Posted in Faith Nuggets, Thoughts from Life

Fulfilling True Religion

What comes to mind when you think of your “Christian duty”?

We can all probably come up with a long list of ways we are pressured to do our duty by the world around us, whether our society or the church as a whole. Love everyone and do not judge are two common, general ones. But, there are also several ways to serve that are encouraged and emphasized within the body of believers.

– Be a foster parent and/or adopt. There are thousands of children who have nowhere to go, and it is our Christian duty to care for orphans in their distress.
– Give to a long list of ministries. All of them are good, and they are worthy of your money.
– Serve in a homeless shelter or food kitchen, or find some other way to volunteer in a way that ministers to the less fortunate.
– Engage in prison ministry.
– Go on a short-term mission trip.
– Move to the mission field, whether it be among a specific social group in your own country or overseas.

I’ll stop there, but the list could go on and on and on. You are probably already thinking of several to add to the list, whether they are services you engage in or some you have been “encouraged” to be a part of.

Now, before I go any further, let me just emphasize that we are all called to serve. In some way, shape, form, or fashion, we are meant to surrender our all to the leadership of the Lord Jesus Christ, becoming His bondservants and serving for His glory. That means sacrifice. That means a measure of discomfort. That means being stretched and grown.

But the truth is that none of us was meant to serve in every single capacity. We have to prayerfully select what ministry to support with the finances God has entrusted to us because we do not have limitless cash flow. There are times when we cannot open our homes to foster care or adoption simply because God is using our homes or our families for other purposes. And just because we are serving in a ministry that is not widely visible does not mean we have to also step into a food kitchen or a prison just because that is the currently socially acceptable means of service within the culture or our Christian communities.

Yet, we are often made to feel guilty because we do not share the passion of others around us. We may quietly give financially to numerous ministries, but we’re not going on mission trips. Or, we may serve weekly in a crisis pregnancy center, but we’ve never adopted a child. Or our ministry might look completely different, not matching the norm in any way. Yet we feel torn in a gazillion different directions and fear we are not doing enough simply because we do not respond to every passion.

I will go ahead and dare to say that sometimes “Christian duty” is trumped by the way God is currently using our energies.

Please hear me when I say that I am not giving any of us license to make excuses. If we find ourselves constantly making excuses for why we are not actively participating in an area of service, then we are being disobedient. Plain and simple. But, sometimes we don’t have to offer the excuses because we know in our hearts we are right where God has told us to be. We are serving Him in obedience, even when it does not fit into the picture of service that society or our community has created. They might not understand, but that’s okay. We can just say no, knowing – because we have an active relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ – that we are living and acting in full submission to His lordship.

My friend, the biblical commands to give, serve, care for orphans and widows in their distress, and take the Gospel to the ends of the earth will not always fit into a societal mold. Sometimes it will look strange. Sometimes it will be odd. Sometimes it will be misunderstood. And, it might be that no one else shares our passion; that we have to settle for being supported in faith by the community rather than actively working alongside others in our community. Our job is not to fit a mold. Our job is to serve in obedience. Our job is to make sure that we are actively responding to God’s instruction, not society’s expectations.

What does your obedience look like today?

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Thoughts from Life

Provision

Back in July, our van died. After 235,000 miles, it went kaput. It wasn’t a sudden thing – we knew it was dying. But one day, I needed to go somewhere. So I hopped in and cranked it up. It did not even make it to the end of our short street before it died for the last time, never to truly crank again for more than few brief moments.

If this had happened while we lived out in the country, it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal. We rarely needed both vehicles there. But here in the city, it’s different. So, I thought for sure God would quickly either fix the van or provide another vehicle.

I was wrong.

Meanwhile, a precious friend’s car died on Christmas Eve. Within a short time, God had provided her a replacement, ensuring that she would not be in a one-vehicle situation. I’m chuckling a bit right now, because I had the thought for this post long before my friend’s vehicle died. But, only now, after seeing how God has worked differently in very similar situations, is all of this fleshing out in my head. I love how God does that!

So, what is the difference in our situations? Well, my friend and I have very different lives and dynamics, and I can give you practical ways that she really needed that vehicle. But, I can point out practical ways we need another one, as well. The difference does not come down to practicalities. It comes down to one thing: God’s will.

God’s provision has nothing to do with my concept of need or desire. If it did, I can point out a myriad of situations that would have had different resolutions – not just in my life, but in the lives of people dear to me who have endured grief and suffering far beyond my piddly concept of needing a second vehicle. No, God’s provision is not dependent on my perception. Instead, it is dependent upon His will.

That may seem harsh, especially in light of grief and pain. But, that is because we view it with our narrow vision.

On New Year’s Day, my mother posted this greeting on Facebook:

I love TIMELINES……… if you put 2016 on a timeline of just the past 10,000 years, it’s barely a BLIP! And, if those 10,000 years are put on a hypothetical timeline of eternity, they wouldn’t even register. 2017 will come and go before we know it, so make the best of it! It will be gone before we know it. HAPPY NEW BLIP!!!

Oh how I love that! It reminds us that God sees eternity. And His provision is based on our lives for eternity. It’s not about what will simply grow me or make me useful during my short blip of a life here on earth. It’s about what will mold me into what I am supposed to be in light of eternity. It is about how what He does through me right here and right now will contribute to drawing all men to Himself…for the sake of their eternal souls.

The most baffling reality of this is that my needs, and God’s provisions for them, do have relevance for eternity. My little life. My little needs. My little journey in this little blip are relevant enough to God that He works His will in and through me today. He chooses to replace my friend’s vehicle but not my van because there is relevance. How incredibly humbling and amazing!

Sometimes I see a glimpse of that relevance. Sometimes I can point to some semblance of a “why.” But I never see the full scope of what He sees. What He knows. Why He works the way He does. But He’s the God of the universe. The King above all kings and Lord above all lords. He’s the utmost Ruler. Yet He knows me, and He considers the little details of my life – the details He works in daily – to be relevant to eternity.

Wow.

Lord, may I be reminded of this truth every time I doubt Your provision. Your provision is in line with eternity. And I am overwhelmed that I get to be a part of that.

Posted in Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Prayer, What Works for Me

Intentional

Word of the Year?

Have you ever noticed the people who choose “word” for their year? That word becomes their focus – the thing around which their goals and growth center. Perhaps this is something you do.

Maybe you are among those who actively choose their words. These people spend time in thought and prayer, trying to determine a direction and a focus. I’ve never done that before. I know me – it would be too forced. I second guess myself too much, and this approach would stress me out. Better for me to work on my routine and focus on productivity than to try to choose a focus.

For the longest time, I thought that was the only approach to choosing a word or focus for the year. But, more recently I’ve noticed a different pattern among some of my friends, so I avoided it. These are the people whose words have chosen them. A lesson or idea or thought just keeps presenting itself until they finally latch onto it, determined to see where the Holy Spirit is leading.

And now I know how that feels.

Intentionality Everywhere

Everywhere I’ve turned lately, intentional has been on the tip of my tongue. I cannot describe my sense of direction, urgency of action, or areas of growth without using that word or some variation of it.

  • When I think of my routine and productivity (or lack thereof!), I realize that I’m so often just floating through life. I bounce from this to that, randomly walking through my to-do list, focusing on whatever seems to pop up next. I have been convicted of the need to be intentional with every moment of my day – whether in work, play, or rest.
  • When I think of my reading goals, I see that I have stacks of books with no plan for reading them. I’ll get around to it, eventually. I know I won’t. Not without being intentional.
  • When I see the resources I have acquired for this project or that, only to never get them done due to lack of whatever, I feel the frustration and discouragement rise. If I want to ever make progress, I have to make time. Intentionally.
  • When my brain fills with the larger ideas I have for writing, I jot down notes only to forget what I was thinking. I desire to do more – to actually write a book. But, all I ever get around to are random blog posts about whatever happens to pop into my head at the time. I will never truly become what I want to become as a writer unless I intentionally make and work toward goals.

But the biggest area is my spiritual life. I know I’m growing. I see it. But, there are many ways in which my spiritual growth is just as haphazard as my growth in other areas. I’m random, and I don’t always follow through, turning thoughts and convictions into actions. I have to become intentional about spiritual growth by making a plan for action as soon as the Holy Spirit nudges my thoughts.

Staying Open

I know how my brain works, and I know that it’s not a good idea for me to say that 2017 will be my intentional year because I’ll become more fixated on the word than the general sensitivity to what the Holy Spirit needs to do in and through me. Maybe I’ll be a slow learner, and it will be with me for several years (like rest and sabbath have been focus thoughts for two or three years!). Maybe I’ll establish a habit and pattern of intentionality in a few months, and it will be time to push forward again. I do not want to miss the Lord’s direction just because I am stuck on a word. But, for now, intentionality is my overarching focus as this year begins. Already I have seen it impact my time and energy. I’m ready to see where the Lord takes me from here!

Posted in Thoughts from Life, What Works for Me

Listening & Obeying

Last week, I introduced the idea of being intentional about my time blocks. But, I’m somewhat saddened by the fact that it took me a while to figure out that the time blocks are not the key component. Time blocks are a great tool, but they do not automatically solve the problem of what to spend my time doing. That is where my relationship with the Lord comes into play. Shocking, I know.

Tools for Listening

God knows what He wants to do through me each day. In my floundering, I neglect – and sometimes refuse – to be a fully surrendered vessel to Him. I believe He uses me anyway, because that is a large component of who He is. He can and does work through those whose hearts are completely hostile to Him (the Bible is replete with examples), so I know He can use me even when I’m not focused. But, oh how much better it is to actively let Him guide each day!

The abstract concept of obedience becomes this in real life practicality: seek and accept God’s guidance for every time block. If I prayerfully ask Him to point me to the task for each time block, He can use it as He wishes.

Restricting God?

Some will say this restricts Him to the clock. The opposite is actually true, at least in my situation. The timer reminds me to stop and seek Him frequently instead of plunging through my day with a meager prayer for guidance in the morning but no real listening to that guidance throughout the day. If I finish a task seven minutes into my time block, I must seek Him for the best way to finish the block. Or, it might be that the 25 minute timer ends, only for Him to say that I need to continue what I’m doing. Or walk away for a few minutes only to come back and continue. Or even to pursue something that takes me away from the time blocks altogether!

The point is not to confine Him, but instead to focus me. I’m not always diligent to use my time blocks, and even when I am, I am not always diligent to seek His plan for each block – or His guidance away from them. But, I cannot begin to express the sense of peace and productivity I feel at the end of a day when I am obedient and diligent to do both!

Room for Growth

In all of this, I realize something that makes my heart ache. I have been a Christian for over three decades, yet I am still so very weak in the discipline of listening to the Holy Spirit’s guidance for every single act of my day. Perhaps that’s why I need the time blocks. Maybe a year from now my story will be very different. But for now, this is where I am. I am determined to be intentional. Not every now and then. Not only when the stress builds and the incomplete list is phenomenally overwhelming. But daily. When the productivity flows on its own and when it falters. When I’m in a good mood and in a bad. When I feel well and energized and when I am barely functioning. Intentional surrender.

I love what this has looked like so far, and I am excited to see where God takes me in the coming year!

What About You?

Finally, I’d love to hear from you. How does the Lord help you intentionally work in obedience through each day?

Posted in Thoughts from Life, What Works for Me

Intentionality

Earlier this year, I wrote about utilizing time blocks to help with my productivity. As I have progressed through the year, I have waffled in the discipline of utilizing those time blocks. But I have also learned something about myself and my productivity from the times I have been diligent to use the time blocks well.

Still Can’t Do It All

When I first determined to set timers, it was so I could progress through my to-do list better. I wanted to get everything done. I wanted to be able to answer the “How do you do it all?” question with, “Well, I use these nifty little time blocks, and…” Instead, I am still stuck with my old answer: I don’t do it all. Some things just get left undone.
My first inclination is to believe that I have failed because I still do not get it all done. I am a completer. A finisher. Incomplete projects leave me frustrated, and sometimes I want to put everything else aside so I can just finish one thing.

Unfortunately, life is a never-ending flow of the incomplete. I will never be done this side of heaven. Accepting that reality has been half of my battle. I have had to become okay with the fact that few things in my life can be completed. The to-do list will never be cleared.

That thought is enough to make me want to throw up my hands, give up the time blocks idea as just another failed attempt at making progress, and decide that I’m just going to be under stress for the rest of my life. But, honestly, that sounds awful. In fact, it sounds downright disobedient to the Savior or commanded me to “be anxious for nothing” (Phil 4:6, NASB).

So, what is the alternative?

I’m learning that intentionality is the real solution, and the time blocks are my best tool to get there.

You see, without time blocks, I flounder all day, putting too much time into this task and too little into another. Wasting a great deal of time staring off into space. Getting distracted. And, ultimately, letting the clock boss me around.

With time blocks, though, I have a focus. Before I start my 25-minute productivity timer, I evaluate what needs to be focused on in that time block. Not what needs to be completed. Just where I need to put my focus. (Just as an example, I might not complete this post in my 25-minute slot, but I’m not doing anything else until I’m either done or my timer dings!)

There is a spiritual side to this too, but that would take another 500+ words to walk through! So, come back next week and we’ll explore part two!

Posted in Around the Web, Repost, Thoughts from Life

Sock Dolls & Homeschool Tradition

Remember the “looking back at old posts” idea from yesterday? Here’s a post that I wrote nearly three years ago for work purposes. The sock dolls aren’t as prominent these days, having given way to other things. But, the traditions birthed from those sock dolls are still growing. This is a precious memory. 

My daughter’s ninth birthday was just around the corner. She loves homemade gifts, but this particular year she had no requests and I had no ideas. So, my husband and I made plans to purchase a gift or two instead of making something. Suddenly, inspiration struck! Two mere weeks before her birthday, my precious child decided all she wanted for her birthday was a homemade sock doll.

To this day I have no idea where she got the sock doll idea. I wonder if she even knows! I began to interrogate her, trying to determine where she had seen or heard of the idea, but she would just shrug and say the thought popped into her head. I dug deeper, hoping to determine just what sock doll image she carried in her mind so I could attempt to create what she was envisioning. A doll made out of socks seemed to be her only criteria.

After finally remembering a sock doll pattern book my mother-in-law had passed on to me some time before, I set to work. Pressed for time and lacking in confidence, I prayed I could create something that would make my daughter smile. By the time the big day rolled around, a nightgown, two dresses, and a brown-haired, green-eyed sock doll named Susan were wrapped and ready for my brown-haired, green-eyed birthday girl.

Not Just A Doll…

I never would have imagined the tradition that sock doll request would become.

Hardly a birthday or Christmas passes without at least one more doll joining the family. A year after Susan’s arrival, William graced my daughter’s tenth birthday celebration. Ella joined the sock doll family a few months later when my daughter decided that her little sister needed a doll of her own. William and Susan now have a son named George, and Ella met Oliver this past Christmas. My son, who was given a blue-eyed chef named Han for Christmas, is helping me assemble a little sister for George. I believe my middle child has created a sock bunny, and both George’s little sister and the sock bunny will soon be wrapped up and presented to my oldest for her twelfth birthday.

When I first started homeschooling, I mourned my inability to establish homeschool traditions.

I hate paper crafts, and I never could get my act together early enough to plan the perfect food celebration for every holiday. I felt like a failure because holidays such as President’s Day and Valentine’s Day would pass by without an educational, yet celebratory, plan. An old school year would simply end with little fanfare, and a new one would begin in much the same way.

…A New Tradition

Only after the sock dolls began multiplying with great rapidity did I realize that our family really is creating homeschool traditions. We usually forget to work in thankfulness activities all through November, put out the perfect Valentine’s display, or welcome Easter with reminder-filled baked goods. But we do not forget to line up the sock dolls and their stuffed companions to help recreate the first Christmas. We always remember to pull out a favorite book in March to make sure the stuffed menagerie knows the story behind St. Patrick’s Day. Napoleon the Penguin preaches stuffy church every Sunday, and Alf the Calf has performed at least one sock doll wedding in full-fledged Impressive Clergyman fashion.

I no longer mourn the holidays and events that pass us by without the typical homeschool crafts and foods.

A cheap bag of men’s tube socks, some fiberfill, and a supply of fabric scraps might not seem like much for other families, but for us they symbolize surprising tradition in the form of pilgrim and Indian sock dolls retelling the story of the first Thanksgiving. That, my friends, is tradition enough for me!

This article was originally written for Home Educating Family’s blog, now WellPlannedGal.com.

Posted in Thoughts from Life, What Works for Me

Looking Back

I forget things. Quite easily, in fact. So, I need a lot of reminders. That’s part of why I started blogging – as a sort of online scrapbook for family events and online journal for thoughts I’ve processed and lessons I’ve learned. Sometimes I look back just to remember the sweet things I’ve experienced.

Other times I need to look back in order to progress forward. Old ideas and experience spur new ones. Tips I shared at a time when things were going smoothly for me (at least in that one area!) help me get over humps when my own road is not so smooth.

I also need to look back sometimes to see how far I’ve come. Recently, I went back and reread some of my earliest blog posts. Wow! There are some I’m tempted to unpublish! But, they remind me of how much I have learned. How practice does bring improvement – at least, I hope I’ve improved!

Finally, looking back motivates me to start new things. It reminds me that, once upon a time, I got started on something that is now a natural part of life. I have several things on my “want to accomplish eventually” list, and right now they seem to be rather daunting. But, so was blogging, once upon a time. So was knitting. Teaching. Editing. Homeschooling. Some of them are still daunting. But, I’m doing them, and they have become a part of normal life – because at some point along the way, I just started.

So, I choose to look back.

My sweet husband handed me a couple of sheets of paper this week. They are all about looking back in order to progress forward. They guide me through finding the good things that happened over the course of 2016. They are helping me look back.

And by taking the time to look back, my hope is that I will be spurred to progress, improve, and begin in 2017.
What helps you move forward?