A Simple Discipline

It took years for me to find what worked, to develop spiritual disciplines that I could “stick with” and that felt grace-filled instead of burdensome or rote.  I tried the “read-through-Bible-in-a-year” programs, only to get stuck somewhere in Leviticus.  I bought a Bible that had daily readings from the Old and New Testaments along with a Psalm and Proverb for each day but it was too confusing…like reading four different Novels at the same time and trying to keep the stories straight.  Most everything I did caused me to read passages out of context or rush through or simply fall asleep in the middle and have no idea what I had read the next day.

I was practicing religion, not relationship.

I struggled.

After twenty years of being a Christian I simply did not know the Bible like I knew I should.  I wasn’t “in love” with the Word, only treating it like a habit to be kept or a box to be checked.

I sure would hate for my husband to treat me like that.

By the grace of God, I went to a retreat a couple of years ago that changed the way I interact with the Bible forever.  I signed up for a breakout session on “Bible Journaling,” which was all the rage and I thought looked kind of stupid, to be honest. Drawing in your Bible?  Mmmmkay.  But the girl was teaching hand-lettering techniques and ideas for easy sketches and drawings, which appealed to me, so I went.

I’ll never forget her holding up her colorful, stickered Bible and saying with great emotion, “I love this book.”

She had my attention.

In that session I learned to take it slow.  Read heading-to-heading.  Stop.  Ask God to show me what He wants to teach me.  Let the words sink in.  Look them up in different translations to get a broader picture (like The Message or The Passion Translation) and then write, doodle, draw, paint…whatever I want to do but allow the act of slowly and creatively writing what God is showing me to be a tool of meditation, to let the Holy Words take root in my hurried heart.

That means I probably won’t (and haven’t) make it through the Bible in a year.  And that is OK.  I had a friend say recently, “Read until He stops you.”  Yes.  God may have one beautiful sentence he wants me to mull over all day.  It may be an entire chapter.  But the key is to be in communication with the Holy Spirit as I read, not just to “get through it,” but to truly commune with the Lover of My Soul.  Sometimes I write in the margins.  Sometimes I get really creative.  But always, always I walk away knowing I have not been alone.  That is relationship.  That fosters my passion for Jesus and fills my cup so that I can live and love and parent more effectively, out of His strength and not my own.

Now, I do have a few personal boundaries I set for Bible journaling in order to keep it about Him and not about me.  First of all, I never ever write over the text of the Bible.  I believe every last word is Holy Spirit inspired and I also know that countless people have given their lives to own and protect one sacred page of scripture.  I determine that every word should still be easily readable after I am done.  So, out of reverence, I just don’t.  My Bible has plenty of room to write in the margins.

It’s not an art project.

I also don’t post my creations online.  I have allowed a couple of friends to see them but, really, I’m not that good of an artist and it is also not about getting likes or any other kinds of accolades for my “skills.”  What I create is between me and Jesus.  That keeps it real and it prevents me from “performing” as I journal.

I wake up early every morning, before any of my kids are stirring, and head upstairs to my desk.  I light a candle, I pray the day’s reading from “Common Prayer, A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals” (or any of various books of prayer I have around my house), always taking time to lift up the ones I love who need prayer, then open my Bible and read slowly and purposefully…until He stops me.  This discipline has changed my life, my perspective, and taught me things I would have otherwise missed in my previous rush to “get through it.”  I look forward to this time with God, knowing He will faithfully meet with me and fill me with the knowledge of His presence and peace.  It is a beautiful, blessedly quiet way to begin each day.

 

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/

 

 

 

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.

 

Perspective.

She sat with my daughter, bent over the canvas with a brush hanging from her lips, peering critically at every detail of her work.  Wondering if it was good, or maybe even (dare she hope?) great.  My daughter and I looked at it from a few feet away…amazed at the depth and perspective in her painting.

“It makes me want to jump in and walk through it,” I said.  My friend grinned, encouraged by our enthusiasm.  We all looked again, loving how a little distance seemed to smooth out imperfections and bring the work to life.  The more she painted, the more layers and colors she added, the more alive the painting became.  To watch it happen was like getting a glimpse of what God must have felt as He created color and depth and beauty on this earth.  What a gift!

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Painted by my talented friend, Jenelle Schimpf

 

I retreated to my desk a little later, thinking over her work.  How like our Father to use art to teach truth.  How appropriate that the Father of Lights would reach my heart through the play of light on oils and canvas.

In a season of history where the world feels so jumbled and chaotic, when the news is rarely good and tragedy hits too close too often, it is all too easy to feel lost and confused and unable to see God at work in the midst of the struggle.  But He is.  He is so busy, painting the masterpiece of Creation, adding layers and color and depth to the form of Man and history…HIS story.  Carefully He adds light here, darkness there.  Intentionally He places every color exactly where it is needed in order to produce the end result that He has in His mind’s eye.  And we, you and me, get to be colors on the great brush He holds in His hand.  We get to be a part of the beauty and the glory that is God’s story.

That sounds lovely, doesn’t it?  I think so…until he plops me into an area of blackness, of darkness contrasting the light where I had hoped to land.  But if that is His will for me, in this season, to settle into a dark place…though it may be difficult…I have to make a choice.  Do I trust the Artist and allow Him to use me where He wants me or buck against Him, muddling the colors and marring the end result?  If I submit and let Him use me in the darkness, then I become part of His glory and beauty.  Maybe I am being used to define the light, to draw attention to the bright beauty of the painting’s center…Jesus.

It reminds me of a beautiful little chapel in Carthage, Missouri…the Precious Moments Chapel.  Many years ago, on our honeymoon, my husband and I visited this special place.  As you enter the chapel you are met with a beautiful mural…Hallelujah Square.  It is filled with images of children and families, of reunions and tears being wiped away, of crutches no longer needed and broken bodies healed.  But the most beautiful part, to me, is where Jesus stands in the Square. When Samuel Butcher painted this mural he did not realize, until he was finished, that he had placed Jesus Christ at the very center.

Isn’t that so like God?  All of the sadness and sickness and heartache that we go through, all of the longing and seemingly endless waiting point back to the One who is at the center of it all…Jesus.  As we walk through these days of the season of Advent, try to take a few steps back and ask God to give you His perspective on your role in His masterpiece.  See if, just knowing there is a center focus to it all, a reason for the dark color values as well as the bright ones, doesn’t help you lift up your face a little more and hold your head a little higher in hope.  Ask Him for faith to endure, for the ability to trust His hand as He works in and around you.  Remember all the ways He has been faithful in the past and choose to trust Him to be the same today and tomorrow as He was back then.

Because He is.