A Fall Freebie for You

John 15:8 Free Fall Printable

Hey Friends,

I know it’s been awhile since you have heard from me… Fall has come like a bit of a bulldozer in my life.  I am blessed to have the opportunity to be speaking and teaching at several women’s events this season.  There is really nothing I love more than opening the Bible with women and having it transform us together.  I deeply desire to serve those women well and spend every spare hour (and all the moms said, “Hahahahaha”) preparing and studying for my time with them.  Unfortunately, that leaves little time for writing, although I have so many things I want to share with you.

But, what I can offer you is a Fabulous Free Fall Printable with John 15:8 on it.  I have spent the last 6 months studying the Biblical principles of FRUITFULNESS and this verse has become my life’s cry…

“Dear Jesus, make me fruitful here on this earth so that my life will bring glory to your Father.”

So, I share it with you here… Print it, frame it, memorize it, live it, add it to your Fall decor, and let it be your heart’s desire as well.John 15:8 Free Fall Download

I hope to see some of you at an event soon!  Like I said, my Fall is pretty full, but my Spring is gloriously open right now… If you are planning a women’s event or retreat, let me know if I can serve you and your girls!  It would be an honor.  I’ll also be heads down writing a Bible Study as soon as the holidays are behind us so be on the lookout for those details!!!

Thank you for following along on this journey with me!  HAPPY FALL Y’ALL!!!

Lesley

 

Dear Strong Girl, I See You

Dear Strong Girl,

I see you.

They say the “squeaky wheel gets the oil:  Well, that’s not you.  In fact, most of the time you’re the one with the oil can, quieting the squeaky wheel… the needy friend, the fragile child, the hurting husband, the dark culture, the social injustice.

strong girl leaning on a fence

I see you holding it all together while they fall apart.  I see you putting your needs on the back burner so often that they’ve boiled down to a burnt layer of unidentified crust.   You catch the smell briefly and it’s a reminder of another dish to wash.

I see your loud strength… Your bold, boisterous, brave strength.  I see the way you defend the widows and orphans and underdogs.  I see your Mama Bear Strength when someone comes after your kid, your tribe, the schools and churches and missions you love.  I see the way you are misunderstood and pigeon-holed.  I see the labels they put on you, all the while noting that the next time they need bold, boisterous, and brave, you’re their girl.

I see your quiet strength.  I see your steadfast, serving, show-up strength.  I see the way that families and ministries, care-calendars and friend groups are built on your steady shoulders.  I know the way they all just assume you’ll be there, do the work, organize the thing, send the email.  I know you fear they take you for granted.  Sometimes they do.

I see your big dreams.  I know how overwhelming the passion can feel swirling inside of you… like fire in your bones.  And I see how it threatens them.  You see it too.  Girls who really go for it feel a bit “much.”  I know you want permission.  You want support.  You want the blessing to be strong in a new space.  You may not get it.  Go for it anyway.  I see you.

I see the way some people need you and want you and like to take sanctuary beneath your strength, until they don’t.  They feed off of it until what they want is something a little easier to swallow than truth.  The thing about strength is, it’s strong.  The thing about Strong Girls is they don’t sway and crumble with circumstances or emotions.  That’s cool until it isn’t.  And then I see you alone.  I know that, much to the surprise of everyone around you, you actually feel lonely and question yourself, and wonder how this was the end of the story again.  I see you.  I get it.

I see that your strength is real.  I know it is not a blustery, bossy mask held together by tough words and attention-seeking self-interest.  . It’s not built on bullying others or taking them down.  It shines as you pour your life out again and again and again to those around you.  I know they assume your supply will never end, never run out.  That’s probably not true.  I see the tears you cry in your closet when no one checked on you.  No one returned the favor.  No one thought you might need a bit of what you give so freely… your time, your wisdom, your ear, your strength.  I wish I could sit with you there in the dark, but by the time I get there you’ll be up and at ’em.  No one has time for that kind of self-pity.  Well, no one like you.  Pour on, Strong Girl, but get filled too.  Everyone runs out.

I see you up there on that stage leading well.  Like a Boss, in fact.   I see you and I am for you as you blaze your trail Sister.  And I see you behind, hemming us in with the backbone of your very presence.  I am for you as you mix your strength like cement and hold everyone in place.  That work matters and I see it.

I see you standing like a rock in the middle of a river… The Culture River,  The Unconscious River, The River Selfish. Be careful, Low Integrity Crossing is just up the way.  And there you are, a rock in the middle.  Some will crash into you and curse the reminder you are as they  float away comfortably down stream.  And some will grab hold of you as you rescue them from the current to be so much more.  You’re good like that because you are strong, girl.

I see the people you gather and the causes you champion.  I see the kids you raise and the marriage you fought for until you bled.  I see the friends you saved and the ones lost to the very strength they asked of you.  I hear the songs you sing, the mantras you preach, and the secrets you keep.  I see the home you open, mess and all.  I see the gifts you use, and the ones you hold back.  I see the justice you fight for and the backlash you take.  I see the way you bear other’s burdens, and celebrate their victories like your own.  I see the muscle perseverance and patience and pressing in and all the agains have built..  It looks good on you.  You ARE strong.  I know they all think you “got this”, because let’s face it, you “got this.”   That doesn’t mean you want to do it all.  That doesn’t mean you want to do it alone.  That doesn’t mean you don’t need a safe, soft place every now and then.  I see you.

Maybe the only ones who can see Strong Girls for who they truly are, are other Strong Girls. Maybe the only ones who can understand them is someone cut from the same cloth.  Maybe the only ones who don’t feel threatened are those who possess their own strength in spades. It looks different on you than it does on the girl in the mirror, but familiar all the same.

They will misunderstand you… stand on truth anyway.  They will use you… give anyway.  They will hurt you… love anyway.  They will leave you… offer your hand anyway.  They will take you for granted… serve anyway.  They will hold on to you too tightly, let you go too easily, need you too much, ignore your loneliness too long., love your strength, and then resent it… Be you anyway.  I get it.   I see you and you’re beautiful.

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

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.

 

Lowest Common Denominator

lowest common denominator

There are a lot of fractions going on around here lately.  I have a 5th and 6th grader who I am attempting to teach the math to and it seems to be all fractions all the time.  Adding fractions, subtracting fractions, multiplying and dividing fractions… I’m not great at the math.  I prefer words to numbers (shocking I know). I have had to go back and read every explanation for every computation in each and every lesson.  It is not like riding a bicycle for me- it has not come back naturally.  Maybe that’s because I could never ride this one in the first place.  Sorry, Kids, you may be doomed.

FractionsBut one thing I do remember is that you have to reduce the fraction in the end.  You have to find the lowest common denominator and simplify your answer, make it smaller, bring it down.  In fact, the definition of “reduce” is this: “to bring down to a smaller extent, size, amount, number, to lower in degree, intensity, to bring down to a lower range, dignity, etc.”   The lowest common denominator is the smallest number both denominators (that’s the number on the bottom, I’m pretty sure) have in common that is used to reduce the overall fraction.

I may not make many friends with this one but I am standing on 2 Timothy 1:7 when Paul says, “For the Spirit God gave [me] does not make [me] timid, but gives [me] power, love, and self-discipline.”  So here we go… I see a culture of Christians who are living a lowest common denominator faith, who are constantly looking for, or at least are okay with reducing their walk, their witness, and their calling in “extent, size, degree, and intensity.”  And, laying all my cards on the table, the culture I am most immersed in is “Mom Culture.”  Those are the articles and posts that fill my newsfeed.  Those are the books that Amazon recommends.  Those are the circles I walk in in my real life and virtually as well.  And we have been reduced, Girls.

And I think the part that is firing me up the most is that we are wrapping our reduced faith, our lazy Christianity, our teeny tiny callings up with a bow and calling it grace.  Can I just say a word about grace?  Yes, grace is the “free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners.”  And, absolutely we are saved by that grace alone and not by any works of our own so that “no man may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).”   But please understand, grace was free for you, not for God, and not for Jesus.  The very grace that we tend to flippantly sprinkle over apathy to sin and idleness in Kingdom work cost God his Son, and cost Jesus His life.  In his book The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says of grace, “Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”

There is a great movement in the Mom Culture to flee perfectionism as fast at you can!  That somehow it is the rot that is destroying us as a generation of women and mothers.  The books out there right now on this very subject are too many to count, and I get it.  It is good and right to turn our backs on a kind of false mask of perfection when we are addressing an outward image or in opposition to authenticity.  I understand and respect the heart of the movement.  But are we taking it a bit far?  Are we wrapping laziness and sin up in a cheap grace, and patting ourselves on the back in the middle of our ineffective, fruitless walks?  The Bible never says to flee perfection.  The Bible says to flee sin (1 Cor. 10:14, 2 Tim 2:22, and so many more).  We also find curious commands in the Word such as: “Be PERFECT, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matt. 5:48) and “But just as He who called you is holy, so be HOLY in all you do; for it is written, ‘Be HOLY because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16).  Obviously we know that we can never be perfect or holy apart from the blood of Jesus Christ, but I just wonder about the amount of time we spend striving for it, versus the amount of time we spend reveling in all of our mess.

Are we celebrating our brokenness above our transformation?  After all, “If anyone is in Christ the new creation has come.  The old has gone, the new is here (2 Corinthians 5:17)!”  Are we lifting high our inabilities to showcase His complete ability, or to just make excuses?

Mom friends, is the entirety of your walk with Jesus wrapped up in whether or not you make it to 10am without yelling at your kids?  Is the biggest thing you are believing God for a day without tears, a baby who sleeps through the night, a passing grade on that test, a shower?  I get it. I’ve been there.  I could still be there, believe me.  But it is a dangerous slope.  It’s like Mommy Mush Brain quicksand.  We are lulled into a futility of the mind that renders us completely ineffective for the Kingdom.

Romans 1:21 says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God, nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”   Ephesians 4:17 reads, “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.  They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts..”  I’m real freaked out by this futility of the mind that leads to darkened hearts and understanding.  It’s so scary to me because IT IS EVERYWHERE!!!  If we are not intentional about guarding against it, I dare say we could look up after a week, a month, maybe even a year and have invested in nothing but futile (ineffective, useless, trifling, frivolous, unimportant) thinking.  Romans 12:2 combats futility of the mind with this: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  

It’s Satan’s work, you know. If he can’t keep you from future glory, he will at least keep you from present fruitfulness.  He will wrap himself up as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), and sell you a bill of Mommy goods that say that all of heaven is just perched waiting to see if you survive until nap time.  No.  Our God is a God of abundance and purpose and fullness.  He has more for you.  Ask Him.  Listen, we are not all called to big flashy ministries.  We are not all called to write books, to preach to stadiums, to cut top-selling worship albums, but we are all called, (like Jesus Himself was called) to be about our Father’s business during our short time here on earth (Luke 2:49).  I love my kids.  I pour myself out for them daily.  I have never prayed for anyone like I pray for my husband and children ALL OF THE TIME.  I even try to be nice to them most days.  But if my calling, if my adventure with Jesus terminated on how well dinner went tonight or whether or not they got along that day, I would be completely burnt out and bored with God. A.W. Tozer said, “Culture is putting out the light in men and women’s souls.”   If that’s you, you may want to see how far in the quicksand you have fallen.  Then, I challenge you to put down FaceBook or the latest Mommy Blog that preaches cheap grace and pick up some Foster, Bonhoeffer, or C.S. Lewis. (Yes you do have time if you put aside the rest).  If The Screwtape Letters don’t make you fighting mad then I don’t know what will.

Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…”   I sometimes just picture this great cloud of witnesses up in heaven, you know, Moses, Joshua, Esther, Steven, Peter, Paul, Mother Theresa, Elisabeth Elliot, and think “what must they think?”  What these martyrs and heroes of the the faith must think of our lowest common denominator effectiveness.  Of this reduction of our faith and calling.  Girls, what will our generation be known for?  Self-absorbtion masked as motherhood?  Futility of mind masked as “Mommy Brain?”  Laziness and idleness in Kingdom work masked as grace?  We can do better.  I believe in us!  Let’s run our race for our moment and make an impact on the world, maybe even the the world outside our four walls.

So, if you are still reading this and still speaking to me here is my prayer for you, for me, for our lowest common denominator Christian culture

“With this in mind, we (I) constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of His calling and that by His power He may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.  We (I) pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

I’ll leave you with this quote from Mike Yaconelli’s book Dangerous Wonder and I pray it inspires you to throw this thing wide open, to fight futility and apathy, and to be constantly about an increase of Jesus rather than a reduction of our effectiveness:  “I’m ready for a Christianity that ‘ruins’ my life, that captures my heart and makes me uncomfortable. I want to be filled with an astonishment which is so captivating that I am considered wild and unpredictable and…well…dangerous.  Yes, I want to be “dangerous” to a dull and boring religion.  I want a faith that is considered “dangerous” by our predictable and monotonous culture…. I want a lifetime of holy moments.  Every day I want to be in dangerous proximity to Jesus.  I long for a life that explodes with meaning and is filled with adventure, wonder, risk, and danger; a faith that is gloriously treacherous.”

How about you?

For this reason I remind you to fan into the flame the gift of God…”

2 Timothy 1:6

The Paperwhite in the Middle

Bulbs are magic.  They are real life magic that you can hold and touch and feel. They are little balls of promise and wonder, hope wrapped up in a papery brown skin, fooling everyone who isn’t willing to wait.  They have absolutely no beauty on their own, but planted in the right dirt at the right time, they surprise the world with a gift no one could have imagined.  No one, that is but God.Paperwhile bulbs

Every Winter I plant paperwhite bulbs in various containers around our home with the hope that they will be in full bloom by Christmas and lend a bit of natural life to the, often, flashy trappings of the season. So this year, as the Fall decorations were taken down and the Christmas bins were hauled in, I grabbed my paper sack of bulbs, found some old potting soil left over from summer, and buried several bulbs in pots on my entry way table.  Everyday I noticed how the tiny green stems started to emerge from the dirt, then grow taller and taller until finally the tip of each was bursting delicate, fragrant, white flowers.

All except the the paperwhite in the middle.

While her neighbors on either side were showing off, growing quickly, and then blooming for all to see, she seemed to be asleep, dormant, dysfunctional even.  What was the problem with the paperwhite in the middle?  Admittedly, I became frustrated with her.  I mean there she was, right there in the middle, not doing her job, not producing anything of beauty, not bringing anything to the (entry) table if you will.  And then early one morning, as I relished in the slowness of Christmas break from my favorite spot on the couch, appreciating the twinkling lights of the tree, the taste of my coffee, the smell of my candle, the time I had to sit and pray and read the Word without the push and rush of normal life, the paperwhite in the middle caught my eye.  And instead of shaking my head in disgust like I had been doing for days, I felt a profound kinship to her.  So much so that I pulled the blanket back, set my Bible and coffee aside, and walked across the room to snap a picture of her and her overachieving neighbors.

Have you ever felt like the paper white in the middle?

Has it ever appeared to you that, as you look around, everyone else is growing, blooming, reaching for the sky, and you are still just stuck in the dirt?  Man, it has for me.  In fact, I’ve probably spent years being the paperwhite in the middle, and honestly just now at 40, On The Other Side of Middle, do I feel like I am finally starting to push through the soil.

Comparison.  It’s been called the thief of joy.  It’s been called the thief of everything.  Either way, it’s a thief.  And we know from John 10:10 that, “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy.”  So where is the thief of comparison sneaking into your life?  What is it trying to steal, kill, and destroy in you?

Young women, perhaps Young Mommas, I am thinking of  you today, looking across the room to the paperwhite in the middle.  I’m not so far in front of you.  I still have 4 children at home to feed, and educate, and train.  I have been doing the mommy thing for 12 years now and since my youngest is 5, I figure I have about 13 more to go in this capacity.  So, altogether, God willing, I will have children under my roof, parenting them on a daily basis for 25 years of my life.  25 years of my time here on earth will be spent with them being the main focus of not only my heart, but my days, my gas consumption, my grocery lists, and certainly my prayers.  Now, if I live to be 80 years old, that is 55 years that will not be spent with them under my roof in this daily, weighty way.  I just wonder, could some things wait?

Here is the thing we all know at nausea, and yet the sneaky thief keeps coming for us:

We may be able to do it all but we will not be able to do it all well and at the same time.

If you try, you will not be well.  There is a reason that Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall do not happen simultaneously.  What chaos that would be; pumpkins and tulips, swim parties and snow days all at once.  And how much we would miss, all the little things that make each season distinct and beautiful in it’s own way!  And yet, why do we think we can have it all at once in our own lives?  Perfectly Pinterest nurseries and thriving social lives?  Booming careers and intentional marriages?  Fruitful ministries and star athletes?  Something is going to give.  Can we let it be comparison we kick to the curb, rather than our sanity, our joy, our identity?

Do you know that I planned my wedding, and decorated all 4 of my children’s nurseries without Pinterest.  Honestly, I’m kinda bitter about it.  Because I love Pinterest.  And I love Instagram.  And currently I am planning a  6-year-old Star Wars party, an 8-year-old make over slumber party, and my next dinner party menu with their help.  It’s fun as long as it’s fun.  Here is the sneaky thief part, sometimes those scroll sessions can turn dark.  You know it and I know it.  All of a sudden you find yourself beneath the pressure of the perfection you are looking at on the screen, comparing your worst days, rooms, plans, meals, outfits, and self to someone else’s best.  Because we all know we only post our best.  It’s okay, until it isn’t.

In Matthew 6:22-23 Jesus says, “The eye is the lamp of the body.  If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness.”  Getting rid of this thief may start as simply as healthy eyes.  What we look at.  What we gaze upon.  What we let in.  There was a season in my life that I couldn’t pick up a magazine.  I couldn’t read any book but the Word of God.  I couldn’t watch a moment of television or a single movie.  Do you know why?  My eyes were unhealthy.  All they saw were people better off than me, with perfect marriages and hair.  With loads of money to take perfect family vacations and gorgeous homes to entertain their fabulous friends.  I shut it down because my whole body, my whole being, was turning dark simply by looking at the wrong things.

If comparison is the thief of joy and contentment, right expectations is their best friend, holding their hands, walking them right in your front door.  And right expectations, for yourself, your life, your kids, your home, your relationships, your bank account is not found out there, they are found within.  When you still yourself and your hustle to be perfect, or at least to be more, and listen to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, He will set those right expectations for you.  Isaiah 30:21 says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ”This is the way; walk in it.”.  In Proverbs 4:25, 27 we read, “Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you… Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.”  What is comparison if it is not looking to the right and left, looking around at how everyone else is doing it?  Do you trust the Holy Spirit’s voice in your life saying, “This is the way.  This is your way.  This is all I am asking of you right now, in this season.  Walk in this, not that or that or that.  There will be time later.  For now, look straight ahead and walk on Girl.”

It’s hard.  I know.  It’s noisy here too.  The still small voice sure can get drown out quickly by the volume of life, kids, laundry and to do’s.  It’s a lot easier to scroll Pinterest or Instagram or Facebook than it is to do the work of listening.  But a little intentional listening in the beginning can bring clarity and peace while that lazy scroll, that looking to the right and left, may end up heaping the kind of expectations and pressures you were never meant to carry.

Young mommas, I used to be so very limited in my view of what my relationship with Jesus had to look like.  When my days did not start before dawn with uninterrupted scripture reading, journaling, prayer time and Beth Moore because the baby had been up all night, or woke up too early, or my body just couldn’t sacrifice one more moment of sleep, well I had failed!  My days became a snowball of failure.  If my mornings didn’t begin right, how could my days, my attempts at this mommy thing, my marriage, my homemaking, the things the Lord was calling me to in that season go right?  A snow ball is interesting, isn’t it?  It starts off soft and harmless but as it rolls on, gaining speed, picking up rocks and debris on the way, in the end it is downright dangerous.  And so it was with my days, picking up all the bad and letting the thing knock me over every night with all the ways I had failed.

Let me tell you a golden secret that may save you from snowball days:  Let your relationship with Jesus adjust to your season.

Just like there is a season to till, plant, grow, reap, there is a season to gain knowledge and there is a season to use it!   If you know the Bible at all, you probably know the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  STOP.  If you never did another Bible study, you have plenty to work on right there.  You don’t master things like the fruit of the Spirit by gaining more knowledge, you only master them by the the power of the Holy Spirit.  And He is always listening, speaking, spurring you on towards Christ-likeness, whether you were up all night with a sick kid, or you had an hour in the Word this morning.  Here are a few scriptures that rocked my world in my snowball days:

“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.”  John 5:39-40

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.”                                  I Corinthians 4:20

They are the kind who work their way into people’s homes and win the confidence of vulnerable women who are burdened with the guilt of sin and controlled by various desires.  Such women are forever following new teachings but they are never able to understand the the truth.”            II Timothy 3:6-7

GIRLS, LET THAT NEVER BE SAID OF US!

We find life in our relationship with Jesus, and our study and knowledge of the Scripture only serve to lead us into His presence and power.  I’ll let you in on another secret: you can get there, into His presence and His power, no matter what your days look like, no matter what your hands are doing, no matter the season you are in.  You can be folding laundry and communing with God at the same time.  You can be fixing dinner, driving someone to basketball, watching PAW Patrol, and wiping a booty and be in the presence of God.  I decided a long time ago that the only way I was going to be able to be obedient to the command to “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17) was to shift all of my thoughts and self-talk into prayers.  My busy hands and worn-out body can be about the very unglamorous work of my life while my spirit is in heavenly places, in the presence of Jesus, always being ministered to.

So here is my question to you, Young Momma… Do you trust Him?  When He says things like, “But seek first the kingdom of God and ALL THESE THINGS WILL BE ADDED UNTO YOU” (Matthew 6:33) do you believe Him?  Do you believe that the sacrifices you make today will kill your dreams for the future, or that ALL THESE THINGS WILL BE ADDED UNTO YOU, in due season?  Do you trust I Thessalonians 5:24 when it says “The one who calls you is faithful and He will do it?”  It’s not your hustle, Girl.  Pinterest perfect expectations are a thief.  Settle down into the soil and stop looking to the right or left and trust the still small voice of the Holy Spirit.

Here is what I know from my own life.  All those years I felt like the paperwhite in the middle were not wasted.  Oh, I know you couldn’t see the growth and progress from out there.  I know it looked like I wasn’t bringing much to the table, wasn’t producing much beauty or value.  But my neighbors’ standards weren’t mine.  They bloomed when they were supposed to and so did I.  The soil of these years, isn’t merely dirt.  If you let it, if you spend these years rooted in right expectations, enjoying the slowness of the season and getting healthy eyes on everything from homemaking to Bible study, the soil will be the rich, fertile ground you will emerge from.  No one can see the roots growing strong.  Trust the season.  Trust the process.  Trust the Word.

The Paperwhite in the Middle

My paperwhite in the middle eventually grew as proud and tall as her neighbors.  Just about the time their flowers were beginning to drop, she bloomed.  Her perfect timing added beauty right when the arrangement needed new life.  She wasn’t dead or dormant down in that soil, she just knew her season.  Do you trust yours?  Comparison is a sneaky thief, but a bulb is sneaky too. One is out to steal, kill, and destroy the joy of this season, and one is just below the surface poised to burst through with abundant life in her time.  Settle in, Young Momma, your time is coming and you’re going to be gorgeous!

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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.

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Searching for Selah

I am going to let you in on a secret goal I have.  I dream of being a “day reader.”  I aspire to carve out a half hour a day to sit in my rocker on the front porch and indulge in a bit of fiction, or a lovely home magazine, or some breezy, funny biography.   It sounds as luxurious as a day at the spa (almost).  Oh, I read books constantly but I limit myself to Bible Studies (or the like) during my early morning quiet time, and any fluff stuff after the kids are in bed.  I can throw a novel down sitting on the beach or driving in the car on long road trips like a starving person will devour a cheeseburger.  But, here at home I just can’t do it.  Summer is dangerously close to winding down with a mere month left and I am failing.  I cannot “day-read.”

It should be simple right?  I have all the necessary tools.  I have books coming out of my ears.  I have said rocking chair.  I actually have the 30 minutes most days.  I just can’t make the shift in my brain.  I feel a bit like the character in the book, “If You Give a Pig a Pancake.”  You know the one, Moms.  I start out with the intention of a little porch time but then…. I go to grab the book and I realize the shelf needs dusting, I go into the laundry room to get the Pledge, I see the laundry is ready to be switched and folded, I take a clean pile to a kid’s room, I realize that the dresser is in desperate need of a good clean out, I head to the pantry to get a garbage bag and remember that I need to take the chicken out to defrost for dinner, as I am thinking about the meal preparations I realize I am missing an ingredient so I am off to the store….. And so on, and so one.  See?  I can’t just sit and read/relax/enjoy because there is always a shelf that needs dusting, a load that needs folding, a closet that needs cleaning out, a floor that need sweeping, a mouth that needs feeding.

I think what I need to confess is that I worship the god of productivity.

It can look like endless business, a cleaner house, another party thrown, the next week carefully planned, weeds pulled, meals cooked, forever…. I have to be productive.  I’m not sure if I was always this way.  Let’s face it, being momma to 4, part-time homeschooler, wannabe homesteader takes a lot of work, organization, and productivity.  I have to run a pretty tight ship or mayhem will ensue.  Laundry will pile up, the house will get out of control, the kids will eat crap, assignments will be missed, etc.  I do it to my children too.  The second I see one of them sitting down for a moment I inevitably ask, “What does your room look like?”  I might as well say, “Why are you sitting, you lazy kid?  You are not producing anything of value sitting there.  I’m sure you could find something more productive to be doing!” I hate it but I say it every time.  And I hurry.  I hate that too.  Like I am going to be put in “Mommy Jail” if every stitch of ironing isn’t finished by the end of the hour, or all of the meals are not planned and groceries bought by 10 am Monday, or if the yard is not Southern Living ready by dinner on Sunday.  I continually sacrifice my peace to an invisible deadline no one knows about but me.  I remember once when my oldest two children were babies and I was at the store with my dad alone.  At some point he asked me, “Why are you running?”  Ummm, I didn’t know that I was.  But then all of the justifications and excuses started, “The baby will need to eat, I have to get back before she wakes up from her nap, I have to start on dinner… etc.” I mean, we have to hurry to get all the things done faster and more efficiently.  We have to be productive!  The justifications rolled but the conviction stuck.  Anne Voskamp says that “only amateurs hurry.”  Ouch.

At the beginning of every January, I pray for a word to focus on for the coming year.  It’s a bit like a spiritual “New Year’s Resolution.”  I study it, declare it, come back to it over and over throughout the year.  It’s like an anchor for my prayer life, a filter for my attitude.  So, for 2016, the word I received was “Selah.”  Now, at the time I did not know that this was the name of a Christian band as well but my studies have educated me on this point.  Selah.  It is believed that this word was a musical term used by the Hebrew Psalmists.  Although the exact translation is unclear, Selah is associated with a musical interlude or a pause in the voices singing while the instruments perform alone.  When this direction was given in a song it meant to “stop and listen, pause and think, hang and measure, to praise and lift up.”  Basically, take a breath.  Relax.  Chill out.  REST.  Here are a few of the scriptures the Lord brought me too in my quest for Selah:

His place of rest will be glorious.  Isaiah 11:10

Anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His.  Hebrews 4:10

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Matthew 11:28

My presence will go with you and I will give you rest.  Exodus 33:14

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain, Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain,  It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for He gives sleep to His beloved.  Psalm 127:1-2

So, toil.  That has been my anti-word for this year.  Or at least it was suppost to be.  The definition of toil is: to labor, to work, to exert strength with pain and fatigue of body or mind, particularly of the body with effort of some continuance of duration.  Obviously there is legitimate toil, worthy work, necessary labor.  God called us to work before the fall in Genesis 2:15.  It is not a four-letter word.  But, something about the term toil feels fruitless.  I picture a treadmill that takes so much effort but gets you nowhere.  A toil of the mind is the worst.  A toil of spirit.  Honestly, this summer has not been my favorite.  It has been a season of toil of the mind and spirit.  Have you been there?  Are you there now?  Could you use a little Selah?  Me too.

Remember my boyfriend Brother Lawrence from It’s Amazing What A Little Son Can Do?  He refers to this idea of rest or Selah as “Holy Inactivity.”  In adding this vocabulary to my filter of Selah and my confession of idolatry in regards to productivity, The Lord has taught me a couple of lessons.  The first is that what may seems restful may really be more draining.   Have you ever sat down to just “veg” in front of the TV, or for a good scroll session on your phone because you needed a break, only to look up an hour later not feeling rested at all?  Feeling fitful?  Unsatisfied?  Irritated?   Have you ever withdrawn to catch your breath only to find yourself feeling isolated?  Have you ever given your morning to sleeping in rather than getting up with a quiet time or some exercise just to find yourself dragging all day?   There is an aspect of Selah, or Holy Inactivity that is life-giving and restorative.  It is not always about tuning everything out, but about tuning in more intentionally to what really matters.  Can we produce peace rather than just activity?  Produce margin rather than checklists?  Produce a fullness of spirit rather than a fullness of schedule?  Real rest and peace, true Selah, is found only with the Prince of Peace and the Author of Rest.  For His “yoke is easy and burden is light.” (Matthew 11:20).   Don’t look to the world for your Selah, look to Jesus.

The second lesson I have learned is without toil there can be no Selah.  Without Selah the toil is in vain.  It is a constant push and pull, isn’t it?  Even within the very definition of Selah we find this tension: stop and listen, pause and think, hang and measure.  There has to be a pause from something.  A listening to something.  A measuring of something.  To those who land on the opposite end of the spectrum from me and tend to worship idleness rather than productivity I would say that “God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33). We all know the disorder that comes when we lift leisure out of place as well.   Proverbs is full of warnings to the “sluggard” about laziness.  There must be Selah and rest from something, not just a general neglectfulness in disguise as “simplicity,” “calmness,” or “peace.”   Ecclesiastes 3 is the classic scripture on seasons.  It tells us that there is a “time for everything under heaven,” and then goes on to give us endless and wise examples of “a time to’s.”  In verses 12-13 we are bestowed with this prize: “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.  That each of them may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all their toil- this is the gift of God.” 

So now I find myself back at that rocker on the front porch.  It is freshly sanded and has just received a new coat of paint.  The herb garden located on the porch is weeded.  The floor is blown clear of leaves.  The windows to the kitchen are clean.  The lawn in front is perfectly mowed (by the hubs), and the potted flowers have been watered.  The work has been done.  sunset-porchWhat good is it if I never pause, breathe, listen, enjoy?  The toil really will be in vain if it is not followed by the Selah.  Can I stop bowing to the god of productivity and lay my toil down to appreciate God’s gifts?  Can inactivity really be holy?  These are the lessons I am trying to learn as the twilight of summer is on the horizon.  I have a couple of extra rocking chairs… Are you up for a little Selah too?

 

 

 

On the Altar of Feelings

Maybe you should put on your steel-toed boots for this one.  I am lacing mine up as I type these words.  Toes will be stepped on.  This may hurt.  It is a lesson that has crunched my own toes more times than I can say.  Ready?  Here goes:  Your feelings are liars.  I know there could not be a more counter-cultural statement.  Sorry.  Maybe you’ll like me again if I tell you a cute story.  Once Upon A Time….

When my oldest daughter was 3 years old she was at the height of the Disney Princess craze.  In true, first-born, type-A fashion, when she dressed up as a particular princess she needed ALL THE THINGS.  For example, if she was Ariel, she had to have a flower pinned in her hair, along withskye-cinderella the “bras” (I know!  She’ll die one day), and the tail.  She also positioned herself on a stump in our backyard and sang “Part Of Your World” for infinity.  And so it went with Jasmine, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, etc.  But Cinderella was her jam.  From the moment she put the first pair of “glass slippers” on her chubby toddler feet she never looked back.  When she was Cinderella, she not only had the gown and slippers, she also had her hair in a bun, a black velvet choker on, and white gloves up to her elbow.  EVERY. DAY.  This was a precious phase until one day I heard her say to her 2-year-old brother, “You have Jesus in your heart, but I have Cinderella in mine.”  Uh oh…. Maybe this whole thing had gone a little far.  Trying to discuss this theology with a 3-year-old princess dressed in a ball gown was pointless but my eyes and ears became more a tuned with the importance of our hearts.

Obviously I am not talking about the blood pumping organ that resides inside each of our chests.  I am talking about the center for our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions or feelings.  What do we hear over and over in our self-centered, narcissistic, selfie-driven society?  “Follow your heart.”   Mr. Hallmark has never clarified this statement to me exactly, but I am assuming it means follow your feelings, put your emotions in the driver seat, let your perceptions and affections be the deciding factors in your life.   It sounds warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it?  Like you want to put on a twirly peasant skirt and lay in a field of wildflowers?  I know, me too, for a hot second.  And then I think about all the tantrums my kids have thrown over the years.  I think about the things they have wanted that have been absolutely crazy, harmful, or impossible.  I remember the melt-downs over broccoli or hair-cuts or bedtimes.   If they had been allowed to “follow their hearts” none of them would know how to read, none of them would have ever had a bath, and none of them would have a tooth in their head.   My oldest would have run away a hundred times, number 2 would never leave the Ranchito, number 3 would have been killed by her pet tiger, and number 4 would have brain-damage from jumping off of every elevated surface he has encountered in the 5 years of his life.  But, they have not been allowed to follow their hearts at every turn.  Sure, we nurture who they are.  They get to choose their activities.  They get to voice an opinion sometimes.  During the #summerofsayingyes there is extra room for freedom and creativity.  But, ultimately there is a higher authority.  It’s called parents.  If I let my children follow their hearts all of the time they would be taken away from me and I would be in jail.

So, I guess my question is, at what point are they trustworthy?  Our hearts, our emotions, our feelings?  Is there a magical age where they should get their license and be allowed to drive our lives?  Is it 16?  Good grief I hope not!  18?  21?  40?  Because whatever age it is, I haven’t reached it yet.  I know that my perceptions are not always dependable.  I know that my emotions are not always stable.  I know that my feelings do not always reflect truth.   In direct contradiction to “follow your heart,”  the Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).  As much as that rubs against all things Disney Princess and Hallmark Channel, we know it is true.  You know your heart is deceitful.  You know it lies to you.  You know that no matter what age you are, you still have temper tantrums and say things in the heat of emotion that aren’t true.  You know that feeling when it feels like you are underwater, drowning in hurt feelings, or anger, or fear, or despair.  You know that you can swim, you know that a life-preserver of truth has been tossed your way, but your feelings pull you under.  Powerful they are, trustworthy they are not.

In these moments, what have you sacrificed on the altar of your feelings?

Have you ever sacrificed a friendship on the altar of hurt feelings or misconceptions?  Have you sacrificed a calling on the altar of fear?  Have you sacrificed a marriage on the altar of apathy or bitterness?  Have you sacrificed your spiritual walk on the altar of boredom?  Have you sacrificed wisdom on the altar of rebellion?  Have you sacrificed your witness on the altar of anger, your legacy on the altar of pride, your children on the altar of selfishness?  Sorry.  I hope those boots are working for you.  I have had some near misses myself lately.  I have come dangerously close to lashing out from beneath the tide of pain.  I have been misunderstood and misjudged  and people I know I love and I know love me have been drug to the jagged altar and tied up.  The soundtrack to this dramatic scene is forever the same: the words, “Always,” “Never,” “Everyone,” and “No One.”  As in, “He always ____.”  “She never ____.”  “Everyone ______.”  “No one really ____.”  I know that when those lies are playing in my head, it’s time to put down the knife.  If I had followed my heart I would have done the deed.  But I know my feelings are liars and my heart is deceitful.  I have watched families come dangerously close to being sacrificed on the altar of misguided hearts and feelings.  Praise God for the beacon of His truth.  Just like there is a higher authority in our home and in my children’s lives, so there is in our lives and in the perilous sea of emotion.  It’s call the Bible, the Word of God, the Holy Spirit.  It’s our lighthouse when we are drowning in our feelings.

 

The Bible also says, in Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  Just like we would put a fence around a pool for our children, or protect our toddlers at the edge of the ocean, we must put a guard around our heart before it jumps into the deep end.  Just like we should be eating heart-healthy food to protect the vital organ and rejecting the junk, we must seek the healthy and throw out the dangerous when it comes to the center of our emotions as well.  What are you letting in that is not safe?  Are romance novels  pushing you under the waters of discontentment with your spouse?  Is it HGTV that is throwing you into envy?  Is Pinterest leaving you sputtering beneath self-doubt?  Are movies or magazines or someone’s Instagram feed pulling you under insecurity?   While it is true that we cannot always choose or control how we feel, we can certainly take important, practical steps to guard our hearts.  Truly, the only way our heart is completely safe is with Jesus residing on the throne of it (not Cinderella).

Last summer I (say it with me) read a great book.  The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith is a treasure I go back to time after time.  I was a bit nervous about the title at first, a little scared that it would be shallow and superficial at best, heretical at worst.  Then I learned that my girl Hannah was a Quaker who penned this gem in 1875.  Legit.  She addresses this tension of truth versus emotion in a chapter entitled “Difficulties Concerning the Will.”  She says, “The truth is, that this life is not to be lived in the emotions at all, but in the will; and therefore, if only the will is kept steadfastly abiding in its center, God’s will, the varying states of emotion do not in the least disturb or affect the reality of the life.  If God is to take possession of us, it must be into this central will or personality that He enters.  If, then, He is reigning there by the power of His Spirit, all the rest of our nature must come under His sway; and as the will is, so is the man.  For the decisions of our will are often so directly opposed to the decisions of our emotions that, if we are in the habit of considering our emotions as the test, we shall be very apt to feel like hypocrites in declaring those things to be real which our will alone has decided.  But the moment we see that the will is king, we shall utterly disregard anything that clamors against it, and shall claim as real its decisions, let the emotions rebel as they may.”  I told you she was for real.   When our will is steadfastly holding to the Truth, we know we will not drown in emotions.   Though we cannot choose our emotions, we can choose our response, our actions, our will.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m an emotional girl. I’m not sure there has ever been a day of my life that tears have not been shed. Anxious tears, sad tears, angry tears, happy tears. I feel big. I love hard. I speak my mind. My husband calls it “drama.” I call it feelings. I am like David in Psalms. One minute I am praising God with my whole heart and the next I am “in the depths of despair.” (Okay, that’s Anne Shirley my favorite. Enough said?)  But I have learned the hard way not to let them drive my life. I can cry the tears, feel the feels, say the thing, and then swim to the edge and shake it off. I will not sacrifice the truth on the altar of my ever-changing, super charged feelings. They cannot be ultimate. They are not trustworthy.

So,  remember that life-preserver, those swimming lessons, that lighthouse?  We must know the truth to be buoyed by it. It must be real to us to be the lifeline that we need.   We must spend more time soaking in the Word than drowning in our emotions.  That sounds obvious but I bet that if you actually clocked the moments spent in the Word today versus the moments you spend talking/thinking/posting about how you feel you would see the water rising.  I would too.  But we can reverse the tide.

I don’t know what is on the altar of your feelings right now… a relationship, an opportunity, your testimony, maybe just your day.  I can almost promise you that it is not worth it.  You’ve been lied to.  Put the knife down.  Walk away.  Grab on to the Truth.  Guard your heart. Kick Cinderella out and get Jesus back where He belongs.

 

 

 

Somewhere Between Pizza Hut and Pinterest

Have you ever filled a virtual shopping cart (or 7) and come back to it day after day to stalk the items?  Like to see if they have gone on sale, or if the color is still dreamy, or just to say hi?  Kid’s clothes, rocking chairs, boots?  Me neither.  That is super weird!   Well, except maybe this one time….  We moved to the Ranchito about the time that the first season of Fixer Upper premiered.  I, like everyone in the country, tuned in every week to watch Chip and Jo transform houses and be stinking adorable at every turn.  But, I did not become obsessed with shiplap, or subway tile, or demoing walls.  Nope.  All I wanted was that 10ft. long, white, distressed, outdoor table.  You know the one, under the cool rusted candelabra, with the cute tray of lemonade and freshly baked cookies on it?  I am not proud to admit how much of my brain and heart that table consumed.  You see, for the first time in our lives, I had the perfect space for exactly such a table.  I dreamed of dinner parties out by the pool, hosting a dozen friends at the mile-long table in all of its perfect distressedness.

table

So, I did what any seasoned online shopper would do. I Googled  “Harp Designs.”  If Clint Harp could build one for the “farmhouse,” he could build one for the “Ranchito,”  I virtually designed the monstrous masterpiece, and put it in that cart.  And….there it sat.  There it sat for weeks.  The shipping alone on the thing was almost as much at the table itself (and I live in Texas!).  Oh, and the benches… those weren’t cheap either.  When I suggested to the hubs that we rent a trailer and make a little road trip to Waco NOT DURING FOOTBALL SEASON you would have thought I had lost my mind!  He then checked out the specs more carefully on the saved table and announced that he and his buddy could build that for me with a casual wave of the hand.  Now, while I know these guys absolutely had the skills to produce the coveted table, they also had 7 children, 2 full-time jobs, 2 wives, and approximately 793 “honey do’s” between them.  I wanted the table before we had to leave the Ranchito for the nursing home, you know?   Finally, I let it go and explored the crazy option of having a local craftsman create one for me.  Short story loooong, I ended up with a 12 foot table,  four 6 ft. benches, and 2 chairs on the end.  It’s every bit as distressed and dreamy and it was about 1/2 the price.  Sorry Clint!  (and THANK YOU White House Table Co. of Midland!!!!).

One of my goals during this #summerofsayingyes is to fill that table up every chance we get!

I believe in previous generations this was called “hospitality.”  Doesn’t the word just make you feel warm and cozy inside?  Like Thanksgiving or Christmas?  Or maybe it doesn’t… maybe it causes a slight panic attack, or calls out one more thing you’re not good at.  I don’t know what your relationship is like,  hospitality and you, but can we talk about it a bit?   The same summer that was spent stalking the table, I read Jennie Allen’s book Restless.  For years I had avoided any and all books of this nature.  I mean who had time to dream, to think about anything but the dinner and the laundry?  Restless?  As in I haven’t rested, slept, or sat down in a decade?  You bet I’m rest-less!  But, then the smoke cleared a bit and I found my way out to a magical little courtyard at sunrise every morning with this challenging book and some puzzle pieces God was putting together for me.  What I discovered about me in that season was that I need deep relationship.  I read this anonymous quote that resonated so with me during this time:

I have the deepest affection for intellectual conversations.  The ability to just sit and talk.  About love, about life, about anything, about everything.  To sit under the moon with all the time in the world and the full-speed train that is our lives slowing to a crawl.  Bound by no obligations, barred by no human limitations.  To speak without regret or fear of consequences.  To talk for hours and about what’s really important in life.”

Do you know what is hard with four small children around your knees for infinity?  Deep relationships.  Do you know what is impossible?  A complete conversation, much less these hours of uninterrupted sharing in the moonlight.  But that is where God began to articulate this call to hospitality for me.  He had blessed us with this physical space and He was making it beyond obvious of the reason.  It was to create a place for deep relationship, gathering, and blessing others.  Period.  No excuses.  I mean I even had my table…

sunflowers

Hospitality.  It’s not just a  Pinterest board, you know?  Martha Stewart cannot be credited with the idea.  That would be God.  He created hospitality to show us a picture of His character like He created every other good and perfect gift.

Hebrews 13:2 “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.”

1 Peter 4:9 “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”

Romans 12:13 “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”

Titus 1:8 “Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.”

Hebrews 13:16 “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

Galatians 6:10 “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

AFTER ALL….Jesus says,

John 14:2-3 “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

God’s heart is one of hospitality.  And here is the thing, it looks like these are imperative statements.  Remember the 4 types of sentences from 3rd grade?  Declarative (…),  Exclamatory (!!!!!), Interrogative (?????), and Imperative.  Like, it’s a command… hospitality. Don’t take my word for it, go back up and read those Scriptures again.  So, I guess whether it’s natural for us or not, whether we saw it modeled well for us growing up or not, whether we are great cooks or not, whether we have the 12 ft. table or not, whether we have a bunch of kids around or not, whether it’s our gifting or not, we are all called to hospitality.

Obviously, I’m reading a great book right now.  (You knew it was coming).  Sally Clarkson and her daughter Sarah have crafted a lovely work called “The Life Giving Home – Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming.”  Sally’s heart for creative homemaking, parenting, and educating her children have been an inspiration in my life since “The Mission of Motherhood.”  (READ IT!!!)  In “The Life Giving Home” they discuss the idea that we are living in a homeless generation.  The isolating combination of corporate moves that separate us from our family of origin and the impact of technology that elevates virtual relationships above real ones has left us homeless in a sense.  Clarkson says, “I’m referring to a different kind of homelessness, one that is spiritual and emotional.  It’s the homelessness of those who have their basic needs for housing, food and clothing met but do not have a sanctuary designed to preserve all that is precious in life.”  Later,  Sarah Clarkson writes, “One of the first obstacles I find in presenting a vision for the  importance of home is the almost unconscious assumption on the part of many modern people that home is inherently a sentimental notion and that beauty is peripheral to spiritual formation.  Action, mission, productivity, study-these are considered essentials.  But beauty?  Good meals?  Gardens?  Art?  Gracious atmosphere?  A safe haven for the spirit?”  Evidently not.

I am one of the lucky ones that saw hospitality done well lesleygrowing up.  My Nannie was the consummate hostess.  My grandparents had fancy, catered Christmas parties where valets would park your car and waiters walked around with drinks and hor d’Oeuvres.  She would have luncheons for her “Bridge” girls all the time.  When there was a family holiday meal, she would have the tables set days in advance complete with name cards and labels for what food would go in what dish.  She always used to say that it was a gift you could give to family and friends… a lovely home to walk in to, a space to feel loved and served, a meal to enjoy, a conversation to fill your soul.  And so it was, a gift to all of us blessed enough to be welcome into their home and into her generous spirit of hospitality.  I carry that call, that gift, that example very close to my heart.

What does that look like- IN MY REAL LIFE?  This has been my quest over the last couple of years.  There is so much freedom within the command of hospitality that it can be quite the adventure to press into.  Basically, there is no right or wrong way to do it, but there are endless possibilities.  For my family we have begun the tradition of an annual Family Fall Festival.  It’s a good, ‘ole fashioned night filled with hay-rides, face painting, apple bobbing, jumpers, and treats.  We hire the “hot dog man” and we invite the whole town.

hayride

It has been baby showers and birthday lunches for my tribe that I love so.  In the summer, we have a standing Wednesday Ranchito swim party.  Now, if that is just my immediate group of friends, we have about 40 children between us.  This little weekly shin-dig would literally give my husband a heart attack if he ever walked into it.

pool

Obviously, this means birthday parties for my kids and holidays with family and friends who are family.  Sometimes we have a huge Easter pot-luck and egg hunt, sometimes it is an intimate brunch.  There is the annual wine/cheese/and prayer night before the school year starts.  During the summer months, when the demands on our schedules are much less, I am taking a cue from my “really good at reaching out to people” friend and trying to be intentional about inviting a different family over once a week for a meal.  And then there are the spontaneous texts of, “Wanna grill burgers tonight?  Bring baked beans and chips.”  And yes, there have been long, lovely dinner parties with pin-worthy food and table settings. There is room for it all, an appropriate hospitality for every occasion.

weeks

Doesn’t all of that sound like fun?  It is.  It really is.  But do you know what else it is?  A lot of work.  Costly.  Time-consuming.  40 dripping wet children do not leave your home unscathed.  Feeding 300 people hot dogs is not cheap.  Planning 4-course dinner parties takes a bit of concentration.  Reaching out to new people and welcoming them into your sanctuary can leave you feeling vulnerable and insecure.  Sometimes my kids don’t want to share their stuff.  Sometimes my hubby doesn’t want to stop what he’s doing to host.  Sometimes I want to be served (which I am, all the time.  I have hospitable friends)  Anything worth having, doing, being comes at a cost.  Hospitality is no different.  Like I said, I was lucky and saw it done really well growing up.  I don’t want that legacy to die with me.  I want my children to see Mommy and Daddy putting intentional effort into building a space where others are cherished and fed-both physically and spiritually.  I want them to always know that we are only blessed to bless others, whether that be with our home, our food, our time, our friendship (our toys, our mermaid tails, our bikes)…

So, sometimes it’s Pizza Hut.  And sometimes it’s Pinterest.  My Nannie’s generation would probably turn their noses up over the casualness that hospitality is offered today.  No place cards?  No plan?  Paper plates?  Those can be sweet, sweet times of building home into a homeless generation.  I do it.  I love it.  I get that there is power and a realness in inviting friends into your messy house and ordering a pizza and sitting on the floor and going for it.  Yes to Pizza Hut.  But, can I appeal to the harkening back of a time when hospitality really was a gift given to those welcomed in?   When it was special? When it took effort? I want my children to see what it looks like to set a full table and get dressed up and maybe even rifle through the drawers to find some antique place card holders. What if it could be real and beautiful?  

dinner

Not perfect, never perfect, but a gift.  An out-of-the-ordinary night.  An act of sacrificial love.  If you are stuck pinning beautiful meals but haven’t issued an invitation yet, maybe it’s just time to call Pizza Hut and a neighbor.  If the delivery guy is on your speed dial, maybe it’s time to dial it up a notch.  Can I challenge you too in this #summerofsayingyes to try out a new hospitality?  Invite some acquaintances and see if they might become friends.  Press deeply into friendships and see if they might really be family in the end.  Find your own way somewhere Pizza Hut and Pinterest.

A little bonus today… A RECIPE!  This little gem is great with pizza or beef tenderloin.  Around my tribe, we just call it THE salad.

strawberry-salad

It takes no time to whip up and is a perfect place to start this little beckoning to hospitality.  Here you go:

THE Salad

1 bag of baby spinach

strawberries

goat cheese

toasted pine nuts

mason jar of poppy seed dressing

Slice strawberries and toast pine nuts and put them in the bowl of spinach.  Kind of take forkfuls of softened goat cheese and dollop all around.  Top with YUMMY poppy seed dressing.

POPPY SEED DRESSING:

3 TBS mayo

3 TBS sugar

2 TBS milk

1 TBS vinegar (apple cider or some other white, fruity type)

1 TSP poppy seeds

Combine all ingredients in a mason jar and shake it up, enjoy and impress!

So back to that table…. Wine has been poured around it, lemonade has been spilled on it, coffee has been sipped at it.  Pool bags have been thrown around it, diapers have been changed on it.  Prayers have been prayed,  Scripture discussed, and couples have danced around it.  Family picnics have been served on it.  Pizza, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, steak, tenderloin, homemade chips and salsa, berry cobbler, endless popsicles, and obviously THE salad have been enjoyed.  Outsiders have been welcomed and friends really have become family.  Hospitality is not dead-it’s not complicated either though not always easy.  It’s also a command.  Magic can happen somewhere between Pizza Hut and Pinterest.  Let’s not let a homeless generation happen on our watch!

hospitality