Posted in Faith Nuggets, Meditations, Thoughts from Kids, Thoughts from Scripture

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I recently had a conversation with my girls about books they are reading during their quiet times.

First, let me back up and say that Scripture reading is the number one most critical portion of our morning devotional times. We have daily Bible readings (many years all five of us go through the same plan) and we all copy a portion of Scripture every day, just to help us slow down and truly meditate. But, we all also enjoy adding other thought-provoking books into the mix. We usually pick a devotional to read, then often have another book or two going as well.

My oldest decided to move slowly through James with me this year, and we are using two books to help us work through them: James: A Devotional Commentary and The Book of James: A New Perspective: A Linguistic Commentary Applying Discourse Analysis, both by Dr. William Varner. The second of these two books is highly academic. And here we are, a high school junior (a smart high school junior, but still just a junior) and homeschool mom a long way from her academic pursuits trying to push our way through a very academic look at the book of James.

Needless to say, we frequently feel like we’re in a bit over our heads.

Meanwhile, my nerdy middle child is always searching the bookshelves for something new to stretch and challenge her. Her current attempt is Knowing the Character of God by George MacDonald.

As we discussed the books, both girls admitted to sometimes staring at the page with no real understanding of what they are reading. And, if I’m honest, there are days I do the same. I have to go back and read and reread to try to process and let the concepts sink in. All three of us confess that, sometimes, it doesn’t feel worth the effort when we could focus our full attention on books more on our level.

But, about the time we had this discussion, my youngest unwittingly contributed to the contemplation. His Sunday school lesson that week had been about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. You can read the whole story in Acts 8, but there are two verses that really rang in my memory as I listened to my son.

Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Acts 8:30-31

The key was this: if the man had not been reading something he didn’t understand, there would not have been an avenue through which he could learn about Christ.

Don’t get me wrong. We can – and do – very often grow through books (and tasks as well) that are closer to our level of understanding. They stretch us in different ways. But, there are also many ways in which we need to push ourselves beyond our apparent capabilities. If we never reach – if we always just stay right where we are doing what we’ve always done – will there ever be an avenue of growth in our lives? Will we ever learn more, experience more, grow more, or be capable of more?

I can’t help but picture a baby taking those first tentative steps, a child choosing to give no training wheels a try, or a teenager first sitting behind the wheel of a car. From birth, we learn and grow because we stretch ourselves. Why should we not do the same as adults?

What more do you need to do this year? Where do you need to step up and challenge yourself to dig into something you don’t understand or don’t really feel capable of in this moment?

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Posted in Meditations, Thoughts from Life

Welcome, 2018

Looking back and looking ahead are expected activities for the turn of a year. What progress was made in the last year? What goals need to be set in the new?

According to my Goodreads log, I read 69 books last year. I originally set a goal of 42, then upped that to 52 late in the summer. I’m honestly shocked by the progress. But I’m even more shocked by the realization that I didn’t change much to hit that number. I was just intentional about it.

The part that surprises me most, though, is that 26 of those books were non-fiction. Over a third. That’s huge for me. I frequently only read a handful a year – half a dozen in a good year. But this year I made it through a good portion of my to-read stack and allowed quite a few others to trickle in along the way. And I enjoyed them and gleaned from them far more than I expected. Many of them have become new favorites, including Made for More and just about anything by Mark Buchanan. His book Hidden in Plain Sight is on my list for this year.

Also, late in the summer Doug and I finally were able to nail down some good routines for exercise and were able to really get a handle on how to impact our eating without “dieting.” My progress seemed excruciatingly slow at best, and often completely stalled. But, I’m now just a few pounds shy of the halfway mark to my goal and am feeling much more comfortable in my clothes – many of them a size or two down from where I was over the summer. Best of all, these new habits – the slow but steady progress – have made it much easier to enjoy holiday eating without packing the pounds back on. Yay!

But, the reality is that those two things, as well as other progress points this year, are simply external evidence of the fact that God has been working on me internally. A lot. Some of it has been exhilarating and energizing while other portions of it have been very hard. But, for the most part, it has been like the weight loss: slow and steady. I didn’t always see the progress day to day, but I can look back and see where He worked and shaped me a little at a time day in and day out. And I’m sensing that there’s more coming. Probably some serious pushing on my comfort zone that will make some of the growth more immediately noticeable. But, it’s coming.

So, what do I see in the coming year?

Who knows? I definitely don’t! I have no great illumination regarding what progress I’ll see in the coming year or exactly where God will be working on me. I have some inclinations, just like I did several years ago when Sabbath and rest started popping up everywhere I turned. (We learned a lot of hard lessons about that this year, and still have a long way to go!) But, everything I see will take a lot of time and a lot of smoothing away my hard edges.

I’ll make a new Goodreads reading goal. I’ll be more focused on the writing, because something tells me that it might finally be time to work that back in. I’ve been learning (or trying to learn!) guitar with my son. I’ll never get it like he does, but there’s something relaxing about picking out a song or a scale. I’ll be more intentional about planning outings with my family, enjoying some sewing on our rest days, and being committed to helping my oldest finish high school well.

But most of all, I hope that I’ll be open to those edges being smoothed. I hope I’ll be more sensitive to relationships and being a servant. And I hope I’ll be more fully surrendered to the Lord being in full control of every part of every day – not just the few minutes I spend in His Word every morning.

So here goes! I’m diving in and taking action on this first day of 2018. It will be fun to look back next year and see what amazing things God does – and just how much He’s able to do even through a hard-around-the-edges child like me.

Posted in Marriage

Celebrating 19 Years

It’s a funny thing to look back. Experiences that were incredibly hard to walk through become moments to give thanks for because certain growth would never have happened without those experiences – even if we never would willfully choose to experience them again. Joyous moments produce a bit of nostalgia, knowing that we would choose to relive those times, even though they tend to be much more fleeting that the challenges.

Then there are those decisions made, those moments experienced, that trump it all. Those are the things that form the core around which all else is experienced.

Nineteen years ago, a young man and a young woman made one of those decisions. Experienced one of those moments. They said, “‘Til death do us part,” and then chose every day, through the joys and the challenges, to live up to that commitment.

Looking back over the past nineteen years, I can’t say it has all been glorious and wonderful. There have been some tough years. And those tough years have brought many challenges that have stretched and pulled at our marriage. But the marriage itself? That, my friends, has been good. So very good. And part of the goodness has come from knowing what we’ve weathered together and the ways we’ve grown together.

What we have today has been forged through all of the ups and downs, the joys and the challenges, the laughter and the tears. And I love what we have today. Every single detail of it.

So, happy anniversary, my love! Thank you for not just sticking with this thing called marriage, but for being fully devoted to us. To growing us and strengthening us and being us. I love you!

Posted in What I'm Learning, Work

Slow Processes

Don’t you just love how God can teach lessons during every season of life?

This season of not having a personal writing rhythm has lasted much longer than I would have chosen. Even when it seemed like I was writing regularly, I wasn’t. It was hit and miss. In fact, it has been several years since I have had a good rhythm. And for the longest time, I have seen that only as a negative thing. I’ve wondered why God has not helped me find a rhythm for something that obviously nourishes and grows me.

But here’s the thing…God doesn’t see things like I do. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I don’t see things the way God does, at least not at first. In fact, so many of my experiences are times of needing to gradually gain His vision. Sometimes I’m slow and He has to delay so that I can catch up. But other times I think it’s just the nature of growth. We often want to learn things quickly, but the more quickly we learn, the less we retain. Slow learning – slow progress in almost anything – usually means much more solid retention and growth.

There’s a quote in George MacDonald’s novel The Landlady’s Master that I love, one I recall when I’m frustrated with slow progress. In an idealogical discussion, one character presents ideas and perspectives that seem dreadfully slow and ineffective to his conversation partner. His response concludes with, “All God’s processes are slow. The works of God take time and cannot be rushed.”

That has definitely been true of my writing journey. It has been extremely slow – excruciatingly so at times. But in the process, and especially in this most recent stretch in which a personal writing rhythm has been so elusive, I have learned at least one very important lesson. To really explain it, I need to back up a few years, back to a time when my writing was regular and I had a solid rhythm.

Every morning, I journaled. Throughout the day I would keep a notebook or planner handy to jot notes. I had a notebook in Evernote strictly devoted to writing ideas. Writing fodder piled up so high that I could not write quickly or frequently enough to utilize it all! But as time went on, I began to notice that the ideas were harder and harder to flesh out. What had been great inspiration when I wrote it down was simply an empty statement by the time I got around to fleshing it out. At first I thought it was because I didn’t flesh out the thoughts quickly enough, losing the essence before I could actually write the post. So, I began to take more thorough notes. But, that often failed as well.

It took me a while to realize that the problem was not with the ideas. The problem was with me.

At one time, I’d written from the outflow of what I was learning and experiencing in life. But, somewhere along the way, that changed. Blog writing became the goal instead of the outflow. Instead of internalizing the inspiration, lessons, and Spirit whispers coming to me throughout life, I was simply writing about them.

Over time, the writing well began to dry up. My journal showed huge gaps because I seemed to have nothing to write, even for my own edification. I had not stopped growing altogether, but my growth was stunted because my focus was distracted.

Slowly but surely, I have had to relearn how to journal for the sake of journaling. How to hash through ideas for the sake of real growth. How to remember that life is not blog fodder. Writing is, instead, an outflow of what I just cannot keep cooped up inside as God molds and transforms my heart.

Looking back at it all, I can see why God has not yet granted the wisdom for a writing rhythm. He’s been slowly working on me. Who knows when I’ll be ready for the next step? I hope it’s soon, but I have a little more patience these days now that I’ve realized it all comes down to God taking His time working on me. Working out His slow processes.

Posted in Marriage

Shared Community

Doug and I had been married for several years when he began working for UPS. For the first time in our married life, I had no real connection to his job or his coworkers. Each morning, he would walk through a security gate into a huge warehouse that I could never enter. With the exception of one coworker who became a family friend, I never met the people who surrounded my husband day in and day out. My only understanding of his work and work relationships came through his descriptions. Meanwhile, I worked two days a week at a local mother’s day out. Doug had met many of my coworkers, but we as a couple never engaged with any of them socially.

Then there was church. An hour-plus drive to a small, rural community in the northeastern corner of Arkansas – very different from the busy Memphis suburbs where we lived and worked our secular jobs. There was no doubt that we needed a church family; but they just needed a part-time pastor and we lived too far away to forge any real relationships. And our immediate community? Well, the neighborhood felt closed and so very different from the seminary community we’d just left.We never really learned the key to unlocking relationships there.

Bottom line: we as a couple had no natural, joint community.

Much is often said about women having the chance to get away regularly with their girlfriends and men being able to hang out with other men. And yes, those things are necessary. I’m smiling just thinking about the reality that my best friend and I are both married to men who understand that she and I need each other. They go out of their way to make sure we get that connection time as often as we possibly can – even if it’s a Skype text chat across thousands of miles and a vast ocean! They know we are better because we strengthen, encourage, and sharpen one another.

But, it is not enough that I spend time with Joanna, just like it’s not enough for Doug to spend time with her husband Aaron or some of the fellow ministry guys he chats with from time to time. No, we also need opportunities for Doug and I to have relationships that merge. We need double dates like the recent ones we’ve been blessed to have not only with Aaron and Joanna but with another dear, dear couple. We need to know the same people and share a circle of interactions. We need to be unified in at least some joint community.

Why? Because it’s far too easy in our culture to live completely separate lives even when under the same roof.

That doesn’t mean it’s wrong for each of us to have our own communities. We live in a culture where husband and wife both tend to work, and they cannot help but walk in separate communities part of the time. But, when we do not make an effort to merge our worlds at least now and then, we run the risk of ending up more as roommates than as a husband and wife who are walking through this life together.

God very intentionally designed us for community. When a husband and wife choose to maintain separate communities, only coming together in private interaction, they run the risk of being pulled apart instead of remaining bound together. Each finds that the other just doesn’t understand the life they live because each is outside the other’s community. They forge separate interests. Separate connections. Separate lives.

It takes effort to center ourselves in joint communities when our lives naturally pull us apart, but it is possible. Through church. Through getting to know our neighbors. Through choosing to introduce our spouses to close coworkers and getting to know their spouses. (I can’t wait for the day when Doug will get to meet my boss’s husband!) The more we pour energy into creating these communities, the more reward we see from it.

What joint community exists in your marriage? What can you do to strengthen it? If none exists, what can you do to build it?

Posted in Faith Nuggets

A Little Punctuation

Several years ago, Doug and I started making our own copies of Scripture. He had found Journibles, books designed for copying on one side of each two-page spread and taking notes on the other side. We have done the Gospel of John as well as James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude. As they grew older, we pulled the kids into the copying, and all five of us have our own handwritten copies of Psalms and Proverbs. Doug and I are now onto Ephesians in a book that also includes Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 & 2 Thessalonians.

Copying changes the way we read Scripture. Not only does it slow us down, but it also makes us contemplate specific words and phrases that we sometimes completely gloss over. Of course, memorization has the same effect, heightening our attention and increasing our sensitivity to phrases and thoughts that we might otherwise miss.

Copying adds one more factor, however: punctuation.

Now, keep something in mind. Our entire concept of the written language and the way words, sentences, and paragraphs are distinguished differs greatly from that of the original writers. Our English culture and language rely heavily on punctuation, so it is required to adequately translate Scripture. Hebrew and Greek? Well, that’s a whole different story. Consequently, I try to be very careful basing interpretive thought on punctuation. But, as I copied Galatians 2 not too long ago, I couldn’t help but notice a punctuation choice the NASB translators had made. They put quotation marks around everything from the second half of verse 14 through the end of chapter 2.

In this passage, Paul is sharing with the Galatians about a time when he opposed Peter publicly. The whys and whats of this argument are the discussion of another blog post, but the question of how much he might have said to Peter is what caught my attention. Some translators say that the second half of verse 14 was all Paul recorded of his challenge to Peter: “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” But, for some reason, the NASB translators extended Paul’s speech through verse 21 where he ends by declaring to Peter, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”

Honestly, the context of the passage remains the same with or without the quotation marks. But, the inclusion of this particular punctuation in the NASB forced me to stop and think about how the Galatians would have received the statement of Christ dying needlessly as opposed to how Peter would have received it.

Peter, who was passionate about everything.
Peter, who walked with Jesus through His entire earthly ministry.
Peter, who was devastated after denying Christ during His trial.
Peter, who experienced the incredible joy of being reinstated after Jesus’ resurrection.
Peter, who preached the first public sermon and had to quickly figure out how to organize a rapidly growing body of new believers.

To look at Peter, who had been through all of this yet had recently lapsed into behaving as if obeying the Law was critical to salvation, and state that “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” That makes it personal. Very personal.

If anyone could be struck in the heart with the truth of Christ’s death trumping the Law, it would be Peter. Peter lived it. Peter grieved it. Peter saw the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ.

Saying this to the Galatians would remind them of the importance of putting obedience to Christ above all else. Saying this to Peter would have brought back every experience, every emotion of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

Maybe the quotation marks belong there and maybe they don’t. But the morning I copied those words, I received them with Peter in mind. I imagined what Peter would have felt as Paul closed out his rebuke with that statement. And it was as if I read the statement for the first time.

I’ve never been a Jew, ethnically or religiously. I have never adhered to Old Testament dietary and interactive laws. But I have clung to other things. To Baptist tradition. To habit. To human teaching. And sometimes, I need to hear this statement through the ears of Peter. I need to remember that nothing, nothing, nullifies the death of Christ. His death took care of everything. His grace does not require my traditions or habits or deep-seated learning.

I will have habits and build traditions and receive teaching that help me live out that grace. But, it will never require those things.

Sometimes, even something as little as a quotation mark can go a long way toward reorienting our minds.

Posted in What I Do

My “Thing”

Do you have any idea how many writers there are out there?

This year I have discovered quite a few new favorite authors and have marveled at the way they are able to put their thoughts into words. At the way they are able to devote the time and energy into researching, writing, and seeing their work to the finish line.

I see articles written by amazing bloggers who have a knack for communicating.

I am surrounded by a family of powerful imagination and vivid talent.

Every time I turn around, I meet another writer, whether someone who has achieved official publication or not. They have a message to share through story or essay or book, and they have an incredible ability to put that message into the written word in a way that draws and engages readers.

Writers are everywhere.

And then, there’s me.

I am compelled to write, even if no one else reads. I speak more succinctly when I have first written. I think more clearly when I hash out thoughts in a written form. I communicate more efficiently with my fingers than with my mouth. I can even speak in other “voices,” much like an actor who excels at impressions.

But when it comes to truly succeeding as a writer like those authors and bloggers and talented family members, I fall short. Why? Because when the time comes to sit down at the keyboard or pick up a pen and paper, I hesitate. I shrink back. I make excuses. I flip through a journal full of inspiration and ideas, but then convince myself that the thoughts were really only meant for me. For my own growth. Besides, I should not be journaling in for blog fodder. The more I mark journal thoughts and ideas for sharing, the more I’m tempted to just journal for the sake of blogging, not for the sake of learning. So, if I don’t use those ideas at all, I won’t be tempted to ignore what God needs to do in my own heart. I will be processing for me, not for content fodder.

At least, so I tell myself.

But the truth is that I am allowing laziness and feelings of inadequacy to rule the day. I find a moment to write and then find every excuse in the book to not follow through. Lack of inspiration. Thoughts won’t flow. So many other things I should be doing. If the words don’t write themselves in the first few minutes, I walk away.

And every time I walk away, I strengthened the unsettled feeling of my spirit. The feeling that comes from not being vulnerable through the written word.

What is your “thing”? What is the compelling drive, the delight, the freedom you are neglecting? What do you feel too inadequate to accomplish? What passion do you allow laziness to thwart? What do you claim to have no time for yet refuse to do when even a small pocket of time presents itself? What do you ignore because you cannot complete it according to your unrealistic and perhaps ridiculous standard of perfection?

Standing here, writing these words, I’m still tempted to keep them hidden. I actually typed out a post, but is it worth the posting? Even if it is, can keep up the flow tomorrow? Next week? Will I write again soon, or will months pass?

But those are perfectionism questions, irrelevant to what I share today. Right here. For today, I will do my “thing” and let tomorrow handle itself.

Will you join me? Will you do your “thing” today, no matter what perfectionism says? No matter what inadequacy says? Even if motivation doesn’t strike immediately? I invite you to come along and join me. As I write these last words, I can honestly say it’s worth the effort.