The Sacred is Among Us

Monday afternoon found me in our beat up old van (we affectionately call her Bessie and keep praying her into a few more months of existence) driving our two youngest girls home from their first ballet lesson of the fall. Maggie reflectively asked, “How can God get to everywhere so fast?” I told her that God is already everywhere so He doesn’t really have to “get” to anywhere…He’s already there! Then I added that we have to remember that God is not like us, we can only be at one place at one time but God can be in every single place, even our old van, all at the same time. Mallory, finally piped in with full enthusiasm, “yeah, we are NOT God!” Well said, my little lamb, well said.

Yesterday, I was out for a run listening to a podcast from one of my favorite long-time mentors (not personally but through her books and now blog and podcasts), Sally Clarkson , in which she was speaking about reverencing God appropriately. In a culture that regularly shows disrespect to presidents, pastors and even service men and women, it can be easy to slip into a mindset that forgets that our God is due our honor, respect and awe. We forget that God is so much greater and bigger than us, we forget His authority over our lives, we forget that we are not God. As my little ones discussed, we are quite limited while God is limitless. And yet, how often do we fail to recognize that in His grandeur, He is always among us?

“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name, worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.” Psalm 29:2

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power…” Revelation 4:11

The Lord has me in an encouraging season of making Himself known to me at each twist and turn of my day. The intensity of the last several weeks for us, our oldest recovering from a concussion and our five biological children sick with mono, left me with very little to cling to save God Himself. It was an incredibly hard time for us but as I am coming out of the fog of tending to sick children, I can see countless ways that God used that time to strip away all that is unnecessary in order that I might see what is truly useful, good and right. And in that, He has renewed my strength and passion for motherhood. Hopes, goals and dreams for my family that have somewhat been lost in so many continual seasons of transition (moves, church changes and babies!) have been restored and I’m very grateful for the way He continually refines me and bears with me.

So the Monday afternoon car conversation coupled with the podcast had my mind swirling with thoughts of how I can practically help our children to see God in our everyday as He truly is…mighty, powerful, limitless, worthy of honor and glory. If we fall into the trap of thinking of God in much of the same way we think of man, how much more are our children likely to think of God as much smaller than He truly is? I want my children to not only be able to acknowledge that God is always with us but that He is also “other” than us and very much due our honor, reverence and praise.

My first thought turned to mealtimes. We’ve begun a rotation in which a different child gives thanks for our meals each day to keep arguments at bay (though certainly I’m glad that my children clamber to have a hand raised first to pray…I pray they are always that eager to talk with God!). But when certain little ones pray, I’ve also noticed a tendency to almost shout a “thank you God for this food!!!” Hardly, a prayer of respect and honor or that acknowledges the sacredness of God.  And so, yesterday, before lunch, I took the opportunity to talk the children for a bit about why we thank God for the food before us and the way in which we should thank Him. I had the kids imagine they had just entered the king’s palace and were walking into the throne room to thank the king for a good deed He had done for them. Certainly they wouldn’t dash in, scream thank you and run out of the room, would they? They laughed at the picture but I believe in settled in their minds…how much more should we not treat God this way? So we bowed our heads and I asked the kids to be quiet for just a moment (this can be tricky with Maxton though I’ve found that when everyone else gets quiet, he takes the que and joins in). In quieting our mouths and our minds, Maggie was then able to pray the sweetest prayer to God, thanking Him for our food and for our family. And I believe she honored Him.

Of course, this is just one example. Having our children be quiet in the sanctuary each Sunday is a way we teach them that this is a special place and a special day…we are going to act differently here than we would on the playground! When we take nature walks, whether talking about birds or frogs or trees, I try to point them back to the Creator of it all and how His creation teaches us of His character. What I’m finding, most of all, is that pointing my children to the Sacred among us requires that I am continually aware and acknowledging God’s presence in my day, not forgetting that I am so weak and needy of His grace.

“The great power in setting apart small units of time for morning, midday, and evening prayer infuses into the rest of my day’s activities a deep sense of the sacred, of God.” – Peter Scazzero

It simply won’t do to open my Bible in the morning and not allow my thoughts to return to God until mealtime prayer or bedtime reading. I must make the conscious choice to think of Him again and again and again that I myself might bring Him honor and glory as I walk through my busy days. And then, hopefully, I can bring my children into that same awareness…an awareness that glorifies Christ but also brings the gifts of beauty, peace and joy.

You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. Colossians 3:2

 

“You can see God from anywhere if your mind is set to love and obey Him.”
― A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine

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My favorite of all birds…we have thoroughly enjoyed watching our little friends feed just outside our kitchen window and now they are preparing for their long journey south. I will miss their daily reminder of God’s intricate details in creation and His glorious beauty!

**I’m someone who loves to know what others are currently reading or listening to for encouragement in the faith, encouragement to draw near to God throughout the day and set our minds on things above. I thought I’d share a few of those things that have been soul food for me as of late:

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More of grace

We have been a family of nine for a little over three months now. Life is as nutty as it ever was, maybe a even a little more so because of some schooling changes we made this fall. But tonight, I chose to linger. I didn’t rush his feeding. I cuddled him when he was done. I talked to him as I gave him his mid-week bath. I soaked in every beautiful part of this gift God so graciously bestowed upon me.

The old me…the very type-A, overly-legalistic and “what will people say?” self could have never imagined the choice I made. But, oh, for more of grace! When Maxton came into our lives, I realized quickly that his life (a vapor just like mine) would disappear soon and that I would miss a lot of it if I wasn’t intentional. After all, the days are full, bustling, often hectic and lingering over a newborn babe doesn’t have much space in my Google calendar app. So I told Kevin one night that I wasn’t going to Wednesday evening church for the next several months. In part, I made the decision for Maxton who is an amazing sleeper and doesn’t really love his schedule to be interrupted. Getting across town on a weeknight in Atlanta isn’t the easiest of feats, particularly with a baby. But mostly, I knew I needed a night to re-center, re-group, be quiet and just be with my baby.

So tonight, I did just that. I made myself an easy dinner while I worked on Mallory’s Christmas Shutterfly book. Then I cleaned the kitchen a bit. Then I went up to Maxton’s room, woke my precious baby and took time to just soak him in. He has the sweetest demeanor I’ve ever encountered in a baby. I love just sitting on my bed talking and cooing with him. I love gazing at his face and remembering how intimately God knows me and thus, fulfilled my desire for just one more baby. I love worshiping my Father as I celebrate this incredible, adorable little life that lay in front of me.

I recognize that to most, my life is a complete anomaly. I certainly never could have fathomed it a decade ago. But I’m so thankful that I know myself and my God so much better ten years later and I know that God is glorified by my choosing to say “no” to one good thing in order to do a better thing. Several older, more mature women in my life have said to me often recently “oh, Laura, that’s for another season. Enjoy the one you are in and take care of those babies…that is more important.” Another season…yes. That season will be here before I can blink and my babies will be all grown up.

For tonight, I’m going to give myself grace and just love this moment, this night…the one where I get to gaze upon my babe and shower him with love, hoping with all my heart that my love opens his eyes to Unfailing Love.

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So lovable!

 

Grief

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I’ve long known my best writing comes from my personal experience and for weeks I’ve been thinking about grief and loss. Two weeks ago, we were able to share with our kids that we are going to Disney World in December (a trip I literally prayed for because I knew we could never do it by our own means but had hoped to shower our kids with all that Disney magic and Kevin’s mom and stepdad turned out to be the means of God’s gift)! After the news, Molly Kate began systematically listing off the events of this past year. In part, I think she was surprised our year could end on such a good note…on the other hand, I think in her own small way, she desperately wanted to prove to herself that this year had more good than bad.

But, in truth, the bad of this particular year has felt heavier and harder and never-leaving in a way that makes it always seem to outweigh the good. Enter grief…grief over the hard parts, grief over so much death, grief over so much loss. Loss of actual people who either left our lives, moved or changed so drastically that life with them doesn’t feel like it used to, loss of a dear pet who spent so much life with us that life doesn’t feel the same without her and I’m beginning to assume it never will, loss of a season of life where my children all seemed little (not just some of them) and the sin issues were so much simpler (don’t touch, no fuss, do everything without arguing or complaining). Here lies grief…grief for death, grief for the loss and grief over change.

And the thing about grief is that it doesn’t just magically go away. “Time heals,” they say and maybe it does a little. Or maybe we spend the rest of the journey heavenward grieving what this life was never meant to be so that we hope in a much, much better one. I prefer the latter 🙂 I find it much more comforting to know that a life is coming when there will be no more loss, no more change, no more seasons gone by. I prefer an eternal home where joys are found at my God’s right hand and there are pleasures forevermore. And in a week where my grief has felt like it was hovering over me, I have often heard God whisper “keep trusting me, Laura…take your eyes off this passing world and put your hope in Me.”

I’m trying Lord…help me…

 

Thyme

thymeIn the spring, our family started studying Shakespeare together (for anyone interested, I highly recommend Ken Ludwig’s “How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare“). The first lines we have begun memorizing are from A Midsummer Night’s Dream…”I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, where oxlips and the nodding violet grows.” Every time we recite it together I’m struck by the idea of “wild thyme blowing”. Shakespeare truly had such a way with words. I think about actual “time” in this world and how bound it is…only twenty-four hours, only seven days in a week, only fifty-two weeks in a year.  There will never be more and never less.  And yet, thyme growing in the wild is unfettered, undisturbed by boundaries, free to just grow and flourish and spread. It blows gently as its stems move closer to heaven and receives even more freedom to enjoy the sunshine, the rain and the breezes.

I want my time to be more like that thyme. God’s boundaries are beautiful, the psalmist makes clear they have fallen in pleasant places. I’m not saying to throw the boundary of time out the window! Instead, I want my time to be spent well. I don’t want to be so chained to the clock that I can’t stop to rock my fussy baby or comfort a child who was just randomly injured by a chip clip (both happened in our home today!). I don’t want to choke time so tightly that there isn’t room to have sweet new friends over for several hours on a Sunday evening just to hang out and fellowship and feed one another’s souls. I don’t want my Google calendar to have every color coded category staring me in the face each day, so much so that I am unavailable for gospel needs, unable to stop and show compassion and mercy to someone who is hurting. I don’t want my days to feel so long that I am not able to grow and flourish and spread because there doesn’t even seem to be enough time to feast on God’s Word daily and converse with Him in prayer.  If I am not careful, the boundary of time can all too easily become an evil snare, a greater opportunity for sin and a barrier that blocks the sunshine, the rain and the enjoyment of those beautiful and refreshing breezes.

Friends, let’s be careful with our hours, with our weeks, with our years. We know time is fleeting and tomorrow is not promised. God’s Word makes both truths clear (Psalm 39:4 and James 4:14). Busyness does not equal godliness. Let your time blow a little…let it blow wild and free and see if God doesn’t do something marvelous as you yield your hours to Him.

What is your word?

Why is it so hard to find time to do something I love? Writing, writer, one who enjoys word and paragraph and thoughts…I feel like that’s me and yet I regularly struggle to do this thing that I love. And I struggle because of time…time gets away from me, there is never enough time, time moves too quickly and the hours become weeks before I can even blink.

This last year, really since Mallory graced our lives with her presence, I’ve been in a hamster wheel of life and dying to break free. With six kids and a pastor-husband, freedom can seem impossible. So impossible that you end up at your doctors office in need of meds because you have hit the bottom of a dark well called depression. The meds helped, at least in order to be able to see straight again and put one foot in front of another. But meds never fix sick hearts and my heart has been pushing deeper and deeper into dangerous waters for a while now.

February of this year could be called a breaking point. Annie, our beloved chocolate lab of 12 years, somehow got lost and hit hard on a busy road behind the woods that our house borders. Talk about the hamster wheel stopping and feeling like the biggest failure ever. While still thankful it wasn’t my child, I know deep down I still haven’t forgiven myself for not keeping eyes on her that evening. Everyone can tell me it wasn’t my fault, but it was…I was so busy spinning that I dropped a very big ball and it cost our family a huge love. On top of losing Annie, Kevin and I hit one of our biggest marriage speedbumps yet…the kind that does damage to the underside of your car. And when it hit, I sunk.

But the beautiful part about sinking when you are a daughter of the King is that you will never drown. You might swallow some big gulps and you might feel like you can’t breathe. But the King is there, He is watching and protecting and preserving…and He pulls us up at just the right time, never too early and never, ever, ever too late.

His rescue was oddly a new job for my husband. Not quite what I had envisioned and yet, as I am learning, exactly what I needed. I loved and still love our former church…I love the people, I love the building, I love the prayer e-mails I still receive. But I also see that the church needed more of me than I could truly give. They need a pastor’s wife who can lead the women and disciple several younger believers and take meals to the sick. And while I absolutely love all of those things and am happy to serve God doing them, I’m recognizing more and more that this is not the season for such service.

So, I recently began a book titled “Present Over Perfect” by Shauna Niequist…a title that sounds like she opened up the insides of my heart and put my deepest longing on the cover of her book. And in it she says “If I’m honest, I let words like responsible and capable govern many of years. And what good are they? Words that I’m choosing in this season: passion, connection, meaning, love, grace, spirit“(p.104). Earlier, she wrote “I’m committed to a particular, limited amount of things in this season, and if what’s being asked of me isn’t one of those, then it stands in the way. That’s why knowing your purpose and priorities for a given season is so valuable — because those commitments become the litmus test for all the decisions you face” (pp. 54-55).

If I’m honest, I let the word “godly” govern many of my last few years. But what I considered to be “godly” was meeting the expectations of everyone around me, not necessarily going before the Lord to see how I should spend these days, when my life is full of raising babies and toddlers, and grade-schoolers and now a pre-teen. “Godly” was leading a women’s bible study and having church members into our home two times a week and overly helping in the children’s ministry and having visitors over for Sunday lunch and on and on and on. Oh sure, I was also shepherding hearts at home and teaching my children God’s word and educating them and making sure they were involved in extracurriculars. But…and this is a big all caps BUT…I haven’t been “present” in this home in a very long time. I’ve been shuffling people around and needs around and crossing all my t’s and dotting all my i’s. But, at the end of the day, I don’t know that I ever sat and just held Mallory simply to gaze into her big beautiful eyes. I don’t think I really heard that story Maggie told me about her baby doll…what was it she was saying? I missed Madden’s cool new idea (because he is always coming up with the most imaginative ideas!) because I had to shoo him away so that I could vacuum the floor…we had guests coming…again! And Mikias really needed a heart-to-heart…I actually saw his heart hurting, but I couldn’t get to him because I had not prepared for the bible study I was to lead in an hour and women were counting on me.

Godliness is the goal for every believer…but not when that word is distorted into something God never meant for it to be. And now, it is September. Fall (and my favorite candle of the year) is just around the corner and I am learning new words. Kevin is settling into his job as a young families pastor. People want to know me but they aren’t expecting anything from me. So I’m using this season to learn “rest, grace, play and joy“. I’m saying “no” to things that don’t fit this particular season…they may indeed be great priorities for a season yet to come. But, at this moment, I am called to be a disciple of Jesus, a wife to Kevin and a teacher-mom to six beautiful little treasures. That is my whole purpose and they are my priorities.

So, I ask…what have you been striving to live under that perhaps you have put on yourself and God never meant it to be? What is your word? And…what should it be?

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This picture is one of my favorites…all my little and bigs, personalities shining through in my favorite place on earth. It captures every new word…rest, grace, play and joy.

His Ways

a path, worn, but tried and true...
a path, worn, but tried and true…

Truth be told, I just don’t get ’em. God’s ways, that is…

I once heard that “articles,” such as those written for websites, are more intellectual in nature and blog posts are more musings of the heart.

Maybe she’s right. But no one has asked little ole’ me to write for a website and I still want to have a voice for God’s glory, so I guess my “mere blog post” will just have to do 😉 Plus, I do have quite a few of those musings of the heart!

But, back to the point…I’ve always, always been struck by this verse

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

Funny enough, my favorite part is “declares the Lord“. I need some God declaration in my life…yes, Laura, you thought you knew best. Yes, Laura, you thought this church was permanent. Yes, Laura, you thought five kids meant you were “done”. Yes, Laura, you thought the last house was your “Atlanta” house. Yes, Laura, you thought you were done  having to start over.

But…”DECLARES THE LORD”…He had other plans. He had a different house. He had one more baby girl named Mallory. He had me starting over once again. He had another church. He DECLARED. Guess there’s not much use in arguing 😉

So, here it is…on Wednesday, June 1, 2016, my hubby will officially begin as the Family Pastor at The Church of the Apostles (www.apostles.org). Life is changing again, friendships must be made, again. Kids have to start new, again.

Not my ways, but His. Aren’t I glad they are higher than mine. I don’t fully understand it…I’m excited for this next path and at the same time my heart is pretty down and broken. But, oh, this promise. It will see me through…His ways and His thoughts are higher than mine. I am so, so glad.

 

On Friendship

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. As women, that’s what we do. From the time we are little girls, we look for friends. We seek other girls to attach ourselves to, to play with, to journey life with. As we grow older and come to faith in Jesus, we find women to connect with, to enter into community with, to bring joy to our lives and to link arm with as we journey to Jesus. We look to our girlfriends for wisdom, counsel, comfort and encouragement. But, do we also look to them for correction?

As Christians, I believe we should possess a certain humility, one that stems from understanding that from the beginning, we have never ceased to get it all wrong and only Jesus got it all right. Who can be prideful about that?! And that humility should spill into all of our relationships as we recognize that we don’t have it all together, we are quite frankly a huge mess and we need God’s grace more today than even yesterday. And if we truly grasp all of this, we should readily find ourselves willing and even wanting our closest friends, those who know us best, to honestly evaluate our lives. Afterall, Truth has already told us that the heart is deceitful above all else. And we need people who can see us for who we really are and still love us enough to point out the weaknesses, the failures, the sins that we are often prone to justify, sweep under the rug or just plain overlook.

Best-Friends-Two-Little-Girl-Coloring-PagesIn my last 23 years of walking with Jesus, I’ve had all sorts of girlfriends. I’ve had those who almost led me astray, those who were willing to stand with me and go against the grain and those who came into my life briefly but then realized that I’m pretty serious about Jesus so they bailed. I’ve also had those who thought I was Jesus…this never works. I’m a wretch of a sinner and if you start looking to me to fulfill your needs, trust me…it’s going to all come tumbling down. Then I’ve had the girlfriends who truly know me…the kind that I can let my whole guard down and just be the truest version of myself. One of these is my sister…sometimes she knows me better than I know myself! These are the friends that are worth more than gold, the friends I pray I’m sitting right beside at the marriage feast of the Lamb. And these are the women that I regularly want to evaluate my life.

This past week I had the blessing of spending a couple of days with one such friend. On the evening before her departure the next morning, I asked her to be thinking about what she had seen the last few days and what she thought I could be doing better or paying more attention to or seeking grace for. The next morning we went for a run and she told me her exact thoughts…water to my soul! You see, I know I’ve got rose-colored glasses on when I look at my life. Sure, I can be hard on myself and maybe set unrealistic expectations but still, I’m pretty easy on myself at the same time. Really, I can justify my sin and laziness with the best of them 🙂 To have a friend who could honestly assess my life, give me areas to work on and encourage me in my faith…what a gift!

So, let me ask you…do you have women in your life that you look to for correction? If a friend sincerely approaches about sin in your life, do you immediately play the defensive or do you trust the Holy Spirit? Do you have people in your life who know the real you? Girls, this is important! If we long to be women who are being sanctified by the truth, becoming holy as He is holy, then we cannot neglect the responsibility of surrounding ourselves with friends whom God will use to carry out this great work!

 As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17