Endings and beginnings.

I took my dog for a walk this morning, noting the silver slug trails scribbled across the sidewalk. The light of dawn made them shimmer and become almost beautiful. For the first time in several weeks, I felt inspired to sit down and write.

The flowers in the South are in full bloom, knockout roses scenting the air and daisies standing tall behind the monkey grass edging the flower beds. My potted plants struggle to survive due to my occasional neglect and I find myself flooding them in order to rescue them from the wilt. I have great dreams of gardening in the Spring when the weather is cool which quickly wither in the oppressive heat of Summer.

I haven’t written a thing since my retreat in May. It was three glorious days of driving through incredible scenery along the Ocoee River and through the Blue Ridge Mountains. I finished my novel (yay!) and wrote whatever crossed my brain in the moment. Pages upon pages were laid down-my way of figuring things out, straightening what had become crooked, and reconnecting with God in the quiet of a sheep farm in Georgia. It was heaven on earth. Then, I came home and hit a creative wall. Oh, I’ve started a few posts, scrolled mindlessly through social media and shared a few memes and photos, but nothing of substance has been produced due to various circumstances.

First, I started back to school and I’ll just tell you, College Algebra is hard. I’m a writer, not a math brain, so it is stretching and challenging me in a myriad of ways. Not all of them constructive. I have sighed, cried, and sought every way I can imagine to get out of taking this class, but the fact is it is a basic requirement of a bachelor’s degree and it is the only general studies course I didn’t take back in the early nineties. It’s been a long, long time but it has to be done. Thank God for my brilliant husband who remembers all of this stuff! He has saved my academic life!

Second, Summer has been busier than I would like. Last year I felt like we spent endless, luxurious days by the pool, reading and splashing and meeting neighbors. This year has been filled with appointments, camps, preparing my oldest to transition to college, a trip to the beach…and math! All of these things are good and necessary but I find myself just wanting to be home, curled up on the sofa with a good book. (But, I really need to catch up on laundry.)

Third, we had to say goodbye to our beautiful, majestic, tender-hearted German Shepherd. What we thought was an ear infection turned out to be advanced cancer. We didn’t have time to wrap our heads or hearts around it but we had to put him down. I can’t describe the heartache of holding that huge head, looking into his soulful eyes and telling him what a good boy he was as he succumbed to the anesthesia. We all were there, weeping, as my husband read a prayer over our dog and we let him go. Grief has hit in waves and our yard feels so empty without his 120 pound presence. He was a big boy with an even bigger heart and we hurt.

Fourth and finally, in our grief we couldn’t be satisfied with one little dog who was lonely and lost without her best friend. We watched Hollie mope around and lose all of her mojo and we knew we needed to bring joy into our family quickly. Yes, we got a puppy(!) and that has been good and right therapy. She is a Cavachon-a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel/Bichon Frise mix. Like someone told me who had recently lost a beloved dog, if I have to be sad, at least I can be sad with a puppy. We named her Clara June and she is a sweet, soft bundle of snuggles who is healing our hearts and teaching our Hollie about playfulness and the fun of pouncing on a toy once again. Hollie isn’t sold on her just yet, but she is making baby steps that direction. Hollie gives a killer side-eye, though. Her shih-Tzu expression is consistently sour mixed with a healthy dose of annoyed at this new little sister who is full of puppy energy. We have laughed a lot this past week and I am grateful for that. Puppy breath is good therapy.

So, here I am. I still intend to write about my retreat back in May. I have incredible pictures to share and stories of how God met me there but today I just wanted to stop by and say hi. I wanted to share a bit of real life that has been happening and just check in with you as July dawns and we in the South hunker down to endure the summer heat. I hope you are able to enjoy some long mornings. I, for one, have to get up early to enjoy my devotionals outdoors or else I end up being driven inside by the humidity and bugs!

God is faithful. He is near. He is moving in the good and the hard and I’m grateful to be reminded of that. I have felt more dependent on him in recent days, even in the midst of massive struggles to form coherent prayers at times. But He reminds me to cast all of my cares upon Him for He loves me.

I think we could all stand to be reminded of that, don’t you?

Happy 4th of July (if you are in the United States)! As we celebrate the country in which God has ordained us to live, may we be good stewards of the freedom we enjoy and use it for the glory of God and the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Digging Deep: Defending the Truth in a Culture of Lies

As the world continues to change at breakneck pace, more and more Christians are caving in to doctrine that is destructive at best, heretical at worst. Everything the church once held as sacred is up for grabs…marriage, family, morality, and the sanctity of human life are only a few of the issues being questioned and trampled beneath the snowballs of modern religious (or anti-religious) thought. As I have watched these changes gather strength I have often lamented the world in which I am raising my children. How do we combat such strong worldly influences when so much competes for their attention? Social media alone has changed everything regarding how the world thinks, interacts, and even how we parent.

The arguments against faith are many and varied. Sometimes I have no problem identifying the flaw in logic but there are other occasions when, though I know the idea presented is wrong, I haven’t been able to articulate why. “Because the Bible says so” simply is not effective when speaking to someone who does not believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God.

Book after book is being published that pose real danger to the hearts and minds of women. They boast catchy titles and carry messages that make all kinds of promises that my friends are too often falling for…hook, line and sinker. Christian leaders hedge their answers on important topics and leave room for the uneducated lay person to fill in the blanks with what seems right to them, which is extremely dangerous and unbiblical.

A year, or so, ago I read an article that piqued my interest and led me to a podcast by Alisa Childers which completely changed how I would spend my (precious few) free minutes. All of a sudden the world of apologetics was accessible to this average small-town girl! I have had an insatiable thirst for more ever since. Not only have I found verbage to help me answer questions I hear from my teenagers and their friends, I have experienced an incredible increase in faith as I have learned logic and evidence for the accuracy of the Bible and fallen deeper in love with the Savior who changed the entire course of my life when I was twenty one years old.

In case you are unfamiliar with the term, Apologetics is defined as the discipline of defending religious doctrines through systematic argumentation and discourse. It is knowing why you believe what you believe and being able to defend it using logic and reason. In my opinion, the study of apologetics is extremely important and worthy of pursuit by all believers, no matter our level of education. We need to know what we believe and WHY.

When I think of apologetics, C.S. Lewis and Ravi Zacharias are the first to come to mind. Good apologists ardently defend the faith, refusing to bend to the societal trends of their time and striving for excellence in everything they write and teach. Biblical literacy and knowledge of truth are the most important skills we can acquire and, really, the only way we will successfully stand against the lies that are flooding our culture.

In other words, my dear sisters, you have GOT to read your Bible. Make it happen, whatever you have to put aside, but DO IT.

We have to stop depending on celebrities (including celebrity pastors) and media to define truth. There is only one way to the Father, and that is through his son, Jesus Christ. God is holy and, through Christ, we are made holy. That means we are different, set apart. That means we live by a high moral standard, even if it steps on the toes of those around us, because we know who we would have been without the Cross. It means we deny ourselves and follow Jesus, even when that results in being labeled as intolerant or narrow-minded because we refuse to bow to the gods the world offers. And it means we speak the truth, in love (always in love) but we speak it, nonetheless. Because the truth sets us FREE.

Take the time to learn the Bible for yourself. Let the Holy Spirit be your teacher. Seek the wisdom of God and don’t settle for books “about” the Bible. Stop letting your ears be tickled by teachers who refuse to address the problem of sin and depravity and choose to pursue excellence in the study of God’s word. Yes, I know that sounds overwhelming. I know you may have little kids running around your legs all day long or a boss who has placed time-consuming demands on your waking hours but you must make the time to educate yourself on the things of the Kingdom. What are you willing to cut out in order to pursue deeper knowledge of God? I am sad to admit that, even when I claimed I could only steal 5 minutes to read a devotional (rarely opening my actual Bible), I had no trouble keeping up with my favorite TV series or scrolling through social media. It is all about priorities. He is worthy of our sacrifice of time and effort!

If you don’t know where to start, I have a few links to share with you:

Alisa Childers (alisachilders.com)

Mama Bear Apologetics (http://mamabearapologetics.com)

Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (rzim.org)

The FreeMind Podcast by Seth and Nirva Ready with Stephen Robles (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/freemind/id1448136168)

All of these are either podcasts or have podcasts available along with their written blogs. You can listen to them while you are busy doing other things. (My favorite type of multitasking!) They will help you think through current issues and arguments and drive you straight into studying God’s Word with the intent of finding answers and not just checking off an item on your to-do list. They are not a replacement for Bible study, but will give you direction as to how to read the Bible with an eye for context and culture. If you have apologetics sources/blogs/podcasts you would like to share please do! Just post the link in the comments either here or on the A Life of Simple Joys Facebook page. (Link is in the margin)

The world around us is completely upside-down, exactly as God said it would be. (2 Tim. 4:3) Our only defense against the lies that swirl around us is knowing the truth; HIS truth, not our fanciful version. Sisters, please, lose the fluff and dive deep for the sake of Christ! There is so much richness awaiting us in the depths of His Word. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a lot of lost time for which I need to make up. There is no better time to start than right now.

 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead,and Christ will shine on you.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  (Ephesians 5:6-17)

Are You Drained?

It has rained cats and dogs here in Tennessee. I believe I speak for everyone when I say we are all “over it.” My yard is a mucky mess and our German Shepherd, who loves a good roll in a puddle, leaves body-shaped mud prints on my hardwoods every. single. day.

Behind our house sprawls the sixth fairway of a golf course dotted with ponds. When the sun rises one of my favorite things to observe is the colors of the sky reflected in the water. Ducks and geese frequent the area and fish occasionally leave concentric circles as they dance just under the water’s surface in the morning light.

As the rains have fallen (and fallen) this week, I have watched the ponds carefully. The levels have risen slightly, but many friends in the area have creeks and ponds busting out of their banks and threatening their homes. I have been very thankful that our ponds were built with drains along the edges that direct the overflow safely away from our neighborhood.

Which got me thinking…

We often think of drains, especially in our lives, as a negative thing. If something is ‘draining’ it generally means it is sucking the life out of us. But what if there is another meaning, one that is life-giving or, at least, life-preserving?

As I look at the ponds behind my house I realize that even something so beautiful and necessary as clean water can be destructive if not controlled and directed to where it is needed. In an age of busy, busier and busiest we tend to fill our lives up, going at breakneck speed from pre-dawn until the late night hours, in order to accomplish the elusive “more.” If a little is good, a lot must be better (or so we believe). Activities, responsibilities, ministries, disciplines and commitments leave us full to bursting and we begin to spill over in exhaustion, ugliness, frustration, and anger.

We are drained, bursting out of the banks of order because we are not using our God-given drains that will keep the waters of our lives at optimum levels. We seek relief from the excess in unhealthy ways, trying to redirect the overflow and relieve the pressure we constantly feel. Our culture has forgotten how to rest. We deny the fact that we even need it.

But we do. Desperately.

Psalm 23 says it best:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
     He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.

    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy
[e shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell
[f] in the house of the Lord
    forever.
[g]

Read that again slowly. Notice the emphasis on rest, on who is doing the actual “work” and leading, guiding in this passage.

Hint…it’s not us.

Remember, we cannot do everything well all the time. We cannot take on unlimited tasks without bursting out of our banks and possibly losing all that we have worked so hard to gain. In nature, water is necessary for life but too much water can result in death. In the spirit, balance can only be found by intentionally installing a drain that will keep our “levels” healthy and at their most productive.

And what, exactly, is that drain? It is choosing God first above all the other demands on our lives. His voice is so quiet that we easily ignore or dismiss it, but it is the one we must heed before all others. Just as the pond behind our house is dependent on the drain to keep the waters at a safe level, I am absolutely dependent on the Spirit of God to keep me from filling up my days with busyness and pushing myself to the breaking point, becoming ineffective in the Kingdom of God because I have nothing left to offer. I had to start setting my alarm and waking up early to spend uninterrupted time with Him, treating it as necessary for my survival…because it is. You may set aside a different time each day but you must carve out time with the Lord just like you do for bathing or brushing your teeth! The fact is, if it is truly important to you, you will do it.

No more lip service. No more doing things because they are accepted as “Christian” or “good.” No more overcommitting and bursting at the seams because we are driven by a pressing demand for our time and attention. Seek Him first. If something that appears “important” has to be put aside in order for your relationship with God to be nurtured and fed, then by all means, do so.

Our families and work will be much more likely to thrive if we are. If I am drained of all that makes me a joyful and loving mother because I have failed to lean on my relationship with God for strength and wisdom, then my family will suffer as well. I am not doing them any favors by making them into idols and forsaking Jesus because we signed up for yet another activity and I’ve left no time in my day to connect with my Father.

Maybe you are in ministry or work outside the home. You may or may not have children, but the principle is the same. You can only minister out of the overflow of your relationship with your Creator. He intended this to be the order of things and we must recognize it in order to truly make a difference for Christ. There is no shame in stepping back and recognizing your need to be immersed in the rejuvenating waters of the Holy Spirit so that you can venture back out again in His strength and love. Take that needed time. Let Him drain away the excess so you can operate within the boundaries of your calling, invigorated and energized because God is the one taking on the burden and getting the glory…

which is the whole point, anyway.

Are you drained? I certainly hope so.