The Mystery of Rest

I am not third trimester tired anymore since I can actually sleep when I have the chance to sleep. But I am still tired. On average, I am operating on 4 hours of sleep a day. If the baby sleeps, most likely someone else will be waking up during the night. And when morning comes I have to will my eyes to open and my body to leave the bed.

This morning my emotions were pretty low. My husband was at work, there were 5 babies to feed, dogs to walk, laundry to wash, a blog to write and texts needing answering. I wanted to cry (and probably did a little). Could I rewind to the day after delivery so I could stay in bed all day without guilt? I just wanted to rest a little longer.

And then my thoughts moved to a higher plane. Perhaps there is a way to rest mindfully if not physically. Perhaps it’s the mind that craves a peaceful state more than our bodies desire a horizontal state. And then I thought about my precious newborn. Left alone on his back he flails and cries and does not rest. But as soon as I pick him up and snuggle him with his arms and legs tucked under him and his body close to mine, he relaxes and sleeps.

I think that’s a picture of me too. On my own my mind and heart flail in panic at all that is required of me. My strength is inadequate for the intensity of my responsibilities. The more I flail the more exhausted I become. But if I draw near to Jesus and listen to His heart I can find rest in the midst of the labor. And if my heart is peaceful I can rest in the center of the chaos.

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Susanna Wesley: The Mother of John and Charles Wesley

This biography by Arnold A. Dallimore is a succinct overview of a strong, gifted, intelligent, yet under appreciated woman. Dallimore uses extensive research of letters and other books to reveal a woman who suffered a lifetime of tragedy and disappointment. In spite of all that she endured, this heroine of the faith poured her life into raising her children with intentionality, often alone and in poverty, and in the process encountered a new level of faith in her Savior. Her heart is echoed in her prayer “that God would make me better and take me at the best.”

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The Richness in Rest

It’s June! Summer! A season of rest and relaxation. Ahhhh! Resting has been a theme of mine in these postpartum weeks. I am discovering that rest is actually a discipline; I thought it would be much easier to slow down than it has been. But that is not the only thing I’ve recently discovered.

I have long considered Susanna Wesley, mother of the famous sibling duo: John and Charles Wesley, a role model. I knew she was the mother of 19 children, had taught them at home and was intentional about spending individual time with them during the week. I was eager to learn more about this incredible woman of history and devoured Arnold A. Dillamore’s biography about her. I was startled to discover how little I really knew about her.

She had birthed 19 children in 19 years but buried 9 of them in infancy or shortly thereafter; her house burned twice and each time she and her children barely made it out alive; her husband was often indifferent or even hostile towards her, overlooked many of her and her daughters’ basic needs and even deserted her for half a year; for much of her life she did not have the beautiful assurance of her salvation.

And yet in all of this she remained strong, gracious, and committed to nurturing her children and pursuing a deeper understanding of Christ. The desperate situations in which she was often placed did not diminish her determination to live well and invest in raising her children up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. As I closed this book for the last time I was inspired to be slower in defining any hardship as such and instead to invest my energies in gratitude, intentional parenting and a diligent pursuit of Christ.

At the same time that I was establishing a better acquaintance with Susanna Wesley I was also blessed with the opportunity to show hospitality to my parents. They came to support us in the transition from 4 children to 5 and went above and beyond to do just that. I anticipated their arrival and stay with a degree of reluctance. But it only took a short time to prove my reluctance unfounded. They poured themselves out for me and mine: cleaning and repairing the house, caring for our pets, preparing meals and spending hour after hour playing with and reading to our children. They sacrificed their time and energy so that I could have the gift of rest.

As I closed the front door after their departure the truth settled into my heart that intentional parenting is a lifetime commitment. Susanna Wesley corresponded fervently with her children in their adult years; she did not cease in her interest or involvement with their lives. And so has the role of my parents evolved. While they no longer need to train, discipline or provide for me, their presence and involvement in my life is just as crucial. They offer support, insights and encouragement that is unique to their position as parents and grandparents.

I was able to grasp these new discoveries because I took time to rest. The discipline of intentional rest for body and mind allows for restoration and enrichment that busyness neglects. This month our family is going to take life slower than usual and I will share my insights along the way.

What are your favorite ways to rest and relax?

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Five

Life is a series of journeys. There are the ones that cross the paths of two individuals that result in the journey of fertilized egg reaching the uterus. And the pregnancy journey that mother and child embark upon- each step, each day, each mile marker that is laboriously achieved as they grow and change together. It culminates in that pivotal new life journey of birth.

This week my fifth child and I made that defining journey. Each birth has opened my eyes and heart to a fresh dimension of deeper living and this one was no exception. Through 7.5 hours of active labor the aspect of time disappeared for me. At first I was anxiously aware of the comfort and schedules of everyone around me. But as the serenity of the ambient light, the wild orange being diffused, the pictures of our wedding and our children on the walls, seeped into my consciousness I embraced the letting go of time.

Reflecting back upon the freshest birthday in our family I see that an awareness of time gives me a sense of control that I actually don’t have. Presence of mind in the moment brought me through the birth and allowed me to recognize the process of birth more than I ever have before. That is the kind of presence I want to have in every moment granted to me with my loved ones.

Time moves whether my eye is on the clock or not; how I live that time is what impacts the journey. Awaiting the birth of this baby was heavy on my mind for the past ten months and now it is two days in the past. Such a transformative, miraculous event for me and him that will never happen again but because I was THERE it is imprinted in my memory forever. And the living continues; I want to be just as present for the miracles yet to come.

Your journeys are different from mine. The journey that began your life story or your child’s life story might be a painful one; but that doesn’t mean the journeys to follow aren’t worth taking. God uses time to rescue, renew and restore. Choose to let the life journey continue.

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Serenity

There’s a family of Canadian geese that have residence in the lake behind our home. I never weary of watching them or they me, for that matter! When I’m hanging up laundry the entire goose clan glides over to float and gaze. It makes me smile. I am also intrigued by the formation of the goose family when they are swimming: parent leading, offspring in a row, parent bringing up the rear. And they swim calmly to and from their destination. There is serenity in the order.

Our little ones are not quite as compliant as those goslings when it comes to routine in and out of the house. We frequently meet with resistance as we instruct them in etiquette and attitude. But they do know who their authority figures are and, even more importantly, they are secure enough in their relationship with us to be authentic. Their emotions are never hidden from us: anger, jubilation, fear, hurt, gratitude…whatever they are feeling overflows unashamedly. And the questions they pose! Those come with zero filter. If they don’t know or understand something, they simply ask. If they would like something, they ask. If they can’t remember, they ask. There is serenity in authentic relationship.

And it always brings me back to Jesus. I realize that I hide many of my true feelings from Him. When anxiety overpowers, I try to reason with it, fight it, or ignore it on my own rather than simply talking it all out with Jesus. I hesitate to bring requests to Him because they either seem too insignificant or too impossible; if I don’t understand something I wrestle with it on my own rather than coming to Him for clarity. But as I wait and wait and wait on this Baby I am coming to the end of myself and God is prompting me to let go of myself and go deeper with Him. He reminds me that I can calmly follow Him and be raw at the same time. He wants me to acknowledge that He knows the true me; I don’t have to hide from Him. There is serenity in letting go.

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The Book Nook

There’s a favorite little person hangout in our home. It’s a raised brick corner that displays our Christmas tree in December. When it came time to undecorate this year, many tears were shed about the tree having to go. We promised a surprise in place of the tree and the Book Nook happened. There are mismatched pillows, a quilt my grandmother sewed, cheerful puppet friends, and baskets of books. A string of lights outlines the perimeter of the Nook. On a daily basis one, two, three or four children can be found snuggling there, lights on, books piled on laps.

Our little ones are too young to read words (although the oldest is on the cusp). Their reading consists of studying minute details of every illustration on every page, discussing the details and retelling the story as it was read to them. They will study the same books over and over and over again until the pictures and basic plot are memorized. They beg to have the stories read again so they can remember more of the details on their own.

And the stories, as well as the characters occupying them, are interwoven in daily conversation and play. Their avid imaginations latch on to the plots and expand upon them, reflect upon them, learn from them and grow. It doesn’t matter if the book is history, science, math, or fiction. As long as it is a book with detailed illustrations it is absorbed.

Yesterday a friend sent me a Polo message and in it she read Psalm 147 aloud to me. This Psalm was filled with descriptions of God and as I listened my heart soared in praise. I realized that my trials and worries are small in light of the nature of God. And as I reflected on the writing of this blog I recognized my need to absorb more details about Jesus. The more I learn about Him the more I will know Him and long to worship Him. He will be interwoven into my day and shape my perception of life. What I pour into my mind shapes my thoughts, attitudes and interactions; just as I’m intentional about cultivating my children’s habits and attitudes, I need to do the same with my own.

How much time do you spend reading each day? What do you like to read?

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Oh! The Anticipation!

All throughout the month of April anticipation for May bubbled up and spilled over. The little ones would eagerly ask me if May was “after this day?” and my reply would be, “Not yet but soon!” Can you imagine their delight when May truly was “after this day”? Why the excitement? Because Baby Pover (‘puh-ver’) is arriving in May.

The last night of April was an eventful one- between restless leg syndrome, head-to-toe itching, painful contractions and a little one throwing up I got very little rest. But as I tucked everyone back in bed after cleaning up the sick one, our oldest son eagerly whispered to me, “It’s almost May!” I went back to bed and let my mind dwell on that fact and the thrill of anticipation that comes so naturally to children. It’s true! This new baby is coming any time between today and May 27th. I can bemoan that it will probably be later than sooner; I can be frustrated with all the false starts and stops (telling a mom at this stage in pregnancy to not analyze every sensation as labor possibly beginning will be as successful as telling a golden retriever not to wag his tail); I can dwell on the ever increasing discomfort and lengthening days (at this point one day is the equivalent of a week); or I can embrace the anticipation! Any day now because May is here!

And so it is with Jesus. The Bible tells us that He is returning to gather up His own and there will be a new heaven and a new earth! The Bible makes frequent references to the travail of labor and the delight of new life. It makes mention of birth pangs and the earth groaning like a woman in childbirth. Just as I am ready to be free of pregnancy pain and to behold my new child, so am I ready to be free of the burden of daily sin – my own and what surrounds me – and to behold my Lord and Savior. But rather than bemoan the waiting I want to rejoice in the anticipation and make the most of every opportunity to live well and prepare for His return.

This month’s blog series will be focused on Heart and Home. I would like to share with you little peeks into our family’s daily life and also share spiritual reflections that Jesus has placed upon my heart. We will chat more next week (if Pover hasn’t appeared yet!).

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Risks and Rewards

Four weeks of blogging on friendship cannot encapsulate the many nuances of this topic: the types, styles and dynamics. Reflecting upon the many people I have called friends through the years brings a smile (and some tears) to my face. My friendships have crossed cultures, world views and generations. They have opened my eyes to the value of vulnerability.

Leaving my home state and subsequently, my comfort zone, to settle in another left me wondering if I could possibly establish community where I had no prior connections or history. Upon moving into our new neighborhood, my family and I did the following:

  • Found a church: it wasn’t until we connected with the family of God that I really began to feel at home. My husband insisted we get involved with the church right away and soon fresh friendships were forming.
  • Waved to our neighbors: there is something about waving and smiling to the people that pass by every day on walks or drives that builds connections which lead to conversations.
  • Bread and tea: at Christmas I made bread for our neighbors that we delivered in person. Doors and hearts always open to freshly baked bread. In the months and chats that followed I put Tea at Two on my social calendar, as well as a Hobby Night, and now a few of my neighbors come over regularly to chat, laugh, pray and support one another.

The rewards of friendship are countless. There’s the intrigue that comes with meeting lovely people in unexpected ways and listening to their profound life stories; there’s the joy and love that come from building new connections and being embraced by folks you never knew existed a handful of years ago; and there’s the security that comes from not being invisible in your own community. But the risks are also real.

I have had my share of hurt in friendship- some being quite fresh. To have friends, one must be vulnerable and real and that provides ample opportunity for rejection and betrayal. Friends know your history, your weaknesses, your hopes and dreams; you assume they are a safe place. But friends are also human and susceptible to misunderstandings, offenses, jealousies, the comparison game, and a myriad of other weaknesses that destroy relationships. How does one navigate these risks?

As I conclude my friendship series, I wish I could provide a succinct answer. Unfortunately, I’m no friendship expert. All I know is that in a world of chaos and evil I am thankful for the people I call friends. I am blessed by their life experience, their kindness and their availability. I am inspired by them to be a good friend and a true friend- someone that people depend upon. But because I am just as human as the next soul, I know I can’t be a friend without Jesus. I have to lean into Him for the wisdom and guidance needed to multiply the joy and process the sorrow of friendship.

How do you navigate the risks and rewards of friendships?

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Even From a Distance

Having been raised in Hawaii long distance friendships were normal for me and correspondence became a way of life. My pen pals ranged in age from 80 to 5, some I had chatted with in person and some I had never met before, some were in other countries and some were just states away. I learned about friendship cultivation through these letters.

  • Share the details. The friendships that flourished were the ones where our letters were filled with every day tidbits, decorated with stickers and doodling, and even had jokes going back and forth. We moved past the mundane facts and chatted in pen as if we were in person.
  • Share my heart. It takes effort to open up long distance but the sharing of struggles and emotions crosses the miles. Friendships do not deepen without vulnerability.
  • Take the time. I really tried to make my correspondence a weekly priority and had set days when I replied to my letters in the order they came. I wrote to my elderly penpals weekly, regardless if they had written back. Sometimes I would surprise my friends with little gifts in their letters.

With the advancement of technology, letter writing is a fading practice; even emails are becoming obsolete thanks to text messaging, Facebook messenger, Marco Polo, Snapchat, Instagram and all the other social media sites that connect people. In my opinion though, social media requires us to work even harder to cultivate friendship.

As we inform the masses of our life happenings we lose the personal closeness that comes with sitting down to write to ONE person or picking up the phone and having a chat with ONE person (something that I’m terrible at initiating since I have a phobia of phone calls. LOL!) The tidbits I learned so long ago about cultivating friendships across the miles may have been learned through letter writing but are still relevant in this social media driven world. We still need to share details, share our hearts and take time to be a good friend.

What is your preferred method for cultivating long distance friendships?

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The ‘I’ in Friend

Selflessness is at the heart of friendship but there is also value in simply being yourself. I genuinely struggled with this as I exited the blissful oblivion of childhood and became more self-aware. Through my childhood and teenage years I experienced significant rejection from my peers which resulted in the majority of my friendships being with those older and younger than myself. I longed for social circle of peers but God opened my eyes to the richness of friends in stages of life that differed from mine.

My husband was the first peer who sought me out for who I was (so of course i married him! lol!). He invested great effort in learning about me, valuing my thoughts and ideas, and delighting in who I am as an individual. It took me a while to believe that someone as amazing as him would enjoy my company (and sometimes I still can’t believe it) but through his cultivation I discovered a confidence in friendship I had never before experienced. Thus began a new and exciting season of friendship for me.

Since our marriage I have developed a handful of intimate friendships that have grown and challenged me. These women offer support in the hard times, celebrate the victories and offer accountability in weakness. Our friendship isn’t without ruffled feathers and emotional outbursts but we have learned to trust one another’s hearts. And I am recognizing that when I am honestly me we grow even closer because they can be honestly them. There is humility and freedom in being yourself, isn’t there?

In a nutshell, friendship begins with me being me. This doesn’t mean I can glory in self-absorption or expect everyone to cater to my whims and fancies; rather, it means I am not ashamed of my strengths; I’m honest about my weaknesses; I don’t apologize for my convictions; and I celebrate my interests. In turn, I encourage my friends to do the same.

What holds you back in friendship?

In the weeks ahead I hope to share about cultivating long distance friendships and beginning new friendships in new communities. (I’ll be blogging until Baby comes)

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Building Sound Friendships

Is it already a new month? Wow! And a new month means a new theme of blogs. I would like to take time to focus on friendship. Friendship is vital for a socially fulfilled life and it refines us as we strive to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Without friends, we would have fewer opportunities to practice selflessness.

Background: over the past two years I have experienced friendship in fresh ways. I went through a decently traumatic ending to a friendship, made new friendships and cultivated continuing ones. At the same time, my oldest two children entered the stage of desiring friendships of their one and observing them make their entrance into the social community has been fascinating for me.

Looking ahead: I have come to recognize that while I am the common denominator in all of my friendships I am still only responsible for my own words, actions and attitudes. I can not force others to see things my way, respond the way I want them to or live their lives according to my value system. I am not responsible for who they are as individuals. This is simultaneously freeing and challenging concept for me, and I hope to explore it in more detail in this month’s blog series.

I welcome your thoughts, reflections and personal experiences along the way.

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Facing the Truth

The beauty of the gospel is that it reveals the evil within us, declares our need for a savior and points us to Him. This month and this journey through the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have found me pondering the impact of the gospel in my daily life more than I ever have before.

Yesterday I had an invigorating discussion with my gentle neighbor regarding our sinful state and just how profound it is to know that the Creator of the Universe put such thought and sacrifice into providing a way for us to be reconciled to and have a relationship with Him, even before we even desired such restoration! And I am thankful for this!

You see, despite having repented of my sins and embracing Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I continue to sin each and every day. This week has been particularly hard. Last night I was in tears over the impatience in my heart towards my children. I love them beyond description and yet even that great love does not prevent me from sinning against them. And that prompted me to ponder the love of Jesus. It was His great love for me that moved Him to endure a brutal death before I showed any sign of repentance. It’s humbling. It’s freeing. It’s beautiful.

March is drawing to a close and so is this theme of blogs. I pray that I will continue to bring the gospel into all that I think, say and do, that my gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice will prompt me to be bold in sharing the truth with others and that I will humbly show grace and forgiveness every day just as they have been shown to me.

How will the gospel impact you today?

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Fear or Faith

Does fear define you? What are your top five fears: fear of failure, fear of disappointment, fear of disapproval, fear of…?

My husband and I were chatting about what prevents us from sharing the truth of the gospel with our friends. Oftentimes it is the fear of losing the friendship that keeps our mouths shut. Dare I say this is a valid fear? After all, isn’t religion one of this topics you don’t discuss at a dinner party? People rarely jump at the chance to talk about their sins, their eternal destination or their standing before the Almighty God. It is human nature to put God in a box and when someone dares to open that box it is rarely met with applause.

However valid our fear may be of sharing the gospel does it condone our silence? Only if we do not genuinely believe in Jesus; only if He is NOT God; only if He did not actually live, die and resurrect; only if our sins do not need to be forgiven; only if Jesus is not worth living (and dying) for; only if today matters more than eternity; only if our temporary comfort is of more pertinence than God’s glory.

Trust me, I am no pro at sharing the gospel with everyone I meet. My prayer is that as I grow in my love for Jesus so will my love grow for my neighbors and that love will compel me to share the hope that is within me.

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To Shilo: Upon the Eve of his First Birthday

‘To amaze: fill with astonishment; astound, take someone’s breath away…’

As we prepare to step into your second year of life and bid babyhood an official farewell, amazement provides the best description for my first year with you.  The first birthdays of all of your siblings have brought me to tears with how fast they passed, but yours seems to have gone faster than all the rest. I can vividly remember the details of your birth and ask myself, “Has it already been one year? So long and yet so brief!”

Your birth amazed me! Yours was our first home birth and because of that an aura of warmth and peace surrounds its memory. Each time we walk in our neighborhood I recall the labor walk to encourage contractions; the little patch of carpet in our room where you made your grand entrance floods my heart with joy and I don’t even mind that blood stain on the bed where I eased into it with you fresh in my arms. Such a journey of pain, power, and priceless life!

Your development amazes me! First it was your rapid growth – at 2 weeks old you were nearly the size of a 6-week old and at your 8-week wellness check the doctor could only shake her head in astonishment at how large you were. You rapidly outgrew every outfit we had and by the time you were 10-months you were wearing 18-month clothing. You crawled faster, pulled up faster and acquired teeth faster than everyone else in addition to growing so fast. Now it is your cognitive development that amazes me. The way you already drive cars with your thumb and forefinger like your big brother does and make the car sounds as you drive; the way you make eye contact, grunt, and attempt syllables to communicate with us; the deliberate way in which you participate in your siblings activities and look at books with them all indicate a very intelligent individual.

Your features amaze me! Your soft, wispy hair that can’t make up its mind about being dark or light brown begs to be caressed. The rolls on your arms and legs and the way your little toes grip the carpet when you stand up are irresistable on the cuteness scale. Your one-dimple smile and the way you cock your head to the side when you want to make me melt  work every time!

Your personality amazes me! The way you lay your head in my neck to snuggle when I pick you up make time pause for a breath. You can’t help but beat time with the music when your favorite songs are playing and you wave your arms when we say, “Hallelujah, He arose!” You are gentle and strong, determined and dependent. Somehow you manage to be a baby and a little boy all at once.

Your place in the family amazes me! It’s clear that at this young age you already adore your family. You have a unique relationship with each one of us, including the pets. You are fourth in the sibling ranks but that doesn’t lessen the importance of your role in our lives. Each of your siblings adores you and Poppa and Mama can’t get enough of your snuggles. Our family would be incomplete without your presence.

Happy birthday, my Son! God amazes me through you.

 

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The Widow’s Mite

Gospel-living is becoming a theme in the day-to-day, not just in March’s blogs, and I am delighted with this. It is not so easy to be delighted with what brings the theme to mind, however: hardship. Not life-shattering hardship as is happening all around the world, but trials in the little things. For the most part it’s just life not going my way or the way I think would be best. Why, I do not even do things the way I think would be best!!

But this morning I read the account of the widow’s mite in the gospel according to Luke. It sums up gospel-living: hold nothing back. Jesus tells us to pick up our cross and follow Him; then He commends the widow for giving, not out of her surplus, but everything she had. This same principle carriers into how we treat those who hurt us, how we respond to injustice and how we approach difficulty in our day-to-day. It is a continual giving of our entire selves to obedience to Jesus. Why? Because that is what we as Christians claim matters most to us. Do our lives declare it? Only if we are all in (as my pastor likes to say).

For me, this applies when my energy is depleted but the demands increase or when friends hurt me or when I feel like my situation isn’t fully understood. I should respond with grace and gentleness towards people and within my own heart. It’s in how I respond to life not going my way that I live out the gospel for those around me; after all, if I had things my way from the beginning I would never have sworn allegiance to Christ in the first place. I am thankful He intervened.

When is it the hardest for you to live out the gospel?

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Living for the Kingdom

Seeing March on the calendar reminds me that spring is on the way. Spring draws my attention to Easter and Easter brings the gospel into the forefront of my mind. Truthfully, I should live very day in light of Christ’s call and sacrifice, but I don’t. I am journeying through the gospels with a friend of mine and in some ways it feels like I am hearing Jesus’s words for the very first time. It is both convicting and refreshing. Luke chapter 12 has had a particularly lasting effect on me.

In this passage Jesus relates the parable of the wealthy man who had such abundance he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. God curses him for being so confident in himself and his wealth and the man died that very night. Jesus goes on to urge His followers to not worry about such things as food and clothing for those things do not have eternal value; instead, we should center our lives on what has eternal consequences. I don’t believe Jesus is saying that it is wrong to enjoy good food, tasteful clothing, a cozy house, fun vacations or any of those things that delight us throughout the day; He is saying that they should not consume our thoughts more than He does. And that convicted me.

As I read I realized that my thoughts are generally about temporal concerns like meal preparations, clothing purchases, finances, how much time I’ve spent on my phone, or whether or not I’ve offended a friend. Again, these things aren’t inherently bad, but when I’m dwelling on them I’m not seeking the Kingdom. And if I’m pursuing Kingdom matters earthly things suddenly won’t matter so much. What does this look like in practical terms?

This is a question I’ll be pondering all month and perhaps even longer. I know that I want to talk to and about Jesus more every day; I want to obey His promptings immediately; when I begin to worry about something material I want to ask myself if it will matter when I’m seeing Jesus face-to-face. I would like to be more interested in what God is doing in the lives of others and their efforts to share the gospel with those around them.

This month’s posts will be focused on gospel-living. How do you seek to bring the gospel into your every day living? What temporal concerns tend to dominate your thoughts?

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What It Takes to be Kind

“Have you ever felt tossed back and forth, trying to please people in different worlds, searching for an anchor to hold you steady?” This is a question posed by Lara Casey in chapter 4 of her book, Make It Happen. I asked myself, “Well, have I?” My initial reaction is, “Of course not!” But then I read chapter 7 of Luke in which Jesus directly commends three people, from very different walks of life, for their faith. I realized that not only have I been tossed back and forth in search of an anchor, I still am.

How do I know this? I know this because I am easily swayed by circumstances, opinions and temporal interests and desires rather than being devoted to Who and what I know to be true. When those factors change, I change. If things are aligned correctly and are favorable to my preferences, I am pleasant to all who cross my path; but it’s a different story when I am disgruntled with my place in the world. Alternatively, if my eyes and heart remained anchored to Jesus and my pleading tears of repentance washed His feet, life would be noticeably different; it would be lush with the fruit that comes only from abiding in Him. Temporal trends would not impact how I respond to others and I would have insight into how to minister to the living beings who share the world with me.

This month of love is drawing to a close. I can’t say that I’ve aced all the tests of loving responses and serving with kindness that have come my way. In fact, my eyes have been opened to how much I can improve as I’ve been blessed with unexpected kindnesses from loved ones and strangers alike. But as a new month approaches, I plan to redouble my efforts to abide in Jesus and share the fruit that comes from an anchored life.

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When a Book Touches Your Soul: A Book Reflection

I finished another book and was reluctant to read the last page because I was soaking in every word and didn’t want it to end. This book is written for mothers, but the gospel truths it contains apply to every believer seeking to live a relevant life.

In Gloria Furman’s Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full, the relevancy of the gospel to daily living was presented in a straightforward manner that I had not previously considered. I had unconsciously fallen into the mindset that being a mom was an end in and of itself and was striving to do as much as I could on my own. Motherhood challenges me like nothing else. Ironically, I handle the diaper blowouts in Costco more calmly than I do the dropped puzzle pieces that the dog chews up. I become angry over childish fumbles but manage to stay calm in the face of extreme chaos. Why do dropped toys and broken treasures bother me so much?

It is because I am a sinner; I am fallen and I need a Savior to not only guide me in being a wife and mother but also in being a Christ-follower. Gloria Furman drew my attention to the impact the gospel has on motherhood. The main points that have stayed with me from this book are these:

  • Motherhood is not an identity or end in itself. It is a tool God uses to sanctify and equip me for His kingdom. It is for His glory.
  • The chaotic days and the mundane ones do not undermine the power of the gospel. In fact, they emphasize it.
  • All moments of motherhood are an irritation to worship. Am I overwhelmed? Christ provides discernment. Am I blessed beyond measure? Praise Him! Am I exhausted? Christ is my strength and rest. Did I fail yet again? Christ forgives. Am I unable to do this on my own? I don’t have to and am not meant to.
  • Long-view mothering sees beyond the present and scans the horizon of eternity. One day my children will make the decision to accept or reject Christ. One day their souls will reside somewhere other than here on earth. Am I mothering with that view in mind every day?
  • A relationship goes two ways. The responsibility of being close to God doesn’t rest solely on my shoulders. Yes, I need to do my part but He reaches out to me too. He knows my rough days and meets me there.

Without hesitation I would recommend this book to every mom. I will be reading it again to glean even more and to reinforce what has already resonated with me.

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How ARE You?

One of the simplest and most sacrificial ways we can show love to someone else is by taking the time to genuinely listen to them and to show them that we are ready to listen. Recently I was convicted about this in my relationships.

I keep a tight schedule since routine is critical to the smooth functioning of our day. I have little time for long chats (as much as I would like them) and my emotional energy is often maxed out towards the middle of the day when I might have the chance to converse with fellow adults. Needless to say, when I’m able to interact with friends or relatives I have the habit of forming opinions and prepping responses while the other person is talking or texting with me. I think I do this to maximize my time and cut down on small talk. But that is not sincere listening.

Listening means not formulating opinions until they are asked for since I don’t truly know what it’s like to walk in her shoes. It means avoiding having prepped answers for the sake of hearing the other person’s heart and not merely their words. And it means asking, How are you? and really wanting to know.

In her book Make It Happen, Lara Casey says that women avoid answering the how are you? inquiry honestly because they assume people don’t really want to know. Let’s change that this month, shall we? Let’s step out and ask and posture ourselves for listening. And let’s honor the genuine inquirer by giving an honest answer.

I’ll start: how am I? I’m tired and a little overwhelmed with all that I think should be done. I am afraid to lighten the daily load more than I already have because what if I never get passed doing the bare minimum of food, sleep schedules and laundry? I’m a little lonely. My day doesn’t allow much time for deeper connections with other women. I squeeze in a text, Polo or post where I can. I want to connect with my children on a deeper level too, but it sometimes feels like the demands of their physical care prevent that. Yet, I do feel content overall. I like my quiet moments, my writing, my book time and having a professional side with my Thirty-One business. Best of all, I know God sustains me when I can’t go on another minute.

How are you?

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Welcome to the Love Month

We are in the month of love. Society has warped this beautiful, emotional action, making it all about physical pleasure and momentary commitment; in actuality, love is about “you before me” and persistence when your feelings tell you to give up.

I’ve been pondering how I can love better. My husband and I have begun the The Love Dare devotional (by the makers of Fireproof) and the first dare involves praying for one week about how to love better and be a more loving person. This challenge has opened my eyes to all the ways that I am unloving- not simply in marriage but in every aspect of my life: friendship, parenting, interactions with strangers, and with Jesus. It’s in the little things, the moments of choosing self first, the outbursts of impatience when love could make all the difference in the world.

And so, as I proceed through this new month, a month that celebrates love, I am going to try to focus on ways to live and serve with a more loving heart. Perhaps I can ask God to help me release the bitterness I feel towards that person who really hurt me; maybe I can spend a little more individual time with each of my children; I can offer a word of kindness to a friend or stranger who is hurting; I can take the dogs on a little longer walk than usual; I could definitely ask my husband about his day before barraging him with all the details about mine.

What would this world look like if we all tried to live out the love we claim to have? How can you put love into action this month?

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Here and There

January 30th. The first month of the new year is almost completed. In some ways the new year still feels fresh; in other ways it feels like it’s been around for a while. Old habits die hard and it’s a struggle to stick with the changes I want to make in order to live better this year than I did last year. But I’m not giving up!

This month has been one of adventure. We made our first major trip as a family of six all the way to HI. Getting there we traveled for 36 hours but that was easier than the shorter trip coming home! We were on the island for a fast week and didn’t get to visit all the places we wanted to, eat the yummy food we hoped to or see all the loved ones we miss, but it was a blessing to reconnect with beloved family and make lasting bonds between them and our kids.

As we journeyed home through different airports, planes and cities, our kids kept asking if we were in HI or in the new state we call home. From their young perspective it is difficult to grasp how you can be in one place at one moment and then in the next be some place entirely different. And then I realized that my heart and mind haven’t entirely grasped that concept either. At times I think I’ll step outside my front door and be able to wave at my nephew and nieces or that I can hop in the car and drive to my parents’ for a swim. The distance hurts and the stretching of one’s heart is a painful process.

In her book Cultivate, Lara Casey reminds us that good things come out of hard things. While visiting Hawaii I was encouraged by how my world had expanded in less than two years! Many new names and faces have been added to my list of loved ones; delightful experiences have been added to my memory bank; and my perspective on life has broadened as I learn to look outside myself so that I can better understand the people around me.

As we all cozy up indoors during this nationwide cold snap, let’s take a moment to think about all the people we are connected to around the world. What have you learned from them? How have they inspired you? Is there something you can do in the month ahead to make the world a brighter place? Our bodies might be limited to one physical location but our hearts can be spread out here and there.

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Weary of the Worry

A friend and I are journeying through the New Testament this year (I got a late start so she is way ahead of me) and it’s a good journey. I take the beginning gospels for granted because I assume I know them so well. But as I read truths are refreshed and my heart responds.

Take the ending section of Matthew 6, for instance: the admonition, from Jesus Himself, to not worry. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food and the body more important than clothes? … So do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ Or ‘What shall we drink?’ Or ‘What shall we wear?’ …Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

I have read this passage dozens of times through the years but it convicted me anew as just seconds before I had been worrying about those every day concerns. I rarely bask in the God-given goodness of the moment but exchange that for problem-solving the future. Why? If God provides for me today, is He not able to do so tomorrow as well?

I think this passage on worry is addressing temporal, surface issues, if you will. I think fear is different from routine worry and is not being particularly addressed in Matthew 6:25-34 (it is in other passages, though). This leads me to muse if whether or not contentment could be the antidote for worry. Perhaps if I am content with how things are my mind won’t drift towards better, more or different. If I am content, I can be happy with how things are and rejoice if change happens.

There will always be some type of disturbances in life’s waters: job issues, vacation details, wardrobe dilemmas, meal planning, budget constraints, health improvements, parenting modifications. These are the things that bring me back to Jesus again and again and again. After all He did say, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Worry makes a wearisome burden, wouldn’t you agree?

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Fervency in a Two-Year Old Body

I remember what a shock to my system it was to deliver a baby WITHOUT an epidural. With our first two I had gone as long as I could on pitocin without requesting an epidural but I still finished the delivery pain-free. With our third child, I made it all the way through and was therefore stunned by the gripping pain of the transition stage. It overtook my body with such fervency! And that is how our third-born has approached life ever since.

She builds her own relationships with fervency: with our loving neighbor across the street; with our incredibly strong pastor’s wife; with my friend and preschool consultant. These special ladies see Arden coming and greet her with open arms as she crawls into their laps or puts her hand in theirs.  Arden makes her own path in life.

She keeps up with her siblings with fervency: she uses words and phrases that her older siblings never articulated at her age; she participates in their games and inflicts physical pain if it is required to avoid being pushed around. She isn’t even afraid to bite the puppy if he gets too pushy. She calls her siblings by name and they eagerly respond.

She loves with fervency: her favorite place in the whole world is in her parents’ arms. Throughout the day she will come up to one of us, hold up her arms and say, “Hold it,” her term for being carried.  If we are sitting down, she will say “Lap,” meaning she wants to sit in our laps. And then she utterly relaxes, contentedly sucking her newly adopted pacifier and caressing her hair with her hand. At other times, she will rush up to us and embrace us in as fierce a hug as her tiny arms can give. And who can but return such ardent love with equal fervency?

My husband and I pray over the names we give our children, knowing that we don’t know their future or their personality, but their Creator does. In the hospital, during labor, we finally settled on Arden’s full name which means: Fervent Melody of Joy.  It is with great eagerness that I anticipate this little girl’s future. She lives, breathes, sings, reads, plays, smiles, and loves with the utmost fervency. If her first two years are any indicator of what is to come, then I believe she will motivate us to live, love, pray, and seek God’s wisdom in parenting with the utmost fervency as well.

As we prepare to celebrate our littlest girl’s second birthday, I am thankful that God has chosen to show us His love by gifting her to us.

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New Year Transplanting

Welcome to 2019! Raise your hand if you are entering this new year with a few misty-eyes glances over your shoulder at the old year? While I am excited and motivated about all that this nouvelle annee has in store for me, 2018 held the comfort of familiarity. I was used to writing it in my journal and on letters; there was a sense of predictability that came with set routines and old habits; I felt a connection with events and people that passed, yet somehow saying “this year” rather than “last year” when referencing them kept them closer. The new year is a blank slate on which anything can happen and that can be intimidating.

As a military wife, I have had to acquaint myself with the unpredictable, with extreme flexibility and with cultivating a positive outlook when things don’t go as planned or wished. I like to feel settled and secure, to know where things are and to have a community. The thought of ever moving again after I’ve put down roots in a friendly place can feel like a rough uprooting- something to resist and resent, worthy of complaint rather than joy.

But recently God has prompted me to look at a potential move as a transplanting rather than an uprooting. The latter has a negative connotation in which we think of the plant as not being wanted, pulled out and carelessly tossed aside. The former, however, indicates a tender transition of a growing plant to a predetermined location where it can flourish even more.

I don’t expect a move to happen in 2019 but I want to apply this fresh outlook to every unexpected encounter in this fresh year. God didn’t uproot me from 2018; He transplanted me into 2019. In this year, I have the opportunity to lay aside attitudes that hinder and cultivate helpful ones in their place. It will be proving ground for the lessons learned last year and a classroom for new lessons I have yet to learn. And surprises! I am sure there will be many delightful surprises awaiting me.

Let’s raise our glasses of sparkling cider to being lovingly transplanted from a good year to an even better one.

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New Year’s Cues From Little People

With our children growing in their ability to verbalize their awareness of life, I am seeing my own habits with fresh eyes. For instance, our 4-year old clearly sees things in black and white. If something is unhealthy to eat, then why do we still eat it? Or if he can’t watch a scary movie, then why do we watch it? My conviction has increased when I don’t keep my word in detail or neglect my own daily Bible reading. At the risk of sounding cliche, I want them to be able do what I do and not only what I say.

Which brings me to my renewed intentions for the new year:

  • Compromise out of conviction not convenience~ I hope to reduce the number of times I compromise because it’s the easier thing to do. Perhaps I am too lazy to fix a healthy meal so we eat snacks instead; I might not feel like getting out of bed right away so I skip my devotions; I lack motivation so I put off an important task or ignore a friend’s request to chat.  These are things I want to leave in yesteryear. Instead, I would like to show my children that at times we compromise because we seek peace with those around us and meeting in the middle acknowledges that we are not all-knowing. Other people have valid points that are worth considering.
  • Live the gospel~ Jesus and His truth are becoming more and more a part of our little ones’ vocabulary and that THRILLS my heart. Out of a passion to nurture their desire to learn more about Jesus and genuinely love Him, I want to be passionate about living for Him daily. This doesn’t mean becoming missionaries to Africa; it does mean reading my Bible, audibly praying for wisdom, asking for forgiveness when I make mistakes, and explaining biblical truths that apply to our mealtime conversations.
  • Practicing balance~ the young people in our home are busy forming their “norms,” and what they see us routinely doing plays a significant role in those formations. Balance is a necessary practice in healthy living, physically and emotionally. If they see me on the phone more than they see me doing anything else, they will assume that’s what is done; if they hear me talking about my looks or what I dislike about myself every day, they will speak critically about themselves or obsess about appearance too; if I initiate conversation that criticizes others or is cynical about life, this will likewise influence their speech. Alternatively, I hope to speak uplifting words about myself and others and the world God has given to us; I desire to read books and a variety of them at that; I plan to continue to listen to music and theologically rich sermons; and we will be spending much time outdoors every day.

It goes without saying that I am not going to achieve these good intentions right away or all the time. And this allows me to practice showing grace and resilience- to myself and those around me. Perhaps in 2019 the children in this home will learn that just as God shows us grace through His Son, we likewise show grace. And just as He continues to perfect His good work in us, we will continue to try again and again and again to live well and righteously.

What are some of your new year’s intentions? Share them with us.

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Future Investments

Pause.         Let your mind drift back…and farther back…and farther still.  Where did you go? What memories floated to the forefront of your thoughts? What mental doors did you start to open and then slam shut? Where did you linger? Which faces brought warmth to your heart and which ones sent chills through your spine?

My memories pique my interest. At times I am surprised by the names that pop into my head – people I haven’t seen or talked to in years. Other times there will be a recurring thought, perhaps things I played as a child, or places I visited, or events in which I was a participant. Certain memories cause me to recoil; certain people bring tears of joy or sorrow or bitterness to my eyes. Every so often I regret missed opportunities and wonder what fond memories they would have brought had I seized the day.

I believe that the circumstances and people of which our memories are comprised are what shape our identities and have influenced the people we are in this moment. Each person has left a fingerprint upon our values and opinions; each event or situation or cause in which we spent time has given us experience to reflect upon and, in turn, prompts our future decisions. With this perspective in mind, it prompts me to pose the question: how will we live tomorrow?

There is less than a month left of the year 2018. It behooves us to reflect on how we are going to move forward in the year ahead:

  • How much time is spent with Jesus each day?
  • Which individuals need more of my time and attention?
  • Are there habits that need to be removed or cultivated?
  • How can I keep my mind from stagnating?
  • What opportunities do I want to seize?
  • Do I need to refresh my priorities?

Every moment that I live is an investment into my future. I want it to be worthwhile.

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The Humility in Change

Have you observed yourself doing something because you have always done it? Do you hold on to certain activities, styles, methods because you have a reputation for them? Do you do something because you know you’re good at it and you might not be good at doing something else?

I have observed these things about myself and realized that I am avoiding change because it hurts my pride. I like having the reputation of being well-balanced in all that I do. I like the idea that I’m well-rounded and able to juggle motherhood and everything else. I have held myself to a certain standard of quality and consistency and hate admitting that I can maintain that standard without letting go of certain activities I’ve always done.

It’s humbling to say I can’t do it all. That means I’ve dropped the ball on more than one occasion. It means I’ve messed up more than I care to acknowledge. It means I have to say “ta ta for now” to things I truly enjoy doing and people I enjoy interacting with on a regular basis.

But it’s also freeing. It means I can linger a little more, breathe a little deeper, and focus a little longer. It means that I know what my priorities are and I’m upholding them. It means that what I’m keeping is going to flourish with extra cultivation and I have made peace with the things I’m letting go.

Change is hard but it is healthy. It is indicator of growth in life and in character. It’s ok to be wistful when encountering change, but it’s also ok to allow it to refresh you.

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And Just Like That…

I am taking your birthday photos for the third year in a row. I dressed you up in a new outfit and you loved every minute of the process. We brushed out your hair and chatted about whether or not we should put in a hair clip. We decided not to. Then we gathered up the photo props and went outside. You eagerly climbed up on the rustic stool and held the flower I gave you. “This is fun!” you declared. Every moment of your special day has been treasured by you- and that’s simply one more precious thing about the person you are. Special moments, no matter how small, are savored by your sincere heart.

We chat as I snap different poses. I’m trying to capture the essence of who you are but I doubt that can be done in a photograph. It takes spending daily life with you to know exactly who you are. I savor the little conversations overflowing from your busy mind and expressive tongue. You verbalize deep ponderings in quiet moments and I’m thankful we live slowly so you can articulate them and I can listen.

You flourish at being you! You appreciate your own skin and are comfortable with your likes and dislikes. I know that I am a deeper person, a more appreciative person, because I spend time observing you. I am thankful for every instance I put down my phone so that I can look in your eyes or snuggle you in my lap or chat with you. No moment spent in your company is wasted. Gratitude fills my soul at every one of your birthdays because I know I have treasured every single day of those years. I am learning to linger, to not mind the midnight slumber parties, to let you help whenever you ask, to repeat answers, to not make little messes a big deal…because I know the years slip by…just like that.

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The Challenge to Do Less

As indicated in my previous post, I have very little spare time. There is so much going on, in fact, that I have very little to write about in my very few moments of spare time. This season has presented me with a fresh challenge: to do less rather than more. It goes against my nature but I have come to terms with it.  The question is: how do I meet this challenge?

One of the first things I have done is identify the priorities of the day; this is followed by reducing or eliminating anything that would distract from them. Social media has hung in the balance during this evaluation phase. It is essential to my  business and it certainly is a useful means of keeping up with the happenings in the lives of other people.  It is also convenient for keeping others updated on the events of my life without having to make individual contact with everyone. On the other hand, it can be the ultimate time waster as I scroll and click and browse and watch.  In many ways it is information overload to my already saturated brain. And after I finish scrolling, I rarely feel uplifted; it is more common for my heart to feel heavy as I see the parts of people’s lives that they want me to see: the pristine homes, the trendy clothes, the vacations, the new purchases, the perfect day. I am often left sighing about what I don’t have or can’t do or won’t see. This does nothing to add to a serene home or a peaceful heart.

I also feel a pressure to post. If it’s Instagram, I feel like I need to post every day with a million hashtags so that I will boost my following. I find myself comparing my following with others or my pictures with others and there I go again with feeling dissatisfied. There seems to be an element of social status on Instagram; if you don’t have a cool feed then you won’t have a large following and if you don’t have a large following you’re not cool. With Facebook, there’s an element of social obligation. People are friends because they want to know what’s going on in my life and if I’m not posting regularly I’m letting them down.

I realize that I could be reading a lot into this and I may also be stepping on some toes by broaching this subject. I also know that there is a growing frustration with social media. We are seeing that it does eat up much of our time – time that could be spent reading a book, playing a game, writing a letter, making a phone call or (*gasp*) stepping outside our front door and striking up a face-to-face conversation with someone.   People long for authenticity and let’s face it, that’s hard to come by on social media. People long for community, but we have to admit that the community found on social media is shallow and impersonal – you can’t borrow an egg from a friend on Facebook; you need a neighbor for that.

What it comes down to is that we fear invisibility and insignificance. We want our voices to be heard and our thoughts to count. On our accounts we are the center of the virtual universes we create; our followers see what we want them to and if we don’t like their comments we can delete them. It is not so easy in a live conversation on our front porches, is it? But truthfully, that is where true relationships and true change comes about: in person. When I weigh out a quick peek on Facebook with reading a story to my kids, which choice will have the lasting impact? And what will benefit my children the most, seeing me typing out a political post that they can’t even read yet or listening me engage in a thoughtful conversation about worldview at the dinner table?

The sands of time are sliding, ever sliding. I am seeking to maximize each minute: in conversation, in correspondence with individuals, and in lingering without the distraction of thinking about what I’ll say on my next Facebook post.  How we spend our time is a personal issue between us and our Maker. I know that many in my readership seek to use social media as a platform for sharing Christ’s truth with the world; I applaud and am grateful for their efforts. Personally, as I spend less time on social media I am  finding more free time than I expected and am now seeking to invest this time into individual people rather than the masses.

How would you rate the benefit of having social media in your life? Could those benefits be gleaned from other sources as well?

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These Newborn Days

I have given birth to five babies in less than five years, and yet each one is a unique, life-changing experience for me.

The first baby was chapter one of an unread book. Every day of pregnancy was a mystery; the birth was traumatic and when we arrived home from the hospital my goal was to resume life as normal as soon as possible.

Jump ahead to chapter five: the plot is now familiar with unexpected twists and turns here and there but I’ve since learned that the objective is to linger, not rush ahead. I study the tiny newborn features longingly, hoping that staring will slow down the change.

Each baby is a rebirth for me and our family. We can relive all of the firsts, all of the wonder, and the acquaintance of an undiscovered personality. And with the newness is a familiarity that allows us to savor a bit more.

I’m not agonizing over sleep schedules or frantic about crying spells. Those will resolve in time. I’m snuggling more and savoring the these early days of rest and recovery. And when my strength had returned am I going to rush life back to normal?

It’s going to be a new normal of longer conversations, more reading, slower walks, spontaneous play times and intentional family time. My recovery period has allowed me to step back, observe and internalize my purpose; watching my children with their grandparents and discovering how much I miss the daily care of home and family has opened my heart to the purpose I crave.

I didn’t realize how much I have still been seeking my way in life but these newborn days have helped me find it.

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