Sunday, January 26, 2014

the early bird gets the worm...

The other day I was putting laundry away and helping to tidy up my girls' bedroom when I came across this little glass wormy creature.  Seems this house full of kids is also full of little things...legos, polly pocket and Barbie accessories, rainbow rubber bands (yes...a ton of those tiny stretchy things).  Sometimes I'm not sure where to put everything.  So they get thrown into a pile or a little trinket box until they find their proper home.  
But this worm, that has probably been moved from trinket box to trinket box, (because really, where do you put something like this before it finally makes its way to the trash?) had me thinking otherwise.  As soon as I picked it up, I thought to myself, "The early bird gets the worm."  So, I placed it on a dresser next to a decorative birdcage.  Seemed proper, don't ya think?
And it had me thinking about the deeper spiritual truth behind this.  The phrase, "The early bird gets the worm" is actually a proverb that is used to tell us to act early or immediately.  That if we do something right away or before anyone/anything else, we will have an advantage and be successful.

When it comes to tackling the tasks and demands of the day, this is true too.  See, to a bird, a worm is nourishment.  It's "daily bread."  The worm fills the bird with all things good and necessary to carry out its work for the day and to sustain life.

In a spiritual sense, we are no different. We need to feed on the Word of God for it too sustains us and brings life to our dry and hungry souls.  And we need to fill up on Him and His Word daily. I'm convinced that the best time to do this is early in the morning, before anyone or anything else places demands on us...for this alone time with Him gives us the advantage to successfully navigate through our day. 

I don't think it's necessarily wrong to choose another time of day to spend time alone with God.  But I do think we have a better choice to make by allocating the firstfruits of our day to Him.  It makes me think of the "Mary and Martha" story in the bible (Luke 10:38-42).  

"As Jesus and His disciples were on their way, He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what He said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.  She came to Him and asked, 'Lord, don't You care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!'  'Martha, Martha,' the Lord answered, 'you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.'" 

Martha was busy getting the house and the meal prepared for the Lord and all of her guests.  These tasks needed to be done.  They were important and couldn't be ignored.  Martha grew stressed and frustrated as she worked hard prepping for this occasion and her sister sat back and relaxed with Jesus.  But, it was Mary who was recognized as choosing the better thing to do.  Mary chose to spend time with the Lord.  To make Him her first priority, even over the chores of the household and the many demands of the day.

The same applies to our lives.  God knows what is on our daily "to-do" list and what tasks need to be accomplished.  He knows we grow weary, worried and upset over all that is on our full plates.  He tells us the "one thing that is needed": time with Him.  That sacrificing our time to be with Him is not for loss, for it's in this time that He speaks to us and we listen to Him, just as Mary did.  And His word spoken into our hearts is something that "will not be taken away."

Not only will it not be taken away, His word will equip us to more efficiently respond to the demands of our schedule.  To manage our time.  Our attitudes.  And our hearts.  To respond with grace.  To trust Him more.  To have our minds and our hearts aligned with His.  

I wouldn't call myself a morning person.  I'm more like a morning turtle.  It takes me a while to get going...even with coffee in hand.  But, I look forward to my morning time alone with God before anyone else in the house awakens.  It refreshes me.  It fills my heart with joy.  It starts my day off on a fresh note, and better prepares me for the challenges ahead.  I covet this time.

I don't set my alarm every morning because I consider myself more disciplined and faithful.  I do it because I know how desperate I am without God.  I know I need this time with Him.  I need that holy fuel to gas me up for the day.  I need me daily bread. (Or daily "worm.")  I know that I am lost without Him.  I know that in my own strength and left to my own flesh, I will fail miserably.  And the days I miss out on this time alone with Him show the difference.  The proof is in the pudding.  My morning time with God is solely based out of recognizing my grave need for Him.  The bottom line: I don't like who I am without Him.  It leads to all things ugly and empty.  It's not even so much about choice as it is about need.  It's much like eating.  While we do eat by choice, we also eat because it is a necessity.  We need food to survive and flourish.  And just as we need to feed our bodies, we need to feed our souls.  Taking time with God each day does just this.

If this isn't something you do regularly, I encourage you to give it a try.  Start by setting your alarm 30 minutes earlier than you normally would wake up.  Or, if you are unlike me and can easily get yourself moving in the morning, start your day 20 minutes earlier.  (Perhaps it doesn't take you 10 minutes to brush your teeth and pour your first cup of coffee.)  Read directly from His word, or a daily devotional, or begin a prayer journal (or all of the above).  I promise that you will find this time rewarding and worth the extra minutes of beauty sleep.  It will recharge you more than those 20-30 minutes staying in bed ever will.  And If you are like me, 30 minutes will soon grow to an hour.  And eventually that won't seem like enough time either.

Seek Him first in your day.  Give Him the firstfruits of your life, your time, your day, and your morning.

"Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." Matthew 6:33

"Sow your seed in the morning..." Ecclesiastes 11:6

"To proclaim your love in the morning."  Psalm 92:2

"I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in Your word."  Psalm 119:147

"Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness."  Lamentations 3:22-23

"O God, you are my God, "earnestly" (Hebrew word "shachar": rising in immediate pursuit) I seek You..."  Psalm 63:1

"In the morning, O LORD, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation."  Psalm 5:3

"O LORD, be gracious to us; we long for You.  Be our strength every morning."  Isaiah 33:2

"The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.  He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.  The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears..."  Isaiah 50:4-5

"Satisfy us in the morning with Your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days." Psalm 90:14

"Bring the best of your firstfruits to the LORD."  Exodus 34:26

"Each morning everyone gathered as much as he needed..."  Exodus 16:21

Even in the very life of Jesus we are given an example to follow:

"Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed."  Mark 1:35

And in Matthew 6:9-13, better known as "The Lord's Prayer,"  Jesus instructs us to go to God and ask Him to "give us today our daily bread."  He knows what we need to get through our day and He wants us to come to Him to receive it.   And what we need for the day, can't be gathered in the evening and saved to carry us into tomorrow.  Grace can't be stored and bottled.  It's a daily gathering.  And it will always be enough to sustain.  

Join me.  Choose what is better, and it will not be taken from you. 
Be the early bird who gets the worm. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

for the bruised reed...

for those "just holding on" days,
and those "barely hanging on" moments, we are good to remember:

"He won't brush aside the bruised and hurt,
and He won't disregard the small and insignificant."
~Isaiah 42:3 (The Message)

to Him and His faithfulness we clutch and hold tightly. in His saving name we place our hope.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

the counting of blessings...and grace spilled out.

How do you count/weigh your blessings?  
I am a fair-weather friend to pinterest, but from time to time I indulge on pinning binges.   The ironic thing is, I seldom go back to my pinterest "boards" to reference all of these grand ideas I have spent countless hours pinning to perfection.  I think it's the delight of having creative inspiration that I can click my way into at a moment's time that really allures me.  (And my helpless hopeful dreaming that I will actually have the spare time to attempt the hundreds of ideas archived.)

But occasionally, there is an idea that catches me and sets my creative wheels in motion.  An idea that lingers and begins to take precedent over the stacks of dirty laundry and dishes I should be attending to. An idea that has me rushing off to the local dollar store or Hobby Lobby to gather my needed supplies to begin creating.

Such was this:  the blessing jar; the inspiration behind this post.  

In a nutshell, beginning January 1st, you are to start recording (in writing) all of your blessings for that year.  Each time you record a blessing, you stick it into your blessings jar for safe-keeping.  On December 31st of that year, you spill out your blessings and read them one by one.  This is an idea worth pinning, don't you think?

So, I did.  I pinned, and then I recreated.  I love the mason jar idea, as the link above displays.  But I found this lovely, little, brown, weathered, metal box at Hobby Lobby and decided to use her instead. (Plus, she was bigger, and I was expecting God to show up and wonderwork in big ways last year.  We needed the extra room). 

I took a bunch of pretty scrapbook paper that I already had on hand and cut them up into squares about the size of post-it notes.  I inked the backside with stamps that said "give thanks" or "blessings" and then placed the papers in a little dish next to my blessings box.  And starting January of last year, I began to record all of the blessings in the life of our family and placed them into this box one by one.  All of the ways God showed up and came through for us.  All of the ways He surprised us and did the "immesaurably more" that He alone is capable of doing.  And all of the ways He provided and showed us His wonder.

Unfortunately, we didn't follow this pin to to a "T" and read through these recorded blessings on December 31st as suggested.  Life interrupted that.  Our son was discharged from the hospital that day and everything in life got put on pause.  The days following,  we were just plain exhausted and I was struggling through a case of the afters.  Although there was much to be thankful for, I was having a hard time keeping an attitude of gratitude.  I knew I needed to look through that blessings box, but my mood and energy level wasn't cooperating.

And then January 3rd rolled in and pulled me deeper into that funk.  My 8 year old came down with the stomach flu the night before (as if almost two solid weeks of illness and being home-bound and hospital-bound weren't enough) and she had a hideous vomiting debacle all over every square inch of her and her sister's bunkbeds.  Every sheet, pillow case, blanket, duvet cover, down comforter, mattress pad and mattress cover on both of their beds needed to be washed.  And they were.  And I appreciate the help I received in having these things washed.  However, when I went to make their beds the following day, I could still smell the not so lovely faint scent of old vomit on the bedding.  Apparently, "speed wash" isn't the best cycle to clean up vomit.  Everything needed to be rewashed again.  (Note: This time around I used the "sanitize" cycle). Ugh...

And then I took my son to his follow-up doctor's appointment just to learn that our new insurance policy (effective two days before) was not accepted by his physician.  Seriously?  We left the doctor's office without being seen. I won't even start with my angry rant about health insurance, but if you only knew what we already had paid in health insurance in the past month, it may utterly shock you.  Our old insurance company cancelled our policy after all of the Obamacare regulations were put into play. They agreed to carry us until December 31st of last year and then we were on our own.  It has not been easy finding new coverage as one would think.  So, January 1st, 2014 our new insurance began...and already we are experiencing headache and hassle with this new policy.

This topped my emotional overload and sent me spiraling into a "not so good" place.  Sometimes too much bad news can paralyze you.  I really didn't want to leave my bed yesterday.  I spent a lot of time reading and soaking in truth.  And the gloom lifted a bit.  I knew another day couldn't go by without us spilling out our blessings box and reflecting on God's faithfulness to our family over the past year.  I desperately needed these reminders because everything around me was beginning to be clouded and colored in darkness.

So after the kiddos were in their nice, clean, sanitized beds last night, Darcy and I sat on our bed, wrinkled sheets and all, and emptied and read through our blessings box together.
 It's just like God, isn't it? show up in our wrinkled messy lives and spill out His grace upon us.  And in that moment, He did just this.
We sorted through those papers, organized them in chronological order, and took turns reading aloud each and every recorded blessing from 2013.   And it did something to me.  When the supernatural collides with the natural it leaves you changed.  I became overwhelmed by His faithfulness.  My vision didn't seem so clouded anymore.  I soon was colored in love and gratitude as we counted our blessings.  Because thankfulness is gloom breaking and destroys negative thinking.  It flies on wings of hope.  Gratitude comes in swinging like a wrecking ball and clears away the darkness, busts through those emotional storm clouds and gives you a window into His piercing and promising Light.  And the weight of it all is freeing.  Empowering.  Humbling.  Awakening. 

I don't know if anyone could read through a year's worth of God's activity and not feel complete and utter awe, adoration, and gratitude toward Him.  It brought us back to a season in our lives where we were really struggling and hopelessly overwhelmed.  Some of it was painful to look back on.  Areas of leanness, lacking, and being stretched too thin.  Seasons where we were just barely hanging by a thread.  And although I don't ever want to go back to that time in life, I don't want to forget it either.  I don't want to forget the lessons I learned and the ways He grew my faith.

Sometimes we think it's best to forget all of the "hard" and move forward with eyes ahead.  But there is beauty and purpose in the looking back.  In the reflecting.  It jolts our memory.  We can grow too comfortable in seasons of ease...and when we do, we can become a bit desensitized to God's track record of faithfulness.  Or our dependency on Him.  This forgetfulness does nothing to help us when a new season of struggle comes along.

I wish I could say we had blessings written for every month of the year.  But we didn't.  October was missing.  And this made my heart a bit sad...because I am certain He was in that month too, working and moving on our behalf, and that I had just gotten too busy...or failed to take notice and record it.  I wonder how many other times I've been too busy (or too comfortable) and have failed to see Him in my world around me.  This built in me a resolve to search even harder for Him this year.

When reading through our blessings there were several truths that rang loud and clear in my heart.  I was completely humbled and overwhelmed at how God had provided for us.  And how He often used His people in doing so.  Both Darcy and I felt so loved by Him and by the people He has allowed us to share life with.  And I found that it was in our greatest struggles last year that God consistently and divinely came through for us.  Over and over again.  Month after month.  In ways we never expected or could have imagined.  He showed up and provided.  Not just once...but over and over again until that struggle was no longer a struggle anymore.  

Did you catch this?  He cares about our greatest struggles.  It's in them that He shows up the most.  Even in those moments where your vision is clouded and you may not see, feel, or hear Him, He is there.  He is moving.  He is acting on your behalf, working all things out for good.  And He will not stop or quit until He has seen you through that struggle.  He is there with us in the midst of them.  Ever present to show Himself faithful and true in our worst circumstances.  To comfort and provide for us in the waiting.  How comforting is this?

There is power in the remembering.  It's in the looking back that we gain clear perspective.  God was more present in our mess than I ever realized.  Looking through our recorded blessings was tangible evidence of this.  It was a beautiful display of grace spilled out.

I love to keep a prayer journal.   I often write in my prayer journal as if it is a diary or letter to God.  It's another tangible way to see His recorded blessings in our lives.  But I must admit, sometimes it is hard for me to read through the pages of my past.  There's pain and struggle in them.  And sometimes I don't even want to go there.  

What I loved about this blessings box is that although it pointed us back to our struggles and made us remember how big and painful they were, we didn't have to hash through all the heartache that went along with them.  Sometimes your heart just knows and remembers without needing all of the nitty-gritty.  The blessings box didn't focus on the struggle as sometimes a prayer journal can do.  Instead, it allowed us reflect less on the struggle and more on His faithfulness.  

God's faithfulness was highlighted.  The emphasis was on Him and His provision and grace.  Where it always should be.  And after we finished reading through all of our blessings, both Darcy and I felt immensely loved.  And I think this is key to having your faith bloom.  It's in realizing how very much you are loved by God.    

For God is Love (1 John 4:8).  And He is within us.

Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:7).  

Grace spilled out from a blessing box last night.  Right in the middle of our wrinkly and messy.  And it covered us.  The counting of our blessings spilled over into our present now...and became countless.  And became hope-filled.  For there is no scale that can weigh or measure God's grace.  And if there were, I'm certain it would already be pinned on my pinterest board.

So, I ask will you count your blessings this year?  It's not too late to get started now.  Recount His faithfulness in your life; it will be worth it.  For a mind of remembrance and a heart of gratitude will always tip the scale in your favor, pinning you right into the arms of the Good and Faithful One.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

the filling...

So, here it is January 1st.  The start of a new year.  2014. And everyone knows that when we bring in the New Year, we often ride into it with resolution. What is yours?

I've been tossing up ideas and thoughts in regards to this for a few days now.  And a phrase keeps echoing through my heart about: "the filling."

What is it we fill our lives with?  What is it we are really after?  What is it we hunger and thirst for? What is lacking and lean and needs a good filling?

We live in a world with a voracious appetite.  Always hungry for more, more, more.  Yet, never satiated.  We are driven to chase after image, wealth, success, status, and possessions.  And yet, when we reach a certain level or a certain goal, we often find it's just not enough.  It doesn't taste as good as we had imagined.  There is room, desire, and appetite for more.

We gorge and binge on worldliness.  Seduced and allured by her cheap promise to bring joy and fulfillment.  Taking in another heaping spoonful of her deceitful "it's all about me" concoction.  Choking it down. Yet, despite our gluttony and need to vomit it back up, we find ourselves asking for another bite.  And another flavor. Till we are sick.  And ironically empty.

We all want fullness of life.  We want to be better.  To live better.  To love better.  Yet, we often find areas of our lives that are just plain anorexic.  Hungry for more.  Starving for fullness.  And we dip back into that tasty bag of worldliness and fill ourselves up on more empty calories.

This year, I want a deep and lasting filling.  One that won't leave me wasting away.  Or bloated.  And I know where the source of all these things can be found.  The Source that will help me be better, live better, and love better.  I want the richness and fullness of God in my life.

I want to be...

I want to calorically binge on Christ and His holiness.  And not just a taste on my lips.  I want the filling. I want to savor, chew up, swallow down, and digest Him and all the good things of Him.  Until He courses through my veins and makes my heart beat fresh and vibrant with blood red fullness of life.  I want Him to fatten me in all the lean anorexic places so that I am SO filled with Him, His fruit, and His Spirit, that my cup runneth over and lavishly and effortlessly spills out onto the lives of those around me.

I want that kind of filling.

So what are you after this year?

Webster's defines "resolution" as:
-an answer or solution to something
-the ability of a device to show an image clearly and with a lot of detail
-firmness of resolve
-the point in a literary work at which the chief dramatic complication is worked out

Our solution and our reward lies in Him.  And so does that deep and lasting filling we all crave.  He is our beginning point and our ending point.  He works all things out.  Give Him your dramatic complications and let Him show you that He is the answer.  And in a world that will deceive you into thinking that image is everything, find truth and filling in the Image of Christ alone.  Let Him be your mirror.  And aim to be a reflection of Him.  To show His image clearly and with a lot of detail to the world around you.

Synonyms for "resolution" include:

So, when looking at possible New Year's Resolutions, I couldn't help but ask myself:
"What am I chasing after?"
"What do I want my life to be filled with?"
"What do others say is the pursuit of my heart?"
"What areas of my life are lean and need to be fattened? And what areas of my life are fattened and  need to become lean?"
"What impact does my one small life make?" and...
"What legacy do I want to leave behind?"

 I allowed these questions to shape my goals. And they all pointed back to One thing: the filling.

A fullness of life created by the fullness of God within me.  It's my decision, call, determination and firm resolve to chase after just this.

2014:  May I be fat in Him.
A deep and lasting filling.

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled."
Matthew 5:6

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

a sinking horse and a case of "the afters..."

there often comes a point after a crisis or high stress situation, or even after a climactic life event in which you come down and the dust settles.  this seems to be the pattern within our own family.  for us it sighed hard and deep, in an exhausting "did we really just do that again?".  this "letdown" is often one of the hardest phases to wrestle through. that emotional crash.  a place where the soft lens has been taken off of your reality and your thoughts and emotions have finally found a place to rest.  and you struggle with what to do with them.  because many of them are unpleasant and unwanted.  the adrenaline which kept you going and moving forward seems to dissipate.  and that heavy thick cloud of yuck looms over you.

i like to call this a case of "the afters."

i think i hardly cried throughout brayden's last episode.  and since yesterday evening, i've been fighting back tears by the hour.  ready to cry over the tiniest of my inability to easily open a jar of pickles.  and although laundry is stacked high and i have several days of backed up housework and bills to pay, i don't feel like doing much of anything.  besides possibly staying locked in my bedroom all day.  or running away.  i won't lie, sometimes that thought crosses my mind.  i find it most difficult to accomplish any task and feel not an ounce of energy or desire to propel my way forward.

ugh.  "the afters..."

not a fun place to be.  no rosy airbrushed finish to cover it all up.  it's a restlessness to do, but feeling like you're stuck in knee-deep mud.  a bit like the scene from The Neverending Story where Atreyu and Artax cross the Swamp of Sadness.  The boy screams, "Artax, your'e sinking!"And pleads for him to "Fight against the sadness, Artax!"  yeah, a bit like that.  but maybe not so melodramatic.  for it's more of a dull sadness that threatens to pull you deeper.  and even so, i know i'm not going fully under.

there's guilt in "the afters" too...for you know you have much to be thankful for, yet have a hard time remaining in that state of gratitude.  what we prayed for was answered.  our son got healthy.  he was discharged.  he's home.  it was the smoothest hospital visit we've had yet.  and his shortest episode to date.  we should be hailing "hallelujahs" all day.  for all the things that matter most.  so yeah, when "the afters" try to pull you down into their swamp of sadness, you feel guilty for even letting yourself put a toe into those waters.

so what to do when caught up in "the afters?"

i might just stay in my pj's all day.  braless and all, with rat-nested hair.  but i'll throw that "one more load" into the washing machine.  and that "one more kiddo" into the sudsy tub.  and besides posting a new year's eve pic on facebook or instagram i'll probably unplug from all social media.  and i probably won't answer my phone or texts...and may just unplug and disconnect all together from the outside world as i try to make sense within my own little world.  because sometimes distance and breathing room act as the rope that pulls you out of that sinking sand.  and sometimes you have to intentionally disconnect in order to purposefully reconnect.

and in the unplugging, i will aim to replug and reconnect myself to the One who fully charges.  whose power and instant messaging brings back life to this empty battery.  the One who "likes" all my life posts and pictures, and always leaves a comment.  even on the real and ugly ones.  i'll really try to be tender and gentle and fully present with my kids today.  and make sure i have a smile on my face for my husband who comes home tonight.  who also struggles with "the afters," yet doesn't have adequate down time to rest and wrestle through it.

and i'll wear love and compassion and grace upon my heart. until tomorrow sweeps in on her mercy horse.

for that horse,
is one that never sinks...
even in "the afters."