Standing Guard

I wish I could have gotten a photo without scaring them off.

The cardinal pair:  Her, pecking quietly at the seeds spilling from the bright yellow feeder.  Him, standing guard from a slender branch just across the narrow strip of grass usually dominated by our German Shepherd.  The wind blew and the branch shivered, but he stood at his post, eyes fixed on his mate.

Something about it captured my attention.

They only stayed for a few moments.  I wanted to grab my camera but knew they would be gone by the time I got back to the window and if I dared to go outside they would surely fly away.  So I stood quietly, framed by morning light and mesmerized by the simple beauty of a male guarding his mate.

She was so calm and content, not even glancing up at him.  She was just doing what every living creature does every day…eating.  Such a simple, normal thing.

Kind of like doing laundry.  All the laundry that piles up in the hamper on a regular basis.  The normal mundane of my day.

Or having coffee alone in the dining room before the kids awaken, sunlight streaming in the tall windows and silence filling the air until the clomp-clomp of bare feet interrupt the quiet and the morning busy begins.

He is there.  Every moment of every day.  Whether I notice him or not, God watches me…and you.  Whether I am mopping floors or sipping tea…or struggling to settle my mind after a stressful day…He stands near, watching.  Comforting in His calm, bringing peace to the very air I breathe if I will just stop and take it in.  My Father, our Father, is a constant presence.

How does this realization affect us?  How does it make you feel?  What does it make you want to do…or not do?  For me, it gives me peace,  boundaries built by love.  When I forget the presence of God I easily lose focus and struggle to make sense of interruptions, pain, and trials.  But when I practice the presence of God, stopping to intentionally breathe in the Spirit-filled air and remember Who is always by my side, I find strength and purpose in the mundane or the struggle. I find safety under the watchful eye of my ever-present Guard.

 

 

The Forgotten Feast

Late one evening, while driving home from a banquet that had been held to celebrate the end of the latest basketball season, I heard a voice pipe up from the nether-regions of my dark and messy Explorer:

“I didn’t get to eat.”

I forced my face to stay forward, eyes on the road, while I said, incredulously, “What?”  (Read that with all the emphasis you can imagine.  Because that’s how I said it.)

“I haven’t had dinner, Mom.  I didn’t get to eat.”

I took a deep breath, willing myself to show grace and use this teachable moment.  “What would Sally Clarkson say?”  I thought to myself…

“You mean you were too busy hanging with your friends to eat, right?  You mean you chose not to eat because you were having fun, right?  Because when we left they were throwing out whole pans of spaghetti and meatballs and chicken alfredo…there was an entire banquet, a FEAST, laid out for you.  There is absolutely no reason for you to be hungry except that you chose not to eat what was provided for you.”

I paused there, knowing that continuing to lecture would be overkill and that this sweet fun-loving (and now hungry) kiddo of mine had gotten the point.  We arrived home, hungry child had a small snack, and everyone went to bed.

Then God started thunking me on the head.

 

You know the above-mentioned teachable moment I wanted to use to make a point to my child?  Well, the Lord decided to turn that one on me.

He’s pretty faithful about doing that.

Proverbs 9:1-6 (MSG)* says…

Lady Wisdom has built and furnished her home;
    it’s supported by seven hewn timbers.
The banquet meal is ready to be served: lamb roasted,
    wine poured out, table set with silver and flowers.
Having dismissed her serving maids,
    Lady Wisdom goes to town, stands in a prominent place,
    and invites everyone within sound of her voice:
“Are you confused about life, don’t know what’s going on?
    Come with me, oh come, have dinner with me!
I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread,
    roast lamb, carefully selected wines.
Leave your impoverished confusion and live!
    Walk up the street to a life with meaning.”

How often do I walk around hungry despite the literal banquet God has spread before me?  He tells us He has everything we need in place.  Every gift of the Holy Spirit is available to us, His beloved children.  Like a mother who takes pleasure in feeding her growing children, who delights in watching them savor delicious food made by her own hands, our God has spread out a Kingdom feast and sits at the head of the table, waiting for us to join Him.

But, too often, we don’t.  Despite the tantalizing smells of “fresh-baked bread, roasted lamb, and carefully selected wines” we run right past the table and try to live our lives on empty.  “I’m not hungry!” we declare as we slam the door behind us and skip to the playground (work, school, relationships, life) not wanting to take the necessary time to fuel our spirits before engaging with this broken and dying world.

Then we hit the wall.  We run out of energy and despair over our weakness.  We stubbornly declare, “I didn’t have time,” but the truth is we didn’t want to make the time.

Because you know as well as I do the time is there.

It may mean setting the alarm earlier to spend quiet time with God before the rest of the family awakens.  I could be choosing to listen to a podcast from a trusted Bible teacher or music that fills our minds with truth in the car (or while feeding babies). Maybe it involves putting down that magazine we had planned to thumb through in the doctor’s office to pick up a devotional or (wait for it) the actual Bible in our purse or even on our phone.  Wherever we choose to carve it out, we have the time to consume the feast our God has prepared for us.  It may not happen all in one sitting.  In fact, it may mean we are taking small bites throughout the day.  It’s not really about making time to feast on the Word, it’s about making the feast a priority.

And I’m telling you, sisters, that we will never walk in victory unless we are well-fed.

We cannot walk around starving and spiritually malnourished and expect to be effective in our marriages, our mothering, or any other area of life.  Because the Word is life.  Jesus is life.  He sits at the head of the table, but the seats are too often empty.  This has to stop!  The culture is running at us, chasing down our families at breakneck speed, and we are so tired and distracted that we have no energy to fight!  But fight, we must, or we will end up on our knees with a weak and broken spirit from years of malnutrition as we watch our homes crumble.  It begins with small changes, tweaks in the schedule that we can make every single day.  I’ve heard a good rule…”Work before play.”   Well, how about, pray before work?  Or sit at the feet of Jesus before logging in?

Verse six, above, says,
“Leave your impoverished confusion and live!
    Walk up the street to a life with meaning.”

Yes, that’s it!  A hungry soul is an impoverished and confused soul!  We cannot think clearly when we are hungry.  Any parent knows this.  We have all dealt with a “hangry” child…well, I would venture to guess that many of us are spiritually hangry.  We struggle to find meaning to our lives, feel bitter and angry and tired, but the answer lies in stopping…eat, drink and be filled.  Be still and know that He is God.  He is our provider, our strength, our portion and our cup.

Then,

from that nourished and fulfilled state,

we can emerge from the safety of home to face the world and be effective, energetic laborers in the fields.  We will no longer be searching for meaning, because meaning is found at the banqueting table.  We will know who we are and Whose we are and be better able to live out of that truth, living forward and purposefully into who God created us to be at the very beginning…fully dependent, empowered disciples of Jesus Christ offering hope and life to a desperate and hurting world.

Our kids are watching.  Our friends and families are watching.  If we don’t lead them to the banqueting table and show them the value of sitting with the Lord, feasting on all He has to give us, who will?

Let’s eat!

 

*MSG refers to The Message.  It is a modern paraphrase of the Bible.  I like to use it when trying to clarify passages or get better understanding of context.  

Finding Joy in Seasons of Grief

Throughout the weeks of Lent I spent the first minutes of each morning before lit candles and a cup of coffee with a simple, yet profound, book in my lap:  The Promise of Lent Devotional-A 40 day Journey Toward the Miracle of Easter by Chris Tiegreen.

I remember well the day I purchased it.  It was displayed on a table in our local Lifeway Christian Bookstore, next to a devotional based on the writing of C.S. Lewis.  Now, being a proud Rabbit Room member and lover of all things British, my first instinct was to grab the writings of Mr. Lewis, call it a no-brainer, and head to the checkout counter.  But something about that little purple book by an author of whom I had never heard with a golden crown of thorns gracing the otherwise plain cover caused me to pause and pick it up.  I flipped to the devotional for Day 1 and knew, immediately, that this was the one I was supposed to have.  With my apologies to C.S. Lewis, I bought the little purple book and dove in, day by day, as Lent marched me forward to the Cross.

God is so good.  With each day and every page, I was reminded of simple truths, known in my mind but often forgotten in the heat of the moment.  (You may have seen some of the quotes I shared on Instagram and Facebook throughout the 40 days of Lent.)  Truths such as these:

  1. You are called to celebrate the revelation of the coming kingdom long before you see it.  Your new citizenship is far more glorious than your old.
  2. Those moments of crisis are a mark of all good fiction, and they are also a mark of God’s best stories.
  3. The world says, “How dare you call me sinful?” and stays enslaved.  We say, “Yes, I am that and more,” and are set free.
  4. The dawn is most beautiful after the darkest of nights.
  5. The ways of the world have to surrender to the decrees of the insistently, stubbornly, relentlessly faithful.

And then this sentence…on Good Friday as the beautiful strains of Andrew Peterson’s new album, Resurrection Letters, Volume 1, washed over me and brought me into a beautiful place of worship…”Friday is not the end of the story.”

Is it Friday in your life, where you are, today?  Are you standing at the foot of a cross, dreams shattered and heart broken, in disbelief?  Are you caught up in a storm, not of your own choosing, and tossed about on a sea of tears?  Finding joy in those seasons can be difficult, if not impossible.  How do you find joy in sickness, death (whether of a loved one or of a dream), a rebellious child, an adulterous husband, or poverty?  How do you see the “good” in the very, very bad?

There was nothing “good” on Good Friday.  To all outward appearances the Son of God ended up just being an innocent man murdered on a cross between two thieves.  Everyone who had believed in him walked away disappointed and afraid.  Their hope was gone.  The words he had spoken to prepare them for this day had pooled into a jumbled mess of confusion in the back of their grief-stricken and panicked minds.  There was nothing for which to be thankful.

Nothing.

But what they could not see was the other side of the veil.  Their earthly eyes, blinded by tears and worry, were not attuned to the hum of voices and the drumbeat of Heaven building up into a cadence of victorious joy that would burst through on the morning of the third day when the dead body of Jesus suddenly drew a deep breath and sat up, unwrapped the grave clothes that bound Him in death, watched the light of the morning sun break through as the angel rolled the stone away and walked clean out of that tomb.

It may be Friday in your life, and right now there is nothing good about that.  But will you choose to hope?  Will you cry out to the Father along with me, “I believe, help my unbelief?”  And can you rest on Saturday, just as our Savior rested, knowing that Sunday is coming?  Resurrection is coming?  

He will make the joy so worth the pain.  It’s a promise.

Friday is not the end of the story.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  Revelation 21:3-4

Holy Week Reflections: The Grace of Dawn

The last of the dark clouds drifted across the rising sun, just over the trees topping the hills.  Beams of light flooded the room as the sun, at last, broke through and shone freely.

Such is the season of Lent.

In this Holy Week, as I reflect on the last days of Jesus’ earthly life, I am struck by the symbolism God has placed in all of nature.

In this season of life, as naiveté  is stripped away and the world groans in longing for His return, I am struck by my need to remember that my Jesus is acquainted with sorrows…accompanied by grief.  He sits with me in compassion and understanding because He knows.

He has suffered and sits with us in our suffering.

I have lit the Lenten candles each morning, watching as each day the new candle adds light.  I look to the Light as I pray before the candlelight, settled in my dependency, determined to keep walking forward.  I dwell, fascinated by the curling smoke as the candles are extinquished one-by-one, for a few long moments.  I sit in holy grief, knowing my sin nailed my savior to that cross, yet sit in hope, knowing that he won.

He rose.

And I am free.

Lent, unlike Advent (which is filled with child-like anticipation of the Newborn King), is heavy.  It is the knowing of my faults, the realization that His suffering should have been mine.  It is taking the time to sit in the weight of my sin while knowing, with each passing day, that my sin has been nailed to the cross and I bear it no more.

Praise the Lord, Oh my soul.

Lent is stepping into the suffering of Jesus, because He stepped into mine.  It is identifying with the cross, allowing Him to bear mine.  It is looking ahead, to the day when He stood, filled with breath and life, and walked out of that grave and took me right along with Him.

Lent is hope.  It is promise.  It is Grace.

It is the golden ribbon of morning puddled along the far black horizon, taking shape as Hope dawns faithfully day after day.

He is risen.  He is risen, indeed.

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…

BobandLarry

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.

sally clarkson

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/

 

 

 

Simply Jesus

I’m sure you have heard by now that Billy Graham went home on February 21st.  And I’m sure you have heard the name of Jesus thrown about more…and more positively…on all the media outlets than has been heard in years.

Now, I don’t watch as much news as I used to.  It brought me down,  made me angry, and generally cast a cloud over what would otherwise be a good day.  But the past few days I’ve tuned in a little more, clicked on those Facebook videos with highlights of Franklin Graham talking about his father and Kathie Lee passionately explaining the impact Billy Graham had on her and her family.

And throughout all the conversations, so far as I have heard, no one has refuted the Gospel of Jesus Christ as shared by Billy Graham.

billy-graham-prayer

I wonder why.  Why the reverence for a man who shared there is only one way to Jesus?  A man who didn’t bow to political ideology or ride the waves of Progressivism?  Why aren’t they debating Christianity this week, but allowing the Gospel to be presented over and over without interruption?  Why do the secular talk show anchors show only the deepest respect for Billy Graham and his legacy even though many of his beliefs were the polar opposite of theirs?

I know Billy Graham was not a perfect man.  He had flaws and struggles and, dare I say, sin just like you and me.

For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  (Rom. 3:23)

Billy Graham needed Jesus.  And he knew it.  He was wide open about it.  But he also knew he had the answer to all of life’s big questions regarding death and eternity…Jesus Christ.

Billy Graham lived for Jesus.  Period.  Billy Graham taught Christ and Christ crucified.  Period.  His message was simple.  Always simple.  Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

No one can argue with a man who was so singularly focused.

We make it so hard, don’t we?  We put God in a box and tell people what we think they need to do in order to open it.  Stop this.  Do that.  Don’t go there.  Straighten up.

But not Billy Graham.  He said, over and over, that God wants us just as we are.  We can’t clean ourselves up.  We can’t make ourselves worthy.

But Jesus can.  And He did.

He did it simply and humbly.  Nothing about Him drew the crowds, but everything about Jesus did.

“So many people think that somehow I carry a revival around in a suitcase, and they just announce me and something happens—but that’s not true. This is the work of God, and the Bible warns that God will not share His glory with another. All the publicity that we receive sometimes frightens me because I feel that therein lies a great danger. If God should take His hand off me, I would have no more spiritual power. The whole secret of the success of our meetings is spiritual—it’s God answering prayer. I cannot take credit for any of it.”

Simple.  Yes, friends, the Good News of Jesus Christ is simple.  Come as you are and let Him do what He does best.  He will handle the changes that need to be made.  He will show you what is next.  He will carry you and remind you of who you are and WHOSE you are when you doubt.  Because He is who He says He is and He will do…always…what He says He will do.

“I’m counting totally and completely on the Lord Jesus Christ, and not on Billy Graham. I’m not going to Heaven because I’ve read the Bible, nor because I’ve preached to a lot of people. I’m going to Heaven because of what Christ did.”  -Billy Graham

I’ll close with this…the gospel as shared by the man who very likely led more people to Christ than anyone else in history.  Read this, please.  It really is this simple.  And if you want to surrender your life to Jesus, I would love to introduce you to Him.  It is no accident that you are still reading this!  God loves you passionately.  All of Heaven awaits.

“I have one message: that Jesus Christ came, he died on a cross, he rose again, and he asked us to repent of our sins and receive him by faith as Lord and Savior, and if we do, we have forgiveness of all of our sins,” said Graham at his final Crusade in June 2005 at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in New York.

May we, as the body of Christ, find a new boldness in this season where the culture is hearing the Gospel anew.  May the home-going of our era’s greatest evangelist spur us on to take up the Cross and follow Jesus.  And may we purpose to keep it simple.  Because coming to Jesus is.

If you would like to know more about having a relationship with Jesus Christ, please email me at alifeofsimplejoys@gmail.com.  You can also find more information at stepstopeace.org.  I would love to help you find the same hope and peace that He has given to me.