My First Book Review

A few months ago I had the privilege of being asked to write a review for a book by Shannon Upton entitled, Building Your Home:  A Faithful Mom’s Guide to Organizing Home and Family.

I love a good book on organization.  I feel like it has been my life’s goal since my first born took his first step and started mixing things up!  Five children later I’m hopelessly entangled in the never-ending endeavor of organization.

Prior to having my sweeties I was a conference planner, a profession that requires a high level of organization.  Now, I can’t seem to even give the illusion of being organized.

I have read so many organizing books that it’s highly likely I’ve read almost every one out there!  And I’ve tried many of the techniques involved.  Most recently I went through all my clothes as directed and made instant decisions.  It was so effective that I can fit every season of my wardrobe in one small closet and my dresser.  The only down side is I find I have very few things to wear!  On top of that, I did not, as the book suggested, thank my clothes for their service to me.  Apparently, I am a very ungrateful clothes wearer!

But none of these books have been quite as inspiring as this one.  This one has made me think…made me what to be what Shannon Upton calls a “Jesus Mom.”

One of the first things she wrote that grabbed me and made me want to sit down for tea with her was her story of dealing with postpartum depression (PPAD).  She tells how, during her struggle, someone shared their story of dealing with PPAD.  This is what she says, “I knew she was trying to help me feel better by letting me know that I wasn’t alone, but all it did was make my burden seem heavier-more real somehow.  She was bringing up feelings that I was trying so hard to keep under control.”

I instantly felt connected to her because I have had those moments, those interactions.  I loved her honestly.

Throughout her book, Shannon shares openly about her life while encouraging us to reevaluate and find peace in our own.  I love that she didn’t present herself as the perfect homemaker, but as someone working through all of life’s complexities and busyness…sharing the successes and struggles along the way.

Her book is about choosing to focus on Jesus first, to clear out the spiritual clutter of our lives.  “The point isn’t ‘having it all’ or even having it all together – it’s settling our spirits so we can dwell in the Lord’s peace” (p. 15).  Peace that isn’t based on perfection, but on building our homes in a way that will bring peace to our families.

Shannon warns against giving ourselves more spiritual clutter by stressing about getting organized.  Putting pressure on ourselves only takes away the peace we are hoping to choose daily.

There’s no pressure here, no hurry.  Don’t go giving yourselves even more spiritual clutter over “getting organized.”  In fact, I don’t even like that phrase.  It implies that “organized” is a place we can get to, a thing we can achieve, but it’s not.

Your home isn’t a problem to solve, it’s a set of systems to be managed.  As a Jesus Mom, you don’t want to organize your household so you can “feel at peace.”  Instead, you can choose to feel peaceful while you organize.”  (p. 25)

What a great idea!  Choosing peace.  God’s been encouraging me to choose peace a lot lately.

I’m choosing it with varying degrees of success, but success nonetheless.

What I took from this book was that managing my home is about creating a peaceful refuge for my family that exudes Christlikness.  My goal is for my home to provide me with opportunities to love the Lord well, to love my family well, and to love others well.

Shannon recommends starting with prayer.  What a wonderful way to begin – praying over our home.

Dedicating it to the Lord.  Asking for wisdom as we begin the process of organization.  Asking for a godly perspective and a spirit of contentment.  Giving thanks for all the blessings.

Then beginning.

Shannon provides some practical advice on the process and throughout encourages, inspires, and entertains with her engaging writing style.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and have already begun the processes Shannon recommends.

I’m taking my time and praying my way through my home. And God willing, my home will be a place of ministry, not only to my family, but to my friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.

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Taking 4 Steps Back

IMG_3911Once upon a time…

There was a little girl who dreamed of being married and raising beautiful little children who would love the Lord and each other.  There wasn’t a white picket fence, but there was a big oak tree with a tire swing, a creek with tadpoles, a kitchen counter with a fresh loaf of homemade bread, and a mommy and daddy who loved each other with abandon.

Not surprisingly, that little girl was me.

It seemed for a very long time that things were headed that way…I’d jumped into the chariot, married Prince Charming, and started making beautiful babies.  The house was full – joyfully chaotic and plentiful in love.

But underneath the calm beauty of a life built together, there were secrets and hurtful things.  Sin was stealing in to destroy and devastate.

After almost 18 years of family building, it became a marriage collapse.

It was easy to assume that this marriage collapse would spell the end of this precious family.

But because God can always make beauty from ashes, we would survive…me and my little band of beauties.

We wobbled, we swayed, but we didn’t fall.  In fact, in many ways we became stronger – closer and more determined to thrive, not just survive.

Picking up the pieces after divorce is no easy task.  In fact, it’s exhausting, but the pieces, with God’s help, do fit back together.  The picture isn’t the same, but it can still be beautiful.  It can still be joyful.

My picture hasn’t fallen back into place easily.  It’s taking time.  It’s taking a bunch of perseverance and patience…things I often don’t feel I have near enough of.

There are days I still mourn my “once upon a time no more”.  There are days I still feel a deep pain in my chest when I ponder what I’ve lost.

But maybe the key is not to focus on what I’ve lost, but to realize what I have gained…been blessed with…have.

And again God brings me back to Whose I am…who I am.

It’s so easy to forget in the busyness of the day…I just feel so much without thinking.

I feel so overwhelmed.  I feel so impatient.  I feel so much pressure.  I feel such failure.  I feel such hopelessness at times.

What.  In.  The.  World????

Hopeless.

How did I get here?

I honestly don’t know…one small step after another I guess.

One step toward thinking I can handle it all.

One step away from the strength of the Lord and into the illusion of my own strength.

One step away from moments of peace and rest and into the hurried and overwhelmed moments of a day without boundaries.

One step away from prayer and into thinking I should be able to do this.

One step away from the Word and into my own wisdom, my own knowledge, my own perspective.

Taking those steps over and over again…those have gotten me here.

To this place of stress and anxious thoughts and overwhelming emotions.

How do I get back to the start…to the better place?

One step at a time…

Step one…on my knees.  Prayer is my lifeline.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  Romans 12:12

 Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knowns what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:26-28

Step two…dive into the Word.  Knowing Him through His word gives me such abiding hope, often a new perspective, and the wisdom I need so desperately to lead my little band.

Behold you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.  Psalm 50:6

If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  John 8:31-32

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is the truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.  John 17:17

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16

Step three… sit down!!  Chill…relax…rest.  Rest in the knowledge that I am His daughter.  Rest in the knowledge that He has my life in the palm of His hand.  Rest in the knowledge that He will take care of me and my children.  Rest in the knowledge that He loves me.

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on Spirit is life and peace.  Romans 8:6

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.  Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD God is an everlasting rock.  Isaiah 26:3-4

Step four…gratitude.  I cannot have a good attitude without gratitude.  If I would but take a moment and think about the good things…the precious people and massive number of blessings God has lavished on me…I’d see that it is quite easy to count my blessings.  But even if God had not graciously blessed me with people and things and opportunities and provision, He has blessed me with Christ…with grace and mercy, with the joy of the Lord, with salvation, with life, with hope, with peace, with eternity.  How can my lips not praise and thank Him!

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.  Psalm 118:1

Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderous works to the children of man!  Psalm 107:8

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7  

 I know there are more steps to take…but that will get me started moving forward with grace and peace.

Lord, thank you so much that you love me regardless of my attitude or actions.  Lord, thank you that I know that you will take care of me and my children.  Forgive me for so often trying to take control of my life.  Forgive me for not resting in the knowledge that I can trust you.  Thank you Father that you are faithful and kind even in the face of my unfaithfulness.  I am in awe of you!  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

A Deep Breath

IMG_2803There is a place I find myself…sometimes…it is no longer a place of deep grief, but of deep sighing.

A place where I find myself needing  the strengthing of a deep breath, the focus of a whispered prayer, and the hope of an all-powerful God.

In the past, this place has been about me…about my very own pain and sorrow.

But now I find it mostly about others…dear ones.

I am having difficulty taking that deep breath at the moment because I can’t bear the thoughts that keep crowding in.

I’m overwhelmed by fears and hurt for another.

So instead of steadying deep breaths, I’m whispering my prayers with short breaths of hope, pleas for peace, and requests for grace.

I’m trusting that regardless of what I can see before me…the issues of this life, the pain of another, the loss of things that weren’t supposed to be lost…I’m trusting that God sees more.  God sees beyond me.

He sees what He can do to redeem, restore, and reconcile.  He sees what He can do to love another whole.

My prayers are not about whys or whens.  They are about Who.

Who holds all the broken together in infinite, lavish love.

Who brings life out of death.

Who speaks truth into lies.

Who binds up the brokenhearted.

Who restores the lost.

Who redeems the bound.

Who heals the sick.

Who loves the unlovely.

Who forgives the fallen.

Who comforts the heartbroken.

Who is faithful to the faithless.

Who is my Father…my Savior…my Comforter.

I have found these prayers to the One Who Is…the One Who Listens…the One Who Loves…these prayers surround me like the comfort of a soft blanket gently layed on my shoulders.

I have felt hope wash over my hopelessness with a few well-spoken words of a friend.

“Overwhelming for us but not our Lord.”

I have felt peace as I emotionally, spiritually, and mentally hand over my burden to Him.

I have felt strength as I turn to His word…as I find truth and hope and healing in the letters and words and sentences of my God’s love letter to me.

Today I have hope even as last night I went to bed with tears in my eyes for one I love deeply who is struggling.  And one I love deeply who is lost to me.  And one I love deeply who is hurting.  And all the ones I love deeply who are going through things I can’t fix.

But this morning, even though my head is slightly foggy with sickness, and my eyes are rough with dried tears, and my body is weary…I feel hopeful.

I feel the power of my God…the strength of His hand…in the prayers I and others have prayed.

I feel peace and even great expectation of what He will do in these lives.

I feel great expectation of what He will do in my life.

My chest has finally risen with a deep breath of joy in the hope and strength of my Lord.

Do You Know How to Count?

photo (5)   I discovered today that a broken foot has one odd benefit.  I can wear socks out of the box under my bed.  It’s a box full of socks with no match, but they are ones I really like so I keep holding out hope the match will miraculously appear.  So far no luck.  (and truly I believe this is misplaced hope – it’s been years)

Today I pulled out my favorite sock and smiled at this whole box of fun socks I haven’t worn in forever. But now I get to!

Simple pleasures.

Other than the socks I’m hard-pressed to think of a benefit to this silly broken foot.

The first night I was trying to fall asleep with my cast on and pity partying with the best of them.  I pouted for a bit, but I realized I needed to pull myself together.  So I started to count my blessings…

I broke my left not my right foot so I can drive – although my oldest daughter just got her learners permit so I don’t really get to drive anymore…ever.

I didn’t break my hand so I can still work and do school.

I don’t have to have surgery.

I have great kids who help when I need it…granted I do need to holler most of the time, but I’m good at that!

And a Mama who shows up when I need her…THAT is sacrificial love to come to this nutty place!

And now, I’ve had the blessing of sweet friends who have been making me dinners for a week!  And friends who have helped with my house.  And friends who have picked up and delivered my children different places.  And friends who call and check on me. I truly am blessed.

Seriously blessed.

When I was young, my Mom and I sang a duet at church – Count Your Blessings.

“Count your blessings name them one by one and you’ll be surprised to see what God has done…”

Recently someone sent me those lyrics too!  I love that song.

I think it’s a beautiful thing – because we absolutely see God’s love, provisions, and protection when we start paying attention.

Today in my Bible study I saw a slightly different use of the word count.  I was reading Philippians 3 and I was so struck by these verses:

But whatever gain I had I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness form God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Philippians 3:7-12

In some ways it is more a count the cost thing… not a count the blessings.  But the cool thing is that in counting the cost Paul recognizes that the cost is nothing compared to Christ – the ultimate Blessing.  Oh I love that!

I wish I lived like that!  I wish I was more like Paul… more like Paul in things like this, not the thorn in the side (got that), not in the doing what I don’t want to do (yup got that) and not doing what I want to do (got that too).  I want the “to live is Christ, to die is gain” thing.  I want to live like a truly know, believe, get, want, have the understanding that everything fades in comparison to Christ.

I’m getting there.  Gosh, I think sometimes I’m 10 steps back 8 steps forward 14 steps back 9 steps forward.  I think the good thing is that I’m still moving forward – I believe that is wholly a God thing.  God pursues me and loves me back again and again and again…and each time I’m even more grateful, even more in awe of Him.

There are things that I can count as blessings and there are things I can count as costs of following Christ.  Some blessings are surprisingly good and some costs are significantly painful, but I know that Christ is worth it all.  He always has been and always will be.

What’s Your Choice?

basketball

This past weekend my youngest daughters started playing basketball with a local Christian program.  It’s such fun to see them playing.  They’ve never played before and at times it looked like a cross between football, soccer, rugby, and wrestling.  I was laughing a lot.  But another feeling crept in as I sat in that gymnasium. I was overcome with feelings of sorrow for what I have lost…what my children have lost.

Families came in together.  Fathers and mothers with little lines of children walked through the doors one after the other. I saw interaction I’ve missed.  I saw affection, unity, and love between parents.  I saw married couples coaching together and parents parenting together.

It brought back feelings of disbelief again.

How in the world did my life happen?

I never imagined when I walked down the aisle to my husband that life would be anything but love for a lifetime, raising our children to love the Lord, and serving Him together.  Together.

Sitting together watching the rugby match…I mean basketball practice…enjoying our children’s activities together.

How is our family not together?

There are still days when I can’t believe this is the life my God has allowed for my children.  When those thoughts land heavily on my mind and heart, I, over and over again, endeavor to take them captive.  (I wish I could think of a good basketball analogy for this…but alas, I cannot…just…too…tired…)

Today I’m working on it.  I’m taking them captive again…and again and again.

God brought me to Psalm 145 and showed me some things:

  • I will not get the answers here…at least not all of them, but my God is greater than the answers I seek and I know I can trust Him.

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.  (v. 3)

  • There are always wonderful things about God’s faithfulness I can share with my children and others (like you!).  I’m paying attention to the blessings.

One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.  On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. (v. 4-5)

  •  This verse seems rather self-explanatory

The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  The LORD is good to all and his mercy is over all that he has made. (vs. 8-9)

  • My Lord is faithful.

The LORD is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works. (v.13b)

  • My Father will hold me through this trial.

The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. (v. 14)

  • My God will provide all I need.

You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. (v.16)

  • My Lord is with me and He is good!

The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.  The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:17-18

  • My Savior will do this life with me…there is togetherness with God.

The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. (v. 18)

  • My Lord will save and preserve me.

He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. The LORD preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. (vs. 19-20)

Throughout my life, I’ve had to continually remind myself of my God and His great love for me.

Sometimes I’m just overwhelmed by this world…it is NOT my home.  (Thankfully!!!!)

So much is not how I imagined it would be when I was little and looking forward to being a wife and mother.  It’s not how I imagined it would be when I said “yes” to my kneeling husband.  It’s not how I imagined it would be when I held each of my dear children for the 1st time.  At no point did I imagine this life for me or my children…or my ex-husband for that matter.

This life is just unimaginable.

But it is my life…so I don’t have to imagine it anyway.  I just have to live it.  Just get on the court and play ball.  (There it is…I knew I had one basketball reference in me!)

How do I do that?

How do I live this life in a way that doesn’t ache constantly?  I haven’t quite figured that out yet.  God is showing me.

I will say that when I’m in the Word and praying…the ache is barely noticeable.

It’s the same lesson I learn over and over and over and over (how many overs can I write to convey how often I “learn” this lesson…oh that I would actually learn it).

That lesson…focus on Christ not my circumstances.

Choose to be overwhelmed by life or by Christ.

Well…today right now…I’m making a choice.  Things might still hurt at times.  Sorrow might surprise me with a visit at the most inopportune times.  Disappointment might descend when I’m trying to find the good in this life.  Challenges might chase me down each and every day…BUT…

Today…today…I’m choosing Christ.

A Quiver Full of Wonderful

family shot for churchRecently I was interviewed for an article in an absolutely beautiful Christian magazine. It was a pleasure to speak to the interviewer and I hoped that my message would be a blessing to anyone who read the article.

Unfortunately, I was not blessed by reading the article. I was distraught. I was so surprised by the things I was quoted as saying. I can’t imagine saying them. In fact, I’m pretty sure I didn’t. If I did, I need to apologize to every reader. I really truly hope I didn’t.

There were several quotes that frustrated me but one that simply pushed me over the edge.

“I don’t think I was a bad wife. We just had lots of kids,
and life got in the way of our marriage.”

WHAT????? I can’t believe those words would have come out of my mouth! Lots of kids…well…yeah, but they are a BLESSING!!!!!

And life got in the way of our marriage? Our life was part of our marriage…the choices we made together to raise children, adopt children, homeschool children, work a high-pressured job, and be involved in our church and community were things that together we decided would enrich our marriage, our family, and our life.

I NEVER EVER EVER want my children to think that they in ANY WAY had ANY PART in the divorce of their parents. THEY DID NOT!!!!

My husband leaving was solely his deal. His issue…not mine and most definitely NOT THEIRS!

I’m not sure if you can tell that I’m quite passionate about this…quite annoyed too.

This is exactly the message I hear so often – “Well, your life was really full…” as if full is a bad thing!?!

Full of what?

Children?

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. Psalm 127:3-5

God has a wonderful way of describing a house full of children – a heritage, a reward, arrows, a blessing…what’s not to like about that!

YES! Our life was full…it was full of…LIFE!

Meals shared, prayers uttered, stories read, games played, hugs and kisses given, bedtime snuggles, wrestling matches, workdays, school book studying, chores nagging, yard work doing, church services worshipping, Bible study learning, small group getting-together, pool splashing, bike riding, football throwing, soccer ball booting, basketball shooting, scraped knees and broken bone comforting, vacation loving, family visiting, being and growing and doing this whole living thing together!

It was not perfect, but it was beautiful. It was crazy. It was fun. It was frustrating. It was difficult. It was loving. It was a blessing. It was our life. And it was worth fighting for.

I guess I just want to say that I don’t believe that I was perfect nor do I believe that our life was perfect, but I do believe that it was just right for us. I believe that our children were and still are blessings…wonderful, silly, sometimes stinky blessings.

I believe that the challenges are worth it.

I believe that the day to day living of life as a family is exquisite.

I know I cannot go back and fix my family or that article…but I can tell you that it has given me a new resolve to enjoy my family…all the exhaustion, all the chaos, all the challenges… it has reminded me that this life is a blessing that I don’t want to miss.

Lately I’ve uttered words to God like, “I don’t want to do this anymore,” and “I can’t do this anymore.” But God is reminding me that I do really want to do this life…that I love this life. And He is showing me that I can do this because I have Him…and it is worth the fight.

I might have lost the fight for my marriage, but I did not lose the fight for my family. I have them right here with me and I’m proud to say that I have a full quiver of arrows! I will be the mighty warrior in this family and protect and fight for it!

SHARING SOME THOUGHTS ON ROMANCE

I’ve been learning a lot about love lately.  Loving my children well.  Loving my friends well.  Loving my family well.  Loving my Lord the best.  And especially how the Lord loves me.

When I was looking up verses on love, it was amazing how many times God uses the word steadfast to describe His love for us. 
 
The word steadfast means “fixed in direction, steadily directed, firm in purpose, resolution, faith, attachment, unwavering, firmly established, firmly fixed in place or position.”
 
What was the synonym that grabbed you the most?  For me it was unwavering, but resolution came in a close second.  Unwavering is a beautiful word because to me that says that no matter what God loves me.  I imagine it like a tree standing in the midst of a hurricane and defying the wind and the storm simply by standing upright.  God’s love is not impacted by what I do or say or think, or anything I have done, said or think or anything in the future.  That is beautiful to me.  That word resolution reminds me that God has decided to love me steadfastly regardless of me.  He is resolved that I should be loved by Him.  His love is steadily directed at me.  There is never a time when He withholds His love from me. Wow!  No matter what, He loves me.  No matter what, He loves you.
 
Read Psalm 136 and see how much God wants you to truly understand how steadfastly He loves you.  I have included part of it…He says it 26 times – once in each verse!  He wants us to know His love is unwavering, unending. 
 
Dearest, He loves you relentlessly!
 
I pray that today you will grasp how deeply and steadily God loves you.
 
Psalm 136

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever.

To him who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever.

To him who by understanding made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures forever;

To him who spread out the earth above the waters, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures forever; the sun to rule over the day, for his steadfast love endures forever; the moon and the stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures forever;…