Tuesday, January 12, 2016

On Tending in 2016

2016 seemed to sneak in quickly and quietly.  That favorite week between Christmas and the New Year was a blink, and before I knew it, we were toasting 2016 with fondue and champagne and sparkling juice!

Way back in October I knew my word for this new year. It kept showing up when I would read...just kind of glowing on the page. After a year of INVEST, this new word offered the new steps.


As simple as that.

My investments this past year have taken a lot from me...as all investing does.  I planted many seeds in my home, my personal life and in ministry.  I recognized that I don't have what it takes to continue to invest in new things, but need to tend to the new life that has sprouted up in many areas.  I keep thinking of TEND as a gentle nurturing...watering, weed-pulling, focused attention, care.

The first area that I will be tending is my emotional health.  As I was reflecting on the past year with Lara Casey's Powersheets (which I still feel like is one of the most clarifying tools out there whether or not you ever use the monthly tending sheets), I realized that one of my greatest fears for the year is vulnerability. It surprised me as I wrote it, because vulnerability has always been a part of my relational DNA. My vulnerability has actually invited a lot of pain, and I am not in a place where I am willing to get my emotional butt kicked anymore.  I wept many tears the first few days of January. The months of numbness and emotional disconnect finally broke wide open, and I could recognize much woundedness and a deep need for healing and perspective.

Todd Henry in his podcast The Accidental Creative has an episode called "Tending the Flame".  I listened to it yesterday because "tending" jumped out at me.  He said that we come to places in life when we need to disengage so that we can actually reengage again with our best creative work. Without tending our flame, we will get snuffed out and have nothing for ourselves and others.

That's where I am.  I acutely feel the need to disengage with many things in my life, to pull back and tend to my soul.  I am taking Brene Brown's semester course Living Brave and am hoping to receive some insight, healing and hope. 

I also learned that challenge is important to me in my relationships. Some people thrive off encouragement, but I really thrive off people who push me to grow, to be healthy, to tell me that apathy stinks, to motivate me towards change. That's been a missing component in the past six months or even longer, so recently I have been looking for ways to say yes to challenge.  I received a Fitbit and had no idea that there was a challenge element to it.  I have so enjoyed having daily, weekend, and "workweek hustle" challenges with friends. Being pushed to go farther has been amazingly great not only for my physical health, but I think even more so for my mental health. This year I want to tend the habit of 10,000 steps as many days as I can.

(me at 12:30 am trying to win a Fitbit challenge! :)

I also joined Goodreads after years of being sad with the demise of Visual Bookshelf on Facebook where I had all my books logged and lost. It's amazing how the act of setting up a goal challenge of fifty books for this year has had a direct impact on how I spend my afternoon and evenings.  I am much quicker to choose to read over mindless scrolling knowing that I have a solid goal to meet. Three down and forty-seven more to go!

Spiritually, I am tending to myself by listening in prayer and not so much speaking. I am also reading the Daily Office of Scripture passages as marked out in my Sacred Ordinary Days planner. Knowing that I am reading the same verses as other men and women around the world makes me feel small in all the right ways. It's not all about me or my "quiet time" but entering into the greater Body of Christ as we read together and allow the words to have their way.

At first I felt scared about this year, but now it is feeling more and more like freedom. Sometimes I forget what freedom feels like...the joy, the soul-lightness, the grace. When I think about who I want to be at 80, what keeps coming to me is that I want to be healthy. Body + soul + spirit.  I want healthy relationships with myself, with Mike, my children and my friends.  I want to still be walking four miles every day and sleeping 8-9 hours a night. I desire to pass on emotional and spiritual health to the people I care the most about...a lifetime of habits of forgiveness, openness, prayer, grace, love, margin, simplicity, renewal, service. Who I am at 80 begins here in the small places at 42. 

Begin with the end in mind, right?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

On Floods, Fatigue, and God's Abundance

Starting in the wee hours of Sunday, our beloved water-saturated state of South Carolina received another pounding of rain. Many places were receiving two inches an hour. I got a text from a friend at around 6am telling me that their cars were under water! That morning was just the beginning of an overwhelming flooding saga that would unveil itself across the state. Dams breaking, roads collapsing, business buildings falling down...absolute chaos.

The days that have followed have been intense.  The 'round-the-clock news coverage and my Facebook news feed are inundated with updates, new problems, amazing generosity, constant giving/receiving/volunteering...I have never experienced anything like this. Social media takes calamity to a distinctly higher level of emotional pressure.

My husband warned me a few days into the catastrophe that I needed to back away a bit and take care of myself.  He knows how my sensitive spirit empathizes and feels deeply the hard, the loss, the feelings other may feel.  I began having nightmares and restless sleep. Agitation and anxiety began to creep into the way that I was speaking to my children. Stress is not a friend to body, soul and spirit.

And yet, I felt like I couldn't look away? That it would be somehow selfish not to "listen", not to understand the problems, not to engage with all the pain and turmoil.  My spirit would whisper, "don't turn on the TV right now", but my obligation to be "in the know" would go against that and turn it on anyway.  The result was a mama who was emotionally tired, distracted, and overwhelmed.

Yesterday, I woke up with the covers over my head telling Mike that I just couldn't do life today: parent, teach, love, empathize, give.  I had hit my emotional limits and was moving into self-preservation.  He prayed for and with me, told me to get up, and that I can do what I am called to do: take care of myself and my family. In order to give to my community out of a place of fullness, life, vitality, and sacrifice, I had to put the oxygen mask on us first.

We went to the library. Fresh books heal many ills. I prepared lunch slowly and gently. The boys romped and played outside while I read a new book while sitting on my front porch. I cleaned my laundry room and put fresh sheets on our bed. Decluttered and tidied my neglected kitchen. Spent time teaching my 4th grader and caught up on schoolwork. I tuned the world out so that I could tune in to my heart and my children.  I exhaled.

When trauma hits, know your limits. It's hard not to have survivor's guilt that your home wasn't destroyed, that your home has power and water, that your cars work, and as a result, over-work, over-volunteer, over-give. Our hearts hate to see the pain so many are facing.  But to love them well, you must live well.  Take a shower, grab a nap, drink a smoothie.  Turn off the news for most of the day. Listen to worship music. Read to your children.  Take a long walk. Pray.

The work to be done here in South Carolina is only just beginning.  The broken homes and destroyed land and grieving spirits aren't going to be healed any time soon. This restoration process is more of a marathon than a sprint.  In order to stay engaged with the local needs over the long haul, we need to set a sustainable pace which will be different for each person and each family. A long-term crisis situation has the potential to cause burn-out and compassion fatigue.  

So this is my encouragement to you: listen to your body, your emotions, your spirit. When a friend or spouse shows concern for you, listen. Listen to the promptings of the Spirit as to where He wants to send you this day. He may ask you to pray quietly, text a friend, donate diapers, pull up carpet or take a nap.  The key is to stop listening to the anxiety of the news, social media and your own compassionate soul and to tune in to the Holy Spirit's movement and guidance.  He offers an easy yoke and a light burden and provides an entire community to provide for the entire community.  Let us not overestimate ourselves but instead completely estimate His immeasurable power, love and provision for His people. He never sleeps nor slumbers. He always provides. His abundance never fails. There is no scarcity in His Kingdom

May we be His very real hands and feet in these challenging times and listening daily to the Father's will for us in the moment just as Jesus did. May we drink deeply of the love, light, and truth of the Spirit so we have the best resources to give away. May we never neglect the ones under our own roof while seeking to repair another's roof. Amen.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

On "Calling" and Daily Faithfulness

When I hit that normal "mid-life crisis" that I have read is from the ages of 39-42, the persistent search was for a deeper sense of meaning and clarity of calling. I thoughtfully questioned all of my life decisions and sifted through the lifestyle choices that I had made.  I wondered if now that my children were beginning to get older and now that I was 40 if it was time for something bright, shiny and new.

I spent a lot of time thinking about strengths, gifts, personality types. I was able to see areas that I am not and will never be good at and let them go.  Through stepping out in faith to do some different women's ministry ideas, it reconfirmed to me that my heart really does beat for teaching women truths, providing spaces for conversation, and offering thoughtful acts of care. I had been doing those things for years though and was still wondering when that bright, shiny and new life was going to reveal itself.

Over time and prayer, dreaming and wondering, goal-setting and planning, I realized that my everyday ordinary days were the call.  That I am on a long road of obedience in raising a houseful of children, providing a warm and comfortable home, and loving the neighbor that crosses my path. This initially felt like a let-down of sorts. Lord, isn't there something that *feels* more fulfilling and would make me happy and wouldn't be so dang challenging?!? The Lord showed me gently again and again that this smallness, this home, this community is where I am to invest daily acts of care and love.  (Also? This post is a gold mine if you are also are one to ponder "what is God's will for me?")

Jen Hatmaker in her book For the Love says, "Your calling is today. God makes you worthy as you desire goodness for your children, meeting needs and nurturing little souls. No future calling is any more important than your current station. Every good, meaningful possibility is yours today....God's Kingdom will not come in any more power elsewhere than it will come into your life today...You don't need to wait another day to figure out your calling. You're living it, dear one. Your gifts have a place right now, in the job you have, in your stage of life, with the people who surround you. Calling is virtually never big or famous work; that is rarely the way the kingdom comes. It shows up quietly, subversively, almost invisibly."

Those thoughts completely resonate with me.

It's so easy to get angsty to "be your best self" and self-actualize and figure out what it looks like to "live out your passions". I often wonder if this is simply a by-product of living in a wealthy culture where we have time on our hands to ponder such things when most of the world is trying to simply feed their family that day.

What if God's calling is as simple as waking up and walking faithful?  It's not glamorous and the work is mostly hidden, but it's holy work.  Jesus spent His days listening to the Father and then doing it.  Usually His will for Jesus meant touching the next person, teaching the next parable, going to the next meal. He listened and obeyed and lived it out with a handful of people on a small plot of land.

I often wake up and think, "Not again! I can't do this! I don't want to!" But I think of Jesus who said "Take this cup from me, but not my will, but Yours be done." He models to us submission and obedience despite feelings.  As an act of the will, he continued to love and sacrifice His very self to the very end. His sacrifice is my example. A choice was made out of trust in a good, good Father that knows the very best path.

These thoughts have become my guidepost each morning for the past few months.  I follow you Jesus, not myself.  I follow Your call today, not mine.  I am your servant....give me the grace to walk this out. I am seeing that these days have been some of the most freeing and energizing that I have had in a long time.  Self-preservation doesn't preserve. Self-actualization doesn't actually mean a fulfilled life. Only listening to and obeying the voice of the Spirit does that.

May we not demean the smallness, the gritty, the messy, the repetition, the hidden. God sees and is honored with our five loaves and two fishes and His kingdom multiplies them in ways we will never fully realize and see. May we wake up to our fresh mornings living a life worthy of the calling which we have received: to love God and love people well.

Monday, September 21, 2015

On Some Healing from Cynicism

I went to the IF: Local Leaders Gathering in Orlando, Florida last week.  I had signed up and paid for it a while back, and as the date neared, I just did not want to go.  I was just finding my groove and routine and contentedness in homeschooling and didn't want that disrupted. I worried that I was going to go to be told  "one more thing that I need to do for God's kingdom" when my plate is already full. And the real reason that I didn't want to go was that I was feeling deeply cynical.

This summer was a rough one. Physically I had suffered with chronic digestive problems that weren't going away and managed to get myself into some poison ivy that was truly awful. Some local church leaders made some decisions that not only surprised me, but grieved me deeply which led to many tears, questioning, sleepless nights, and wrestling. Some friendships felt strained and weird, and I didn't know how to handle it all well and with maturity.  I tried the best that I could to listen to God and keep a soft heart, but let's face it, I'm human and made mistakes and allowed some hurt to fester in my soul.

I asked a few friends to pray for me as I left to go to Orlando.  I mentioned the cynicism that seemed lodged in my heart and knew that I couldn't receive much inspiration or leadership training with the state my heart was in...wounded and distrusting, confused and undone. I also felt some anger with my assumption that I would show up to a bunch of women trying to cheerlead me into doing more ministry.

And wow, I am so glad that my assumptions proved to be wrong.

The first night was all an acknowledment of where many of us were. Hurting, aching, tired, weary, and CYNICAL.  I couldn't believe it.  I sat there almost jaw-dropped that whole evening as it almost seemed written word for word to the bruised state of my heart. All I could do was be amazed that God was showing me that He *sees me* and He *loves me* and desires my freedom and relationship with Him more than my service. How easy I forget that.

I cried a lot. I received a lot. I was humbled.

At the end of that evening session, they offered a time of prayer either alone or to come have one of the leaders pray for you. I am never one to go ask for prayer in a situation like that, but immediately God prompted me to have Ann pray for me.  Ann and I had messaged each other about seeing each other at this conference but had never nailed down a time to meet.  Little did I know that she would leave the next morning for Israel and that this was the only pocket of time to connect. I went to her while my legs were shaking and my spirit was overcome with the weight of pain in my life.  We hugged tight and I bared my soul and she listened well and encouraged me in my path and that I am *safe* and she prayed over me.  I felt like a giant weight was lifted from my soul and those moments catching up with her filled me deeply.

I recognized clearly that the enemy of my soul wants to sideline me through judgment, isolation, being intoxicated over mission instead of Jesus, and through the deep weariness that settles in and causes you to fade away when you have suffered. Taking an honest evaluation of the lies I believe was so freeing, and only once I had confessed those could I see the hope and joy again in Jesus and the discipleship of others.

Jesus placed so much hope and joy into my heart in those short days in Orlando. It was a gift and a trip that I didn't know that I needed.  He brought so much clarity to specific situations and so much healing to my hurting heart.

And did I come back with a vision for mission? Yes. Our culture needs men and women who are breaking open the Scriptures, loving by willing to be inconvenienced by hard things, opening to allow people access to our very real lives, and standing shoulder to shoulder with others as living examples of the words, works, and ways of Jesus. The Body needs men and women who look to be broken and given to people despite disagreements, plans and agendas. There is real suffering involved in that kind of sacrifice...it sounds lovely on paper, but in real life, it takes the indwelling and filling of the Holy Spirit to breathe this out in me in the dailiness.

 May I choose obedience over comfort, love over comparison, the person of Jesus over all.

Monday, August 31, 2015

What I Learned in August

1. Listening to women who give me soul-nourishing messages is vital for my spiritual health and mothering heart.

I participated in Sally Clarkson's Own Your Life Webinar and also reread that book (which hit me in a wrong way earlier in the year, but this go 'round has been life-giving). I also just got done reading Emily Freeman's book Simply Tuesday.  There is so much gentle, life-giving truth woven throughout the book and she always seems like a kind, gracious friend who nudges you along into all the quiet, beautiful ways of spirituality, creativity, and grace.

2. Teen girls are a pretty delightful bunch and teen boys are a pretty hilarious bunch. 

My teen son and daughter both had birthdays this month and both wanted to have a group of friends over to the house.  We haven't done much teen party hosting, and I wasn't sure what to expect. Do I need to entertain them?  Do we have enough room? Won't they get bored at my home?  Won't it be too LOUD? A dear friend said, "you don't need to entertain teens...just give them space to be together and plenty of food!" She was right!  Easiest parties to host ever.  My daughter's friends were simply adorable and well-mannered...they played games together outside, ate pizza, made body scrubs, and watched a movie.  My son's friends chronically laughed, joked, ate junk and gamed. I am willing to do this more now that I recognize how doable it is.

3. Making time for podcasts really feels like having an intellectually stimulating conversation with a good friend.

This month one of my favorites was Episode 23 of the Read Aloud Revival podcast which is an interview with Julie Bogart. There was just something about her wisdom, tone and spirit of freedom that over and again made me teary and inspired. Another one was listening to Tsh interview Emily Freeman on The Simple Show (episode 10). Hearing Emily say out loud many of the truths from her book cemented those ideas in my heart (auditory + visual really drives information in!) Finally I really like Episodes 1 and 2 in the Cultivating the Kingdom podcast hosted by Allison Burr.  Dr. George Grant is a warm and wise pastor who offers deep truth coupled with wide grace and care.  I don't care for her Puritan segment at the end of each of those episodes, but the interview with him is a real encouragement.

4. I really enjoyed this recipe for Pesto Shrimp Linguine Salad.

 After trying many new Crockpot dishes and not really loving any of them, this fresh and tasty pasta dish hit the spot! It's fast, delicious and wonderful leftover for lunch!

5. I must get together weekly with women if I want to mother and homeschool from a sane place.

My homeschooling days are full and life-giving and meaningful right now, but as it has been said, "if your output exceeds your intake, then your upkeep becomes your downfall." I must take in encouragement and laughter and connection in even greater amounts because my output is so high right now.  I tend to get more withdrawn but have made myself get out twice with friends in the past week and a half, and I felt so refreshed by it. I can't allow my output and the inevitable fatigue of that work isolate me.

6. Work hard, Be diligent. Show up every weekday ready to serve, train, teach and give. Rest hard. Fill the well. Show up on the weekends ready to simply rest, do simple projects and something creative. 

Over and again I am called to live with integrity, to offer up my five loaves and two fishes, and to invest in my children and in my home with the best of my energy. And then I need to take time to regroup, plan, read, find stillness, and make. Ebb and flow. Work from rest.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Beauty in Brokenness

I have fought against brokenness all of my life. Haven’t you?
If you are anything like me, the messages that I adopted early on were that brokenness, pain, and vulnerability were the heart-places to be spiritually ashamed of and the sure path to judgment and rejection by others. I learned to hide these shameful places with my version of Beauty: big smiles, cute clothes, high achievement, moralistic purity, popularity, perfect order, and idealistic dreams. Beauty was the antidote to brokenness…the cover for it, the mask, the balm for the internal chaos.
Throughout my twenties, I chased that list of outward measures of Beauty and named it maturity. From those so-called places of Beauty, I looked down on brokenness and believed that if others just made better choices, read better books, worked harder, ate better, prayed more, then their lives wouldn’t be so jacked up. Mine wouldn’t be so jacked up. That judgment and works mindset rooted deeply in my heart, and instead of being able to receive grace and love well, my pursuit of Beauty filled me with pride and ego and superiority.
I found myself in an elitist Christian group that believed that we were the ones with THE answers to the abundant Christian life. I drank deep of the pride Kool-aid because underneath it all, I was absolutely terrified of being found deeply broken. If I was found broken, then God would reject me. Hell is for the broken ones. Jesus wants beautiful spiritual superheroes.
Read the rest over here at Called For Such a Time.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

On the Value of a Personal Retreat

In the past few years as we have added more children and have more noise and interruption, I have found that it is essential for me to take Personal Retreats.  A personal retreat is simply carving out extended quiet space to hear the Lord, to gain vision for my calling, and to plan the rhythms of my dailiness in the season that I am in. More than just a stack of curriculum for my children and plotting plans, this is a time for me to listen, to reflect, to repent and to course-correct.  It is a spiritual and scheduling reboot for me.

Personal retreats don't just happen.  We have to prioritize this need and not minimize the fruit that can come from a time like this. We must discuss this need with our husband, put it on the calendar, and keep it there.  I have used websites like Hotwire and Priceline to book nice but frugal hotel rooms.  I have borrowed a friend's family cabin in the mountains. Two weeks ago I asked some friends who were on vacation if I could borrow their living room for an entire day. Even carving out half of a day at a local coffee shop or in a library study room is better than neglecting to have the time at all.

A day or two before my retreat, I think through books to bring, music to listen to, podcasts to ponder and also gather snacks, notebooks, Bible and planner.  The books I choose are ones that will refresh my perspective on homeschooling, books that will encourage better habits and time management, and books that remind me to take care of myself as I pour out to others. Of course I can't read all of these in such a short retreat, but I plan to sit with them to read important points that I have underlined in the past or particular chapters that resonate with my current season.

When I arrive at my destination (usually on a Friday evening), the only expectation I have for that evening is rest.  I am always wound pretty tight from living in constant stimulation and from the heroic feat it is to pack and leave a house of six children. So I have learned that it takes time for my soul to unwind and that my number one priority must be physical, emotional and spiritual rest.

When I wake in the morning, I eat breakfast and drink coffee and fight the urge to move fast and strive to make the retreat "perfect". I simply surrender the time and am grateful for it. I start my time by turning on worship music, reading the Bible and journaling all my current emotions, fears, anxieties and struggles. Receiving a proper view of how big and caring and faithful God is helps me to enter the time of pondering and planning in a state of peace and trust. Planning from peace offers greater clarity and wiser scheduling decisions and a perspective on what's actually realistic.

On my last retreat, I began by playing Jennie Allen's worship playlist on Spotify called Summer and also spent time meditating on The Liturgist's song Vapor. I read almost the entire book of A Mother's Rule of Life, and it renewed my perspective of the goodness and greatness of my vocation and the need to work hard and trust God and rest well. I pondered the first chapter of Sally Clarkson's book Own Your Life, and her words brought me to a place of surrender with my current season and was an invitation to live out my days with joy and an eternal perspective. I listened to Lisa Grace Byrne's WellGrounded Life podcast on Sacred Scheduling which helped me be intentional to plan daily, weekly and monthly habits of self-care in order to refill my well so that others have something to draw from.

It's also important to realize that after 60-90 minutes of deep thought, taking a break to clean or to walk is needed. Our minds need rest and can return to planning and reflection without fatigue if we take regular breaks. We nurture body, soul and spirit on personal retreats.  Healthy snacks, delicious meals, naps, and walks are all rejuvenating. Sometimes I bring along knitting or crochet and allow my mind to rest while working with my hands. Many times in those moments when we are not purposefully focused with our minds but instead are engaging our bodies, clarity to a problem suddenly arrives. I keep spiral notebooks at the ready for these eureka moments and write unedited whatever may have come to my mind.

After all that worship, reception of information and vision, and gentle movement plus nourishment, I sat down with my calendar and Lara Casey's Powersheets.  I revised my ten goals for the next three months and made sure that they all aligned with the things that I feel most called to invest in (that's my 2015 word!) I also looked at the calendar for the fall and tried to plug in dates for things that we love to do each year like apple picking, camping, and hosting a Fall Potluck. I thought through my daily schedule and wrote out a rhythm for each day. I wrote down our evenings and put the scheduling puzzle pieces together of extracurricular activities, a mid-week Sabbath evening, date night, and hospitality. The goal was to create on paper a picture of what my daily intentions and focuses need to be which gives me clear purpose, meaningful margin, and clarity of the boundaries of what I can realistically say yes and no to in this current season.

I also did many Brain Dumps of lists into my notebook.  A list of all the upcoming financial obligations we have.  A list of items I needed for my daughter's birthday. A list of things I want to craft and to give to others. Christmas giving ideas. Books to read to my children and possible topics to be explored with them. Any and everything that had been floating around in my brain and needed to be captured on paper in order to give my brain space to breathe and be at rest.

If you like to process some of what you are learning and gleaning with others, then plan to grab lunch with a friend and/or dinner out with your husband in the middle or end of the retreat. I did both and it was refreshing to share my reflections and receive their input. I usually end my retreats by resting and journaling some final prayers and thoughts. Then I usually hit up a few thrift stores for fun!

There is no perfect way to take a personal retreat...only the one that resonates with you and fills you up and meets your spiritual, emotional and physical needs. I encourage you to see if you can carve some time before the end of the year to step away, press pause on life, and listen and receive God's heart and care and purposes for you. This is the most beneficial way for me to walk my path sustainably and well.