Relational Rest

I write a monthly column for Arkansas Baptist News. Because I always try to write about what God is teaching me, sometimes it’s good to go back and reread old columns – like processing back through journal entries to remember what I’ve learned.

This morning I reread – and desperately needed the reminder of – this article from last fall. I thought I’d share it with you! This one turned into a four-article series, so I’ll share the remaining three over the next few weeks.

Life is tiring. Have you noticed? We hit the ground running and eventually forget what it means to stop. To rest.

I am convicted each time I see how seriously Scripture handles the Sabbath. This day of rest was instituted long before the law came into being. In fact, rest existed before sin corrupted the world and laid the burdens of exhaustion upon our backs. Rest is critical, and we must allow God to teach us how to rest.

God has been opening my mind to aspects of rest I have never before considered. Recently, He showed me that rest is relational.

When I think of rest, I think of curling up all by myself with a good book and no distractions. You see, I am an introvert. I love being with people, but social interaction typically drains my energy. I need to recharge after I spend time with people. How in the world can rest be relational?

Fortunately, God is a patient teacher. He is willing to prove His truths to me, even when I am skeptical.

Several weeks ago, my husband dropped me off at the airport for a weekend work retreat. I was about to spend three days at the beach with ten other amazing women, but all I could think of was the energy that would be required of me through the weekend. I went into it tired. How long would it take me to recover once it was all said and done?

I never expected to come away from that trip energized. Those ten women poured into me even as I poured into them. We respected one another’s needs, helped each other recharge, and lived out the beauty of Hebrews 3:13. We pooled our talents and passions, seeing productivity flow even out of our times of fun and relaxation. We rested together in ways we never could have done individually.

For the first time in my life, I saw that even introverts cannot experience the fullness of rest without support and encouragement from fellow believers. Rest really is relational.

Scripture supports this in a profound manner. Consider Psalm 23. This beloved passage wraps me in peace every time I read it. I have always thought of it as a personal passage, but recently I was confronted with a startling truth: David was a shepherd. He knew sheep. And, he knew that sheep do not do well at all on their own. They rest when they are surrounded by the safety of their flock and the protection of their shepherd.

We are God’s sheep. We need to draw upon the presence of one another, encouraging each other daily that we may truly find rest.

This article was originally published in the ABN.

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What Works for Me: The Not-So-Great Days

This week is a pretty full one, and I’m tired. I have to be honest, my attitude was not that great this morning. Not exactly grumpy – just tired. And my kids were energetic (and have been all week). And their energy makes me feel even more tired.

I don’t know about you, but I have noticed that it can be hard for me to turn not-so-great days over to the Lord. The really bad days bring me to the end of my rope, and I have nowhere to turn other than to Him. The great days fill me with praise automatically. But these in-between, just tired, not really feeling up to life kind of days are a little tougher.

So, what does it take to get me redirected? It really is quite simple – I just need to know I am not alone in my not-so-great day.

That can be hard to discover, though, because I really don’t like to whine and complain. I want to be positive. I know I’m not always that way with my husband and kids. (Poor things get the brunt of my emotions when I am not having a great day.) But, my natural instinct is to hide the negative from others.

The key, though, is to share without being so negative about it. Adding in a funny or saying, “Who’s with me?” can often work.

Yesterday I got to spend time with some fellow ministers’ wives. We had such a great time visiting and fellowshipping (you do understand that, for Baptists, there’s a difference there – fellowshipping must involve food). But today we are all back to real life. Today we are separated by many miles. Today it would be nice to ditch everything and just go back to yesterday’s visit.

And that, my friends, is just the way I shared my struggle on this not-so-great day. I asked my fellow ministers’ wives if they wanted to join me in ditching the day and just getting back together.

And I discovered pretty quickly that I wasn’t alone.

Suddenly I had someone else to pray for. And I knew how to pray for her because we shared the same struggle. My heart and mind were able to redirect, and, even though the tired didn’t go away, my spirits were lifted.

How do you redirect your focus on the not-so-great days?

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Marriage Monday: Together in Prayer

You might have noticed that last week I left out prayer when I listed the ways Doug and I are intentionally growing together.

Gasp! The preacher’s wife didn’t make prayer the number one growth activity!

You’re right. I didn’t. And there is a reason for that. Prayer in marriage is not about spiritual growth. It is about life. It is as critical as breathing. A marriage can survive without a couple choosing to spiritually grow together. Without prayer, however, there is no life.

So, how can you establish a solid prayer life as a couple? Here are a few tips.

Establish a joint prayer time.

I will be honest – Doug and I do not always do this (although we do continuously maintain a daily family prayer time). But, we both prefer it when we have this habit established. We come back to it on a regular basis, one or the other of us giving the nudge that it’s time to restore the habit.

This joint time can take several forms.

  • It can be a weekly opportunity to share prayer needs, allowing an extended time of prayer and sharing.
  • It can be a shorter, daily time, starting off with the question, “How can I pray for you today?”
  • It can simply focus on prayers for the marriage and family.
  • It can branch out, focusing on prayer needs that burden both of your hearts.

Share a prayer list.

Sometimes schedules prevent a couple from being able to sit down, undistracted, for joint prayer. But, that does preclude togetherness in prayer. The togetherness simply occurs at different times or in different places.

The key is a joint prayer list. A couple can share requests for the coming week, share a prayer notebook or journal, or post joint requests on a whiteboard placed in an accessible location. For a while, Doug and I had a prayer whiteboard hung in our closet, a location both of us accessed regularly but our children did not, making it a perfect place to share prayer thoughts.

Don’t forget the praise and thanksgiving.

Sometimes joint prayer is simply a matter of joint worship. Praise music and verbalizing thanksgiving together can greatly strengthen a couple’s ability to pray together. In fact, this might be a great place to start for those who are not yet comfortable with a joint prayer time. Listing thanksgivings and acknowledging how God is revealing Himself in the marriage beautifully brings a couple into the presence of God.

Whatever the approach, the key is unity. Seek God’s will and wisdom together. Know what your spouse is taking before the throne of God. Let your spouse know what you are taking before the throne of God. You might find your relationship grows immediately simply because you discover you have been praying for the things. Coming together in prayer joins both hearts and resolves.

Will you commit to making this year a year of prayer with your spouse?

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Calling All Work at Home Moms!

So, how many of you are work at home moms?

I joined the forces when I accepted a position with Home Educating Family in May of 2014. Oh how I love my job! It transports me beyond the confines of this house or the borders of my small town and sparsely populated county. It connects me to people I never would have dreamed of meeting.

But, it also presents some challenges. It changes the way we have lived life for many, many years. In the early years of motherhood, only naptime and bedtime truly tied me down. Then the school-age years arrived, and our choice to homeschool forced us to make sure that we didn’t allow the wonderful flexibility to keep us from diligently honoring our academic commitment.

Now, though, I must add the work hours into the mix. When I accepted the position with HEDUA, I committed to a certain number of hours per week. I committed to accomplishing certain time-critical tasks each week. And I committed to being a face of HEDUA both online and in person.

Yes, working from home definitely changes the dynamics of a stay-at-home mom’s life.

So, here is my question for you: If you are a WAHM, how do you balance life?

What do I mean by that question? Well, have you figured out that you just can’t “do it all”? (Let’s just be real here, folks!) What have you had to let go of to honor your commitments? You work at home because you don’t want to leave your children in someone else’s care, but how do you ensure that working does not consume all of your attention and energy? How do you actively remain involved in the lives and activities of your children?

Sometimes a brilliant new idea pops into my head (more often into my husband’s, though – he’s wonderfully brilliant and supportive!), answering my own “how can I balance this?” questions or making certain aspects of working at home easier. I hope to share those with you as they come to me.

But first, I want to hear from you. What are your WAHM tips? Share in the comments. Join me on Facebook and start up a discussion there. Who knows? I just might love your comment so much that I have to share it as its own post soon.Balanced

Oh, and in the meantime, snag this e-book if you don’t already have it:

Balanced: Finding Center as a Work-at-Home Mom

Can’t wait to hear from you!

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Book Review: Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden

Just when I thought I’d gotten to know and love Elizabeth Camden as an author, along comes Beyond All Dreams.

Elizabeth Camden is my favorite sort of author – the kind who only follows formulas of her own making. By her own admission, she loves “writing books about fiercely intelligent people who are confronted with profound challenges.” In that sense, Beyond All Dreams fits the mold. And, like her other novels, this latest effort delves into a period of history in which women still struggle to truly live out their dreams.

But as I read Beyond All Dreams, I had to keep reminding myself I was reading an Elizabeth Camden book. The characters felt different. The intrigue and romantic development did not fall neatly into her familiar formula. But the quality did not diminish in the least. If this talented author would like to mess with her own formula, I am definitely not one to argue with her!

Set in the months leading up to the Spanish-American War, Beyond All Dreams explores the worlds of a late nineteenth-century congressman and one of only a few female librarians working in the Library of Congress. Elizabeth Camden’s love for research presents itself in these pages as readers dive into life at the Capitol at the close of the nineteenth century. Even the political climate was fascinating to me, and I am not one to enjoy politics.

But what stands out most to me in Beyond All Dreams is the spiritual thread. Elizabeth Camden beautifully weaves history, faith, and romance together with great depth. Side plots explore the concepts of friendship, bullying, teenage angst, parenting choices, abuse, alcoholism, pacifism, and forgiveness. Tough decisions are made. Failure is experienced. Consequences are faced. And not every desire is fulfilled. Real life is still felt between these pages. And that real life is enveloped in growth that can only come from a relationship with Jesus Christ. In her bio, Elizabeth Camden states that writing provides her the best outlet for sharing her faith with others. She definitely accomplishes that in Beyond All Dreams, clearly expressing a life of faith and the truth of salvation without compromising quality in her writing.

I usually try to find something negative about each product I review. Something that could have been presented better. Something that might have made the story clearer or more captivating. Something that felt stilted. And perhaps there are aspects of forgiveness that were left undeveloped or characters who might have been explored a little more deeply. But, in all honesty, I wouldn’t change Beyond All Dreams one bit. Well done, Elizabeth Camden!

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Marriage Monday: Grow Together!

Last year, my husband and I went to a one-day leadership conference together. The conference focused on building ourselves up for success by establishing goals and plans. As we spent the drive home discussing some of what we learned, an important reality sunk in for both of us: It would take intentionality to make sure we included one another in our dreams, goals, and plans.

Different, But Together

Doug and I are like most couples, I assume. Our personalities are different. We dream different dreams. We set different goals. And, even were we to have the same goals, our methods for reaching those goals would be different.

We are, by design, two very different people. Yet we are also one – one in marriage. And that oneness means we cannot happily set sail on individual courses without threatening to negatively affect our marriage. We have to find a way to come together, considering one another in our goal-setting and working together to create plans that will strengthen our marriage, not create division in it.

The same is true spiritually.

While it is critical to establish individual spiritual growth, going our separate courses without consideration for one another’s growth pattern leads to trouble.

So, how do we combat this? By committing to at least one regular spiritual growth activity…together.

How do we do it?

As with many aspects of marriage, spiritual growth activities will differ for each couple. Some read a devotional together. Others read the Bible aloud to each other on a daily basis, then discuss what they read. Doug and I usually pick several things. Here is this year’s plan:

  • Shared Bible reading plan. We read silently to ourselves, discussing together as God illuminates His Word to our hearts.
  • Scripture memory. Choosing the same Scripture passages to memorize each week gives us common ground as God works the passages into our daily lives.
  • Scripture copying. We use Journibles to make our own copies of the Bible, book by book. We are currently working through John and the second half of Psalms, copying a few verses each day and discussing as thoughts come to us.
  • Devotional reading. Last year we had four devotions we were reading together. But, our interests and reading speeds really are very different. So, this year we just picked one to read jointly, adding in others individually as we see fit.

Discussion is Key!

We still work individually, so discussion is the key for us. What challenged me today? What stood out to him? What questions do I have for my scholarly-minded husband? How can the practical application of this thought be hashed out? Do we agree or disagree with the devotional author?

Even choosing the same plan for our devotional time, growing together must still be intentional. We have to choose to discuss. And, we have to make a conscious effort to ensure that neither one looks at the other and says, in effect, “You’re just now getting that?” We learn and grow differently. Each of us can admit that we had already noticed or internalized a concept without demeaning the other.

I want to emphasize one additional point: Growing spiritually together is not the same as doing church or ministry activities together. That’s an entirely different blog post! Although joint ministry is important, growing spiritually together is personal, not ministerial.

How do you plan to intentionally grow together this year?

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What He Has Done

Every morning, I copy a few verses of Scripture. I love copying. It slows me down and makes me really think about what I am reading. Recently, Psalm 92:4 was the verse that made me pause.

Psalm 92 is a psalm of praise, which is nothing unusual. Psalms such as these abound, not only in the book of Psalms but throughout Scripture. I often seek out these songs when I am struggling to praise. They help me focus and redirect.

But, something about verse four of this particular psalm helped me realize why I do sometimes struggle with praise. Take a look at the verse with me.

For You, O Lord, have made me glad by what You have done, I will sing for joy at the works of Your hands.

The psalmist is focusing on what God has done, again a common theme in psalms of praise. But, truly pondering this truth made me realize something about myself.

I too often focus on what God has not done.

Sadly, focusing on what He hasn’t done comes quite easily. And the more we do it, the more easily it comes. Why? Because we love to focus on prayer requests. And not just prayer requests, but specific prayer requests. Physical healing. Marital healing. Provision. Open doors. Salvation.

When the answers we expect don’t come quickly, we pray harder. And we focus more and more on the reality that the healing is not coming. The marriage still fell apart. We were forced to make alternate decisions because the provision or open doors we expected were not there. And that loved one is still hardened to Christ Jesus.

Yes, it is very easy to notice all of the things He has not done.

It is much harder to stop, step back, and acknowledge what He has done, especially in the midst of disappointment over seemingly unanswered prayer. But that, my friends, is exactly what we must do.

What has God done around you this week? How has He shown His might? His power? His love? His creativity? His sense of humor? His majesty? His grace? His mercy? His protectiveness? His jealousy? His desire for a relationship with you?

How has He sought your attention? How has He reminded you of His Word? How has He used others around you to reveal Himself?

Once you start looking, you will be amazed by the infinite ways He has shown Himself this week. The incredible evidences of His handiwork will be overwhelming.

And, amazingly, the more you notice what He has done, the easier it will become – until one day you wake up and realize there is little, if anything, He hasn’t done.

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