Thankful Thursday

Thursday to Thursday has been a harder-than-typical week. Honestly, I’ve felt more tearful than thankful.

But here we are again, Thursday, and I know I have the choice to be Thankful.

I turn to my on-page mentor in this regard, Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts)…

I wonder too…if the rent in the canvas of our life backdrop, the losses that puncture our world, our own emptiness, might actually become places to see.
To see through to God.
As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible. Joy is always possible. Whenever, meaning–now; wherever, meaning–here.

This week the puncture wounds are fresh and tender. I hurt, and I long to see God.

So I will chose to give thanks, and pray that thanks-giving leads to joy.

  • For those who love me enough to speak painful truth;
  • For long walks with dog, neighbor, kid, or Guy;
  • For my laptop because, really, my life would be so different without it;
  • For a flexible job;
  • For stories, bigger and more beautiful than mine, that inspire me to make my own more beautiful;
  • For the knowledge that I can trust Teen’s future into Hands that will hold him more carefully than I ever have;
  • For Teen’s healthy choices that have helped him grow and develop his athletic abilities;
  • For Guy’s big heart and willing presence to be with others when they hurt;
  • For our chiropractor, and for coming home to a clean house;
  • For laughter in unexpected places;
  • For comforting moments with God;
  • That Tween rejoiced over Reese’s Pieces (how had he never tried them?) and his offer to share, not just one but three, “Because you’re such a good mom!”
  • That Teen made his Facebook cover photo one of him with his brother and me;
  • That Teen has worked hard to attain better-than-his-typical grades, and has a new understanding of grades’ importance in his future plans;
  • That Teen has been willing to have some really open conversations on hard topics;
  • That Teen finished his 21st Boy Scout merit badge, the last badge required to begin the Eagle Scout process – looks like we’ll make it!
  • That being up before sunrise also meant we got to appreciate this sunrise…

sunrise

  • That while this week, and again this day, most definitely didn’t go according to my plan, I cling to the knowledge that I am known and loved by my Creator and Savior.
  • And it’s the END of my work-week!

Praying for a thanks- and joy-filled weekend.

 

Day 30

What gives when your life goes wonky? (Personal follow-up: when is my life ever not wonky?)

A week after we returned from Costa Rica I heard about this great language-learning app, Duolingo. Determined to capitalize on two months of hearing and attempting to speak Spanish, I immediately installed the app on my phone and got to work. Just five minutes a day, easy-peasy! I could fit that in between appointments, while waiting for the kids, while transitioning from one task to another… And even though I loved it, I don’t think I made it a month. Exploded work-load, kid activities, volunteer requirements…despite my desire to live slow and simple, it didn’t take long for the cultural pull and expectations to become too much. I’ll get back to Duolingo, but I haven’t yet.

Exercise went next. I even scheduled Teen-pick up at the gym (conveniently, he can walk from school to the gym) so I could work out while he did and then we’d go home together. Nope, I stayed at work longer and Pick Up was just that: pick up.

Sleep, of course – how can I manage consistent healthy sleep with all this chatter bouncing around my brain?

Day 30 of the 30 Day Power Purge came and went with no fanfare. It could have been significant had it accurately represented 30 days of decluttering, but sadly, it didn’t. Week 1, Zone 1: The Kitchen – all good! Since I necessarily spend a certain amount of time each day in the kitchen preparing food for the fam, it took little extra effort to clean out a few drawers and what not. Each baby step made visible progress. It felt good! And then it didn’t as we moved on to other projects and even more cluttered closets. Forget five minutes, these projects would need at least a good hour if not more, time I didn’t have to give to stuff that could continue to sit.

The thought buzzed around my eyes: one more failed attempt? Beat it, bug! Hannah has great suggestions; I read every email, mostly “on break” from the over-work I brought home each day. I will get back to it, determined to live a simpler, less stuff-oriented existence; I will not consider this a “failure” but a “pause.” Hah, maybe I need a 30 Month Puny Purge instead!

And then last week. With all good intentions someone delivered a solid wallop to my gut. A project I’ve been so excited about, had taken on as my “cause,” well, let’s just say others haven’t been appreciative of my significant investment of time and effort.

After a good, long wallow, I began to realize that this might provide the adjustment of time and priorities I’ve needed. Certainly not the way I’d ever imagined it would happen, but I had prayed that God would make clear a different way.

Since then I’ve exercised five out of six days. I’ve started reading a new book. And I scheduled a chiropractic appointment that I’d been putting off for calmer times.

Last spring my chiropractor, in our first appointment, diagnosed an issue I’ve been dealing with for 20+ years, previously missed by every doctor I’ve seen including another chiro and two neurologists. But 20+ years of working issues into my body will take some time to work out again. Just being in the office, I breathed differently. The music, especially, caught my ears: not something I’d typically listen to, but in this environment, so right and so relaxing. Zen bliss.

Lying face down, electrodes tacked to my back delivering deep-delicious stimulation to my overwrought muscles, I had no option but to simply be. And then the music…a piano instrumental, familiar but new. I listened, questioned, and Oh My Good God, realized the song was the hymn we sang at our wedding: How Great Thou Art.

O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy hand hath made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed. 

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

Yes, God is great. He created the glorious beauty we appreciated in Costa Rica and likewise He made the beautiful small California town to which we came home. He made me, He loves me, He saves me (sometimes He even saves me from myself!). No surprise to God the situation I’m in, not that He wants me to hurt but He does want me to seek shelter in His awesome arms. His power will be reflected in my weakness as I allow Him to rearrange the details of my life.

That night we took the kids to see The Book of Life. Set on The Day of the Dead, gods La Muerte and Xibalba place bets on three children: will Manolo or Joaquin eventually win Maria’s love? Beautifully rendered, the story tackles life’s great themes: life and death, war and peace, love and fear, heroism, artistry, and ultimately, writing your own life’s story. I think I may have audibly gasped as, in a critical scene, the voice-over declared that Manolo had finally faced and overcome his worst fear: not fighting the 1,000 bulls of his legendary bullfighting family, but his fear of becoming himself.

Sometimes being yourself is the scariest, hardest thing you can do. Others may not like you or appreciate the gifts you bring to the table. Hiding, pretending, can seem the better options. Being yourself can leave you vulnerable, raw, exposed – and real. How great is our God who stands with us for better and for worse; who loves us when others misunderstand us or, worse, reject us; who gave up glory and took on pain in order to be with us.

Life will keep on being wonky. I will continue to juggle requirements and desires. People will love me and hurt me. And God will be great, holding me tight as together we write the story of my life becoming me.

Keep On

Some days life takes a hard turn for the unexpected. We ache, we long for something different, we want to hide.

But God is all about redemption. Where we see darkness, He is painting the background from which He will erupt glory.

For years we longed for a second child. While our coworkers, neighbors, friends all conceived and birthed beautiful babies, our doctors had no answers. We prayed that God would grant contentment if One and not Two was His plan. And like so many stories, we became pregnant as soon as we let go. Fast forward a few years, and we find our deepest friendships among parents of Tween’s friends. Had our child come sooner, we might have missed the opportunity to know and grow with this community.

Also some years ago, we had jobs we loved despite challenges. Those we served turned a blind eye to the issues and held us to impossible standards; with politics at their worst, we left. Slicking off the ugly-ooze that covered us head-to-heart-to-toe, God used the next two years to restore us to health, to beauty, to life and love and ministry. With Joseph we can say that what others intended for evil God intended for good. Yes, the pain was real, but Yes, the redemption has been more beautiful in contrast.

God doesn’t promise an easy life. He promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us, regardless of the yuck we have to slog through.

It didn’t take long for the early Church to experience persecution. Arrests, imprisonment, beatings, and – horror! – the first martyr: Stephen. The Church scattered, all but the apostles who remained in Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria just as God promised they would. Hardship became the vehicle through which the good news of Jesus spread, Evil the beast on which God’s message traveled to the ends of the earth.

What went through Philip’s mind? He and Stephen had only just been elected as the Church’s first deacons; now Stephen was dead and Philip was on the run for his life. Yet he held true to the gospel, proclaiming the Messiah and standing against evil. Where there had been fear, Philip brought joy. He listened to and obeyed God’s leading, allowing God to use him. The darkness didn’t beat him down. Instead, God turned Philip into a light for His glory.

Connect
When, in hindsight, have you experienced a hardship turned into an opportunity? Explain.

Study
Read Acts 8:1-5, 26-39. 
Compare Acts 8:1 to Acts 1:8. How did God use persecution to spread the gospel (vv. 1-5)?
How would this story have changed had Philip not been attentive to the Spirit (vv. 26-29)?
What stands out about the Ethiopian’s response (vv. 31-39)?

Live
Which is easier for you: inviting someone to church or telling them about Jesus? Explain.
Can you think of a time when you experienced the Holy Spirit’s prompting or a divine appointment God directed you to?
What might it look like for you to become more ‘missional’?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray for the Spirit to prepare divine appointments for you to share the good news about Jesus.

The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between OceansThe Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Loss, love and justice in a mad ocean swirl. This was hard to read as I wanted to yell above the storm at the characters to choose differently. They couldn’t hear me, of course, so I could only read, watch, and cry as their lives unraveled.

“You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things….we always have a choice. All of us.” (323)

“There are many more days to travel in this life. And he knows that the man who makes the journey has been shaped by every day and every person along the way. Scars are just another kind of memory.” (343)

View all my reviews

Let it Go!

Sometimes a theme pops up, seemingly out of nowhere and suddenly everywhere, and begins buzzing around my brain like a catchy song. The last few days the theme has been, “Let it Go!”

No, not the song from Frozen, although it certainly is catchy… (Oh, to sing like Idina Menzel! Hum along with me? Aw, heck, let’s belt it out, off-key as we may be! BTW, if you haven’t yet, you must see this amazing multi-language version).

And yet, maybe one of the reasons the song became so popular is that Elsa is really on to something. Let go of what others think. Let go of that “perfect” image you’ve created. Let the chaos out. Unleash all your glorious potential. Become your truest, wildest, most beautiful self.

Yesterday I saw this quote on one of my favorite blogs, The Art of Simple: “The greatest step towards a life of simplicity is to learn to let go.” ―Steve Maraboli

I’ve been thinking about simplicity since we left for two months in Costa Rica this summer. The whole trip was complex – and simple. Just the four of us, exploring and living in a foreign country. Although everything was new and different, things were also simpler – no jobs, school, homework, extracurriculars, friends, distractions. We let go of life at home to embrace something completely different for a time, and we came home again hoping to figure out what we could let go of here in order to maintain some of the simplicity we gained there. Learning to let go is complicated, but living simply is freeing.

Wow, there’s a paragraph for you! Did you follow? It’s hard. It’s complicated. It’s simple. It’s a process. It’s worth it!

Then up pops this article – 15 Things You Should Give Up to Be Happy. Give up. Let it go. We can’t always be right or in control; blaming, critical and complaining; reminding ourselves of our real (mostly perceived) limits and defeats; focused on labels, impressions, fears, excuses, and the past; change-resistant; and still be happy. It’s quite a list, and in some ways it’s common sense, and it’s helpful. C’mon! Let all that gunk go already!

Case in point: Renee Zellweger. What did she do with her quirky, funny, beautiful face? I can’t buy the “healthy, happy lifestyle” blah-blah when her face has fundamentally altered. What must have gone through her mind, what overwhelming insecurities drove her to the plastic surgeons? And how sad must she be that her million-dollar calling-card face has become unrecognizable?

This morning I listened to a speaker challenge a group of preschool mommies to look in the mirror first thing in the morning – hair disheveled, teeth unbrushed, make up-less, and declare themselves “Beautiful!” Because, really?, who would dare tell God that He does bad work? We are His creation and He creates works of beauty. I got teary. So hard. So…impossible? No, possible, just difficult. And, poor Renee, I’m sad for her. If only she could have “Let it Go!” of the pressure to change what perhaps had been deemed less than Hollywood perfect…

How about with our kids? When Teen was only a toddler I heard a mom stressing over whether her child would get into the “right” preschool because, of course, the right preschool leads to the right elementary, middle, and high schools, and ultimately the golden snitch: the right college. When I suggested that maybe she could let go a little, that God would take care of her daughter’s life path, she bit my head off and accused me of having faith as a pastor’s wife’s prerogative. Um, no. Pretty sure God offers faith, and peace, and joy, to all who rely on Him.

School hasn’t been an easy road for either of my kids, but we’re all better off when I let go of the stress and remember that God loves them more than I do. They may not fit the mold, and that’s just as it should be. As Teen makes his way through high school, we have encountered increasing pressure to consider “What’s next?” Read: college. But that’s not the only option, folks. I have a sweet friend whose son, newly high school-minted, leaves next week for seven months abroad serving with a group that rescues child slaves. Amazing. I am so in awe of this kid’s bravery, and I can’t wait to see what God will do with his willingness to serve in this way. It’s not the cultural norm in our area, to forego the path straight from high school to college, but the cultural norm is not God. As this article says, let it go. The truly important questions:

Does your child have a compassionate soul?
Does your child have a healthy dose of intellectual curiosity?
Is your child resourceful and independent?
Is your child happy with who she is?
Can your child creatively problem-solve?
Is your child passionate about anything?
Can your child sit with himself and enjoy his own company?

I would add: Does your child know that he or she is known and loved by Jesus?

There is more than one way to lead a successful life. Parents, let it go on behalf of your children! Yes, encourage them to be the best versions of themselves, but One Way is not the Only or Best Way. Guide them to the One who will direct their paths, then let go and get out of the way (and yes, I am talking to myself here…).

Finally, this article. A professional and mom of four, the author had to set limits, to let go of some things, in order to live fully. I’m not there, but I’m proud of her for taking this step, inspired by her decision. She writes: “My task doesn’t determine my value. But I had to let go of something to grasp this freedom.” And her guiding mantra – “Do what only you can do” – is so wise. No one else can love and care for my family like I can. No one else can write my thoughts and prayers. To say “Yes!” to one thing is to say “No” to another. I must let go of those things others can do in order to truly live the life God has created for me.

Let it go!

Meatless Monday

Fall plays hide and seek with the Bay Area. Mostly, Fall hides. Oh, we catch glimpses of her as the mornings flash an early chill, a playful breeze kicks up, and the days gradually shorten. If we’re lucky, we might wake up to damp ground, evidence of a light rain or at least a heavy dew.

But afternoons can be hot and blue as summer. The calendar announces that Halloween is right around the corner, and we chuckle and shake our heads as child-like Fall has already donned her costume: Summer!

Last night while I brushed my teeth, Guy decided it really had to be time by now to switch to our warmer duvet. Too warm, neither of us slept well.

Even while the farmers’ market continues to sell flavor-bursting vine-ripened tomatoes, we residents of this mild-seasoned state begin to long for comfort food – soups and stews and roasts (all veggie in this household, mind you). And so last week, when given the opportunity to bring a meal to friends facing hardship, I made minestrone soup. It’s one of our family favorites, full of veggie goodness. Easy to make and even better as leftovers, it also makes enough to share. Add a simple green salad and crusty bread for dunking and you’ve got a hearty, satisfying meal.

Minestrone Soup

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 zucchini, halved lengthwise and chopped
3 celery ribs, diced
2 carrots, diced
½ large onion, diced
1 c green beans, cut bite-size
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can each kidney and garbanzo beans, drained/rinsed
1 can chopped tomatoes, undrained
6 c veggie broth
Pepper/Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute/basil – to taste
1 c red wine
1 c dried small pasta, cooked separately
3 c spinach

Saute zucchini, celery, carrots, onion, green beans, and garlic in olive oil for about 5 minutes. Add beans, tomatoes, broth, and seasonings; bring to a boil and reduce heat, simmering for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cook pasta. Add wine, pasta and spinach and remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

Notes: If you’re reheating the next day, you might want to add an extra 1-2 cups of veggie broth. My always-on-hand veggie broth staple: Better than Bouillon Vegetable Base. Simply mix 1 tsp with 1 c hot water and you’ve got a cup of broth. Cup for cup, I think it’s both less expensive and way more convenient that storing cans/cartons of veggie broth. Besides soup, I use it in cooking beans, grains, even sauteing veggies sans oil, everywhere you’d use whatever other veggie broth you’re using.

And if you haven’t discovered Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute, you’re missing out. It’s a no-salt veggie/herb seasoning blend. I call it “21 Gun” and use it everywhere, for example, in salad dressings, and it rocks on steamed broccoli with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Finally, don’t skip the red wine in the soup! Use whatever inexpensive but still tasty brand you can find – I’ve used shiraz and merlot/malbec. The wine gives the broth a depth of flavor you won’t get without it. I’ve tried a lot of minestrone recipes, but it’s the wine at the end that really kicks this up a notch.

So here’s the irony: I took a break from writing to walk the dog and, as I stepped outside, it began to rain!

Exercise the Gifts

Tween and I need more exercise so the last few Sundays, rather than sleeping in or lingering over coffee, as Guy leaves for the early church service and Teen soaks in his much-needed post-Saturday-night sleep, I’ve gotten Tween and I + dog(s) out the door for a brisk walk.

The body was made for moving. It’s a gift and we need to care for it.

I love to walk, my favorite form of exercise. Getting outside, waving at neighbors, feeling the sun – or the fog – on my face, watching my dog happy-prance, all good! Tween, on the other hand, hasn’t been excited to exercise, claims I’m torturing him with this terrible walking thing (hah!). He drags his feet and strolls as slowly as possible, at least 25 feet behind me. He complains loudly the whole way. Let’s just say this has put a damper on my enthusiasm.

It hasn’t dampened my commitment to our shared need for exercise, however, so I asked him to get ready to walk yet again this morning. We’re dog-sitting a beautiful, energetic four-year-old boxer-lab mix and he needs his exercise. Like I said, we all do, but this dog gave me one more “excuse” to include Tween.

Commence complaints. Refusals. And bribes.

Gotta love Guy, he knows how to motivate Tween: a good walk + a good attitude the whole way = use of Dad’s iPad this afternoon. It worked!

Even better, he decided to amp the experience and run for stretches. Run, walk, and rarely trailing behind, he might even have enjoyed himself. I surely had a better morning.

The more we exercise the more we can enjoy it. I know when I fall out of the habit it gets h-a-r-d to get going again, all the more reason to not fall out of the habit.

The body is just one of the many gifts God has given us. Our personalities/temperaments, our life experiences, our interests and passions, our natural talents and our spiritual gifts – all gifts from God, all in need of exercise. And the more we use them, the more fun we have, the more we live the life God has intended.

Today’s Bible study focuses on people using their gifts to serve God’s people and expand the Kingdom. If you don’t know your spiritual gifts, try this assessment. Then get out there and exercise for God’s glory!

Connect
Share about an experience in which you really enjoyed serving others. What about that opportunity made it fun for you?

Study
Read Acts 6:1-7.
Describe the problem. Describe the apostles’ solution. What made this solution effective?
What characteristics qualified individuals for service (v. 3)?
What about the apostles’ solution enabled God’s word to spread (v. 7)?

Live
Have you experienced church growth as a good problem, an uncomfortable joy? Explain.
Who stands out to you as “full of the Spirit and wisdom”? How so?
How do you think God is calling you to use your gifts to serve the church and expand the Kingdom?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray for the Spirit to direct you to the ministry calling He has for you during this season.