Take a Day Off

8557B35C-E8DC-4DD6-909D-BA8AB4037F64As the year draws to a close, it’s time to take some time off. It’s time to reflect on what needs changing or improving; to savor these last few weeks of a year that will never come again; to memorize the details of your loved ones faces and voices before they grow older. It’s Time to take a day off:

-from worrying so you can pray instead

-from fear so you can watch God work

-from negative thoughts so you can see the good in life and others once more

-from self so you can be filled with love for those around you

-from routine so that you have time to play

-from stress so you can see what really matters

-from busy so you can be still and know that He is God

There are days when you just need to stop for a while. Is today that day for you?

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Worth the Time and Energy

Have you every considered your time and energy as currencies? I have viewed my time in that light but now am beginning to consider my energy supply as equally valuable. In fact, I think these two resources are linked. If I am being a discerning steward of my time then most likely my energy is being equally conserved; if I am being flippant with the minutes and hours entrusted to me then most likely my energy supply will be quickly depleted.

In my younger years, when there was only me depending on me, both my time and energy seemed abundant. I could commit myself to anyone and anything that piqued my interest as long as it didn’t interfere with work and school commitments. On the off chance that I overextended myself, well, I just had to live and learn a little. It’s not so simple now.  With small children and a hard-working husband, any time commitment or energy demand has a direct impact on everybody connected to me.  Any added task will affect my ability to fulfill the daily responsibilities that are non-negotiable. For example, a late night will make it more of a struggle to rise early the next morning which will leave me feeling frazzled as I strive to complete everything that must be done before lunch. However, when a late night is necessary I need to make the appropriate adjustments to the following day’s agenda to allow for less energy. This type of preparation can avert much frustration and stress just like adjusting the budget to cover unexpected expenses does as well.

As this year draws to a close, many of us are probably reflecting on what worked and what didn’t in our striving to live faithfully. Maybe we are making mental notes on how we want to improve in the new year or maybe we are jotting them down on a notepad. Personally, I am taking inventory of my energy supply and the hours that I have to use it. I want to align my priorities with the resources I have to fulfill them. All too often I squander my day in pursuits that may be good but simply are not worth the corners cut along the way. I hope to lessen this occurrence in the new year by clarifying my priorities and outlining how much of my time and energy should be allotted to each of them.  We can’t make it through a single day without time and energy. How are you spending yours?

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‘Tis the Season to be Grateful

My journey towards contentment has led me to dwell more on gratitude than is my tendency. I find it is my default to notice the less than desirable in life rather than what is good. I would venture to say that the majority of us identify more with Scrooge than Pollyanna when reacting to life. In fact, the Pollyannas in our life probably receive eye rolls from us more than pats on the back. However, it takes courage to be grateful when you’re struggling.

Not too long ago I was trudging through a particularly difficult few days – the “life is throwing me lemons” kind of weekend.  My reaction of preference was to throw myself a big pity party which got me to thinking about lemonade. “I suppose I should try to glean something good out of this rough patch; I’ve obviously been handed lemons so maybe I should make some lemonade. Lemonade doesn’t last too long, though,” I reasoned. I was working in my little tomato garden and that got me to thinking about seeds. “Seeds get thrown into dirt, not lush grass. They need something seemingly barren in order to take root and grow. I’m going to view this difficult time as life handing me a packet of seeds. Seeds take root, grow and produce lasting fruit.”  As I focused on all of the different “seeds” I could plant from pain and struggle, I noticed my outlook beginning to take a 180.  I could no longer be completely downtrodden in my circumstances; gratitude was replacing my discouragement.

My family and I are going to be making thankful lists to share around the Thanksgiving feast next week. These lists are going to be dated and filed away and added to through the years. We want to chronicle the cornucopia of blessings that God is faithfully pouring over us throughout our lifetime – some wrapped colorfully and delivered with joy; others more subtle and hidden within pain and tears.  I am discovering that the source of lasting contentment is gratitude to my Heavenly Father for everything He allows to enter or leave my life.

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Devotional Thoughts From Today

Over the past few weeks I have been intentionally carving out time in the morning to read a bit in my Bible and journal the thoughts that come from said reading. I am working my way through Paul’s epistles and no reading has left me lacking in thoughts to write down. This morning’s passage was especially convicting and inspiring to me. Here are the highlights from my reading of Colossians 3:1-17:

  • “Set your heart on things above…” My heart is where the desires that motivate my life are generated. My desires must be set on God and what matters to Him rather than on myself and what matters to me.
  • “Set your mind on things above…” Prior to today I had failed to notice the differentiation made between the heart and mind. Why do both have to be set on the things above? Because the heart follows the mind’s lead. The heart will desire that upon which thoughts dwell the most. I need to carefully select the food that nourishes my thoughts.
  • “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach…as you sing psalms, hymns…with gratitude in your hearts…” These particular phrases resonated with me as a mom and a teacher. Desiring to fill my children’s hearts and minds with God’s truth is encouraging me to do the same with mine. I am soaking up Scripture so that I can teach it to them. I have also found that there is no better tool to do so than filling our ears with beautiful psalms and hymns and praise songs which in turn saturate our soul with truth and beauty.  How can one not be grateful to God for Who He is and all He is done when living in such an uplifting environment of joy and praise?
  • “And whatever you do…do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…” This verse strikes to the very core of my heart because it holds me accountable for the motivation behind my words and deeds. This is a command, not a suggestion: DO ALL IN THE NAME OF JESUS. Can I gossip, complain, argue, backbite, lose my temper, indulge in laziness, etc. in the name of Jesus? Of course not! I must live every moment with scrutiny and deliberation while asking myself, “Is it Name-worthy?”

Such a short passage and yet it is brimming with life-changing truth and accountability. Reading Scripture and writing about it  equip me to retain the Bible in my mind so that I can meditate upon it throughout the day. I encourage you to do the same. It will change your life!

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Content in the Mess

Mess is not my favorite thing; in fact, it is something that I actively seek to avoid. My kids must hear me say, “Don’t make a mess” or “Don’t do that! It will make a mess!” at least a dozen times every day.  However, clutter, spills, dust and pet residue are not the only messes I clean up every day. ‘Messy’ is one of my favorite adjectives for life because it neatly sums up the unfinished to-do list, the rearranged schedule, the misunderstandings in relationships, the stuttered conversations and the scrambled emotions of my regular weeks. ‘Mess,’ ‘messy,’ and ‘messier’ are frequent guests in my home these days,  but they are rarely welcome ones.

Contentment, for me, is the opposite of messy.  When I think of being content, I think of myself relaxing with a glass of tea or iced coffee, my feet up and a good book in hand while I survey my sparkling home, my completed to-do list and my napping children.  Contentment is a long-term vision in my mind. It is something that I am working towards and plan to achieve when all of my ducks are in a row, all of my wrinkles are smoothed out and all of my weaknesses have been transformed into strengths. My mental reflex is to assume I’ll be content when I have that last home item purchased, my wardrobe fitted exactly to my taste and my kids are only playing with handmade toys. The catch, unfortunately, lies in the chase. I am pursuing contentment and therefore it will always elude my grasp.  Contentment cannot be obtained; it must be learned.

The thought recently occurred to me that contentment is not a human quality; it is a spiritual one. It can only come when I am less affected by circumstances and more aware of what is lasting. If I can manage my expectations for daily living in such a way that I can accept that mess happens (a lived-in home, unpredictable kids, unfinished lists, upturned plans, etc.), my heart will remain peaceful and so will my demeanor. The joy and peace which come from being content are more lasting than the satisfaction I feel from getting what I want. In the biblical book of Philippians, chapter four, the Apostle Paul declared that he had learned to be content in whatever circumstance he found himself.  What was his secret? Only this: finding strength in Christ.

You see, I become dissatisfied with life when it leaves me wanting something more or something different. I am weak with the wanting. But if I learn to experience Christ’s strength sustaining me through the trial of want (or need), I will discover peace and contentment.  Practically speaking, what changes am I implementing as I learn contentment? Rejoicing in what I do have rather than groaning about what is not mine. Purposefully recognizing how I am growing in strength and character as I endure hardship. Replying with gentle tones to difficult circumstances when I would rather cry or yell. Resurrecting buried dreams and desires and making time to live them.

The truth is that mess can be a beautiful thing if it reminds you of your priorities. It can be a pathway to better things, in fact, when schedules have to be unexpectedly rearranged or time has to be taken to rest and relax. I do know that the tone in my home has changed for the better since I have embraced learning to be content in the mess.

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Aren’t you glad you’re alive? I mean really ALIVE! Think about it for a moment: if you breathe in deeply right now, what fragrances drift through your nostrils? Turn your head and slowly scan your gaze all around you. How many details are your eyes absorbing? And when was the last time you dug your fingers deep into rich soil to plant a seed or when did they reach out and gently stroke the soft petal of a rose? Have you run through the sprinklers and then laughed your heart out? Didn’t that feel incredibly good,  to the very depths of your soul? What did you eat for lunch today? Did you taste every unique flavor and then savor the flavors blended together in your mouth? Aren’t you glad you’re alive?

Think about the year: the seasons, the holidays and festivities, the week and the tradition of the weekend, the months and the memories that come with them – some good and some painful. These are all a given part of being human, being a member of society, being alive. They are things that are easily taken for granted because they are as routine as breathing – oh yeah, breathing! What a miracle that is! Hold your breath and you are suddenly aware of the fragility of your existence, yet we breathe without even thinking about it. Incredible, isn’t it, how many things we do and experience without giving them a second thought. Taking in the glorious blue of the sky, the sparkle of dew drops on green leaves, the sounds of birds chattering about the new day, the flood of colors that surround the outdoors we walk through to get from point A to point B.  These are all beautiful backdrops to the center stage of stress, anxiety, fatigue, anger, frustration and rushing, rushing, rushing. All of those negative characters that make us consider wishing we weren’t alive.

Stop, breathe deeply and place your hand over your heart: not as a pledge to flag and country but as a pledge to life. It’s time for the backdrops, the soundtracks and the lighting to sweep you off your feet and put you back on the stage; the stage that was all yours when you were a kid and knew how amazing life is – pure and simple. Be alive today!

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This Mom’s Thoughts on Halloween

To be perfectly honest, I’ve never been a fan of Halloween. I have never liked horror movies; I don’t see the point in feeding kids a TON of candy that was given to them by strangers; I prefer fluffy kittens and harvest decorations to scary carved pumpkins and blood dripping from someone’s jaw. But I could deal with it, tune it out and go on with my life. It’s not so easy to do that now.

You see, now I have a three-year old son who has such a sensitive imagination that he has a frequently recurring nightmare of a giant red M&M who is coming to eat him. I have a two-year old daughter who is terrified of every tiny bug that manages to squeeze into the house. They have these fears despite the fact that their media and social environments are carefully and intentionally filtered by my husband and me.  These fears of theirs have caused me to be even more alert to what their senses are being exposed. This is also due to the fact that their little brains truly are little sponges and virtually nothing escapes their attention. My son will recall to the minutest detail a story we read ONCE nearly two months ago! Would I then be naive enough to think that he will overlook a body swaying from a tree branch in a neighbor’s yard?

Truthfully, it baffles me that a society which lauds love and peace and decries hate and violence would go to such great lengths to celebrate blood, gore and darkness.  Folks, this isn’t about fluffy black kittens, candles in pumpkins and playing dress-up. A simple stroll through your neighborhood or local Home Depot will reveal Grim Reapers wielding their scythes, vampires with glowing eyes and blood dripping from their teeth, howling ghosts and leering witches. These are all things from which our little ones, who gravitate towards bubbles, butterflies and rainbows, naturally shrink. And yet for this particular day we shove them towards death and tell them it’s OK?

From this mom’s perspective, a little playing of dress-up and indulging the sweet tooth is not worth the compromise to my children’s moral fiber that the body swaying in the tree would cause.

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