Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Spiritual Discipline of Keeping Spiritual Disciplines

Addy Grace Burtis wishes you a Happy New Year!  I mean, have you ever? Yes, I bought her a tutu. I knew it was a good decision when my 22 year old co-worker saw her and responded, "Suddenly I feel like I need to wear a tutu." Yes.

Did you have as beautiful a December as we did here in Speculator, NY? Lots of white, piles of snow, frozen everything. Perfect. The exact opposite of December 2015. I couldn't be more thankful.

I hope you had a sweet, meaningful Christmas season as well.

All of our people were home with us and have since departed. But not before our annual after-Christmas family talk. It used to be centered around this box, given to us many years ago.
For at least a dozen Christmases, all five of us wrote down on a piece of paper a gift we planned to give Jesus that year and put it in the box. It's fun to read them years later.

I promise not to tease my sister anymore.
I promise not to freak out at my brothers.
I want to pray everyday.
I will read the Bible through this year.
I will try to obey my parents.
I want to share my faith more. 
And so many others....

Now that our littles are grown, we've modified this tradition a bit. Based on conversations with friends who inspire, Scott and I challenged ourselves and our kids on Thanksgiving to show up at Christmas ready to name and pursue specific spiritual disciplines in 2017. Our birthday gift to Jesus.  

To get us thinking, a few examples I'd heard from others:

The spiritual discipline of not having to have the last word.
The spiritual discipline of arriving early.
The spiritual discipline of a daily quiet time.
The spiritual discipline of underspending.

(I started one early and daily through Advent, just to get into the groove - the spiritual discipline of hand writing a note to someone who matters to me. Specifically, those whom I haven't been in contact with in a while.) 

I fully enjoyed remembering and telling each recipient what they've added to my life. Then I prayed and wrote what I was praying for each so they could know. Result? Fixed my mind on others through the entire month. Not to mention, I later learned, God would have many receive the note on a day when they particularly needed to know He was aware of them. He is so good! 

You may have noticed that almost none of the list above are spiritual at first glance, but I'm a firm believer that if we attempt anything with the intent to find God and display His reflection, it becomes spiritual.

All six kids agreed to participate. Fast forward to New Years night, our last together for awhile, the great reveal. 

We didn't want this to be a private thing, but rather a family gesture that we could pursue collectively, agreeing to check in on each other.  

The conversation started slowly, but ten minutes in and the kids were naming healthy behaviors faster than I could write them down. (We all know if we don't write down a resolution/goal, we'll forget it two weeks in. Am I right?)

I love what they want to work on, weaknesses they struggle with perhaps. I  marvelled at their honesty and vulnerability. I'm inspired by them.

Are you curious? Ok, you twisted my arm, here are a few:

The spiritual discipline of talking to Jesus before I talk to any other person when I'm hurt or upset.  
The spiritual discipline of giving everyone the benefit of the doubt.
The spiritual discipline of not judging or assuming the worst.
The spiritual discipline of offering grace to everyone, especially those closest.  
The spiritual discipline of reading books that will help my faith grow.
The spiritual discipline of not always putting my headphones in, but embracing the sounds or silence around me. 
The spiritual discipline of journaling thanks. 

Next, I read a little something that flowed from my pen into my journal earlier that morning as I considered the beginning of a new year.

Going into 2017, this I know for sure

Jesus loves me.
God is in control of everything that concerns me.
The Spirit is with me no matter what.
God's faithfulness and purpose will lead me.
Goodness and mercy will follow me.
In Him I already have everything I need.
I have nothing to fear.

I think it's good to write down what we know. To prepare our minds. Like every calendar year, many things happen to us - good, bad and ugly. I don't want to lose my footing in 2017. 

Before calling it a night, we prayed together, dedicating ourselves to serving Jesus through these initiatives as best we can in the new year, asking Him for help and success. What a tremendous blessing for these two parents to witness and be a part of.

A collective cracking up ended this holy moment as Addy Grace took to blowing raspberries while all our heads were still bowed and eyes still closed.

 A baby changes everything you know.

P.S. Naturally, because I'm an annoying type-A woman (don't you feel sorry for them?), this happened and found their way into the suitcases.

Parents of grown or almost grown children, don't stop guiding or including your kids in your own spiritual pursuits. Their participation might surprise and delight you.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Willing to Dabble....Just a Smidge

Five days until Thanksgiving. Seems like the older I get, the quicker the holidays and the passing of time.   
Because this is my favorite time of year, I'm up to my eyeballs in lists, and loving it. I have lists for what to pack for our upcoming road trip, the menu, groceries I need to buy upon arrival, and of course, my year round daily list of gifts. This one never ends and serves to keep me from my natural tendency to complain or feel entitled.
The practice of gratitude is everywhere and quite fashionable these days. Of course we know to be thankful in November. All the cool kids are doing it. So I'm not going to talk about that today. 
As Thanksgiving Day approaches, we as consumers are constantly tempted to rush into Christmas. You know it's true. I find many people are quite passionate on both sides of the aisle about it too. There seem to be two camps of people. The die hard "No Christmas until after Thanksgiving" And those who dive right in, blending both with joy. I have two friends who describe each well. One insists "no co-mingling" the holidays and is a purist - no red and green until brown and orange have fulfilled their place on the calendar.

Another, who has known much pain and difficulty in life (connection, maybe?) is a true co-mingler. She insists that Thanksgiving and Christmas are the holidayS. Plural. She has no problem joining the two together. She says the Christmas season is too short and it brings so much joy. Why wait? 

I get this. I'm actually kind of jealous of yet another friend, born in Canada, who is free to launch into Christmas right after Halloween because they've already celebrated Thanksgiving in mid-October. Yes!

I usually land in the middle somewhere. Not one who cares too much about Halloween, I'm all for extending the Christmas season. Four weeks is simply not enough time! People are generally happier, mellower and eager to bless others during the season. We need more of that, don't you think? I think we should petition lawmakers to move Thanksgiving up. Why does it have to be so late in November? I mean, if it's meant to commemorate harvest time, the 4th Thursday is much too late.

Still, the truth is I don't decorate for Christmas until after Thanksgiving, but I am willing to listen to a tiny smidge of Christmas music on the radio (when we lived in civilization where we actually had radio stations), saving my coveted and much loved CD collection until Black Friday. (You know how I feel about the practice of delayed gratification!)

I start out the family with both MercyMe albums (as loud as possible to wake them up), then move on to the Carpenters, Michael Buble and a new favorite if you can imagine, Rod Stewart. And so, so many more. 
My latest justification to become a co-mingler is that I work full-time. For 23 years, I was a stay-at-home mom and had as much time as I needed to search for new holiday dishes and dessert recipes, find crafty items to make with the kids, and create my own homemade gifts. I walk 4 minutes to work everyday, therefore, spending no time driving around listening to the familiar songs. Not to mention having plenty of hours to watch all the non-negotiable Christmas movies.
I am limited now. I don't have enough time! I'm tired at the end of the day. Waaaaa. Earlier this week I read that there's only 36 days until Christmas - what???

So here's my confession. I charged up my Christmas ipod a few days ago. And I listened to it. Yes, I have an ipod dedicated to the most wonderful time of year. In our family, Mommy gets all the kids' hand-me-down, outdated, cast aside electronics. Works for me. Now I don't have to change the songs out. The kids used to do this for me but now my faithful husband puts up with, I mean, lovingly appeases my wishes, making sure I'm fully stocked and ready to shuffle.

The thing about Christmas music is the deeply meaningful phrases. Sometimes in the familiarity we miss them.

A few that have captured my attention and affection the past few years:

The soul felt its worth

The thrill of hope; the weary soul rejoices

The wonders of His love 

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

He's the savior we have been praying for
In our humble hearts he will dwell
God is in us, God is for us, God is with us, Emmanuel*

Here is our Promised One, Jesus our Hope has come
With the angels we sing Glory to God in the Highest
He has brought this great love unto us**

Typically, I can be resistant to new music. All genres. I have my faves and I stick with them. Did I mention how many Christmas songs I already have (615 on the ipod to date)? I don't really need any more. But I'll take that back in a New York minute if Carrie Underwood puts out a Christmas album.

Alone in the car last night an unfamiliar song started. I was aghast! What was this? I didn't authorize this addition. I recognized the voice but didn't immediately place it and definitely had not heard the song before.

It was amazing. I fell in love. I cried. I hit repeat about 17 times.

I burst into the house and told Scott of my discovery.
 He gave me the side grin. 
"Have you heard it?"
"Who do you think put it on there? I knew you wouldn't listen any other way."

Well, that makes me seem a little stubborn. I reject this. 
Faithful to my loves is more like it.

At any rate, I had to tell someone so I sent the song to my daughter-in-law because she is trying to become a co-mingler but is married to her father-in-law's clone. Certain other family members would not have shared my joy. Ben, I'm looking at you.

I played it 8 more times for Scott before turning in for the night. I heard him singing along. I think he is quite pleased with himself. He's so sneaky though.

Oh how I love a new favorite thing. Want to hear it?  Click here
Go ahead, I'll wait.

See what I mean? Amazing!
Talk about phrases that capture and delight...

pick any from this amazing song Christ With Us by Todd Fields:

God is with us
He has come to save us
Mercy lights the darkness
Christ is Here

God is with us
Healer of the broken
Word of Heaven spoken (!!!)
Christ is here 

All rise, in His presence we are free

His love has shown that we are not alone

And that's the best news of all, before Thanksgiving or after. We are not alone, God is with us. Receive it today without hesitation.

PS. If you must wait six days to listen to it, that's fine, but don't forget to come back and Click here 

*God is With Us by Casting Crowns
**Unto Us by Matthew West

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Feast for the Eyes and a Feast for the Soul

 This is Utah from an airplane.  A few weeks ago we had a conversation. Do we save money or accept a long time standing offer to go visit friends we haven't been in the same room with for almost twenty years? 

I thought for sure I knew what Scott's answer would be. I was surprised and delighted when he said, "I think it's time we treat ourselves to reconnecting with an important friendship". So we booked our flights.
When you marry a person, you can get thrown into some of their relationships already in progress. Scott introduced them as two of his closest friends. I hoped I would measure up to their expectations for him. Sometimes you click and sometimes you don't. Turns out that together they would become one of the biggest blessings in my life.
Early in our marriage we spent a good amount of time in their home. We played cards, the women shopped while the husbands played video games, we ate terrible but delicious food and started raising our families together. Those were fun, good days that ended too soon.
I often say that he unofficially discipled this young wife and mother. He was the strong leader of our little group, often calling us who were a smidge younger to step up and grow up. I learned so much from him and quote those lessons often.
For years to come, he would be the go to phone call in time of crisis or need of advice. When my Dad died and I was asked to speak the eulogy, he proofread my first draft.
When we were in a dark season of wondering what God was doing with us, he skyped encouragement with Scott on a regular basis, which carried us through.
I'm a reader today because of his influence. I might possibly be a softer person because of what they've taught me about grace. My thinking is always expanded and usually corrected when we have time to go deep.
None of us had any doubt that even with two decades since our last face-to-face, there would be no awkwardness and we'd pick up where we left off. It was sweet. It was silly. It was refreshing. It was fun. We played cards, we talked about our kids, we reminisced about past memories, and we ate terrible but delicious food. We got to attend their church, participate in the service even, and meet their people.

The bonus glory was to feast on God's beautiful creation out west. Breathtaking everywhere you look. And snow in October on top of the biggest mountains I've ever been on.
These are the two men who have taught me more about God and life and ministry than any others. I'm forever grateful for their friendship with each other. I brought with me some questions I was wrestling with because I knew I would get answers and insight.

I came away with new book titles and homework.
Someone said, "There's something special about hanging with people who share your same worldview about most things. Biblical fellowship." It's certainly what this couple travelled 2,150 miles to enjoy.

Once home and reading one of my new books, I came across these words.

"...we all need some people in our lives that really want to know how we are - and who we can trust with the truth. People who know us well enough that when they speak into our life, it fits our reality, not our image...where the upside of positive peer pressure spurs us on to greater heights, and where we're positioned to receive the help we need the moment we need it."

"...be open to the help and insight of other believers. The Bible calls this seeking wise counsel.  By checking in with others, I have the ability to pick up what I missed on my own and to discover and correct what I might have misunderstood...It's amazing what another set of ears can do. Each of us picks up something different...The same power of collaboration can bring clarity when God's leading seems unclear or hard to decipher...seeking the help of others can bring to light things I miss - or even more importantly, things I thought I heard quite clearly but in reality missed quite badly."

Yes. This is why I'm grateful for a longtime, honest friendship where there is no need to put on a facade or rearrange or hide what is in my heart to project a better image of self.

I'll take this kind of sharpening over that any day of the week.

Saying goodbye wasn't easy. Before we returned home to our very different, but equally beautiful mountains, a pledge was made to not wait another twenty years for the next visit.

Here at CAMP-of-the-WOODS where we live and serve, we use the phrase 'a vacation with a purpose' quite often. That's what our trip to Utah was. Feast for the eyes and feast for the soul.

It's not even Thanksgiving yet and we are stuffed with gratitude.  

Quotes from A Contrarian's Guide to Knowing God: Spirituality For the Rest of Us by Larry Osborne

Monday, October 17, 2016

Why and How I Plan to Vote

This is the first year that all of our children can vote in the Presidential election. In all honesty, I couldn't be more disappointed for them. This should be an exciting rite of passage but alas, we have seen America at its worst this past nine months or so, wouldn't you agree? I said the other day that I don't know what I'm most disgusted by, the candidates or the media and the selective content they daily feed us. This feels like an all time low for our nation.

I remember my first voting experience. I was either 19 or 20 I guess and had watched both conventions satisfied I'd done my homework. My father took me to the polls. If you knew him, you remember Dad as a man of few words. 

We didn't talk on the way and I don't remember a conversation at all on election details leading up to voting day. We signed in and took our place in line, waiting for our turn in the booth. Right before I went in, I heard his voice close to the back of my head, "Vote Republican all the way across."

"Dad! You're not supposed to tell me how to vote!" I wasn't really mad. Just a little deflated. I wanted to be a grown up that day. I don't really remember how I planned to vote and if it was different from what he told me to do, but because I respected him, I obeyed. I recall feeling proud after I pulled the levers. I had done my civic duty. I exercised my rights and it felt good and right.

In fact, I've felt that way every election season since even when my guy didn't win. I seem to have become a poster child for making sure everyone I know is registered to vote. (Just ask my 20-something aged co-workers back at primary time.) Despite their flaws, I've always been able to align with a candidate and get behind him with enthusiasm.

Until this year. What to do? What to do?
I hate and hesitate to write this, but when I consider the world stage and what other countries are observing about us, for the first time I'm embarassed to be an American. Is this the best we've got?  
One of the best things about living here in the United States of America is our freedom of choice. We are each walking down a path and can choose which direction we want to head. We can and should throw our opinion in the ring. We do that with our vote.

The reason for that is the men and women who've gone before us. When election season is upon us, I always find myself thinking about generations past and the political climate of their day. 

Scott and I watched the movie Selma a few months ago and I was struck yet again with the price paid and won by men and women with passion and determination and how it wasn't just for their own benefit, but for mine and yours.

When I consider the state our country was in before women and African Americans shared the right to vote, I am still shocked. Doesn't seem like that could happen today in the land of the free and the brave. Of course, this is because we are standing on top of the acheivements of very brave Americans. 

They stood up, sacrificed comfort, risked their future, fought for, were beaten, and some died for the right to vote.

Masses of people stood up, sacrificed comfort, risked their future, fought for, were beaten and some died for the right to vote. 
Individuals stood up, sacrificed comfort, risked their future, fought for, were beaten, and some died for the right to vote.  

For my right to vote.

They did it for themselves and more importantly, in some cases they put their very lives at stake for their children. Their grandchildren. The generations to come.
They made hard choices and did so with outlandish courage and passion. And here we sit enjoying the bounty of what they suffered for. I wonder if it had been my choice, would I even have that kind of fight in me? Would I get off my comfy couch in my warm, well-decorated living room and walk miles and miles, show up at a polling station day after day, rejected and sent away, to be heard and seen?

Or would I resign myself to, "it is what it is" and let someone else care enough? I'm not altogether sure my generation has fought for anything that my children and grandchildren will benefit from. I certainly haven't. We live in peace. Our 'world' is relatively safe. We breathe free air.

However, it seems like much of what we take for granted is at stake here in the 2016 election. There is a real war going on in politics. The tension is so thick and volatile that some of us skirt past the discussion afraid to give our opinion lest we bump up against hostility and are rejected.

Some things I've heard recently:

"I'm not sure I want to vote." 
"There's no one I can get behind in good conscience."
"My vote won't make a difference."
"I won't tell anyone who I'm voting for. It's a private issue."
"I may not vote."

I get all that. I really do. I keep waiting for a do-over. I've hoped for a poll that clearly shows most Americans don't want either candidate, so let's scrap these two and get two more. Doesn't look like that's going to happen.

Every couple of weeks, I wring my hands and ask Scott, "What are we going to do?" That is the question and there is an answer.

After much prayer, this is what I've determined.

1. I will vote. You'd better believe I'm going to vote. That's my right. That's my voice. It matters. Someone else bought that vote for me and I will not let his/her sacrifice be in vain. Ever.

2. I will only read articles from writers whom I trust lest I get sidetracked by the next shiny morsel of intolerable indiscretion and risk my emotions taking over rationality. Then I will weigh the consequences of my choice.

3. I will reluctantly take character and integrity out of the equation because neither candidate has a leg to stand on. This saddens me greatly as the elegant, important office of President of the United States has been dumbed down and degraded so grossly. But that is where we are.

4. I will consider what has been fought and won for me to enjoy, be grateful for and enjoy it, but not selfish and complacent enough to forget to look behind me to the coming generations. I will ask what am I willing to put myself out there to secure for them

5. I will look at the core issues represented. Knowing which ones I'm most aligned with, the stuff that matters in the long run, will determine my vote. It's no longer about who I'm voting for as what I'm voting for. The kind of America I want to leave for the next generation as much as it depends on me.

6. I will tell my children and anyone else who asks me how I'm voting and why. Yes it's tense out there. Yes, my stance may not be popular or even accepted. That's the point. As much as I want to learn from others with more experience and wisdom, I must be willing to share mine. We have to fight for what's important even if it costs something, which I doubt is a very high price in comparison to our forefathers. 
 7. I will never put my trust in a politician, a government, a nation or any person. Jesus Christ alone holds that position in my life. Elections have come and gone, in this country and others (who by the way suffer regularly under tyranny and corruption), and one truth remains. God is in control. Oh He will let us have our way and stray from His best plan for mankind if that's what we want. He does that because He understands and respects choices, so much so that He sent His own Son to fight and died for our ultimate freedom.

It's my turn to stand up, risk and sacrifice if necessary, demonstrating to my kids what is worth caring enough about and fighting for. For their sake, I can't afford to grow weary and lose heart.
I take comfort in and am encouraged by Daniel's prayer so many hundreds of years ago but completely relevant today:

Blessed be the name of God, forever and ever.
He knows all, does all:
He changes the seasons and guides history,
He raises up kings and also brings them down,
He provides both intelligence and discernment,
He opens up the depths, tells secrets,
sees in the dark - light spills out of Him!
God of all my ancestors, all thanks! all praise!*

These are dark days as you know, but we don't have to fear - the Light has come! 
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? 
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

Even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is as 
bright as the day, for the darkness is as light with You. Psalm 139:12

Jesus speaking: I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes
in me may not remain in darkness John 12:46

Believe, be grateful, leave a legacy. Vote.

*Daniel 2:20-22 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Addy Grace Comes to the Mountains and a Goal Finished

HI. My name is Adeline. But some call me Addy Grace. 

Last week, just as I was settling into a nice pattern of sleeping through the night and eating on a schedule, my Mommy and Daddy loaded our car with lots of bags and strapped me in my carseat. I like going for rides and usually sleep a lot but I was not prepared for how long it would be before they would get me out and let me stretch!
These are my parents.
 Lucky for them I am such a good baby and hardly every cry.

After two long days in the car, I woke up from one of my naps to see my Pop, who they tell me is exactly like my Daddy. He picked us up at the car rental place and drove us to my Mimi.

She was waiting for us at the door of where she works. I guess she was driving her co-workers crazy all afternoon, pacing and checking out the window until we arrived.

Little did I know that I was in for a quick weekend crammed with lots of family kissing me and constantly asking me for smiles.

Not to mention the incessant photos and videos being taken.

This is kind of a weird picture Mimi took. She told me it makes her happy to come home from work and see my Mommy and Daddy's shoes by the front door. No wonder I always hear Daddy say to her, "You're weird, man."
Here she is laughing at something my Daddy said. She hasn't stopped smiling since we got here. My Daddy kind of looks like her. Just picture him with dark hair.
Pop likes to hold me. Mimi says he 'hogs' me. I don't know what that means, but I do like him and all his snuggles.
Seems like wherever they put me down, someone is looking at me. Mimi says that's what it was like when Daddy was a baby. "We just sat around watching him for hours," she said.

It sort of happens to Pop too. Once he laid down and right away Aunt Ally and Daddy sat or stood right on him. Mimi says none of her kids could resist piling on their Daddy whenever he got on the floor.

Mommy gave me a bath in Mimi's sink. This was a real a crowd pleaser. These people are funny.
A highlight of the weekend for me was meeting my other Great Grandmother. She is very snuggly and likes my headbands. 
Some of Mommy's family came to see me too. Grammie, Grampie and Auntie Sierra. I smiled big when they talked to me. Seemed to make them very happy.
It was really cold in the mountains on the day we left. We went for a walk by the water. Everyone was oohing and aahing about the color of the leaves. I just took a nap in my stroller.

Mimi took advantage of having two of her kids home. Pop didn't like that she took pictures while he was at work. Later she said it sort of made her sad anyway because we were missing my Uncle Ben. I missed him too. He makes fun of the rest of the family and everyone cracks up at him.
Before I knew it, everyone was passing me back and forth, saying goodbye. There was a lot of hugging and kissing going on. They must really love me. Then Daddy put me in the car and we drove for a long time again.

I heard Mommy and Daddy talking in the front seat. They said Pop, Mimi, Uncle Ben and Aunt Ally are coming to my house for Thanksgiving. Guess I'd better come up with some new tricks by then.

Mimi wants to talk to you now.
Looks like my granddaughter has writing in her future, no? I think she really captured her weekend visit to our house. Grandparenting is the best.

If you've read my words for awhile, you know I love starting new things. New goals! New initiatives! New purpose! Has my name written all over it.

In contrast, today is a day of finishing a few goals. This is equally gratifying. 

Many times since January I've written and urged you to read through the entire Bible and why. A few weeks ago I highlighted some themes I've seen amazingly emerge this year.  

Would you believe the same ones showed up again in the last chapters of both Old and New Testaments this morning as I finished up? You heard me - both! Malachi and Revelation. Come on, it's ok to geek out with me about it.  Look and see....
Malachi 3:17 "...They shall be mine, says the Lord of Hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession..."

Revelation 21:3 "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God."

Take note my friends, these are future promises and verbs. And if God's eventual continual presence isn't enough to excite you, He threw in a few more gifts we can look forward to. 

Check out verse 4: "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, no crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."

See all those 'wills' up there? He will do it! I'm not sure what you are going through, but I hope these truths refresh you. It's good to know that they WILL happen and according to God, it's a WHEN not an if. We need to hold onto this especially in light of how dark and discouraging our world is becoming. Before we know it, God will finish His initiatives, priorities and goals. These things will pass away and we will be surrounded by new. Amen.

It will be so worth it.