Twisty Paths

A friend called me in the days before we left Asia having dreamt a dream about us. A dark being was in our home, he was dangerous and it was scary. We were on the tarmac at the airport in the crosshairs of an enemy. The overall perception was of impending doom and danger.

I had no idea what to do with my friend’s vision except to rest in the knowledge that the enemy is not greater than my God. I took refuge in the Lord whenever I thought of my friend’s dream, knowing that if this dream was a warning of what was to come, I could do nothing about it except walk closely with the Lord.

When we came back to the United States in 2014, we could name about 5 things that brought us back. There was an order in what we named as our reasons to return. Sometimes we just couldn’t wrap our minds around them and felt so grieved that we chose to leave.

The reasons didn’t seem enough. It was hard, hard, hard to swallow that we left. It still is at times.

That list is still true but the longer we lived in the US, so much more was added. I’m glad I didn’t know what would be added. It echoed themes of the vision my friend shared with me our final week in Asia.

The Lord gave us 10 months to get our feet on the ground, provide mentors, community, and some time to transition. Then, my dad was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. Over the past 4 years, we’ve walked through grief–our own and together as a family.

My mom’s had her own cancer diagnosis twice in the last 2 years on top of other sickness that seems to descend on the grieving. Two mastectomies exactly a year apart and now radiation ahead. The outlook is very good but there’s still a hard road to walk.

There’s been other things too–dyslexia interventions, shoulder surgery, rear-enders, and adjustment to our “home” country that doesn’t feel so familiar anymore.

Part of the reason I haven’t written much at times is that it’s been hard to know what to say. I’m often little tongue-tied with all the reality of these things–which is saying a lot since I do like to talk.

Every once in a while I remember my friend’s dream. How gracious to have that small taste of a hint that life might be hard in the next season. As we live through it, I’m thankful that God is more powerful than any scheme formed against us.

There’s also been so much joy as well mixed in by God’s grace.

Those 5 reasons we came back? We now look at those and realize there was so much more God was doing.

He prepared a way for us, a smooth path, for the journey He knew we’d face.

Humility: Lesson #1

Most days I pass through a 4 way stop near my house. I’m on my way to drop off a kid or pick up a kid or go to work or the store or…anywhere.

It gets busy around rush hours and becomes more of a 4 way pause instead of a 4 way stop. People honk sometimes. I could be included in the word “people”.

I usually tap the horn when someone has not appropriately observed the law. They should know, right? I’m preventing an accident. They are in a hurry, they should slow down and pay attention.

Well, a couple days ago I pulled up behind a car at the 4 way pause. A million things were floating through my mind that first full week of school and crunch time in ministry.

As I pulled through the stop, I noticed a car start to pull out even though I was in the intersection. How dare he! I thought.

I didn’t tap the horn but I gave a look. You know, the get-in-your-place look. I may not be a police officer but I wish I was at times like these.

The driver did that Texas thing where you keep your hand on the steering wheel but wave your fingers around in a way that says what’s up with you lady?

As I completed my turn I realized I was still pretty close to the car that had been in front of me.

Huh.

Why was I so close to them?

It slowly dawned on me that I had tailgated the driver in front of me through the stop! A cascade of thoughts poured out of me…

I was wrong

I deserved a ticket

I did what I hated other people doing

My behavior warranted a honk and a dirty look

I am a hypocrite!

And I was totally unaware of it.

I also wondered how many times I condemn others for something and fail to see clearly my own behavior that’s worthy of condemnation. I can name a number of times that I encountered this in my life. This incident reminds me that there must be so many more that I still do not see.

I will always need grace and mercy for ways I mess up that I have not figured out.

So will you. So will others.

That other driver I thought so arrogant now seems so merciful. He didn’t blast his horn at me and I deserved it! How many times have I taken the opportunity to come down on something I felt justified in condemning instead of letting it roll on past? Instead of showing mercy…

I really want to thank him for showing mercy! So, if you’re reading this and were driving a nice grey suburban when a lady in a grey minivan gave you a dirty look while breaking the law…thank you for showing mercy.

To me, pride seems like one of those really stubborn, kind of hopeless character flaws. I’m usually very blind to it so how can I possibly grow in humility?

And then humility! The minute you say you’re growing in humility it reveals you’re not! Catch-22.

Here’s my hope straight from Proverbs 29:

A person’s pride will humble him,

But a humble spirit will gain honor.

So, through my pride, I’ll get humbled. Fun! But, I don’t need to dread this beat down. Even more encouraging is that my pride is not a hopeless condition. The joyful paradox, though, is that by the time any honor comes I won’t even care about it anymore!

Humility is content without the honor it engenders. It has its own internal reward.

And I’d love to know what that’s all about!

White Stones and the Deep Soul

My daughter tried to get my dad’s attention by calling to him in ever louder shouts. Poppy…Poppy…Poppy! He wasn’t standing far away and he wasn’t, yet, as deaf as he got later on. So, he really had no excuse.

She kept on shouting Poppy to no avail. Then, MIKE!!!! And Poppy turned his head. We all laughed pretty hard. I think we leaked actual tears.

Ok. He deserves a break. He was less than 2 years into his career as a grandfather. We lived overseas and my brother’s kid couldn’t even talk yet so he didn’t have a lot of practice with his new name, Poppy.

And, I feel this resonate with who I am as a person too. I don’t always know my name. It’s not that I don’t know my given name, its that I don’t know who I am as a person.

So I search. I take personality tests. What kind of animal am I? What are my strengths. My MBTI. A Birkman. Am I a “D”? What number am I? What’s my wing and do I only have one? Is adaptability really a strength?

I was once called a tornado for a certain combination of “strengths.” Tornados are strong, I get that. But a tornado? I’d only find fault if it wasn’t true. It is true, so I have to own that one.

I believe all these assessments can have a place in honing in on how God made us and how we can serve Him more whole heartedly. They can help us understand where we might be blind to sin. I’ve benefitted so much in recognizing certain strengths and sin patterns and learning to honor and trust God for them.

We’re a pretty fascinating thing, we humans. Gazing into how we’re wired and how we are raised and how God made us can get pretty consuming and pretty twisty. Looking into the soul without the guiding light of God’s Word and His Spirit, is like looking into a deep well. We can’t see the bottom. We keep asking our name and keep hearing an eerie echo of our own voices coming back from the void.

When my dad was dying, he talked of the white stones in heaven that have our name on them. It’s a brief verse in Revelation but what great hope is communicated through it. We will finally know our name, know ourselves as God knows us. That separation we experience in our souls due to sin will finally be closed

Can you imagine what that will be like? To have God, our very creator, lean in and smile (I just know He’ll be smiling) and whisper a name that’s just between Him and me. And it will be true, and right, and without shame, and without want, and have nothing to do with any other ill-formed, incomplete opinion.

It will finally be known to me what God has known all along.

My soul. My name.

So, all those efforts we put into knowing ourselves? If they are not united with what He already tells us about ourselves in His Word, they are woefully incomplete. They’re not a complete waste of time but just know, they will never be able to tell you all of who you are.

Only God can do that. And He will do it.

On Bargains…

I rode away with my new-to-me love seat stowed in the back of the minivan, crowing about my enormous good fortune to my son. Not only was it an exact match for my sofa I bought used a few years ago, it was a fraction of the cost I was willing to spend!

I almost felt guilty it was such a good deal. Almost.

That love seat pulled together my whole living room exactly how I wanted it and right before family arrived for Christmas. All fall I’d tried and missed in my efforts to source pieces (that’s decorator speak for find cool stuff) on online marketplaces.

My frustration had grown and given in to despair. I was settling and felt that was the best I could hope for, but then someone got tired of their love seat and wanted it gone. What a score!

Over the next week, and even now, I’m rather stunned at God’s timely provision for something so unnecessary to life as a well-arranged and beautiful living room set up. Food, clothing, shelter are the necessities…not nice food, nice clothing, and nice shelter.

God proved Himself, again, as a very personal God who is able to arrange some truly wonderful gifts when it seems good to do so. It seems that He cares for me and my wants along with my needs. He doesn’t always give me what I want, but He knows my wants as sure as He knows my thoughts from afar.

I got to reading Isaiah 9 and God likens the people’s joy at the coming of the Savior as to the joy when the harvest comes in and as when people divide the spoils. Literally, that is times when the profit comes in. Times when the warehouses are full from a year or season of hard work.

He’s talkin’ about payday, y’all. Dividing the spoils would be like finding valuable treasure or getting something for nothing. Or…a bargain?

I get this one. I love a bargain. How I love a bargain. I often check myself in conversation because I’m prone to bragging about the bargains I have made. I get this enormous joy from a good deal.

The paradox, though, is that I am not a bargain when I think about my life as a Christ-follower. This Light came into the world, His name is Jesus Christ, and He spent Himself completely–paid an enormous price–for me and people like me who are most definitely not perfect.

On the face of it, it stands out as an all-time bad deal. Why would He spend so much on me? And, why would He be so happy about it?

I rejoice over a good deal, but God rejoices over what appears to be a pretty bad deal. I  have nothing to offer. The moment I think I do, I’m like that person trying to sell some used earrings for what you can buy them for new. I’m a fraud who isn’t living in reality.

But this bad deal for Him is such a good deal for me that I can only accept and give thanks. Gratitude and love and obedience to such a God is about all I can respond with and its enough.

Oh! And with all good, truly great, bargains–I can tell everyone I know not to miss out. It’s not bragging on myself, because I did nothing!

If I can talk so extensively about my love seat deal, how much more I want to remember that it’s not the best deal ever. There is a better deal in life with Christ that is truly worthy of talking about any time there is a chance. Why wouldn’t I want to?

Haha…and answering that question is so important and has so much potential to change a life, it must be considered.

Why wouldn’t I want to tell someone about Jesus like I tell them about my sofa?

 

On a Date with Jesus…

Friday in my day planner contained an enormous, bold X encompassing all the hours from 8 until 3.

But not for vacation, a shopping trip, or bingeing on Netflix. Friday’s assignment from 8 to 3 is time with Jesus. It has all kinds of names but on our ministry team’s calendar, it is marked DWL or Day With the Lord.img_7624

What a gift, right?  A whole day to spend with Jesus. Who doesn’t want that? My daughter commented that it was a vacation. And it certainly looks like that, and feels like that sometimes. I’m thankful that our director sees that we need to be refreshed to pour into the lives of others.

But it is also a challenge. A whole day with Jesus confronts my distractive tendencies, it stands against my desire to produce something, and it reveals the state of my heart. After about 2 hours, I start to squirm, wanting to do something else, wanting to check that phone, the social media, accomplish that task. All the while knowing and wanting to delight in Jesus longer. Ack! The Civil War of the Soul.

Spending extended time with Jesus is a discipline. Meaning, we gain capacity for more through practice and training. So often discipline conjures up a harsh experience that is no fun at all. Discipline…like eating limp broccoli or cleaning up your room when you don’t want to…gets a bad rap.

But what about discipline that trains us for more joy, more capacity to receive from God, more faith? Like training for a 5K, discipline allows us to go farther and experience more delight because we trusted God for more and got to see Him provide.

So, how do you develop the discipline for spending an extended time with Jesus? Here are a few things I’ve discovered that have helped my capacity and enjoyment of Jesus expand during a longer time spent with Him.

  • Be a hedonist. Hedonism has negative connotations when it pertains to seeking after our own pleasures apart from God. But what about seeking pleasure in God? By definition hedonism is the doctrine that pleasure is the sole or chief good in life. Well, pleasure in God, loving God, is the chief good in life, so go for it!

How I live out hedonism with Jesus:

Read what I want to read in the Bible as long as I want to read it and as slowly or quickly as I want to read it.

Journal whenever I want to journal

Enjoy a cup of coffee, a candle, or the warmth of my down comforter

Appreciate the ways God has brought good into my life

Indulge my creative side by writing a blog post which I always post on a different day due to the following reality…

Wear comfortable clothes.

  • Own my weakness. Days with the Lord have been part of my life for a long time. Years. I have experience with this discipline. Experience doesn’t mean good experience. It means I’ve had good days and I’ve had bad. Since we’re going for good and not regret,

Here are a couple of things I take into account:

I will desire to “produce” instead of “be”. I combat this by planning the whole week to eliminate as much temptation to be productive by completing what I need to complete or surrendering what I cannot complete in time.

I have a limited attention span. I will get to the limit. At that point, I can choose to tap out or change my routine and keep going. Changing my location, what I’m reading, or how I’m interacting helps. I will go to a coffee shop or to another room in our house. It helps to know I will need to face this reality and have a plan for how to adapt.

  • Ruthlessly Protect. Time with Jesus doesn’t just happen. There are too many things begging for my attention. Jesus invites but He doesn’t ever seem to shout or twist my arm or force me to connect with Him. I must choose to follow Him. So, I must choose to pattern my life to enable following Him not just for a Day with Jesus, but every day too. For a Day with Jesus, I find I must diligently protect that time.

Here are a few tips:

Dedicate the day in advance. How much in advance is up to you and up to your spiritual needs. Maybe you’re spiritually crashing and burning and tomorrow needs to be the day. Let folks know, cancel appointments, carve out the time.

At least a week helps to give the time to complete necessary work, eliminate distractions, and gather an idea of what you want to read or focus on.

Guard the Day. All week my mind was set on protecting Friday. Guarding against saving an errand for Friday, scheduling an appointment for Friday, leaving a text to answer on Friday.

Silence your Phone. This is a hard one for me as a mom. I feel that I cannot always do this with kids in school. If you can do it, do it.

  • Surrender. As a mom of three, I’ve had to accept that there are times when I cannot indulge a Day With the Lord in the way I dreamed. A kid gets sick and needs care. A house repair or errand just really cannot wait (think overflowing toilet, or power outage). Or, when our kids were babies and we lived overseas, my husband and I traded out halfway through the day. There was always a very awkward interchange about who got to go out in the morning and come back in time for nap time!

Even while I may have planned, God might have other plans.

On those days, as disappointing as they are, I began to begin to recognize that I could enjoy Jesus’ care for me in a different way. He sees me and He sees my plight. He can meet me where I am even if I don’t get to spend the day with Him like I wanted to. Sometimes I can rearrange and choose another day and try again. Sometimes I can’t.

Always I have every morning at 6 that I can wake up and spend time with Him.

A Day with Jesus will not make up for every day walking with Him. So, don’t wait for a day in the distant future to spend with Him, answer His invitation every day.

 

Slowing Down

The first few days of January is the time for me to slow down. Our town is relatively quiet. There are New Year’s events but mostly I stay home with some or all of my children while my husband works a conference.

Generally, I have longer times reading my Bible in the morning and I stay up late (way too late) reading good books. In the daytime I get a few things done while children play more than normal amounts of Xbox. I make some returns, pack up Christmas, think about Bible study plans for the spring, and generally slow down.

The phone chimes pretty rarely and just about absolutely nothing is on the calendar as far as appointments or meetings. I can wear the same thing multiple days if I want, as long as its clean, or I can wear all the things that are comfortable, even if they don’t match! Its divine…and uncomfortable at times.

I realize during this time how much I like to do things to feel worthwhile. Spending the time with myself is like looking someone in the face for just a little longer than is socially acceptable. It’s a bit uncomfortable and revealing.  And, I think it is absolutely necessary to slow down enough to look yourself in the face long and hard at least once a year.img_6469

When I slow down I relearn stuff about myself. I regain my affection for cooking. It actually occurs to me that I would like to try a new recipe that I wouldn’t enjoy tackling when school is in session and life is busy. I stack up scheduled posts on my blog.

Slowing down restores my spiritual health. Reading the Bible a little longer and without much of an agenda is like having a date with my husband where there’s nothing we have to get at the store or plan and there’s no time we have to be home. It’s just free time together.

My life is a little peculiar in that it is very seasonal and shifts very quickly from a lot of people intensive time and scheduling then changes to working on more back burner stuff like planning and development. Then, we take the 6 week work related trip most summers! Not everyone has that kind of work.

So, how do you take time to face yourself? Consider wrestling with this question and figuring out some creative solutions like taking a day off for a long weekend spent without obligations. Or, wipe a week clear of anything that doesn’t absolutely have to be done. For a tax accountant, that won’t be April, but there’s probably a few days somewhere that the cycle of the job is at a low ebb.

It’s taken living in the U.S. for almost 5 years and our current home almost 4, to discover some rhythms. That’s one of the hard things about a move internationally, a change in jobs, or a significant life change like becoming a mother or kids going to school or leaving the nest. There are new rhythms and it takes at least 2 years to figure them out!

The first year, everything is new and I constantly adjusted. The second year, I remembered the first year and tried to figure out what was an every year thing, or an anomaly. The third year solidified some distinct patterns to life like this first week of the year slow down.

I’m glad I have it because next month our oldest kid gets her learner’s permit. Hopefully all these stored up reserves will be enough! She swears she is going to drive like a grandma and we need to worry about our middle kid who has some Michael Schumacher speed in him.

We will see. He’s 2 years away from a permit so I have 2 more slow downs before he drives.

 

Stepping into a New Year

I hardly ever make it to midnight awake. Usually I roll over about midnight, disrupted by the rumble of a few fireworks, then drift back to sleep. The day dawns and I wake to find myself in a whole new year that feels just like another morning.

Except that most new years days I spend a chunk of time reviewing the last year. I took up this habit one year when we lived overseas and I spent a quiet, sunny morning going over Michael Hyatt’s 7 Questions to Ask About Last Year. I still remember the chair I sat in, it was that powerful.

Since that year, I look forward to reflecting every new year. Lest you be afraid this somehow leads to those resolutions, be afraid. Somehow, these questions and reflecting on the past year just naturally lead to revealing what’s important to take with me into the next year. Maybe it’s also the coffee that kicks in about the same time, but I end up holding onto a few thoughts about what I want the next year to include, if it’s up to me.

img_7530Read on for this year’s ruminations on reflecting…. Basically, reflecting on reflecting!

Remembering is a funny thing. I lived a lot of life this last year, and forgot quite a bit of it. Memory to me feels like I’m holding a bunch of groceries at the grocery store like when I think I don’t need a cart. I can only hold so much and my brain just drops things  that it can’t keep holding onto. Sometimes they are the right things, sometimes not. It can be startling what I forget and remember.

Why? Why do I remember some things and forget others? I’m not sure. But its a reality. Reflecting on the past year is a means to much grace and mercy. I look into the year and lay out the events and experiences before the Lord and myself and sift through them. Are there themes? Regrets? Disappointments? Joys? Always, yes.

This year, I stood back and looked and saw a year of great adventure and drama. As I sorted through it, I saw more clearly the reality I’ve felt as the year drew to a close. It was a roller coaster year…again. I’m ready for a little boring. A bit less adrenaline.

Extensive travel, romantic drama, medical issues, rich family time, and ministry to others defined our year. It was a good year. It was also a full year with lots of ups and downs, twists and turns. So many good things but also a few very real, hard, new things to navigate.

In the middle of it, it has been easy, maybe even necessary, to just pack experiences in my bag of memory and do the next thing that needs doing. The problem with that is that I need to look up every once in a while and see the bigger picture, the distances traveled, the goals ahead, the victories and sorrows along the way.

Like a rest stop on the journey, I need the time to reflect so I can acknowledge God’s hand in it all, and recognize that He has been with me the whole way. That He sees and He cares even if it’s not all worked out, resolved, or better. I can have joy when I look back and remember what He did work out too.

What distilled over the course of my morning was that…

  • writing is still very important to me. I regretted not keeping it up this past year. I need to make time to write.
  • exercise took a back seat for different chunks of the year and that was necessary. It is now important that it not stay in the back seat.
  • making peer friends in this season of life is challenging because of the many demands on life. I greatly value having good friends and I need to keep moving forward in cultivating friendship.

Notice there’s not a lot of specific goals. I don’t really have a word for the year. But, now I have 3 areas of life that I know are important to me that need some attention. It helps tie a tiny, imperfect bow on the past year and move a bit more confidently into a new year.

If you end of spending the time to go through this process, please share what came out of it for you!