going on a tree hunt

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Oh the agony + joy of attempting family pictures!  And all the mommas said Amen.

A few years ago, when we were living in Brevard we stumbled across this little family-run Christmas tree farm right outside of town.  It sort of birthed this dream in us to have a little place like this, a big white farmhouse, quiet hills with neat lines of evergreens where it could feel like Christmas all year long.  Space to raise a quiverfull of children and maybe a handful of animals, space to tend the earth.  I don’t know if that dream will ever be a reality, but every year since then, we’ve headed back to this little farm that reminds of and beckons us to the way of life we hunger for.  If for nothing else, it reminds us of Eden in some way or another, a haunting for that good life that was lost, the good life that will be ours again in Heaven one day.  A future hope that makes us smile and remember that while we are here on this terrestrial sod we are here to work hard, our time here is temporary.

We went again a couple of weeks ago with my brother + sister-in-law and niece, took turns snapping pictures of each other, and hunted for a tree.  The owners didn’t mind us taking our time, traipsing all over their property with our photo props, and they even offered our kids a fun wagon ride behind their tractor!  It’s well worth it to me to pay $30 for a tree to support this little place + family.

As 2015 comes nearly to a close, my heart is full.  Though it has been a year full of challenges and stress and strain, I look through these pictures and feel immeasurably blessed.  When I fix my eyes on these simple but profound gifts instead of the long list of things I could complain about or worry over, joy truly floods my soul.  Nothing can touch the joy I have in Jesus Christ, nothing can ever separate me from Him and all that He has won for me and secured for me by His death on the cross.  Second to that, nothing can come close to comparing to the profound depths of delight and joy I have in my little family.  What a crazy good and wise God we have to come up with the idea of family!

I know so many dear loved ones who long for this and struggle deeply with loneliness during the Christmas season.  Know that I’m praying for you, that I long for you to experience the joy of family this season too, even in the broadest of terms, even in the arms of your spiritual brothers + sisters, mothers + fathers, children + grandchildren.  Ultimately, in Jesus, we enjoy “family,” because He is Immanuel, God with us.  The God who is always there, always present, among us, within us.  The kindness of our God: we are not alone!  Praying He satisfies you with His presence this season + always.

season of light

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Our week has been sort of slow, quiet, different.  We started off the week with a stomach bug which thankfully didn’t pass through the family as we thought it would, but it took a couple of days for Phoebe to be herself again.  And we’ve been battling a head cold.  And it rained for half the week.  So we have been pretty hunkered down.  As much as I hate battling sickness, it has given us some time to just be together and read books, snuggle, knit, watch movies, stay in our jammies.  In the midst of it, we’ve been observing Advent together, momma reading this book in the mornings in the early + dark quiet, bent over coffee.  Kids gather over this book in the evenings, freshly bathed and coloring ornaments to decorate the Jesse Tree as I read.  We’ve slowly been pulling out Christmas decorations, putting things here and there as we have time.  Phoebe made my bed for me this morning, and I snapped a picture of that simple grace.  In all its rumpled glory, it sings of her sweet spirit, her kindness and the quiet way she serves even at her young age.  I hope I can be more like her.

It’s been sweet, savoring this season of light so far.  Remembering our Savior, the hope of His birth, the way it proclaims the Gospel to us:  Jesus came, even in the midst of a very broken and fallen and evil world, a wicked generation.  He still came.  He didn’t just come to visit us, God visiting man, He came as one of us, God and man.  The hope in this!  The glory!  That He knows our frailty in an experiential way.  He knows our need.  Our weakness.  He offers Himself to us.  I pray for you and for myself this season that above all else we open our hearts and hands to receive Him.

 

easter

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This Easter was special in so many ways.  I’m learning to treasure this time of year more + more as I continue to learn about the significance of the resurrection of Jesus for my day-to-day living.  My children, each year, are more able to share in that understanding and excitement.  It was Philippa’s first Easter and the first year my older two were able to really enjoy hunting for hidden eggs.  It was so sweet to see Phoebe intentionally leave eggs for Noah to find and hear her calling out to him, telling him where to look.  It was the first year we sort of had a very simple kind of Passover meal (though I forgot the unleavened bread and couldn’t get the readings to print in time, and we had it on Easter day instead of Maundy Thursday).  A certain four-year-old of mine got her first pair of “heels” for Easter, much to daddy’s chagrin.  What was super special and such a humbling honor was the opportunity to share with my church family a little about my story of getting lost in the snowy Colorado backcountry 14 years ago and God’s hand in preserving my life (which you can read more about here), along with a few others who shared particular ways God showed Himself strong on their behalf in the midst of difficult times.  It made our Easter worship at church extra special for me!  It was pretty much impossible this year to get a good family picture, but we captured what we could.  Hope your day was special celebrating our risen + living Savior with loved ones!

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The Gospels

It’s spitting rain outside right now.  A dreary start to the week, but I don’t mind.  The house is quiet, all three children, two of which are sick, asleep in their beds.  I can hear the tapping of rain against the roof and windows, a quiet rhythm, a beckoning.

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Quietly, I set the percolator back on the stove, the smell of freshly ground beans fills the kitchen.  I make my way to the fireplace, to the desk.  Normally I don’t allow myself such a luxury during nap time, but I’m battling this head cold too and my body is asking for rest.  I’m relieved, grateful for the excuse.  My soul has been so full lately, aching to spill out.

This season of motherhood is busy.  It pulls me in a lot of different directions.  Aside from that, our culture spins on the wheels of distraction.  So many things vie for our attention and seek our focus.  We have to protect our focus, friends.  What are the main things?  What can I simply not live without?  What is my mission, my purpose, my calling?  This is a process we return to again and again, we get out of balance and find ourselves exhausted, overrun, and numb.  We go back to the drawing board, we go back to our focus and we pare down what has come in and choked out our time and energy.  We pare down what might be good but not best.  We remind ourselves to stay fully present in this present season, that other seasons may come when our time must be managed differently.  But for now, hand to the plow, girls, hand to the plow.

“Don’t work for shortcuts to God.  The market is flooded with surefire, easy going formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time.  Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do.  The way of life–to God–is vigorous and requires total attention.”
{Matt. 7:13-14 MSG}

You may know by now that I’m a resource geek.  I love finding + sharing helpful books and tools to spur myself and others on in our journey to knowing Christ better and in displaying His glory in our lives.  And we certainly do live in an age + current culture of endless resources.  There are always more books, bible studies, online communities, and great companies to support.

The voices can crowd in and get a bit loud.

That’s how I found myself at the start of 2015, looking for a quiet refuge.  Feeling that my soul has gotten a bit harried.  Hurried and harried.  I love bible study resources more than any girl you know, but that still small voice that I’ve come to know and trust has been calling me to quiet down.  To come back to just the pure Word.  No other voices.  Just His.

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I found myself aching to spend time with Jesus.  Of course, I know all of Scripture is God-breathed, all of it is His inspired word, all of it points to Jesus.  But suddenly I find myself aching to walk with Jesus and hear His red-letter words, to study and become exceedingly familiar with the three years of His precious life that we find recorded in the Gospels.  I find myself needing just to journey beside Him on His earthly journey.  What was He like?  What were His priorities?  How did He spend His time?  Did He rest?  Did He celebrate?  Did He laugh?  I remember watching the Bible series that came out not too long ago on the History channel, and feeling the winsome pull of this Jesus even imperfectly rendered in the series.  So much so that when He went to the cross (on the show) I missed Him.  I felt the missing of Him that I imagine the disciples felt when He was just gone.  I wept from the missing of Him and the longing for full fellowship with Him promised to us in glory that I can only begin to understand through His indwelling Spirit now.  A foretaste of glory.

Looking back, I had the best college experience imaginable.  I never saw it coming.  You see, I fell in love with Jesus in the pages of scripture when I was 18 years old, living on my own in the rugged snowy peaks of Breckenridge, Colorado.  Something shifted then in my heart, and although I had been a Christian since childhood, I was suddenly hooked by God’s word.  I couldn’t wait to study it and I couldn’t get enough.  It began in the Gospel of Mark.  With a commentary in hand and a journal, I read and studied and devoured God’s Word.  Shortly thereafter, in a strange turn of events, God interrupted my plan and brought me back to the gentle mountains of North Carolina to college at Montreat.  I fell in love with God there and He renewed and reformed me there.  My understanding of Him was so broken and He opened my eyes to the edges of His hugeness, the mere fringes of His glory.  I studied Outdoor Education, but I took + audited as many bible courses as I could possibly fit into my schedule.  One my favorites was a course called “Gospels” with Bill Cain.  He was the college Chaplain at the time, and he made a great impact on my life.  He was so winsome, so joyful.  I had never read and been immersed in the Gospels before like I was during that semester.  I remember reading Yancey’s book “The Jesus I Never Knew” and just falling in love with Jesus all over again.  I thought I knew Him, but He was a beautiful mystery.

Now, I am thirty years old, as old as He was when He began His earthly ministry, when He turned water to wine.  My husband just turned thirty-three, the age Jesus was when He went to the cross.  It’s hard to imagine that He completed His work at age thirty-three, a work so revolutionary it would forever divide history into two eras:  B.C. and A.D.  Before Christ + After Death.  We mark our entire human history around those three years.  

And I’m thirty.  It’s sobering.  I am called to be the literal and physical hands + feet of Jesus to the world around me.  I am equipped with the same power He had to perform the miraculous.  In fact, He said I would be able to work even greater works than His.  And so, I’ve been in Matthew.  I know I’ll dip into some other studies over the course of the year along with my church family and as God leads, but all year long, I intend to walk with Jesus in the Gospels, all the while asking Him to make it new.  To make me new.

I can’t even begin to tell you how precious and fruitful it has already been.  It’s like standing beneath a firehose with an open mouth, trying to drink it all in.  It’s hard to read the Gospels and not be struck by the shift in paradigm from the kingdom of men (constantly at work building our own kingdoms) to the kingdom of God.  It’s hard to read the Gospels and not see all the incongruities of my life and the life that Christ exemplifies and calls me to.  It’s hard to read the Gospels and not feel a bit uncomfortable with how comfortable I’ve grown in the world–how the constant barrage + current of the world system continually and daily pushes against me, tugging me to go along downstream, to go with the flow.  The kingdom life will look + feel like constant resistance, constant work.  A life surrounded by needy people — people who need hope, love, life, healing, forgiveness.

I read Matthew chapter 9 and I am absolutely floored by its end.  I literally read it in tears:

“Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.  But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.  Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”  (vs. 35-38)

Can you imagine Jesus in the flesh preaching the Gospel to you?  Oh, to have heard that.  What a mess we were, and yet He was moved with compassion.  He sees how scattered and weary we are, bumbling about like idiotic sheep, scrambling, looking, bleating for a shepherd.

Listen to it again, in the Message translation:

Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!”

It’s nearly more than I can bear.  I can’t wait to fall more in love with Jesus through the Gospel accounts and remembering what He was busy about when He was busy on this earth in the frail bounds of a human body.  If you’re looking for a place to read, if you’re curious who this Jesus is, consider joining me?  Grab your bible and a journal and read just a little bit a day and record what He says to you.  Write down what confuses you, what questions it raises.  Chase all the rabbit trails.  Take your time.  Let’s grow very familiar with Jesus together, friends.  Let’s fall in love with Him all over again.

My Soul’s Delight

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Matthew 13:44

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“Once we had no delight in God, and Christ was just a vague historical figure.  What we enjoyed was food and friendships and productivity and investments and vacations and hobbies and games and reading and shopping and sex and sports and art and TV and travel…but not God.  He was an idea–even a good one–and a topic for discussion; but he was not a treasure of delight.

Then something miraculous happened.  It was like the opening of the eyes of the blind during the golden dawn.  First the stunned silence before the unspeakable beauty of holiness.  Then the shock and terror that we had actually loved the darkness.  Then the settling stillness of joy that this is the soul’s end.  The quest is over.  We would give anything if we might be granted to live in the presence of this glory forever and ever.”

(John Piper, Desiring God)

May you find your soul’s delight today in Jesus, God’s treasure chest of holy joy for you.

Savoring the Gospel When You Fail

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There’s nothing like failure to make you treasure the Gospel.  I most savor the Gospel when I am most aware of my depravity and continued, seemingly constant need.  It was one of those days, today.  I am feeling a bit broken and grace-hungry and don’t have much to offer, needing to preach the Gospel to my own soul tonight.

These words from one of my favorite books:

“God joyfully puts the treasure of the gospel into our clumsy, butter-finger hands despite our sinfulness, inadequacies, and failings.  But sometimes we just don’t buy that.  Two main reasons come to mind.

First, it is contrary to our natural logic that God would choose to use the foolish and the weak to show himself to be wise.  We have difficulty seeing how God is praised through our insufficiencies.  Wouldn’t the Lord be more glorified through a flawlessly planned and executed hospitality event?  Wouldn’t the Lord’s name be more honored if we knew how to articulate his goodness with enthusiastic clarity?  Wouldn’t it give more praise to the heavenly Father when his children look presentable and don’t have any unsightly blemishes?  Wouldn’t the Creator be praised even more if his redeemed were admired the world over and lifted up as spectacular specimens of humanity?  We find it difficult to comprehend how God chooses to use the weak and the broken to show himself to be strong and sufficient.

Second, we’re uncomfortable with our weaknesses and failures. We would much rather host flawlessly planned and executed hospitality events.  We’d prefer to articulate ourselves with clarity.  We work so hard to look presentable and defer the effects of aging.  We want to be admired.  Our preference boils down to just that–we are the ones want to be admired.  We want to live for our own glory.  We’re sinful, self-centered, and reluctant to worship God as our creator who has the right to do with us as he pleases….

There is hope for us who forget on a daily basis the work of Christ on the cross.  When we realize that we’ve blown it yet again, we must throw ourselves at the mercy of God shown to us at the cross.  When our attitudes are poor, we must cry out to Jesus for help.  When we’re certain that we’re doing fine and the shroud of pretense begins to envelop us, we must repent of our pride and grab hold of Jesus, confident that he will heal our broken hearts.

The grace of God reminds us to live in the reality of the gospel and the future that he has promised to us in Christ.  Our confidence comes from what Jesus has done and will do in the future in raising us from the dead to eternal life, just as he was raised.  We can reject the self-loathing and prideful gloating.  This will happen when we see Jesus as he truly is.  In seeing him truly, he becomes more and more precious to us, and we in turn become shaped by him as we behold him (2 Cor. 3:18).”

-Gloria Furman, Glimpses of Grace {151-152, 155-156}

“And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:18 NET)

The Measure of Success

The day reaches its end, a good day, yet the weariness is still there.  The pots and pans are scrubbed, leftovers tucked away.  The children, too, are scrubbed and tucked away.  Only the blowing wind, the rain pattering on the sill, the occasional rumble of thunder now.

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How do we measure our days?  How does my soul measure the fruitfulness of a day?  These thoughts weigh on my mind as I turn on the faucet and let the hot water beat on my skin.  The days end, a good day, yet I feel that I didn’t accomplish enough.  I didn’t get to this or that.  Pictures still wait to be hung on our walls here, piles of clutter still wait to be organized.  For heaven’s sake, I have nothing ready for the baby coming in just a few weeks.  I groan inwardly as I think of all that needs to be done.  Hospital bags packed, baby clothes pulled out and washed and organized, freezer stocked with meals.  Carving out and setting up a little space for this little life that is coming.  My social media outlets are filling up with news and pictures of all my friends and family that were due ahead of us, each one welcoming a baby.  Each a reminder that soon it will be our turn.

So much left to do, and my heart feels unprepared.  So many people have given us words of woe about the transition from 2 to 3 children, and I groan every time.  Really?  So few encourage or speak words of strength.  I need the borrowed strength right now, I think.  It seems my preparations have been mostly around labor this time, trying to fight back the fears and worries of a repeat of what happened at Noah’s birth.  {A baby in distress, taken from me right at birth due to swallowed meconium, while my body experienced its own trauma from a broken/separated pelvis and postpartum hemorrhage.  Not to mention a very slow and complicated recovery.}  How to prepare my heart and mind for the adjustments that are to come?

All I want to do is savor this season a little longer, this time as a family of four, before we transition and never pass this way again.

Then these words via Ann Voskamp’s blog today:

“The thing I know most about seasons —  is that God made them to change.  And it is in the passing through them, the move from one season to the next, that true beauty is brought forth.” {Laura Boggess}

It makes me think about labor, just one kind of passing from one season to the next.  All that comes when that baby comes, all the unknowns and questions and uncertainties, all the newness all over again.  I want to resist the change and the fears surrounding the unknowns.  But true beauty is brought forth in the passing.  The letting go, the welcoming what is to come, whatever it is.  Trusting, surrendering to this wild and untamable yet good God who is most certainly more intent on my conformity to Christ than my comfort, my holiness rather than my happiness.  {Why again is surrender so hard, so daily?}

And so I look back over the day.. what is the measure of my days, Lord?  What is the measure of success?  Is it every task crossed off the list?  Is it what my hands can accomplish that makes me feel worthy, worthy of having been given another day breathing air?  Why is this always what my soul comes back to? Like a dog returns to its vomit, why do I return over and over the stinking pile of guilt and shame?  If I feel this way now, how will I feel in a few weeks when I am totally unable to lift a finger to accomplish much around here besides feeding, swaddling, changing a newborn?  What do you say, Lord?

“When the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of His mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. And so, since we have been justified by His grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.” {Titus 3:4-7 NET}

The passage goes on to exhort the readers to good works, because of the example of the Good Work that Christ did for us, and because our good works are profitable for others.  Ahh yes, this balance again.  The Lord’s gentle grace whispered again:

“My child, it isn’t what you do that can ever attain worthiness.  You cannot measure yourself or your days by the works of your hands.  You must rest in what I have done for you, what I have accomplished, what I finished.  I have made you worthy.  And yet, yes, you must work, there is much work I have for you.  The work of love, of likewise pouring out your life.  The work of kindness and ministering grace and reconciliation to all that I put before you.  The work of the mundane tasks and necessary preparations in each day.  These things are the practical avenues through which you can show love.  And of course, you fail and grow faint and weary.  But I am your God, your Creator, the One who formed you.  I remember that you are dust.  Come to me, let me pour out grace afresh.  Let me restore and renew.”

I think of the words I studied in the Gospels this morning:  Come to me like a child.  I watch my daughter dance amidst the mess of toys, the unpacked boxes, the unhung pictures, the scattered books.  Unhindered, unhurried.  Delighting in being delighted in.  Lord, let me be the daughter who dances freely and lightly in the unforced rhythms of grace.  

Help me to “be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge.” {Eph. 3:17-19}  To measure the immeasurable love of Christ for me.

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