Write it Down.

100_2374In 2013, I started keeping a praise jar. It’s rather straightforward; every time there was something to praise God about, I tried to remember to write it down and put it in the jar. In January of 2014, it was so amazing to lay out all of God’s blessings (that I had noticed) month by month for the previous year. I spread them out on my kitchen table and just looked, in awe.

I never knew.

Never before had I kept such a meticulous record of every way God had blessed me and my family. And to be honest, I wasn’t all that meticulous about it. If I’d really written everything down, I’m sure my whole house couldn’t have contained all the sticky-notes.

Last year, I continued the tradition, but this time I included every answer to prayer — not only for us, but also answers to our prayers for friends, for relatives, for acquaintances, or for whomever else God had put on our hearts to pray. So this month as I looked back on 2014’s blessings, I also saw 52 specific answers to prayer.

Babies were a theme. We saw miracles for Ridgeley, Hunter, Caleb, Samuel, Deacon, Ethan, Emma, Abby, another Samuel, Josiah, Noah, and Graham. I tear up as I write these names, because some were “everyday” miracles of birth, but very many of them were miracle healings — babies who weren’t supposed to live; babies who were supposed to have extreme abnormalities; babies whose mommies had very high risk pregnancies; babies whose mommies’ doctors told them not to waste their time continuing gestation. All of these tiny people are alive today, healthy, loved, and a continual testimony of God’s mighty hand. We prayed fervently for these babies, and look! Look what God has done! Great is His name!

Oh, but I can’t forget baby Robert. We prayed fervently for him, too. We prayed; we begged; we wept; and God answered. God brought him Home as his mommy held him tight, whispering love.  I still cry over this beautiful baby; I cry for the loss his family feels. I remember May 12, knowing that when it comes again in a few months, and again next year, and again forever, his momma will feel a deep hurt resurface. But despite this pain, baby Robert is in my family’s praise journal because he is dancing with the King! Healthy, loved, alive, and not regretting a moment of his little life on earth. Look what God has done! Great is His name!

Friends were healed from cancer. Others were hopeless, then given hope. Missing, and then found. Hurting, and then comforted. Jobless, then employed. Addicted, and then freed. And so much more. Look what God has done! Great is His name!

I would have never remembered. Who remembers all of this? We may rejoice in the moment, at the news, but inevitably there’s dinner to cook and laundry to fold and butts to wipe. Life goes on, and we get right back to complaining about the dinner and the laundry and the butts.

We forget to notice the blessings. We forget to see the answers to prayer. We forget to recognize the miracles. We forget to praise God.

No wonder He seems so far away — we refuse to see Him. 

I was somewhat negligent in my attempt in 2014 to keep up with praises and answers to prayer. I forgot a lot. But even in the little bit I remembered, I recorded 52 specific answers to prayer and several more sweet blessings.

That’s because I wrote them down. This year, just like last year and the year before, I will see God.

Will you?

I will extol You, my God, O King,
And I will bless Your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless You,
And I will praise Your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised,
And His greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall praise Your works to another,
And shall declare Your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of Your majesty
And on Your wonderful works, I will meditate.
Men shall speak of the power of Your awesome acts,
And I will tell of Your greatness.
They shall eagerly utter the memory of Your abundant goodness
And will shout joyfully of Your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and merciful;
Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.
The Lord is good to all,
And His mercies are over all His works.
All Your works shall give thanks to You, O Lord,
And Your godly ones shall bless You.
They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom
And talk of Your power;
To make known to the sons of men Your mighty acts
And the glory of the majesty of Your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.

The Lord sustains all who fall
And raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to You,
And You give them their food in due time.
You open Your hand
And satisfy the desire of every living thing.

The Lord is righteous in all His ways
And kind in all His deeds.
The Lord is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;
He will also hear their cry and will save them.
The Lord keeps all who love Him,
But all the wicked He will destroy.
My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
And all flesh will bless His holy name forever and ever.

–Psalm 145

 

 

 

 

2015: Simplicity

Do not worry…for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
~Jesus

A few years ago at the turn of a new year, my first lady challenged our women’s group to make spiritual goals for the upcoming months. Kind of like resolutions, but not at all. New Year’s resolutions always rely on personal willpower to muscle through something that you’ve already proven yourself completely incapable of doing, and you generally set yourself up to prove that inability to yourself once again, this time more spectacularly. Making spiritual goals, on the other hand, involves you humbling your heart before the Lord and asking HIM what areas HE wants to address. He chooses, you submit; He works, you yield; He is glorified, you are blessed.

I love it. I’ve been seeking the Lord in this way every year since. This year, the Lord gave me one goal, in one word: Simplicity.

He answered me. Life was too much because I was trying to exert some effort, out of myself, to glorify Him. To serve, to shepherd, to shine. Good things, yes. Commanded things, certainly. But not THE thing. Not what is first. Rushing around, trying to get to this, go there, do that, say this — all, honestly, in an effort to honor Him and to create opportunities to serve, shepherd, and shine. But some of these goings and doings were not from Him, and thus they were useless. So useless, in fact, that God actually made what should not be too much to be too much, so that He might get my attention.

He did.

Seeking the Kingdom, then, “in a certain sense…is nothing I shall do. Yes, certainly, in a certain sense it is nothing, become nothing before God, learn to keep silent; in this silence is the beginning, which is, first to seek God’s Kingdom” (Søren Kierkegaard, as quoted in Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, p. 87).

This is Christian Simplicity. Everything grows from here. Welcome, 2015. Welcome, Lord. I’m listening.

2014: A Failure

I still contend that it’s not too much. Many people do much more and do it well; a younger self once did much more, too.

That is not me.

That is not now.

Apparently.

As Christmas drew near and the year began drawing its final, chilly breaths, I mustered my courage and whispered secret words to a dear Friend:

“I just feel like such a failure.”

The context was homeschooling, but the truth was deeper. It was everything. And I hadn’t told anybody.

I just couldn’t do it. It’s too much. It isn’t too much, but it’s too much. The last few months of 2014 left me desperately trying to hide this secret chaos that was growing in my spirit. Every evening I went to bed, glad that I had finally caught up on this, but fretting over that which had now been neglected. It became too much. Why was it too much? Why couldn’t I catch my breath or a break? I can show you my schedule — it is NOT too much! This is all perfectly within reason. Look at her. Look what all she does. What is wrong with me?!

The Lord has been answering me; that’s for a later post, if God gives me the words and the opening. For now, I want to ask you a question He asked me:

What are you doing that God has not specifically consecrated you for?

This question is revolutionary, if you weigh your response prayerfully.

 

I’m Taller in the Fall, and Other Confessions for the Season

It’s so exciting to feel the beginnings of fall weather. Just when I’m about to convince myself to go against my better judgement and buy new clothes because I’m so completely OVER these four shirts, two shorts, and two pairs of flops, we start getting highs in the 80s. This isn’t quite cool enough to pull out the jeans just yet, but it’s a promise of cooler tomorrows. Soon it will be highs in the 60s and 70s, and boy is that jeans and boots weather! No need to go shopping. I forgot how much I grew to hate these four sweaters last February, so they’re all new to me now! And besides, I’m noticeably taller in boots (probably only to myself), and therefore I feel prettier. You have to be tall to be a model, and now by being a couple of inches closer to “tall,” I am noticeably prettier (probably only to myself).

As much as I love this change of seasons — which is only 16% less than I love the transition from winter to spring — fall always brings with it some anxiety about the days to come. So, confession time. I’m going to start slow.

I love pumpkins. However, I stopped buying them because I’m the only one who enjoys carving them, and carving while others watch TV is lame. I also stopped buying them because it seems to be a little bit of a waste… “Hey, let’s buy a few large vegetables and put them on our porch until they rot. Yeah!!!” Doesn’t make sense, even though they’re adorable and I love them. Strangely enough, I did end up buying one just today simply because it’s in my homeschool curriculum to carve a pumpkin next week. Did someone say gross motor skills? Oh yeah, let’s carve that pumpkin and make a big mess! (And don’t forget about counting seeds and working on fine motor skills as we pick them up.)

I hate decorating. I suck at it. While I truly have appreciations when others do it well — it’s truly a reflection of God’s creativity at work in people who do — I don’t really value it enough to stress myself out over it in my own home. And so the holidays, with all their extensive decorating expectations, make me feel incredibly awkward, inadequate, and dull. If I try, it looks like a toddler did it. If I don’t, I’m a Scrooge. So last year, I just did the tree and the nativity. I LOVED that. Just enough festivity to make me smile, and completely within my abilities. (Oh yeah, the tree was definitely pre-lit!)

I don’t really know what to do about Halloween. It’s on the edges of my conscience that maybe I shouldn’t participate because it’s evil, but then it’s also on the edges that there’s nothing wrong with dressing your kid like a dragon (A DRAGON! HE’S A DRAGON THIS YEAR!) and actually interacting with neighbors who are not usually willing to talk to you. But, I’m just not into it. I read about some families just doing a movie night and having junk food and lots of fun together with their kids, and I LOVE that idea, but tragically, my husband is not as lame as I am and would never go for this.

I’m not into Santa. Speaking of ruining my kid’s childhood — because I’m obviously dancing on that line due to my reservations about Halloween — let’s just move right on into the biggest holiday of the season. I have a major problem with lying to my kid, so I have thus far not done the Santa thing. (Before you get defensive about the “lying” part — it IS lying. It is. Even if it’s “just for fun.”) Anyway, so I obviously take a lot of flack for this. Every year. I’m the bad mom for not lying. I’m stealing the magic from Christmas because I focus on the God who grew in a human woman’s womb and entered our world to rescue us from eternity apart from Him, even when that’s all in the world any of us deserved. Right, that’s less amazing than the myth of Santa.

Shopping for Christmas presents makes me cry every year. Every year at some point in December in some store, I just stop and let the tears fall because I am at a total loss. By Christmas, I’ve made it through 14 family birthdays in the fall alone, and now it’s time to get another something for all of these people again, and then some. I don’t dislike giving gifts; in fact, I love it. It’s so exciting to see someone open something you just know they’ll love! The problem is that I rarely experience this elation, despite the myriad of opportunities I have this time of year. I just don’t have very good gift-buying skills or intuition, and I desperately don’t want to give people crap wrapped in paper just so they have something to open. I experience such anxiety over this every year that I always reach the end of my rope and confess to my husband that I wish I could withdraw from all gift giving and receiving for the rest of my life! It’s so sad, and I feel like the worst person in the world for saying this, but it’s true. I want to be good at this. I want to enjoy it. I decide every year that this year will be better, that I will shop early, that I will do great research on family members about what they want, and that I, too, will experience Christmas cheer as I shop for the perfect gift. But try as I might, I still end up I tears every year because I have no idea what anybody wants, or, if I do, I can’t find it or can’t afford it. This is my saddest and most embarrassing confession, so let’s end with something happier!

Thanksgiving is the best holiday of the year. No, it isn’t as important as Christmas or Easter, obviously, but as far as enjoyment level, it’s tops! No presents! No lies! It’s not usually too cold! DELICIOUS food! Oooh and pumpkin cheesecake pie, amen. Love.

To sum up, aside from pumpkin carving and pumpkin cheesecake pie, I just kinda have my sights on January. Cold, quiet January. Silence retreat, anyone? Oh yeah.

What about you? Any confessions? This is a safe space. :)

Year Two Birthday Letter

Bennett and mom easter 2014Dear Bennett,

You are two today! Can you show me with your fingers? How many is two? We’ve been working on it, so now we have an easy answer any time someone asks us how old you are. How exciting!

This year has been such a blast! You’ve learned so much and grown so big, and you have become such a little man. You’re speaking in two- and three-word sentences now, and you’re becoming very polite with your pleases, thank yous, and bugbees. (“Bugbee,” of course, means “excuse me.”) And over this past year, you’ve gotten your first two freckles: one on your left hand between your first two knuckles, and one on your left cheek. I love your freckles! They’re a special gift from me.

This year has also been the year of favorites. Your favorite animal is the rhino, and your favorite food is hamburgers. You love guitars, cars and trucks, lawnmowers, weed eaters, baseball, fireworks, the park, the gym, the library, singing, doing jigsaw puzzles, naming all the letters and their sounds, and so much more! Even better, you love to pray about these things at every opportunity.

One of the best things about you is that you are teaching me so much. The biggest lesson I’ve learned from you this year is to see the whole world as divided into two types of people: Friends and Fixin’-to-be-Friends. You’ve never met a person, animal, or vehicle that you haven’t tried to befriend. I love that about you.  Your delighted smile and enthusiastic greeting for every passerby reminds me every day that the first order of business should be to show Jesus’ love.

100_4099[1] My kind-hearted, funny, brave, joyful, prayerful, outgoing, strong, sensitive, brilliant, adventurous little outdoorsman, you make your mommy’s heart sing every day a million times a day. Being your mommy is my favorite job God ever gave me. I’m so excited to see what the next year holds! Happy birthday! I love you SO much.

Love,
Mommy

 

Imitation

(Handwritten in my journal on July 18, 2014)

I just had a profound experience reading a blog post entitled, “To My Future Daughter-in-Law.” In it, the author refers to her own infant son as the future daughter-in-law’s husband. I have prayed for my son’s future wife, but I have never considered it in those terms, that he is her husband. Of course, I tell God all the time that I know Bennett is not really mine, but His. This is hard enough. I must confess my immaturity and jealousy here when I consider that another woman will take him from me!

Of course, I know this will happen. I just don’t want to think about those chubby cheeks giving way to rough stubble, or that poochy belly slimming and revealing lean muscle, or his eyes sparkling for any girl besides myself. These things are good and God-ordained, but it hurts to think about it. I need to pray more intentionally that God readies my heart, for this boy is someone’s husband. 

But, this was not the main part of the post that affected me so profoundly. It was this prayer: 

Lord, make him a man among men. A leader among leaders. Make him strong, resilient, brave, loving, and humble. Make him a good man in a storm.

That’s where I totally lost it. I want all these things for my Bennett, and it’s my responsibility to teach him all of it in between shoe-tying and counting. How can I teach these things if I am none of them myself?

I blend in with the crowd, but you, Son, go and lead. 

I am weak, easily beaten down, fearful, selfish, and prideful. I’m panicky in a storm. But you, Son, do as I say, not as I do. 

I totally lost it when I read this prayer, because I know I can’t do it. I went into the shower and nearly choked on the water, I was sobbing so hard. A tearful, snotty, soaking wet mess, I stood naked before God and lamented the irony that I want more children when I am so woefully inadequate in shepherding this one. I cried in fear because I cannot control who my son becomes, even if I WERE strong, resilient, brave, loving, and humble. And God’s answer?

Oh, He’s all grace on this one. I may have no control, but I am far from powerless. I may be weak, but I am not alone: 

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.
(Joshua 1:9)

Lord, make me a woman among women. A leader among leaders. Make me strong, resilient, brave, loving, and humble. Make me a good woman in a storm, a sincere and sold-out follower of Christ, and a leader of others into Your Kingdom. Make me all of these things so that I might be able to say to my children with confidence in You, 

Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.
(1 Corinthians 11:1)

And thank You, Lord, for Your grace and wisdom in giving my children an amazing father who is all the things I am not. I am not alone!

~Amen and Maranatha~







I am on a one-year journey through the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster. This month, I am practicing the discipline of Christian meditation, and the experience related in this journal entry came out of meditation on the truths shared in the above-linked post and, most especially, on Joshua 1:9. He’s had me meditating on that verse for days. I hope to share more from my experiences as I journey through the spiritual disciplines over this next year. 

A Prayer for America, for Her Birthday

(a reinterpretation of a famed and beloved anthem by Katharine Lee Bates)

Purple Mountains Inadvertent Majesty

Oh it is so beautiful! You, Lord, have given us spacious skies and majestic mountains overlooking abundant fruitfulness. Oh America, my country! Lord God, shed Your grace on her — grace that opens her heart to You — and crown that heavenly good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea!

America is beautiful because You still lead pilgrims’ feet marching for true freedom through dark wildernesses thick with evil. Oh America, my country! Lord God, you are the Great Physician; mend her many flaws. Teach her self-control, that her freedoms may be validated. Rein in wanton liberties with truly just laws made and kept by just leaders.

What beauty surrounds me because You inspire heroes to die to self and to fight for liberty. Oh America, my country! God, refine our riches until all of our success — our treasure — is only nobleness. Help any gain that we enjoy be truly divine.

I see eternal beauty in my country because of the Patriots who have the wisdom to look beyond this earth. Thank You, God, for the leaders who truly see their citizenship as in that eternal city, and who lead us to look past earthly woes and to that glorious Day when You will fully awaken Your faithful ones. Oh America, my country! Lord God, shed Your grace of a repentant heart on her, and crown that heavenly good with true and holy brotherhood from sea to shining sea!

Make America beautiful in Your sight.

Amen