Saturday, September 16, 2017

Preparing for the Inevitable

Recently we drove by the house we raised our children in. The new owners painted the shutters, removed my custom built window boxes and put a fence around the backyard.

Memories flooded in. Ally pushing her baby in a stroller in the yard. The boys shooting baskets for hours at the end of the driveway. Scott and I taking a walk every night after dinner, inviting the kids to come find us on their bikes....after they do the dishes and clean the kitchen.

I asked Scott if he misses having kids in school (a.k.a. home everyday). It's weird when the school calendar has absolutely no bearing on your daily life after 20 years of it being in the driver's seat. I used to love back-to-school time. New clothes, backpacks full of supplies, September = apples, October = pumpkins, November = pilgrims. You get the picture.
The season is changing. Summer is behind us. This is never more obvious than in a small tourist town when 85% of the businesses close up the day after Labor Day.

I noticed yesterday the leaves are starting to showing off up here in the mountains. Already? My excitement for Fall and then upcoming Christmas and winter is not as strong as it used to be. It couldn't come fast enough when the kids were home. Now it's more like I'm trying to put the brakes on and prolong its coming. Winter has long been my favorite season, am I now afraid of it?

March and April are the problem. Spring comes late in the North. The summer sped by so fast. It feels like the green lush trees just bloomed. I'm not ready for the cold that drives us inside. I will be eventually, but not quite yet.

It's not rocket science to put the clues together. We don't live in a neighborhood anymore. Our kids are grown and out of the house. They aren't here for the whole month of December, sometimes just a week or less. (And we need the whole month of December to watch our extensive Christmas movie collection and for me to read them the stories of their childhood. Yeah, they don't really let me do that anymore anyway, but still.) Winter is long when there are no snow days.

The Bible tells us,
"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace."*

That pretty much covers everything. Notice how half are fun and enjoyable and the other half seem to imply loss and pain possibly resulting in fear. However, this I know, throughout the Old and New Testaments, we God-followers are instructed not to fear. Ok, but how?

I've been reading a delightful book about walking with Jesus through the physical and spiritual seasons of winter, spring, summer and fall and I love the author's ideas.

I've never experienced such an accurate description of both the brutality and value of winter. Winters, spiritually speaking, are necessary to achieve a less shakable faith through prayer (how shallow would our prayers be if we never endure difficult seasons of pain, trial and God's silence?), pruning (let's admit there are things in our lives that need to die and fall off), and waiting (while excruciatingly hard, this discipline yields volumes of fruit in an increased ability to trust God and help others do the same that comes with emergence into Spring).

I agree 100% but that's not what I'm going to write about today. I wrote many a post about spiritual winter when we went through our three year tundra just a few years ago. Feel free to back up and read if you're in your own. Instead, on my mind today is how to not just survive, but thrive in actual freezing cold winter.

I know, I know, we haven't even gotten to the calendar beginning of Fall yet, so why today? Because I'm nervous about what I know is inevitable and I want to get ahead of it as much as is in my control. (That looks like a self-confession of control freakishness. Not going there today either.)

Back to the book I'm reading, the author also suggests the value of winter play. There are things we can only do in winter that need to move to the front seat. "Winter might be handing you a gift...there may be something you can do now, here, that's hard or impossible to do anytime else."**
Outside - skiing, ice skating, snow shoeing, sledding, etc.
Inside - the things we can't seem to get to the rest of the year like puzzles, reading books that have long sat on the "to be read" shelf, journaling, ____________, etc. You fill in the rest of the blanks.

I like to think I already know this. I shine pretty much until mid-January which doesn't cut it when you live in the mountains where winter is forever (slight drama). If I'm honest, I admit that eventually my vigor turns into sluggishness and I curl up on my couch with sweet carbs to hibernate instead of embracing the gift of winter (physical). Then I get to Spring and wonder what I have to show for all those months inside? Wasted time. No more!

As I anticipate the long Adirondack winter, I accept the challenge to proactively enter the cold season with a positive attitude and arranging my time to include some things I usually intend to do, but often let slide as I slumber through awaiting Spring's colorful arrival.

A list! Of course, a list is always the 1st step.

May I suggest a spiritual goal/discipline as first priority? Perhaps reading through the Bible starting in January (or start in December so you're ahead!). Tackling an Advent devotional? Adding minutes and intimacy to your prayer life? Resolving to wait for God without anxiety?

Getting the most out of anything we dread is more likely when spending time with Jesus and growing in His likeness is the initial focus. Once we nail that, we can add other ideas.

Here's my first attempt:

1. Get out a big puzzle that will take a long time to complete and invite guests to join the effort. Good talks happen when working on a project together in a comfy living room.
2. Reread, with a friend this time, the Mitford series. Oh Father Tim, how I love you!
3. Exercise inside as often as I do outside in the summer (resist the couch!).
4. Plant a window garden to watch something grow.
5. Actively learn something from someone else. (My co-worker makes homemade bagels. Homemade bagels! She's promised to teach me.)
6. Make use of the many cookbooks I hoard - try a new recipe every week or two.
6. Learn how to cross country ski. Then ski across the frozen lake.
7. Go on a dog sled ride.
What is this? My apprehension is losing power. I'm actually getting excited for what's ahead. Are you? Let's do this together - add your inspired ideas in the comments so I can steal!

In the meantime, we can rest here - seasons change, but God doesn't. He's present in all of them. He's good in all of them, even when they are long and painful. No need to fear or worry. There's something good and necessary in each one for us.

We just need to chill and let God do His work. Did you see what I did there?


*Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
**Spiritual Rhythm by Mark Buchanan

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Lists Are Life

Do you ever just feel like something isn't right? But you can't quite put your finger on it.

I've been here for a few weeks. What could it be? My gratitude list continues to grow daily. I have nothing to complain about. I'm not going through anything particularly difficult. So what is it?

Tension. Dictionary.com defines it this way, "the act of stretching or straining; mental or emotional strain; intense, suppressed suspense, anxiety or excitement."

Yes. That's it! All of it. But still nothing specific - that's the frustrating part. I don't know what the tension is between. What's being stretched and strained? What is the intense, suppressed suspense, anxiety and/or excitement I'm feeling?

Not sure, but it's real. One of the perks of where we live is that gorgeous Lake Pleasant is a hop, skip and jump from my front door. I grabbed my journal and told Scott I'd be back at dark. He never asks why, just sends me on my way. (And no doubt enjoys his own peace and quiet.)

I found an Adirondack chair and planted myself, "Lord, I'm here. Why don't you talk and I'll listen for a change?" Having raised a child or two who talked incessantly, not always inviting me to get a word in, I wonder how happy this makes God. Does He think, "Finally!"?

After a while, I suggest to myself that I write a few lists which might help relieve the tension.

I actually scribble, "I like lists." Only Type A word nerds can appreciate this.

I consider what to number. Based on what's been rattling around in my head lately, I come up with these.

1. Sins - that need confessing, repenting, and forgiving because if something's wrong between me and God, it's definitely on me.
2. Gifts - what I'm thankful for/delighted by in this geographical season.
3. Regrets - perhaps naming them will take away their power and leave freedom in their place.
4. Fears - same as regrets.
5. Excuses - so that I won't have any.
6. Passions - and then spend my time here.

Soon my journal is filled with words and my eyes with tears. Not sad tears, more like resilient tears. Tears that show up when God shows up. Tears that accompany resolve.

The words keep coming and surprise me as they appear on the page...

I want to be content/comfortable with the tension because God is here in it and He is trustworthy, faithful, and worth the wait (even though I don't know what I'm waiting for, which makes it sort of beautiful.)

I won't fight it.
I won't lean toward the negative - that's easy.
I won't wish it resolved sooner.

Instead,
I will find Him in it.
I will praise Him in it.
I will enjoy Him in it.

Yes.

I feel a grin creep onto my face. The goofy one that appears when I feel it. The love I crave.
Jesus loves me. This I know.

This is enough. But there's more.

Jesus knows me. This I love. He likes my company. He laughs at my jokes. He knows my heart and accepts me in spite of it. This too, is enough.

Perhaps you have a list or two to make?


PS. I saw a moose today. There's that grin again. Maybe I've mentioned my preoccupation with finding one, always on the lookout. Helps when someone else has a real camera to prove it.


While I wait, I've determined to buy every plush moose (and a moose book or 10) I can find for my granddaughter, Addy Grace. Because moose!



I'd say we're off to a good start.
And she likes glitter. So there's that.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Things That Need To Stick

When it became apparent that family vacation wasn't going to happen this Spring, a new idea was needed. The kids' school, work and sports schedules did not line up, so Mama got crafty. Thank God for a husband who (eventually) warms up to my schemes.

Since we each had a few days off for Easter, I calculated the half way point. Erie, PA. Well, who doesn't want to go to Erie, PA for a weekend? So tropical. The plan went like this: Ben would take a train from Chicago to Drew and Brittany in Indianapolis, Scott and I would pick Ally up at Word of Life, then we would each drive 6 hours to check in to adjoining hotel rooms (Scott's treat) for two nights. Glamorous, right?

The thing is, Christmas was the last time all of my favorite personalities were in one room. AND I have no future date when that will happen next. AND we have a baby in the family now. She's growing too quickly and lives so far away we are afraid she won't know us. So desperate times call for desperate measures. Also, we are addicted to daily photos and pictures our thoughtful daughter-in-law provides. (Yes, I said daily. She's the best.) We just needed to get our hands on her.

Road trip here we come.
I love how Brittany gets me. She sent these from her vantage point. One with the caption "Brothers". I couldn't help but notice the size difference. Just like their Dad and Uncle. The oldest doesn't mean the tallest.

This face!
Dinner time was always a priority when these kids were growing up. It still is.




Not just because of the food.
Though there's that.




We all had a blast with Addy Grace. Did you see what Pop did here?
My job was holding her during morning nap time so her parents could get ready for the day. After that we just fought over her.




Next up, the hotel pool. I wondered what we looked like to the others in the room as all of us hovered around her and pushed her back and forth in this little jig I picked up. Yes, it seems we've become those grandparents.
 She has the cutest parents.
Another thing I realized is how easy it is to let your grandchild do things you would never have let your own children do. Like sit in the middle of the table until the food arrives.
But she's so cute!
And has crazy Uncle Ben hair!

Adjoining rooms was the best idea.
We could do this after the baby was asleep.
But probably my favorite part of the weekend is not pictured here. Some things need to be sacred. 

We called a meeting in our room. One showed up with his Bible and told the others to bring theirs. At this point in time all three of our kids are in school studying the Bible. We love when they want to tell us what they are learning. Essentially how they are making their faith their own, apart from us. This is a very good thing.

Since it was Good Friday and we would not be spending Easter Sunday in the same church, Scott led us in a Communion service right here in our room. It was special to say the least. Family time does not trump important holiday traditions.

I came wanting them to know what I have been learning while reading through the Bible this year. It's amazing to me that each time through, new treasures emerge that I didn't catch the last time. It is too good to keep to myself.

The context is way back in the Old Testament when the people of Israel were approaching the end of their time in the desert (40 years) and entrance into the Promised Land. Moses was giving instructions on how they are to live in this new land. The land God brought them to so He could start again with a people He would call His own.

The Lord said to Moses, "Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels
 on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, 
and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner.

And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. 

So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God.
 I AM the Lord your God."*

I love so much about this passage that comes at the end of a long list of instructions. First - an accessory akin to jewelry!

But more importantly, a visual reminder to remember. It's so easy to forget how far God has brought us and that He expects obedience, isn't it? 

And it's easy to follow selfish desires that often lead our hearts toward distractions that later prove empty, unsatisfying and possibly destructive. We forget that God is holy and calls us to be holy, less like the world around us in increasing measure.

Sometimes even though we know what to do and what not to do, we don't and we do. We need reminders. I need to remember.

My children are adults now. All in their 20's and mostly independent. I can't bear for them to forget and drift. I want them to remember. 

So I attempted a little craft. (I know better than to ask them to make their own. #crafttimewithmommy)
I tied a blue tassel on each of their wrists. "Remember God's instructions. Do them. Don't follow yourself. Be holy." 

I don't expect them to wear it everyday of course (I've learned my limits), but asked each to put it somewhere visible. I see Scott's on his dresser. I got this picture a week later.
I admit I cried a little. My favorite parenting verse in living color. 

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."**

Obsessed with God. That's the gist I think. Of all the things we teach our littles, this is the main one that needs to stick. Passing God's faithfulness to the next generation. Even when they are adults. Because life is hard when you're a grown up. They still need instruction. Let's be real, I still need it.  

Sadly, our time came to an end too soon for any of us and we had to say goodbye. I'm grateful for these kids who put up with their mother's ramblings (and lame crafts) and get on board with her nutty ideas, including 12 hours in the car for 2 short, uneventful days together.

At times parenting can be so hard, and other times so good. I'm glad it doesn't end when they turn 18.

PS. Lest you think it was a holy moment and my kids were in awe when I produced a tassel for each of them, their response was a quote from a favorite childhood movie:

"Hey Rug Man, haven't seen you in a  few millenia, give me some tassel...."
Another proud parent moment.

But the worst part, I knew one of them would say it. And it's not because I thought it first. Well....

*Numbers 15:37-41 Yes, Numbers! (This is why we have to read the whole Bible - amazing treasures hidden in there.)
**Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Saturday, March 25, 2017

It's Not Over Yet

It's no secret that birthdays make me nostalgic and emotional and eager to celebrate. Imagine what is happening in my head and heart as my little girl, my baby, approaches her 20th birthday next week.

I'm sure all moms experience this. The memories of their childhood rush in. The cute, the irresistible, the happy, the good, the bad, the ugly.

Since my three children will be in their 20's as of next week, I sort of feel like I'm on the other side so I want to talk to the young moms today. (Older women, I'll get to you at the end.) You don't need me to tell you that the days go quickly or to appreciate them while they're little. I know this is not particularly helpful and can make you feel guilty. Not today.

Instead maybe you need someone to address the issue of how to survive the hard days. Maybe you're worried about what kind of adult your strong willed child will turn out to be. Maybe you're afraid everything you try will backfire. Maybe you wonder if you're ruining your child. Maybe you cry yourself to sleep some nights because it feels like you're failing.

I've wondered all those things. I worried about each one. I've cried those tears.

There were days my husband came home to, "I don't know which one of us is going to survive this." In defeat, I lamented, "When she leaves our house she will surely say, 'I could never please that woman.'"

And after some tumultuous teenage years, I feared she wouldn't be able to get out of here fast enough and wondered (and doubted if I'm honest) if when she became an adult we would be good friends.

What do you do when you're tired of the fight? When nothing seems to work. When you're sick of giving the same lecture(s). When you wonder if anything will stick. When you've prayed all the prayers you can think of.

You phone a friend. You get very real and throw pride out the window. You confess. You cry if you need to. You ask advice. You receive support and prayers.

I know I am one of the lucky ones. We raised our kids in a large church where I had many friends. Some were peers, in the same stage of life. Some were a little further down the road, having raised their kids. All were an integral part of my survival. And Ally's too, I suppose.

I can't stress enough how much I needed someone to say:
"Keep going. It will sink in. Don't give up. You can do this."
When one who understands your family dynamic and has freedom to speak truth, defending the child says, "It's not easy living with the Brothers Wonderful."

Not to mention the friends who were especially hopeful:
 "Don't worry. She'll be a leader one day." (This, of course, is the nice way of referring to bossy. Don't ask me how I know or who she takes after.)
"She's a good kid. A really good kid and will be an amazing adult."

You see, sometimes when you're in the war you simply don't see it.
Until one day you do.
And you fall to your knees in praise because you know God came through.
That picture. Her words under it. Blows my mind.

At some point, one friend challenged me to give thanks in advance. Before I see the end product. Faith prayers that went (and continue) something like this:

"Father, I know you are writing the story of my child's life. You love her more than I do. You have a plan for her life. Your Word says you will finish the work you started (in her).* So even though I can't see it, I thank you now that you will do a beautiful work in her one day. Amen."

I now believe them to be pivotal and powerful.

Tuesday she will be 20 and she's amazing.
Or should I say God has done something amazing and beautiful in a young woman's life.
So many prayers spoken, begged at times. Now answered. Glorious!

The difficult, arguing, not always fun to be with child has been transformed. She's sweet, thoughtful, caring, funny and a delight to be with. Most importantly, her heart is soft. She apologizes, seeks reconciliation quickly, and is teachable. She constantly asks her parents for advice (praise hands).

She remembers her church-infused childhood with both fondness and some regret.
She has the best self-depracating sense of humor of anyone you've met.
She loves God and His Word and wants His plan for her life.
She senses a call to ministry, willing for it to be anything God decides.
She's leaving the details and timing in His hands.
She hopes for an upright, Christian husband to assist in ministry and share the gift of children and responsibility of raising the next generation up in the faith.

Scott and I marvel. God is and was in control the whole time. Changed lives are His specialty. He's always been doing something good even though we couldn't see it at all times. My friends say, "I'm not surprised. I knew it would happen. Of course she's awesome."

Which is why I implore you to cozy up next to older parents. The ones who see your kids' potentials when you're buried in the messy today. Those who will hold your hand, dry your tears, pray you through, affirm your efforts, and send you back in the battle, reminded, better equipped and fortified.

Here I'd like to name names, but I think you know who you are. Thank you. Thank you so much. Check out the fruit - I believe a good portion will be credited to you.

Lastly, to those of you who are ahead in the race. Look behind you and when you find an exasperated parent, approach with kindness and understanding, then walk with them. If I believe anything about God's will appropriated to individuals, I believe He has made His purpose clear for women.

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Titus 2

He knows we are all connected and what we need. I just love Him so much for including these words in the Bible.

P.S. He's not only doing a work in your childrens' lives that will one day be revealed, but He is doing it in yours too. He changed this mother. She's not so naggy, suspicious and easily irritated. Oh, but she can still deliver an on-the-spot lecture like a champ!

So chin up and put your trust and hope in Him. 

If no one has told you lately - let me - you have a special kid who has many gifts to offer the world and that kid has a great mom.

*Phil. 1:6 "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Space + Time = Clarity

It never ceases to amaze me that when we create space in our lives for a specific period of time and ask God to fill it with what He wants, He does - in abundance!

As Lent approached and I considered what I could 'give up' in an effort to have more room to consider the last weeks of Jesus' life on Earth, I murmured to God, "What would I miss more...coffee or chocolate?" (because you know you have to choose that thing(s) you really want on a daily (or hourly) basis).

The voice in my head said, "social media".

"Excuse me? Coffee or chocolate?"
"You heard Me."
"Not that."
"Yes, that."

I confess I was worried I couldn't do it.That's embarassing. Always wanting to be invited to the party,  what would I miss?

Long story short of the battle of wills - I deleted my apps. (I've learned - sometimes the hard way - it's always best for God to win because when He wins, I win.)

Been ten days now and I'm fine. In fact, I'm better than fine. I no longer look at my phone every few minutes or need to charge my phone everyday - or for a few days (how embarassing).

The even bigger story of course is how much margin has emerged. I'm not preoccupied with real news or fake news, drama in the lives of 'friends' who I may or may not even be engaged with on a regular basis, or the feelings of anxiousness that often accompany all that. Also, I have more time than ever to read the books stacked on my nightstand and listen during times of prayer.

I'm free! The space in my mind and heart now inhabited with all I'm reading as I prepare my heart for Easter is a gift I'm so thankful for.

Today God just blew my mind again. Have I mentioned how much I love reading through the Bible and seeing themes emerge (and that you should try it)? Consider it mentioned.*

In case you've heard otherwise, the book of Revelation are not even slightly intimidating. The first chapters are especially interesting and easy to understand. John is receiving images and instructions as God is critiquing seven churches. It's so applicable to us as the church and individuals.

Each has similar elements. (1) He praises them for what they are doing right and/or enduring. (2) He confronts what they're not doing so well. (3) He gives each a promise.

These promises are goosebump inducing. Check it out.

1. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (2:7)
2.  The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death. (2:11)
3.  To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it. (2:17) So intimate and relationship-driven.
4. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them. (2:26)
5. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. (3:5) Us - presented with pride.
6.  The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. (3:12) --3 Names!!!
7.  The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. (3:21) Whoa. 

Hopefully you're jumping up and down with me right now. Or at least smiling ear to ear. Those are some hefty sure-things!

Perhaps you also noticed the common denominator? Not everyone is included - only a certain group of people jackpot these promises. Conquerors.

Hmmmm. That's not a word that crosses my mind often. Reminds me of medieval times.

Webster's definition of conquering:
 to gain mastery over or win by overcoming obstacles or opposition; 
to overcome by mental or moral power.

Can we just take a minute and let that settle?
Those are some powerful verbs and I dig them.
Not because I think I rock at them or that it will easy, but because if God promises to reward conquerors, then becoming a conqueror is possible with His help!

Gain mastery. Win by overcoming obstacles or opposition. Overcome by moral power.  Ooooo. Christ-followers can master and overcome...no wimps here!

Before we land on just this good news, which is important and super motivating, let's remember what comes before the promises. I wonder what He would say to me.
I know your ___________ and how well you ______________, BUT I have _________________ against you.

Gulp.
If you're like me, you pay more attention to the 2nd part, what we're not doing so well in. You know, the spiritual discipline of self-punishment or self-torture. I don't think this is God's intent or very fruitful if prolonged and results in our paralysis.

For sure we need to honestly self-critique and make the adjustments necessary to please God. But we also need to stop, reflect and possibly celebrate what we have and are getting right.

God does...so we should too. Successes are motivating toward becoming conquerors! The spiritual discipline of celebrating growth?

Maybe the modification below is more accurate...? You fill in the blanks with your stuff.

Dear ________,

I know your ___________  (great job!) and how well you ______________ (congratulations!), BUT I have _________________ against you (repent and sin no more)Because when you become a conqueror, I have unimaginable things planned for you.

Your Heavenly Father who loves you so much,
God

We're merely over a week into Lent and have learned this - Space + Time = Clarity. Not too late to get some of your own.

 *P.S. this is not nagging, I promise.