For When You Need a Break from the Same Old, Same Old

 

IMG_3824“Mama, I think today’s a good day for a date with Papa,” My Blessing said as she licked the last morsel of breakfast from her sticky little fingers. 

I glanced across the table at my dad, deciphering his thoughts on the idea. Rarely do I ever find him NOT in the mood for some time with my girls. He nodded, ‘yes’ leaving the decision up to me.

For a moment I weighed my daughter’s request with all I had planned for the day: homeschooling, laundry, afternoon naps…was there space and time for a lunch date?

I looked at her hopeful face. “I guess a short lunch outing would be okay. We could do Steak N Shake, McDonalds, or…”

 “Or Barnes and Noble?'” she asked, ever my little event planner. It was clear she had the day mapped out.

I checked the clock and smiled. “If we hurry, and if it’s okay with Papa, we can make story time…”

Belle Toes“Did you hear that, Hope?'” She cried to her sister. “We’re going to Barnes & Noble for story time. I’m so excited!”

Just shy of an hour later we were loaded in the van and on our way, my dad, my girls, and I. For the rest of the morning, we enjoyed story time, craft time, and snack time. Dad laughed as the girls designed and executed two funky looking art pieces. I laughed as Dad did his best to help.

Next we huddled around the train table as the girls played and looked at books.

“Ten more minutes,” I called as we closed in on noon. “It’s just about lunch time. Time to head home.”

“Or time for a cookie?” My Blessing piped up, eyes never leaving the long line of cars she carefully pushed up a hill.

Again I glanced at my dad. Rarely do I ever find him NOT in the mood for cookies. Again he nodded, ‘yes.’

Minutes later at B&N cafe I watched as my girls dove into gooey chocolate chip cookies the approximate size of their faces. Not wanting to leave ourselves out Dad and I sipped coffee and enjoyed a treat of our own. We totally spoiled our lunches but for once I didn’t care. 

IMG_5847“This is nice,” I said. “Thanks, Dad.” Then looking at my girl, “And thank you, Blessing, for coming up with the idea.” She smiled a chocolaty smile and beamed, “It was a good idea, wasn’t it?”

It sure was.

When my girls were really small I often read them a book at bedtime titled, What Could be Better Than This by Linda Ashman. One of my favorite verses from the story went like this:

“And when they could listen and move at your pace,

the world held a new sort of grace.

It seemed quite a magical place.”

 As I sat at that cafe table with my girls and my dad these words came to mind. Homeschooling and laundry seemed worlds away and everything before me seemed tented with magic and grace. It was like looking at the world through sunglasses, everything a different hue. The hue of childhood wonder.

As a parent, a mother, a homeschooling teacher it is certainly my job to keep us on track. To dictate our days, stay focused, stay fruitful. But days like this remind me that it’s also my job to teach them how to live, how to enjoy the good things God’s given us, how to chase after wonder on Tuesday mornings.

Belle at BeachFor this I’m hardly a teacher. I try but more times than not I find I am merely the student sitting in THEIR classroom where simple grace and fun are always the topic of study.

Finding yourself longing for a break from the same old, same old? Spend a morning, an afternoon, a day following the plans, the ways, the eyes and heart of a child. There’s no better way to make the world seem new. To wake up to life and living, laughter and joy, magic, enchantment and wonder.

On this Tuesday morning laundry piles waited at home. 

Schoolbooks remained untouched.

Class was in session at Barnes and Noble. And as I listened and moved at their pace I learned it all over again…

How the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 

For When You Just Want to Shut Down and Stop Your Heart from Bleeding

 

Tarheel PinA few weeks ago I posted a blog about what to do when your life feels like a March Madness buzzer beater and you’re on the losing team. Little did I know this was just the fate that would soon befall my beloved UNC Tarheels.

For anyone not into the drama of college basketball and the NCAA tournament, last Monday the University of North Carolina went head to head against Villanova in the championship game. With just seconds left on the clock Carolina’s Marcus Paige made an epic three point shot to tie the game and force what everyone thought would be an overtime square off.

But it wasn’t to be.

As the last tenths of a second ticked away Villanova’s Kris Jenkins shot a game winning three pointer destroying hopes and dreams of a UNC victory.

Going from the ultimate college basketball high to the ultimate low I watched my favorite players leave the court looking stunned, distraught, and dejected; my feelings, tumultuous as they were, surely only a fraction of what they were feeling.

To say the least it was heartbreaking.

Now I know the world of college basketball and all that transpires in the throws of March Madness is small cookies compared to the battles taking place in the real world. It’s a micro issue, respectively, but even still it stirs the hearts of those invested. I know it rattled mine.

And if nothing else, it has served this week as a reminder to me of a truth that matters in all of life’s battles both big and small:

Those who love deeply, hurt deeply. 

 

It happens all the time, the temptation to save your skin and your heart from pain. To check out, give up, ignore, don’t look, don’t touch, don’t feel. Don’t listen, don’t see, invest, get involved. Don’t go deeper. Don’t be real. And for heaven’s sake don’t let yourself be vulnerable. Because pain is always involved when you give your heart away. 

All day Monday I fought a subtle urge to not even watch the game. If they lose, I thought, I don’t want to see it. The disappointment that would cause the players…Coach Roy…me… would just be too unbearable.

But that game? That game! And, yeah, I got burned in the end…But how could I miss that game? 

When you find yourself hurting deeply, take heart! It means you loved deeply. And what has the Savior shown us about life but that loving deeply is the only way to really and truly live? 

All the things we love, the big and the small, it matters! It matters to Him. It matters to the story of your life.

When you start to get that feeling, that temptation to stop right there, to go no further, to look away, stop and think for a minute. Don’t just think about what you want to avoid, imagine what you’ll miss by shutting down your heart:

That relationship

That sunrise

That victory

That wholeness

That health

That smile

Laughter

Kisses

Welcome home hugs

Knowing what you’re made of

Knowing what He’s made of

Knowing what forgiveness feels like 

A life with as few regrets as possible

For all my Carolina dreams of winning the national championship, for all life’s battles both big and small, for all the deeply hurting, perhaps Garth Brooks said it best in the words of his classic song: 

“And now

I”m glad I didn’t know

The way it all would end

The way it all would go

Our lives

Are better left to chance

I could have missed the pain

But I’d have had to miss

The dance” *

Lean in. Invest. Be open. Stay open. Stay. In. The. Pool. Be you. Be real. Give your heart away. Give your heart to Him.

And whatever you, no matter what, don’t abandon the big dance for the sake of all the madness.

No, grab your Cinderella slippers and linger after midnight.

*Lyrics from The Dance by Tony Arata

For When the Season You’re in seems Desolate and Void of Love

Winter 8While reading the other day I came across this quote by Celia Thaxter:

“There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart.”

Liking it, I texted it to my friend with the following question: Can I have an eternal fall and winter in mine?

I’m sure she rolled her eyes. She knows how much I adore the fall with its pretty leaves, rosy-cheek breezes, and pumpkin spiced everything. But winter? She, and pretty much everyone else I know, can’t understand the crazy obsession I have for this cold, dreary, never-ending season.

 Our conversation continued:

Her: Not winter!

Me: But I love it!

Her: But it’s desolate and void of love. 

Green LeavesI get it! Winter is hard especially here in Michigan. Winter means you can’t go outside without pain. It means you (and your kiddos) are stuck inside for months on end. It means constant shoveling, tedious driving, and dealing with ice and snow.

Winter means days and days on end when sunshine is scarce and pretty much everything you look at is colorless, dead, and gray. 

And for my friend, the season of life she’s in is kind of like winter too. Hard things are happening in her work and her family. People she loves have betrayed her. Right now there’s no end in sight.

Despite all of this when I read her response something in me snapped. I had this sudden conviction, this knowing with all my heart that her words, no matter how right they seemed, simply weren’t true. 

Lake MIWhich is why I wrote: Oh no! Winter is full of love and far from desolate. Think of all those bulbs in the ground, in the dark just waiting to bloom. I was thinking about it this morning, how beauty and transformation and miracles always start in a dark place. So is winter desolate? I don’t think so. It’s full of life just waiting to happen. And as for love? Think of “Jen” snow! Of icicles shining in sunshine. Of how good coffee tastes and feels on a cold winter morning and how snuggly warm your most favorite blanket feels at night. Each of these and millions more are God saying, “I love you” all winter long.

Jen snow? Yes, I love the falling flakes so much my friends have coined a name for it.

At any rate, this was my knee jerk response to her comment, but I can’t stop thinking about it. About the life and the love that happens even in desolate seasons.

Snowy PumpkinIn seasons that seem like they’re void of warmth and all things good.

In seasons when life is hard, and cold, and dark. When we’re forced to wait for sunshine, to wait for spring to come.

In seasons when we feel all alone as though the ones we love…as though the One we love…has abandoned us.

I’ve lived these winters. I’m watching my friend live one now and I hope she can know what I know. I hope she can see and feel and experience the life and the love that’s still there. That’s happening all around her.

In the dark, in the hard, in the terribly lonely, life IS waiting to bloom. Love IS calling your name.

AmarilysOn my kitchen windowsill an amaryllis bulb my family was given for Christmas reaches just a little bit more for the sun each day, a reminder that spring is coming.

A perfect gift for those in the middle of winter.

What I Gained When I Gave Up

Work In ProgressAs I (hopefully), put the finishing touches on the second draft of my book this week, I thought a look back might be fun. I’m looking forward to returning soon with fresh posts for a fresh new year! What are you celebrating lately, dear friends? I’d love to hear from you!

For the past three weeks I have taken a break from my regular schedule of writing and posting my blog. Before I go on let me just say, I missed it! I missed you! And it feels so good to be back.

As the new year approached, I sensed God prompting me, asking me, to take a break, to give up, for a time, this writing I love.

At first I thought the idea was crazy. Taking a break from my blog writing seemed the opposite of what I should do. But the prompting continued, and I soon realized the choice to take a break was not just a matter of obedience and trust but a declaration of love.

I love this blog. I love to write. But I love Him even more. And this was my chance to show Him.

So I laid my Isaac down. My promise. My passion. My love. And do you know what happened? I am the one who was blessed.

With my writing schedule cleared for the first three weeks of January I took the time I usually spend writing this blog and spent it on finishing the first draft of a book I started in November of 2013.

As I started to write I knew God was with me. He was all in and so was I. One week, three chapters, twenty pages, and 5,692 words later I typed the words: The End.

So what’s the point of all this? Why do I feel compelled to share? Well for one, I’m excited…as if you couldn’t tell. But more than that I want to share what I learned through this experience. What I feel God has taught me. What I can’t keep inside when it comes to His abundant goodness.

Lesson #1: Milestones are worth celebrating

Don’t get me wrong my work on this book is FAR from over. My first draft is finished but I still have a lot of revision to do. Still, this part of the journey, this part of the process, is over and I’m excited to start phase two. Every phase gets me closer to God’s ultimate purpose for this work, this creation. And every phase is worth celebrating.

Lesson #2: Invite others in

Whether it’s you, my faithful readers, my writing group, my church community or my circle of family and friends, the joy of this milestone should be shared. From the beginning my journey into a writer’s life has been a testimony of God’s love and care for me, for my heart. It’s a testimony of His purpose for my life and for each life He creates. I can’t help but share this phase of the journey, this victory with others.

Lesson #3: Dream big

On the night I finished my book, after everyone in my house went to bed, I stayed up to celebrate with God. This may sound silly but I knew what He wanted me to do. I loaded our DVD player with the movie Becoming Jane and watched as the famous writer, Jane Austen, went from an obscure, female writer to one of the most well-known and bestselling authors of all time.

God has always used Jane Austen, her story, her books, and this movie to inspire me, to nurture my heart for writing, and while I don’t know the plans He has for me in terms of fame and bestselling novels I do know His plans for me are good, and perfect, and safe to trust. I know His dreams for me are far bigger than what I can dream or imagine. And it is glory to think, and contemplate, and dwell on these things. To let my heart and my mind run wild, run free, into the promise of His wild love.

In his book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes, “What God takes away with His left hand He gives back with His right.”

God may have taken away my freedom, so to say, to work on this blog for a span of three weeks, and while it was hard to relinquish this part of me, what He gave me in return far outweighs the sacrifice I made.

This is always His way.

I gave up my blog for three weeks, six posts in total.

I gained a chance to show the lover of my heart that I’m a lover of his.

I gained a finished first draft and the first step toward a dream I have grown in my heart since I was a little girl with a pen and some paper.

I gained three invaluable lessons that will make this journey, this writing life, richer and much more sweet.

And once again, the words of C.S. Lewis abound in my heart:

“When He [God] talks of their losing their selves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.” (From The Screwtape Letters)

Feeling more myself than ever, I return to you. I return to this blog. And I can’t wait to see what God has in store.

~From the archives

The Miracle of Skin-to-Skin (and Why It’s Not Just for Babies)

 

Skin to SkinA few nights ago My Promise ran the first fever of her ten month old life. It came on at bedtime and for the length of a sleepless night all she wanted and all I could do was hold her while she struggled to sleep. 

Cuddled in my arms she looked so terribly pathetic. Her eyes were weak, her skin was hot, and as she breathed she whispered the saddest whimper.

For a mom these are the moments when you’ll do anything to bring comfort to your little one. Around 3:00 am her fever spiked to its highest mark making sleep impossible for her and for me. Remembering her newborn days and how much she was comforted by skin-to-skin contact I stripped her down to her diaper and pushed back my shirt to lay her bare on my chest. Within minutes she settled down and drifted back to sleep. By morning her fever broke and the worst of her illness was over.

As I cuddled her in the dark, our bare skin touching, comforting both of us, my thoughts wandered out of our nursery and into the stable where Christ was born. 

I thought of the infant king, the Prince of Heaven, now wrapped in human flesh and I realized this miracle, this breakthrough from heaven to earth, this God with us, fleshy, and human, and born like us, was and is the ultimate skin-to-skin care the world has ever known.

Christ, who could have remained in heaven, who could have loved us from afar, chose to enter in. Chose to take on skin. Chose to live skin-to-skin among us.

In a mother to infant relationship the benefits of skin-to-skin contact in the first weeks of life are nearly endless. It comforts, it soothes, it promotes all kinds of biological goodness. It creates security, bonds of closeness, and helps and infant adapt to life outside the womb.

And when Christ came to earth this and so much more is just what He had in mind. To cradle us, weak and whimpering and helpless from sin, in His arms. To secure us. Heal us. Make us well. To help us cope and adapt to a world outside His kingdom no longer alone but with Him all around us, beside us, inside us. 

And perhaps most importantly, most amazing of all, was in Christ coming to earth, in Christ becoming human everything that existed between us was pushed back, stripped away. 

He entered in wholly and vulnerable so that nothing could keep us from Him.

As C.S. Lewis once wrote,

“The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.”

 

Dear ones, as you celebrate this Christmas Day may the miracle of Christmas comfort you, secure you, redeem you. May you find yourself in His arms, on His chest, cradled and cured by His love.

Forever changed, made well, made whole, by the touch of Savior skin.