Category Archives: Thinking about life

Effortless.

A few years ago I used an exercise DVD with several types of exercise. One of my favorites was a beginner’s ballet routine. I followed it so many times–not that it turned me into a ballet dancer, but it did program some of the instructor’s words in my mind. Sometimes I still hear them.

One of the things she said about ballet was, “So the arms make it appear effortless at the top, while the legs are working hard at the bottom.” The beauty of this has intrigued me quite a lot because ballet is, in fact both very hard work and an elegant art of gentle movement.

Last night was one of those times I heard those hard-effortless words in my mind, but this time it had nothing to do with  ballet. Instead it was a picture of the dance of mothering.

We are in the middle of upheaval right now since we discovered mold in our house.  The boys and I left home and lived in SC for nearly a week and Virginia for a little over two weeks while Steve worked on getting rid of the mold in three rooms in the evenings and weekends after work.

We came home two weeks ago to our main living area crammed with the contents of other rooms waiting to be cleaned and sorted. Most of the living room furniture is in temporary storage and Steve and I are sleeping in the guest room while the master area is torn apart.

We definitely were reacting to the mold that is still in the house and tried to keep those parts of the house closed off as much as possible. Still we didn’t feel feel well at all.

This past weekend we all moved into a hotel for a weekend, so Steve could tackle the next three rooms–a closet and our master area.  Our friends Eric and Linda so generously came up to spend the weekend with us. Eric helped Steve work on the house on Saturday and we got to enjoy time together.

Although the men got a lot of work done on the house, it wasn’t ready for us to move home on Monday like  we had been expecting. We hadn’t taken our school books with us, so I planned a field trip to keep us from losing a school day.  I planned to go to a nature reserve a few miles away, and they even happened to be hosting a  homeschool day.  Then it started raining.

I searched a little more and decided to take the boys to a train museum about a half an hour further north. It turned out to be a great, low key place for us and we all enjoyed our time there.

We killed a little time at a library close by, ate a little food then started toward home. I’d heard about a really great Christmas light display, and thought we could drive through on the way home. At that point I was so t.i.r.e.d., but how hard can a drive through be?

It was fantastically fun, only we ended up needing to get out and walk around.  Finally everyone was packed back into the car and we were driving HOME after a long weekend away. I didn’t know what to expect at home, and besides for the mold there are lots of big things on our minds these days.

The boys were happy and there was Christmas music playing.  Zac was sitting beside me, and his eyes were sparkling. He let out a long happy sigh.  “This has been the best day of my LIFE.”

In that moment I recognized the contrast between my experience and his. And those words from long ago came back, “So the arms make it appear effortless on the top while they legs are working hard on the bottom.” They felt very true to my mothering in that moment.

In a sense mothering had been [working hard]

All day I’d been fighting to find joy while hard things pressed against me.  I had also been thinking about how to make the change in plans work for us, how to incorporate school, how to keep this day happy for the boys even when it felt hard to me. I needed to redirect whining, find snacks, and keep boys safe on the street. I’d been looking out for places to eat that would work for our diets and places to go to fill our time without requiring a lot of energy from me because I wasn’t feeling great.

while also [making it look effortless]

All day we had been sleeping in, eating lots of good food, going to new places, stopping to play at a playground we passed, finding a bridge to run through, hanging out as long as we wanted in the museum’s educational play room, never rushing, visiting a great light display, listening to holiday music, and coming home and drinking hot chocolate.

Of course there’s a little bit of heart between the arms and legs for us, too–the times when they hear me recognize a problem and ask God to help us or when we talk about asking Jesus to help us find happiness or when we take our fears to Him.  But mostly I love that the boys don’t really see the ugliness of life, yet.

Maybe because there’s so much hard stuff in our life I know our children will see and feel sacrifices and brokenness a lot. Obviously we want to engage them in processing it well, but I also want the boys’ childhood to be carefree.  While there is all kinds of turmoil in our world and we’re working our way through it, they can lean back in their seats with stars in their eyes and see it as the best time in their lives. Effortless.

 

I’d love to hear what you have to say. Leave a comment here.

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How Trust Frees us to Give

If you’ve attended The Mission Church at City of Refuge more than a few times, there’s a pretty good chance you have heard Pastor Bruce speak these words

You can never out-give God

The group who gathers at The Mission Church is a mix of demographics with people living in large, two-story homes; in a nursing home; in a homeless shelter; and in an apartment plagued by gang activity–yet the message is the same: Give Generously. 

We are not only challenged to give when we have plenty, but to give when we don’t have enough. 

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There’s this story Pastor Bruce tells about a time when they had a few thousand dollars in their bank account and a big bill coming up.  He was speaking at a fundraiser for a fledgling mission start-up. Even though the City of Refuge’s funds would hardly cover the bill he needed to pay, he felt God was asking Him to offer to match the amount of funds  raised that night at the event.  He was expecting them to raise a few hundred dollars. In a surprising turn of events, the tiny group raised $2,500–more than what was left in the mission’s bank account and definitely more than he had been expecting to match.

Still, it was God who had inspired him to make the offer and it was also God who had always provided in the past. He had faith that if he followed through on the offer he made, God would provide the funds they were needing, too.

The following week he was giving a tour of COR to a local businessman.  At the end of the tour, the guy said he would like to make a donation and promptly wrote a check so large it covered the pledge and the bill with some money to spare.

This is not a one time story, but simply a pattern of giving Bruce lives through his family and through the mission. In the past few years, we have been inspired to give more, and to give even when it doesn’t always feel like the safest thing to do.

When finances are tight (and most of us feel like we just hardly have enough, am I right?), it’s easy to think we don’t have extra money to give beyond the obligatory 10%. I’m being challenged, though, to think less about how much I need and to focus more on how much I can give.

You know being good stewards of our money is a good thing, but we can also become so focused on saving money that we start to grip all the things we love, all the things we want, all the things we need so tightly it is hard to open our little fists to give. That was me.

I’m finding that is not the obvious lack of dollars in our bank account that stifles generosity in my heart, but a lack of trust in God’s provision. 

As we lived in a place of need, of literally not having enough money to cover our cost of living, we learned such important lessons of trust.  We watched God provide for our specific needs of groceries, size 5 clothing, or money for vehicle repairs. Even when I couldn’t see any way for our needs to be met, I started believing that God would provide–because He always did.

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Over and over again, He would provide–sometimes in the most unexpected ways. The last year has been a little easier for us financially. It has been so much fun to be able to give more, too. But last week was again one of those times when there was not enough money to cover all the bills. It wasn’t the best news considering that we would be leaving for a week-long vacation in a few days.

However, after five years of watching God provide for our needs I didn’t have any feelings of anxiety, but simply told Him, “I know you will provide for us.”

Three days later there was a package on our doorstep with a note from friends and a check that was more than enough to cover the remaining bill! Knowing that they had no idea we were facing a financial pinch reminded me again that God sees our needs and takes care of them with such creative flourish. We can trust Him.

I also felt a tinge of guilt. A few days before we got the package, Steve had been given a gift of $100 and wanted to give it to someone else. But I was like, “Well, we kind of need that $100 right now.” It might have been true that we needed it, but I see in retrospect that if we had passed along the gift, we still would have been covered.  Because we can’t out-give God.

Trusting that God will provide takes the scary out of giving.  (Obviously something I’m still learning.) Pastor Bruce has inspired me in this way as have so many other people who model sacrificial giving. I want to keep growing in trusting His provision and, in the context of obedience, giving recklessly.

As I have learned to trust His provision, I’ve noticed my fingers, the same fingers that once held onto security, are loosening their grip on things and money. I’m beginning to see them less as things we have earned because they are gifts–all of them.  When we walk in the freedom of trusting God’s provision, it is a joy to give to others. When we follow His voice in giving we can also rest in knowing He will take care of our needs.

Learning to See God’s Goodness in Pain

Life is a mixture of joy and sorrow. Sometimes they come at different times but so often we aren’t given the space to feel first one than the other–we’re grieving loss and enjoying beauty all at once.  We’re rich; we’re impoverished.

I’ve felt this intertwining of deep emotions so much the last few years.  There have been so many answered prayers, so many touches from God, so many times when His provision became unmistakable.  We’ve also lived with financial insecurity like never before, wrestled the demons of distrust and depression and faced significant health problems. That is only a part of all that was hard, and there were days I didn’t know if I could keep living–or if I wanted to.

These trials have the power to crush and break us. They could turn us into dark, bitter people who grumble constantly about life.  They can also push us in the most healing, redemptive ways when God’s grace is poured over the shattering of our hearts–when we recognize His goodness even in the middle of pain.

I have been broken. My world has been turned upside down. My life has been shattered in the past few years.15 June-4792-2

Yet, in a period of darkness, God has ministered to me in ways I can’t even describe with words. It is only His grace that gave me enough courage to keep walking because everything inside of me was done.

Little by little I’ve been learning that God is a safe place to run to. Of course I’ve been taught this my whole life. I’ve known that He is good. But learning to KNOW this truth from deep inside my heart has given me a deep peace to hold me during the hard times we face.

In our time here in Atlanta  I’ve felt a desperate need to lean on Him like never before.  It is because of this that I see God’s goodness in the pain.  I look back and can list one thing after another that has made life so hard, but because of the incredible grace of God I could can see the beauty in those trials.

What has surprised me most is the way phrases I’ve heard so often [and passed off as somewhat cliche] turned into keen reality. Statements like,

We feel your prayers.

God is providing for us.

We appreciate your support.

He is enough.

I knew they were true, but I’ve never before felt them so clearly.  Now instead of seeming glib or cliché they seem like a pathetic effort in expressing immense gratitude. Sometimes there simply are not enough words to describe the depths of our feelings.  I find myself saying these phrases to people and wonder if they could have any idea how much I mean those words.

I want to tell you some of the stories because God has answered so many prayers of mine, and I want Him to receive more of the glory He deserves.

And, yes, I’m totally aware that I often start a series, but only write the first one or two parts. This life changing belief, though, can’t be kept to myself, and I do hope I can tell you some of the ways God has shown me that He sees and cares about me. That He is good. That He is safe. That He is not silent.

Mostly I really want Him to receive glory. He deserves praise and honor. I also hope the new life He’s bringing to me can encourage you to trust Him more, too.

On Giving What You’ve Got

I did a photo shoot for COR the other day which was pretty exciting.  Since we first moved here I knew I’d love to have this chance someday.  I think photography is really important, but depending the direction you go with it can feel kind of like fluff.  Using it instead to expose issues or to bring beauty to someone who has suffered a lot of loss could be powerful and life changing.

When the development director first contacted me about taking pictures of COR’s programs, I was ecstatic.

The morning of the shoot I woke up feeling grim and just thinking getting dressed felt like a big deal. Work all day when I could be enjoying Steve’s day off with my family, lugging equipment, and working with difficult lighting situations didn’t sound very glamorous.

Worse, yet, I was filled with insecurity and wanted to do nothing besides burrow under the covers.  Why did I agree to do this? Now I’m feeling rough…how will I make it through the day? I don’t know if I have the skills. What if I don’t get the shots they need?  I don’t think I’m qualified for this.

There are many days when I am weak and timid and self-doubting, but God is strong and confident and secure. I want to learn to exchange my thoughts for His thoughts about me.

That morning I prayed that God would give me strength, got dressed and headed to the mission.  I got there a few minutes early and my brain was still racing with reasons that I was not cut out for this job. Mostly I was so afraid that I’d send in pictures that were sub-par.

Asking God to please give me a word, I reached for my Bible lying beside me and flipped it open. The story in front of me was the parable of the talents ending with the verse telling us that if we use the talents we have been given we’ll be given more talents, but if we don’t use what we’ve been given they will be taken away.

Doesn’t it just blow you away when God speaks so specifically to what you needed right in a moment??!  It gave me such a rush and  a feeling of protection to know that God knew how insecure I was feeling and gave me the encouragement I needed to hear.

I was praying as I walked inside that I would be faithful with the gifts He has given me and could find JOY in them.  Maybe I felt like I only had a little strength…but I would use that little bit of strength today as long as it lasted.  Maybe I felt I only had a little bit of skill…but I would use that little bit of skill for His glory.

It helped me remember that He would walk with me all day, that He would give me strength, that He was the one who had given me a creative eye and a mind for details and wanted me to do well.

The day went well.  It was hard work, but I was stronger than I expected I’d be. I had an assistant who helped me carry gear and set up lighting and who supported me in lots of ways.  There were situations that required flexibility and creativity, but God gave me ideas for how to work with them. Several people were angry with me for taking pictures, but God gave me peace (after some initial shakiness and more prayer) and I was able to keep moving forward.

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Last evening I put together a small collection of photos to give to the development director and for the first time I realized that the pictures were solid.  What’s really great, is how  these pictures now feel like a gift from God.  They aren’t about my abilities, but the fact that He will use us and give abundance when we’re willing to use the small gifts we have been given.

Real Life at Our House

Lately it seems I’ve happened across so many thoughts along the lines of~

Let’s be real, and

Stop making your life sound perfect.

I’m not sure what to do with this.  Because I’m

ALL AbOuT being real.

I like friendships that are real. I want to be the kind of person

who doesn’t put up fronts and makes it feel safe for other

people to be real.  When I read about the

prettyifying of life I take a moment to check if I have

been doing that–making things sound

better than they are.

I don’t know.

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I certainly don’t mean to be doing that,

but it seems that lots of women think that

lots of women are glamorizing their lives.

While I try to focus on the positives, I wouldn’t want people

to hang out with me and think, “Wow, totally different world

than what she portrays.”

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It’s not something I should spend a lot of time

stewing over, I have learned,

because it can drive me crazy.  So I breathe a prayer that God

will help me be honest–not to pour out all the junk

and not try to make myself and my life look

so much better than what it is.

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It got me to thinking about real life.  What is real life here?

Facebook blurbs and Instagram photos fascinate me in that they give a picture of our life, but they are like one second glimpses.  Looking over my Instagram feed I feel this sense of home because it so depicts our life.  At the same time SO many details are left out because, hey, this is the world wide web and also, hey, I don’t have time to record every bit of our lives. An online presence may not be a complete picture, but it’s still a true picture.

Sometimes we have a moment of pure sweetness. My heart is so full, and I Instagram it. Ten minutes later everyone is fussing at everyone and I wish I could go hide in my closet. (And no, I don’t take a picture of the chaos before smoothing things over) It seems that a lot of life happens like that.  Bliss and mess tumbling over one another. Here are a few one second glimpses into what’s real today.

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Real is…

…GORGEOUS weather here in Atlanta.  Spring is here for real. To stay. I am happy beyond happy about that.

(…Oh, right, so this post has been something I’ve worked on over a few days, and now the weather is freezing cold at nights and the breaker keeps flipping which cuts off the HVAC and in turn keeps the house struggling to stay warm.)

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Zachary took this and the next eight pictures. If you want to get a picture of what your life really looks like, hand the camera to your child. Ordinary things are definitely worth photographing to them.

…procrastinating ridiculously putting together receipts and records for taxes.

…weariness at still fighting reactions to supplements one by one.

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…cheering new words, dry 2T shorts, staying upright on roller blades, reading through another book, a neatly folded stack of wash cloths, remembering to say thank you (“Sank you” to be correct) without being told.

…making a quick trip north for Steve’s grandfather’s funeral. Realizing again what a gift it is to have a godly heritage.

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…the richness of being with family on that trip and meeting my new nieces and seeing the boys playing with their cousins and even getting in on a big snow.

…waking up and catching my breath because I forgot the South is so GREEN already.

…waking up and catching my breath because I forgot our neighborhood looks so messy.

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today…taking a walk and feeling amazing.

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…collapsing for the rest of the evening because the walk exhausted me.

….listening to my neighbor for over an hour while she told me about walking out of an abusive situation.  Being so proud of her.

…listening to my neighbor for over an hour while lying on the couch because I was too light headed to be up (and kind of wishing I could just rest)

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…laughing at the boys. 

…forgetting to write what they said and so forgetting what they said.

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Maybe this series of pictures is a little of what blogging brings up in us sometimes. We zoom in on a detail–

[[His hand! I can’t get enough of the cuteness. I could eat him up!]]

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and sometimes people just want us to take a few steps back,

so they can see the whole picture.  Yes, he is utterly precious.

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I have precious, too.  But at my house when there is precious it’s often also surrounded by not so precious.  Is it the same at your house?

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