Posted in Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Others

Unlocking the Puzzle

As I sit down to write this, my son and I just finished working on a puzzle together. I never ceased to be amazed by the power of one little puzzle piece. One instant nothing seems to go together. Then one piece finds its place, and suddenly huge blocks of puzzle pieces find their home as well.

Puzzles are such great pictures of real life. Sometimes all we need is one little piece to unlock the roadblock we struggle to get past.

I experienced that just this week. On Monday I was given a work project. Tuesday morning I asked Doug to pray with me that all of the pieces would fall together. He smiled and immediately came up with a fun, alliterated outline. Suddenly, the wheels of my mind started turning. I very quickly had a picture of how the whole project could work. I knew exactly what help I needed from the rest of the web team – and I knew how to ask them for it! One little list unlocked a flow of creativity.

I have experienced many situations where I have tried and tried to understand something. Or I have tried to get the creative juices flowing. Or I have tried to come up with a solution. All of my efforts always produce nothing. Every single time. Somewhere out there is the key…that missing puzzle piece that I need to help it all make sense. But I can’t find it on my own.

God designed it that way. If I could find the key on my own, I would easily convince myself that I don’t need Him. He knows better. And hiding the key is one way He can get that truth through my thick skull.

How do I know this? Because when I ask Him for that missing piece, He gives it to me. Every single time. Sometimes it’s immediate, like yesterday. Other times it takes a bit more patience. But He always gives it.

What puzzles are just not fitting together for you right now? Can you share? I’d love to pray with you that God will give you that missing piece, the key to unlock your puzzle!

Posted in Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Others

Make a Plan!

Later this week I will be reviewing the book that currently lives on my night stand. But the book has spurred a thought that will not really fit into the review. So, you get it now!

Each chapter of this book ends with an assessment and a series of questions. The assessment works like the standard personality test, guiding readers to evaluate their current relationship status on a number scale. The questions take that information, combine it with principles presented in the chapter, and encourage the reader to make a definite plan. A closing prayer cements the plan.

Reading the book has opened my eyes to a truth about myself. I take in some great information. I ponder it, marveling at its profound nature. And, I truly do desire to implement what I learn. But I frequently miss one important step.

I fail to make a plan.

Ironically, I am a planner. I hate going into anything without a plan of some sort. I want to know what each step will entail so I can know what to expect and balance my time along the way. That’s just the way I work.

What I have realized, though, is that I only plan when a deadline is involved. If it is something open-ended like incorporating new truths into my life, I often do not even think about making a plan. I guess I expect it to just seep into my life.

May I share a little secret? It doesn’t work that way!

Nothing just happens to seep into our hearts and minds. Habits do not form accidentally. Lifestyles do not change randomly. There must be a driving force behind a developing life. There must be a plan.

So, what are the steps to making a plan?

  1. Pray. What a critical first step! If we do not start here, we plan and act without guidance. Oh how wasteful our effort is if we do not have a desperate need for the Lord’s guidance through the process!

  2. Evaluate. It’s easy to miss where we are right now. Often, we are not doing as well as we think. Sometimes, though, we might surprise ourselves with the realization that we are doing more things right than we thought! But we know that there is still a problem. There is still room for improvement, and an honest evaluation of where we are shows exactly what areas need focused attention.

  3. Focus on specific areas of improvement. We cannot do it all overnight. We cannot even do it all together over the course of several months. We have to narrow down the most important steps to take next. What are two or three specific areas that need work right now? What has challenged us the most? Let’s identify those and tackle them first.

  4. Make a plan. What are two or three actions we can take right now to work in those areas we’ve identified? What is one habit we can change? What is a thought pattern we should attack? Identifying the problem is only a portion of the battle. The rest comes when we actually create and implement a plan of attack. We must be intentional.

  5. Make a commitment. There have been times I have identified problems, worked out a plan, and had grand designs for getting the plan accomplished. But I have skipped another important step. I have not shared my plan. “It’s between me and the Lord,” I have piously told myself. But in truth I haven’t even really consulted Him. I skipped step one. So at step five I have no interest in accountability. But oh how desperately we need accountability! The prayer of commitment should be two-fold. 1) It begins with a prayer, both of thanksgiving for the teaching and of repentance over past behavior. 2) We then move on to a request for guidance. This is where we ask that the Lord provide every tool and resource we need to complete the plan He has guided us to create.

And now, it’s time to act. But oh how much easier it will be to act now that we are not just hoping that these new lessons will fall into place. We have a plan!

Posted in Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Others

Seasons

Life has so many seasons. Some are seasons shared by those of us in community with one another. Others are personal.

When my oldest was a baby, I entered a season of digital photography. I loved taking pictures of my baby girl and then doing anything and everything with those pictures. I started making photo calendars as Christmas presents, and that tradition is still going even now.

Yet I have moved out of my great digital photography season. The camera does not come out nearly as often. The file folders that once were so meticulously organized are now relatively unattended. Even though I still happily create the calendars, I do not spend hours on digital editing. I take a much simpler approach nowadays.

My writing walks through various seasons as well. Sometimes my journaling is long and daily. In other seasons, I do well to scrawl a few sentences several times a week. In some seasons my blogs stay much more active than in others. Sometimes my focus is more on family and what I learn through interactions with my children. Other times the thoughts come more from Scripture or from interactions with other people.

My reading interests go through seasons, as do my sewing desires. Sometimes I want to read nothing but historical fiction and sit at the sewing machine. In other seasons a parenting book and some knitting needles are more what I crave.

Those are all shallow examples, but I think you get the point. Seasons come and seasons go. Some repeat themselves while others come once and then are gone forever.

Something I’ve realized, though, is that the seasons are all important.

Years ago I was browsing on the website of a Christian rock band I enjoy. They had just released their long-awaited sophomore album, but I was seeking information from an earlier season. Instead, I found criticism of that old season. They called it immature and claimed that they had grown greatly since their first album.

Ironically, I enjoyed their first album much more than their second. It saddened me that they had not only moved on from that earlier season of life but had also rejected it as immature. They missed the reality of the foundation the first album gave them. They were overlooking the value of that season in their lives.

Fortunately, they later returned to that foundation and built upon it as they continued their career. As a fan of their music, I’m thankful for that return. But, I’m also thankful for their temporary distraction. Without that distraction, I never would have read their thoughts and been disturbed by them. Without that sense of disturbance, I might never have stopped to truly contemplate the value of all seasons. I, too, might have been quick to reject certain seasons of my life.

As I look back over the seasons of my life, I smile at some and blush over others. There are always things I feel I could have handled better. There are mistakes I’d rather not have made. But all of those seasons contribute to who I am today. They have had an impact on the relationships I enjoy with my Savior, my family, and all with whom I come in contact.

I am thankful for every season. May the same be said of yours.

Posted in Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Others

Formula or Relationship?

I like checklists. But sometimes checklists are the exact opposite of what I need.

Checklists make me think that everything is urgent. I must stay focused to mark off those little boxes. And what if I don’t? Have I failed?

That mentality often affects my prayer life as well. Have I said the right things? Have I worked through my prayer list correctly? What if I am not doing it the right way? Will God still hear me? What if I leave something out? Can my prayer list really cover everything that needs to be covered?

So, I go back to Scripture and I see a wonderful formula in the Lord’s Prayer. If I just follow that formula, it will all be okay, right?

But then I realize that I’m just repeating words. Am I really praying? Or am I just right back at the beginning, wondering if I’ve really done this things correctly?

Recently I read a devotional by Spurgeon dealing with the spirit behind the Lord’s Prayer. It was like a breath of fresh air. It’s not about right or wrong – it’s about how our prayers move us into the right attitude as we stand before the throne of God.

  • a frame of mind to recognize His holiness

  • surrender to His will, recognizing that furthering His kingdom is of utmost importance

  • recognition of His provision, putting aside worry and anxiety as we rest in that knowledge

  • recognition of our sin and need for His forgiveness

  • a right consideration of, acknowledging that they, too, need forgiveness

  • a vision of the reality that He is our deliverer and that He holds all power and authority

All of these things put us in a frame of mind to interact relationally and submissively in prayer to an Almighty God. It’s not about the formula. It’s never about the formula. It’s about the relational interaction.

I will never truly grow in Christ until I surrender my formulas. I will simply go through motions that result in systematic action rather than heart interaction. I choose instead to step into an active relationship with Him. When I do, my prayers will never be wrong.

Posted in Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Others

Do They Know?

Last Thursday we returned to our alma mater for a one-day conference. This conference is held every year for pastors, and I get the privilege of joining my husband for some fantastic teaching. It’s such a nourishing time. Every year we leave with our heads and hearts full of teaching, encouragement, and renewed passion. Almost before we walk out the door, the date is reserved on our calendars for the next year. There are several things we look forward to every year, but not much tops this particular day.

But, it’s about more than just the training. It’s about the mentoring. I graduated over fifteen years ago. My last religion course was first semester of my senior year. Yet these professors still know me by name. Their secretary, the precious and amazing lady who makes this conference possible, was my Sunday school teacher 19 years ago. All of them still invest in my husband and me. They greet us with enthusiastic strides across a room to say hello, check on us, and give us hugs.

I can spin that thought around and think of other people who have crossed our paths over the years. The youth we have led. The couples we have mentored and encouraged. The church members in whose lives we have invested. Oh how I love hearing from them! How I love knowing where they are now and participating in their lives. I might not be close enough for daily involvement anymore, but it’s so rewarding and encouraging to see God working through those with whom we’ve been allowed to mingle over the years.

There is a key to all of this, though. That key is keeping in touch. Think back to the people who have mentored you over the years, whether formally or informally. Do they know where you are today? Have you talked to them recently? Do they have any idea what God is doing in your life right now?

Allow me to let you in on a little secret: They want to!

Mentors come and go. They fill our lives for a time, and then that time passes. In today’s transient society, few of us truly have the opportunity to stay near everyone who has invested in us throughout the course of our lives. But, that does not mean we have to completely walk away.

As I type this, I cannot help but think of the various people who have invested in me over the years. Older mentors. Peers. Church members. Church leaders. Family friends. The list grows in my mind with name after name after name. I smile as I think of them. I want them to know about that smile.

What about your mentors? Do they know? Do they know where you are today? Do they know what they’ve meant to you over the years? Do they know the fruit of their investment?

Our former professors and Sunday school teacher thanked us for attending the annual pastor’s conference. They thanked us! Here we were overwhelmed with gratitude for the effort they put into hosting the conference every year and continuing to invest in us, and yet they were the ones thanking us for coming.

Yet I can understand that. When someone I’ve invested in seeks me out to ask for prayer or ask my opinion or just to say hi, my joy overflows. I love it! My gratitude knows no bounds.

What about your mentors. Do they know? I’m willing to be they want to. Look one of them up today, just to say hi. Believe me, you’ll be glad you did.

Posted in Thoughts from Others, Thoughts from Scripture

Decisions

There are certain verses in Scripture for which, in all honesty, we need no context. The whole of Scripture is their context. The knowledge of God’s character is their context. If we are familiar with those things, we really need not know what else is going on specifically in the surrounding verses. Zechariah 6:15 is one of those verses, especially the last part.

“Those who are far off will come and build the temple of the Lord.” Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. And it will take place if you completely obey the Lord your God. Zechariah 6:15 (emphasis mine)

I struggle with decision making. I want to know beforehand, with absolutely certainty, that something will work out. What if I make the wrong decision? What if I’m not hearing from the Lord correctly? Ultimately, though, the pros and cons are not what I need to consider when making a decision. Obedience is. And if I step out in obedience, He will take care of the consequences. They might not be pretty consequences. But, they will be blessed if I walk in obedience, and I will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my choice has been based in obedience to the Lord my God!

There is a song by Smalltown Poets that I just love. It’s probably my favorite of their songs, and it deals with this very issue. The song is called “Hold It Up to the Light,” and one particular stanza affects me most strongly:

I was dead with decided, afraid to choose

I was mourning the loss of the choices I’d lose

But there’s no choice at all if I don’t make my move

And trust that the timing is right

I will hold it up, hold it up to the light

If you do look at the context of the verse from Zechariah, you will see that God is sending messages to the exiles. Their whole world fell apart when Jerusalem was taken and the children of God were hauled into exile. Slowly, they are beginning to come back around to their God. Slowly, they are learning that their exile is the direct result of generations of sin and unfaithfulness.

Now, a man stands before them, claiming to have a word from God. He’s a prophet, and some strange things have come out of his mouth. Yet he has given them instructions that he declares to be from the Lord their God. They have a decision to make. Will they step out and follow the instructions? Or will they continue to walk in disobedience? Ultimately, only after they step out in obedience to His commands will they receive confirmation and see the promises of God fulfilled. And some of the fulfillment will be seen by future generations, not by themselves. But first, before anyone sees anything from the hand of God, they have to obey.

I want to make sure I have heard from the Lord. But, I cannot allow my indecisive nature to prevent me from walking in obedience. I will obey. I will step out. And He will take care of the rest.

Click here for the rest of the lyrics to “Hold It Up to the Light.”

And here’s the song, if you’re interested:

Posted in Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Others

Thoughts on Cooking & Writing

I am a competent cook. I can follow a recipe and create a meal my family truly enjoys. In fact, I can create meals that people outside my family enjoy as well. At least, that’s what I’m told.

Then there’s my husband. For him, a recipe is only an idea. He glances at recipes to understand typical cooking times and ratios, and then he takes off on his own. And let me tell you, my husband can cook! Wow!

My husband and I see food preparation very differently. We can think of the exact same menu, but the preparation and presentation of said menu will vary greatly depending on which of us is cooking. For example, last night for supper Doug made us peanut butter and banana toast. Now, I enjoy PNB and banana. But when I make it, it looks like this:

Pop a piece of bread in the toaster. When it is nicely toasted, spread peanut butter on top. Slice a banana and press the slices into the peanut butter. Enjoy.

When Doug made it last night, it was mouth-wateringly different! He pan-grilled two pieces of bread. Then he plated the bread and spooned some peanut butter into the warm skillet. Once that had softened nicely, he stirred in very thinly sliced pieces of banana and warmed them ever so slightly. He spooned this mixture onto the pieces of bread, and then topped the whole thing with a room temperature honey-sweetened peanut butter mixture.

That’s just one simple example of the differences between our cooking. Needless to say, I love it when he cooks. I don’t enjoy cooking all that much anyway. It’s just a chore to me. But he thoroughly enjoys the experience of creating in the kitchen.

Of course, I have my own passions. For example, we’re both writers. And he’s a fantastic writer! But, he enjoys writing because it provides him an outlet for sharing his thoughts. I, on the other hand, truly love words. I love how they fit together. I enjoy the relaxed feeling of just writing whatever comes to my mind for this blog, but I also crave the challenge of making words and grammar work beautifully together for my editing job. There’s something thrilling about learning the rules and then discovering ways to break them.

My husband and I both have similar skills. The difference lies in our vision. We see the implementation of our skills differently. I see cooking as a practical necessity for keeping my family filled. He sees it as an outlet for his creativity and a way to unwind and relax. He sees writing as a way to communicate thoughts that come to his mind but don’t fit anywhere in his role as pastor. I am fueled and energized by writing and working with words.

There are always things we need to accomplish for practical reasons. But how many of us truly stop and let God show us the things He created us to enjoy? I think we are perhaps afraid that we’re being poor stewards of our time if we pursue things we actually enjoy. That’s supposed to be only for vacation or weekends, right? We can’t possibly indulge in such frivolity on a regular basis!

Oh yes, we can! And we should! God Himself created us with those passions. He built them into the core of our beings for the purpose of accomplishing His will. When we ignore those passions, we wear ourselves out with work that brings no joy. When we let Him work through those passions, we are energized to face every aspect of this walk of life. Oh what delight!

What can God do through your passions today?

Posted in Thoughts from Others, Thoughts from School

Homeschool Growth

A thought hit me this morning as I washed the dishes before school: Homeschooling has taught me much about spiritual growth. As I look back over six and a half years of homeschooling, I find it quite amazing how the learning curves parallel. Yet, I don’t always pay attention to the spiritual side of the lessons that are so obvious on the homeschool side. Today, though, I paid attention. Will you allow me to share a few of the thoughts that passed through my mind?

Three Spiritual Realities Homeschooling Has Taught Me

Learning is a long, slow process.

My wonderful husband preached on this yesterday, and my mind mulled over it this morning. When my children first learned to read, it was a slow, painstaking process. Well, for two of them, at least. They learned their letters quickly, but had to work hard to discover what it meant to combine those letters into sounds and then words. My middle child, on the other hand, had no such difficulty. About a month before her fifth birthday I knew she was ready to begin the process. So, we started learning letter sounds. Within four months the child was reading on a fifth grade level. I couldn’t keep up with her! But, where her siblings struggled with the mechanics of reading, she struggled with comprehension. Words never stopped her. Meanings, however, did. All three of them had to work to learn to read. And they are still working to continually strengthen their reading muscles and advance their abilities.

Meanwhile, there is an incredibly beautiful lady at church, one I consider a spiritual giant. She has seen her children and grandchildren to adulthood and is now delighting in beautiful great-grandchildren. She has been a Christian for decades. Yet still she visibly grows. Her heart and mind are curious, hungering, and constantly reaching. Just as my children slowly learn the concept of reading, she, and other spiritual giants like her, are still slowly learning spiritual truths that will more greatly conform them to the likeness of Christ. Slowly. Steadily.

No one can know everything at once.

This might seem like a repeat of the first point, but it really is different. It’s easy to look at the vast amount of information out there and want to dump it all in my children’s heads right now! As my seventh grader starts pre-algebra, a calculus lecture from her father will be incredibly overwhelming for her.

That example seems obvious, I’m sure. Yet how often do we despair because we lack a solid grasp on the entirety of what it means to be a Christian? I remember a conversation with a newly saved young mom. The enormity of all she did not know weighed heavily upon her, leaving her in tears of frustration. Relief washed over her as we discussed taking small bites of Scripture and focusing on what the Lord was teaching her right then. Just as my seventh grader should only be expected to focus on pre-algebra, building on the math she learned throughout her elementary years, so we need only focus on the foundation we have established and the truths God is placing before us right now.

I am not teaching information.

When I tell people I homeschool, one of the most frequent responses I hear is, “I could never do that! I’m not smart enough! I don’t know enough to teach my children.” My response? Neither do I! When I first began homeschooling, I felt I had to know information before I could teach it to my children. I’ve since learned differently. My job is not to feed knowledge to them. My job is to build within them a passion for learning. All three of my precious students caught the learning bug at a very young age. They hunger for it. They crave it. They seek out and heartily embrace opportunities to learn new things. It matters little what I know. I must simply teach them how to satisfy their hunger for learning. I guide them to the appropriate resources, often learning right alongside them. What a joy such learning is!

At church I teach youth girls. Several of these girls have been raised in church, yet they seem to have very little familiarity with the Bible and its contents. Why? It’s not because they haven’t been taught – I know they have! It’s more that they’ve never caught a passion for the things of God. They’ve never discovered the joy of hungering after His Word. I can’t force that onto them. None of their teachers can. But we can live it in front of them! We can exhibit such a passion of our own that they desire what we have! It’s not an easy thing to communicate to teenagers who think learning is uncool. As I walk through the Bible with them, I hunger and pray that my excitement will be contagious. I don’t want to just give them information about the Bible. I want them to catch a hunger for it!

Yes, homeschooling has taught me much about science and history and many other things. But, it has also strengthened me spiritual. What a joy that God can grow me through every aspect of my service to Him!

Posted in Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Others

Rest & Work

Do you ever have days that simply fly by with little or no rest? Maybe it’s not just days – maybe it stretches into the whole week.

This week has been non-stop from start to finish. We started our new homeschool year on Monday. I have had to try to learn how to balance school and work for the first time. We have had obligations and activities just about every night this week, and I’ve had more work meetings than usual. It’s been a good week. A very good week. But a full one as well.

There has been almost no down time.

I saw a quote yesterday. I don’t remember where I saw the quote, who it was from, or what the exact wording was. But, the idea was something along the lines of this: rest gives birth to our creativity. Without rest, we have no opportunity to be creative.

Oh how true! My heart and mind have been so task driven this week that I have not even been able to think creatively! No blog posts have roamed around in my head. Even attending Bernina Club yesterday with all of the great Christmas ideas and patterns did not stir me out of my “check the box of this activity” mentality like it usually does. I came home with a bag of practicals – things I went in knowing I was going to need. I snapped a few pictures of project ideas, knowing I could come back to those ideas later when I was in a more creative mode. Then I just walked away.

No rest stifles creativity.

I’m realizing two things about this.

First, I must be intentional about working rest into each and every week. If possible, I need a little of it each day as well! But, definitely each week. This is not a new concept. It’s been around since the creation of the universe. God made us all that way. Will I obey Him and ensure that rest in Him happens?

Secondly, however, I need to realize that it’s not all about rest. Sometimes the best way to train the mind to focus its creativity in the right direction is to be busy with a good work. Be focused. Not allow our creativity to take us directions we do not need to go.

Oh how careful we must be with this, however! Careful to surrender all our plans to the Lord and accomplish what He lays before us instead of what we think we must do. Careful to not block out the voice of the Lord in our busyness, but to hear Him each step of the way. Careful to ensure that our busyness does not shut out relationships. But when we are careful and obedient in our busyness, we will find that God’s will is accomplished through us and our times of rest in Him are even more beautiful than ever!

This has been a full, but good, week. Today I still have far to go before I rest tonight, side by side with my wonderful husband. Work will be demanded tomorrow as we prepare for a new week. But, this week has been bathed in prayer. Every moment of anxiety has been lifted up to the Savior. Every task that remains before me has been surrendered to His ultimate authority. And in brief moments of rest this morning, He has directed my thoughts to creativity that honors Himself.

Yes, rest breeds creativity. Obedient work breeds productivity. And submission to Him grants the perfect balance of the two. That, my friends, is where I desire to live.

Posted in Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Others

Panic!

Ah, I’m chuckling as I watch those chickens panic!

If you’ve never seen Chicken Run, you’re missing a treat. The owners of a chicken farm are “sick and tired of miniscule profits” that come from simply selling eggs. So, they decide to switch to a more profitable version of chicken farming. The chickens, however, are not nearly as keen on the idea. They seem to think egg-laying is a little less hazardous to their health than being used for chicken pie filling. I’m inclined to agree!

A couple of the hens are bound and determined to think logically through the problem and find a way to escape certain death. The rest of them? Well, just click on the video above for a reminder of their reaction!

I love Chicken Run because it serves as a great reminder. My first reaction to times of stress is to panic. I’m overwhelmed! There’s no way out! I can’t do this! We’re all going to die!!!!!

I’m a worrier by nature. I wish I could just be laid back and have a “hakuna matata” nature (yep, I’m in the mood for quoting children’s movies today, it seems!), but that’s just not me. I’m a “now is the perfect time to panic!” kind of person.

But I’m learning a better way. I’m learning to stop and breathe. To take in the truth of my situation. Sometimes it really is as bad as it looks at first glance, but stopping to breathe takes my focus off the situation and puts it where it belongs – on my Savior. Other times, the changed focus really does help me get a handle on reality and see that things are not nearly as overwhelming as I make them out to be.

Do you need to breathe today? Allow me to offer a few suggestions.

  1. Watch the chickens. Yep, again. Go ahead – you know you want to chuckle!

  2. As you take a deep breath, pray for God’s perspective. Pray that He will overcome your desire to panic with a feeling of rest in Him.

  3. Take stock of the reality of your situation and lay it at His feet. Ask for His wisdom and discernment. Ask Him to show you if anything is standing in the way of finding peace and rest in Him no matter the circumstances.

  4. ACT!!! Take that first step of faith, plodding your way through whatever is before you as if the victory has already been won.

Your moment of panic might be something huge and unexpected. Or it could simply be the normal day in and day out process of life. Either way, go ahead and scream if you need to, and then be ready to receive His peace. He’s ready to give it!