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.

Filters

The struggle is real in my home.  With five kids, two of whom are well into their teens, we have every device imaginable at our fingertips.  Phones, computers, Kindles, and I-pads all compete for attention and, to tell you the truth, I could go Amish in a split-second and toss them all out the window.

Until I want to write a blog post.

Or watch Chip and Joanna.

Hence the struggle.

Filtering what my kids watch and listen to is like swimming up a waterfall with my ankles tied together.  Information rushes in so quickly these days and software updates constantly change the game.  I can’t keep up.

So how, in an age of information overload, do we protect our children?  In spite of internet filters and limits on what shows they can watch, too often they are still exposed to things that go against God and His desires for them.  Even if we successfully put up a concrete wall of internet safety, they are not in our home 24/7.  They have friends.  Their friends have TV’s and computers.  We cannot block it all, no matter how much we try.  There must be a better way to protect them, a more effective and dependable filter.

In the book of James, the twelve tribes of Israel have been dispersed throughout the world.  They are suddenly immersed in new cultures and learning to survive away from their beloved homeland because of persecution.  I can only imagine the temptation they faced to compromise, to “fit in” and just not be noticed or singled out.

I’m sure their kids, growing up in this foreign culture that did not feel foreign to them,  (this was their normal, just as a world full of electronic devices is normal to my kids) often pouted and whined, “Everybody else is doing it, why can’t we?”  The adults likely felt the same struggle.

So James reminds them of who they are and Whose they are.  He encourages them to face suffering with the courage of God and allow God to use it to refine them, making them more like Jesus, who happened to be James’ oldest brother. (Can you imagine?)  He reminds them that they are here for a purpose…God’s purpose.  He wants to use them. Their obedience, though it will not save them, will model the love of the Father to the dark society in which they live.  They have been given a mandate to love and serve sacrificially, because Jesus sacrificed his very life for them.  They are to live outwardly what has happened inwardly as evidence of their salvation and position in the Kingdom of God.

In chapter 4, James warns them about resisting worldliness.  Selfishness, arguing, boasting, befriending “the world” and arrogance are all on his list.  He didn’t tell them to only allow Christians into their home.  He also didn’t tell them to stay home and avoid society in order to avoid temptation.

He told them, in order to win the spiritual battle for their hearts, to turn away from their own interests and submit to God alone.  There are two opposing forces at work, battling to influence our minds and either cripple us spiritually or give us wings:  the World and the Kingdom of God.  They are polar opposites.  We cannot function in both at once.  We either live as an enemy of the World, or we effectively become enemies of God.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m choosing enemies it’s not going to be the Creator of the Universe.

As I ponder this, though, I wonder if what I just wrote is true.  Every day I make a thousand little decisions that add up and affect my loyalties.  This morning, as I was teaching this chapter of James to my children, a light bulb switched on in my spirit and the words came alive as never before regarding the choices we make minute by minute, hour by hour.  We talked about the characteristics of worldliness.  (They had no problem making a long list!)  I looked at them and gently challenged my sweet ones, “When you watch TV, like on Disney, and listen to music do you see any of these things?”  Three pairs of eyes widened as they nodded and named off the list again:  Pridefulness, boasting, selfishness, arrogance.  I continued…

“When you watch or listen to things that are filled with worldliness, it gradually soaks in.  The Bible says that ‘Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks’ (Luke 6:45) so what happens is your heart becomes full of these characteristics and it begins to show in your behavior and attitude.  We have to remember that God is the only one worthy of judging what is right and wrong, so if He says these things are sin then they are.  If we want to live as a friend of God then we have to choose not to immerse ourselves in the messages of the world.”

Boy, do I wish this was easy.  I wish that my just saying it to my kids would result in instant transformation and that they would, from this day forward, make awesome choices and have no desire for the things of the world.  But that is not reality.  I can filter internet and TV (which I do) all day long, but if their hearts are not drawn toward the Father then the second they leave my home they will run in the opposite direction of everything they have been taught.

I guess the next question is, how do we help them turn to God?  Well, we begin by modeling it ourselves.  Do they see me change the station when something inappropriate comes on the TV or radio?  Am I having good, gentle discussions with them as they learn to navigate these choppy waters or just casting judgement when they make choices that I disagree with?  It is in the day to day, minute to minute living and learning from real life consequences as well as experiencing blessing from good decisions that their little hearts are molded and shaped for Jesus.  I cannot cast a blanket of rules and expect them to blindly follow.  Legalism breeds sin.  Always has, always will.  But grace draws us to the Father.  Unconditional love and acceptance, having a safe place to land no matter how they have messed up and knowing who they are in Christ are the foundation for them to draw from as they stumble, fall, and learn to walk again.

I struggle with this.  I want to control and just keep them from messing up in the first place, but that is not possible.  There are only certain things I can do, provide a safe haven for them, a home where there are standards and filters and loving discussions bathed in forgiveness when the filters fail.  (Which they will.)  And I can help them develop their own, holy filter…a realization that choosing things that honor the Kingdom are always better, always more beautiful, and always with good consequences.  It takes time.  It takes a lifetime.  And it depends solely on the grace of God manifesting in the prayers and hard work we put in as parents.

 

Rediscovery

I read books because I love them, not because I think I should read them.

-Simon Van Booy

For as long as I can remember, I have been a voracious reader.   Our local library always had a summer reading program where kids were rewarded based on the number of books they read.  In the summer between my 5th and 6th grade year I read thirty books.  Mostly Nancy Drew.  I walked around my house with my nose in a book, artfully dodging furniture and objects on the floor without ever taking my eyes from the page.  I read myself to sleep, awakening the next morning with the book still open.  On my face.

I LOVE to read, but as the years have gone by I realized something important and disturbing about myself.  Though I continued to compile a library of books and would tell you that one of my favorite hobbies was reading, the truth is I was reading very little.  In fact, it would take months to get through a book.

I wrestled with this, at first blaming busyness and the season of life that I was in.  Sure, that was part of it.  But I had to take a long, hard look at how I was using my time and be brutally honest with myself.

I spent more time on social media than I spent reading good books that blessed my heart and mind.  I could tell you what Susie had for dinner last night and that Jane was now low-carb.  I could also tell you that Carrie’s toddler refuses to wear socks and that Mary’s son is a star pee-wee football player and sports a custom pair of cleats.  Nothing wrong with any of these things, right?  Except that they were gradually eating away something that had always been very important to me:  Immersing myself in a beautiful book filled with rich language and beautiful prose.  Allowing my eyes to rest from the blue light of a computer screen and settle on the Times New Roman font evenly spaced across the off-white pages of a novel.  Feeding my imagination with images of cities far away and encouragement to live simply and live well.

Instead, I was scrolling mindlessly, taking in tidbits of information that would be forgotten within days and training my mind to operate on what I believe to be a very shallow level in the interest of being “connected” and “in the know.”

So I stepped back.  I didn’t delete the apps from my phone or deactivate my accounts.  Extremes have never worked to break bad habits in my life.  Instead, I began to replace the bad habits with good ones.  It started with keeping a book in my purse.  At first it was largely ignored as I checked my phone in waiting rooms or parking lots, but the mere presence of that book literally called to me.  Eventually, I put the phone down and reached for the book.  It felt silly, at first, to have to be so intentional about this but that is exactly what needed to happen.  I had to make a choice.

A simple choice.

Over days and weeks the choice became easier.  Reaching for the book began to feel normal again.  Reading in my easy chair became my go-to.  My desk, now organized, has become a place of study and journaling and creativity that it had failed to be for several years.  And the result of making one choice at a time, of slowly replacing a bad habit with a good one, is that my stress level has dropped tremendously and I have the head room free to enjoy silence and give God a blessed chance to speak.

And speak, He has.

My relationship with Him is growing every single day as I make one choice at a time.  My prayer life has deepened and the Word of God has come alive.  I have read more books in the past three months than I had read in, probably, the last three years.

Social media no longer sucks me in like it used to.  I can put it down.  In fact, I am more hesitant to pick it up because I can feel the difference in myself after and hour in a good book vs. an hour of mindless scrolling.  Facebook does so many good things, reminding me of birthdays and anniversaries and helping me keep in touch with dear friends who I would have otherwise lost touch with many years ago.  But it is also addictive and endless.

And there are few things more satisfying than reaching the end.

We are now in the midst of the most beautiful season of the year, where we stop and give thanks to God and prepare to welcome anew in our hearts our Savior.  Nothing is more important right now than really immersing ourselves in the wonder and glory of the Holidays!  But if we are not careful, we can allow distractions to suck away precious hours that we can never get back.  It’s not worth it.  I want better for us, don’t you?  I want my kids to see the value of meditation over the crazy beautiful story of the Nativity and get lost in the shadows cast by the candlelight in our family room.  I want my life to be filled with music and poetry and scripture so that it drowns out the lies the enemy throws at me in weak moments.  I want God to be honored in how I spend my time, down to the precious minutes of “down time” He sprinkles throughout my days.  If I’m always looking down I will miss it and I will miss HIM.

So here are a few tips for making the change from screen to page:

  1.  Be honest with yourself.  How much time to you really spend on social media?  Don’t give in to the temptation to “round down!”
  2. The best way to stop a bad habit is to replace it with a good one.  What do you know you should be doing when you habitually reach for your mobile device?  In my case, it was read.  So bring along whatever it is…book, planner, etc.  Keep it near you and convenient so that you don’t have an excuse.
  3. Ask yourself why you keep going online?  Ann Voskamp has a printable that I posted on my refrigerator with suggestions for things to do before clicking.  It was convicting to realize how five minutes here and there can truly make a difference in the level of productivity I achieve on any given day!
  4. Turn off your notifications.  This really helped me!  Something about what I call “the little red drops of blood” with flashing numbers screaming, “Attention!  You have posts to read!  Hey, you!  Look at me right now!” would make me crazy and I felt like I had to keep them cleared out.  So I turned them off.  Simple.  And that goes for your email inbox too.  That thing can be a beast.  If I had a nickel for every minute I spent deleting junk mail…
  5. Start each day early, making time with the Lord first priority.  Open your Bible before you open Facebook.  Linger over the Word of God, read different translations and compare, maybe creatively journal the words that God uses to pierce your heart.  But keep it simple.  Prayer is not complicated, and neither is reading the Bible.  It’s a love letter, not a textbook.
  6. Work before play.  An old friend told me this was what she taught her kids when training them to clean up after themselves.  (She was much more successful at that than I have been, by the way.  Judge away.  It is a parenting fail I humbly own.)  As adults we can model that adage by choosing not to “play” (go online for pleasure) until all of our work is done.  House clean?  Dishes done?  Laundry put away?  Quiet time spent with God?  Great.  Then reward yourself…but resist the urge to go straight to screen time!  Start with a good book.  Light a candle and wrap up in a soft blanket.  Get really comfy in that big chair and see if, an hour later, you still care about what Susie made for dinner.  Chances are, your book is much more interesting.

Now go.  Feast and rest and love and enjoy all the beautiful bounty of this season!  Look your loved ones in the eye and be all in, not wasting a single moment.  Don’t give in to distractions and complications.  It’s not worth it!    Have a blessed and SIMPLE Thanksgiving!

You Can’t Hold It All

We left the hotel room in a flurry of bags, blankets and collected “treasures” from a week in Texas.  Since I tend to get sleepy when driving past mid-afternoon I was determined to get on the road by 7:00 am.  The kids, though, groggy, were on board with the idea.  They were as ready to be home and in their own beds as their mama!

As we paraded down the sidewalk to the parking lot one of my kids began to leave a trail.  A shoe.  A shirt.  A book.  Frustrated by the delay, I looked back to figure out why they were dropping all of this stuff, expecting to find an unzipped zipper or something like that.  Instead, I realized this child had thought it would be faster just to wad all of their loose belongings into their bathrobe and carry the awkward bundle to the car where, I guess, it would have been deposited on the floor and stepped on for the next eight hours. My child carried an empty backpack that was fully capable of holding all these things securely.

I scolded them, explaining why failing to secure the belongings had only resulted in delay and frustration and wouldn’t it have been easier to just throw it all in the bag instead of leaving a trail of clothing from the hotel to the car that you now have to go back and pick up?  And if we hadn’t looked back and noticed the stuff on the ground we would not have known what the heck had happened to all those clothes!

Then God gave me a spiritual flick on the head, nudging me to listen to what I had just said and, in turn, listen to what He wanted to tell me:

We have so many things we are asked to carry.  Our relationships, our homes, our jobs, finances, families, our health and spiritual disciplines are all responsibilities we must juggle.  But what we often forget is that we don’t have to carry all of them up front all of the time. What we need to hold in our hands changes constantly.   It can feel so overwhelming but we must intentionally keep the main thing the main thing!  The rest can be stowed away temporarily.

Think of the Holy Spirit as our great Backpack.  (I know…this is a big stretch!  Bear with me here!)  The Bible says the Holy Spirit is our helper.  (John 14:26)  It also says Jesus brings rest in the midst of the difficulties of life, promising not to “lay anything heavy or ill-fitting” on us.  (Matt 11:29)  So as I imagine this, I see myself…when walking well in faith…with Jesus by my side.  He is wearing the backpack that holds all of my “stuff.”  As my day progresses and my family needs to be front and center, I reach into the backpack and take them out, giving them my full attention and tending to their needs.  Then, a little while later, I get an email and a bill is due.  I can temporarily entrust my family in Jesus’ care as I take out the “financial” burden from the backpack, tending to it while my kids entertain themselves, read, play, etc.   Then the dog throws up.  ALL the stuff goes in the backpack at that point because…well…dog vomit.  Ugh.   Then the afternoon continues and my husband comes home.  I put the stress over what I just cleaned up in Jesus’ backpack and focus on this man that God has given me, greeting him with a smile and kiss and offering him dinner and a chance to rest.  Again, all of my responsibilities are nearby and available to be tended to as needed, but they are not all up front and overwhelming me all at the same time.  (And thank goodness for that because who wants dog puke front and center all the time!  Sorry…I digress.)

Does this make sense?  I think one of the biggest mistakes we can make as human beings is the same one my child made.  We don’t trust that there is enough time or energy to get all the things done so we refuse to put ANY of them down and soon they are spilling out all over the place and nothing gets done well.  But Jesus is right here by our side with an empty backpack and He is not only fully capable of holding every single one of our burdens, he WANTS to hold them.  It doesn’t mean He takes the burdens out of our lives completely, but He does take them out of our overfilled arms and off our backs!

As a woman, a wife, and a mom my life has gone through many seasons.  There are years where my biggest accomplishment was that I took a shower and the kids were still alive at bedtime.  There are others where I was more productive in keeping home, relationships outside my home, and serving.  Some years I have been a prayer warrior, others I have barely breathed out two or three words of desperation to God while trying to bring down a high fever or handle an epic tantrum.  We cannot do everything all of the time. And when we try, we will generally not do any of them well.

For example:

It’s OK, young mama, if your babies are demanding all of your time and you had to order pizza for dinner two nights in a row.  But make eating pizza an event!  Light candles! Play music!  Thank God as a family for that convenience and celebrate it!  You will have more time to cook as your kids grow, I promise.  And when you do, it doesn’t have to be Pinterest-worthy.  And please don’t wish away their little years by longing for things that would bring you more accolades.  In these long, exhausting years do your very best to be satisfied with the approval of the audience of One.  Your Heavenly Father sees and knows every sacrifice, every bottle cleaned, every diaper changed, and every exhausted kiss you give your husband.

My dear sister who is caring for a very sick loved one, maybe you stayed up later than everyone else last night and watched Netflix instead of doing the sink full of dishes.  That may not have been the most productive use of that hour…but then again maybe it was. You have to build rest into your day in order to survive.  Sabbath.  Call a friend and ask her to bring you coffee.  Offer up breath prayers when you are desperate and know that God hears them just as clearly as longer, more eloquent offerings.  Just be in His presence.  You don’t have to say a thing.

My single friend, you may long for husband and a house full of kids.  (Or maybe you don’t!)  God has not given you that “burden” to carry in life and you may feel like a third wheel at social gatherings, but you are very needed and useful.  Serve Him.  Serve His people who run around like chickens with their heads cut off and be an instrument of peace and rest in your community and church!  Use your freedom to go where young mothers cannot in their season of life.  Pave the way for us who will, one day, be empty-nesters and join you on your adventures!

Most importantly, friends, seek the Lord.  Ask Him what he wants you to hold in your hands at this moment.  Then don’t give in to the temptation to carry anything more.  That may sound simple, but you know as well as I do that it is not.  Do one thing at a time and do it well, then put it in the “backpack” before taking out the next thing.  This skill we work so hard to instill in children when learning to care for their belongings is just as useful to us as women as we navigate the busyness of life!

Gosh, I’m thankful for the lessons God teaches me through my kids.  I would love to hear from you if you have anything to share in this area!  You can comment here or email me at alifeofsimplejoys@gmail.com.  I so enjoy interacting with you and learning about the ways you seek to keep life simple!