Day 2: Moms are not Monks {7 Days of Soul Rest}

Henri Nouwen, Francis of Assisi, Augustine, John of the Cross, and Theresa of Avila are some of my spiritual heroes, but since becoming a mother, I find myself thinking Yeah, must be nice to have so much time to spend time with God.  Though moms do keep night vigils and do manual labor, our commonalities end around there.   As a married woman with two children, I have been on the search for words on rest from someone who did not have 12 hours a day to saturate themselves in prayer and Bible study because sometimes all I have is 10...minutes, that is.     Though I know you don't need convincing that rest is something you want, I do hope to convince you that it is something you need.   Why rest?   Jesus knew the value of rest, often escaping for time with the Lord and encouraging His disciples to do the same.  The Old Testament is also full of promises for the weary.  But for some reason, our culture attaches guilt and shame with rest.  We apologize for reading a book, taking a nap or needing time alone.


Henri Nouwen, Francis of Assisi, Augustine, John of the Cross, and Theresa of Avila are some of my spiritual heroes, but since becoming a mother, I find myself thinking Yeah, must be nice to have so much time to spend time with God.  Though moms do keep night vigils and do manual labor, our commonalities end around there.

As a married woman with two children, I have been on the search for words on rest from someone who did not have 12 hours a day to saturate themselves in prayer and Bible study because sometimes all I have is 10…minutes, that is.  

Though I know you don’t need convincing that rest is something you want, I do hope to convince you that it is something you need.

Why rest?

Jesus knew the value of rest, often escaping for time with the Lord and encouraging His disciples to do the same.  The Old Testament is also full of promises for the weary.  But for some reason, our culture attaches guilt and shame with rest.  We apologize for reading a book, taking a nap or needing time alone.

But the type of rest Jesus describes is the rest that infuses all of life with greater strength and meaning.  When we pray, we become centered on the eternal.  When we read the Bible, we are reading a book that is living and applicable right now to whatever we are experiencing.  When we sit still and listen, we are reminded that we are not alone.  This kind of soul rest fuels all the other work that we do in a day.

Madeleine L’Engle said, “When I am constantly running there is no time for being.  When there is no time for being there is no time for listening” (Walking on Water, pg. 13).  And we need to be hearing from God during this season of life where we are responsible for caring for the soul of another human being.

Rest is a need, not a want.  

But how can we find the soul rest we really need when we have so little time (and energy)? 

Recently, an older and wiser mother challenged me to “lower my standards when it comes to spirituality.”  She gently pointed out that perfectionism is doing nothing for my walk with Christ. Though I balked at the accusation, I also realized that she was right.  

I am a spiritual perfectionist.

I got married at 31 after many years of singleness where I was used to spending at least an hour a day journaling, reading the Bible and praying.  Marriage and The Narrowing made that old expectation an impossibility and so I entered motherhood thinking that if I couldn’t have an hour long quiet time or at least 30 minutes, I wouldn’t even sit down to try because it wasn’t “spiritual enough.”  


So it is not surprising that it is year three of motherhood and I feel spiritually dehydrated. 

Here are a few adjustments I’m realizing I need to make to find the nourishment my soul needs in a season of life that is so demanding.

First of all, we must accept that we are not monks.  As moms, we must change our expectations for the quality and quantity of our time spent with God and let go of perfectionism when it comes to spirituality (and, let’s be honest, everything else!).

In this post, Margaret Feinberg points out that “Jesus extends the invitation to come away. In Mark 6:31, Jesus instructs His followers to “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest for a while.” The word oligos in the Greek that’s translated “a while” actually means “little, small, few”. I love this detail! Because it means God can do great things with only a sliver of time.” 

We need to learn to do the most with the little slivers of time that we have in a day, and not just wait until we have a large enough chunk, because that time will most likely never come.

We need to retrain our minds to do spiritual sprints instead of spiritual marathons. 

The next few days, I’ll be sharing some creative ideas my friends and I came up with for doing the most with what you’ve got in terms of time and energy level.

We need to retrain our minds to do spiritual sprints instead of spiritual marathons." www.scrapingraisins.blogspot.com

But along with shifting my expectations of how and when I will pursue God, I also need to plan ahead.  

For example, I don’t usually feel inspired to cook a meal at 5 pm if I have given it no forethought, but I have found that if I plan to cook something, buy the vegetables and pull the meat out ahead of time to defrost, the meal is much more likely to get cooked.  A plan sets things in motion. 

We always plan for what is important to us, so why should spirituality be any different?  We love the mountain top moments with arms raised, eyes streaming with tears of joy and a burning heart, but if we are honest, we know that we live in the plains and not on the mountain tops, so we should make our travel plans with our scenery in mind.  

How can I seek God during the slivers of “alone” time in my day, during: kid’s naps, car rides, showering, putting on make-up, cooking, brushing my teeth or waiting on a toddler to put on his shoes?

There are 1440 minutes in a day.  1440.  Could I spare 5, 10, or 15 minutes of those minutes a day to seek soul rest and a deeper relationship with Jesus? 

I need to have plans and contingency plans for seeking God throughout my day.


Finally, the same wise older mama (as well as a few other friends), have reminded me to give myself grace in this chapter of my life.  God loves us and sees all our attempts at holiness and accepts them just as a loving father accepts the precious “gifts” a toddler might hand to him.

I am also realizing that my years studying the Bible as a single woman created a reservoir that I am now benefiting from as a married woman with limited time.  If you are single, feed the reservoir.  You will certainly need it one day–if not for marriage, during other hectic times of your life where you do not have the time or energy to pursue the Lord.

In the next few days, we’ll be discussing practical ways to maximize the time you do have in order to find the soul rest you are longing for.  I get you, weary mama.  I’m writing this just as much for myself as for you.  Sign up for emails if you want to be sure not to miss the next few days.  Check out yesterday’s post if you missed it and come back tomorrow to find permission for self care.


How have your expectations had to shift as you have become a mother?   
Do you struggle with being a perfectionist?  In what ways?  
How can you plan ahead to spend time in prayer and the Word? 
In what areas do you need to give yourself grace?


Check out all the other posts in this series:

       Introduction to the Series
       Day 1: Three Secrets of Soul Rest
       Day 2: Moms Are Not Monks
       Day 3: Permission for Self Care
       Day 4: Ordinary Moments
       Day 5: Creative Spirituality for Busy Times
       Day 6: Planning a Personal Retreat
       Day 7: Sabbath Rhythms


Related articles:
Ashley Hale’s Write 31 Days Series: Letters to Weary Women

A great blog series:  31 Hats Mom Wears

Linking up with Mommy Moments  

Day 1: Three Secrets of Soul Rest {7 Days of Soul Rest}

Sitting on the couch, the sun slants in the windows as I sip coffee and half-heartedly attempt to read my Bible.  My one-year-old daughter toddles over to me, her arms overflowing with "stuff."  One at a time, she hands me a train, a purple rubber band, a board book, a sippie cup, an old broken cell phone and her blanket.  Finally, she raises her tiny arms and waits for me to lift her up.   Lately, as I've been mulling over the subject of soul rest, this scene seems to be God's message to me during this chapter of my life as a mother of two teeny children.   Give me everything you're carrying.  And then let me carry you, He seems to be saying.   Before I launch into this series, which I hope will be helpful on a very practical level, I need to ask you some personal questions.  What are you carrying around with you?   Before we can even hope to have the kind of soul rest we long for, we need to unload.  Here are some ways we can do that.

Sitting on the couch, the sun slants in the windows as I sip coffee and half-heartedly attempt to read my Bible.  My one-year-old daughter toddles over to me, her arms overflowing with “stuff.”  One at a time, she hands me a train, a purple rubber band, a board book, a sippie cup, an old broken cell phone and her blanket.  Finally, she raises her tiny arms and waits for me to lift her up.

Lately, as I’ve been mulling over the subject of soul rest, this scene seems to be God’s message to me during this chapter of my life as a mother of two teeny children:

Give me everything you’re carrying.  
And then let me carry you.

Before I launch into this series, which I hope will be helpful on a very practical level, I need to ask you some personal questions.

What are you carrying around with you? 

Before we can even hope to have the kind of soul rest we long for, we need to unload.  Here are some ways we can do that.

1. Confess

As an evangelical, the churches and groups I associate with tend to focus more on grace and less on spiritual disciplines, so I was surprised when I asked my Catholic friend how she finds soul rest and one of her ways was through confession.  Here is what she said:

“I know this is very Catholic, but experiencing the Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession) always lifts a huge weight off my shoulders. I try to go every month but don’t usually meet that goal. The act of someone speaking in the name of Jesus and saying that my sins are washed away is always a hugely emotional moment and is in its own way incredibly restful. I think the restfulness comes from experiencing tangibly that it is God’s grace that covers my sins, and that my failures are gone. They do not define who I am from now on. And although I walk out of the confessional with the firm intention of not repeating my sins, I will fail again. But I am not steeped in depressing, burdening history. Soul rest at its finest!”

The film, The Mission, has a powerful scene where mercenary and murderer (played by Robert De Niro) does penance for his crimes by carrying his armor and weapons in a bag strapped to his back for many miles.  Filthy, he struggles with the weight of his burden up a hill until he is cut free by a Jesuit priest.  Released from the burdens he has carried, he weeps in the arms of the priest.

We cannot experience true soul rest until we are freed from the weight of our failures, guilt, regret, and shame.  

Audibly speaking these aloud or writing them down and then burning or burying them are physical ways we can express our confession.  Taking advantage of the opportunity of reflection during communion in church is also a good time to ask God to convict us of anything we are carrying that we don’t need to be.  Jesus has paid the price for our freedom and only He has the ability to cut away our heavy burdens.

When is the last time you confessed your sins to Him? 

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).

2.  Give Him Everything Else

But even after we hand our heavy sins to God, we are still not empty-handed.  God wants more.  He wants our hopes, dreams, longings, desires, will, anxieties, fears, goals, plans, careers, spouses, children, parents, friends, health and even our life. 

I have so much more respect for people who choose not to follow Christ because they know deep down in their soul that following Him will cost them everything. 

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

God wants it all–the good, the bad, the ugly, the worries that keep us up at night and the fears that threaten to paralyze us.

 
Is there anything you’re holding back from Him?

3. Let Yourself Be Loved by God


In Jesus’ final hours with His disciples, He washed their feet and ate with them.  The disciple John, called “the one whom Jesus loved,” sat next to Jesus and is described as “leaning on His breast” (Jn. 13:23).

In the Western church, our “Christianeze” for drawing closer to Christ has been to say we are going to “sit at the feet of Jesus,” as Mary did in Luke 10:39.   

But why don’t we ever say we are going to “lean on the breast of Jesus”? 

I think we clutch onto the image of sitting at Jesus’ feet because it fits in more with western culture and because we like our personal space–even with Jesus.  But when I think of my Chinese students all sitting on each other’s laps and holding hands with the same gender friends, I wonder if they ever talk about their relationship with Christ and say they want to lay on His chest?

I love the intimacy of this picture.  If we are leaning on Jesus’ chest, we hear Him even when He whispers and can have no doubt that He is near because we are touching Him.

In order to experience soul rest, we need to allow ourselves to be loved by God–and that means we must give up our personal space and allow ourselves to be held.  

Just as my daughter handed me her bundle, we must give God the burden of our sins, offer Him our fears, hopes and dreams and allow Him to carry us, our heads on His breast, if we want to begin experiencing soul rest.    

I realize that all of this sounds pretty abstract and you may be thinking some easier said than done thoughts (and believe me, I am too).  But personally, I am going to start with an honest conversation with God.  


“Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.  And you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”  (Mat. 11:28-29).

“He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young” (Is. 40:11).

A day after writing this, I “happened” to hear this song on the radio, by Casting Crowns.  If you can, take a few minutes and listen.  Here are the lyrics:

“Just Be Held”

Hold it all together
Everybody needs you strong
But life hits you out of nowhere
And barely leaves you holding on
And when you’re tired of fighting
Chained by your control

There’s freedom in surrender
Lay it down and let it go
So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held
Just be held, just be held
If your eyes are on the storm
You’ll wonder if I love you still
But if your eyes are on the cross
You’ll know I always have and I always will
And not a tear is wasted
In time, you’ll understand
I’m painting beauty with the ashes
Your life is in My hands
So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held
Just be held, just be held
Lift your hands, lift your eyes
In the storm is where you’ll find Me
And where you are, I’ll hold your heart
I’ll hold your heart
Come to Me, find your rest
In the arms of the God who won’t let go
So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held
 

(Stop holding on and just be held)
Just be held, just be held
Just be held, just be held



What are you carrying?  Are you allowing God to carry you?

Check out the other posts in this series:

       Day 2: Moms Are Not Monks
       Day 3: Permission for Self Care
       Day 4: Ordinary Moments
       Day 5: Creative Spirituality for Busy Times
       Day 6: Planning a Personal Retreat
       Day 7: Sabbath Rhythms

Linking up with Thought Provoking Thursday and Velvet Ashes

Introduction to the Series: 7 Days of Soul Rest

Thirsty. Tired. Weary.  That is how I would describe my soul thus far during this chapter of my life.  In the past three years of being a mother, I have struggled to find the true kind of soul rest I used to know.  At the risk of sounding whiny or ungrateful, I‘m pulling the transparency card in the case that you, too, can relate.
But it is time for me to take my search for water more seriously and I need a little accountability and a lot of community. 
Mostly, I want to be back in constant touch with the Source of this water, Jesus Christ.
I am writing this series in search of answers, ideas, wisdom, inspiration and perspective because my soul longs for the kind of rest that goes deeper than just a spa day.
 
For help, I have enlisted several friends to contribute their wisdom over the next 7 days.  All are moms in their 30’s and are women I respect for their deep relationship with Jesus.   
Meet some of my friends:

  • My gentle friend from Kansas is the mom of 3 children between the ages of 6 months and 4 years 
  • My analytical friend from Michigan is the mom of 3 children between the ages of 4 months and 6 years
  • My kind friend from Wisconsin is the mom of 9 children (yes, 9!), between the ages of 3 months and 13 years
  • My disciplined friend from Alabama is the mom of 2 children, ages 1 and 3
  • My passionate friend from Missouri is the mom of one step son, age 18 and 3 biological children between the ages of 2 and 8  
  • My wise friend from Illinois is the mom of 4 children between the ages of 2 and 8


In the mix?  A homeschooling mom or two,  some evangelicals and a Catholic, a personal trainer, a teacher, a doctor, and a mom in full-time ministry. Though they all live in different states and only a few know each other, all had some inspiring ideas about following Jesus.

Their profound words and advice will be scattered throughout these posts and I know that you will be blessed by them just as I have been.

Here’s what you can expect over the next 7 days, beginning on December 1st:

       Day 1: Three Secrets of Soul Rest
       Day 2: Moms Are Not Monks
       Day 3: Permission for Self Care
       Day 4: Ordinary Moments
       Day 5: Creative Spirituality for Busy Times
       Day 6: Planning a Personal Retreat
       Day 7: Sabbath Rhythms

These posts will be geared towards encouraging moms of little ones in a season of life that can feel like Jesus is constantly asking too much of us, but I am sure that anyone seeking soul rest will benefit since the truths and principles we discuss are timelessIn addition to talking about the Source of our soul rest, we‘ll discuss practical ways to pray, spend time in the Word, have a healthy lifestyle, plan a personal retreat and implement Sabbath practices during seasons when we feel weary.

I would love to hear your experiences each day in the comments.  In fact, I am prepared to bribe you to comment (although I am learning they call these “giveaways” in the blogging world).  If you leave a comment or subscribe during the duration of this series, I will draw three names the day after the last post is published and the winners will receive a code for a free audio book download. 

I am certainly not an expert on this subject, so I would love to hear of any other resources such as books, blog posts, articles or websites you know of on this topic.  I will share some that I have run across as well. 

To follow along each day, you can subscribe in the upper right corner and these posts will go directly to your email inbox.  Otherwise, you can return to this intro page or find the “7 Days of Soul Rest” page at the top of the website and the latest post will be linked to the table of contents.

Okay, sisters (though weary brothers are welcome, too), let’s begin this journey together. 

I pray that we would find true rest for our souls as we seek Christ together.

“You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.”  Jer. 29:13

Linking up with Sitting Among Friends

Running: Soul Rest and Slowness

Running: Soul Rest and Slowness.  Running, for me, is rest.  I am moving.  I am outside (hopefully in nature and sunshine).  And I am alone.  This is when my brain works out its kinks and my mind becomes clear enough to pray.


Running, for me, is rest.  I am moving.  I am outside (hopefully in nature and sunshine).  And I am alone.  This is when my brain works out its kinks and my mind becomes clear enough to pray.  Lately, I come home from a run and scramble for a pen and paper to jot down the words that have sprung to my mind (ahem, the raisins that were “scraped” free). 

I am not a fast runner, but I run every other day for about three miles each time.  I notice a considerable shift in my mood if I don’t have this time to run or if I miss several days in a row. 

Running is my therapy. 

People always say that they don’t have time to run, but exercise is the type of priority that pushes out something or someone else:  time in the mornings lounging with family, commutes home from work (in Chicago, I used to run a portion of my train ride home from working in Chinatown) and sleep.  But the benefits of running far outweigh those moments I may miss. 

When I first started running, I would run for 5 minutes at a time.  Then 6, then 7 until I had built up to a time that was manageable for my schedule.  I usually tell people who are interested in getting into running to begin like this with 5 minutes, adding a minute each time–or choose a very close landmark, like a city block or run to that next stop sign or tree.  My mom started running this way 7 years ago and got addicted.  Last year she ran the Chicago Marathon at age 61.

No matter where I have lived in the world, I have at least attempted to run.  In college, sometimes it was at midnight in a “safe,” dark suburb.  In Uganda, it was at dawn before all the gawkers came out of their houses to watch the white muzungu run in her skirt.  In China, it was out of the city and through farms with houses made of mud and some homes carved into the sides of hills. 

In Chicago, it was along gem-like Lake Michigan with sailboats dotting the horizon in summer and ice rising into mammoth sculptures along the fringe of the lake in winter.  And now, in Colorado, I run in the foothills on a dusty path decorated with small mounds that I eventually realized belong to prairie dogs, who scuttle along from mound to mound, squeaking my arrival to one another.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I ran until I was 30 weeks along, eventually overcoming the embarrassment about what people might be thinking about me.  But by my second pregnancy, I no longer had the ability to be self-conscious and ran until I was 36 weeks along, my gait shifting to the weight of my bulging belly.  Each time after birth, I couldn’t wait until the doctor gave me the go-ahead to get back outside and begin to move again.

I would much rather run in a new place than drive or bike, because my slower pace allows me to observe life on a larger scale. 

Having two tiny children in tow all day has forced me to slow my pace in this chapter of my life.  You cannot hurry through life when you are waiting on a toddler. They put on socks, find shoes, pick up toys, climb into car seats, leave the park, or eat their food in their own sweet time, with no concern for their parent’s schedules.   

The past three years I admit I have fought hard against this slowness. 

But perhaps God wants to enlarge my view of Him as I take in life at this uncomfortably slow pace?

Instead of seeing less of the world, I am actually seeing more.  I now see daily life through the eyes of my children as through a giant magnifying glass.  My son is helping me re-learn how to be a noticer:  the black and orange boxelder bug defying gravity on the wall, pine needles staining brown lines on the back porch, the smell of cut grass on a walk and hundreds of geese wings beating the air overhead.  My son points them out, rejoicing over every detail.  Details that I might have missed.  

Having children has forced me to slow down and this, too, has been its own kind of soul rest.

Running, on a very practical level, is soul rest to me, but my children set my pace in this season of life and I can choose to either fight the slowness or enjoy the scenery as we mosey on our way.
 

How do you define “soul rest”?  What kinds of activities help you feel this kind of rest?  If you are a parent, what have your children pointed out to you this week that you would not have noticed otherwise?

Over the next week, I am going to be sharing a series, “7 Days of Soul Rest.” Please be sure to subscribe to receive posts by email so you won’t miss any!   

The Anticipation of Advent

Read more to find ways to celebrate Advent with your children at http://scrapingraisins.blogspot.com/2015/11/the-anticipation-of-advent.html.


I grew up in evangelical churches that feared ritual.  We shouldn’t recite set prayers, read liturgy or take communion weekly or it will become rote and routine and will lose its meaning was the excuse.  But I have found that many from my generation now yearn for the traditions that were rejected by our parents. 
 
Advent is one of those traditions of the church my family is choosing to celebrate to draw us back into the rhythm of God’s larger story in the world. 
 
The word Advent means “coming,” which refers to the coming of the long-awaited Messiah, but also foreshadows His promised return to earth.
 
Advent has a way of eliciting a feeling of wonder.  Last year was the first year we celebrated Advent before Christmas and a sense of awe and anticipation built as we neared the day of Christ’s birth.  Though this is only our second year observing Advent, I want to share what my family is planning to do in case it is something you would like to join us in doing this year.  Last year, we gathered the following:
 
1. The Advent Book
2. An Advent Wreath
3. An Advent Calendar
3. A Fisher Price Little People Nativity Set

 

This year, Advent begins Sunday, November 29, and after dinner each day we plan to light a candle (adding a candle each week), read a page from The Advent Book (a really beautiful book where kids can open doors each day), retell the Christmas story from the beginning and add a piece to the story on the calendar.  A friend of mine also does cookies and hot cocoa each night as they read.  I pulled out the toy nativity recently and have already heard my 3-year-old telling his 1-year-old sister the story of “the star and baby Jesus” (which also now includes a helicopter). 

 
But although I know my children will enjoy this season and I hope they will grow in their understanding of God incarnate, selfishly, I am looking forward to what a daily routine of telling the story together as a family is going to do for my own heart. 
 
Distracted, my mind wanders during Bible study.  Weary, I would rather sleep than spend time in prayer.  Discontented, I focus on the what if’s and if only’s instead of on what is and all the gifts that I enjoy at His hand. 
 
And I miss the magic. 
 
Like The Polar Express (which my son now hands me to read and says, “Let’s read the one that makes you cry”),  I long to hear the sweet melody of the Christmas bells that have become silent to me as I’ve grown older and farther removed from my childhood belief in magic and mystery.
 
I want to be in awe again.
 
This Advent, I am longing for Jesus to draw me into the magical story of His birth in a way that reignites my love for Him and reawakens a childlike faith in the impossible.
 
 
What kind of traditions do you do with your family to focus on Jesus during the Christmas season?  If you have celebrated Advent before, I’d love to hear more about your experience in the comments.
 
 Check out my latest series, 7 Days of Soul Rest
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Related Resources:
Check out my friend Roxanne’s blog for some really great ideas for Advent (some of these posts are from when they were living in Africa, so my overseas friends can get some ideas as well) 
 
Treasuring God in Our Traditions, by Noel Piper
 
Advent Apps for your phone on YouVersion

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Linking up with Literacy Musing Mondays and Playdates with God and Velvet Ashes

Thankful for this Day

Right now, in this moment, I am thankful.


I sway with my 16-month-old daughter, singing her the same two songs I always sing before putting her in her crib, “Jesus Loves me” and “I Love you Lord.”  She reaches up, her face two inches from mine and touches the tips of my eyelashes, then my ears and nose, with her chubby little fingers.  She smiles her gap-toothed smile, her wispy blond hair bits escaping from her tiny ponytail on top of her head and falling across her eyes.  I lay her down and quietly tip-toe out of the room.  My three-year-old son has already quieted down next door and I no longer hear him singing and making noises.

I push the button on the electric tea kettle, rummage through the cupboard for a tea bag, plop it in the largest mug I can find, pour the steaming water into the cup and sit down here to write. 

Right now, in this moment, I am thankful.  I am thankful for the sun streaming in through the too-many windows and creating bright geometric shapes on the couch.  I am thankful for the tiny hand prints on the windows because it means that there are tiny people that live in my house.  I am thankful that both children are sleeping at the same time.

I am thankful for the Colorado sunshine that has proven to be as dependable as promised thus far.  After living in Chicago for nine years total, I am thankful for the change.  Though Chicago had its own appeal–the diversity, culture, movement, rhythm, promise and pace, right now I am thankful to not be there.  

Growing up in Florida, my soul seems to have been conditioned to need sunshine more than most.  I am a sun worshipper.  And so Chicago winters would drill holes in my soul through which joy seemed to seep out during the months of January through May.  Though I know that joy is not dependent on circumstance, I have also found God to be someone who graciously gives us even creature comforts at times when we most need them.  And He knew that I needed a little sunshine for my soul.      

After living in a third floor apartment with two tiny children, with laundry in the basement, no garage, dishwasher or yard and no ability to control our own heat, I am grateful for these new luxuries.  Instead of making 12 trips to the basement in one week, I can now wash clothes at my leisure, watching as my children arrange stuffed animals for tea parties, collect miscellaneous toys in any receptacle possible and scatter cheerios and raisins on the carpet. 

A garage means I won’t have to shovel snow off my car in the mornings.  I can put my children in the car shoe-less, and I don’t have to haul them back inside if I forgot something (or leave them briefly and fear that someone will call child services on me).  And I can open the back door after naps in the afternoon for them to run outside in our backyard that is exactly the right size for our family right now.

Our neighborhood is so dark in the evenings that we missed the turnoff the first few times we came home at night.  We can actually see stars.  Chicago’s skies were always pink and I may have seen three stars on a good night.  And there was constant noise.  Now, we can hear birds, crickets and the distant whinny of horses from the back porch.  A smile creeps across my face on days sitting outside when the scent of horse manure drifts into our yard because it means that we are not in the city. 

The mountains stand serenely in the background of most of daily life.  It caught me off guard the first time I came out of Target to have such a stately background for a common store.  I’m surprised I haven’t gotten into a car wreck yet from gawking at them stretched across the horizon as I drive toward home.  They are a constant reminder of my smallness.  I am thankful for the awe that comes in feeling overtaken by beauty, overcome by God’s creation.

As my parents did not want to live in Chicago and we did not want to live in Florida, Colorado was our compromise place.  My parents are volunteer rangers at Rocky Mountain National Park in the summer.  They now live in the mountains and to get to grandmother’s house we not only have to go over the river and through the woods, but over the highest highway in the country.  Instead of rush hour being our reason for running late to their place, it is more likely elk or moose or the tourists stopping traffic to take pictures of them that causes our delay. 

I am thankful to be living in the same state as my parents for the first time in 18 years.  Now that I am a mom myself, I seem to need them even more.

After writing about The Narrowing in my previous post, this time of giving thanks is a load lifter.  Jesus, thank you for blessing me over and above all that I could have ever asked or imagined.  Thank you for your peace that passes all understanding.  Thank you for your forgiveness of me before I’m even willing to forgive myself.  I know that one day I can expect suffering, sorrows, trials, sickness and death, but today is not that day. 
Thank you for this day.  

Lately, I have been trying to start the day with a better attitude and have been singing aloud,

This is the day, this is the day that Lord has made, that the Lord has made,
Let us rejoice, let us rejoice and be glad in it and be glad in it.


This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.  Thank you, Lord, for your small and large gifts to us in this day.


What is the largest thing you can give thanks for today?  The smallest? 


Linking up with Thankful Thursday
 
 

Love & Marriage: The Narrowing

Love & Marriage:  The Narrowing

My closest friends know that I have a rebellious streak. And in spite of being a teacher by trade (and a rule enforcer by default as a parent), I may also be a little bit of a rule breaker.  So it should come as no surprise that I don’t do well with restrictions or limits.

Before getting married, I traveled to over 10 countries for various amounts of time (living in two). I learned Chinese, got my masters and planned to get my PhD (my Plan B since marriage didn’t seem to be an option–why not be super educated?). My “verse” was:  

“Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes” (Is 54:2).

And then I fell in love.

The Narrowing began with dating long distance, but became a real heading in the story of our lives when we got married and realized we had so much less time for ourselves and for relationships outside of one another. We were crazy in-love and happy, but began to notice our broad road narrowing as it sloped towards the horizon.

I suddenly felt like a bird tethered to the foot of another bird, exhilarated by the heights, but struggling to negotiate the tension that comes in flying while attached to another being.

Two years later, we had a child and The Narrowing became even more evident. We could no longer spontaneously go out with friends or stay up late. Our time for each other became more precious and our time for others practically non-existent. Baby number two came two years after that and the term “spare time” now elicited much eye-rolling and muttering of “must be nice” under our breath.

When we were dating, I told Adam that my biggest fear was that I would be cooped up with an infant inside a tiny Chicago apartment in the dreary winter. Within a few years, that is exactly where I found myself. It is hard to maintain your rebellious streak when you are nursing a baby around the clock.

But lately I’ve been wondering if The Narrowing isn’t as much a restriction of freedom as a freedom from restrictions? What if I stopped seeing it as an end and began seeing it as a means to an end? What if I started accepting that God may want to prune branches so that new branches may grow?

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (Jn. 15:2). 

It is fall-become-winter time and my son has started asking me why all the trees are dead. They aren’t dead, I answer,
they’re just preparing for winter. They are shedding their excess leaves to conserve their energy during this season.

I am a winter tree, stripped down to bare branches. Teacher, missionary, world traveler, student, friend- who-will-be-there-at-a-moment’s-notice and adventurer are no longer terms I can honestly use to describe myself in three words or less. Now, I am wife, mommy, cook, boo boo kisser, question answerer, pretend game player and bodily fluid wiper.  But perhaps one day vibrant new leaves will replace the ones that were “lost.”

In fact, lately I have noticed that the loss of leaves in our yard is opening up new views of the serene lake across the street, the expansive blue sky and the mighty mountains hiding behind houses that I couldn’t see when the trees were full.  Perhaps the loss of some of what I used to use to define myself is also opening up new views of God, myself and others in this season of my life.  


Any artist knows and respects the eloquence of empty space in a work of art.  The elimination of my extra road is teaching me to walk this narrow path with more precision and intentionality. 


I am being given the gift of lessening. 

Patty Stallings, in her article Pleasant Boundary Lines, pointed out that Jesus Himself was “unknown, hidden and unseen for most of His adult life.” He intentionally limited Himself and allowed Himself to take on the nature of a servant (Phil. 2:7). And we are called to be like Him. 

In the comments, she responded to my mention of The Narrowing:

“Leslie, when I first read your term “The Narrowing” on your blog a couple weeks ago, I thought how fitting for moms of young children. And moms of grown children. And women as they age. And women who take care of aging parents. And… well, the list could go on and on, right? The image that comes to my mind is squeezing through a narrow passageway and you have to shed all the excess “stuff” you are dragging along to fit through the narrow place. And as you do, your hands are freed up to welcome the new and the good on the other side of the passageway.”


My hands are freed?

Maybe this narrow road He has me on is not a road of restriction, but of freedom because I am walking within His boundary lines of love. The Narrowing frees me to walk with greater purpose, emptier hands and a lighter load. 
 
 “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (Ps. 16:5-6).


What about you?  I’d love to hear some of your experience with The Narrowing in the comments!


Linking up with Testimony Tuesday and Sarah Bessey’s Synchroblog prompt

Our Defense Against Evil

Lately, my son has been wanting to play “bad guys.”  Meaning, he is the bad guy.  I find myself hoping other people don’t hear him talking about wanting to be the “bad guy,” because, as Christ followers, we are supposed to be the “good guys.”  I want him to be the “good guy.”
 
This morning, after news of the attacks in Paris, I watched my children eat their breakfast, sing their songs and make their goofy faces.  My three-year-old son has no idea that people were slaughtered last night.  My one-year-old daughter does not worry about her security or the state of the world.  They eat, they sleep, they play.  What kind of people slaughter the innocent? I think. 
 
The bad guys do. 
 
But my hunch is that the mothers of the killers in last night’s massacre did not want their children to be the “bad guys” any more than I want my son to be. 
 
I’m guessing many of the militants had children of their own back home eating their breakfasts, singing their songs and making their goofy faces while their fathers were away.  What do their mothers tell them when they hear the news that their husbands and fathers are not returning?  That they were away being the “bad guys”? 
 
Or do they truly believe that they are the “good guys”?
 
Truthfully, I have tried to hide from news about the evil in the world because it makes me feel fearful, powerless and guilty because I–at the moment–am happy and secure.  I feel like there is nothing I can to do to stop the imminent tsunami of evil, so I try to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist. 
 
And the news is something that I can effectually avoid, thanks to modern technology. It is easy to shield myself from anything that may make me feel uncomfortable. There are plenty of phone apps which allow you to select a tame version of the news that will not cause you to ponder the problems of the world.  I don’t listen to the radio anymore, because I can listen to Pandora, and I don’t have interruptions of news during T.V. shows because we only watch Netflix.  So any additional news that comes to me is now via Facebook, which is more likely the latest mommy blog article or food recipe than an article about the atrocities of the world. 
 
We Americans like being isolated.  We don’t actually want to know what is happening across the ocean because it makes us feel powerless.  So we turn off the news and make it go away.
 
But then the bad guys strike again and we can’t escape into our holes. 
 
So what do we do? 
 
Though changing our Facebook profile picture to the colors of the French flag, tweeting, instagramming and posting pictures of the Eiffel tower with quotes and Scripture verses on social media are all ways we can show solidarity with the “good guys,” we all know the passion will dissolve within days and weeks.  We will crawl back into our safe holes, squeeze our children close and forget.
 
But the bad guys are out there, believing that what they are doing is good. 
 
Personally, I want to try to stop hiding and force myself to see.  War, famine, refugees, human trafficking, drug addiction, domestic violence, abuse, earthquakes, hurricanes and senseless violence are all too much for me to bear, so I will listen, I will learn and I will look until the pain and suffering begins to exceed what I can handle.
 
And then, in prayer, I will pour the evil back out to Someone who can hold it all without being overcome by the tsunami.  Someone who, according to the Sunday school song, in fact, holds the whole world in His hands.  My Jesus-following friends in Uganda called this type of pouring out of burdens and needs to God shundering.  They would pace the floor all night, waving their hands and speaking to God about all that was on their hearts.  
 
In my own quieter western ways, I will intentionally read the news, write down some world needs in my journal and then speak aloud to God for 15 minutes in the morning and, like Abraham, beg God to have mercy for the sake of a few righteous in the land.  
 
And I will pray for the bad guys. 
 
And I will pray for the children of the bad guys.
 
And I will pray for the mothers of the bad guys.
 
Because right now, from this side of the ocean, that is all that I know to do.
 
 
Dear God,
 
We pray for Paris and beg for your intervention in the world.
We pray against the plague of fear, which can spread like an infectious disease and instead pray for courage and peace.
We praise you for being a God who is not surprised by evil schemes and trust that you will bring all evil to justice in the end.
We pray that our world leaders would have wisdom as they make decisions that will affect many in the world in the days to come.
 
In Jesus’ name.
Amen.
 
Photo: “GeorgesGaren embrasement tour Eiffel” by Georges Garen. Licensed under PublicDomain via Wikimedia Commons –

In Rhythm with the Spirit


Orange clay,
distant drumming,
straw mats
and flowering trees. 

Africa.

The year 2000.  
I am 21.
 
A bright yellow re-purposed jug poured onto dusty hands, fingers rubbed free of grease from chapati and samosas and ten children holding ten fingers on the walk home from the road.
 
The water thuds twice inside the jug like the beats of a djembe drum.  A familiar song.  What song could it be? And then I smile.  It ruminates there the rest of the night when the lights go down to three naked bulbs in this village house where I have brought no music for six months.
 
Though I feel alone.  I am never alone.  You are with me.  You are with me.
 
Two notes yank me back in step with the rhythm of the Spirit of Jesus.  
 
Just as we are often unaware that we are breathing in and out, in and out and that our heart is beating at 70 beats per minute, keeping us in life, so, too, are we often ignorant of the Spirit pulsing all around us, pulsing IN us.  God has set us in rhythm in life.  He has given us rituals, routines, seasons, tides, reproductive cycles, prayers, festivals, feasts, six days of work and a command to Sabbath rest so that we may REMEMBER.  Music and dance only jump into the rhythm to whirl and twirl and draw attention to what God has done.
 
Watching children is the best way to fall back into rhythm.  Mothers sway in church pews even after putting babies in the nursery because they have been reconditioned.  On a playground, witness the pulse of children whirling, swaying, swinging, rocking, jumping, thumping, laughing, tap tap tapping out the rhythm of the jump rope skip song, slapping hands to Miss Mary Mack Mack Mack all dressed in Black Black Black, skipping, tripping and falling into a heap of rolling rolling children. 

And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

We, too, call out Daddy and are freed to play in the pulsing rhythm of life.
 
For freedom Christ set free.

But it is freedom to love, not hate 
have joy, not bitterness
peace, not anxiety
patience, not immaturity
kindness, not selfishness
goodness, not evil
faithfulness, not doubt 
gentleness, not harshness
self control, not self gratification
 
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Staying in step with the Spirit leads the melody of our lives and makes even the dissonant notes harmonious, for there can be no melody without rhythm.

Marriage requires in-step-ness.  When spouses are out of sync, all other rhythms of life are awkward.  Mind, body and spirit must align to trace one another’s steps, anticipate the next move and let go enough to melt into the freedom of the dance. 

For you were called to freedom, only do not use your freedom for the flesh, but in love SERVE one another.

Offering our minds to our spouse in conversation, our bodies to one another in love making and our souls in prayer together to the sacrificial God of love, keeps us synchronized in our marriage rhythms.

Rhythm for rhythm’s sake can feel like monotony. Bored, we step without joy. A musician knows too well the effect their attitude has on their art and first assumes the mood of a piece:  allegrezza  (cheerfulness, joyfulness), amoroso (loving), anima (with feeling), calma (calm), energico (energetic, strong).   

We wash our minds daily with the words of Jesus as we would wash our hands or faces. We pray for allegrezza attitudes as we play the music we have been given. We prepare for a day of dancing His steps and giving in to His rhythms.  We allow ourselves to be ones who are led.

You may feel you have lost your rhythm. 
Be still.
Listen. 
Surrender. 

Tap, tap, tap your toe to the distant rhythm of the Spirit at work in you and in the world and soon you may find your whole body, soul and mind aching to step along.  It is for freedom that you have been set free. 



Scriptures: Galatians 4 & 5, paraphrased
Song: “Though I Feel Alone,” Waterdeep

Are you in step with the Spirit today?  How is He at work all around you?


Linking up with Velvet Ashes

Friend Dating: Why is it so hard to make friends in your 30’s?

I’m 36 years old and back at it again.  Making friends never used to be a problem for me.  I met my first best friend in preschool, managed to make friends as I changed schools five times from fourth to twelfth grade and even made some really solid post-college friendships.  But that’s when I was in my 20’s–and single. 

When I got married at 31, my former college friends and roommates still lived in the same city as me, so I wasn’t desperate for new relationships, but as they all eventually began to move away, I found myself alone again. 

When I was pregnant, I decided to start “friend dating.”  I picked out a few acquaintances who were close to my due date to meet for coffee, but it felt forced and unnatural and nothing more came of those relationships.

I assumed having children would usher me into the “mom crowd” I had been so in awe of as a single woman, but was soon disappointed to find that two moms talking at the park usually goes about as deep as two dog owners chatting at a dog park.  If anything, having kids complicated rather than simplified matters because not only did the mom and I have to click, but so did our kids AND our parenting styles.  Add in child number two, and you begin facing impossible odds.

This April, we made a cross-country move and I have been determined to make friends.  About a month after moving here, my son hit it off with another boy at the park.  His mom, who was carrying a baby about the age of my daughter, and I had a long conversation.  At the end of it, I took a deep breath and gave her my phone number.  We have gotten together about twice a month since then and, though I would call her my friend, it feels like we have just reached the point that I had already reached after just one week of living in the dorm with my college friends.

My husband (as has been the case with my friends’ husbands as well) has had an even harder time than me since he works from home and has little interaction with others. 

Sex and Netflix are our evenings right now (though not usually at the same time).  But contrary to Hollywood thought, we have discovered that we cannot complete one another.  Though God and our family are first priority, we also need other relationships to be healthy.  We have actually found that my meeting and expressing my “many words” with a girlfriend helps our marriage, as my husband is okay with the more condensed version of my thoughts. 

This summer (in an attempt to make friends), I joined a study on a book that actually sounded pretty lame to me at first, called The Friendships of Women.  To my surprise, this updated version of a book first written in 1988, by Dee Brestin, put words to so many of my unexpressed desires for female friendships. She writes about how most women have a gift for intimacy that men just don’t have.  

“When I talk to my closest female friends, I feel my soul being sunned and watered when they ask questions, drawing out the deep waters of my soul, and as well when they empathize, rejoicing when I rejoice, weeping when I weep” (p. 29).

Women are designed for intimacy.  This is why two women can reach a level of friendship in months that it takes men years to attain (and even then it may never reach that level). 

As women, we need other women.

“Friendship is unnecessary: like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival” (C.S. Lewis The Four Loves).

I am writing this post mainly to convince myself that I actually do need female friends, because I have been wondering if I am expecting too much at this stage of my life, which Madeleine L’Engle calls “the tired years.”  But how to find them?

In 2012, the New York Times published an article called “Friends of a Certain Age,” about the difficulties of making friends after the age of 30.  The author mentions that sociologists consider three conditions important in making intimate friends:

1. Proximity
2. Repeated, unplanned interactions
3. A setting that encourages people to let down their guard and confide in one another

All three of these conditions are easily met in college and in the work place (especially when you are single), but what about when you work from home or have a family?  Marriage and family are a time suck (in the best sense of the word) and there just isn’t a lot of down time to shoot the breeze with potential new friends. 

In theory, I believe religious communities have an advantage over secular communities in this regard because they attend weekly services where all of the above can happen.  And yet my husband and I have struggled with this as well–maybe because we don’t often see other people at church more than Sunday mornings, so we really don’t have the “unplanned interactions”?  Or maybe the setting is actually not conducive to people “letting down their guard and confiding in one another”? Or maybe Christians actually just have unrealistically high expectations after reading the Acts passages about believers sharing all things in common, eating together, praying together and exemplifying what seems like amazing community?

C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves said that, “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too?  I thought I was the only one.'”  A lovely sentiment, and yet just as the birth of a child is not simple, neither is the birth of a friendship.  (Am I sounding like a jaded 30-something yet?) So far, just being able to relate to someone has not led to the intimate friendships I desire, because we have not had the benefits of proximity, unplanned interactions or a safe setting.   

We have only recently settled on a church and joined a small group, so maybe the awkward asking-of-phone-numbers-in-random-parks can come to an end.  We have actually been invited to someone’s house for dinner for the first time in seven months and was just asked to celebrate Thanksgiving with another family. 

So there is hope. 


What about you?  Please leave your words of wisdom in the comments, I will definitely take them to heart.

Related: 
White People Are Boring 
When I Forget to Notice People

Linking up with Literacy Musing Mondays