january

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A fresh new year—the ending of one year and the beginning of another makes us all pause, take note, consider, evaluate.  Even when we don’t want to, don’t have the energy to, or don’t believe in setting goals, intentions, or making resolutions–somehow we still in some way find ourselves reflective.  Even when we’re afraid all we say we will change and do and accomplish will inevitably fail, and all the ways we plan to better ourselves might end up like last year’s plans.  We still find ourselves wanting.  New Years resolutions–aren’t they filled with wanting?  And there’s nothing really wrong with that in some ways.  It’s natural for us to want to improve, change, increase, grow.  It’s good and right.  It’s the natural way for any living thing: to grow.

Yet I sometimes hear in all our New Years talk a lot of discontent.  We chatter on about the things we want to attain for ourselves this year, the things we think we need to have to be happier, more comfortable, more seen and known, contented, successful.  In this I think we have to be careful.  Yes, let us reflect, let us learn to number our days–but not for our own glory and renown, but for God’s glory and the sake of the kingdom.  Let us evaluate where in life we have gotten off track in regard to His purposes for us, and endeavor to readjust.

Gratitude is good and right, too–seeing what we already have, seeing all the gifts of God’s grace, seeing how far He has brought us and trusting Him to carry us all the way Home.  Remembering that truly we need far less than we think, remembering that our happiness comes not in our feeding our fleshly desires but in denying them.  In letting God fulfill us, satisfy us.  Remembering that if we are discontent today with all the bounty we have before us, we will still be discontent tomorrow even if we attain more.  Remembering that God alone is our good, our portion, our inheritance–and if we are in Christ, we always have Him, and that is enough.  There is always joy available to us, there is always grace as long as we have breath, there is always the opportunity to be content.

In the years before I was a mother, I often would spend a portion of New Years Eve and day journaling about the big moments of the closing year, and the things I felt God had done in me and in my life, and then recording where I found myself at that present time and the scripture I sensed God was highlighting for me for the coming year.  This season of motherhood and being late in my fourth pregnancy makes finding such uninterrupted time for journaling scarce.  Instead of feeling “behind” because I don’t have all my reflections and thoughts in order by the first of January, I’ve been taking the whole month of January as a time of reflection.

It’s been a sweet month in that way.  The rush of the holy holidays behind us, children’s birthdays done for a year, and now stretching before us a string of ordinary days.  Back to our common life.  Mornings spent mostly at home working on school, house work, small projects here and there, organizing, cooking, playing in the mud and snow, trips to the library, neighborhood walks, books on the couch, pizza on fridays.  Weekends spent cramming in as much time with daddy, to-do list items crossed off before baby comes, running errands, worship and rest.  There has been a lot of journaling, listening, reflecting in the early morning quiet, when the world is still hushed and dark and I sit with the scriptures and coffee.

But the beginning of this year was also hard.  Brandon worked the first two weeks straight without taking a day off, working late into the evenings, and it took a toll on us both.  During that time I was also sick with a head cold, as well as some other body grievances, and felt pretty wiped out and depleted.  Phoebe has had some major setbacks in her appetite and eating, which has caused me to do a good bit of revamping our usual staples, recipe testing, and recipe hunting, which is all very exhausting.  I’ve had my share of breakdowns over the last month, nights when I just end the day in a pool of tears.  So yes, January: back to the ordinary, which can be sweet, but also can feel like a slow plod forward with a summit far off in the distance, obscured by clouds.  Sometimes I feel like I’ve lost my way and can’t remember what my course is supposed to be anyway.

It’s never too late to step back and take time, take stock.  Even if in your January there wasn’t much time for it, February is as good a time as any.

There are a few extra-biblical resources I would recommend to you if you’re looking for a few books to help you along the way.  These particular titles kept coming to mind throughout this past month, books that have grounded and inspired and set me on course.

  • The Songs of Jesus: A year of daily devotions in the Psalms by Tim Keller
    I believe this is the third or fourth year I’ve read through this devotional daily.  Some years ago I was studying the Psalms and bought this resource to help stay saturated in them, and I don’t know that I’ll ever really graduate from daily reading the Psalms.  This  book is helpful in that it is short and entirely feasible to squeeze in when you literally have moments to read before little children’s feet hit the floor.  It’s also one I frequently read aloud to Brandon or the kids if they are up early snuggling with me.
  • A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene Peterson
    I read this years ago in college but am curious to re-read it lately.  This concept of our Christian lives being “a long  obedience in the same direction,” the endurance and seemingly slow returns of the Christian life rings true for me lately.  The world seems to be spinning ahead faster and faster, and we are a people more entitled and impatient than ever.  Yet if we do not remember and return to this reality, that our Christian lives will look more like a long obedience in one narrow direction, I believe we will lose heart and fall away.  We need encouragement in our endurance!  Also, this book happens to center around the Psalms of Ascent:  “I knew that following Jesus could never develop into a ‘long obedience’ without a deepening life of prayer and that the Psalms had always been the primary means by which Christians learned to pray everything they lived, and live everything they prayed over the long haul.” (Peterson)
  • Your Beautiful Purpose by Susie Larson
    This book, combined with Emily Freeman’s book below, were two that gave me permission to pursue some dreams and passions and desires of my heart, to make room in my life for creative expression (this blog, photography, knitting, reading) and to see God’s purpose in it.  The two books together seemed to have a conversation in my soul that helped me discern more of my purpose, which was incredibly freeing and fruitful.
  • A Million Little Ways by Emily Freeman
    See above. 🙂
  • Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love by Jerry Bridges
    This one came to me a few years ago in a terrible season of battling a besetting sin.  I needed to understand how God’s grace was literally transforming me when I felt that I was making no headway.  This is just one of those books I think any Christian can benefit from reading at any time, but particularly those of us who just can’t seem to get beyond moralistic living, those of us who always come to God with our performance in our right hand, whether for good or ill.

I know many people choose a “word” for the year.  I find God often seems to choose a word for the year for me, a scripture.  (Sometimes I think we are skeptical that God speaks to us in this way, but I have found that if I ask Him to give me a word (scripture) over the coming year, a focus, a truth that He is planning to weave into the fabric of my life in those days–and then I wait for Him to answer–I find that He has always answered.  His primary means of speaking to us is through His Word, and He loves His Word (see Psalm 119) and delights to answer a cry from a heart hungry for His Word.  I think we can be confident that praying this is praying in accord with His will (1 Jn. 5:14)).

He seems to highlight and repeat a certain scripture to me, something that speaks to a current need or struggle or question.  This year, the word “peace” came up in my soul so unexpectedly.  We live in tumultuous times, yes, but in my own home and heart, there is a cry for peace!   And then, this scripture came up time and time again, everywhere I turned.  It will be my focus for the year 2018, and I leave it with you, too, as an encouragement onward in your own race!  I hope that in this new year, you and I both find ourselves walking a bit more closely with Jesus, growing in grace.

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever, Amen.”
Hebrews 13:20-21 esv

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on birthdays and finding joy

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My birthday last week was a fairly ordinary “workday” for me, and also not the easiest day with the children.  I found myself scrubbing toilets and floors, folding laundry, settling sibling disputes, feeding hungry mouths–all the usual work that fills my days up to the brim.  Of course there is a part of me that wants to just rest and be free from all work for a day (unrealistic), but then I also don’t mind taking care of these little ones that I love so much and this home that keeps us all together.  I share my birthday with my mom, so my gift to her this year was to buy a few skeins of yarn for her to choose from so that I could knit her a shawl.  She picked the color I had had on my mind for her, a rustic-y soft light red called Bergamot, and helped pick out a shawl pattern.  I wanted to wind up her yarn on our birthday and cast on.  I realized as I began knitting it that I was knitting this exact pattern just about this time last year on a road trip to upstate New York with Brandon’s family as a commissioned shawl for a friend.  How funny and coincidental to be knitting it again at the same time a year later.  It’s such an enjoyable pattern–all knitting and yarn overs and no purling!

I had planned on making a yummy dinner for my birthday since Brandon would be working a normal work-day and since we never really eat out with Phoebe and her dietary needs.  I wanted to make Against the Grain’s Pesto Prosciutto Chicken with a GF pasta on the side, and creme brûlée for dessert, which is my favorite.  The dinner took longer than I expected and once I got it in the oven, the kids and I and Brandon decided to go for a walk while it baked.  It had been raining and we had felt a bit cooped up.  The kids splashed in all sorts of muddy puddles so B bathed them quickly when we got home while I finished up dinner and it was late and nerves were a bit raw by this time.  My dinner didn’t look at all like the lovely cookbook’s pictures, which is always annoying, but it was still delicious.  I had made a creme brûlée earlier in the afternoon and infused it with culinary lavender because I love love love lavender especially in desserts.

We lit candles and I turned on french music because somehow everything felt like a french sort of dinner, and we ate at nearly 8pm.  I had some cards to open, and then B put the finishing touches on the creme brûlée, the kids sang happy birthday to me which was the best part.  The fuzzy photo of me with phoebe is the only such picture I snagged on this day, but its worth including since this is me, turning 33.

I had received word in the afternoon that Brandon’s grandfather had died.  He had been in the hospital after some falls and other health issues so we knew it was coming, but it still felt so soon.  Sadly we weren’t very close with him, but it’s still surreal and strange to consider death on your birthday.  Probably quite healthy.  Really that’s what we’re all marking–here’s another year, gone.  Another year comes–bringing me closer to my own end.  Time is passing, time is coming.  Let’s stop and celebrate and remember and pay attention.

We quickly got the kids to bed, then got cozy for a movie of my pick.  We watched “Florence Foster Jenkins” which was so interesting and funny and also a little sad (based on a true story).  I cried and cried at the end.  I don’t want to spoil the movie for those of you who may want to see it, but I will say I commiserated with the protagonist (Meryl Streep).  She loved music and in her mind she had a beautiful singing voice, but in reality her voice was terrible.  She pursues singing and her husband tries desperately to protect her from the truth of her real performance.  It makes you wonder: Is this reality that we know of ourselves the reality others know of us?  Aren’t so many of us afraid that maybe everyone is really laughing at us and about us behind our backs?  What if we are really quite terrible at the things we think we’re good at, at the things we most love?

I’m sure it was the combination of watching that movie, it being my birthday, and also processing the news of Brandon’s grandpa’s death.  It made me think and wrestle a bit with life, with the things I love and spend time on, with my role as a stay-at-home mother.  I sometimes wrestle with this blog.  I don’t know why, it seems so silly in the light of day.  I love sharing our little life here.  It helps me keep track of things, our lives little record for now.  I’m not sure if I’ll do it forever.  It’s important to reevaluate frequently what I give myself to.  I enjoy taking pictures and capturing these fleeting moments.  I’m thankful to have a space to write and share with you whatever God seems to lay on my heart.  I’m not trying to “make it big” or be somebody, I’m not making an income doing this.  I don’t mind it being mostly small and personal and shared with those few who happen to find this place on the internet and with whomever it resonates.  I leave it to God to use it as He chooses.  But then sometimes I doubt myself.  Are my motives wrong, self-serving?  Is this a huge waste of time and a distraction?  Is it too personal to share our family life so openly in such a dangerous and dark world?  My blogging has brought occasional criticism, but mostly I feel it from my own inner critic.  Brandon is relentless in support of it, which is always so odd to me because he is so anti social-media-anything.  Anyway, for whatever reason this is where my mind went after watching that movie.  Wrestling with the silliness of my spending time photographing, knitting, writing words, creating.  Who has time for all of this when you have little ones and when the world is full of pain and need?  Am I spending my life on what really matters?  Are my little endeavors to bring beauty and joy and even occasionally to write words–are these small endeavors mattering?

I crawled into bed and picked up my book and opened to these words.  (The author was sharing about finding a little resale boutique in her neighborhood, a beautiful little gem and yet she went in and found herself to be the only customer.  She imagined being the store owner, the way the woman had attractively laid out her wares, rearranging and bravely taking a risk to run this little business that wasn’t really garnering that much attention.  She wondered if the woman got discouraged on the days when there was no business.  What makes her think things will work out?  Why does she return to it day after day?):

“She returns to what she loves to do, because she loves it and she can’t not do it.  She goes back to the joy of pursuing her passion.  Because its not likely that anyone is coming in and exclaiming, ‘I’m so glad you’re here!  I’ve been waiting for you to sell secondhand clothes in this space all of my life!’  It’s not likely that anyone is affirming her passion or holding her hand through those moments of sheer panic.  I’m also pretty certain people aren’t stampeding to her door to say thank you or to make spirit tunnels for her to run through at the end of the day after she’s vacuumed the floor and locked up for the thousandth time.

This is what I’m getting at: joy isn’t in the response of others based on what we do.  Joy is in doing what God created us to do and has given us to do.  Joy is in pursuing with faith and abandon the passions God has laid in our hearts, and doing them in his honor.  We serve for the smile on his face.

And joy begets joy.  When we serve God with joy, we in a round-about way encourage others to serve God with joy.  Artists appreciate another’s art, joy is derived from another’s joy, and passion feeds off and grows from another’s passion.

So whatever you’re doing–homeschooling, event planning, cake baking, medical research, substitute teaching, diaper changing, coaching, putting words out into the world, or yes, running a small boutique–do it with joy as unto the Lord.  Don’t look for appreciation from others or a spirit tunnel at the end of the day as an indicator of whether or not you’re on the right track.  Look to God, who created you to be a creator that flings tangerine passion and joy into the world.  He is smiling as you do what you do for him.

There is no mold, no one right way of showing Jesus, for where the Spirit is, there is freedom.  He has made us each different, combining us all to make a collage, a collage that when you step back and look you suddenly see: it’s Jesus!

Different mediums.
Different brushes.
Different strokes for reaching different folks.
You there, with your unique talents, passions, and gifts.
Go in freedom.
Tell them about Jesus with your life.
Do it with grace and tangerine joy.”

-Christine Hoover, From Good to Grace

Isn’t that so sweet of God, to speak right to what I was struggling with at the long end of the day?  He affirmed me, affirmed His love for me, affirmed my freedom in Him, affirmed His smile over me.  What more could you ask for on a birthday?  I hope you are encouraged, too, dear reader.  Whatever you do, do it for Him, do it as unto Him, do it with joy and gusto and don’t worry about the response or affirmation or notice of others.   Take risks.  Live boldly.  Be brave.  Be a pioneer.  Follow where He leads.  When we get our eyes off of Him we get into all sorts of trouble, don’t we?  It’s His good-pleasure over us that we’re after, it’s His approval alone that matters.

At the end of the Florence Foster Jenkins movie, after criticism about her singing voice, Florence on her deathbed said:  “They can say I can’t sing, but no one can say I didn’t sing.”

So, sing, friend.  You go on singing, and I will too.  His ear is tuned to hear our voice.

 

 

 

Catching up

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Well, I bit off a bit more than I could chew.  I’m terribly behind in posting reviews on the last few books I received so I’m going to lump them together here.

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The Beauty of Grace by Dawn Camp

This book was a fun read, something easy and encouraging, a great way to wind down before bed.  It is a compilation of writings on various topics such as purpose, surrender, trust, + worship, written by some of today’s most popular writers and bloggers.  Some of the contributors were old favorites of mine such as Tsh Oxenreider, Ann Voskamp, Lisa-Jo Baker, Emily Freeman.  Others such as Kristen Strong, Kayla Aimee, Bonnie Gray, Leeana Tankersley, Maggie Whitley, + Deidra Riggs, were new to me.  There were many other contributors, each offering a short meditation or reflection on the topic, along with a scripture. Since it was a compilation of writers writing on a variety of topics, I would classify it as more inspirational rather than instructional.

Some of my favorite features are the accompanying photographs and the brevity of the chapters, as well as the fact that it’s arranged topically so you can flip through it to whatever interests you.

(Thank you to Revell Publishing for a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.)

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Worry Less So You Can Live More by Jane Rubietta

I was drawn to this book…. for a friend. Ha. Just kidding. Yes, I admit it: I’m a worrier. Rubietta is a new author to me, though as an author of fifteen books, she is certainly not new to the writing scene.  I was initially struck and refreshed by her writing, which was poetic + depthy. She writes this book to share her own story of moving from worry to delight and encouraging readers to do the same, and yet her style is such that you are drawn in and lost in her words.  It reads gently, more like a memoir than a self-help book.  Probably my favorite feature is how she ends each chapter in an application section with scripture, some provoking questions, and then prayer, called Votum, and a response from God, sung back over us, a Benedictus, all written by Rubietta herself.

She covers how to delight even in our most anxious seasons, the dailyness of God’s presence, the way worry boxes us in when God invites us to live in wide open spaces, how our tears are tools, and our difficulties are gifts that give us empathy.  Truly beautiful.  One not to miss.

A little excerpt for you:

“I quit reading fiction–too frivolous if people are perishing.  No more cracking jokes.  Somewhere along the journey I stopped laughing, lost all perspective and balance.  Everything seemed overly important, everything an issue, whether it was paying two cents too much for a gallon of milk or gasoline (Good Christian Women save money, and furrow our brows while doing so) or being two minutes late for a commitment.

But all this seriousness is killing me.  It’s killing my heart, probably literally, but also figuratively.  Joie de vivre–joy of living, of life–is not a reality, only a fun French phrase.  Isn’t the root of such dreadful seriousness…worry?  And isn’t worry a misunderstanding of the God who carries the whole world in his hands?…

Forgoing delight is like an emotional vow of poverty, based on a poor understanding of God.  Will God love us more if we live our devout and holy life without cracking a smile or having our heart turn somersaults over the sunset or the erratic path of a butterfly?  As though God were a great big Curmudgeon in the Sky, with furrowed brows and a tight fist.  This isn’t God the Abba-Daddy, this is God the judgmental, finger-pointing, shaming miser.  But looking around, where’s the evidence of a God like that on this globe?  Enormous generosity blossoms from the earth, drips from heaven, appears at the lip of the world every single morning and every single evening.  Unfailingly generous, it seems to me, is this God we love and serve and maybe try to keep a safe distance from.”

(Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for a free copy in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.)

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Own Your Life by Sally Clarkson

Oh, friends.  This one is a good one!  A great one.  Clarkson is a trusted source of wisdom, a biblically grounded woman with a heart heavily inclined toward discipleship, a seasoned mother of adult children, a gifted and engaging writer.  Sitting with this book feels much like sitting with Clarkson in a cabin in the snowy Colorado mountains over a cup of steaming tea as she reaches hands across the table and takes your hand and implores + encourages you to own your life.  We live in an age of incredible distraction.  All of our technology has afforded us unprecedented levels of busyness.  As women, we need a call to live lives of great intention + purpose, lives grounded in scripture where we find our identity, our worth, and the very reason for our existence.  Clarkson’s book is just such a siren call, reminding, encouraging, exhorting, all the while pouring out from her own deep well of lessons learned and life lived.  What will your legacy be?  Are you living today with your legacy in mind?  Are you living carried to and fro by the whims of your circumstances?  Maybe you would be helped by Clarkson’s book.  I certainly have been!  Rather than heaping on further guilt or a heavier burden to carry, Clarkson writes in such a way as to inspire and gently instruct and gives courage that we really can fulfill the purposes God has for us individually while we walk out our time here.

A little excerpt for you:

“My counsel to all those crying out for help: in order to move from chaos to order, we must each make  plan that will move us away from a never-ending flurry of activities toward God’s design for our lives.  That plan begins by identifying the drainers and sources of chaos that steal our spiritual and emotional energy.  To move forward, in other words, we must first recognize what is holding us back…Often there is a subtle confusion about how life ‘got’ this way.  Nonstop activity is a cultural badge of honor that supposedly means a person is making progress.  Busyness falsely promises productivity.  Frankly, our culture encourages us to take on more and more, and busyness and distraction can be addicting.  Yet we are drifting further from the life God designed us to live.  Surely this is not the abundant life God promised.  Is there a better way to find purpose and satisfaction?”

(Thank you to Tyndale Publishers for a free copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.)

Happy reading, folks!  As always, I love to hear from you: what you’ve been reading and enjoying lately?