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.

 

 

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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On the Other Side of Middle

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”  

E.E. Cummings.

Yesterday I turned 40.  It really happened.  No amount of stomping my feet, and covering my ears while yelling, “Nahnahnahnah,” stopped the calendar.  I even asked my mom what time I was born, thinking I had a full day left of my 30’s… nope.  3:30 am.  So before I even opened my eyes, the deal was done.  40.  When I opened my Bible I found myself in II Corinthians 4:16 which says, “Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”  Nice.  Listen Paul, I know that was meant as an encouragement, but to a girl on her 40th birthday it felt a bit harsh (and found me reaching for all the skin care products I could find). I remember my parents turning 40.  It was all “Over the Hill” and black balloons and buzzards.  Nobody better be coming at me with that!  I have celebrated with good friends, with a surprise visit from my precious family, with PadThai and Vanilla Coke, and am still looking forward to a romantic weekend getaway with the hubs.  It has been much more sweet than bitter.

It is interesting having a January birthday because each new year literally ushers in a new age for me.  Most years this happens under the rush of putting away Christmas and getting back in the groove of “real life” after the holidays, but this year holds more weight, I suppose.

40.  It’s a weird age.

I feel as though I am straddling some invisible line, trying to find secure footing on one side or the other.  Middle aged? The middle of what?  Because right now I am in the middle of raising these four children.  I am in the middle of laundry days and American History and endless ballet rehearsals and tween emotions and YMCA basketball.  I have a kindergartner for goodness sakes!  But, man do I feel my age when I go into his classroom.  Every other mom is fresh-faced and excited to be there with a toddler in the stroller and a baby strapped to her chest.  And I can barely muster up the energy to buy the cupcakes… because I have been to approximately 4,327 school parties/feast/programs at this point and I’m over it.  Because, you know, I’m 40.

The footprint is well-worn on that side of the line, deeply embedded in the rich, comfortable ground of what I know.

Like any responsible 40 year old woman, I asked for a puppy for my birthday.  You see, we lost one of our old girls over Christmas, (you may remember her from Well-Worn Words), and my count is off.  We have always had 4 kids and 4 dogs.  That is the deal.  So now all of a sudden, when we have 4 kids and 3 dogs, my headcount is off.  (I may lose count of chickens, cats, and rabbits around the Ranchito but I know how many kids and dogs I have!) Obviously I need a puppy to fix it!  I have texted my husband countless pictures of red-merle, blue-eyed, fluffy Aussie babies.  He has texted back all the angry faces.  I have even named her in my heart! And it’s my birthday!!

But in the name of true transparency, I admit, maybe it goes a bit deeper.  Do you know what I know?  How to take care of all the people, all the animals, and all the things.   I got it.  I have passed that test and it is part of my sure footing on the old side of the line.  Give me something to care for, a baby anything, and I know my role.  It’s simple, right?   I just spent the weekend with my precious sister-in law and even more precious angel niece.  My sis-in-love is just finding her footing on that side of the line, getting a vision for her days, learning to be present in the diapers and and schedules and first words (and she is rocking it, I must say)!  She hasn’t even been to a single class-party yet.  Bless her heart.  Easy it may not be but simple, it is. (Trust me young moms!) Just keep them alive!  Then maybe you teach them what the cow says, how to sign for more yogurt bites, that they need to say “please,” that the “A” says “Ah.”  Right?  Here is how to wash your hair, how to tie your shoes, how to ride a 2-wheeler, how to multiply by 7.   My good friend (and fellow 40ish mom of 4) said it’s like looking at your life through a toilet paper roll (that apparently only you are capable of changing out).  The view is focused, honed-in, simple.

And then, a day like yesterday happens, and life snatches the homemade telescope, and you find yourself blinded by the panoramic scene.  My eyes are blurred, searching for the focal point, trying to adjust to the light.

It’s slippery on the other side.  This fresh ground is unsure and uncharted.  I don’t know which rocks will hold me and which ones won’t.  I don’t know where the dangers lie and I can’t see very far ahead.  But there is something a bit ill-fitting about the old footprint on the other side, something a bit suffocating and crusty.  And I think I might be up for the challenge of discovering new paths.

There just may be room to run.

I am working through Lara Casey’s PowerSheets this year, defining the things I want to let go of, naming my fears, and charting my goals.  I have also been praying through my “word of the year.”  Initially I wanted it to be something like “present” or “intentional” or “cultivate.”  Those felt deep and sounded good.   Do you know what I landed on?  PERMISSION.

My Word of the Year: Permission

I cringe a bit even as I type it.  It feels selfish and shallow and not at all what I am usually about.   But as I faced the fear that maybe 40 is too late for new callings, I began to write things like, “I will give myself permission for creativity, permission to ask for help, permission for space and margin, permission to refuel, permission not to live in the Red Zone, permission to GO FOR IT!”  Lots of permission.

On the old side of the invisible line that I suppose is marking “middle age” in my life, everyone is having a big ‘ole pep-rally for “Simplifying.”  And I get it.  Splash in the mud-puddles, take a nap, say yes to messy, clean out the junk drawer,  ignore the Cheerios on the floor.   But, I’ve sort of been there, done that.  Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”  Do you know what most of my days consist of…

Clean Countertops

wiping the countertops clean.  All day.  Every day.  Clean the countertops.  So, in the end my life will amount to clean countertops?  Vacuumed floors?  Empty laundry baskets?  Or, can I transition with grace, over to the other side where the ground is pliable and unpredictable?  Do I have the courage to let my eyes adjust to the light of the unknown?

Suz and LesleyIn his second letter to Timothy, Paul says “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.”  II Timothy 1:6-7.   My mother is a stunning example of this for me.  There are few women more simple than she.  She is extraordinarily easy to please. Picky is not even in her vocabulary.  She is emotionally sure and stable, never one to rise and fall on a whim.  Her world is pretty small and she likes it like that.  Her countertops are spotless.  But every Wednesday morning for as long as I can remember she has taught in-depth, Precept Bible Study for 75-100 women.  And she brings it like a boss.   She gets up there, with her handwritten notes, her overhead projector, and her unparalleled knowledge of the Word and she straight up fans into flame the gift of God without an ounce of timidity!  When my eyes adjust, that’s what I see over on the other side.  I want to be just like her.

In Jen Hatmaker’s book “For the Love” she has a chapter entitled “On Turning Forty” that I revisited this week.  She says, “I know what I am good at now and I do it.  I’m not apologetic and uncertain and aw-shucks about running my race.  I no longer tiptoe through my own life, doubting my gifts and my place, too scared to go for it, seize it, pray for it, dream it. When you are forty, you no longer wait for permission to live.”  Exactly.

So I am giving myself permission to put down all the “mommy books” and blogs and anthems that pull on me to default to the simplicity and safety of what I know, that make me melancholy, that make me feel like I am closer to the end than the beginning.  Philippians 3:13-14 says, “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”   I trust that my calling is in front of me, on the other side of middle, not behind me.  And I trust that it is bigger than clean countertops.  And I’m giving myself permission to go for it over the next 40 years!  And I have no idea exactly what that will look like but I also trust C.S. Lewis when he says, “You are never too old to set another goal or dream another dream.”

So here is to the other side of middle, to new paths, to fanning the flame, to permission and to 40!  Join me on the journey?

But, Babe, if you’re reading this, I STILL WANT THE PUPPY!  Red Merle puppy

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My Family Christmas Bucket List

Can you even wrap your brain around the fact that we are barreling into the middle of December like the Polar Express on that crazy mountain?  Although the halls have been decked here at the Ranchito, we haven’t yet had time to press into the “chill” of that mythical December in our dreams.

ryden-christmas-decor

To be completely honest, so far December has looked like a lot of late night Nutcracker rehearsals, confounding calendar meetings, and quality time with no one but Amazon Prime.

It always feels this way, doesn’t it, every year?  We have the best intentions of soaking it all in, savoring every moment,  being completely present, inviting in the magic of simplicity and booting out the unhealthy expectations we put on ourselves… And then 35 trips to the grocery store later,  4 never ending email threads about class parties and teacher’s gifts, and infinite Christmas list revisions from my kiddos and you can just call me The Grinch!  And I want to be Cindy Lou!

the-grinch-and-cindy-lou

I think in this season, more than any other, there is such tension between the doing and the being.

Some of us Pinterest types have really gotten a bad wrap lately.  There is serious push back to anything perfectly planned and pretty.  Fancy automatically equals fake and all to-do lists must be burned at the stake immediately in the name of stillness and authenticity.  And a girl like me, and maybe you too, is left feeling just as much anxiety in letting it all go as she does in getting it all done.

Maybe the magic of Christmas will just land on your home like gently falling snow as you sit by the fire ignoring the grocery lists and emails, but it doesn’t happen like that for me.  The way of  anything left on its own is to unravel.  The way of Christmas with 4 kids, a huge ballet production, countless parties and commitments,  and visiting in-laws left unplanned would be complete chaos.  So here is where I am…

I am being proactively intentional with our Christmas this year. 

God is showing me a lot about my own wiring lately and how He has created me and here is what I know:  I AM A LIST MAKER.  There, I said it.  I like a Pinteresty party and a perfectly planned menu.  I send Christmas cards out the day after Thanksgiving, and every gift is already wrapped and placed under the tree.  What I am realizing is that the shame thing can work both ways, like “reverse shame.”  When we lift the mess up too high, then those of us on the other side feel like our organization and lists makes us less human, less real, and somehow the enemy to fellow women everywhere.  The pendulum has shifted and I am feeling it this Christmas.

family-christmas-bucket-listSo, this holiday season the family and I have made a different kind of list.  We are working on our Family Christmas Bucket List.”   We sat down at dinner one night and I just asked, “What do y’all want to MAKE SURE we do this Christmas?”  Now, in our little town options are pretty limited, but here’s what we have so far:  We will be attending the Living Nativity at the Baptist Church, the hayride through the best lit neighborhood at another church, and the candlelight Christmas Eve service at our own church home.  We will have a sleepover with our besties in bedroom forts.  We will decorate Christmas cookies,  make applesauce cinnamon ornaments, and drink copious amounts of hot chocolate.  We will watch big sister in her 7th Nutcracker and celebrate all of her hard work.  We will also watch every “claymation” Christmas movie we can find and sing all the songs by heart.  We will sit by the fire pit outside and listen to Daddy play Christmas carols on his guitar.  We are loving She Reads Truth’s advent cards at the dinner table and our Jesse Tree readings at bedtime.  We will probably see Star Wars’ “Rogue One” approximately 15 seconds after it is released.  Stuff like that.  The list is on the fridge and we can add to it as new ideas come to us.  I just don’t want to look up in the middle of January and think, “We missed it!”  We were too busy to do the good stuff.  Or everyone just vegged in their rooms so much we forgot to really go out there and embrace it all!  I’m proud of our list!  No shame!

Here is another juicy little tidbit.  The hubs and I are making a “Romantic Christmas Bucket List.”    It is NOT on the fridge.  After all, Christmas is the most romantic time of the year, and I don’t want to miss that either.  But if we are not proactively intentional, we will.  The only conversations we will have will be what to wear to the office party, where to hide the bike until Christmas morning, did you get those new addresses for Christmas cards, and when are your parents getting here.  Not sexy.  When I asked him what he wanted to put on the list via text the only response I got was, “Make out.” No.  But, if you say, “Make out by the fire with Christmas music playing” then yes! We will be watching White Christmas alone, have a hot chocolate and hand holding date, trying out the new coffee shop together, and some other stuff I’m not going to write because my dad has been known to read the blog but you get the idea.

So, list makers of the world unite!  No shame in our game when it brings some proactive intentionality to our Christmas!  You can schedule Selah as well as search for it!  I would really love to hear your ideas on what is on both your Family Christmas Bucket List and your Romantic Christmas Bucket List as well.  Don’t let the inertia of the season, whether it be crazy or lazy,  leave you disappointed come New Year’s Eve.

To help you cultivate the things that matter into your family’s schedule this Christmas season, I’ve created a printable bucket list for you to use. Just click on the image below, print and post on your fridge!

A Word That Matters

Let’s get proactive and intentional with this precious gift of Christmas! Joy to the World Y’all!

Over The River and Through The Woods

Happy December!  I know it’s been a little quiet around here lately and I just wanted to let you know where I have been… Over the River and Through the Woods a bit.  I have been honored to be featured on a couple of different sites as a guest blogger for three different articles.  I would love for you to check them out and read along about a few more of my adventures.

over-the-river

Laundry Day: Although it falls under my job description here at the Ranchito to do the laundry for the family, a girl has her limits.  Recently I realized that my husband is not the only “laundry stuffer” around here and there are times I don’t bring my grimy attitudes, my smelly pride, or my dirty thoughts to my willing Jesus.  Anyone else?  You can find that article here.

The One Up Christmas:  Jump on in to last year’s crazy Christmas morning at the Ranchito and hear about my family’s favorite Christmas tradition!  My sweet Nannie left us with the desire to One Up each other at Christmas in all the best ways.  How can you outdo one another in showing honor this Christmas and give the gifts that will last?  You can read more about The One Up Christmas and several other lovely holiday articles at Scribes with Scrolls’ Christmas issue here.

Are We Refusing Refuge? Did you know that Jesus said that He wants to gather us as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing, but we were unwilling?  His Father heart breaks for the refuge He knows he could provide while many times we stand out in the cold refusing it.  I would love to have you come sit with me and marvel at the weight of His offer as we ask ourselves the hard question, are we refusing refuge?  Read along here:

Thank you Dear Readers for following along with my crazy little life, for listening in on some of the lessons Jesus is teaching me, and for allowing me the privilege of possibly encouraging you on your journey as well. You are precious to me.

Blessings,
Lesley

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Forgetting the Fish and Loaves- An Open Letter to Myself

Dear Me,

We have a few things to discuss.  I’m not sure if this letter finds you at 14, or 24, or 34… It matters not.  What I have to say to you is the same regardless.  I could start if off with some niceities about not worrying about that high school boyfriend (or college boyfriend either).  You get to marry the only one who has ever really had your heart.  And depending on where you are on that journey, let me tell you that sticking it out will be worth it around year 10.  It’s really hard up until then, no sugar-coating it.  But ya’ll will find your way to good.  I should tell you not to believe those old-wives tales… you can in fact get pregnant while nursing.  Yeah, that’s a biggie. Chill.  (he is beautiful)  Hey, don’t go dark with the hair.  I know you think it’ll be low matinence and natural but I promise that magenta is not your color.  So many things to say, but they all end like this:

IT’S ALL GOING TO BE OKAY.

It is.  I know I sound like Mom right now, but trust me (you), she is right.  That thing you are in knots over today, I don’t even remember.  That mountain you are facing right now is merely dust on my boots.  See, it doesn’t matter if we are talking about an algebra test (yours’ or your kid’s), the number in a bank account, or the grown-up to-do list that is full-grown, it’s all going to be okay.

Remember the well-loved miracle from Matthew 14 where Jesus feeds the 5,000 (men) with a little boy’s sack lunch?  Remember the disciples’ concern and confusion when Jesus told them to have the crowd sit down for a picnic and bring Him the 5 loaves and 2 fish?  And then remember how the masses “all ate and were satisfied and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over?”   Amazing.  Supernatural provision.  The disciples could have never guessed how the problem of thousands of hungry people was going to be solved.  But Jesus came through.  And it was all okay.

So what you may not remember is this miracle’s lesser-known cousin just one chapter over in Matthew 15 where, according to the heading in our Bible, Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand.  Now, you would assume that as the crowds began to complain about the lack of concessions at this event the disciples would say something like, “Hey, no problem!  Remember how Jesus fed 5,000 just one chapter ago?!?!  We know how this is going to work out!  Relax everyone, it’s all going to be okay.”  But, no.

Here is what we actually read in Matthew 15:32-33: “Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, ‘I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.  I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”

His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?”

Are they kidding me (you)?  These are the same disciples that had just picked up 12 basketfuls of leftovers after a strikingly similar situation IN THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER!!! Obviously, we know their lives were not actually measured in chapters but, seriously, even if it was years later (which it was not), don’t you think they would remember?  Can’t you just picture Jesus throwing His hands up, rolling His eyes, mouth opened at their response?  How could they have forgotten the fish and loaves?

forgetting-the-fish-and-the-loaves
But, this is our problem too.  No matter how many times Jesus has come through for us, we tend to forget the fish and loaves miracles in our own life.  There will be situations, problems, heartaches, trials that you will have absolutely no idea how in the world it will work out, and then it will.

I know the anxiety that haunts you in the middle of the night.  I’m the only one who can, after all.  I know that it feels like a semi-truck you can’t out run.  I know that sometimes you can see the driver {name the problem}, the worry, the fear- and sometimes it is faceless.  Faceless fears are no less powerful.  I know.  And this is why I so desperately wanted to write you this letter, why I so desperately want you to get it, why I so desperately want you to remember the fish and loaves. It really will all be okay.

It doesn’t always look like the unexpected check in the mailbox, or the miraculous, instantaneous healing.  It doesn’t always sound like an audible voice from heaven.  It isn’t always a picnic lunch with more leftovers than you can imagine.  It usually looks like a lot of hard work.  It looks like tearfully taking the same test over and over until you pass it.  It looks like waiting, and self-control, and selflessness, and holding our tongue.  It looks like serving someone else in their hard times and putting our’s on the back-burner.  It looks like obedience in the face of rebellious feelings.  It looks like endless nights standing in the middle of the road to prayerfully face the semi.  Sometimes it looks like magenta hair.

And it will all be okay.

So, past self, hear me.  You will graduate from high school and college.  You did the right thing to wait for, you know.  #worthit  Your marriage ends up pretty great, not perfect, but pretty great.  Your kids are stunning.  Somehow the money thing always works out.  Your home is a ton of work, and you’ll have to suck it up and stick with the ugly tile floors longer than you want to,  but good friends will gather here and no one cares.  Texas will feel like home eventually though Florida will always be your heart.  Mom and Dad will be okay with it one day.  Hug Nannie and Papa for me.  Throw the ball to Zip a few extra times.  It will all be okay.  Not easy.  Not always fun.  But Jesus will come through.  When you have Him, you have the miracle.  That’s the only ending you need to know right now.

And future self, hurl some fish and loaves at that familiar, faceless semi tonight.  Please remind me that no matter the problem, the fear, the situation, it will all be okay.  Supernatural provision is what Jesus does best. I love you.  I’m for you.  You can do it.  Well, He can do it for you.

It Will All Be OKLove, Me (You) (Whatever)

Red-Zone Wisdom

I don’t know if you have items in your home that are in more demand than others, that you can never seem to have enough of, that seem to disappear on a regular basis, but we certainly do.  At times it has been tape.  Good grief, where the heck is the tape?  Scissors.  Why can I never find the stinking scissors?  How is there not one pair of decent scissors in this house?   It has been de-tangler, certain food items, paper, but right now it is chargers.  You know, chargers for the iPad, iPhone, iPod, and Kindles.  In theory each of these devices came with its own charger that went into the room of their owner.  In theory, each charger works and has the little white wall part still intact.  In theory there should be approximately 742 working chargers in this house.  BUT EVIDENTLY THERE IS ONE.  No matter how many trips to Best Buy I make, no matter how many Amazon Prime boxes show up at my house with replacement chargers, there is one working, fully intact charger that makes the rounds all day long in this house.  I have the iPad plugged in in the kitchen to refer to my Pinterest recipe as I am cooking dinner.  I then move it to my bedside table to make sure my phone is charged so that my alarm will wake me in the morning.  At some point in the middle of the night, my husband comes to bed, unplugs my phone, and moves the charger to his side of the bed to charge his own phone.  On Saturdays, I’m ashamed to admit that my 5 year old will often wake me with the question, “Where is the iPad charger?” because he is ready for a little weekend Power Rangers binge.  (Also, if you are wondering, a Beats Pill charger does work for a Kindle Fire, but Good Lord Child, where is your charger?)!

What this leaves us with is a bunch of devices all in the red zone.  You know the red zone.  The warning zone.  The less than 20% zone.  The “you better turn off and plug in soon or it’s going to shut down” zone.  Nothing is fully charged. Ever.

It is about capacity, isn’t it?  These devices only have the capacity to perform fully when they are fully charged.  There is limited capacity and the battery is always decreasing, it is always being drained.  When we are looking at our phones, we can literally watch it.  We can refer to an actual number to tell us what our battery life is, what capacity is still available to us.  47%.  32%.  Uh oh, 20%!  Red zone!  Plug in!  Shut down!  Or maybe you are like me and you push it to 12%, 8%, 2%, because for the love of Amazon Prime I can’t find a charger anywhere!!!

Don’t you wish we had that with ourselves?  With our lives, our sanity, our spiritual and emotional tanks? A little number that flashed in front of us to say, “Hey, warning! You’re battery is low.  You need to shut it down and plug in before you take this on.  You are functioning in the red zone!”  I could use a measurable signal, because just like I push it with my phone, and I tend to wait until the “miles until empty” is in the single digits on my gas gauge;

I function in the red zone most of the time.

I will never forget the day I found out I was pregnant with that little blonde, Power Ranger-watching, tornado of a 5 year old boy.  I hate to admit it, but I was crippled.  I was crippled with the thought of one more.  My oldest was going to start kindergarten in the fall and I was all ready to enter “big kid” world.  I had two others besides to drag with me to all of her school activities and functions.  We had barely put away the decorations from #3’s first birthday party.  Also, 4 kids seemed a little crazy.  I had come from a 3 kid family, my husband had come from a 3 kid family, my mom had, his mom had… 4 seemed excessive.  At the time the only person I knew with 4 kids was one wise, beautiful, gracious friend.  She kindly welcomed me onto her couch that evening, tears, snot, anxiety and all.  And she listen and she hugged me and most of all, she showed me that she was surviving.  And all 4 of her excessive kids were extraordinary.  And she said one of the wisest things anyone has ever said to me.  It went something like this, “Listen, everyone has a full plate.  Some of our plates are just bigger than others.” 

So this is what I know about myself: I have a serving platter sized plate.  It is big.  I have a long battery life.  I have a large capacity for life, people, activities.  Abundant life comes with ABUNDANCE OF LIFE.  Which is a lovely way of saying, A LOT OF STUFF, PEOPLE, SCHEDULES, ASSIGNMENTS, MESS, and DYNAMICS to manage.  And I can do it.  I don’t know if I was born with a serving sized plate or if it grew over the years out of necessity.  Get married and move a million miles away from all you know?   I can do that.  Have your first two babies 13 months apart (a million miles away from help)?  Got it.  Have two more?  Yep.  Part-time homeschool them all, manage 7 acres, keep the house clean, keep the laundry done, host the party, host every holiday, manage every activity, be the mom backstage every performance, shepherd your tribe well, decide what Bible Study we will do next, intercede for those you love, send the email, write a blog, teach a class,  pour into that friend who needs you, have grace when your husband doesn’t make it home for dinner again?  Right.  On it.  Done.  I can do it.  But even my serving sized plate gets too heavy, too full, messy with things falling over the sides.  I can do it, but I’m usually doing it out of the red zone.

Every time one of my tribe has a birthday, we go around on a Wednesday night, while enjoying her favorite dessert, and tell one thing we love or appreciate or absolutely respect about her.  What a gift it is.  A couple of weeks ago it was the birthday of my oldest friend here in this desert town.  There are so very many things I am thankful for in her life, but as I began speaking, this is what came out, “I really appreciate how well you set boundaries.  You know your capacity and you operate from it.  I have seen how well it serves you, your husband, and your kids.  I respect that in you so very much.”  Sexy, right?  I know.  But I sincerely meant it.  This girl does not suffer from FOMO.  She knows when she is run down, when her kids are, when her husband needs more from her therefore “out there” will get less.  She goes home when she is tired.  She says no when it’s best.  She is wise with her capacity and shuts it down and plugs in when she is in the red-zone.  I respect this quality in her so much because, obviously, I tend to be unhealthy in this area of my life.  In years past, I may have looked at her perceived smaller plate and scoffed.  I may have thought, “push through.” I may have felt judged by her boundaries, living exhausted in the margins.  I may have viewed her wisdom as weakness but not anymore…. It looks brilliant from down here in the suffocating red zone.

Just because I can do it doesn’t mean that I should.  Just because I have a serving platter sized plate doesn’t mean I have to heap it full.  My insightful mother once told me simply, “Harder isn’t more spiritual.”  Ouch.  I think that I think it is.  No more.

Shauna Niequist’s breathtaking book Present over Perfect is speaking volumes to me in this area of my life right now.  In the chapter entitled “Happy Medium” she says, “What it seems the world wants me to be: really skinny and really tired.  If I could shrink and hustle, I’d be right there, skinny and tired.  Shrink and Hustle.  This is what our culture wants women to be; skinny and tired, from relentlessly shrinking and hustling.  Exhaustion and starvation are the twin virtues of that world, but I will not live there anymore.”  Me neither, Shauna. Exhaustion and starvation.  Obviously we know what our culture has to say to women in regards to body image, but I find myself starved of boundaries, starved of connection, starved of real rest, continually Searching for Selah, continuing to believe the lie that harder is in fact more spiritual, that I am somehow stronger than the red zone.

You see, I don’t want my life to be merely “do-able.”  I know I can do it.  I can check it off my list and accomplish all the tasks, and run circles around what is expected of me.  But, I think I am past the years of barely surviving.  I am over the red zone, the 8 miles til empty days, the heaping messy serving platter.  I am seeking to pour out into those things which in turn fill me up.  Life-giving relationships, not life-draining ones.  I want my “yes’s” to count, not just out there but in here.  I want the wisdom of knowing my own capacity for things and the strength to operate out of them.

So, back to the original question, WHERE IS THE CHARGER?  Well, that is the wonderful news.  Though there really is only one charger, He is everywhere all at once.  You don’t have to wait your turn or go searching for Him.  Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary (red zone) and burdened (full serving platter) and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Why can I not learn this lesson?)  He is our charger.  I am trying to sit with Jesus more and bring Him my agenda less.  I am trying to literally BE STILL and picture His eyes as He looks at my weary, burdened, red-zoned self.  I am trying to visualize His capable hands removing some of the demands on me- the one’s I asked for and the ones I didn’t.  I am trying to see the love, the energy, the simple life flowing from Him to me.  I am trying to watch the battery charge, the bars grow, the capacity be filled.  It is revolutionary.  It is the simplest thing.  You see, it is not just a shutting down, it’s the plugging in as well.  Not only to the One who charges you, but to the things He is calling you to do that charge your batteries.  It’s not only a cutting away but an adding to.  Necessary no’s leave room for life giving yeses.  Wise boundaries free up the margins for abundance in the forgotten corners.

So don’t be mad at me if I go home early.  Don’t take it personally if I don’t volunteer to host.  Don’t be surprised by some well-prayed-over “no’s.”  I know I will still have red-zone days.  As the holidays approach, I know large serving platters will be needed.  But I will reject the lie that hard equals spiritual all the time.  I will not starve myself.  I will not pursue exhaustion just because I know I can do it.  I will set boundaries that reflect the wisdom of capacity and shut it down and plug in more.  I’m not completely sure what this will look like but I plan to spend the next decade trying to figure it out.  And I’m sorry if I ever judged your small plate.  I’m sorry if I ever scoffed at your red-zone wisdom.  At almost 40 years old, I want to be like you when I grow up.