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.

Everyday Resurrection

A few short weeks ago the nights felt so very long. Bare trees reached for the sky and we zipped our jackets to ward off the nip of frigid evening breezes.

We longed for spring.

Before long, buds fattened on the limbs, daffodils shot green hope straight up through the faded mulch, and mist danced atop the distant ponds as the morning sun warmed the surrounding air and the promise sprung forth in bright reality.

Just look around us now. All of Tennessee is ablaze with beauty. Lush new leaves, so young and fresh, adorn the hills with the brightest greens and the morning sun warms my skin as I spend early mornings watching it rise. Robins and Cardinals visit the feeders until they are chased off by the Red Winged Blackbirds who are so rude in their domination of the black oil sunflower seed.

Just this morning I heard the chirping of chicks in a nearby nest and I smiled for in the darkest of winter days we knew this would happen…this greening and teeming of life, this joyful emergence from winter’s grip that would fling our windows wide open.

The promise of spring, of resurrection.

Easter was full of celebration. With smiles we declared the risen Lord then went to work as usual on Monday morning forgetting, for the most part, what we had spent forty days anticipating and a holy week recreating. I, for one, spent long hours going through nearly twenty years of photographs to select a precious eighteen or nineteen to somehow document the life and journey of my oldest son who will soon be graduating from high school and leaving for college. I thought I was handling it well…until I opened his baby book.

So many years. So much joy and so many failures and celebrations and hard days laced with tears and laughter. So many things I would do differently but others that I wouldn’t change for a million dollars. We walked through a winter of sorts when I feared the promise would never see the light of day but the Lord never wavered.

He never withdrew His promise.

Spring still came in the form of a young man who is showing evidence that frontal lobes do, in fact mature. It came in reaching up to hug the neck of the boy who I once cradled as a newborn with tears of gratitude streaming down my face. It came tonight, as I sat in a church enveloped in darkness and silence, remembering the nights between the crucifixion and resurrection, when the ones who knew Jesus best hid themselves away in shock and fear for nothing had turned out as they had thought and I realized how that story repeats itself in us, over and over.

We make plans and pray for them to be blessed, but God goes even further. He hijacks them completely and often turns them on their head. Jesus’ friends thought they knew how things would end, then they thought it was all over…no hope. But nothing had ended except a season. The fulfillment of the promise was just beginning. The match was struck and light chased away the darkness.

The resurrection changed everything and it still does.

Every time we face a winter of any sort we are tempted to forget what always comes next. When we feel like we have lost all hope, that the water under the bridge has reached flood levels and the bridge, itself, is splintering into a thousand pieces there is One who IS the bridge.

“Behold, I make all things new.”

He speaks resurrection truth to us in countless ways, reminding us that the end is just the beginning. That what is, presently, is not indicative of what will be. That He has already worked out the ending, we only have to trust Him in the midst of our story.

Tonight, Andrew Peterson shared a profound truth as we wiped tears from our eyes and rejoiced anew: We are a resurrection people. How beautiful and beautifully true. We are a peculiar race, set apart to live abundantly in the Kingdom of God. We are not of this world. No, we are the part longing for the whole. Every time we enter a new season of life, especially the hard ones (and aren’t they all hard in some way?), we can remember and proclaim that Christ has come, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again!

My son will leave, but He will rise…as a man, as a student, and as a follower of Christ. My heart will grieve the ending of this season, but it will rise as I see God do what only He can do and learn to trust Him even more for it. Mid-life is a strange and beautiful thing. So many things ending yet, still, so much promise ahead.

Resurrection. Always resurrection.

The stories are true, friends. You can bet your life on it. I have.

Jesus makes all things new.

Rejoice.

(I have quoted, loosely, lyrics from both the Bible and the Resurrection Letters, vol. 1 & 2 albums recorded by Andrew Peterson and available through rabbitroom.com. I highly encourage you to visit their website and dive into the riches offered! Sorry, not sorry, that you will have to make space in your budget for what you discover there.)

A Simple Advent

We began today, though it doesn’t “officially” start until December first.  But I know me, and I know us.  Life happens, schedules get tight, and we struggle to finish what we start whether it be a devotional, project, or “school” book.

I’ve purchased many advent devotionals over the years, bought every “memorable” ornament, tree, and wreath there is to make this season count.  This year, though, I’m going back to basics.  Like so many things in my too-busy life I’m paring us down, starting at the beginning and revisiting an old favorite that brings back beautiful memories of the days when all five of my babies gathered ’round the warmth of a winter fire and listened with wonder to the stories that just happen to be true.

We read the first few pages of “The Jesus Storybook Bible” by Sally Lloyd-Jones this morning over hot coffee and before a crackling fire.  I’m down to three kids in our morning time, the oldest two having grown and moved on to other things, so I savor these hours and pray they will last longer with these three.  I opened the book, now worn and with binding beginning to fray, to “The Story and the Song” and read the words slowly, carefully, wishing I had the author’s lovely British accent and determing to make the reading beautiful for my children.  The familiar words felt like home on my tongue and I slowed down as I came to page 17…

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story.  And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name.  He is like the missing piece in a puzzle-the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.

My voice broke over these words, tears spilling from my eyes and my heart bursting with gratitude for fresh understanding…revelation, even…of the Christ.  That Jesus would become a baby.  That He would give countless clues all through History that we had not been left to wallow in our sin, but were so very loved that the Son of God had already planned to descend here before we even knew we needed Him…I could barely speak.

“Are you ok, Mom?”  My son’s soft voice broke my concentration.

How do I even answer that question?  I am more than ok, I am free.  I am saved, gloriously and forever seated with Christ in the heavenly places!  I am forgiven and beloved and, oh my sweet ones, how I long for you to realize this is true about you as well!

He came.  Jesus came and lived the life I could not live, died the death I deserved to die. He is the center of my story, and of yours.

“…So in Heaven and earth and below, every knee would bow in worship and every tongue would proclaim that Jesus, He reigns with the angels. Son of God, Son of man.

Hallelujah!”

From the song, Gather ‘Round, Ye Children, Come by Andrew Peterson

We too easily complicate things in an effort to make Christmas beautiful. We too often forget the simplicity of the Gospel of Christ.  But, today, I was reminded of why I am who I am and why I do what I do.

For the sake of Christ and the Glory of God.

Keep it simple, my friends.  Remember and celebrate the Advent of Christ with all of your heart, and without all of the fluff.

The stories are true.

Gather ‘Round, Ye Children, Come.  Listen to the old, old story…

 

How to Simply “Fall”

Summer went out with a hissy fit.  The last few days were hotter than blue blazes.  We sat, melting, on the sidelines of a soccer field and I drank a half-gallon of water within an hour plus I got a sunburn.

Just a week later, on the heels of a thunderstorm, Autumn moved in.  I put out my mums and scarecrows and decorated the mantel with a colorful orange and yellow-leaved garland.  The days are beginning their slow cooling, with highs in the 70’s and sunset coming earlier and earlier.  Fall is always my favorite.

There are a thousand things I love about this season.  Some physical, many symbolic.  I want to do all the Fall things, eat all the Fall foods, but you know as well as I do that it is just not possible to do everything.

I am notorious for overloading my to-do list.  Whether it is recipes to try, traditions to uphold, or activities for our family to enjoy I set high expectations and even higher ideals, only to be frustrated when I fail to meet them and another beautiful season has come and gone too quickly with me busier than I wanted to be, distracted and unable to sit and just watch the leaves turn to the glory of God.

This year we are in a new house, a new neighborhood surrounded by green hills about to explode with color and a big sky above with constellations glimmering by moonlight.   I don’t want to miss a minute of it.

So how do I simplify?  How do I make the Holiday season memorable for my family without stressing us all out?  How do we make each moment count without obsessively counting those moments and lamenting as they slip through our fingers?

Consider this idea:  Choose what you are not going to do.  I know that sounds odd.  With the advent of Pinterest and all the other social media that reminds me of the amazing things everyone else is doing (making me think I should be, too) I can misguidedly believe that my kids are missing out if we don’t do x, y or z.  But what if I say no?  What if I say lets SLOW and hey, guys, y’all go ride your bikes and meet up with friends while I finish my book on the back porch.  What if celebration means we don’t actually go anywhere to enjoy Fall, but stay right here…put down deep roots and watch the hills explode come October?

What if I pick one or two delightful Autumn treats and we only indulge on Sundays?  Maybe we don’t need four dozen cut-out and artfully iced cookies.  Maybe one dozen will do.   I have been following the Trim Healthy Mama plan since June and feel better than I have in years.  Do I really want to undo all the good health I have attained because it’s getting cold outside?  Remember how awful sugar made me feel the last time I gave in?  It’s just not worth it.  I can make a hot Trimmy and enjoy every sip without guilt.  The ingredients for healthy homemade biscuits and gravy are in my pantry right now.  Soups and stews are so easy to make without ingredients that will spike my blood sugar.  It can be done!

Pumpkin farms and petting zoos abound around Nashville.  Scenic day drives and salted caramel everything are all around me.  There is no shortage of opportunity to go and see and do and get really, really tired.  But I have two dogs who enjoy being petted.  My kids have, sadly, outgrown the pumpkin farm phase and we just buy ours at Wal-Mart.  We have seven beautiful horses living in the pasture right in front of our house.  Trees cover the hills all around us and my porch is the perfect spot to enjoy the cooler evenings with a fire going in the firepit.  Why do I think “out there” is where the fun and memories lie?  Not that there is anything wrong with ANY of these activities, but sometimes the wisest and most restorative thing we can do is sit right here and just be together.  Let the boredom creep in.  They will survive and, likely, thrive in it.  Let long stretches of silence go uninterrupted.  Sip a sugar-free mug of hot chocolate and munch on a cinnamon muffin that blesses your body while your breath fogs in the crisp Autumn chill.

Cuddle the kids.  Even the big ones.

Keep Autumn simple.  Don’t worry about what everyone else says they are doing.  You do what brings peace and rest and the presence of God into your home.  Slow down.  On purpose.

Your family will thank you.

 

 

Into a New Season

Change, it is a-happening around here.  My oldest, my firstborn, my suddenly taller-than-me man-child who made me a mama is a Senior in high school.

A SENIOR.

He was on my hip with a blankie in hand just five minutes ago.

Add to that the preparations for the homeschool year of my younger four, (I also have a JUNIOR for crying out loud!) cutting several inches of curls off my middle’s long hair (resulting in her suddenly looking like a teenager…which she is…but still…) and finding armpit hairs on my eleven year old son and, well, I may or may not be on the verge of tears at the mere sound of a baby laughing or a toddler holding up it’s arms and saying, “Hold you!”

I could lament, or I could celebrate the season I am in.  To be honest, I’m doing a little of both.

I have no one in elementary school any more.  No one who fits into “kids-size” clothing.  No one who has a bow in their hair or baby teeth.  It’s weird.  It’s wonderful.  It’s hard.  It’s freeing.

Independence is right at their ages, for the most part.  They shouldn’t need me to butter their toast or heat up their leftovers.  They can fold their own laundry and put away the dishes.  (Now if only I could get them to clean their ROOMS!)  They can read and ride their bikes and entertain themselves, allowing me the time to do things I enjoy such as writing.

I homeschool the youngest four, which means we are together much more than we are not.  But, still, sometimes I miss them.

Oh, they are here.  I love engaging in their conversations and receive plenty of smiles and hugs, but life has dramatically changed in the past few years.  They don’t “need” me like they once did, which is both awful and beautiful at once.

I took the three youngest to the zoo today.  At ages 13, 11 and 11 (yes, that is two elevens) I wasn’t sure if they would think they were too “old” for the zoo.  I feared they might think it “lame.”

I was so gloriously wrong.

We explored and oohed and ahhed over animals we had not visited in a long time.  The new Andean Bear exhibit was breathtaking, two big bears wrestling and rolling in the grass like siblings.  My thirteen year old whispered, not knowing I could hear her, “This is awesome.”

And it was.

Memories of their childhood flooded my heart as I saw mamas with babies in carriers, strollers parked outside exhibit doors, and heard a little boy exclaim, “My pip-pops!” when his flip-flop fell off.  We all relished the sweetness of the little ones surrounding us as much as we relished the beauty and diversity of God’s handiwork.

It was a good day.  It was filled with smiles and sunshine and, for just a few hours, I felt like I was standing astraddle of the gap between life as it was and life as it is.  I saw the wonder of a little child in the faces of my not-so-little kids and I am just so thankful for the respite of remembering before the busyness of our school year begins.

Times are changing, old seasons are gone, but if I take a moment and open my eyes to what is before me I can see the hope and future of these children in whom I have invested my life.  Despite the hormones and, dare I say, attitude of the pre-teen and teen years, the remnants of the little ones who once placed their chubby hands in mine are still there.

Now the hands I hold are bigger, stronger, and maybe even calloused.

But they fit mine perfectly just like they always have.

Home.

Ducking in quickly to share a sweet joy found in the midst of a bittersweet weekend. I am in Texas for the Life celebration of my sweet Great-Aunt, Bernice. My brother and I are staying in our parents’ home…just the four of us for the first time in, probably, decades. My dad emerged with a stack of old photos, every one of which is like holding a time capsule. Our family in the heyday of the 1970’s and 1980’s.

My brother refers to it as “the time before we knew sin.” Haha!

My kids are going to die when they see them.

So, with time short, I leave you with two important things:

First: Love well, for this life matters. My Aunt Bernice did that, and the sweetness filling the room tonight was a testimony to a life of hard work and intentional relationship-building. She loved and served and will be missed.

The second? Well, it’s this:

Blurry, faded, but the love and joy my brother and I shared circa 1977? It is priceless. The gift of a much simpler era. Bare feet and smiles as we paused from our round on the Sit ‘n Spin long enough for our mom to snap this photo. I pray my kids have these kinds of memories, that they treasure their childhood and look back on it with soft hearts and gratitude for the years before life became more complicated.