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/

 

 

 

Spring Emerging: Finding reassurance in God’s faithfulness.

Every year, as Summer heat beats down and yet another plant dies from lack of water (because by August I stink at gardening), I vehemently declare that Autumn is my favorite.  Cooler temps, sweaters and jeans, hot chocolate with marshmallows…and the Autumn leaves.  Simply beautiful in every way.

But then Winter comes.  At first it’s good.  I’m excited about Christmas and fill my home with way too many decorations and cook all the cookies, despite my low-carb vow.  I tolerate the cold nights by the fire and find joy in a plush blanket…

until January.

Then I’m over it.  It’s cold and dreary and dark and all the bare trees, dormant grass and NO SNOW despite the frigid temps send me into a funk.  (My area of Tennessee is notorious for cold, snowless winters.)  I just want warmer days and sunshine.  Is that too much to ask?

And just when I begin to think it’s never going to happen, I inspect the trees lining the sidewalk…especially the one the landscapers were sure had died…and there they are.  Buds.

Redbuds, to be exact.fullsizeoutput_a616

This discovery turns my frown upside down and I get happy.

Suddenly, Spring is my favorite.

And it’s finally coming.

The air is getting warmer by the day and all of creation is pregnant with life and color!  Take a walk today.  Look closely at the branches and inspect the mulch, noticing the spears of new leaves peeking through and flowers getting ready to bloom.  Slow down and put down your phone.  Take in the sights and smells of the season and rejoice!

Hosea 6:3-Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”

As sure as the dawn, friends.  Our Lord gives us these seasons in their predictability and consistency as reminders of His faithfulness!  Is that not reassuring as we emerge from the cold of Winter?  No matter how difficult this season has been, Spring is on it’s way!  As we stop and take in the newness of the bright green grass and flowering trees let’s do just what the verse above said…let’s press on to know our Lord, for he is faithful and trustworthy and consistent in all His ways.  He WILL come, just as Spring shows her face every single year in the blooms emerging from their winter sleep and the rains that feed May’s flowers!  If we press on to know Him, we will be rewarded with what we seek.  Intimacy, light, color and beauty will fill our spirits and we will walk in the warmth of His grace.

Happy Spring, dear ones.

 

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.

Where is Your Faith?

In Luke, Chapter 9, the day after Peter and John witnessed the incredible transfiguration of Jesus, the three of them journeyed back down the mountain and were greeted by a crowd.  A man, visibly frustrated, cried out to Jesus.  He begged him to take the time to look at his son who was being terrorized by a demon which caused him to have terrible seizures.  He had initially taken the boy to Jesus’ disciples who tried to cast out the evil spirit, but they could not.

This is where I often wish God had used italics.  Or bold print.  Or even a healthy dose of ALL CAPS because I so easily breeze past this section and miss the WHOLE POINT.

Jesus expresses great frustration, saying in verse 41, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?”  Then he says this.  And right here, is where I (if I was God, which I am clearly NOT) would have written in all caps:

“Bring your son HERE.”

As in, “TO ME.”

In other words, (to quote the classic words of 80’s country singer, Don Williams),

You’ve been “lookin’ for love in all the wrong places.”

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Was Jesus’ frustration with the father or with the disciples? Maybe it was with both.  But as I read I believe those four simple words speak volumes.

“Bring your son here.”

They are seeking healing from the disciples, maybe they are beginning to forget where their ability to heal has come from, but there is only one source of power, one source of healing, one  God-Man who is able to reverse the tide of disease and cast the demons out of  this boy.

In whom is their faith?

In whom or what is mine?

When I am hurting, where do I turn?  I often ask people to pray for me, but am I praying for myself?  Do I believe Jesus will actually listen to me?

Do I consult Google before God?

Do I take all the supplements and do away with all the gluten before going to my Father for healing?

Do I phone a friend but forget to fall on my knees for mercy?

How many ways do we manage to circumvent the essential, the most important step of meeting with Jesus on our knees and crying out DIRECTLY TO HIM for healing, strength, mercy, or whatever it is that plagues us?  How many times is my faith in everything and everyone BUT the Son of God?

Jesus scolded the man, saying “Bring your son here.”  HERE.  Not there, not to them.  HERE.

I just walked down the hall to check on my son, who has been suffering with a fever and nasty head cold for the past two days.  As I left his room my first thought was of all the things I need to do to speed up his healing.  But, no.  Before any of that I need to bring my son before the Lord, and let Him do His thing FIRST.  Why?

Because ALL glory belongs to God who gives every good gift.  Not any man or medication which are simply the vessels of His work.

So, I’m going to do just that.

Keep it simple.  Go straight to the source of life.  He is listening.  🙂

 

 

When you have Christ’s full attention.

In Luke 8, Jesus is surrounded by a crowd of people who want to see him, touch him, and be healed by him. Word had gotten out about the miracles being performed by him and curiosity runs rampant throughout the cities and villages through which he travels.

He shares parables, one about the Sower, another about the Lamp.  He challenges those crowding around him to do more than just be curious or seek to be able to say, “I saw Jesus,” or, “I was there when…”  He encourages them to own the faith that is being planted in their hearts.  Let it take root, be bold to live it out and don’t hide it from the world.

The people continue to press in, wanting more, wanting everything He is willing to give them.

Then his mom and brothers show up, wanting to talk to him about something.  They try to get through the crowd to Jesus, but cannot because the people surrounding him are literally smashed hip-to-hip and shoulder-to-shoulder.  And if you know anything about Middle-Eastern culture (Shoot, if you have ever ridden on a subway!) then you know they aren’t about to part and let someone go through just because they politely say, “excuse me!” If you want to get through the crowd, you have to fight to do so.

So the disciples, seeing Mary and the boys’ frustration, try to help.  “Your mother and brothers are standing outside.  They want to see you.”

Now, for a long time Jesus’ response seemed kind of sassy to me.  Out of place, even.  But today as I read this passage and compared it with a couple of modern-language translations (this often helps clarify difficult passages) I saw something different.  Jesus refused to turn away from the desperate, searching crowd pressing in to him, begging and demanding to receive blessing and teaching from him.  He said to the disciples, “My mother and brothers are those who hear the Word of God and do it.”

I don’t believe Jesus was dismissing his mother or his brothers.  I believe his words were spoken for the benefit of the crowd.  In essence, he was telling them…

“You matter.  You are loved.  You are important to me, as important as anyone else I have ever known…including my own family.  You have my full attention as long as you need it.”

He knew the hearts of those surrounding them, their desire to learn the Word of God and please their Heavenly Father.  They wanted to be made better, to know what they were doing wrong and be taught how to live in a way that honored and pleased God.  And that attitude of humility, of strength and determined pressing in to the only One who could provide what their souls needed, captured the full attention of Jesus…so much so that he told his Mom and brothers to, in my words, “Hold tight for a sec, I’m busy and this is something that can’t wait.”

How does that make you feel?  I tell you what, it brings me such a sense of belonging.  To imagine that my seeking after him, asking for wisdom and wanting everything he has for me, captures his attention so much that he will tell his own mama to wait…

Wow.

This seals the deal for me, that no distraction or activity is more important than pressing in to Jesus.  No social event, no social media, no time-consuming “what-have-you” that is done to “fill time” is a better use of my time than finding out how to know my Savior more intimately and use the gifts He has given me to bring glory and honor to him.  It doesn’t mean I don’t relax or enjoy reading a good blog.  (Hello!)  It means that everything I do is funneled through the sieve of my relationship with God.  That I purpose and do my best to live without wasted time.  In the words of Brother Lawrence…

brotherlawrencequote

Or, “Lord of all blogs and Facebook memes, make me a saint by writing only from your inspiration and not to gain attention for myself.”

Or, “Lord of all craft rooms and boxes of paint, make me saint by creating beautiful things that remind us of You and by cleaning up my mess.”

Or even, “Lord of all books and overloaded shelves, make me a saint by reading great words that draw me closer to you and help me understand the Great Story you are writing over us.”

I could go on and on…insert your favorite way to relax or have down-time and just see how, maybe, God can use it…use you doing it…to refine you and draw you closer to Jesus.  To give you an opportunity to have His full attention because He sees your pursuit of wisdom and spiritual maturity and HE HONORS IT.  He honors it by turning His face toward you and talking to you as if you are the only person in the room.

Jesus’ actions in this chapter tell me something very important…

Obedience is thicker than blood.

May we find ways to weave obedience to the teachings of Jesus and the promptings of the Holy Spirit in the tiny, mundane details of our every day routine!  It will be in this that we become a people who truly know how to filter out the noise and live simply…for Him.

That time I bought a Cello.

For most of my life, really…as far back as I can remember…I have dreamed of playing a stringed instrument.  Violin, guitar, what-have-you, they all have seemed so beautiful and unreachable to me.  Growing up, I played piano and clarinet.  Strings were not an option at my school.  But, for the past couple of years, I have found myself fantasizing about playing Cello.  We would go to concerts and I would be drawn to the cellists, the sound of the instrument, the grace of the bow, the posture of the musicians.  As an alto vocally, the Cello spoke to me because it is always that steady low voice that stabilizes the chord.  Though often not in the spotlight singing lead, when it does take center stage…wow.

So last week we went to another concert and I watched a young bass player named Scott Mulvahill ROCK OUT.  I mean, really.  Who would have thought a standing bass could do what he makes it do?  But it does and he obviously has so much fun on that stage.  (Look him up on YouTube.  He is amazing!)

We drove home after the concert and I mulled over my feelings and longings once again.  I’m 45, y’all.  Not exactly a young thang anymore.  Many might think I’m too old to start something big and new.

I decided to disagree with that.

Early the next morning I drove to a music store in a daze of mid-life crisis and desperate longing. I parked my Ford Explorer and looked at the doors of Music & Arts, the sign saying “open” and my heart racing.  I summoned up my courage, walked into the store and looked at the young man who greeted me.

Deep breath.

“I’d like to rent a Cello.” (Did I really just say that out loud?)

“Is this for you?” he asked kindly.

I am probably old enough to be his mother.

I swallowed hard and broke out into a cold sweat. A COLD SWEAT.  I am not exaggerating ONE BIT.

“Yes,” I said calmly.  “Yes, it is.  I’m having a mid-life crisis and I want to learn to play the Cello.”  (Yes, I really said that.  Insert forehead smack here.)

He smiled (I can only IMAGINE what he was thinking) and said, “Ok, well…”

And we proceeded to look around, discussing lesson options and logistics.  Then it turned out that they had a beautiful Cello ON SALE and buying (instead of renting) would save me thousands of dollars over the course of the next few years so…

Y’all.

I BOUGHT IT.

I bought, not rented, a cello.

At 45.

It was like saying, “I do.  Til death do us part.”

But with a bow instead of a diamond.

I own the baby and it is MINE.

The salesman tuned it for me and put it in its case.  I looked at it longingly, afraid to even touch it just yet.  It is just so beautiful.  And it is mine.

MINE.

I set up the payment plan and bought a beginner book and tuner, though I didn’t know the first thing about tuning a Cello.  (What were the names of the strings again?) I carried it to my car and willed myself to breathe normally as I drove home, completely shocked at what I had just done.

But now?

Oh, glory.  The moment I pulled Sofia out of her case (Yes, I named my Cello.  Don’t judge.) I felt this JOY course through my veins.  I pulled the bow across the strings and, despite the scratchiness, to me it sounded beautiful…like something I had waited my entire life to hear. The vibrations that resonate through the Cello when it is leaned back against my chest as I play are like balm.  They calm me despite the fumbling and hiccups as I learn to hold the bow and draw it straight across the strings.  I have found a teacher (Sarah Joy) via YouTube and practice every single day, loving each and every minute of it.  My fingertips are becoming calloused and the sound is coming along.

I can play Mary Had a Little Lamb!

And Jingle Bells!

There is something so satisfying and rewarding about working through that beginner book and the videos one day at a time.  It is in enjoying the process, seeing progress from day-to-day, that I have hope to be making real music a year from now.  (Does this NOT have endless spiritual parallels???) Maybe over the summer I’ll take lessons from a real, face-to-face teacher when we are not in the throes of homeschooling.  But regardless, I love it.

I absolutely love it.

Listen, you are never too old to try something new.  I’m realizing that it is really good for my children to see me do this, to hear my squeaks and squawks and see me fight to create beauty through this challenging instrument.  And it’s good for me.  I had this dream and it wasn’t going anywhere.  I believe God wants this for me and I could not be more excited.  I’m praying for Him to give me the ability to do this and do it well for His glory.  What a gift it would be to sit near the back of the stage during worship, accompanying the beautiful choruses with the melancholy alto of my Cello!  That is my goal.

I’m 45 years old and just beginning.  By the time I am 50 I’ll be so glad I didn’t wait any longer.

What are YOU waiting for?  What keeps you from plunging in and going for it?  What if you started today?  Now?

Because, let me tell you, every time I take that bow in my hand I feel JOY.  Pure, simple joy.

It is going to be a good journey.  I can feel it.