Contentment and Community

Driving down the old roads of Franklin, Tennessee, Civil War era homes flanking the streets and battlefields in the distance, we passed an old, red brick church with a beautiful pair of arched wooden doors. One was partially open, drawing my eye and making me long to peek inside when a woman emerged.

Her dark skin glowed in the afternoon sunlight dappled by the large old trees overshadowing the lawn. Her hair was concealed by a colorful scarf, wrapped neatly and tucked perfectly above her brow.

But what struck me the most in the fleeting seconds that I saw her as we drove by was her smile. It was one of utter peace and contentment, revealing straight white teeth and parenthetically framed by lines very likely earned by years of living and, from what I could glean from her countenance, smiling.

I have no idea what she had been doing in that church. I don’t know who she had been with or why, but her smile was one directed down at the stone steps as she took them one-by-one, not necessarily intended to be noticed by anyone.

But notice, I did. I can’t quite put my finger on why her smile struck me so. I nudged my daughter, sitting next to me in the front seat, asking her to grab her phone and snap a photo of the church doors. She fumbled to bring her phone to life while I drove as slowly as possible (hoping not to irritate the driver of the car behind me but trying to buy time) finally managing to take a couple of  shots. I was honestly surprised she captured the doors (because she had all of 2 1/2 seconds to do so!) but those doors are there, a reminder to me of a simple but important truth:

Community feeds contentment. Sharing life feeds a necessary joy-habit which sustains us when we walk through suffering.

Too often we leave gatherings with plastic faces well intact. We managed to keep our façade on to the end and no one, not even our “close” friends, are aware of the things we have determined to hide beneath well-rehearsed smiles. We walk out, away from the watching eyes, and let our weary faces resurface, the smiles falling off at last like a dead Autumn leaf past it’s prime.

But, friends, what if we are real we and allow the weariness to show? What if we smile through tears, allowing those who love us to love on us? That is how we connect at a deep, heart-level which renews our strength and causes us to leave the gathering unconscious of the beautiful, natural smile that turns up the corners of our mouths and draws our cheeks back in soft joy.

There is joy in true community.

There is joy in knowing and being known and allowing our tribe “in.”

There is joy in connection, even when the process  involves vulnerability and tears.

And I believe this…with all my heart: God intends for us to develop smile lines as we grow old, the hallmark of a joy-filled and genuinely connected life. Nothing is more beautiful than a face graced with contentment, filled with the light of delighting in who we are in Christ and allowing that light to multiply and bring others in.

A life well-rooted produces bright and delicious fruit.

Choose your tribe carefully, sisters, but choose them. Let them in and become the hands and feet of Jesus in your life, just as they need you to become theirs.

Why? Because we are all weary, friends. We are all strangers in a land that is not our home and traveling alone is exhausting and disheartening. If you have ever journeyed abroad, you know the relief that comes when, after days of struggling to communicate through a language barrier, you run into someone who speaks your native tongue with ease. Your brain takes a much needed break and conversation flows easily because you have found familiarity!

This is the gift of community.

This is the heart of relationships.

Common ground, a common language, and common ideals.

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Character-lines formed through years of conversation, confession, laughter and tears.  baby-teddy-bear-cute-39369.jpeg

And lasting joy found in shared memories and celebrations under the approving eye of our good, good Father who brings us through and out of darkness into victory and glorious light…together.

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Excitement!

As you may know, I am a huge fan of Sally Clarkson.  I wrote all about her in this post. She has written several books that have changed the way I live and her podcast is on constant play when I am in my car.

For the past month I have had the pleasure of being on the launch team for the book, The Lifegiving Parent, written by Clay and Sally Clarkson.  (Which means it is for daddies, too!) It has been such a privilege to share and participate in this good work of spreading the word about a message that will change the fabric of countless families.

Well, today is launch day!

Today the book will be in the hands of those of us who pre-ordered!

And today, I’d like to bless you with a giveaway!  🙂

If you will share the link to this post and leave a comment in the comments section of this page telling me so, you will be entered into a drawing for your very own copy of this wonderful new book.  The winner will be announced next Tuesday, so get to sharing!  I’m so excited to get this into your hands, too!  You will love it.

Have a wonderful week!  I’ll be out back on the porch with my nose in the book!

To order click here:  The Lifegiving Parent

 

A Good Word: She Speaks Stories Podcast

I don’t know about you, but I get tired of the droning of a television or radio.  Commercials, not-really-that-funny commentary to fill airtime or fulfill sponsor requirements, and never knowing what might pop up in an ad when little eyes and ears are nearby have kept my TV (and radio) mostly off, except for Fixer-Upper marathons, of course!

Enter the podcast.  I have subscribed to several, listening to them in the car, when cleaning, or at my computer.  I heart a good podcast.  It is such an easy way to fill my mind with truth and biblical encouragement and, sometimes, to get a much-needed good, clean laugh!  Which is why I am here, today, to share one of my favorites with you.

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Several years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Susan Wanderer, a fellow adoptive mama who happens to be raising up three of my favorite Ethiopian sweethearts ever and still manages to minister to countless children and families at her church.  She is a powerhouse of a woman, sold-out for Jesus and has the best laugh EVER.  Last year, she and her friend, Katie, began the She Speaks Stories podcast and it has blessed the living daylights out of me.  Each week is full of stories from women in the trenches, of God’s faithfulness and ability to use our struggles, even our worst nightmares, to make us like Jesus and shine His light into this desperate, dark world.  Susan and Katie interview a different woman each week, crying and laughing along with them (Did I mention Susan’s laugh?  I mean, y’all, I cannot have a bad day when she gets started!  From the gut, slap-your-thighs and grab-your-sides laughter that will lift even the most bah-humbug of spirits!).  And amidst the laughter and tears Jesus is made known.  Beautifully.

What more can I say? Go to iTunes and search “She Speaks Stories.”  It will pop right up, then hit SUBSCRIBE.  You will be so glad you did.  And just click here for the link for you non-itunes people:)

If you happen to read this, I just want to say thank you, Susan and Katie, for taking the time to share your heart and wisdom each week.  God is using you to breathe fresh air into our lives!  (And one of these day’s I’m going to make it to a She Speaks Stories conference! )

Understanding.

One of the deepest longings of every human heart is to be known. So often we walk through seasons of loneliness, where we feel as if no one notices us…we could splat face-down on the sidewalk and the whole busy world would just keep walking, never turning to lend a hand or even gasp at our misfortune. We strive to be real, to be ourselves, yet struggle with the temptation to conform to what we feel we need to become in order to fit in with the crowd.

As a parent, this can be painful to learn and understand. How many of us have struggled to really “know” our kids? We have raised them, diapered them, looked into their innocent eyes and whispered, “You are mine and I love you so.” But as they grow and mature and change…well, it turns out they aren’t always like us. In fact, they may be quite opposite of us in many ways and we struggle to understand, to connect and to really know them.

I learned this with one of my older kids. During a season of difficulty a wise friend opened my eyes to the reality that this child who withdrew and retreated was a true introvert. Me, being an extrovert, simply had not entertained the possibility! This kid has been around me since infancy, exposed to all the friends and all the people and four siblings! How could they not love that?

But the truth helped me so much. It helped me to give grace when that child had had enough and needed to retreat to refuel. It gave me the ability to see the signs of social fatigue before they resulted in a meltdown. And it made me recognize my own introverted tendencies that, though not my daily norm, are still present and need to be acknowledged. (Very few people are 100% anything!) Sometimes I just need to be alone in order to recharge and have something to offer those around me without burning out.

As my younger children hit the teen years, I’m striving to understand their personality differences and recognize their needs. I am raising yet another introvert…a super friendly kid who absolutely loves being around their friends but when the fun is over, they are depleted and need alone time. Lots of it. And this child is followed by two extreme extroverts who gain energy from their interactions with friends and never. get. enough.

Which can cause issues among the siblings, if you know what I mean.

But just think, how wonderful is it that God created us all with unique needs and tendencies I look at the gifts He has given my children, how they manifest within their personalities and how differently each of them walk through life and express their faith.  They need to be known and understood, and the more I intentionally learn to do that the closer we become. It’s not a perfect process. I’m not perfectly patient…not even close. But gradually I am learning to back off and let them be who God created them to be, introvert/extrovert or any mix of the two.

And me? Well, I guess I’ve learned a lot about myself in this process. Me, the true extrovert who has walked up to rock stars and asked for a photo on behalf of my more-introverted husband. This girl who loves to be in the middle of a chatty group and laughing with friends becomes more introverted as I grow older. I find myself needing early morning quiet and evening calm. I seek time alone with a good book (or my Cello!)or just sitting in silence as the sunlight stretches across the morning sky. Being honest with myself and allowing those I love to express their needs without judgment breaks down walls and fosters the connection and understanding that is vital to a healthy relationship.

To be known is the greatest of blessings. It is the open door to love and connection. It is the key to intimacy and peace.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.  Psalm 139:1-3

May we, dear mamas, allow ourselves to acknowledge the uniqueness of each of our children. And may we, as wives and friends, acknowledge the uniqueness of those within our circle of intimacy. In the wise words of Bob and Larry…

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If You Lack a Mentor: In Gratitude to Sally Clarkson

As a now “older mom” among many of my friends, I found myself in an odd and often lonely season of motherhood.  It is so easy to make friends when our kids are little.  Playdates at the park or story times at the library are the perfect conditions for forming friendships around the common experience of mothering.  But there comes a time when the kids grow up and our day-to-day interactions with them vary to such a degree from what others around us may be experiencing that mothering can no longer be an easy common ground from which a friendship can spring.  The friendships are based on other things.  Good things.  But not necessarily common parenting styles (or outcomes!).

Then there was the realization that, as an “older mom,” I lacked a mentor for myself…someone who has weathered the storms and walked through the hardships that are the reality of raising children to adulthood.  The lack was not out of desire to have one, but out of the practical nature of my life these days…finding time to sit and chat over coffee is difficult to do.  Homeschooling four children, parenting five, shuffling kids to ball practice, dance, music, youth group, doctors’ appointments, etc (and carving out time to practice my cello!) consume my daytime hours very quickly.  Then factor in the reality that we recently moved into a new neighborhood in a new town and, well, building a mentoring relationship just takes time.  Time that I haven’t had.

Do you relate to this?

Enter Sally Clarkson.

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I had heard of her for a couple of years and knew she had homeschooled her children ALL THE WAY THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL.  Nothing less than a heroic feat, in my book.  Because teenagers.

Anyway, I began to listen to her podcast, “At Home with Sally” and in this older woman, who I have never met, I found what I needed.

A mentor.

Sally raised four children who all turned out to be amazing, gifted adults that love Jesus and love their mama.  But that is not why I love her.  I love Sally because what she did was not easy.  Learning disabilities, mental illness, tragedy and hardship were all part of her story of mothering.  She is honest about those things, honest about her failures and successes.  She looks back through the lens of experience and wisdom and gently reminds us that, though there are things we can do to foster life in our homes, above all our kids belong to the Lord and we can trust Him with them. Somehow, in her quiet voice, she speaks loudly into my flaws and struggles, encouraging me to not let failure prevent me from taking the next step, or from loving when it is hard.  She has taught me that much of my tension comes from being highly idealistic, which is not a bad thing but can certainly be frustrating to certain members of my family.  Ahem.  She models selflessness and faith and the gift of hospitality as a form of worship.  She reminds me to light candles and warm up the pancake syrup because those little things speak into the hearts of my children and draw them close.  In the difficult seasons of my life, Sally reminds me to hope and to never, ever give up.  God uses broken vessels.

I’m most definitely a cracked pot in His Kingdom!

I don’t know if you have a mentor.  I certainly hope you do.  But if that is something you wish for I would love to introduce you to Sally.  She doesn’t know me, has no idea this little corner of the internet even exists, but I feel that so many of my friends would benefit from letting her speak truth as we drive our kids to appointments or get ready in the mornings. Nothing can replace real-life relationships and face-to-face conversation, but someone like Sally has filled a much-needed gap in my life.  And while my “real” friendships grow and develop I feel that what I am learning from her will serve me well as I move forward into this next phase of life.   I will share the links below.  I receive nothing for this.  It is purely out of a desire to bless you that I share Sally Clarkson with you.

Life With Sally – a membership site worth every penny.  https://lifewithsally.com/

Whole Heart Ministries – helping Christian parents raise wholehearted children.  wholeheart.org

At Home with Sally and Friends – if you do nothing else, subscribe to this.  I anticipate each new episode every week, listening to many of them over and over.  Rich with stories, hope and encouragement, Sally’s gentle voice is always calming to my often fretting heart.  http://sallyclarkson.com/podcast/

 

 

 

Less is…less.

My everyday tasks are made more simple when decisions are straightforward.

As you probably remember, I spent the better part of Autumn 2017 purging like a crazy woman.  I got rid of possessions that I did not need, no longer wanted, and were just taking up space.  One thing that surprised me was the stuff in my kitchen.

It surprised me because I had done a “purge” just a year or so earlier…Marie Kondo style.  But, apparently, I did not go far enough.

You see the measuring cup photo above?  I had four of these 2-cup Pyrex lovelies.  Plus one 4-cup measuring cup, two Pampered Chef batter bowls (small and large) and about eight various sets of measuring spoons and measuring cup sets.  As I boxed up the kitchen for the move I stopped and looked at my unintentional collection.  What was my purpose in owning all of these?  Some had been given to me, others were decades old.  Some were purchased to replace older ones (often because the color was prettier) (I so enjoy pretty kitchen things!) but the older ones never got donated or discarded.  I had a very large kitchen with plenty of storage and, well, the older stuff just got pushed to the back of the drawer or cabinet.  There were a couple of them that had sentimental value because of who had given them to me but I no longer used them.  They were taking up space.  Period.

I took a deep breath and decided to choose wisely.  I kept the batter bowls (because Pampered Chef!) and only two sets each of measuring spoons and measuring cups.  The rest were donated.

This is only one example of the cleaning-out process that preceded our move, but now that we are here in our new home I am so thankful that I did that brutal purge.  Because, until now, I did not realize how often my little decisions had just a teeny bit of added stress due to having too many choices.

When I cook, now, my choices are easy.  Grab what I need and move on.  No more rearranging stacks, shuffling things around or standing there staring blankly before finally picking out what I need.  My everyday tasks are made more simple when decisions are straightforward.

Read that again.

My everyday tasks are made more simple when decisions are straightforward.

We clutter up our minds when we clutter up our homes.  We become saddled under the weight of our possessions because we refuse to let things go.  This applies to our physical lives as well as our emotional and spiritual lives!

Proverbs 2:4-5 says,

If you sift through the clamor of everything around you
    to seek her like some precious prize,
    to search for her like buried treasure;
 Then you will grasp what it means to truly respect the Eternal,
    and you will have discovered the knowledge of the one True God.  

(The Voice)

Sifting through the clamor.  That can manifest in so many different ways:  getting rid of possessions, thinning out our book collection (The. Hardest. For. Me.), turning off the TV or radio and learning to function in absolute quiet, getting up (and going to bed) earlier so fatigue doesn’t cloud my thinking, choosing friends more wisely, sticking to a grocery list or (gasp) reading a good and beautiful book instead of scrolling mindlessly through social media.  It is in the little choices, made all throughout each day, that we begin to reduce mental strain and find white space in our lives, space that allows rest and results in the restoration and recognition of who we are created to be.

God never called us to be busy for busy’s sake, or to have a calendar so filled to the brim that we dread waking up in the morning.

In 1 Corinthians 3:3, Paul says,

you are still living in the flesh, not in the Spirit. How do I know? Are you fighting with one another? Are you comparing yourselves to others and becoming consumed with jealousy? Then it sounds like you are living in the flesh, no different from the rest who live by the standards of this rebellious and broken world.

(The Voice)

I believe the need to have and consume and hoard (whether physically or spiritually) is a form of living in the flesh.  It is sign of a lack of faith, of fearing there will not be enough or holding on to an idol.  We compare ourselves to others and want to keep up, have what they have, or even do what they do.  But if it causes stress or burdens us, holding us back from becoming who we are created to be, it most likely should not be in our lives or homes.

This is not a legalistic proposition, but a practical one.  It doesn’t mean we all have to sell our possessions and give everything to the poor (unless God calls us to) but it means we are intentional with what we have in our homes, creating beauty and space and an inviting environment within which we raise our children and entertain guests.

It means cultivating spiritual disciplines and making sure the time is there, each day, to spend time with God in prayer and reading His Word.  Non-negotiable.

It means being selective about who we “let in” as close friends, trusting the truly trustworthy and choosing to be an influencer for the Kingdom instead of being constantly blown back and forth by the winds of society for the sake of “fitting in.”

I guess it is a little strange that God would teach me this from a pile of discarded measuring utensils!  But, as usual, He shows up in the everyday mundane…when it is quiet and I am alone with my thoughts.  But as I dwell on the truth He has given me, I pray that I am obedient, letting it transform my life and making me more like Jesus who was fully satisfied in His Father.

Yes, may that be true of me.

And I pray it will be true of you.

Home.

Ducking in quickly to share a sweet joy found in the midst of a bittersweet weekend. I am in Texas for the Life celebration of my sweet Great-Aunt, Bernice. My brother and I are staying in our parents’ home…just the four of us for the first time in, probably, decades. My dad emerged with a stack of old photos, every one of which is like holding a time capsule. Our family in the heyday of the 1970’s and 1980’s.

My brother refers to it as “the time before we knew sin.” Haha!

My kids are going to die when they see them.

So, with time short, I leave you with two important things:

First: Love well, for this life matters. My Aunt Bernice did that, and the sweetness filling the room tonight was a testimony to a life of hard work and intentional relationship-building. She loved and served and will be missed.

The second? Well, it’s this:

Blurry, faded, but the love and joy my brother and I shared circa 1977? It is priceless. The gift of a much simpler era. Bare feet and smiles as we paused from our round on the Sit ‘n Spin long enough for our mom to snap this photo. I pray my kids have these kinds of memories, that they treasure their childhood and look back on it with soft hearts and gratitude for the years before life became more complicated.