Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Two Powerful Words: Eliminate & Concentrate

Today I am reflecting on words of wisdom that came from a beloved mentor to so many women I know.  Anne Ortlund was passionate about MANY things, but I would say the top of her list was JESUS and DISCIPLESHIP.  She faithfully walked with a small group of women over a year and poured into them with the hope and expectation that they would duplicate what she had done with other women in their own circle.  She was amazing!  I was discipled by one of her gals, Lisa Grable.  I am so thankful for the season that Lisa poured into me, prayed for me, and cheered for me with intentionality and love.  Anne is no longer with us on this earth, but it is incredible to think about her impact while she was alive, and that her impact continues through the people she poured into.

One of our discipleship mornings  around Lisa's table included time with Anne and she shared a lesson with us that was titled, "Eliminate & Concentrate."  Although this was a few years ago, I still mull over these words from time to time.  They have changed the way I approach commitments and help me evaluate how I am investing my time as a mom, wife, friend, and Jesus follower. 

I am sharing on the blog today my reflection on Anne's lesson that I wrote just after she shared with us a few years ago.  I am struck today as I re-read these words how true they are!  I am seeing photos of my children that I posted a few years back when they were just 6 and 8 that have me nearly in tears because they are completely different people as I type this now.  I want to be back THERE today.  I want the opportunity to lift up my kiddos in my arms again and tickle chubby bellies and snuggle them up in a bath towel with skin smelling oh so sweet. 

It makes me want to share this post all the more!  The days are long, my friends, but the years are so, so short.  And, I am reading these words again for my own self.  Because although I am in a different season and my littles have become bigs, this season shall also pass much too quickly and I will wish that I could be back HERE where they are 10 and 13.  All I can do is live in this present moment with a commitment to continue to eliminate those things that do not add value and concentrate on those that do.   

[Eliminate & Concentrate]

I recently got to hear an amazing woman, Anne Ortlund, share her thoughts on navigating life well with a group of women. Anne is definitely in her "golden years", and I don't know about you, but when I have the opportunity to listen to someone share about living life well who has lived a lot of life, I lean forward a little closer and listen just a bit more intently. She had so many morsels of wisdom to give us. But one thing she talked about has really stuck with me.

She was talking about managing time and she said her two favorite words to implement in time management are "eliminate" and "concentrate".

These two words are gnarly. They are weighty. I feel like they belong in a board room. They sound strong and definitive and driven, don't they? They are not wishy washy or touchy feely.

And, I am trying to apply them to my life and love the direction they give me.

I know that there are things in my life that need to be eliminated.

Straight up.

There are a few places that I see this word doing surgery on my life.

In how I spend my time, and how our family spends our time. There is a whole vortex around me sucking me and my time towards it. I am a people-pleaser and a do-er, which means that I want to say yes to everything because number one, I don't want to hurt your feelings or upset you, and number two, I like doing things. But, when I say yes to everything, I end up doing nothing well. And, I end up frazzled, frustrated, bitter and ill. Yes, ill. My body has been pushed to the breaking point far too many times for me not to own that I do damage to my physical body when I take on too much.

I need to eliminate.

I also see this in my kids' lives. They have countless involvement opportunities as well. They are in school and have homework. They are invited to play dates and birthday parties. They can do brownies, cub scouts, be in school plays, play soccer, football, baseball, swim team, water polo, tennis, golf, dance, gymnastics, music lessons, choir... The list could go on and on. And, hear me when I say this - they are 6 and 8.

I want my children to be active.

I want my children to try hobbies and sports and find what they are good at.

But, more importantly, I want them to be peaceful, humble and to live in a family environment that is not frenzied and frazzled and out of control. These are all "good things" - who doesn't want their kids to play the sports that the kids are around them are playing? I have heard the saying "good is the enemy of best" so many times recently and my soul knows this well. When my children and involved in too many "good" things, the BEST for our family is sacrificed over and over and over. It is easy to say that we will be a "one or two sport" family but more difficult to stick to those guns when all the kids around you are playing multiple sports and you feel like your children will be left behind and made fun of for being the only ones who cannot throw a basketball right. But, I have to step back, focus and remember what my long-term values are for these little humans.

I need to eliminate.

I also see the need to eliminate in where I let my heart go. This may sound really, really crazy to a lot of people, but I have learned that Facebook is not for me. I have no judgement for those who love this corner of social networking, but FOR ME, I have learned that Facebook does wacky things to my emotions. Aside from the general "time vacuum" that it always ended up being, I found that Facebook pretty much left me in a very melancholy place.

I would log on to catch up with the happenings in my friends lives and I would log off feeling like I was out of the loop on far too many happenings (excluded from events that I really did not expect to be invited to, but seeing all the people tagged in the photos and the list of comments that praised how epic it was left me feeling lonely), not funny enough (other people have so many likes and comments on their status updates), like my family doesn't have as much fun as everyone else (everyone else is posting photos of their AMAZING moments from their day), and just generally discontent.
My purpose in going onto Facebook was to feel connected and I would always leave feeling more disconnected and just a bit angsty (totally a word). I had to learn that Facebook is not for me. I still have an account that I can use to message people, but I rarely, rarely go on there. This little life shift has served me well. It was truly the best for me.

Am I completely anti social networking in general? No. I would buy stock in pinterest tomorrow if I could. And, I have even seen that Facebook and other social networking sites have been used for a ton of good in a lot of ways. I do have some pretty big concerns for what all of this means for our kids and our society. I feel like people are losing an important part of human interaction, which is face to face connection. I feel like there is something to looking in a friend's eyes and just knowing that they are having a tough day and digging a little deeper to make sure they are ok. I feel like Facebook and Twitter can make us a little too ego driven sometimes. I mean, should all of our followers really care about where we had lunch? Should we even take the time to post that? Why are we posting that? Would that time be better spent in another way? How are my kids honored by how often I reach for my phone or laptop to update the world? These are all questions I continue to ask myself with regard to technology and how we choose to engage it as a family. At a bare minimum - I have seen the fruit of my decision to eliminate Facebook as part of my daily connection with the world.

I also need to learn to eliminate certain thoughts before they start to spin in my head. A wise counselor I know says this: "The birds will land on your head, just don't let them nest." I cannot stop my brain from thinking, but I have the choice in whether they nest or I shoo them away when they are not life giving or helpful.

I need to eliminate.

This "elimination" concept has all sorts of practical applications with regard to living in simplicity (getting rid of excess stuff that clutters and could be used elsewhere), and even with regard to a healthy diet. I need to eliminate a few more chocolate covered almonds from my daily eating patterns if you know what I mean.

And, I need to concentrate.

I need to concentrate on what I know to be important so that I can make wise choices in what to eliminate. I need to concentrate so that I prevent needing to eliminate. How wonderful it would be if I just knew my limits and really was thoughtful as I walked life and did not get to the place where I have to make those surgical cuts.

I need to concentrate on my children. This time is so fleeting. They will not always be here, and I know that but I still live as though they will. I live as though there will be tomorrows for the life lessons that need to be taught today. I have these moments with them and I want to "mine" these moments well, as it says in the very definition of the word. To sift these moments and separate the metal from the ore. To purify them and make them stronger.

There are countless reasons why it is important to concentrate in this time that feels like a breeze blowing through my home ...

Because there are these moments that will build their foundation of love for each other as brother and sister for the rest of their lives. We are crafting our family's legacy in the moments of everyday life...

Because he only turns 6 this one time (and soon, he will no longer pronounce "Actually" as "ackshly") ...

Because I am going to wish that she would sit and hug me and want to talk to me about all the details of her world in 7 years ...

Because I am only going to be able to carry him like this for a wee bit longer, and she will only dance and twirl and sing in the background without being self-conscious for a wee bit longer ...

I have this moment that replays in my head that causes me to feel such remorse. A few weeks ago we were getting ready to go on a trip to Lake Arrowhead for a family getaway. My to do list was a mile long and I was frantically trying to get all the games and activities packed up before I had some children arriving at my house for tutoring. My daughter came over and started to hug me as I was sorting card games and packing. I literally brushed her off gently and said, "Honey, I don't have time to cuddle right now. I have got to get this stuff packed up." The look on her face still hurts my heart quite a bit when I recall it. She recoiled and looked as though I had slapped her. "You don't want to hug me?" she said. And, her eyes filled up with tears.

I immediately stopped and apologized and told her mommy made a bad choice and tried to make it right. And, she was gracious and received my hug but I could tell I hurt her and it wasn't all totally perfect. There was still that hurt place where she realized that I made a choice and it was not to love her first. It was my stupid to do list.

Oh man, how I want to concentrate.
I need to concentrate on my marriage and my husband.

He so often gets the left overs of me. He gets the wiped out, emotionally shut down, exhausted version of his wife at the end of the day. I need to evaluate what in the world is going on here if I value us staying a connected, vibrant and in love couple well into our golden years. I need to concentrate on showing him that I am present and still listening. I need to concentrate on affirming him and speaking words of love to him, especially in times where he needs that bolstering. I need to concentrate on being his love who is there for better or worse, richer and poorer, in sickness and in health - that pretty much means BEING there our whole life. All of life pretty much fits in those descriptions and I said I would.

I need to concentrate.

So, these are two words that I carry with me in my days. I use them to make decisions and process how we are doing as a family. There will be an ebbing and flowing of activities and time. There are seasons for hibernation and seasons for a flurry of activity.

But, I will endeavor to learn to live these words out well.

How about you - what do these words evoke in you?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Sharing the stories.

Okay, so lets be real.  My last post was, ummm, quite a few years ago.  I took a break from blogging. A long break.  Have you ever just needed a time out?  Well, that is what it was.  Or, that is how it started.  I had reached a place where me blogging was not bringing out the best in me.  Maybe you are a blogger and can relate.  Or, maybe you have experienced something similar with Facebook or other social media space and taken a break there.  It just had become a place for me of comparison.  Me comparing my blog to others' blogs.  I just started to feel motivated by the wrong things and a bit too tethered to the "hit" of comments and likes.  Can anyone relate?

So, the break was initiated as a little breathing room.  I have still been writing ... just in journals.  Audience of one.

A lot of life has happened over the past few years, which also contributed to the break.  Highs and lows and everything in between.  There is much to tell about how God has stepped into each of those places.  I feel compelled to share the stories. A through thread will be how the Lord has set my heart on this pursuit of shalom.  Peace.  Wholeness.  Flourishing.  It's my word.  If I were to get a tattoo it would be that word.

I am still learning so much about leaning in and discovering more.  I will share the stories.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
His love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story
those He has redeemed from the hand of the foe, 
those He has gathered from the lands ... 
-Psalm 107


Hello Friends.

My name is Ali. I have two beautiful children - my miracles. I have a pretty fabulous husband - we started out as friends (the best way to start, in my opinion), and then became college sweethearts. He is a musician, and our home is blessed to have him often in the background singing & creating melodies.  It seems to be rubbing off on the kids - a good thing, indeed.

Here is a throw back photo to sweet days that seem like they were JUST HERE.  Like yesterday!

I have experienced seasons of being a stay at home mom, working from home mom, full-time working mom, and part-time working mom.  No matter the title, it is all a whole lot of work.

I started in the world of blogging pretty much by accident (long story) with  another site that was a fun a collaboration with some pretty amazing mamas.

I am most myself when I have a chance to exercise both my body and my creative energy. 

Things I love:

the title "mama" the sound of laughter  beauty in nature             

       long walks my sister coffee   cooking
freshly baked bread  interior design  Jesus
vacation  time with my family Deep Creek Lake, Maryland    

      time with friends
reading to my children  healthy food  organic  going slowly
stopping to smell the flowers  trees  sand between my toes  running 
the smell of rain  time with God  
the sound of rain on a tin roof   creating new things 
                                          out of old things
  the color torquoise  anthropologie
reading  naps  movies   sunny days   picnics my brother
most things vintage    Europe   farms   wide open spaces 
starry nights  my parents   photography    chocolate  writing
leaning into life   my apron  my vintage wedding ring 
the color green the gratitude revolution that is shaping my life                  shalom  

Why I first named this blog "leaning in and looking up"?

I started this blog when we were going through a pretty tough season. We were hit incredibly hard by the economy, and it literally felt like I was being stripped of so much of what had been my daily life. So much was out of my control and I felt really anxious about where we were at, and even more so, about the future. What I knew was that what was in my control was how I responded. I had a choice in how I would respond - I could move forward with fear, anxiety, and bitterness, or I could lean into what I knew to be true - that God has always provided for me every step of my life. I began to pray for "daily bread" - emotional, physical, spiritual daily bread. I also began to fight to dwell on everything I had to be grateful for. It had to be a conscious decision - a choice to dwell on the lovely in every moment. Yes, we were losing our home. Yes, I was selling my furniture to come up with my first month's rent for a house that would be 1/2 the size of what we were in. BUT, when I looked up and took in my surroundings I saw two beautiful, amazing children who were healthy. I saw my husband, my best friend, and I knew that together, the four of us were home no matter where we slept at night. 

Choosing gratitude has revolutionized my life. I cannot tell you the peace that I began to feel in that season - peace that was unexplainable. I had mind like water - each pebble life threw into my mind's pond, would splash, and then send out it's slow ripples, but then my pond would settle back again into a peaceful stillness.

Looking up - whether it was at my gorgeous children, or up at the sky, trees, flowers, waves crashing, or a sunset - allowed me to remind my head and heart of the power and creativity of God. If I want to trust God with my tomorrow then I know that I need to remind myself why He is trustworthy. If I can remind myself of who He is - then there is very little wondering left as to whether He can handle what is happening in my life now.

I continue to choose gratitude ...

It is my hope that I will lean fully into every season of life I am blessed to enjoy.

It is my hope that in the times of sorrow or anxiety, I will lean into the peace and hope that God faithfully promises me.
It is my hope that in times of joy and abundance, I will lean fully into gratitude and thankfulness.

If ever I doubt that my whole world rests in His hands, I simply have to pause & look up - I will see the sky, the branches and leaves, and most compelling in my world - the faces of my two beautiful children that are miraculous evidence of God's power to create beauty from ashes.

This is where I will share my story in my pursuit of peace.  Shalom is where I am camping for now. I will ramble. I will dream. I will cry, and I will laugh.  Hopefully the refrain that will weave its way through all of it will be gratitude.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tangible Way To Bless Sandy Hook Elementary

We all wish there was something we could do. More importantly, we want a way for our families to process this together.

The National PTA has shared news that while the students are away on Christmas break, a team of volunteers will be decorating the school and turning it into a Winter Wonderland so that when they return it feels fresh, new and different.

Isn't that what God does in our lives - His mercies are new every morning.

I am thankful for fresh starts.
New mornings.
The clear skies after the rain.
The start of a New Year.
Fresh beginnings.

We can help.

If you are a teacher, you and your class can make snowflakes to send to Sandy Hook to decorate their school.

As a family, create snow flakes as a family activity.

You can go old school and fold the paper and make the cuts. Or, you can go new school and use coffee filters or popsicle sticks, or whatever else you want to create.

Each snow flake will be unique, just like each precious student who has ever graced those halls is unique, and uniquely loved by God. When you are done - hold those snow flakes in your hand and say a prayer for hope and peace and comfort. Here is a tutorial for making paper snowflakes, which I found on pinterest.

Please send all snowflakes and donations to:
Connecticut PTSA
60 Connolly Parkway
Building 12, Suite 103
Hamden, CT 06514

Monday, December 17, 2012

Turn this MERRY into MIGHTY Christmas

It is difficult to escape the heaviness that lingers in the air right now.  The tragedy in Connecticut stands in heavy contrast to the "Christmas spirit" that 'tis the season.

I have a 6 year old son.

It's hard not to see his face when I hear the news and contemplate how this could have happened.  It's difficult for me to shut off the questions that come as I think of him ever being in a situation like that.  I cannot even begin to process the pain of searing loss if I were dealing with the aftermath as these parents are.

I am a teacher.

I am entrusted these beautiful children, these souls, to instruct and shepherd as they are in my care.  It is unfathomable to ponder a moment like that in my classroom.  Innocence shattered.  Fear unbridled.  Ugliness and evil screaming out.

I have prayed many prayers over the past few days.  Small prayers whispered under my breath as my brain tries to wrap itself around this news.  Prayers of gratitude for messy craft tables and sticky fingerprints.  Prayers of gratitude for "one more hug" at bedtime.  Prayers of comfort for the families experiencing this searing loss and unfathomable pain right now.  Prayers of protection for my own children and the children I teach.  Prayers for peace that transcend our understanding.  For, truly, this is something no one can understand.

The one thing that I continue to come back to is my favorite line from one of my favorite Christmas carols ("O Little Town of Bethlehem"):

"The hopes and fears of all the years 
are met in Thee tonight."

For the past two weeks I have been sharing this line with my students as we work on our Christmas art projects.  It is awe inspiring to me.  I think about all the hopes and all the fears from the beginning of time to the end of time, and I try to stack them on top of each other in the tallest tower that stretches higher than the heavens.  I then see Jesus, and he knocks it over and they crumble.  He came to be Emmanuel and to know and share in our highest hopes and the deepest fears.  He came to live with us the mess that is this life, and ultimately defeat those ugly fears.  He knew longing like we know longing.  He knew pain and loss and brokeness and ugliness.

The fears in that classroom in Connecticut alone are too much for my heart and mind to comprehend.  And yet, this Jesus, my Jesus, takes those, and the fears of the mothers through the ages, the whispers from the darkest moments of the Holocaust, and all the other crazy painful moments in history, and he carries them on his shoulders.  It makes the gift of the cross bigger today.  I cannot even sit in the reality of what that classroom must have felt like for longer than a few seconds - it is just too much.  Jesus doesn't walk away.  He doesn't say, "It is too much."  No - he walks towards it.  And more.  And he carries it and he defeats it.

The celebration of the angels and the stars blazing in the sky at His birth make more sense now.  Light in contrast to darkness.  The hope that arrives in contrast to the darkness that has lingered is just so beautiful.  I believe heaven shudders at these ugly moments in history.  It aches to see pain and darkness and evil.  That moment in time when the plan for redemption was put into motion - that moment when Jesus was born - that was the moment that heaven celebrates that an end to the darkness is near.

So, today, I pause to reflect on that beautiful thought.  That He came to cover the fears, and to know the hopes.  We still see the ugly because we are stuck in the now and not yet.  It is not yet perfect, but in the now, we can still see that HE CAME.  He entered this yuck, for the purpose of carrying the pain.

My dear friend, Tim Timmons, has written two songs that have become my soundtrack for the last few days.  They are Christmas songs and they are timely.

The first is his version of "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" with his own flair added in.
To listen, go here.

The chorus says,
"Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel, God is here.
Rejoice!  Rejoice!  If God is for us, we won't fear.
Take joy in the comfort of the Prince of Peace,
And joy in the power of the King of Kings,
Rejoice!  And, again we say Rejoice!"

The second in on the album "A Christmas Together", vol 3 and it is called "Mighty Christmas".   The phrase "Merry Christmas" is viewed in our present days as happy, jolly, twinkly.  But, "merry" in the old school language was more along the lines of "mighty".  Robinhood and his MERRY men were not happy men giggling through the forest.  They were MIGHTY men.  A force to be reckoned with.

This song is all about the need for this year to be different.  For Jesus to turn the merry into a Mighty Christmas.  For the hopes and fears and doubts to be broken by the power that is in Him.  If ever we needed a mighty Christmas, I would say it is now.  That is one of the prayers I continue to whisper.  That God, in the way that only He can, would show up for these families.  That He would bring mighty  peace and mighty hope into a very dark and broken place.

To play "Mighty Christmas", click on the play icon and it will take you to Tim's myspace radio page: Mighty Christmas
Here are the lyrics to "Mighty Christmas".  If you are someone who is at a loss for what to pray right now, pray these lyrics.  God is listening...

What if all of this were true?
Emmanuel, how God came through
Is this more than Christmas cheer?
Is this just a story, what if it's real?
Would I still be lonely,
Would I know fear,
Would my worry hold me
Could I be healed?

Crying out loud,
This year Like never before 
Jesus reveal a little more to my soul
Would you show me just how powerful 
You are more than a manger
Jesus the mighty Savior 
in my soul, turn this Merry into Mighty Christmas
Turn this Merry into Mighty Christmas

What if in my silent nights
You were enough 
You were the light
Angels saying do not fear
Is this still the promise?
You still come near

Meet me in my lonely
Tear down my fear
Hold me through my worry
And, Lord would you heal

Crying out Loud - 
This year like never before, 
Jesus reveal a little more

Would you show me just how powerful 
You are more than a manger
Jesus the mighty Savior 
in my soul, turn this Merry into Mighty Christmas
Turn this Merry into Mighty Christmas

Stronger than the weight of gravity
That whisper in my bones reminding me
Everything I'm not, and I try to be
You are

Meet me in my lonely
Tear down my fear
Hold me through my worry
And, Lord would you heal

Crying out Loud - 
This year like never before, 
Jesus reveal a little more

Would you show me just how powerful 

You are more than a manger
Jesus the mighty Savior 
in my soul, turn this Merry into Mighty Christmas
Turn this Merry into Mighty Christmas

I am wishing you a mighty Christmas.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Lent in Everyday Language: Feeling Loved

I am still following along with my friend, Amy, over at Soul Simple in her journey through Lent in Everyday Language.

Today is Day 13.

Yes, I realize I missed a few days. I am constantly reminded of how the reality of my life is meshing with my ideals of what I want my life to be. My ideal is that I would be able to live out this thoughtful, soul-transforming lenten experience and blog about it like crazy because I love processing my learning through writing. The reality, however, is that my life is messy and full and some of these days my lenten experience will go unblogged because there are just not enough moments.

But here I am today and I am excited to process these 2 questions issued today:

1. Where did I feel most loved today?

2. Where was it hardest for me to feel love today?

First, I loved that Amy shared this note on her blog a couple days ago with regard to the examen:

Fr. Joe Tetlow, in an introduction to the Examen says this..

Never, never start examining yourself until you have thanked God for the gifts that God is giving to you—not in general, not in the past, but right now, today. That’s how you start The Examen. I think people who can keep the Examen up often do that.

If there is one lesson I continue to re-learn, and one posture that I am continuing to practice, it is this practice of praise - gratitude - thanking. My world has been revolutionized by gratitude over and over. I have seen this path that I have walked down and how in the midst of trials and scarcity and really terrifying places, that when I pause to thank God for what He has done or is doing, everything changes. Not so much circumstantially, but in my soul. I think that is why I am so in love with Ann Voskamp's book 1000 gifts. I have read and re-read that book 5 times. It is such good food for my thoughts. I keep copies on hand to give away because I truly feel like the act of praising and thanking God just might be the cure for everything. I am like the father from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" - only, I offer you gratitude instead of windex.

Alright, so where did I feel most loved today ...

Sitting in the middle of my life group last night.

We go around the room and share where we are at. We give a snap shot of highs/lows and any blaring needs that we have. I didn't expect to turn into a weeping, red hot faced girl with tears and hiccups coming out of me all at once. No, I did not expect to melt into the "ugly cry". But, as I did, I felt so incredibly loved. When I could finally see through my tears, all I could see was love looking back at me. And, at the end of the night our dear friends gathered around my husband and I and prayed for us and it was beautiful. To be walking through life with a group of people who have our back and hold us up when our knees are weak is such a beautiful blessing and I am so thankful.

And, where was it hardest to feel loved today ...

In the midst of my sharing and my hot, tear-filled emotional release, I think I realized that I must have a wound somewhere in my soul that causes me to continually struggle with worrying about whether God will meet my needs. I am asking Him to reveal wisdom and to expose what this might be and kind of feel like I am peeling back the layers of an onion. I look at my children and their ability to walk in freedom each and every day - knowing that they are loved and will be cared for.

And then as I examine my own life - and I see this disconnect.

Here I have this amazing Heavenly Father who clearly loves me beyond my understanding.

He sent His son.

I can hardly type those words.

To think of sending my son.

But, I don't feel like my children feel. And, then, I realize - that is my Jericho. The fortress that I am marching around. It is the doubt and the fear and the whisper in the back of my mind that "He loves me not."

And once again, I go back to the words: "Anxiety is momentary atheism."

And I sit and I ask for God to transform and renew my mind once again. That I would believe these words:

"If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all - how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? ...Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither neither nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:31 - 39

I think of this love demonstrated for me. I think of the example of Jesus conquering death and saying we have all power and authority. I think of Him seated by the Father praying for me.

And, I pause.

I sit here amazed.

And, I simply pray that I would grasp the depth of this love. That it would wash over me. Change my heart. And help my unbelief. And, that I would live out this love.

I am humbled.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Lent in Everyday Language: Trusting God

"Those who know Your Name will trust in You;
for You, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You." -Psalm 9:10

I am continuing in this journey through Lent with my friend Amy over at Soul Simple. Today I am processing this post here in my own life.

These are the two questions that Amy poses for examen:

Where am I trusting God today?

Where do I need to trust God today?

Ugh. Let me just pull the covers up over my head for a minute while I eat a yummy bar of dark chocolate. If I could go to sleep for the next 30 days I would. That is my true feeling right now. I'm tired and this season is exhausting. I feel like I am battling every minute to keep my head and heart in the right place. The last 24 hours have been particularly heavy as my husband and I have had lots of conversations about finances and our situation.

I think of Jesus' words in Matthew telling us not to worry about what we will eat or drink or wear. And I want to so badly not worry about how we will survive this season of scarcity, but in the face of reality it is really difficult not to go there.


1. Where am I trusting God today?

I am in this beautiful place of reality meeting theology and I want with every fiber of my being to believe that God means what He says. That His peace can transcend all understanding. That though it looks bleak on a day where funds run low and bills run high, that He will provide. That when we know the direction to go, but are still unclear of the exact path and details are not in focus yet - that He will whisper the way to go as He has promised (Psalm 73:23-24) step by step. I am trusting that He is with me in this and that He sees where we are. I am choosing to take every thought captive and trust that He cares about all this prayers whispered as I do battle to stay in the here and now and not crawl to my bed to ride out the next 30 days that feel unknown and ominous. Today is not a day where I feel victorious and like the woman who laughs at the days to come. But, I am trusting that God is here with me in this day and that He sees what we need and is going to give us our emotional, spiritual and physical daily bread.

2. Where do I need to trust God today?

"You are a God of seeing. Truly, here I have seen Him who looks after me." - Gen. 16:13

These words are so powerful to me. They reveal this quality of God - that He sees our specific needs and hears our specific prayers and that He looks after us. He loves us, Oh how He loves us. Couldn't you just stand and sing those words over and over until the meaning penetrates the tender places of your heart that feel alone and desperate and unloved; uncared for.

Today - I need to trust that He is still a God of seeing and that He sees me. That He is walking with me and doing battle with me and interceding FOR me. Hearing the words from my heart before I can even speak them out loud.

I read this in a post by Ann Voskamp today:

It could be this in the middle of Lent: March — the month to march around walls in our lives and pray for God to bring down everything that keeps us from Him.

March — a 31 day march around the Jericho that’s keeping You from Jesus.

31 days to march around that one fear. March around that one worry. March around that one temptation. I know what my Jericho is. I name it. I will go home and I will write it down.

Write it in a prayer journal. Circle everyday of March on the calendar, make a prayer circle around each day and march around that Jericho, head bowed. Pray around it again and again — sliver blades cutting a circle, encircling all that is with His will, presence, grace.

I think my fear is that He won't show up as my Provider. He has never failed me before, and yet, these same little weeds grow around my little seed of faith threatening to choke it out. So, today, I need to trust that God is WHO HE SAYS HE IS. That I would be able to live out this verse:

"Those who know Your Name will trust in You;
for You, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You." -Psalm 9:10

The Names of God

Elohim ~ Creator (Genesis 1:1)
El Elyon ~ The Most High/Sovereign (Genesis 14:18-10)
Jehovah-Tsidkenu ~ The Lord our Righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6)
Jehovah-Jireh ~ The Lord will provide (Genesis 22:14)
Jehovah - Roi ~ The Lord is my shepherd (Psalm 23:1)
Jehovah-Shalom ~ The Lord is peace (Judges 6:24)
Jehovah-Nissi ~ The Lord is my Banner (Exodus 17:15)
Jehovah-Rophe ~ The Lord who heals (Exodus 15:26)
Jehovah-Shammah ~ The Lord is there (Ezekiel 48:35)
Jehovah-Saboath ~ The Lord of hosts (1 Samuel 1:3-11)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lent in Everyday Language: God Save Us

I am journey with my friend Amy through Lent and she provides daily questions as prompts for digging a bit deeper. Today I am processing this post.

Here are the questions Amy poses for reflection on the past 24 hours.

1. Where do you notice God saving you today?

2. Where do you need God to save you today?

Where do you notice God saving you today?
Yesterday I had the privilege of getting to listen to a beautiful woman share her heart with a group of women who are all a part of discipleship groups. Anne Ortlund is an author and truly amazing woman. She is older and has lived a lot of life. She and her husband Ray (who has passed on) started small discipleship groups years ago as they realized that they would never be able to make a very big impact on their church community one person at a time. This woman has taken in groups of 4-5 women every year and discipled them from September to June. To date she has done this with over 200 women. Her goal is to bring these women along and then release them to do the same. How simple and how utterly powerful. So, now I am in a group that is led by one of the gals that she mentored a few years ago. I sat with about 20 other women yesterday and we got to hear Anne share her heart. She shared so many morsels of wisdom with us. But, the moment where I felt God saving me was as Anne begin to challenge us to serve others in this same way. To step forward in a slow and steady way with our time, talents and resources. To view our lives as a march from San Diego to Maine and to cover 20 miles, 20 miles, 20 miles. To daily cover 20 miles and to do this in our service too. It was a deep soul confirmation for me. Just the night before I sat with my husband and shared my anxiety over the future. We know the direction God is leading us. It is to launch a missional church in our community. We have seen that God is working and that we are called to step out and lead small groups of people on a faith journey as we love our neighbors and are present. We know that is the direction we are being called. But, there are so many areas of ambiguity between here and there. How to start? What steps to take? The voices that taunt and tell us that we are not capable. How do we provide for our family as we take these steps?

I had a big moment of doubt as the ambiguity of all these details made me want to just shut the door and stop pressing forward.

God's saving grace to me was that He reiterated His heart for people to be taken on a journey by NORMAL people (not necessarily the best teachers or leading pastors of our generation) and that He would lead us 20 miles at a time. At the very end of Anne's talk she looked at the room and said, "God is moving here. He is going to bring revival to this neighborhood. He is going to use this community to impact Orange County and our nation. He is working." The bubble of excitement in her voice and the confirmation of her feeling what the Spirit is speaking to our hearts as well. God's grace to me. And I could see it written on the other women's faces too - we have tasted and seen that God is working and is doing something.

Where do you need God to save you today?
I need His voice to guide me on the path that He has layed out for me and my family. I can get caught up in a week from now and lose sight of today.

I need Him to show me that this verse is truth:

"Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path." - Psalm 119:105

That as I walk my 20 miles, 20 miles, 20 miles - that He will show me what path to take step by step. Even the 20 miles that lay out ahead are too far for me to see. I need to feel Him whispering guidance in each step.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lent in Everyday Language

I have never really practiced Lent. I have engaged it on the level where I have given something up like sugar or chocolate or sweets. But, I have never really taken the time to explore what this tradition means on a deep level and taken the time to practice it.

As a nearly life-long Christian, I find myself in a season where I am trying to see aspects of my faith through new eyes. Perhaps it is the season of life that is stretching me beyond myself so I look for new tools that the disciples of Christ have utilized for years in their soul formation.

What I love about my learnings about this tradition called Lent is that it meets me right where I am. In need of a Savior every single day, in every single moment.

My friend Amy is embarking on a journey over on her blog called Soul Simple to explore "Lent in Everyday Language" and has a new post each day where she offers two questions to process and she beautifully shares her own processing. I love that lent is this opportunity to pause and lean a little closer to being formed in Christ's image. I have been exploring a lot of Genesis and love hearing about God creating man and woman in His image. I feel like the rest of the bible centers around God pursuing us in order to make us into His image again. Sending Jesus so that we can be reconciled and made into His image (holy and blameless). I am leaning into this aspect of formation. If you are interested in taking this journey, you can start today - on Day 6. No need to panic and try to catch up. Just start right where you are. I am.

My very simple understanding of Lent is that it is the act of preparing the heart for Easter. Historically, this has taken shape in a form of sacrificing. You hear people saying what they are "giving up for Lent" and it is about sacrificing something so that we can become more like Christ and how He sacrificed His life for us. But for me there is another layer - I am viewing it not solely about forfeiting, but also about formation. It feels like an invitation to step further into being formed in Christ's image. Ann Voskamp wrote that "it is to be dispossessed of the possessions that possess - in order to be possessed by God." To empty the soul in order to know the filling of God.

So, maybe it is not about possessions like stuff (although it could be). Maybe it is more about our way of being and the thoughts, actions, emotions and routines that fill us with the opposite of WHO God is (His image).

If I know that the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control) are the fruit of being connected to God and are reflections of who He is, then I think I should be able to look at my life and see what the opposites of those attributes are that are on display in my life. That would be the area where I need more image forming.

If lent is about my emptying my soul of my own stuff in order to know the filling of God - well, then, "To the brim!" is what my soul cries out. I want to be filled to overflowing with His love and joy and peace. I can see where I need to make room for Him. Do some soul house keeping.

But, it is so hard. So hard to empty myself of my love of me and the habits that shape me into me. Hard to wake up early to find quiet time. Hard to give up that "down time" of senseless media that makes it so easy to check out in the times when I need to check in. Even those twisted sisters: fear and worry - they beckon my soul to snuggle up with a blanket of self-pity.

Isn't it true that Lent and our quest to sacrifice and "work out our salvation" will reveal how truly broken and useless we are. It is like asking for a flashlight to shine on our failures and flailing, because I will fail in this attempt! How incapable I am of walking a road of sacrifice like Jesus. Maybe one of the gifts of Lent is realizing, yet again, how in need of a Savior I am. I could work with every fiber of my being to do this perfectly, and I would fail. I need a Savior. I can see clearly that even my best attempts will result in failure. I see Jesus with a new found awe in His perfection and the gift of grace that He extends to me.

These were Ann Voskamp's words that say it so well: "Lent gives me this gift: the deeper I know the pit of my sin, the deeper I'll drink the draughts of Joy."

Doesn't Jesus say that with different words when He says, "He who is forgiven much loves much."

I found this quote on Ann Voskamp's blog. It is by Walter Wangerin, on the subject of why we celebrate Lent when it may not fall into our denominational traditions:

"But in the economy of God, what seems the end is but a preparation... The disciles approached the resurrection from their bereavement. For them the death was first, and the death was all. Easter, then was an explosion of newness, a marvelous slitting of heaven indeed.

But for us, who return backward into the past, the Resurrection comes first, and through it we view a death with is, therefore, less consuming, less horrible, even less readl.

We miss the disciples terrible, wonderful preparation.

Unless, as now we attend to the suffering first, to the cross with sincerest pity and vigilant love, to the dying with most faithful care - and thus prepare for joy."

Yes, Jesus rose and defeated death and that is central to my faith. I am risen with Christ and there is no part of my salvation that I can boast in because it is all gift. That is made clearer to me even as I attempt to hone areas of my life and fall short time and again. I don't deserve salvation based on anything I have done. I fall short. It's all grace.

I do not want to miss the gravity of His death, or my need for His death, as I walk in a "Christ is risen" joy parade. Even the elements of communion, the bread and wine, symbolize this sacrifice and Jesus encouraged us to do it in remembrance of Him. I feel like my kids get this a little better than I do. It never fails that as we read the story of Jesus' death in their Jesus Storybook Bible that they will be moved to tears. They feel that moment of Jesus dying and the pain and sorrow that live in that moment. And I often find myself very quickly saying, "Don't be sad, guys! Jesus rises again! He doesn't stay dead!" But, they get it right. He died. He endured a lot of pain. For me. And, that should be felt deeply because if I don't feel that deeply, then I don't really get the sacrifice of it.

So - this season of practicing Lent, for me, is about walking toward Easter with a heart that is bent toward knowing how very much I need this Savior. It is about slowing down so I can see where God is forming me in His image. It's about having eyes to see where I am full of me and doing the work to empty that out to clear space for Him. It is about seeing every day that I need a Savior!

I loved how timely my reading from Jesus Calling was the other day.

"... Your awareness of your constant need of Me is your greatest strength. Your neediness, properly handles, is a link to My Presence. However, there are pitfalls that you must beon guard against: Self-pity, self-preoccupation, giving up. Your inadequacy presents you with a continual choice - deep dependence on Me, or despair. The emptiness you feel within will be filled either with problems or with My Presence. Make me central in your consciousness by praying continually: simple, short prayers flowing out of the present moment. Use My Name liberally, to remind you of My Presence. Keep on asking and you will receive, so that your gladness may be full and complete."

I hope that you will join me and Amy in this journey. Here is to living with an awareness of how much He loves us and how much we need Him.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My Daily Allowance

One of my morsels of daily encouragement is the "Morning & Evening" writings from Charles Spurgeon. I get them in my daily reading plan through my Bible app on my iPhone. Today's was particularly fitting.

These words penetrate deep.

"A daily portion is all that a man (woman) really wants. We do not need tomorrow's supplies; that day has not yet dawned, and its wants are as yet unborn. The thirst which we may suffer in the month of June does not need to be quenched in February, for we do not feel it yet"

How many of my moments of worry are connected to my thoughts of tomorrow and the worries that tomorrow stirs in me. How often have I worried over the thirst that I would have in June while living in the month of February? For it is right now literally February, and I can feel my heart beating quickly if I start to think of June. But, it is February. This may be the secret that our children live - they are living today. This moment. And the reality is that the older we get the more we know of storms that lurk and that the winds can change and this causes worry because we know that there are variables that could change things. But, we have no control over those variables, so why give thought to them?

June may indeed be a scorching month with sun beating down heavily and we may indeed be quite thirsty, but I will face that heat when it is directly over head. Today - today is the day that I am walking in and I want to be all in on THIS DAY.

"...if we have enough for each day as the days arrive we shall never know want. Sufficient for the day is all we can enjoy. We cannot eat or drink or wear more than the day's supply of food and raiment; the surplus gives us the care of storing it, and the anxiety of watching against a thief..."

I think of that moment with Jesus and the crowd of people gathered around him (in Matthew). He can see the worry etched on their faces. My face is there in the crowd too. What if we don't have enough food? What if we don't have enough money? What if his company fails? What if...
And Jesus, this Jesus, looks at them and His heart is filled with love for them. For me. He sees them as sheep that do not have a shepherd to take care of them. The job of the sheep is just to follow the shepherd to the good pasture, and the safe places and the water. These people looked like lost sheep. So, Jesus shepherds them by painting a picture with words. The people sat on the mountainside and looked out at the glittering lake and took in the surroundings.

He points to the birds. Everyone looks to see the birds pecking the ground and eating the seeds that lay in bounty for them. Jesus points out that the birds do not worry or store up seed for tomorrow. They know that there will be seed tomorrow because God takes care of them.

"God knows what they need and He feeds them."

Then He points to the wildflowers. Picture the wildflowers growing around you on a grassy hill. Where do these flowers buy their lovely clothes? Do they make them? Do they work every day so that they can buy them? I can hear that laughter in Jesus' voice as He points out the absurdity of this concept. No - these flowers are clothed by God and not even a king could dress as well as these little gems.

Jesus declares it loud and clear - YOU ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAT BIRDS! MORE IMPORTANT THAN FLOWERS! They don't sit and worry about things. And God doesn't want His children to worry either. Your Father in heaven knows what you need.

Sufficient for the day is all we can enjoy.

What has God given me today. For that I am grateful. I am expectant for what He will give me tomorrow. To so many, even to myself as I write this, this is naive. Right? Aren't we supposed to work to prepare for tomorrow. Store up? Retirement, college fund, vacation fund, rainy day fund? Don't get me wrong - there is wisdom in stewarding our resources. But, where the worries begin and the furrowed brow and the anxiety over the what if's begin - it goes against everything God is teaching us through all of scripture. He says He provides. He says one of His names is "Jehovah jireh" - the Lord will provide. He has even provided His son that we would be free from the debt of our sin. How can I trust God for this massive gift of redemption and not trust for little details like food or money? What if the simplicity of enjoying what is before us today - today's bread, today's clothes, today's children, today's husband - what if we could be sheep today and just follow the path that the Shepherd is leading us on. The sheep do not worry about whether they are on the right path, or whether this grass will be there tomorrow. For the shepherd will scoop them up and place them in the right spot if they get off the path. He has that shepherd's staff that he will gently use to push them back into the right place.

What this season is teaching me is that at the end of me, I can only rely on God. I tell Him all day long. "God, you say you will provide. I trust You to provide. You say you will give wisdom. I trust You for wisdom. You say that You leave Your peace. Bring Your peace. You say You are the GOOD SHEPHERD. Be my Shepherd. Lead me to the still waters and good pasture. You say you will."

How gracious He will be when you cry for help! As soon as He hears, He will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden from you no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." - Isaiah 30:19-21

More than anything, my soul wants to hear the voice of my Shepherd, gently whispering, "This is the way; walk in it."


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