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.

What my version of simple is not.

I took a little impromptu survey of my Facebook friends, asking what they would simplify if they could.  Over the next few weeks I plan to develop the answers they gave and incorporate them into this space.

We have so many common struggles:  clutter, busyness, stress, relationship drama and spiritual battles.  We all have too many irons in the fire and not enough sleep to have the energy to fight well.  That is why I am here, with you.

As you read the posts I write, I want to be very clear as to what this blog is not.  I feel this is very important to put out there now, at the beginning, so we can understand each other and truly let this be a grace-filled and simple space.  So, without further adieu…

  1.  This blog is not just about minimalism.  It’s about simplicity.  I battle clutter way too much to call myself an authority on minimalism.  Will I incorporate minimalist principles into the ideas I share?  As needed, yes.  Just look at the design of this site!  Simple, no frills, no ads, just posts and comments.  Period.  Though I will share the posts on my personal Facebook page, I don’t plan to create a new page for A Life of Simple Joys because…well…I’m trying to simplify.  Ahem.
  2. I’m not going to tell you how to decorate.  When I read articles on simple living the common thread is everything appears monotone, clean, and empty.  Well, that’s just not me.  I believe we can have a beautiful, cozy and warm home yet not be burdened by all of our stuff.  We just have to know what brings us the big happies and do away with the things that don’t.  That will look very different for each of us.
  3. I’m not going to tell you how to eat.  Y’all.  Don’t even get me started.  I am Paleo until I smell bread.  I am a Trim Healthy Mama until I am faced with a basket of chips and salsa.  I have all the cookbooks and dabble in all the diets.  I am consistent in my inconsistency.  So I’ll share recipes here and there, but I can’t promise they will always be healthy, gluten-free, or even made totally from scratch!  I’m a work in progress.  Sometimes that involves butter.  Ok…often it involves butter.  Grass-fed, of course.
  4. I’m not going to tell you to get rid of social media or your cell phone.  You might decide to do that.  Great!  But I am not here to give you rules.  That is probably what has bogged you down in the first place!  (Speaking from experience, here!)  This is about grace and freedom.  It is about keeping the main thing the main thing and finding joy throughout our busy days.
  5. It’s not about checklists.  Or the aforementioned rules.  This is a space of grace and freedom.  It is about learning to find joy because we leave room for it to emerge in our day.  It will take many forms.  I will share the joys that I find with you and, hopefully, you will do the same with me.  This is a conversation, and place to remind one another of the good and beauty all around us when we are so battle-weary that our eyelids are propped open with toothpicks.  It’s a cup of hot tea and a square of dark chocolate because we just need a few minutes to catch our breath.
  6. I’m not FlyLady or Sally Clarkson.  But oh, do I ever love those two!  As a recovering clutter-holic I am beginning the baby steps and, y’all, today my sink is shiny.  And Sally Clarkson…I am  going to write a whole post about her, I think.  If you don’t know who she is, allow me to introduce you.
  7. I’m not going to tell you to homestead or listen to classical music or read Jane Eyre.  Don’t laugh!  Do you know how many times I have read books or articles, seeking encouragement, and just cannot relate to the writer because what floats her boat sinks mine?  I enjoy music, movies, and books of all kinds and nearly every genre.  I like to garden but have stunk  at it for the past three years.  This is not a place of rules or “how-to’s” but of learning to live forward into who God created us to be! We are all so different, and that is a beautiful thing.  I will share what I find brings joy to my day.  It may be a book I read, a plant I bought at the grocery store, or a recipe I cooked successfully.  If a new album sparks the big happies in me I’ll tell you about it.  You may not like it, yourself.  You are free to feel that way!
  8. I’m not going to tell you how to parent.  Frankly, the only authority on parenting is God.  He is the only perfect Father who has ever existed and even His kids rebel…every last one of us.  I’ll encourage you.  You can encourage me.  But there are a bajillion (that is a number, right?) blogs, books, quips or quotes that have already said everything that can be said about raising kids.  This is about keeping life simple.  That might mean putting the parenting books on the shelf and going straight to the Source.  Speaking of the Source…
  9. I AM going to talk about Jesus.  Everyone is welcome here.  I love you and will be so happy to engage in respectful, God-honoring conversation with you.  So much of what I am finding as I seek to simplify is that outward clutter in the various areas of my life is a symptom of inward clutter.  It starts in our spirit, shedding the complications we have allowed that create confusion and fatigue.  God made salvation and relationship with Him simple.  We mess it up when we add to what He has already established.  In the words of Bob Warren:  Jesus + Nothing = EVERYTHING.  Any ideas or routines I share will be simple.  They will be what is working for me and my family.  They will not be a standard to which you should aspire.  Always, always seek God’s wisdom and will for YOU and your family.  Again, we are all different and our walks with the Lord will also be different.

I think that is all!  I hope this helps to clarify why I am here.  I am so excited.  God has really lit a fire in me and I hope He does the same for you.  If you are still reading, I would venture to guess that He already has.  🙂

So will you please share in the comments who you are and, maybe, the areas of your life in which you long for simplicity?  And if you have something that is working for you, I’d love to hear about that, too!

Until next week…

Simple begins now.

More than fifteen years ago I was a mommy of two toddlers.  We lived in a little white house on Galveston Island and life was blissfully simple.  I would sometimes go five days straight without ever leaving my house! My to-do lists were short and the kids’ naps were nice and long.

We were in a season of training, of waiting as my husband worked his patootie off to complete his residency and move on to the next phase of life.  We looked forward to the good things that were to come and dreamed of bigger houses, cars with warranties, and evenings out with friends where the meals came from restaurants that did not serve chicken nuggets.  It was a such a sweet time!

I had this incredible group of friends.  They were all medical wives, like me, and in various stages of training.  Some a year or two ahead, some a year or two behind.  We all had babies and toddlers and our play group grew from four mamas and a handful of kids to nearly thirty moms and kids destroying gracing a house every Tuesday morning!  We enjoyed endless hours of conversation, coffee and prayer while our children watched Veggie Tales and ate endless bowls of popcorn.  We called our little/big group “Pray and Play” and it was the highlight of our week.  Shoot, looking back, it is still one of the highlights of my life as a young mother.

I remember a particular conversation with my friend, Stacy.  We were coming up on our last years in Galveston and the reality of life beyond the island was hitting us.  She told me of a girl she had recently spoken with who had moved on to “post-residency” a year or so ago…

“She said to enjoy this time.  Life is so simple. Right now it is a big deal to get a 99 cent ice cream cone at McDonald’s.  Little things are such a treat.”

I nodded in agreement.

“She said that, after residency, life is so much more complicated and that it will never be this simple again.”

We looked at each other, knowing it was true.  We were so intentional back then, so determined to make the little things count and appreciate the joys that filled our young-mom days.  We wanted to believe we could keep it up and not lose sight of the beauty of this gift of wife and motherhood.

“Keep life simple.”

I mean, really, how hard can that be?  You just choose it, right?  You just don’t let the crazy creep in and you determine not to conform to the harried schedule of the world.  You have decided you are going to have dinner as a family almost every night and home-cooked meals will be the norm.  You are going to make memories with your kids and maintain that beautiful pace you have found, extolling the virtues of patience and discipline and raising little pastors and missionaries, right?

Wrong.

Somewhere along the way, the crazy crept in.  It doesn’t matter the source, you know what I am talking about.  You find yourself stretched so thin you can’t believe you haven’t snapped and died of whiplash.  Late nights find you in front of a screen in a haze of fatigue and early mornings find you mashing the snooze button and crawling out of bed only after your child pries your eyes open and asks if you are asleep.  Quiet time? You put on a Christian song and call it even.  You stop cooking from scratch and burn out two microwaves because you keep a steady supply of frozen junk in the deep freeze.  Processed food becomes such a staple that you have all forgotten what fresh food should taste like.  Yet, despite the lack of cooking, your kitchen is a disaster.

You are drowning.

Life is anything but simple.  It is complicated and you feel frazzled.  You stare into the mirror, wondering when the bright girl you once saw got replaced by a tired and bitter old woman.

So here we are, today.  Sisters, it’s time to start over!  God loves us too much to allow us to wallow in the pity pit!  He has so much waiting for us!  He longs to fill us with joy and the peace of Christ!  But, first, we must shed the entanglements and pare down our lives. What is holding you back?  What is making you feel like you can’t keep your head above water?  Pray for wisdom and clarity and get ready because today we begin.  Today we are going to find beauty in the mundane, rediscovering the little things that bring big happiness.  We are going to restore order and catch a vision for our future.  We are going to wake up prepared for each day so that when suffering does come (and you can be sure it will) we have the fortitude to face it and dare to find joy in the midst of it.

Are you ready?

 

Staying afloat, head above water, sunrise, mercies new every morning
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” ‭‭Lamentations‬ ‭3:22-23‬ ‭ESV‬‬