Of Autumn and Rest

I took a short drive this morning.  The speed limit is 23 here in our neighborhood.  Not one mile higher.  The teenagers find it binding, I find it delightful.

I love being forced to slow.

Rounding the wide curve, with the pasture to my right, I spotted a neighbor.  Woolen hat pulled low to his eyebrows and two dogs fighting for position as he walked, a bounce in his step on this blustery Autumn day.  He waved and smiled, his cheeks revealing lines created by years of practice.  Such a genuine joy in his face that I couldn’t help but return it.

I was on my way to the gym where I would push and pull and sweat and, strangely, love every minute of it.  But the drive leading up to my session was devoid of stress, beautifully lined with orange-bedecked trees showing off just a little longer.  The horses huddled, two-by-two as the wild wind blew their manes and tails, creating dramatic poses from what would have been simple still-lifes.  The tan one lifted his handsome head and watched me pass by.  I wished I had a few carrots with which to treat him.

I prayed this year for Autumn, that it would be long and not too hot, not too cold.  I selfishly believe God made it perfect just for me.  It is, truly, the most beautiful and bright Autumn I have seen since moving to Tennessee and that is saying a lot.  Tennessee Autumns are generally lovely, but often too short.  Not this year, though.  Autumn came gently and has stayed a nice, long while.  She doesn’t need to hurry on my account, I assure you.

The cooler temperatures energize me.  Daylight savings has come and gone and now the sun sets early, just after 4:30 in the afternoon.  It makes the evenings feel  long and lures me here or to my notebook to write.  I start putting words to page and find myself editing, reshaping the stories and searching for just the right words, knowing they are out there somewhere.

The wind is howling and rain beats against the windows and I give thanks that, despite the stresses and strains of my day, a storm is blowing in and washing everything clean.  Both outside and within me.

And that is a much-needed gift.

Why am I rambling like this?  Well, I have some advice…I hope you will take it:

Step outside today.  Look up, letting your eyes focus as far away as possible.  Notice the clouds, the stars, the way the birds dance before they settle on the highest limb.  Listen to the wind, the train in the distance and the leaves bouncing along the sidewalk.  Let your senses rest and be still.  Wave and smile at your neighbor, then call your friend just to see what she is doing.  No agenda, just easy conversation.  Spend time counting blessings and maybe even write them down.  You’ll need them later, when the blessings are harder to list.  Talk to God about silly things, small things, because He cares about even those things.  Isn’t that incredible?  Breathe and sip tea while unsorted socks wait patiently in the laundry basket.  They aren’t going any where, I promise.  Then walk into the next thing, the awaiting tasks, refreshed and more able to focus because you took that Sabbath moment and gave your Creator a chance to do what He does best…Make all things new.

Hearthfire and Frost: Finding Joy in the Gifts of Autumn

It did this mama’s heart so good. All seven of us, together in the same room as Daddy lit the first hearthfire of the season and we marked it with a feast, a liturgy and laughter.

Chicken pot pie was the main dish, an easy dinner that brought everyone to the kitchen. Green beans were served alongside chopped salad with hot bacon and the grease drizzled all over the lettuce before the ranch dressing even had a chance. Crusty bread cleaned our plates and then, with mugs of hot chocolate and marshmallows, we gathered. Us, who have been too often fragmented. Seven people leading seven busy lives, four of whom are often in different counties during the day or any given evening.  But this night, we were all seven piled into our living room with only five seats and that made it cozy. And sweet. One squeezed in close beside her sister in the rocking armchair that squeaks. Another stretched out on the rug, warmed by the first Autumn fire.

Together, we read the prayer. Eyerolls were, miraculously, few and far between. The leather-bound book of liturgies, a new-ish family treasure, was passed hand-to-hand as each person read a paragraph then placed a log on the fire. After more than a few giggles and a couple of quickly-dampened arguments, not to mention younger ones fearing the hot ash that leapt from beneath the flaming logs as the new ones fell into place, the first hearthfire of the season was beautifully ablaze and no one was in a hurry to leave.

We sat, talking and gesturing, then belly-laughing as our oldest told a wild story and it hit me hard that this is likely his last Autumn at home. Next year he will be in college. Come next Fall, he may just be visiting and everything will be different. He will be different. We will all be different.

I willed myself not to allow tears to form and almost succeeded. I looked upon my family, my whole family, with deep joy and gave thanks to Jesus who makes all things new.

We went to bed at peace with the day, the smell of smoldering coals filling the house for the first time this season and anticipating the first frost in the morning.

Sure enough, I was awakened by a blaze of pink illuminating my bed. I parted the sheer curtains and gasped as the sky exploded in beauty, mist rising from the still-warm pond and dancing in the barely frozen air. The grass was gray with frost and sparkled in the first light of dawn.

My soul delighted in this gift and, again, I whispered a prayer of thanks to my God who knows how much I love a golden sunrise. In moments like this, I’m sure I’m his favorite.

How to be True to Yourself

Boy, is this ever a big topic. So many books and blogs claim to have the answer but, when all is said and done, we still end up empty and searching. Advice ranges from getting a manicure to “washing your face.”

(Yeah, I went there.)

I, I, I, me, me, me…we fight for peace and rest and determine to recharge and charge forward, but for what? For “likes?” For fist bumps and “Yeah, girl, that’s right?” Is that what we are reduced to…our social media popularity and comment sections? Recognition from a world who stands against the things of God? Success that is temporal and cannot eternally satisfy our deepest longings?

In Romans 8, starting in verse 5, Paul explains where our focus should lie. Let me give you a hint…it is not on “self.”

At least not in the way today’s popular books would sell it.

Read this section of Scripture carefully …

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:5-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The only real method of self-care has nothing to do with yourself but everything to do with God.

Here are three important steps to truly taking care of yourself:

1. Set your mind on the things of the Spirit.

What dominates your thought life? The Kardashian’s? Sports? Chip and Jo? (Ouch…stepping on my own toes here!)

Do you fill your mind with truth or twaddle?

The answer to that question dictates how you live. What we feed our minds determines the fruit we will display in our everyday lives. Flesh equals death. Spirit equals life and peace. This passage tells us the flesh is actually HOSTILE to God! It does not like to be told what to do or how. (“Who are you to judge me?”) It doesn’t want to, nor is it even able to please God. To profess to be a Christian yet be unable to please God is scary. Very scary.

2. Be sure the Spirit dwells in you.

Paul’s assumption is that he is speaking to believers. But what if you have not surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus? Well, you are basically spinning your wheels. Without faith in Christ you don’t have the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, you do not belong to Christ. If you are not certain, please contact me. I would love to help you get that settled once and forever.

3. Know who you are…and who you are not.

I am many things: wife, mom, writer, sister, teacher, friend. But above and beyond all of these I am a born-again child of God, daughter of the King, and forever alive because of the righteousness of Christ. His Spirit lives in me and gives life to my mortal body because Jesus rose from the dead and promises to do the same for me! This is EVERYTHING. This is the reason I live and breathe and get out of bed at sunrise to meet with Him. The flesh has no right over me because I owe everything to Jesus. If I belong to Him it affects everything I do, every word I speak, even the passive information I allow into my mind while going about my day.

My behavior is greatly affected by the contents of my mind…trash in equals trash out. Beauty and things of the Kingdom in equals peace and joy out.

If I choose obedience to God I choose life. If I follow the patterns and godless ways of the world I will suffer the same negative consequences in my life.

If I truly know who and WHOSE I am the very fabric of my days will change. My tastes and desires will be refined. I will find joy in living fully into who my Creator, who knows me best, says I am!

Here’s the point:

Do I enjoy self-care in the earthly sense? Sure! I don’t know many women who don’t like a good mani-pedi or massage. Being told I did a good job or that you like to read my blog 😉 always feels good and encouraging. But I want us to go deeper, to a more permanent solution to the inner battle we all fight each day. I want us to see where our value lies and know that if no one else is cheering us on, if finding time to be pampered is just not happening in this season but we are certain our lives count for the Kingdom of God then we can find joy in knowing we have achieved the highest of rewards and most holy of accolades from the only One whose opinion really matters.

In Heaven my feet won’t hurt, thus nixing the need for pedicures.

In Heaven I’m fairly certain we won’t need Facebook or Instagram.

And in Heaven we will be eternally satisfied to hear “Well done” from the Eternal One, Himself.

Live forward, dear one. You are who you will be! Walk in that knowledge and turn away from twaddle, beginning NOW. Don’t settle. Don’t compromise. Hold a high standard because Jesus regards you highly. He is worthy of our well-lived lives.

Into the Deep

What is the best way to learn to swim in the ocean?

I would venture to say that the toddler pool would not be very helpful.  Even going as far as the adult pool, maybe the 8-12 foot deep end, would not be enough.

Why?  Well, for one thing the ocean is vastly deep and often rough.  Undertow can end the life of the most strong swimmers, not to mention the wildlife swimming below.  A clean, chlorinated community pool is not the same.  Not even close.

To be a strong swimmer in the ocean requires understanding of the behavior of the waters and wildlife, and incredible strength to withstand the pummeling of large waves.

One has to study and and train in order to survive the wild.

Lately I have been pondering this reality.  As I prepare to launch my firstborn into adulthood and strive to educate my younger children I have seen a common thread woven throughout this season of life.

We avoid boredom like the plague.  We don’t know what to do with it.  Stillness makes us unsettled and we rescue ourselves from it with the click of a smartphone.

Just look to your left or right at any intersection.  Most people cannot handle even one minute of boredom, pulling out their phone to fill the empty space until the light turns green.  Dead air on the radio for more that two seconds will prompt us to change the channel.

Even our children, with fresh and creative minds so able to learn and explore, are taught to turn to video games and television because the adults find it easier…less messy…more quiet in the house when the headphones are on and the controller is clicking away.

We have shelves full of books that sit unread.  Art supplies still in their original packaging, purchased with great intentions but rarely used.  Yet we scroll.  We click.

And we die.

We were created for more.  We live in a tumultuous and rocky world.  An ocean of culture and change lies before us but we don’t know how to swim in it.  Our minds numb, becoming accustomed to shallow waters, bright floaties and chaise lounges while our surroundings succumb to the flood.

We can’t even tread water.

But we can change this.  What if we choose excellence?  What if we listen, read and learn and bless our minds with strong tools for survival?  What if we study the dark spiritual waters and learn how to swim in them, to stay afloat and rescue others who are sinking?  The specifics are up to you and me.  Only we know ourselves and where we have neglected good and necessary growth.  But I suggest we begin by seeking God, diving into the Scriptures and letting the outflow of that affect our choices in entertainment, media and education.  We learn to allow ourselves to sit in boredom, to become contemplative in those awkward moments and let it result in growth and creativity.

My goodness, imagine what we might hear from the Lord if we give Him a quiet space in which to speak!

“Be still and know…”

Turn away from foolish things and look to the good, true and beautiful.  Retrain our minds to look inward and evaluate ourselves before looking outward for a quick fix at the stop light.

Let silence ring loud in our ears and listen…

We can hear ourselves breathing.  We might even hear our own hearts beating.

Build strong spiritual muscles in those moments and swim out into the deep, unafraid when the shore disappears because we have trained and are ready.  Truth is our guide and Jesus is our light piercing the darkness.

We were born for more than a quick fix.   Don’t settle any longer.

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.

 

The Turning of Peter (and maybe of us)

Last week’s post resonated with so many of you.  You wrote to me, commented on my Facebook page, and generally said you felt like it was written just for you.

This world is so dangerous.  It seems to be spiraling out of control, with sentiment against the people of God growing more sour, more violent, by the minute.  News reports are filled with so much negativity that I, for one, can hardly bear to watch it any more.

Just imagine if there had been a 24 hour news cycle during Jesus’ earthly life.  

Bodies hanging from crosses, children ripped from their mothers’ arms and forced into slavery or the military, crowds screaming for the murderer to be released while the Innocent One was nailed clean through his wrists and ankles…

Yes, I can see why Peter faltered and, in his weakness, denied he had ever known Jesus.

Because knowing Jesus is dangerous.

Today I read on in the book of Luke. Chapter 24.  

The disciples’ world was shattered as their best friend, and their hopes for the Kingdom of God to come, died on a tree.  In sorrow and grief they retreated, not knowing what to do now.  It was over.  Hope was gone.

Suddenly the door burst wide open and a group of women stood, breathless and eyes filled with tears of wonder, words stumbling over each other as they relayed what they had seen.

“He’s alive!  Jesus lives!  We saw Him!  He spoke to us!  The tomb is empty and He lives!”

Bull.

I can just hear the men, grumbling and shaking their heads.  They had seen Jesus die.  No one had ever survived a crucifixion and the soldiers had even pierced his side to be sure he was dead.  These women are grief-crazed and full of…

but Peter rose.

Three simple words pregnant with GRACE.  The one who denied Jesus, whose last interaction with the Messiah was that long and sorrowful moment of eye contact upon denying Jesus for the third time, who had done what he vowed he would never do and was surely beating himself up inside, rose.

Could it be?  It is possible?  It’s not over?  I have to know.  I have to GO.

And Peter rose and ran to the tomb.

The biggest failure became the first follower.  The fearful one became fearless.  The weak one…

Well, just read the second chapter of Acts to find out what God does with the weak ones!  Savor the words of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41) and read them with the memory of Peter’s denial of Jesus fresh in your mind.  LOOK WHAT GOD CAN DO!

I need this!  I need to remember, as I’m raising kids and fighting off the threats that surround my family, that God is above and beyond the worst the world can throw at us!  He is above Crucifixion and death, and He is certainly above social media and the 24 hour news cycle!

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.  Acts 2:36

Peter spoke with authority, now fully convinced of the Lordship and power of the Son of God.

Am I?  Are you?

Oh, that I would learn to pray in power and the confidence of the Holy Spirit who is God within me!  What would happen if I lifted my face to my Father and declared my standing before Him, as an intercessor, a member of the Holy Priesthood, His precious child and warrior?  What if I prayed from a place of authority instead of timidity?

Because too often I squeak out a “please, God” instead of “this I know.”

I lament when I should be taking up my sword and standing in the gap as a warrior for my family.

I approach God with downcast eyes instead of boldness and outstretched arms.

Can you relate?

So today, sisters, let us rise and run to the tomb!  Declare who Jesus IS, because he LIVES and in His might we fight for our babes and the men we love!  I want to stop hoping and start knowing, praying out of a place of faith and expectation for what God IS going to do because I remember well what He has already done!

Are you in?  Lace up your shoes…it’s time to run.

Finding God

Simply leaving this with you to ponder today:

Nothing is more practical than

finding God, than

falling in Love

in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,

what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.

It will decide

what will get you out of bed in the morning,

what you do with your evenings,

how you spend your weekends,

what you read, whom you know,

what breaks your heart,

and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in Love, stay in love,

and it will decide everything.

Attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ (1907-1991)

From Finding God in All Things: A Marquette Prayer Book © 2009 Marquette University Press.