Rediscovery

I read books because I love them, not because I think I should read them.

-Simon Van Booy

For as long as I can remember, I have been a voracious reader.   Our local library always had a summer reading program where kids were rewarded based on the number of books they read.  In the summer between my 5th and 6th grade year I read thirty books.  Mostly Nancy Drew.  I walked around my house with my nose in a book, artfully dodging furniture and objects on the floor without ever taking my eyes from the page.  I read myself to sleep, awakening the next morning with the book still open.  On my face.

I LOVE to read, but as the years have gone by I realized something important and disturbing about myself.  Though I continued to compile a library of books and would tell you that one of my favorite hobbies was reading, the truth is I was reading very little.  In fact, it would take months to get through a book.

I wrestled with this, at first blaming busyness and the season of life that I was in.  Sure, that was part of it.  But I had to take a long, hard look at how I was using my time and be brutally honest with myself.

I spent more time on social media than I spent reading good books that blessed my heart and mind.  I could tell you what Susie had for dinner last night and that Jane was now low-carb.  I could also tell you that Carrie’s toddler refuses to wear socks and that Mary’s son is a star pee-wee football player and sports a custom pair of cleats.  Nothing wrong with any of these things, right?  Except that they were gradually eating away something that had always been very important to me:  Immersing myself in a beautiful book filled with rich language and beautiful prose.  Allowing my eyes to rest from the blue light of a computer screen and settle on the Times New Roman font evenly spaced across the off-white pages of a novel.  Feeding my imagination with images of cities far away and encouragement to live simply and live well.

Instead, I was scrolling mindlessly, taking in tidbits of information that would be forgotten within days and training my mind to operate on what I believe to be a very shallow level in the interest of being “connected” and “in the know.”

So I stepped back.  I didn’t delete the apps from my phone or deactivate my accounts.  Extremes have never worked to break bad habits in my life.  Instead, I began to replace the bad habits with good ones.  It started with keeping a book in my purse.  At first it was largely ignored as I checked my phone in waiting rooms or parking lots, but the mere presence of that book literally called to me.  Eventually, I put the phone down and reached for the book.  It felt silly, at first, to have to be so intentional about this but that is exactly what needed to happen.  I had to make a choice.

A simple choice.

Over days and weeks the choice became easier.  Reaching for the book began to feel normal again.  Reading in my easy chair became my go-to.  My desk, now organized, has become a place of study and journaling and creativity that it had failed to be for several years.  And the result of making one choice at a time, of slowly replacing a bad habit with a good one, is that my stress level has dropped tremendously and I have the head room free to enjoy silence and give God a blessed chance to speak.

And speak, He has.

My relationship with Him is growing every single day as I make one choice at a time.  My prayer life has deepened and the Word of God has come alive.  I have read more books in the past three months than I had read in, probably, the last three years.

Social media no longer sucks me in like it used to.  I can put it down.  In fact, I am more hesitant to pick it up because I can feel the difference in myself after and hour in a good book vs. an hour of mindless scrolling.  Facebook does so many good things, reminding me of birthdays and anniversaries and helping me keep in touch with dear friends who I would have otherwise lost touch with many years ago.  But it is also addictive and endless.

And there are few things more satisfying than reaching the end.

We are now in the midst of the most beautiful season of the year, where we stop and give thanks to God and prepare to welcome anew in our hearts our Savior.  Nothing is more important right now than really immersing ourselves in the wonder and glory of the Holidays!  But if we are not careful, we can allow distractions to suck away precious hours that we can never get back.  It’s not worth it.  I want better for us, don’t you?  I want my kids to see the value of meditation over the crazy beautiful story of the Nativity and get lost in the shadows cast by the candlelight in our family room.  I want my life to be filled with music and poetry and scripture so that it drowns out the lies the enemy throws at me in weak moments.  I want God to be honored in how I spend my time, down to the precious minutes of “down time” He sprinkles throughout my days.  If I’m always looking down I will miss it and I will miss HIM.

So here are a few tips for making the change from screen to page:

  1.  Be honest with yourself.  How much time to you really spend on social media?  Don’t give in to the temptation to “round down!”
  2. The best way to stop a bad habit is to replace it with a good one.  What do you know you should be doing when you habitually reach for your mobile device?  In my case, it was read.  So bring along whatever it is…book, planner, etc.  Keep it near you and convenient so that you don’t have an excuse.
  3. Ask yourself why you keep going online?  Ann Voskamp has a printable that I posted on my refrigerator with suggestions for things to do before clicking.  It was convicting to realize how five minutes here and there can truly make a difference in the level of productivity I achieve on any given day!
  4. Turn off your notifications.  This really helped me!  Something about what I call “the little red drops of blood” with flashing numbers screaming, “Attention!  You have posts to read!  Hey, you!  Look at me right now!” would make me crazy and I felt like I had to keep them cleared out.  So I turned them off.  Simple.  And that goes for your email inbox too.  That thing can be a beast.  If I had a nickel for every minute I spent deleting junk mail…
  5. Start each day early, making time with the Lord first priority.  Open your Bible before you open Facebook.  Linger over the Word of God, read different translations and compare, maybe creatively journal the words that God uses to pierce your heart.  But keep it simple.  Prayer is not complicated, and neither is reading the Bible.  It’s a love letter, not a textbook.
  6. Work before play.  An old friend told me this was what she taught her kids when training them to clean up after themselves.  (She was much more successful at that than I have been, by the way.  Judge away.  It is a parenting fail I humbly own.)  As adults we can model that adage by choosing not to “play” (go online for pleasure) until all of our work is done.  House clean?  Dishes done?  Laundry put away?  Quiet time spent with God?  Great.  Then reward yourself…but resist the urge to go straight to screen time!  Start with a good book.  Light a candle and wrap up in a soft blanket.  Get really comfy in that big chair and see if, an hour later, you still care about what Susie made for dinner.  Chances are, your book is much more interesting.

Now go.  Feast and rest and love and enjoy all the beautiful bounty of this season!  Look your loved ones in the eye and be all in, not wasting a single moment.  Don’t give in to distractions and complications.  It’s not worth it!    Have a blessed and SIMPLE Thanksgiving!

Belgian Waffles. Real ones.

We interrupt your weekend preparations with a recipe sure to make your mouth water, you pants tighter, and your family rise up and call you blessed!

Belgian Waffles, just like the ones found on a food truck in the Market of Stockel in Brussels, Belgium.  Our family took a trip to Belgium a few years ago and these, my friends, were some of the most delicious things I have ever put in my mouth.  After we arrived home I had to recreate them.   I perused countless recipe sites and blogs, finally finding one that was close and tweaking it until I achieved perfection.  Even our friends who lived in Belgium, when they came home for a visit, tried them and pronounced them “spot on!”

They have become a staple of our holiday celebrations.  We enjoy them on Thanksgiving morning, Christmas Eve, New Year’s and even Easter.  They are tres delicieux!

So, without further adieu, I give you the REAL Belgian Waffle.  (Do not be fooled by the IHOP, frozen or other versions.  They are not even CLOSE!)

Stockel Belgian Waffles

Ingredients:
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons white sugar
3/4 cup lukewarm milk
3 eggs
1 cup melted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups pearl sugar (such as Lars’ Own-you can order it from Amazon.  This is the MOST IMPORTANT INGREDIENT!)

Directions:
Sprinkle the yeast and white sugar over warm milk in a small bowl. The milk should be no more than 100 degrees F (40 degrees C).  Let stand for 15 minutes until the yeast softens and begins to form a creamy foam.
Whisk the eggs, melted butter, and vanilla extract into the yeast mixture until evenly blended; set aside. Stir together the flour and salt in a separate large bowl, and make a well in the center. Pour the egg mixture into the well, then stir in the flour mixture until a soft dough forms. Cover with a light cloth and let rise in a warm place (80 to 95 degrees F (27 to 35 degrees C)) until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes. Gently mix in the pearl sugar.

Then (DO NOT skip this step.  It is the secret to the hot, doughy center and crispy outer layer!) roll the dough into baseball sized portions and place them on a cookie sheet lined with foil.  You will have between 8-12 dough balls depending on how big you make them.

Do you see the little pearl sugar chunks?  I’m telling you, they are about to turn into golden nuggets of bliss!

Refrigerate at least two hours, overnight if possible.

 

When you are ready to cook these lovelies…
Preheat a waffle iron according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Place a ball of dough on the preheated waffle iron. Cook waffles until golden and crisp, about 2 minutes.

 

I mean LOOK at this.  Caramelized sugar sizzling around the edges, perfectly crispy crust with a soft, not-quite-done cookie dough texture.  Mmmm…

Repeat with the remaining dough balls. As you cook subsequent waffles, the sugar will begin to caramelize and the last waffle will be even more tasty than the first.  But don’t tell your kids.

 

 

I can hardly wait.  

 

Pretend you are being selfless and going last out of loving sacrifice for your hungry tribe.  It is worth the wait, I promise!

Allow the waffles to cool for 2 to 3 minutes before serving.  You can top them with fruit, whipped cream, etc. but, honestly, mine have never lasted long enough to be topped with anything!  They just go straight to our bellies!

Please refrain from licking the screen.

 

Try it for yourself and tell me what you think!  Bon appetite!

How to be Thankful (Lessons from the Torture Chamber)

This year has been a doozy.  Dear ones whom I love have suffered immeasurably. Devastating injuries, sickness, death, divorce, struggling children and the inability to just pay their rent have beaten them, literally, to a pulp.  Continue reading “How to be Thankful (Lessons from the Torture Chamber)”

You Can’t Hold It All

We left the hotel room in a flurry of bags, blankets and collected “treasures” from a week in Texas.  Since I tend to get sleepy when driving past mid-afternoon I was determined to get on the road by 7:00 am.  The kids, though, groggy, were on board with the idea.  They were as ready to be home and in their own beds as their mama!

As we paraded down the sidewalk to the parking lot one of my kids began to leave a trail.  A shoe.  A shirt.  A book.  Frustrated by the delay, I looked back to figure out why they were dropping all of this stuff, expecting to find an unzipped zipper or something like that.  Instead, I realized this child had thought it would be faster just to wad all of their loose belongings into their bathrobe and carry the awkward bundle to the car where, I guess, it would have been deposited on the floor and stepped on for the next eight hours. My child carried an empty backpack that was fully capable of holding all these things securely.

I scolded them, explaining why failing to secure the belongings had only resulted in delay and frustration and wouldn’t it have been easier to just throw it all in the bag instead of leaving a trail of clothing from the hotel to the car that you now have to go back and pick up?  And if we hadn’t looked back and noticed the stuff on the ground we would not have known what the heck had happened to all those clothes!

Then God gave me a spiritual flick on the head, nudging me to listen to what I had just said and, in turn, listen to what He wanted to tell me:

We have so many things we are asked to carry.  Our relationships, our homes, our jobs, finances, families, our health and spiritual disciplines are all responsibilities we must juggle.  But what we often forget is that we don’t have to carry all of them up front all of the time. What we need to hold in our hands changes constantly.   It can feel so overwhelming but we must intentionally keep the main thing the main thing!  The rest can be stowed away temporarily.

Think of the Holy Spirit as our great Backpack.  (I know…this is a big stretch!  Bear with me here!)  The Bible says the Holy Spirit is our helper.  (John 14:26)  It also says Jesus brings rest in the midst of the difficulties of life, promising not to “lay anything heavy or ill-fitting” on us.  (Matt 11:29)  So as I imagine this, I see myself…when walking well in faith…with Jesus by my side.  He is wearing the backpack that holds all of my “stuff.”  As my day progresses and my family needs to be front and center, I reach into the backpack and take them out, giving them my full attention and tending to their needs.  Then, a little while later, I get an email and a bill is due.  I can temporarily entrust my family in Jesus’ care as I take out the “financial” burden from the backpack, tending to it while my kids entertain themselves, read, play, etc.   Then the dog throws up.  ALL the stuff goes in the backpack at that point because…well…dog vomit.  Ugh.   Then the afternoon continues and my husband comes home.  I put the stress over what I just cleaned up in Jesus’ backpack and focus on this man that God has given me, greeting him with a smile and kiss and offering him dinner and a chance to rest.  Again, all of my responsibilities are nearby and available to be tended to as needed, but they are not all up front and overwhelming me all at the same time.  (And thank goodness for that because who wants dog puke front and center all the time!  Sorry…I digress.)

Does this make sense?  I think one of the biggest mistakes we can make as human beings is the same one my child made.  We don’t trust that there is enough time or energy to get all the things done so we refuse to put ANY of them down and soon they are spilling out all over the place and nothing gets done well.  But Jesus is right here by our side with an empty backpack and He is not only fully capable of holding every single one of our burdens, he WANTS to hold them.  It doesn’t mean He takes the burdens out of our lives completely, but He does take them out of our overfilled arms and off our backs!

As a woman, a wife, and a mom my life has gone through many seasons.  There are years where my biggest accomplishment was that I took a shower and the kids were still alive at bedtime.  There are others where I was more productive in keeping home, relationships outside my home, and serving.  Some years I have been a prayer warrior, others I have barely breathed out two or three words of desperation to God while trying to bring down a high fever or handle an epic tantrum.  We cannot do everything all of the time. And when we try, we will generally not do any of them well.

For example:

It’s OK, young mama, if your babies are demanding all of your time and you had to order pizza for dinner two nights in a row.  But make eating pizza an event!  Light candles! Play music!  Thank God as a family for that convenience and celebrate it!  You will have more time to cook as your kids grow, I promise.  And when you do, it doesn’t have to be Pinterest-worthy.  And please don’t wish away their little years by longing for things that would bring you more accolades.  In these long, exhausting years do your very best to be satisfied with the approval of the audience of One.  Your Heavenly Father sees and knows every sacrifice, every bottle cleaned, every diaper changed, and every exhausted kiss you give your husband.

My dear sister who is caring for a very sick loved one, maybe you stayed up later than everyone else last night and watched Netflix instead of doing the sink full of dishes.  That may not have been the most productive use of that hour…but then again maybe it was. You have to build rest into your day in order to survive.  Sabbath.  Call a friend and ask her to bring you coffee.  Offer up breath prayers when you are desperate and know that God hears them just as clearly as longer, more eloquent offerings.  Just be in His presence.  You don’t have to say a thing.

My single friend, you may long for husband and a house full of kids.  (Or maybe you don’t!)  God has not given you that “burden” to carry in life and you may feel like a third wheel at social gatherings, but you are very needed and useful.  Serve Him.  Serve His people who run around like chickens with their heads cut off and be an instrument of peace and rest in your community and church!  Use your freedom to go where young mothers cannot in their season of life.  Pave the way for us who will, one day, be empty-nesters and join you on your adventures!

Most importantly, friends, seek the Lord.  Ask Him what he wants you to hold in your hands at this moment.  Then don’t give in to the temptation to carry anything more.  That may sound simple, but you know as well as I do that it is not.  Do one thing at a time and do it well, then put it in the “backpack” before taking out the next thing.  This skill we work so hard to instill in children when learning to care for their belongings is just as useful to us as women as we navigate the busyness of life!

Gosh, I’m thankful for the lessons God teaches me through my kids.  I would love to hear from you if you have anything to share in this area!  You can comment here or email me at alifeofsimplejoys@gmail.com.  I so enjoy interacting with you and learning about the ways you seek to keep life simple!

 

Traveling…Mercy!

I’m convinced road trips are one of God’s most efficient tools for refining me.

This morning my alarm went off at 5am and I hit snooze not once, not twice, but three times.  I had spent the last two days packing up our entire family for a road trip to San Antonio.   My husband has been out of the country on a mission trip and will meet us in Texas for our niece’s wedding.  So that means I’m driving us, solo, for two days, and keeping kids from killing each other without Daddy as backup.

We left the house at 6:15 with me fully expecting them to all go back to sleep for the first few hours of the trip because I’ve been told on multiple occasions that this exactly what they do when they travel with FRIENDS.

BUT NO.

These kids who insist every. single. morning. that they are not hungry, that they are “never hungry when I wake up” wanted food immediately.  But I had a plan in mind and I stood my ground, wanting to get on the road and keep the schedule I knew would result in an efficient and memorable trip.  So I said no, that we would wait a little while to stop for breakfast at our normal eating time.  After much weeping and gnashing of teeth we started driving.  We stopped in Jackson, Tennessee and had Chick-fil-a around 8:45 am and WOULDN’T YOU KNOW a couple of kids had to be reminded to EAT because they suddenly weren’t hungry!  For. The. Love.

Throughout the day, I felt myself getting impatient.  I know you probably cannot relate (#sarcasm) but I’m just being honest here!  I got tired of complaints about being crowded/hungry/uncomfortable/and mom’s music choices.  One child and I bickered for about ten minutes over something stupid and finally made the wise decision just to drop it and be quiet.  I wasn’t going to win any mother-of-the-year awards, I just wanted to get to the hotel and let them veg in front of a TV with no time limits for once.

But here is the simple joy God injected into what began as a frustrating trip.  The same child with whom I had the conflict with became a comedian and we ended up in stitches. I put on 80’s music and we sang.  Loudly.  Off-key.  We all laughed and danced in the car and the highlight was when we belted out “Total Eclipse of the Heart” while in a traffic jam on I-30 just outside Texarkana!

Isn’t it funny how a simple choice can change the entire tone of a day?  Choosing to drop a grudge and laugh, choosing to stop wanting silence and embrace silliness?

Then there was the moment when we passed our first Whataburger billboard because…y’all…there are NO Whataburgers in Tennessee.  The entire car filled with happy yells and all the kids nearly jumped out of their seats in excitement because, “Guess what we are having for dinner!”

And all the people said…Amen and pass me a fry.

 

 

 

 

Simply Great

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble.”

Helen Keller

 

Greatness really isn’t glorious.

When I think of greatness, I usually think big!  I imagine royalty, (especially the British sort) and pageantry.  I think of servants and orders being given and followed without question.  Lots of “Yes ma’am’s.”  Gosh, that sounds nice.  I envision someone like Princess Kate with a bevy of personal assistants making sure her dresses fit perfectly and that her stylish little hat is perched at the precise angle that accents her professionally applied “smoky eye.”  She gets in her limo and is escorted to London’s finest restaurant where she dines with society’s elite, enjoying expensive wine and caviar while cameras capture it all and plaster her face all over every magazine, praising her etiquette and conversational expertise.  Doesn’t that sound lovely?

And how about a spot of tea?

But I’ve been reading the book of Mark and, well, Jesus had a lot to say about true greatness.  It’s simple, really.  And it does not involve expensive restaurants.

Or a fabulous British accent.

That should not surprise me.

The disciples followed Jesus, often, in a state of confusion.  They lived a life of sensory overload, witnessing miracles and events that most of us only dream of in today’s world. It was an honor to be in the company of the Messiah, to say the least.  As the days went by and the crowds grew bigger the disciples began to forget exactly Who the crowds were there to see.  They were riding the coattails of the Son of God and feeling pretty darn good about their position in society at the moment.

So Mark 9 tells us they were traveling with Jesus to Capernaum and they were talking amongst themselves.  Actually, they were probably arguing.  They were doing what my kids do at restaurants when we are all trying to be seated.  They were jockeying for position.

“I call sitting by Dad!”

“It’s my turn!”

“Not fair!  You sat by him last time!”

“You ALWAYS get to sit by him!”

(Notice they aren’t arguing over sitting by me.  They are SO over me.)

Well, they thought they were keeping this conversation on the down-low, that Jesus wasn’t aware of their little power trip.  How easily they forgot exactly WHO they were following down that dusty road.

Jesus turns to them and asks, “What were you talking about?”

Um, well, um…their eyes look down, embarrassed, because they know He knows and they are trying to figure out how to backpedal out of this one.  Mark doesn’t tell us if they answered him.  I don’t think they did.  I think Jesus let his question hang in the awkward silence for a few seconds before letting them know he already knew the answer to the question he was asking.

Then he drops the bomb.

“If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”  Then he called a child who was nearby and gently brought it to the center of the group of men.  He makes sure they all get a good look at the little one, taking the child into His arms.

“Whoever receives one child, just like this one, in my name receives me.   And whoever receives me doesn’t receive just me…he receives Him who sent me.”  In other words, guys, you are all focused on the wrong thing.

God’s kingdom is the exact opposite of everything this world tells us is right and good and effective.  It is upside down and inside out and we are wise to step back and observe how Jesus taught and what that should look like in our lives today.  We are here to serve. We are here to love.  We are here to gently shepherd our families and train them up in the ways of God, not expecting glory for ourselves in return.  Our mission is simple, but it is not easy because it goes against everything society says is true and great.

Greatness is about humility and service.  It is not about status or stuff.  It is not about Pinterest-worthy decorating, housekeeping, or even efficiency.  In fact, very often God will call us to be “ineffecient” and even “impractical” in the eyes of those around us. There may be six loads of laundry in my living room, waiting to be folded.  My sink may be full of dirty dishes and the junk mail piled up on the kitchen counter.  But the still, small voice of God whispers, “Stop.”

What if stopping means a lost opportunity to climb up the ladder of success?  What if it means I look like an idiot and someone shows up, unanounced, at my front door?  What if stopping means I put down the thing that would have been so great, such a boost to my career or position in ministry, and quietly do what God asked me to do that no one but He may ever see?  It could mean spending long hours praying and interceding, cooking a meal, writing a note, or just snuggling a child who needs a little extra attention in the moment.

It could mean a million different things, but the point I am making is this: Who am I serving?  What is my motivation for what I am doing?  If I am piling on one responsibility after another, drowning in a sea of stress and sacrificing the peace in my home…why? Why am I doing this?  What made me decide it was worth the price I (or my family) am paying?  What if I drop the selfish ambition and focus on cultivating humility, serving my family and friends and knowing when to say no to things that often interfere in this sacred mission God has given to me?

In theory, this sound great, right?  But the reality is I make a million little decisions every single day that scream to my loved ones, “There are a ton of things in my life more important than you!”  They will know their worth to me by the choices I make and the way I serve, or don’t serve, them.

My husband deserves a wife who greets him with a smile and a kiss.  He doesn’t need to hear all the things that went wrong the second he walks through the door after work.

My kids deserve the benefit of the doubt. So often I assume the worst and heap shame upon them for past mistakes when, in fact, they are just doing what normal kids do…trying to figure things out and making the same dumb mistakes I did along the way.  I want the world to look at me and declare me successful when the truth is I am flying by the seat of my pants most of the time and I can take neither blame nor credit for how my kids turn out!  My greatness is not measured by the lives of my children, the size of my house, the type of car I drive or the friends with whom I keep company.  It is only measured by how much of myself (including opportunities for recognition) I literally murder in order to be the hands and feet of Jesus to a lost and dying world.

This takes guts.  This takes strength.  And it takes incredible humility, daily choosing to be a living sacrifice for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

I am tired of jostling for position, aren’t you?  We make things so complicated, but Jesus never did that.  He lived simply, humbly, and effectively.  Let’s just plop down right where we are and feast together in His presence.  I  believe there really aren’t any bad seats in His house.  I’ll scoot over for you.  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Starts with Me.

“The times are bad!  The times are troublesome!”  This is what humans say.  But we are our times.  Let us live well and our times will be good.  Such as we are, such are our times.  -Saint Augustine of Hippo

I spent more than three years being angry.  I know, that sounds awful.  If you know me in real life, you might be surprised by that.  Then again, you might not.

Life had taken a turn that I did not ask for.  The atmosphere of my home, as a result, completely changed and most days I struggled to find joy and be intentional with my family.  They all suffered for it and I vacillated between denial and shame.  I felt like I was stuck in the pity pit and, for the life of me, I could not get my feet out of the mud.  Oh, I had several good days sprinkled throughout.  I also had moments of clarity when I cried out to God for help, but it seemed like I was fighting a losing battle and I’d be very lucky if my kids ever came home for Christmas after they sprung this joint.

I obsessively looked for answers, almost always outside of myself.  I refused to believe I was the source of much of our chaos but, looking back, I realize that is the painful truth.  I battled anger and bitterness, reminding God often that “this” was not what I had signed up for.  “This” was too hard and I was not equipped to deal with it.  I lost the joy of cooking as we battled food interolerances and health issues.  I lost the joy of mothering because I wasn’t getting the appreciation and rest I thought I deserved.  I lost the joy of serving my family and of serving God because, frankly, I was mad at Him.  You might call what I was feeling depression.

I call it sin.

I became self-centered and it only compounded the very normal problems our family was walking through.

Maybe you have felt this way.  Maybe you have thought, “If only they would stop doing this, or acting like that I would be such a better wife/mom/sister/daughter/friend.”  But, you know what?  You are wrong.  I was wrong.  In order to have joy, true joy that is not dependent on my circumstances, I must tap into the source of all joy which is the person of Jesus Christ.

So here is what I did.

I started getting up early.

Let me back up.  I am a homeschooling mama of 5 kids.  Early mornings have never been my jam.  I am a certified night owl and untintentionally trained my kids to be the same.  Getting up before 7am was crazy early for me, so I just didn’t unless there was a really good reason.  (Like leaving on a road trip.)  But I read a book a few months ago called “Liturgy of the Ordinary” by Tish Harrison Warren and it made me think hard and rethink everything I was…and wasn’t…doing.

Do you realize that making a sandwich for your kids can be a form of worship?  That in arguing with your husband God is there, teaching and revealing who He is and refining you?  Did you know that having a cup of hot tea in the evening can be a form of Sabbath rest which is fully enclosed in the will of God?

The next thing I did was order a new planner.  I am generally an office supply junkie but I struggle with planners because they generally have too many things in them that I don’t need and I get bogged down and just ditch the whole thing for the calendar app on my phone.  But this one is working beautifully.  It is the Sacred Ordinary Days Planner (go to sacredordinarydays.com to find it) and it works perfectly for me!  It is a liturgical day planner, meaning you are kept in the loop with the church calendar and made aware of the life of Christ as you move through the year.  It is no frills but gives plenty of space for personal reflection and prayer as you live day-to-day and week-to-week.

Well, one thing leads to another, right?  The next thing I did was order “Common Prayer:  A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals” by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro.  Now, I am not part of a church that practices the Liturgy.  I was not raised in that tradition, but had some exposure to it a few years ago at a family camp and it really resonated with my spirit.  This book is so rich and makes morning devotionals so easy.  It gives me words when I have none and inserts beautiful quotes and stories of believers from generations past that inspire and convict me to live today well.  In praying the Lord’s prayer each morning, I am able to say with all sincerity, “May your kingdom come…in my home.  May your will be done…in my family.  On Earth as it is in Heaven.”  The words of Jesus hold such power and, in really focusing in and praying them along with my prayers for others, God is doing what I needed the most.  He is quieting my soul and freeing me from shame.  He is meeting me in the early mornings when I light the candle on my desk and sip my coffee.  His Word is coming alive in me as I slowly, meditatively read the Scriptures and journal what He teaches me.

And it is in this simple act of getting up early, a good, solid hour before any of my children awaken, that I am finding joy.  It took years to find what would work for me.  Decades, really.  But God, in His faithfulness, has brought me here to this simple, quiet place and I am being changed little by little.

Have my circumstances changed?  Somewhat, yes.  But to say things are easy would be a lie.  I still have some very hard days, days in which I would rather pull the sheets over my head and hide, but because I am keeping this habit…this unforced rhythm of grace…I am finding I have the inner strength to better handle difficulty.  Sometimes I fail miserably and have to apologize to my husband or my children, but such is life.  We are a work in progress and I am learning the journey is much more joyful (and simple) if I can be content with progress and not expect perfection.

So, my friend, if you take anything away from this I want it to be the realization that finding joy has to start with you.  You have to be willing to admit your faults and turn your eyes upon Jesus, to draw from the Well that never runs dry.  Then, and only then, can life begin to become a little more simple…and much more joyful.