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!

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Wings and Words – A Revolution

Wings and Words: A Revolution

As I sit to type these words, we are on the cusp of November, and although the temperature here in West Texas is deceivingly warm, Fall is indeed upon us. This is the month we usher in the holidays with all of their wonder and crushing pressure. Make it count. Make it magical. Make it beautiful. Make it delicious. Get it done. But slow down! Enjoy! And for goodness sake, be GRATEFUL!!! Name your blessings. Write them down.

It can be a little dizzying. November feels like the top of the rollercoaster to me. We have chugged and clicked our way through the year, sometimes slowly, some times with a quick turn here and there, and now we teeter on the climax. In the span of the next 60 days we are supposed to cram in a year’s worth of joy, family, celebrating, food, and thankfulness. And I love it. I do. Don’t get me wrong. But, whoosh! And it’s over and we are facing a January, stumbling off the ride, attempting to find a resolution that will settle our insides a bit.

I remember last January, I felt timid as I stepped into the new year. I felt insecure in some relationships without explanation and prayerful for confidence in my own life. I remember clearly feeling as though the Lord spoke to my soul saying, “The courage you need will come from encouraging others.” I guess I wanted my courage to come from others encouraging me, but Jesus likes to mix it up like that, doesn’t He? The first will become last, the poor will be rich, the simple will be wise, the children will lead the way and all of that. So I have attempted, severely imperfectly at times, to become an encourager of women this year. I believe this little blog was birthed from that desire. I have had lots of stumbling blocks along the way. In fact they tend to pile high and form walls. When I look around and see so many others doing that which I desire to do, so much better than I ever could… a cinder block in the wall. When I fail a friend… a cinder block in the wall. When my motives get muddy… another cinder block in the wall. When my walk doesn’t line up with my words… a new cinder block in the wall. And I’m back behind sky-high self-doubt before I know it. As November dawns, I am convicted anew of the courage that it takes to encourage.

 

grateful-pumpkins-and-banners-1November is supposed to be about giving thanks. As a family we always try to set time aside around the November dinner table to name what we are thankful for each night. We have written these blessings on pumpkins to display. We have written them on paper leaves and hug them from a twine banner in the kitchen. This year I replaced my usual fresh flowers with clipped branches from the yard, threaded string through dozens of brightly colored tags and placed them in a mason jar with a pen in the center of our table.

Throughout this month we will name blessing upon blessing and hang them from those branches. All who gather here will be invited to do the same and by Thanksgiving Day it will be bountiful with gratefulness. It is good and right. But, as we began this tradition again last night, I thought that even in naming our blessings, we are selfish. We are thankful for the things we love, that make us happy, that make us feel good, that make us comfortable. I know we are indeed thankful for football, Darth Vadar, tigers, our rooms, our pets, our family and friends….

But, what if we took it a step further this year and made it a month of encouragement?

What if we didn’t just let those blessings hang on the cute tree? What if we wrote letters and texts to encourage the actual people who brought about those blessings in our lives? What if our month of gratitude grew legs and walked right up to someone and spoke blessing over their lives? What if it wasn’t just about us, what makes us feel warm and fuzzy, but it was about others?

Here is a truth I know to the core of my being: NO ONE IS OVER ENCOURAGED.

We are all limping along a little bit. We’re all tired on our own paths, running our own races. I picture this month as a chance to hand a refreshing bottle of life-giving water to fellow weary runners. And each time I find the courage to encourage I will be kicking down one of those cinder-block lies that keeps me behind the wall of my own insecurities. Join me?

Here is my plan: I am going to write the name down of one woman I plan to encourage on every day of my November calendar. There will be friends, and family for sure. I have two little women under this roof that I bet could use a bit of encouragement from their mom. I plan to pray to ask the Lord to reveal women from my past that have been an important part of my journey and find them on Facebook, or in the old address book and put wings and words to my thanks. I am even going to email women who have written books, bible studies, and blogs that have touched me. I cannot assume that just because they are well-known that they are well-encouraged. They are just women running their race and I bet they are thirsty too. I plan to tell each of these women what they mean to me, what their work has meant to me, what I love about them. I pray that the Lord will give me scripture that will be a balm to their weary souls. I intend to declare blessing over their lives, their work, their families.

What if we all did this? Put wings and words to our thanks? Found the courage to encourage each other? What if every person who reads these words found 30 others to pour encouragement into like that much needed drink on our long race?

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I can picture it like countless ping-pong balls bouncing all over our communities, our churches, our country, the internet, Facebook. Bouncing from one weary soul to another to another. And what if just one of those you chose to encourage REALLY NEEDED IT? I mean REALLY NEEDED IT? What if it reaches her right as she was about to fall, to give up, to quit? What if your encouragement is all she needed to take another step?

November is also a month filled with uncertainty in our country this year, isn’t it? It is charged with unrest, confusion, and perhaps hopelessness for the future. This little revolution can’t change all of that but it just may infuse us with the courage we need to face it hand in hand.

So here we go, putting wings and words to our thanks, becoming courageous encouragers. Get your calendar and notecards ready. It just might make the whoosh a bit less terrifying. We may make it to that Turkey dinner, that Christmas morning, that New Year’s Eve refreshed rather than out of breath. Now that would be a revolution, wouldn’t it? Just think… Are you with me?

Click on the image below to download the November calendar and fill in the names of everyone you will ENCOURAGE this month. I would love to hear how our little revolution changes your November!

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But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today.” Hebrews 3:13

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Well Worn Words

We have a blind dog.  I’m talking completely, 100% blind.  Cannot. See. A. Thing.  Bless her heart.  It is amazing, though, to watch her navigate her surroundings without the use of her sight.  She knows where the water bowl is.  She knows where the doors are that lead out and can find her way back to them when she wants to come in.  She has only gotten lost out on the property once when she followed the sound of me and the other dogs out to the chicken coop and we forgot she had come with us.  She works in 90 degree angles most of the time following the sidewalk, the lay out of the furniture, the doorways.  She has a couple of favorite spots and she can find them without fail.  It’s fascinating to see her begin to lift her paw a bit higher when she knows a step up is coming.  Her paths are well-worn and automatic to her.  But, with 3 other dogs and 4 kids walking those same paths, they are not always unobstructed.  You leave one football on the ground, one tennis shoe on the step, one sleeping dog in the way, and my poor blind girl will trip.  Not only that, she will turn back, now confused about the direction she is heading.  Her paths are well-worn but they are easily altered.

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I am continually convicted of my well-worn words. (I was going to write “I have been convicted lately,” but that’s a lie.  Continually convicted is the truth).  You know the ones?  They come out of your mouth without thinking.  They are your automatic response.  The words you do not contemplate.  The words your mouth seems to find without trying.  I am not simply taking about R rated language here, I am not speaking of gossip or slander.  I am talking about the words you continually declare over yourself, your life, your circumstances without a second thought.

Let me give you an example… Multiple times a day I catch myself saying, “I’m so tired.”  I am so tired.  Am I really so tired?  I mean sure, I get up well before the sun most everyday.  I walk with a dear friend at 6am 3 days a week, I like to spend time in the Word and in prayer before anyone else is up.  And once that first bedroom door cracks open, the day is usually a rush of school, activities, housework, shopping, cleaning, laundry, cooking, more cleaning.  There are animals to take care of and friends to touch base with.  There are parties and events and holidays to plan for.  There are errands to run and phone calls to make and bills to pay.  Sure.  But, that is life.  That is life for most everyone I know.  Yes, by the time the last dish is loaded in the dishwasher, the last little tooth has been brushed, the last homework assignment has been checked, the last story read, I am ready to put my feet up and shut it down.  But so tired?  So tired all day?  So tired everyday?  No, I am not.  It’s a habit.  I assume I formed it when I had 2 babies 13 months apart and never slept for more than 2 hours at a time.  The paths were well-formed.  The grooves were worn deep.  And now I can’t stop saying these well-worn words.  Maybe it is, “I’m so stressed out,” or “I’m so frustrated.”  Perhaps, “I don’t feel good,” or “I’m failing.”  Possibly, “we will never be able to afford ___” or “I can’t get it together.”  I don’t know what your well worn-words are but I do know they have power.

One of the most fascinating studies I have ever embarked on was about blessings and curses in the Bible.  I had never given much thought to the power of words until then, reserving “blessings” for the dinner table, and thinking curses were a little hocus-pocus.  Not according to the Word of God.  Do you remember the story in Genesis 27 of Jacob stealing his twin brother Esau’s blessing?  Their father Isaac requested his last meal from his first-born son Esau, on his death-bed.  While Esau was out hunting, their mother Rebekah pulled her favorite boy Jacob aside and hatched a plan to fool poor, blind Isaac into giving Jacob the blessing that rightfully belonged to Esau.  They pulled a little Project Runway and dressed Jacob is Esau’s clothes, even going so far as to cover his smooth arms and neck with goat’s skin so that he felt like his hairier brother.  The deception ultimately worked and a suspicious Isaac indeed spoke the blessing of the first born over sneaky Jacob.  When Esau returned and Isaac realized what had taken place he said, “I blessed him just before you came.  And yes, that blessing must stand.” (Gen. 27:33 NLT)

Why?  Why must that blessing stand?  Couldn’t he just take it back?  At this point nothing had exchanged hands.  No property been deeded, no signature had been signed.  Just words.  Just the spoken blessing.  But when Esau begged his father to take it back, or at least bless him as well Jacob says, “I have made Jacob your master and have declared that all his brothers will be his servants.  I have guaranteed him an abundance of grain and wine- what is left for me to give you my son?”  (Gen. 27: 37 NLT)  He guaranteed it with his words.  They were binding it seems both in the natural and spiritual worlds.  His words held weight, they mattered, the blessing stood, and it altered their lives forever.

There are stories in the Bible where curses stood as well and an almost endless supply of scripture about the power of words.  Here are just a few to meditate on today:

  • Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.  Prov. 18:21
  • But what comes out of the mouth proceed from the heart, and this defiles a person.  Matt. 15:18
  • There is one whose rash words are like swords thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Prov. 12:18
  • I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak. Matt. 12:36 (YIKES!!!!)
  • For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
    Matt. 12:37
  • Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.
    Prov. 13:3
  • Do you see a man who is hasty in his words?  There is more hope for a fool than for him.   Prov. 29:20
  • Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth keep watch over the door of my lips.  Ps. 141:3

And on and on and on I could go.  So here is my prayer for myself, and maybe for you too…  I’d like these verses to be the football left in my path.  I’d like to stumble over them as I blindly speak my well-worn words.  I’d like to bump into them, and have to wake up, turn around and recalculate what is coming out of my mouth.  Instead of “I’m so tired,” I’d like to declare, “I’m so thankful.”  Even in my prayers I have well-worn words that may not be what God has for me.  I pray everyday, “Make me strong.”  Maybe He is throwing an obstacle in the way so I will get out of my rut to pray, “make me soft, make me compassionate, let me hear, let me see.”   If words matter and blessings (and curses) stand, then I assume that as I declare over my day, my body, my home “I’m so tired,” I will in fact be so tired.  If you declare that you are so stressed, poor, sick, frustrated, depressed, then I can only assume, with the Word of God as my witness, that no matter what your actual circumstances are, you will in fact be stressed, poor, sick, frustrated, and depressed.

Here is something I have noticed about my poor blind dog’s well-worn paths.  No grass grows on them.  They are dead.  If we stay in a rut for too long it will get deeper and deeper, taking us lower and lower.  No life.  Just dirt.  Are you inadvertently heaping dirt on top of yourself with careless, well-worn, habitual words?  Wouldn’t that be a curse really?

I can study The Word daily, I can boldly use my words to pray big prayers, I can hope to write  Words That Matter and put it out there to all of you, but maybe all of these words get lost in my well-worn words.  Can you hear me from down here in this rutted path?  Evidently I’m the extremely tired one.  (Insert eye-roll).  Habits are hard to break.  They say you can’t teach an old (blind) dog new tricks.  Don’t believe it!   Join me in praying that God lovingly throws an old shoe in our path and stops us short before we keep on speaking those destructive, life-sucking words over ourselves.  They will stand.  A new path might be just what we need!

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  Psalms 19:14

 

God Bursts Through

“What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”       William Shakespeare

Forgive the cliché Romeo and Juliet quote but currently I am neck-deep in Shakespeare For Children, a lovely read-aloud for school that keeps my 10-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter riveted…. Not really.  But, let me ask you, is it true?   Do any of us really believe this?  I have never met an expectant mother who flippantly dismisses the privilege of naming her child saying, “What does a name matter?”  All four of my children have some aspect of a family name within theirs.  A grandmother’s middle name, the same initials as Dad (and his dad, and his dad), and the baby has both Daddy’s name and my precious grandmother’s.  When he is grown, he may not remember her sweet face and soft hands, but he will know that he carries her middle name with him because there isn’t a week that goes by that I do not say, “Who are you named after?”  The tow-headed 5-year-old answers proudly, “Nannie.”  That’s right, Baby.  Don’t ever forget it.

The Bible is a virtual endless study on names.  We read about lineages and “begots.”  We read how names changed when God intervened and altered life paths.  And we could mediate forever on the many names of God, what they speak about His character, and what they mean for our lives.  Places in the Bible have significant names as well, often marking an event that took place there.  For example, Genesis 35:15 says, “And Jacob named the place Bethel (which means “house of God”), because God had spoken to him there.” (NLT)

Well, I came across one such instance lately that has me simply churning inside.  I am hopeful it will be as profound to you as it was to me:

So David went to Baal-perazim and defeated the Philistines there.  “The Lord did it!”  David exclaimed.  “He burst through my enemies like a raging flood!”  So he named that place Baal-perazim (which means “THE LORD WHO BURSTS THROUGH.“)  2 Samuel 5:20 (NLT)

Floods, hurricanes, tsunamis… we have been bombarded lately with pictures of how powerful water can be when it bursts through.  Perhaps it has been more than an image for you, maybe you have seen the damage it can cause first hand.  I get water.  I grew up surrounded by water.  I know that the same gentle water of the lake that laps at your toes as you catch minnows by the shore, will feel rock-hard when you fall full-speed from your skis.  I know that the tide that brings endless treasures to the sandbar will quickly destroy your sand castle, or sometimes the sea-wall.  I know that often, right beneath the ocean’s stunning blue-green waves, lies a dangerous undertow.  In a drought we pray for water to come.  In the storm we pray for water to subside.  Water is a thing of beauty.  Water is a thing of power.

The Lord who bursts through…  I literally cannot get enough of this imagery.  Anyone out there need a little bursting through?    There was a season not long ago that I was fervently praying for some breakthrough in my husband’s life.  Daily.  Earnestly seeking God on his behalf.  Interceding.  During this time, the Lord gave me a compelling picture.  I could see my husband like a statue, almost like The Thinker, bronze, frozen, hardened.  As I prayed, the outer shell began to crack and fall to the ground.  In my mind’s eye he began to break free, stand-up and stretch out.  He burst through what was entangling him, what was trapping him.  As I continually put this picture before the Lord in my prayer time, I watched small changes happening in my husband’s life.   I watched him burst through distraction, burst through apathy, burst through a hardness of heart.  I love a little bursting through.

Often in the storms of life we pray for Jesus to calm the wind and the waves like He did in Mark 4:39.  To be sure, ours is a God who has the authority to say, “Be still,” and all elements, both natural and supernatural, must obey.   But I wonder how often we pray that Jesus would be the storm?   How often do we pray that He would not only subdue the forces coming against us but that He would BE the force that bursts through?  Like a tidal wave of justice and goodness and blessing, He would burst through our circumstances and we could say like David, “The Lord did it!  He burst through my enemies like a raging flood!”    None of us are probably facing Philistines today but someone reading this is facing financial uncertainty.  Someone is up against the enemy of apathy and disinterest in their marriage.  Someone is fighting hopelessness in their singleness.  Someone is being bombarded with illness, depression, and strong-holds of sin and wrong-thinking.    Someone is contending with fear, sparring with shame, brawling with unforgiveness, battling bitterness.  Me too.

So, maybe instead of asking God to calm the storm we can ask Him to BE the storm in our battles today.  If calming the storm is defensive (and we love defense, don’t get me wrong, defense wins games), BURSTING THROUGH like a flood is offensive.  I don’t know about you but I think it’s time for a little offense!  Maybe a calm storm is overrated sometimes and what we need is a hurricane of Jesus proportions.   Visualize the dam breaking, picture the geyser erupting, envision the rolling power of a tsunami and then remember that your God is the GOD WHO BURSTS THROUGH!

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Names matter.  They hold power.  I may be calling our little Ranchito out here in West Texas Baal-perazim for awhile.  Heck, I may be calling myself that too.  I want this home to be known as a place where the Lord burst through.  I want these kids, this marriage, this man of mine, my tribe, and my needy flawed self to be marked by the flood of His presence.  Baal-perazim- the Lord who burst through.  Do it Jesus!  BE THE STORM!