Posted in Family, Thoughts from Life

Together

A couple of weeks ago, we headed out for a much-needed and highly anticipated family getaway. We left early on a Thursday morning because our mouth-watering, start-vacation-off-right, pancake and omelet breakfast treat was an hour away in the destination city of Hot Springs. It was a delight to hear the proclamations of, “Wow, that’s just good,” and see the expressions of delight as the kids tasted phenomenal apple pancakes, delectable omelets, fresh-squeezed orange juice, local sausage, thick bacon, and delightful apple butter. Before climbing back into the car to head on to our cabin twenty miles away, we walked off our fullness by browsing the shops that were open at such an early hour, and I once again delighted in the responses of my children as we entered a cute shop with pottery and carvings and jewelry. We ended up having to drag them out, even after they’d made small purchases and thought they were done looking. They kept finding new treasures they’d missed!

And then there was the cabin on the lake. A glorious retreat into peace and quiet and fresh air and beautiful views. A treasure for each and every one of us. Some of the time, we interacted. Walking around the park. Hiking a trail. Skipping rocks at the lake. Closing out each day with s’mores or warm beverages and a game of some sort. Other times, we did our own thing. Curling up with books either in separate rooms or scattered around the cabin’s living room. Wandering around outdoors. Sitting out on the porch with a cup of something or other, watching the rain fall.

But even when we did our own thing, we were together.

And that’s what I love about our family. We love being together. Oh, we frequently go our separate ways out of necessity, but we all like coming back together. We enjoy sharing things with one another. Laughing together. Discussing with one another. Speaking in movie or book quotes and pursuing philosophic contemplations together.

Just being together. Whether we’re interacting or doing our own thing.

When I think of all of the families I’ve known through the years, the consistent reality is that the happiest of those families are those who enjoy being together. Whether they have plans or are just being. And there is a very distinct common thread that runs through all of the families who enjoy one another. They are all intentional about their togetherness.

Togetherness doesn’t happen by accident. Neither does the desire to be together. Both must be intentionally chosen. Actively cultivated. Even stubbornly pursued through the times when togetherness is not the pleasure and bliss we enjoyed during our recent vacation.

Sometimes togetherness is hard. Sometimes we get on one another’s nerves or wish for someone else – anyone else – to be with. (And yes, there are many times when we need to be with other people, but that’s another topic for another day.) But the good only comes when we choose the work. The discipline. The intentional interaction.

As our children grow older, we know we are rapidly approaching the day when togetherness will not be so frequent or so easily accomplished. My prayer is that we will never lose the joy of our togetherness, even if it has to be enjoyed through phone calls and sporadic visits. But I also pray that our children are able to take that joy into their own adult lives as they marry and have children of their own. That they are able to cultivate and celebrate their own togetherness and teach their children the joy of that interaction.

Because it’s a beautiful thing to enjoy life…together.

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Posted in Meditations & Meanderings, Thankfulness, Thoughts

Distraction

Distraction.

My mind goes everywhere. I begin to read, and I relish three verses. Then suddenly I’ve “read” three more without awareness.

I want to pray,
but instead ponder the day.

I want to praise,
but instead wonder why this or that has happened such and such a way.

I want to confess,
but I end up justifying.

Distraction.

It’s my enemy. And I let it right through my gates. I open the doors wide in welcome.
I let it turn my attention from You.

It’s not the electronics and the diversions and the family and the to-do list. Those are just the enablers. Those are just the things I keep around as scapegoats.
The problem is me.
My refusal to be disciplined.
My lack of willingness to invest in this relationship.

Who am I as a wife when I allow this destruction in my marriage? Who am I as a parent when I don’t listen to my children? Who am I as a friend when I allow silence to build between us?
You, my Lord and Savior, surpass them all. Yet here I am, as I am many days.

Distracted.

But not You.

Never.

You are always here. Always speaking. Always nudging. Always disciplining.
Not passively waiting. You’re too good a Father to leave it up to me.

You are active.
Pushing.
Urging.
Calling.
Speaking.

Thank you.

Today I honestly and fervently confess this choice of mine. This sin. And I feel the immediate peace of Your forgiveness. I know without asking that You will help me. But I ask anyway because I know that’s the first step – or the second after repentance – to conquering this sinful habit of distraction. And I know Your Spirit will nudge me each time I fall.

So, I ask.

Help me, Lord, to be attentive to You and conquer this beast.

I love You.

Posted in Meditations & Meanderings, Thoughts from Life

The Story of Talkative & Friend

We all know those people who monopolize conversations. I know I’m sometimes guilty of it myself. When I get going on a certain topic or thought, I have to remind myself to stop and let someone else contribute to the “conversation.” There are some people, though, who never recognize that they are the only ones talking.

I can’t help but recall a relationship between two people who shared a common interest. Each time the two would get together, “Talkative” would jump into her latest discoveries and activities in the interest. Her Friend would try to interact, but would only get half a dozen words in before being interrupted yet again by Talkative. Before long, Friend would just give up and resign herself to listening.

Here’s the catch. Talkative was absolutely, beyond a doubt certain that she knew Friend well. She “knew” just what her companion liked and disliked and just how to please her.

The reality was very different. The supposed knowledge was not based on knowing what Friend liked but instead on the “conversations” between the two in which Talkative rambled on and on about her interests while Friend listened and nodded politely, knowing she would never have opportunity to comment. Talkative automatically concluded that her Friend was expressing, by her silence I suppose, that her interests were exactly the same. Friend determined that her thoughts and opinions would never be important to Talkative, so she ceased bothering to try to communicate them.

Talkative claimed that she loved and wanted to be an interactive part of Friend’s life. But, when they were together, it was always all about Talkative. There was never give and take. Never companionship. Just the interests of Talkative.

Friend loved Talkative and willingly spent time with her when the opportunity arose. But, over time, Friend became deflated and drained. She needed the opportunity to both give and receive. She needed the nourishment that came from mutual interaction. So, she began to branch out and interact with others who shared her interests and passions. She still spent time with Talkative, but only when it fell into the natural flow of life. She did not avoid Talkative, but she no longer instigated visits.

Talkative noticed, and it hurt her feelings. But, she never attempted to find out why Friend’s interaction with her had changed. She simply made a point to – with every visit – remind Friend of the fact that she wanted them to spend time together, unconsciously increasing the wedge with her guilt trips.

I struggle each time the Holy Spirit reminds me of this relationship. First, I struggle because I have been in relationships like this, and I know what Friend is battling. I know the hurt. But, mostly

I struggle because I know I’ve been Talkative before, even though I try not to be. I am far too often guilty of not listening to and investing in others, focusing instead on what’s important to me.

But, there’s another behavioral tendency that is even more disturbing for me: too often I treat God like Talkative treated Friend.

I talk and whine and journal and let Him know my side of the story. Then, I take my thoughts and opinions and imagine that God is endorsing them. I neglect to stop and listen, instead, to what He wants to say to me. His wisdom. His truth. His guidance. His commands.

And what He wants to say to me is much more important than pouring out my “all about me” thoughts and feelings.

Because here’s the bottom line. It’s all about God. If He monopolizes a conversation, it is not because He is being self-centered like Talkative. It is because He alone has the words of wisdom. He has the answers. And He doesn’t need to hear us talk in order to know us. He created us, and He knows His creation well.

Yet I turn into Talkative and completely ignore Him. And His will. And His people. And His work.

Who will we be? Talkative, or Spirit-minded Friend? It’s a choice. What choice do you make today?

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

More

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?

Posted in Meditations & Meanderings, 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 Thoughts, Thoughts from Life

Lost Words

Earlier this week, I had a great brainstorm for a blog post. Fortunately, I had a notepad handy, and I was able to furiously scratch notes. The notes flowed as smoothly and rapidly as the train of thought, and everything seemed to make clear and perfect sense…then.

I was not in a position at the time to sit down at the computer or with anything more than that little scratch pad, but I fully intended to make writing a priority that morning so I could turn those notes into a blog post immediately. I’m trying to do better about that, knowing how often I wait too long and then lose the context of what I was thinking. But, this week took my by storm. By the time I even had a few minutes to look at those notes again, several days had passed. By that time, the notes might as well have been gibberish.

I have no idea what I was thinking. No clue about the context. No comprehension of the thoughts that were so strong that morning. I can remember the feeling of the thoughts flowing forth with clarity and strength. But I cannot remember the details to save my life.

In a way, it feels like I’ve lost something precious. The thoughts were that powerful.

In another way, though, I am comforted. You see, those thoughts were meant for that morning. I do remember them motivating, encouraging, and propelling me into my day. They planted in me a strength and a determination to face this very full week. I may be forgetting the context right now, but on the morning of the brainstorm, I know I stepped into the day with an internalized lesson.

The words may have been lost, but the lesson – and its impact – remained.

I am married to a pastor, but I frequently cannot recall the points of his sermons from one week to the next. Even when I am intentional about taking thorough notes, I often look at them later with confusion, not sure what I was thinking as I wrote. But, each Sunday as I listen and write, my goal is often to plant in my head one way I can implement the message in the coming week. One way I can actively choose to grow in response to what God has said through my husband.

Again, I may not be able to dredge up the specific points or context, but the lessons remains.

Not everyone is stirred by words. We don’t all process that way. We do, however, all have a method by which truths are best communicated to our hearts and lessons are merged into our lives. But none of this happens naturally. When blog posts create themselves in my head, it’s very easy to tap them out, then forget them. Sometimes I go back and read articles and am stunned to find that I wrote them! They feel so foreign because I never truly internalized the message. It takes an effort and a choice to pour those truths into my soul instead of simply pounding them out on a computer keyboard.

It takes an effort and a choice to decide to act on a sermon instead of simply listening and then walking out unchanged. (Think about it – have you ever said, “Good sermon, Preacher,” because you have already forgotten that what you should instead be saying is, “Ouch!”)

Truths are constantly moving from the mouth of God to our eyes and ears, giving us the choice each and every day. What will we do with them? Will they just become lost words, or will we turn them into lessons internalized?

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Thoughts from Scripture

Stepping Out

In Matthew 14, we find the familiar story of Jesus and Peter walking on the water. Typically when we read this passage, we focus on Peter’s faltering. He does fine until he notices the waves, then he begins to sink. Jesus gently rebukes him for doubting, and then they return to the boat.

But recently I stopped long before Peter ever started to sink. I got stuck on the first part of the story.

Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. Matthew 14:28-29.

Let’s put aside the sinking part for a moment and think about the significance of these verses. How often do we really stop to look at what Peter is asking for here? The disciples see what they think is a ghost. Turns out, it’s Jesus. Jesus reassures them and let’s them know it’s Him. Then Peter asks Jesus to call him out onto the water with Him.

Does that not seem insane to anyone else?

I have some friends who are risk takers. They love dares and challenges and will jump at any of them. Perhaps they would be more like Peter. But, not me. I wouldn’t even think to ask Jesus to call me to join Him. I’d be waiting in the boat, overawed at the miracle happening before my eyes. I would never even think to join Jesus on the stormy seas. But Peter did. He was so excited to see Jesus that he wanted to be right out there with Him.

Oh, the love Peter had for Jesus! His reckless personality often got him into trouble, but he always wanted to be right their with his Lord. Even on this wild and windy night. And, as long as he had his eyes on Jesus, being right there with Jesus was all he could think about.

I doubt I will ever be the risk taker Peter was. But, I can’t help but wonder what strange and crazy things might pop into my head if I focused on Jesus like Peter in those first moments on the stormy sea. We point out his faltering and sinking, but could trying and sinking possibly be better than never trying at all?

Obviously, it would be best if I saw Jesus and Jesus alone and completely blocked out the wind and waves. Every time. Instead, even though I see Him, I never lose sight of the circumstances and challenges all around me. I never do get out of the boat and walk to Him. I just wait for Him to come to me.

Maybe, instead of pointing out Peter’s failure on the sea, I need to realize my own failure to get even that far. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for me to follow his example and step out on the waves, eyes fixed on Jesus.