Hebrews 4:16), not because I am spiritually strong, but because I am full of weakness. Prayer is my biggest parenting tool, without a doubt, because I find myself lacking wisdom (James 1:5) with each new stage and season. Anyone else? 

So, a couple of years ago I found myself pleading with God for specific requests for my 2 “big kids” over and over during their school year. My 10 year old daughter was going through a “less than kind” stage here at home. Everyday, with every interaction, every time she left the house I would ask the Lord, “Please, please make her kind.” Her 9 year old brother seemed to be having a few issues with self-control, as 9 year old boys tend to have. Every night we would pray together for the Lord to help him have self-control with his siblings, with his reactions, and in his classroom. By the time summer rolled around, and the schedules and demands of life melted in the Texas heat, I relented a bit in pounding on the throne room room. The stakes don’t seem as high in the lazy days of June for some reason. And then we dropped those big kids off at Sports Camp Session 7…Hope on over to the TBarM’s blog to read the rest.Ryden Kids at TBARM

Fish, Trees, and Courage

Fish, Trees & Courage

It’s that time of year where summer is coming faster than you thought was possible and this has been on my heart a lot again lately.  It may be a different team this year and a different Ballet, but my heart finds itself in the same place…

The end of the school year push is upon us and the crush of it is almost unbearable.  Though I can see the summer light at the end of the tunnel, the path to get there is so fraught with projects, performances, tournaments, and tests that I may never reach that lounge chair by the pool.  Currently my four children are involved in T-ball, baseball, soccer, art, track, and a huge ballet production.  I am morally opposed to my own family’s schedule.  Every morning before the Hubs leaves for work we have to form such a precise game plan for the afternoon and evening that I want to get back in bed before the day has even started!

cleats and ballet shoes

Last Saturday morning I had to laugh at the absurdity of it all.  When we broke it to the 7-year-old that it was time for the sleepover with her bestie to come to a close and to don her shin-gaurds she pitched a huge fit because, obviously, she “hates soccer” and “never wants to do it again!”  No amount of reminding her that she was the one who had asked to play this season mattered.  About the time my hubs had reached his cheerleading limit and began yelling, the 11-year-old came in, leotard and tights on, hair in a bun with the exact 8 bobby pins required.  She proceeded to follow us around and remind us of the time as each minute clicked by.  No amount of reminding her that she has never been late for a rehearsal mattered.  So, my hubby began yelling at her for being too obsessed.  See?  We were frustrated with one because she didn’t want to go and frustrated with the other because she couldn’t wait to go….  After dropping the ballerina at the studio (30 minutes early, obviously) we drove to the soccer park with #8 and her two (thrilled) brothers in tow.  We waited in line to pull into the parking lot for 10 minutes and then drove around searching for a parking place for another 5.  Finally we get everyone unloaded and headed to field #17 to find the rest of the Heroes.

As I looked around at all of this I had this thought: “What if our grandparent’s generation could see this?  What if a family from a third world country fell in the middle of Butler Park right now?”  All around there were families carting wagons full of chairs and coolers and  fancy organic snacks.  They were toting crying children dressed in expensive soccer gear, hair fixed with huge color-coordinated.  Grown men were dressed in hot pink team shirts “coaching” 4 year olds in “drills.”  I just thought, “really?” This is how ALL OF THESE PEOPLE (myself included) are spending their day off?  I wonder how much $ is tied up in all of these tiny girls who are laying on the ground finding lady bugs and have no interest in soccer.  Really?  They could find bugs and pick flowers for free while I was sitting in the shade on my porch.  All of a sudden I felt duped, like we were mindless robots that had been brainwashed into thinking this was normal, or desirable, or beneficial at all.  Like, what else would all of these hard-working adult people do with a Saturday BUT sit in the freezing cold/ burning heat/ crazy wind and scream/yell/cheer/coach small children kicking a ball?

What are we doing?  Seriously ‘y’all, what in the very world?  Let me say this… I come from a family of athletes.  Both of my parents were college athletes.  2 of my grandparents were.  My father-in-law and brother-in-law were.  My brothers were athletes.  I played team sports. We all did.  I was a collegiate cheerleader.  It’s what we did, what we watched, what we talked about.  It still is.  But, like everything else in this culture, it has been turned up a notch to crazytown.   It seems the age of organized sports is stealing our kid’s childhood, and our sanity as adults.  No, I do not want to get my 10-year-old a batting coach.  No, I do not want to do a travel team for my 7 year old.  Yes, actually it IS my 5 YEAR OLDS first time to EVER play.  Seriously?  Crazytown.

Take a detour with me for a moment off the road to Crazytown….. Mamas, do you have a strategy for praying for your children?  Like do you hear these parents say things like, “I have prayed for my child’s spouse every day since conception?”  Really?  Have you really?  Or, “I pray for each of my children’s friends by name daily.”  All of this had me feeling a little behind the eight ball with my 4 kiddos growing up and going out into the world in front of my very eyes.  In the midst of my discouragement, I felt like the Lord dropped a plan into my heart that works for me.  Ready?  I’ll share…. I got a journal for my hubby and each of my 4 children.  On Monday I spend time in prayer for the Hubs…. write scripture I am believing for him, things I am thankful for in his life, petitions I am praying for him, etc.  Tuesday I do the same for kiddo #1, Wednesday is kiddo #2, Thursday #3, Friday #4.  There are seasons that I have filled pages and hours over certain behaviors, teachers, friends, heartaches, etc.  There have been seasons that I have had the luxury of praying for that future spouse because there are no pressing issues.   And, to be completely transparent, there may be certain children that fill up more pages in that prayer journal than others.  I may have a certain child that things don’t come as easy for…. I may have a certain child that I have cried more tears for, stressed over parent/teacher conferences about, held my breath at sporting events for more, prayed so so so many prayers about.  Maybe.

Let me tell you a little about this certain child.  This child has the kindest soul.  This child still yells, “I love you Mom!”  no matter who is around.  This child is a gifted artist.  This child will not go to sleep without me praying over them at night.  This child loves their friends fiercely.   This child can identify a plane in the air by the sound it makes.  This child knows every creature, bug, hole, stick, tree, and mound of dirt on the Ranchito.  This child LOVES nature and being outside.  This child can make me absolutely crazy but has the most beautiful eyes and head of hair you have ever seen.  This kid…. Let me tell you what they don’t give trophies for…. being a 10-year-old who still plays with your little brother kindly.  Let me tell you what will not be on a college transcript… how many birds, bunnies, cats, horny toads, and bugs you have saved in your life.  Let me tell you what doesn’t factor into a little league draft…. loyalty to friends.  Let me tell you what makes no difference on a report card…. hard work and honesty.  Nope.  In this day and age the only measurable successes kids have are how they do in sports and how they do in school. Culture fail.   What we are telling these kids is that how they perform on the field/court/track and in the classroom is all that matters at the end of the day… That is what we award.  That is what we measure.  That is what breaks my heart for certain kids.

I read this Einstein quote not long ago and it reminded me of a certain child:

Everybody is a genius.  But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Man, I’d like to give my fish an ocean instead of a tree.  Why are there only trees around?

So, back to Wednesday and my prayer journal for a certain kid.  Here is the best thing God ever told me, “I made him just how he is supposed to be for my purposes.  Everything he is good at and loves is for a reason… bugs, airplanes, art.  Everything He is weak in I will use.”  It was as clear as anything I had ever heard before.  So, do I have the guts to believe it?  Can I get off of the road to Crazytown and jump in the water with my fish?  How can I find the balance?  How can I protect them all from the thief of comparison?  How can I fight it myself?  Because, here is the truth…. I like it when my kid is the best.  I like a win.  I like the A’s, the hits, the starring roles.  Am I the driving force behind this?  Are we peddling trees to fish?

I Corinthians 15:41 says, “The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another, and the star differs from star in splendor.”  It sounds like there is plenty of splendor to go around, according to our Creator, certain kid’s creator.  It’s just different.

What is the answer, Moms?  Really, I want to know… I don’t have a cute summary for you here.  I am kinda drowning under all of these activities and expectations on our kids at younger and younger ages.  I know I could take them out of everything.  I know I could take them out of their (part-time) school and full-time home-school them. I know I could buck the whole educational system and “Little House on the Prairie” it. I know I could pretend we lived 100 years ago and shut the whole thing down. That sounds kinda great for sure.  But that’s not my life, my town, my husband, my kids.  Here we are.  All I know to do is to pray hard, no matter what day of the week it is, to believe the best thing God ever told me.. To embrace those qualities and gifts that may not win awards but will win souls one day… To honor kindness and creativity and love above honor rolls and select teams.  To have the guts, here in Crazytown to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18).  What if we all took it down a notch and let our kids fail, let them be mediocre, let them quit sometimes.  What if we had a big ‘ole tree burning session for our fish?  Would it make us bad moms?  Mediocre moms?  Are we brave enough?

So, total confesh…. I have another kid.  It looks like we will be traveling to a different state to get her professionally fitted for pointe shoes (again) by one of 4 “Master Fitters” this summer.  We spend the big bucks on shoes and training.  She will be dancing 7 hours a day, 5 days a week for the whole month of June.  She lives at the studio.  But she loves it.  She eats, sleeps, breathes it.  She watches documentaries and practices and speaks a language I don’t know. She is gifted and has been given great opportunity. I get it Mamas of tree climbers…. I’ve got one too. I’m not judging!  Right or wrong, I’ll make sure she has the tallest, strongest, prettiest tree she can as long as she wants it. I’ll water that tree.  Heck, I’ll hang lights in it if she wants me to. But… sometimes we have fish and they need to know they were created for a purpose too.  I hope you are encouraged today to listen as God whispers some pretty great stuff to you as well as you pray over your certain kid.  Sometimes trophies are overrated.  Sometimes A’s don’t matter so much.  Sometimes being an okay fish in the middle of a forest in Crazytown is the bravest thing they can be.  Maybe the only thing braver is being their Mama.

 

My Too Much

too much + not enough

I think I have spent much of my life feeling like too much and not enough all at the same.  Only a woman could find herself there!  My grandmother, my precious Nannie, was famous for saying, “Everything in moderation.”  Maybe there were a generation of grandmothers who were famous for saying that very thing.  It imprinted on my heart at an early age and I have spent the last 4 decades trying to find the elusive moderation she held in such high regard… That perfect balance of high and low, work and rest, too much and not enough.

So, let me go ahead and let you in on my “too much and not enough-ness.”  I tend to be too disciplined, which makes me not spontaneous enough.  I have a tendency be too structured which makes me not flexible enough.  I have been known to be too black and white on most subjects which makes me not compassionate enough.  I am inclined to be too driven which makes me not fun enough.  I am too task-oriented which makes me not sleep enough.  There are times and subjects about which I am too emotional which leaves me not objective enough.  I know my too much and not enough-ness.  No one has to point them out to me. I feel them down in my marrow.  They play like an annoying song on repeat in my head.

I have gone through seasons of feeling a lot of shame over my “too much and not enough-ness.”  I have listened to the lies that told me I had to hide it, overcome it, pretend it away.  And if none of that worked, well I should just isolate myself, not let myself be known, shut my mouth because “everything in moderation” you know.

And then God blessed me with a circle of fierce friends to walk this road of womanhood, faith, motherhood, and marriage with.  And do you know what I realized when I got in there deep with them?  They are all too much and not enough too!  Just in different ways… I have friends who are really into eating well and health, very involved in social justice, extremely focused on education for their children, exceptionally tuned in to intimacy with their husbands, particularly concerned with finances.  And I know that their “too much-ness” leaves gaps of  “not enough-ness” in their lives too.

too much + not enough

In my hiding and pretending years I might have judged their too much and not enough.  I may have defended my too much by focusing on their not enough all the while wishing desperately I had a sliver of it.  And then a beautiful thing happened… On my 40th birthday, my darling friends went around and told me the thing that they loved and respected the most about me.  And every single one mentioned some part of my “too much.”  They respect how disciplined I am in my time in the Word, how hard I work to make my home a place where others feel welcomed, how driven I am to find and fulfill God’s calling on my life.  My too much inspired and encouraged their not enough-ness just as their’s does mine.

It’s not rocket science.  It is the body of Christ. 

I Corinthians.12: 12 says, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.”  Verses 15-20 go on to read, “Now if the foot should say, ”Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?  If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”

Here is a bit of a paraphrase: “Now if the behind-the-scenes servant should say to the hostess, because I am not a hostess I am not enough.”  And if the hostess should say to the behind-the-scenes servant, “because I am not a behind-the-scenes servant I’m too much in the wrong ways and I have no place, it would not be true for either.  If the disciplined student of the Word who was raised in church and has been walking with Jesus since she could walk should say to the radically saved, passionate convert, because my witness is not dramatic, I am not relative enough,  And if the powerfully converted sinner and novice Bible student should say to the long-time saint because I do not know enough I will keep quiet, it would not render either ineffective.”

The foot needs the hand.  The eye needs the ear.  My structured, disciplined, driven self needs my friend’s spontaneity and light heartedness, and (sometimes a romance guru.). And I trust they need my too much too.

Obviously we know that there are some places of too much that are simply sin… too much wine is alcoholism, too much work is workaholism, too many rules is legalism, too much rest is laziness.

But we also know that our God is a God of abundance, not moderation.

He is abundant in grace, and love, and in giving good gifts to His children.  And maybe, it is there in our too much that we find our gifts and His unique calling on our life.  Maybe when we press in and refine our too much, rather than try to hide it, we find that it is, in fact, just right.  When we let Him be enough in our not enough-ness we are then exactly enough.

Oh how I pray you have a circle who love you enough to tell you that they need your too much for their not enough.  How I pray that you find the courage to come out of hiding to tell a friend on this journey that her too much inspires and encourages you in your not enough-ness.  And when it is our turn, let’s tell our daughters and granddaughters of God’s abundance.  To be “too much” is in His character and He is all for their, for our, for your abundance.  Only in Him are any of us enough.

 

Chicken Scratch

Chicken Scratch Quote

My funny flock of chickens that free range the “Ranchito” have gotten braver and braver lately.  In search of the first greens of Spring, they have wandered far from the confines of the coop.  In the front yard they are loving the morning showers that the sprinklers bring, and in the back they have found the dog food bowls and get caught stealing it red-beaked everyday. Ranchito ChickensFriends and guests, whether kids or grown-ups are always taken aback when one of my friendly hens come puffing her way right up onto the front porch.  I think they add a bit of charm and character to the place, others may say a bit of crazy.  Either way, here they are.Willow with Ranchito ChickenAbout this time of year you better believe that I put those girls to work!  Their free-loading days of winter are over!  I lure them into my soon-to-be planted garden with scraps from the kitchen and a bag of mealworms, and let them get busy on that fallow ground.  You see, chickens scratch.  That’s what they do.  They are constantly clawing and pecking at the ground looking for bugs, worms, and weeds to consume.  And while they are essentially tilling the earth, they are (ah-hem) fertilizing it as well.  It’s a win-win for us all.  They get the tasty treats right below the surface, and I get soft, fertilized, de-bugged soil.

But planting day is quickly approaching!  As soon as those tiny vegetable plants go gingerly into the ground, as soon as those seeds begin to sprout, the garden will become a “no chicken zone.”  The gate will be locked and those same beaks and feet that served me well in the past will be banned until next year.  You see, my silly hens don’t know the difference between a weed and a tomato plant, a dandelion and a zucchini.  Left to roam and scratch in the wrong season they would pull up every bit of fruit (or veggies) I am trying to grow.

What was helpful in one season is destructive in another.

I have been in a scratching season myself lately.  Maybe it’s the whole turning 40 thing.  Maybe it’s the door closing on more babies and the familiarity of that role, as my children shoot up like the weeds on my lawn.  Maybe it’s the powerful and scary pull into new ventures.  Where am I fearful, where am I holding back, where am I wounded?  What am I good at?  Where am I weak?  I have honestly been praying for insight and revelation into why I am the way I am about some things.  I have asked the Lord to show me how I got into some places of the heart and spirit I might not want to stay.  “What is the root of this insecurity?  Where is the worm of pride or anxiety buried deep?  What happened in the past that I need to dig up and fertilize with the Truth of God’s word?”  Scratch, scratch, scratch.  And it has been good, and hard, and healing, and painful all at once.  It has led to much confession and repentance.  It has brought down walls of long-employed defenses.  It has started much needed conversations. My scratching season has allowed Jesus to get at some deep places where the ground of my heart has been too hard in the past.

But, at some point the scratching has to cease to let the growth begin. 

Of course we never move out of a confessing season. When we close the gate on repentance we wade into dangerous waters indeed.  But the tilling up of the past must give way to the sowing of new seeds, the tending of new ways, and the eventual harvesting of God glorifying fruit in our lives.  After all, Jesus says in John 15:8, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”  The fruit cannot grow in ground that is always being scratched up.  Not in my garden and not in my life.  What was helpful in one season can be destructive, growth-stunting, and maybe even self-indulgent in another.

Isaiah 43:19 says, “See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?   I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”  My fear is that we indeed do not perceive it.  If we are constantly looking down to scratch at old ground, if we are continuing to look back at old hurts, if we are always looking inside at our old selves, we may miss Spring.

So Friends, let’s certainly do the work of tilling up the hard ground of our hearts when they are overgrown with the weeds of past offenses, old sins, destructive thought patterns, and just general fruitlessness.  There is a season for scratching.  There is a time for relinquishing it all to our Father and letting His Spirit reveal, forgive, heal, and then fertilize those fallow places with His Word.  But then there is a season for newness!  It’s Spring!  A season to focus on, and protect the seed He is growing in our lives.   2 Corinthians 5:17 declares, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

For now my scratching season is over.  I don’t want to stay too long digging up the old that I hinder the new.  I am hopeful that the work my chickens are doing this Spring will produce a fruitful garden this summer.  And I am confident the work the Holy Spirit and I did will produce a harvest in due time. (Galatians 6:9)

God of the Margin or Marginally God

God of the Margin or Marginally God

Since I am such a grown-up now, attempting to figure out life On The Other Side of Middle, I decided to take a big jump this year and get an official planner.  Before now, I have only had the Mary Englebright calendar my mom gets me every Christmas… If I was not standing in my laundry room, Sharpie in hand, I literally could not make a plan.  No more!  I ordered Emily Ley’s Simplified Planner and I love it!  Honestly, it takes me back to my childhood love of pretty pens and stickers as I sit down every week and write in everyone’s colors-coded schedules and organize meal plans.  Everyday of this beautiful planner has a blank for each hour starting at 6am and ending at 9pm.  And each Sunday, my Type-A personality resists the temptation to fill them all in.

The Lord had been teaching me a lot about margin lately.

All I asked for for my 40th birthday was Space and Silence… like monastery style space and silence (and a puppy!  Do those things feel contradictory?  Whatever!  Stay tuned, by the way, on the puppy front).  Anyone else?  Psalm 118:5 says, “When hard pressed I cried to the Lord and He brought me into a spacious place.”  That is what I find my soul desiring in the grind of life, and the role of ever meeting all the needs for all the people.  Although we live on close to 7 acres here at the Ranchero, I am literally never in a space alone.  You get me, moms?  There is always a child, a chicken, a kitten, or dog underfoot.  I could use some spacious places of the Spirit.  But, that kind of space and silence feels special to most of us, doesn’t it?  Like women’s retreat, girl’s weekend, spa day, romantic get-away with the hubs special… What I am realizing, here in the grind of real life, is that margin is much more attainable.

Margin.  Margin is simply the extra time built into our days.  Listen to me, not just happened upon, because we all know that never happens, but intentionally built into our days.  We have to have some margin in our lives not only for our sanity and well-being, but to do the work the Lord has called each of us to do.

A dear, wise friend once told me that hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit is like driving a car and listening to the radio.  Destination mapped out, we get in, start the car, and turn on the radio.  At first all we may hear is static so we keep pushing the search button or tuning the dial until we begin to hear music above the noise.  The closer we drive to the radio tower, the more “in range” we are, the clearer the signal and music is coming in.  When we begin to get too far away, the static overcomes the voices.  In our lives we should desire to be constantly heading in the direction that we can more and more clearly hear His voice.  We have all found ourselves, our hearts and minds in some static areas, places we can’t hear from the Lord at all, places His voice is drown out by the numbing buzz of routine, and hurt and hopes deferred.  Sin may have driven us out of range, but it may simply be because our agendas are so tight, the course for our day is mapped out in concrete, and we don’t even bother trying to tune in.  Perhaps He has appointed a  pitstop that isn’t on our route.  And my question to us all is this, what are we missing when we don’t tune in and leave the margin to listen and obey?

The idea of tuning in and allowing God to change our path reminds me of the absolutely wild story in Acts 8:26-40 about Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.  Go read it right now and meet me back here!  Did you do it?  Crazy, right?  An angel of the Lord comes to Philip and tells him to “go south down a desert road.”   Philip listens and obeys and comes upon a carriage carrying a high Ethiopian official.  The Holy Spirit then tells Philip to “go over and walk along beside the carriage.”  Again, Philip tunes in and runs up to the carriage where he hears the man reading aloud from the book of Isaiah.  Philip simply asks if he understands what he is reading to which the man replies, “How can I unless someone instructs me?” and invites Philip up to do just that.  In the end, Philip was able to share the Good News about Jesus, baptize the official in a roadside ceremony, and then get beamed up by God and set on a whole new path!  If there ever were an example of the Holy Spirit changing your plans for the day, this is it!  Imagine that, if when the angel of the Lord had told Philip to “go south,” he had said, “you know, my trip is already plugged in here to my GPS and it is telling me to go north.”  He had no idea why he was supposed to split off from the rest of his group that day and head down a desert road.  He didn’t know what he would find when he ran up beside that carriage.  But what a powerful experience he would have missed if he had not changed directions when the Lord told him to.  His work that day, his ability to tune to the Holy Spirit and willingness to obey took the Gospel to a whole new region of the world!

I know we don’t usually have an “angel of the Lord” visit and give us exact directions, but I believe if we are tuned in, we can hear God’s voice above the static.  Here are some examples from my own life, “Stop the lazy scroll session and send that text to check on her.”  “Give up your quiet lunch at home and reach out to that new/hurting/estranged friend.” “I know you had x, y, and z planned today (it’s even written in the planner) but she needs some encouragement/help with her kids/a meal brought over, etc.”  See, if our days are filled to the brim WITH GOOD THINGS, if there is no margin to change directions when the Holy Spirit tells us to, then we will miss it!  We may miss our biggest calling yet.

If I could live my whole day, accomplish all I have on my to do list, get to my destination by bedtime and never tap into the power of the Holy Spirit, never tune in and hear His voice, then can I really say He is the Lord of my day?  Listen, you may have called on Him to be Savior without ever making Him Lord of your life, your days, your plans, your agendas.  If He is not God of your margin then He may just be marginally God to you.  We need to be intentional about putting margin into our days, and then invite Him in to Lord over it.

So the question is how, right?  How do we find more of this margin, these spacious places in our real lives of jobs, and kids, and laundry, and the grocery store- for the love of strawberries- ALWAYS THE GROCERY STORE!    We like a formula, don’t we?  “3 Steps to Space and Silence,” or “A Busy Girl’s Guide to Margin.”  I get it.  I don’t have that formula but I think I have found some clues.

Psalms 16:5-6 says, “Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure.  The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.”    He alone is what we should be filled up with- our portion and our cup- not our own plans and agendas.  How often do we yield them up, even as we are writing them in our planners?  A secure lot paints the picture of something to keep intruders out, right?  Maybe a fence, a gate, a guard.  The fence around our property and the gate we use to lock out unwanted strangers makes me feel safe.  Where is your lot less than secure?  Where has the gate been left open to intruders in your life.  It may be as simple as our phones… has that ringtone lied to your and told you that it deserves to trample every fence you have put up?  What about boundary lines?  Without boundaries there is no margin.  If the words on a page went from very edge to very edge, filling every space, there would be no margin.  How are your boundary lines?  I expect that for some of us, at least in some areas of our lives and in some of our relationships, those boundary lines don’t always fall in pleasant places.  We live in a boundary-less society, 24 hour access to everyone, to entertainment and distractions, to demands.  If we indeed let our days be filled with Jesus first, keep the worthless intruders out so that our lots are secure, and allow the boundary lines to be pleasant, I think we can find the margin we are longing for.

I believe that ultimately we all do what we want to do.  I believe we will find what we are truly searching for.  If that is Jesus, and spacious places, and margin for Him to fill with His voice and power and will for our days, we will find it.  If it is something to fill every hour of the planner, we will certainly find that too. Is He God of your margin or just marginally God?  My prayer is that God is never marginalized in my life, that I can’t get down a single road without tuning in and adjusting the wheel.  May we be a generation of women who are intentional about planning and protecting our margin and then surrendering it to Him.

What’s Your Scouting Report

scouting report

One of my goals for 2017 is to read through the entire Bible from cover to cover (again). As with any New Year’s resolution, January 1 feels great, right?  “In the beginning..,” creation, and all of that beauty.  Most of Genesis is rather exciting and I have been prayerfully asking the Lord to reveal new truths as I dive into familiar stories.  But in all honesty, somewhere around January 26, which is entitled “Civil and Ceremonial Laws,”  somewhere after the crossing of the Red Sea and the 10 Commandments, somewhere around Exodus 21, I am struggling.  It feels like there are endless chapters on what sacrifice is appropriate for what sin, where the blood goes after the offering is killed (gross), and what bodily fluids make you unclean and for how long (even grosser).  In this chunk of scripture we find the plans for the tabernacle and the priestly garments.  We find each and every teeny tiny little law for life in relationship with God and others at the time, and I am sure that the Israelites found it immensely helpful.  And because I believe that, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correction and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16),” I forge ahead.  (And I am reminded how thankful I am to be living on this side of the cross)!!!  But, at 6am, Leviticus, you are a struggle.

And then, about February 12th and 13th, I found myself in Numbers 13-14.  I could live in Numbers 13-14!     

Let me catch you up a bit in case you haven’t been trudging through the wilderness with Moses and me lately.  God has called Moses to be the unlikely leader of the Israelite people following centuries of slavery in Egypt.  After 10 insane plagues, Pharaoh does in fact “let the people go.”  So they start off on what should be an eleven day journey to the Promised Land of Canaan, the land “flowing with milk and honey.”

In Exodus 13:1-2 we read, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders”   So begins the story of the 12 scouts or spies sent to explore the Promised Land, what they found, what they said about it, and the consequences it held for a nation.  It is breathtakingly convicting to me… And it’s got me asking, “What’s my scouting report?”

scouting report

What is yours?

The command from God in 13: 1-2 is simply to explore the land.  He is basically saying, “Go take a look at what I have already given you, go give it a sneak peak and come back to tell everyone how awesome it is!  Let’s have a pep rally!  You get to be the cheerleaders!”  God does not say, “Go see if we can do it.  Go check it out and see if it’s going to work.  Go form a strategy on how we may be able to take them.”  Nope.  Just “go explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites.”

But in the cosmic game of telephone that we humans unfortunately play with our Heavenly Father sometimes, the command begins to get a bit twisted.  In Numbers 13: 17-20 Moses sends the scouts off with these words, “See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many.  What kind of land do they live in?  Is it good or bad?  What kind of towns do they live in?  Are they unwalled or fortified?  How is the soil?  Is it fertile or poor?  Are there trees in it or not?  Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.”  To be fair to Moses, he is still just asking for the scouting report but it feels like he is beginning to plant some doubt in the minds of the spies. A bit of negativity.  “Is it going to be hard?  Is it going to be good?  Is it going to be worth it?”

My question is this: if it is what God has for you, what He has already given you by His word, His plan for your life, then does it matter?  Does it matter if the people are strong and many, living in fortified cities with poor soil and no trees? Worst case scenario doesn’t change the reality. If this is the land God is leading you into, then this is the land you are heading to.  It reminds me of another conversation Moses had with the Lord earlier in Exodus 33:14 where he says, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.”  This is it, Moses.  This is where His presence is going.  He has already given it to you.  Good, bad, or ugly.

I don’t mean to be hard on Moses here.  I get it.  When God sent my little family to this desert town I was asking some of the same questions.  The answers?  No trees, no water, poor soil, few restaurants, no good shopping, further away from all you know.  Great. The first time my husband and I came here for a bit of scouting of our own, I cried my eyes out.  As tumbleweeds hit our car and the constant wind whipped sand all around, I felt myself questioning this land that God had obviously sent us to.  Let me just say that I wasn’t feeling much like a cheerleader at the time.

Back to those Israelites… The 12 spies came back with a cluster of grapes so large it had to be carried on a pole!  At first glance this had to be good news, right?  But then the scouting report comes: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey!  Here is its fruit.  But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.  We saw descendants of Anak there [giants] (Num.13:27-28).   We can’t attack those people, they are stronger than we are. The land we explored devours those living in it.  All the people we saw there are of great size.  We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them (Num. 13: 31-33)…” said the 10.

BUT, my boys Joshua and Caleb had a different scouting report.  “We should go up and take possession of the land for we can certainly do it (Num. 13:30)”. “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good.  If the Lord is pleased with us, He will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us.  Only do not rebel against the Lord.  And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them.  Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us.  Do not be afraid of them (Num. 14:7-9)”. Same land.  Same obstacles.  Same challenges.  Different scouting report.

Why?  Why did the 10 see a land that would devour them, while the 2 declared they would be the ones to devour?  Why did the 10 see giants and the 2 see people without protection?  How could the 10, huge fruit of the land in hand, preach fear while the 2 advocated courage?  It was all in where they were looking.  So simple.  So profound.  So life-altering.

Where are you looking today?  Your circumstances or your Creator?  At all that is trying to devour your peace and joy, or at the Prince of Peace?  Are your human eyes so focused on what you can see that you can’t hear the promises God has spoken to your Spirit?  What are you trusting in?  Your experiences or your faithful Father?  Have you forgotten the Red Sea crossings of yesterday as you look at the giants of today?  What are you saying about your life, your marriage, your kids, your finances, your church, your country, your struggles, your opportunities?  The scouts came bearing the same good fruit, the same possibilities… It was in their words, what they confessed with their mouths that was different.  What are you speaking over your life?

It matters.  

Numbers 14:36-38 says, “So the men Moses had sent to explore the land, who returned and made the whole community grumble against him by spreading a bad report about it— these men who were responsible for spreading the bad report about the land were struck down and died of a plague before the Lord.  Of the men who went to explore the land only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived.”  Ummm, whoa!!!

Not only that, because of the faithless scouting report of these spies and the nation’s rebellion in light of them, the 11 day trip to Canaan turned into a 40 year wandering in the desert.  God said in Numbers 14: 33-34, “Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lie in the wilderness.  For forty years-one year for each of the forty days you explored the land- you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.”  Yeah, I’d say it matters.

I don’t think anyone will be struck down by a plague today or die in the wilderness but maybe your calling will, a relationship might, a testimony could.  I do think our faithless words steal blessings not only  from us but from the next generation as well.  I believe my scouting report now could either usher my children into places God wants to take them in the future, or keep them out for years.  Am I setting them up to be devoured or do the devouring?  Defeat or victory?  The decision to either focus on God’s promises or on the world’s problems matters.  I could still be one of God’s chosen people wasting my whole life in the desert of disbelief and fear.  No thanks.  

So are you a 10 or a 2?  Do you see the giants or the fruit?  What’s your scouting report?  It’s a much shorter trip to the promise land when it lines up with His promises!  Let us be Joshua and Caleb’s in a questioning culture.

Well, this town still doesn’t have any water or trees.  The restaurants and shopping still leave a lot to be desired.  I wouldn’t say that it is “flowing with milk and honey,” although I do spy the grapevine starting to come back in the garden.  They won’t be huge but they will be sweet.   Last night, as I sat on my “sunset porch” with a good book, watching the West Texas sky do it’s thing while my children and chickens free-ranged, it felt pretty close to a Promise Land to me.  If there is ever a time when you hear my scouting report not line up with the promises of God, I give you permission to throw a tumbleweed at me.