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.

 

 

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.

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.

 

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.

 

Less is…less.

My everyday tasks are made more simple when decisions are straightforward.

As you probably remember, I spent the better part of Autumn 2017 purging like a crazy woman.  I got rid of possessions that I did not need, no longer wanted, and were just taking up space.  One thing that surprised me was the stuff in my kitchen.

It surprised me because I had done a “purge” just a year or so earlier…Marie Kondo style.  But, apparently, I did not go far enough.

You see the measuring cup photo above?  I had four of these 2-cup Pyrex lovelies.  Plus one 4-cup measuring cup, two Pampered Chef batter bowls (small and large) and about eight various sets of measuring spoons and measuring cup sets.  As I boxed up the kitchen for the move I stopped and looked at my unintentional collection.  What was my purpose in owning all of these?  Some had been given to me, others were decades old.  Some were purchased to replace older ones (often because the color was prettier) (I so enjoy pretty kitchen things!) but the older ones never got donated or discarded.  I had a very large kitchen with plenty of storage and, well, the older stuff just got pushed to the back of the drawer or cabinet.  There were a couple of them that had sentimental value because of who had given them to me but I no longer used them.  They were taking up space.  Period.

I took a deep breath and decided to choose wisely.  I kept the batter bowls (because Pampered Chef!) and only two sets each of measuring spoons and measuring cups.  The rest were donated.

This is only one example of the cleaning-out process that preceded our move, but now that we are here in our new home I am so thankful that I did that brutal purge.  Because, until now, I did not realize how often my little decisions had just a teeny bit of added stress due to having too many choices.

When I cook, now, my choices are easy.  Grab what I need and move on.  No more rearranging stacks, shuffling things around or standing there staring blankly before finally picking out what I need.  My everyday tasks are made more simple when decisions are straightforward.

Read that again.

My everyday tasks are made more simple when decisions are straightforward.

We clutter up our minds when we clutter up our homes.  We become saddled under the weight of our possessions because we refuse to let things go.  This applies to our physical lives as well as our emotional and spiritual lives!

Proverbs 2:4-5 says,

If you sift through the clamor of everything around you
    to seek her like some precious prize,
    to search for her like buried treasure;
 Then you will grasp what it means to truly respect the Eternal,
    and you will have discovered the knowledge of the one True God.  

(The Voice)

Sifting through the clamor.  That can manifest in so many different ways:  getting rid of possessions, thinning out our book collection (The. Hardest. For. Me.), turning off the TV or radio and learning to function in absolute quiet, getting up (and going to bed) earlier so fatigue doesn’t cloud my thinking, choosing friends more wisely, sticking to a grocery list or (gasp) reading a good and beautiful book instead of scrolling mindlessly through social media.  It is in the little choices, made all throughout each day, that we begin to reduce mental strain and find white space in our lives, space that allows rest and results in the restoration and recognition of who we are created to be.

God never called us to be busy for busy’s sake, or to have a calendar so filled to the brim that we dread waking up in the morning.

In 1 Corinthians 3:3, Paul says,

you are still living in the flesh, not in the Spirit. How do I know? Are you fighting with one another? Are you comparing yourselves to others and becoming consumed with jealousy? Then it sounds like you are living in the flesh, no different from the rest who live by the standards of this rebellious and broken world.

(The Voice)

I believe the need to have and consume and hoard (whether physically or spiritually) is a form of living in the flesh.  It is sign of a lack of faith, of fearing there will not be enough or holding on to an idol.  We compare ourselves to others and want to keep up, have what they have, or even do what they do.  But if it causes stress or burdens us, holding us back from becoming who we are created to be, it most likely should not be in our lives or homes.

This is not a legalistic proposition, but a practical one.  It doesn’t mean we all have to sell our possessions and give everything to the poor (unless God calls us to) but it means we are intentional with what we have in our homes, creating beauty and space and an inviting environment within which we raise our children and entertain guests.

It means cultivating spiritual disciplines and making sure the time is there, each day, to spend time with God in prayer and reading His Word.  Non-negotiable.

It means being selective about who we “let in” as close friends, trusting the truly trustworthy and choosing to be an influencer for the Kingdom instead of being constantly blown back and forth by the winds of society for the sake of “fitting in.”

I guess it is a little strange that God would teach me this from a pile of discarded measuring utensils!  But, as usual, He shows up in the everyday mundane…when it is quiet and I am alone with my thoughts.  But as I dwell on the truth He has given me, I pray that I am obedient, letting it transform my life and making me more like Jesus who was fully satisfied in His Father.

Yes, may that be true of me.

And I pray it will be true of you.

The Making of a Home

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.  And you know the way to where I am going.

John 14:3-4

If you had asked me what the absolute worst time I could imagine to squeeze in a move to a new house could be I would have, without hesitation, said Christmas time.  Need I list all the reasons?

I think not.

But here we are.  In our new home.  Just moved in with only days before Christmas morning arrives.

Call us crazy.  We might be.

God has a way of stretching us when we least expect it and, more often than not, the stretching is accompanied by great blessing.  In fact, sometimes it is because of great blessing.

We scaled down quite a bit in house size.  That meant some extreme and brutal purging in the midst of buying Christmas gifts and decorating our new home.  Talk about conflict.  I’m not exaggerating when I tell you my brain is just plain tired.  Don’t even ask about my body.  But the process has been so good and sanctifying.

First of all, it spawned this little corner of the internet.  My quest to simplify our life and to find contentment and inspiration in the everyday normal of life brought me here, to you.  Second, I was convicted to the core about how much stuff we had accumulated.  Stuff I had honestly forgotten I even owned and, obviously, did not need.  I was determined to move only that which was needed and brought joy.  That may or may not have traumatized our resident hoarders.  (Ahem.)

We sold what we needed to sell and gave away the rest, which was a lot.  Friends and Goodwill benefited greatly and we spent weeks moving one SUV-load after another to our new space.  As Christmas neared, I spent two days putting up trees, the special decorations that speak “Christmas” to our family’s hearts, and dreaming of the first magical days in this house with a view.  Horses grazing out front, hills and trees and sparkling ponds out back.  A porch with a swinging bed where my daughter contentedly strums her ukulele and laughter echoing down the wooden stairs as the kids explore and discover their new favorite spots to land.  Moving in with Christmas already in place has been so good and helpful for our transition.  Having our traditions waiting was a gentle buffer to the stress a move brings.  I am grateful for that.

And now I can look out my window and watch the sun rise over the hills, the smell of coffee brewing in the kitchen and the eggnog-scented candle burning next to the sink.  I sigh and thank God, once again, under my breath as I take in this beautiful and quiet moment on an Advent morning.

Christmas was waiting, here, for us, when we arrived.  All that meant joy and Jesus in this season was prepared beforehand so that our arrival would be seamless.  Home, with all of the trimmings and sparkle and tradition, was ready.

Though the original Advent took many by surprise (remember, there are 400 silent years between the Old and New Testaments) the reality is that the preparations had been underway for thousands of years.  From the day Adam and Eve fell into sin, God had begun the countdown to the arrival of Jesus to redeem and restore mankind to intimacy with Him.  The star was ready to shine.  The manger was built.  Mary was chosen and Joseph placed in to “such a time as this” before anyone in the world realized what was coming.  God was moving and working behind the scenes, preparing Christmas for his Beloved.

For you and for me.

And as we arrive, one by one, in His Kingdom by faith don’t you imagine He rejoices as we cross that threshold of eternal life?  Don’t you think it pleases His father-heart to no end when we gasp in wonder and realize what He has done for us, embracing the gift of Jesus and walking through the doors of eternity to begin life with and for Him?  I do.  Most definitely, I do.  Our God is full of good gifts and lavishly loves us.  He gives us beauty and feasting and music and laughter for us to enjoy, together, as a family.  These holidays are just a foretaste of what is to come and, today, I am going to linger a little longer at the window and watch the wind blow through the horses’ manes as they graze.  I am going to sip my coffee slowly and inhaled the sweetly scented candle as Christmas carols play softly in the background.  And I’m going to thank God for leading me down this road to a more quiet and less cluttered life that frees me to be in the moment, fully, with the ones I love the most.

Merry Christmas, sweet friends.  You are loved.