Monday, July 14, 2014

On Gathering Women

That's what I do.  I like to gather women.  Sometimes it's for a Book Club. Sometimes it's been for sewing. Sometimes it's for coffee and muffins. Sometimes it's for dinner. Sometimes it's for crafting. Sometimes it's for discussing our growth. Sometimes it's just to let our children play together.

I don't have any real plan or vision for these events or for where I think they should necessarily go.  I just invite and pray that the Holy Spirit works in women's lives and that they come away with a challenge or an encouragement or a new thought or a new friendship or just a bit of reprieve from the dailiness.

Our culture is so busy and fragmented and distracted, and there are few spaces where women can gather for food and  focused conversation and to be heard and to be loved.  I believe that God made us as women to be inviters. Why aren't we doing that more?  Why aren't we creating space in our homes and in our schedules and in our hearts to gather? I know that for each of us there are differing lists of obstacles that we face, but most of those can be overcome.

Women are lonely. Women need friendship. Women need nurturing as they are nurturers to so many in their lives. Women need to be listened to and offered encouragement and hope. Women need to eat a slow meal without interruption and to enjoy a glass of wine coupled with laughter. Women need to share their real life stories and listen to other's stories.  Women need to be seen and noticed. Women need to be affirmed that you are not alone.

Why do we wait for other women to make the first move? Why do we sit alone at home or make ourselves over-busy to compensate for that ache of aloneness? Why do we keep hoping that good friendships will just happen to us?

I believe that we can move past our fears and insecurities and issues, and seek to learn how to love other women in even the smallest of ways.  May I encourage you to begin to take steps to create of lifestyle of loving and pursuing women?

Text a woman today and ask her how she is doing.

Find out who has an upcoming birthday and buy her a card.

Take a friend some flowers this week.

Mail something.

Private Message someone on Facebook that you want to get to know and tell her that.

Invite a few women over for coffee and muffins.

Host a Book Club. Discuss the book Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist.

Take a woman a meal when you find out she is feeling under the weather.

Consider hosting an IF:Table with five other women.  Make it a potluck.

Begin a Growth Group: meet with three other women once a month to discuss the growth in your lives intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, relationally...books you have read, movies you have seen, podcasts listened to, music that encourages.

Ask good questions.

Be the friend that you want to have.

Pray and ask God to give you names of women to reach out and to give love to.  Do it freely without expecting anything in return. Do any of these suggestions as an overflow of love...seeking to be Jesus to others without demanding a response of gratitude or reciprocation or friendship. Give because Jesus made you to give and to offer and to invite. Check pride and insecurity and comparison at the door and walk in your identity in Christ which is to be a woman who is deeply loved, forgiven, accepted and complete in Him.  As we walk in our God-given identities, we are then FREE to walk in love and service without hindrance.

We weren't made to go at life alone.  We weren't made for isolation and comparison and insecurity. We were made for intimacy and connection and authenticity and sacrificial love. Women at their best are intimate and relational and honest and nurturing...let's humbly reclaim all the best about ourselves and offer that to the women God places in our lives and paths every day.

Monday, June 2, 2014

What I Learned In May

1. Taking a Vacation With Your Spouse Is Amazing. It had been 12 years since we had vacationed together and OH MY GOODNESS! My sister who lives in California came out here for a week to care for our children while Mike and I headed down to Sanibel Island, Florida.  We did all the things I dream of a vacation being: private, quiet, restful, books, good food, games, walks.  Truly a gift.

2. Being Open to Others Allows Me To See God Move.  I initiated with many people this month who were complete strangers.  A few of them were people I met when we went camping with the Boy Scouts for a weekend and some were women from my church that I invited over for IF:Table.  When you open your life with others and listen to their stories, then you see how God is lovingly at work all over the place and in such unique and diverse ways.  I was blessed to hear how He uses pain for His glory and uses the hard things to draw others in.

3. The More I Give, The More I Want to Give.  It becomes this beautiful habitual practice of seeking to bring joy and care and God's love to others in simple yet meaningful ways.  Never underestimate the power of a meal, a small gift, an act of service, an encouraging text, a prayer for another.

4. Giving Must Come From A Place of Being Filled.  I am really starting to see when I am giving out of "should" and depletion and recognize pretty quickly that I probably should have said no.  I want my love and my giving to come out of a place of overflow and grace not duty, obligation, fear or performance. And I am in tune with myself enough to know the difference.

5. Having A Plan Is Changing My Life.  I feel so much more in tune with living out my gifts and priorities and focusing on what matters most.  I feel less angsty and more hopeful.  I am soooo much closer to living my best life and not my distracted, brooding life :)

6. Brooklyn 99 is a hilarious show.  We signed up for Hulu Plus for the month just to watch the first season.  It is (mostly) clean and really really funny.  It's like a police version of The Office.

Friday, May 30, 2014

On Homemaking and Hard Work

I have been under the impression lately that my newer friends believe that I am just naturally wired for homemaking and domesticity and that I have always been this way.  This really is funny to me...if only I could show them my room when I was growing up, my dorm room and the places we lived when we first got married.

None of my current skills in the home were magically gifted to me.  They are a result of learning and growing and plain old hard work.

As a young married woman, I had no idea how to cook. My capability in cleaning came from working in two fast food restaurants late in high school and in college.  Clutter was my nemesis. Laundry was never ever under control.  Piles and piles of clean laundry would overflow everywhere and we just grabbed what we needed from that. Dirty dishes would pile up for days.  Our kitchen table was two-thirds office and one-third dining space.  My mother would swoop in from time to time and help make pillows and curtains and soften everything.  She would help order my life again but her habits weren't my habits and so it didn't take long for everything to fall back in disarray.

In 2002 I bought a Woman's Day magazine and learned about Fly Lady.  I knew that reading her and having someone daily "mentor" me in the home was what I needed.  I needed her to help me clear clutter and get into a habit of clearing clutter.  I needed her to teach me routines.  I had resisted routines for so long and was no longer satisfied with all of the emotional and physical chaos that inevitably came when I lived without them.  Day by day and step by step, I purged my spaces, our storage unit, our clothing. This took time and a few years.  I began to believe "do not keep anything in your home that is not useful or beautiful". I let go of fear and hoarding and sentimentality and freed myself to decorate simply and in my unique style.

I read the book "Use What You Have Decorating" and it helped me to understand design and that I didn't need new and shiny and expensive.  I could make what I already owned or what I found in a thrift store pretty and pleasing and self-expressive. This book taught me how to arrange furniture and lamps and why certain spaces feel better and function better than others.

I got obsessed with Pampered Chef and my sister's recipes and between the two of them, I learned to cook. I knew from going to many of their Shows that their recipes were usually delicious. So I bought a cookbook at every Show and began to experiment and work my way through them.  People would rave over what I made at an event and it was always one of their recipes.  They taught me how to use kitchen tools and made me realize that the right tool + a well-written recipe makes a world of difference.

I checked out books and bought books on homemaking and domesticity for years. I became a student of it all.  My thinking was that if I believed that God was calling me to be at Home and raise a family, then it was my responsibility to learn how to do that.  My desire was to create spaces that were warm and cozy. Happy and inviting. Uncluttered and relatively easy to manage.  None of that was "natural" to me. It was a choice I decided to make.  I began to view my home as a Professional would...this was my "job" now and so I needed to learn and work hard and grow into that.  No one becomes good at a new job overnight.  You become skilled as you gain knowledge, observe others, ask questions, and practice, practice, practice.

Blogs came along my path around 2006.  I was amazed that I was being given peeks into people's real life homes through their photography and their words. Being the visual learner that I am, I now felt even more inspired and mentored to view beauty through simplicity, through natural living, through doing art and making stuff alongside my children.  Through my sister's help and many books and online tutorials, I taught myself to sew. To knit. To crochet. To embroider. To do a million crafty things and to invite my children into a creative lifestyle. I stopped listening to the inner monologue of "don't try that because you won't be perfect so don't even go there" and released myself to try new skills, to make mistakes, to fail and to be messy. I began making things for my home and making things for others and never in my life did I feel so free and so joyful and fulfilled.

I never realized that Home could be the place where I would find myself, where I would find calling, where I would find fulfillment. It started out just as a choice.  We just knew that my being home was what we wanted for our children but I never stopped to think at all what it would do for me. Here is the place that taught me to love, to create, to grow, to learn, to clarify, and to focus. Here is the place that provided me space to learn to cook and later to learn hospitality and and to give all that I learned away to others. Here is the place where I learned to lay down my life only to find it again.  It was a choice we made by faith only and I began to receive the fruit of that decision years and years later.

I say all this to say that I am not more "gifted" at this homemaking thing than anyone else.  I don't possess a skill set that isn't available to others. I was dissatisfied with how I did just about everything in our home and decided that I needed to learn, practice and grow. One thing that stuck out to me as I have been doing those Powersheets is that she says that we can make all of those goals and steps and plans, but at the end day, it's putting in the hard work. That is true of any job out there, homemaking included.  When we put in the hard work of learning, practicing, failing and learning yet again, we are rewarded with that effort.  We gain virtue, skill, and ultimately gifts that we can bless others with.  All of that hard work enables us to fulfill our calling which is always to love our neighbor.  Our neighbor is our family, our friendships, our church and our wider community.  Our acquired skills become our avenues and paths to bring blessing and grace and joy to those that God allows to cross our paths.

In the quiet and hidden place of Home and family, God gifts us with time and space to grow, to learn, to become skilled in a variety of ways. For years we may wonder at it all and question our place there and get depressed and doubt it all...but the fruit will come. As the roots grow deep and receive nourishment over time and storm, we can grow and blossom into fruitful trees which bring beauty and health and growth to others. Little by little, day by day.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Head and Hands


In this season of hyper-connectivity with smartphones and the easy access to endless information, I have realized that it is so easy for me to get "stuck in my head".  I get a million thoughts going a million miles an hour and it's hard for me to be fully engaged in the present moment when my mind is chronically somewhere else.  I also start feeling agitated and even many ideas and people and to-do lists all swirling around together with no focus and no clarity.

Can any of you relate?

I have found a few strategies that help.

The first is NOT to check email, the Internet or social media or texts first thing in the morning. It sends my brain into many directions that I don't need to be going down yet.  I need my brain to first and foremost engage with Jesus and my husband, and every time I pick up my phone first thing, neither of those two relationships seem to get the focus that my heart really wants to give them.

The next thing I have found is that my head needs the connection with my hands in order to calm down. This usually means pen to paper.  The act of writing really helps my mind focus and gain clarity. "Downloading" in the morning in the form of a list really helps steer my morning in the right direction. Downloading my thoughts in the evening allows me to evaluate the day, list gratitude, and check in with my progress with my current goals. Taking a few hours on the weekend to do some planning has done more for my mental health than anything else in a long time. Over the years, I had gotten into an unhealthy habit of just trying to hold all these things (ideas, projects, lists, concerns, prayers, people) up in my head, and it ended up making me feel spiritually, emotionally and mentally cluttered.

My head also needs to connect with my hands through creative acts.  If I sit down to sew, it really requires focus in order to avoid mistakes, and that creative focus is deeply restful for my busy mind.  That's one of the reasons that I feel like I am on a emotional high after sewing...because it requires singular focus for me and that is very emotionally energizing. Gardening is very similar.  Getting my hands dirty and digging and weeding and planting always gifts me with calm and clarity. Anything that requires my undivided concentration seems to be extremely profitable for me in these days of fragmentation whether in mind, service or schedule.

Now more than ever, it seems that we must be proactive in finding healthy ways of quieting our minds and focusing on the present moment. This is a formidable challenge during these days of instant access to others and ideas. If you have an active mind like I do, how do you reign it in and help yourself focus?  How do you manage the barrage of thoughts, questions, ideas? What strategies help you stay present in the moment?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Work and Rest

Today is a day where I treat myself gently and stop demanding more from myself in service and in production. I have been really focused lately...those powersheets have really helped me use my time better to do the things that I really care about. What the powersheets don't realize though is that it can't be all people and all productivity all the time for me.

I have met my goals this month to have a potluck, to host IF:Table, to have a Nerf gun war with friends and to visit dear friends down in Savannah. I have said yes to spontaneous get-togethers and not hidden in my home away from others.  I have chosen to love and to be with people and it has been so absolutely wonderful and filling and deeply right.

I have decluttered room after room and lightened our closets and it feels incredible to have more margin in our home and less to clean and to organize.  My goal in doing this was to spend less time managing stuff and spend more time being hospitable (and it's just really hard for me to invite people in when chaos and clutter clutter be gone!). This goal of whole-house decluttering isn't fully complete, but we are getting closer and closer and it's feels so deeply right.

Last night I found myself very grumpy and emotional and this morning I woke up the same way.  And it's not PMS.  I kept wondering what my problem is and recognized that "if my output exceeds my intake then my upkeep becomes my downfall".  In other words, I need rest.  The well has run a little dry and I am in need of reading books, taking walks, eating lightly, listening to music, journaling. Years ago I would just keep pushing forward into greater productivity and chronic initiating because it was "the right thing to do". 

Now I know that we must work from our rest.  We cannot work and serve and love out of depleted places. I had to have minimal social media today, have the kids play outside, and be quiet with my thoughts.  We must listen to the Holy Spirit, our spirits and our bodies and not charge ahead in living by shoulds and oughts and formulas.  We must abide in Him and tune into our hearts and bodies.  We say no to the demanding voices and the fearful voices and we keep in step with the Gentle Shepherd who only guides and not drives.

May we cease striving and walk in the Rest and Peace of Jesus today.

Friday, April 18, 2014

On Good Friday I Don't Feel Good

Sometime in the middle of last week, my spirit was filled with a deep sense of dread. This awful feeling of exposure and soul-vulnerability and the feeling that all my brokenness was being exposed and put on display and I just could hardly handle any of  it.  I started googling every possible get-out-of-town scenario I could come up with to avoid being here during Holy Week.  I felt a bit frantic and scared and on-the-run and like failure was chasing me down and wanting to shame me to the whole world. I show up at church on Sunday feeling raw and bruised and almost ran out when it all ended, but I opted to just walk very, very quickly. The voice of shame kept insistently whispering to me, "Run and hide!"

I began to realize that this season of Lent has exposed my deep fear of failure (because failure may lead to rejection) and my frustration of all that I lack. All my good intentions during these 40 days have been met with my lack of discipline, my lack of love, my spiritual paralysis, and all the ways that I just can't be perfect. Lent showed me my sin and really showed me again that I am not God. I am not perfect and I am not in control. I cannot earn my salvation and I cannot perform my way into love and acceptance. 

So this week I have just felt naked and weird and thinking, "Can't I just go to the beach for the weekend and skip all this and just live in an alternate reality and wait for all these feelings to go away?"

But Jesus.

He keeps whispering to me that my sin and my brokenness does not scare Him off. He is not ashamed of me and put off by me and is not moving away from me.  He sits with me here.  He takes on the weight of my pain on Himself today. He suffers for me. He receives it all on Himself today so that I can be free from all this performance, all this fear, all this shame, all this loneliness.  Chains broken. Healed. Forgiven. Loved and accepted.  He's going to the cross today for me. It's astounding.

I sit here knowing all the crap in my mind and heart.  The angry places and the judgmental places and the fearful places and the depressed places and it all feels so bad and so hopeless and yet He offers to take them from me today. He bears them for me. He suffers in spirit for me.

Tonight I will go to a Good Friday service. It won't be "encouraging" or "fun" or make me feel better. I actually believe I will feel worse come bedtime.  Coming face to face with Good Friday does not make you feel good.  It reminds us that we are spiritually bankrupt, needy, lame, sick, broken and also Pharisaical and proud and pious. We come face to face with the glory of Self that we ascribe to and that He gently and willingly and obediently chose to bear all of that Self and Ego and Ugly anyway.

It's crazy humbling and really really Good. Even though it doesn't feel that way.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

My Path to Open

Goodness. I didn't know three months ago when the Lord put on my heart to choose the word OPEN for 2014 that I would be challenged to be open to many new things and that I would want to resist out of fear and dismiss ideas and new opportunities that would come my way.  It made me wonder how often I am closed off to relationships and good deeds and spiritual growth because fear shuts the door without thought, without pause, without examination.

What have I been OPEN to this year?

1. PowerSheets. I seriously scorned these. Really. The only reason I bought them was because I read about a friend's journey and the Lord whispered, "Be Open and reserve judgment" when I was about to dismiss it. And they are really changing my life and I haven't even begun the actual monthly and weekly goals yet.  Simply having someone guide me into evaluating my life, dreams, fears, etc has been the best practice for Burnout that I have done in a while. I have carried a lot of mental clutter and those questions and prompts have allowed me to get a ton of stuff out of my head and onto paper. This has resulted in mental margin. I work hard at emotional margin, but had no idea how mentally stuck I was.

2. Hospitality. When I saw a friend post about If:Table, God whispered again, "Be Open and open your doors". This concept fit into my God-given core goals, and so I began to invite women to come for dinner and conversation. I chose an evening and stuck with that time so that if a friend couldn't come, then I would assume that God had someone else who was supposed to be there.  In the end, we had six of us from varying ages, churches, backgrounds, and relationships...much diversity! That diversity lent itself to be a lovely evening with women sharing vulnerably and how we all struggle with isolation and connection.  Being open resulted in a new best practice for 2014 for connecting women and living openly.

3. Being a podcast guest for a workshop. My friend Elizabeth is hosting a beautiful and healing workshop for women who are struggling with burnout and loss of joy. She and I discussed this idea for months leading up to it, and she asked if I would be one of her guests. I thought, "REALLY!?" I knew the names of the others she was inviting and felt rather small and awkward to be a part of it.  God said, "Be Open". So I said yes while feeling nervous and weird and scared of it all. My natural inclination was to want to hide. God honored that "yes" and I have loved receiving feedback that women feel refreshed from hearing the recording and many recognizing areas that they are not caring for themselves or walking in freedom. One of my life goals is help women walk in greater freedom in Christ and not in bondage to ideals or rules so this fit that bill perfectly.

4. Menu Planning. I have always hated it and it hasn't been a sustainable practice for me in the past.  I like to keep a well-stocked pantry and freezer and work from that on a daily basis.  Along came February and again, I needed mental margin and to stop thinking about so much during the day. I needed to find some areas that could run on auto-pilot without my mentally engaging.  God whispered, "Be open again to this". Whenever we think things in our lives will always stay the same, God moves us and tweaks us.  That's why we must not follow rules or formulas or strict ideals...because we may begin needing to do the very things we never thought we should or could. God delights in keeping us dependent and humble and listening to Him and when we do, we live well and without unnecessary burdens.

5. Computer-based/Online Classes.  Now that I am beginning to think about our learning plans for this season, I realized that homeschooling wasn't on my list of things that "fire me up" as I worked through my PowerSheets. I certainly feel called to it during this time, but recognize that I need it very simple and streamlined right now.The children need to be more independent from me so that my time and mental/creative headspace is free to pursue other ideas that God is calling me to do.  I have always held high to the ideal of interest-led learning, and yet right now I know that my kids need some structured programs and morning schedules that is less teacher-directed.  Teaching Textbooks, Rosetta Stone Spanish, Typing and their taking outside courses on writing and science have helped immensely to lighten my load and my children enjoy all of those things.  I have to be willing to be open to a style of learning that I don't necessarily connect with or find as an ideal learning environment in order to follow God's path for me in this particular season. He's offering me freedom and yet so often I am tempted toward the bondage of my ways, my paths, my resources.

I have to say that for the first time in a long time I am very hopeful and excited and visionary about my life. I feel like God is giving me a lot of clarity that has been so deeply needed. Facing fears and stepping out in faith to be open to new paths and new ways of looking at life has been so humbling and freeing and invigorating. What are some things that you are saying Yes to right now? Where do you desire more openness and less control?