When you have Christ’s full attention.

In Luke 8, Jesus is surrounded by a crowd of people who want to see him, touch him, and be healed by him. Word had gotten out about the miracles being performed by him and curiosity runs rampant throughout the cities and villages through which he travels.

He shares parables, one about the Sower, another about the Lamp.  He challenges those crowding around him to do more than just be curious or seek to be able to say, “I saw Jesus,” or, “I was there when…”  He encourages them to own the faith that is being planted in their hearts.  Let it take root, be bold to live it out and don’t hide it from the world.

The people continue to press in, wanting more, wanting everything He is willing to give them.

Then his mom and brothers show up, wanting to talk to him about something.  They try to get through the crowd to Jesus, but cannot because the people surrounding him are literally smashed hip-to-hip and shoulder-to-shoulder.  And if you know anything about Middle-Eastern culture (Shoot, if you have ever ridden on a subway!) then you know they aren’t about to part and let someone go through just because they politely say, “excuse me!” If you want to get through the crowd, you have to fight to do so.

So the disciples, seeing Mary and the boys’ frustration, try to help.  “Your mother and brothers are standing outside.  They want to see you.”

Now, for a long time Jesus’ response seemed kind of sassy to me.  Out of place, even.  But today as I read this passage and compared it with a couple of modern-language translations (this often helps clarify difficult passages) I saw something different.  Jesus refused to turn away from the desperate, searching crowd pressing in to him, begging and demanding to receive blessing and teaching from him.  He said to the disciples, “My mother and brothers are those who hear the Word of God and do it.”

I don’t believe Jesus was dismissing his mother or his brothers.  I believe his words were spoken for the benefit of the crowd.  In essence, he was telling them…

“You matter.  You are loved.  You are important to me, as important as anyone else I have ever known…including my own family.  You have my full attention as long as you need it.”

He knew the hearts of those surrounding them, their desire to learn the Word of God and please their Heavenly Father.  They wanted to be made better, to know what they were doing wrong and be taught how to live in a way that honored and pleased God.  And that attitude of humility, of strength and determined pressing in to the only One who could provide what their souls needed, captured the full attention of Jesus…so much so that he told his Mom and brothers to, in my words, “Hold tight for a sec, I’m busy and this is something that can’t wait.”

How does that make you feel?  I tell you what, it brings me such a sense of belonging.  To imagine that my seeking after him, asking for wisdom and wanting everything he has for me, captures his attention so much that he will tell his own mama to wait…

Wow.

This seals the deal for me, that no distraction or activity is more important than pressing in to Jesus.  No social event, no social media, no time-consuming “what-have-you” that is done to “fill time” is a better use of my time than finding out how to know my Savior more intimately and use the gifts He has given me to bring glory and honor to him.  It doesn’t mean I don’t relax or enjoy reading a good blog.  (Hello!)  It means that everything I do is funneled through the sieve of my relationship with God.  That I purpose and do my best to live without wasted time.  In the words of Brother Lawrence…

brotherlawrencequote

Or, “Lord of all blogs and Facebook memes, make me a saint by writing only from your inspiration and not to gain attention for myself.”

Or, “Lord of all craft rooms and boxes of paint, make me saint by creating beautiful things that remind us of You and by cleaning up my mess.”

Or even, “Lord of all books and overloaded shelves, make me a saint by reading great words that draw me closer to you and help me understand the Great Story you are writing over us.”

I could go on and on…insert your favorite way to relax or have down-time and just see how, maybe, God can use it…use you doing it…to refine you and draw you closer to Jesus.  To give you an opportunity to have His full attention because He sees your pursuit of wisdom and spiritual maturity and HE HONORS IT.  He honors it by turning His face toward you and talking to you as if you are the only person in the room.

Jesus’ actions in this chapter tell me something very important…

Obedience is thicker than blood.

May we find ways to weave obedience to the teachings of Jesus and the promptings of the Holy Spirit in the tiny, mundane details of our every day routine!  It will be in this that we become a people who truly know how to filter out the noise and live simply…for Him.

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 Word for 2018

I knew He would do it.  He always does.  Every year I look for it.  In songs, in books, in billboards even.  I wonder if I am grasping at straws or just making it up.  Is it a product of my imagination?  How will I know when it is the one and not something my brain is misfiring and creating of it’s own choosing?

But then, BAMContinue reading “The Word for 2018”

Eyes forward.

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”   Revelation 21:5

In the crazy of moving during this, the most busy wonderful time of the year, I have struggled to keep my sacred mornings with the Lord.  In fact, four days before we moved my desk got packed up…including my Bible.  Now, I always have the online version but I so prefer the actual physical book in my hands, the weight of the Word on my lap.

I woke up each morning, not with relaxed anticipation of time spent with Jesus (which had become my blessed norm over the past months) but with lists of lists spinning through my overwhelmed mind.  And celebrating Advent, in the insanity of packing every. single. thing. we owned and moving it thirty minutes up the highway to a new house in the hills surrounding Nashville, fell to the backburner.  I purposed that as soon as we moved in we would make up for lost time.

As soon as we had left the old behind we would begin anew.

And we did.

As I wrote in my last post, we moved in with lights and candles and trees all in place and ready to point us to the coming King.  We feasted and sang and baked and gazed in wonder at the expanse of sky above in the absence of the once-familiar trees.  It was sweet and began our life in this new place with good and needed memories.

And now, the New Year is upon us.  For the past few years I have asked the Lord for a word from Him.  A glimpse at what He might have ahead for me, a focal point for my prayers and vision as I walk into January.

I haven’t received it from Him just yet, but I know I will.  He has been perfectly faithful, every time I have asked, to give this to me.  So I watch and pray and listen, knowing the newfound quiet of our surroundings can only help me hear the voice of my Father.  (Though, I do have five kids and three dogs so…quiet is a very relative term!)  As we leave this old year behind, shutting the door on the successes and failures, joys, heartbreaks and grief, we have an opportunity to begin anew on January first.

Does it mean I forget the hard?  Well, yes, maybe it does…or it just might mean I should.

In Philippians 3:13-14 Paul says, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

I believe this is a worthy goal for us as we begin the new year.  2018 does not have to be overshadowed by the pain hangover of 2017.  Instead, we can allow the struggles to push us onward and upward, remembering why and for Whom we are here in the first place.

Because if we remember the “why” we are less likely to fall into bitterness and discontent.  And if we remember for Whom we are here, well, it makes it awfully hard to be selfish.

Not that I struggle with selfishness.  *sarcasm*

So I’m seeking the Lord today, asking for His word for me to be made clear before the New Year dawns.  If you are doing the same, I would love to hear what the Lord gives you!  What a gift it would be for us to pray for one another as we begin this fresh leg of our journey.

May the God of angel armies bless and keep you in 2018.  May you know who you are and Whose you are as you walk each day with Him.  And may the Peace of the Lord Jesus be with you and sustain you throughout this new year.

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.

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.

Advent and going back to basics.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and we are packing up everything we own and moving right smack dab in the middle of it!  Christmas is my absolute favorite holiday and, despite the craziness associated with moving a family of seven and downsizing, no less, I just couldn’t let it keep us from celebrating it as normally as possible.  Not only will it make the transition easier for our kids, but it will be the beginning of many years of beautiful memories in our new home, Lord willing.   I have been determined to preserve the traditions that are meaningful and get the tree(s) up in our new house even before we move in.  So the Christmas stuff may or may not have been moved into our house ahead of my clothes!

Priorities:)

In the controlled chaos of packing/moving/homeschooling and all the busy of our normal life with five athletic and extremely social kids I had to take a good look at Christmas this year and narrow things down…a lot.

I tend to be a “bandwagon celebrationist.”  (Yes, I just made that up.)  Whenever the latest book, devotional, or idea for celebrating a holiday in a meaningful, Christ-honoring way comes across my newsfeed I’m all, “Yeah!  I need that!  THAT is the key!  THAT will make our Christmases unforgettable!  I must add that to the 6 devotionals, 7 trees and fourteen advent wreaths we already have!”  (Kidding…about the wreaths, anyway.)

I’m always looking for the next great idea and then Christmas comes…

The half-read devotionals lay stacked on the side table.  Candles failed to be lit all of last week.  And, shoot, I was going to make that newest recipe for the holidays and the ingredients sit, untouched, because I ran out of time.  It’s too much.  And in the middle of my great intentions sits a festering seed of frustration and failure.  Jesus loses his place, once again, because I crowded him out with all of this “busy work.”

As I have packed and pared down our lives for this move, it has been eye opening.  First of all, I had way too much stuff.  It’s embarrassing.  Second, the determination to keep Christmas and be able to enjoy the season in the first days of life in our new home has made me realize that there are a few things of real value to our hearts, but many more that are not.

I have filled up a lot of giveaway and throwaway bags and it has been so freeing.

I got rid of the old, dusty wreaths and garlands.  All the ornaments that were, to be honest, ugly.  Even the stuff my kids made over the years, so many things that I couldn’t even remember who made them or when.  I chucked them in a bag and didn’t look back, only keeping the special ones that brought a smile to my face and warm fuzzies to my heart.

Kind of like Marie Kondo, without talking to my stuff.

Why do I make occasions like Christmas so complicated?  Why do I feel the need to fill this already beautiful season with experiences and create Pinterest-worthy memories?  Why are the holidays so exhaustingly busy?

Because we forget why we are celebrating in the first place.  And…we forget exactly who we are celebrating.

Jesus is not complicated, friends.  Everything about him is beautifully simple.  His birth, his life, his ministry, his death.  It was all very straightforward.  No frills.  He had a message and he taught it.  He had a mission and he completed it.  He knew why he was here and he let nothing distract him or deter him from it.  Jesus is not complicated, but he is beautiful.

And that is the key, if you ask me.  Creating beauty as we walk out the season of Advent can be so simple and meaningful.  In fact, I believe we can create beauty without opening a single devotional book or suffering guiding our kids through a single craft-making session.  Just this morning, as I was contemplating the words I am writing now, I asked my twelve year old daughter what she remembers most about Christmas as she has grown up.  What has been meaningful, and what has she thought was a waste of time?

Her answer surprised me.

She listed two meaningful traditions among the many we have upheld:  Watching Christmas movies together and putting twinkle lights all through the house.

The wastes of time in her eyes?  “Prettying up the tree.  Really, Mom, I just love the star on top and the ornaments.  It doesn’t need all that other stuff.”  This, from my artsiest and most creative child.   Do you know how much time I spent last year arranging and fluffing two different colors of extra-wide, sparkly ribbon on our big tree until it look just right?  She just cared about the star and the ornaments.

This is so profound to me.  We need less, friends.  Less gifts and more time spent talking about the meaning behind all of our celebrations.  Less hustling and bustling and more time to rest, to be restored and remember our First Love.  Less trying to fulfill our kids’ every wish and more attention on the longing fulfilled when the Son of God emerged from Mary’s womb in a stable surrounded by the lowliest of creatures and visited by the forgotten of society.

Jesus deserves our very best, but best does not mean busy work that will be forgotten next year.  It means sincere, heartfelt adoration of our King.  It means offering ourselves fully and slowing down long enough to let His still, small voice speak into our spirits.  That is what we will remember, and that is what our children will look back on fondly.  Simple beauty.  Candlelight and snuggles in front of a fire.  Words of life spoken in the quiet.  And laughter.  Always we must make time to laugh because following God is JOY.

Advent is about the waiting, the longing for the Promise.  In creating simple beauty we can find that place and be truly transformed as we recognize, anew, the incredible gift of God’s son.