Freedom for my Soul…and a move to Kansas City

US Map

A friend recently told me about a little sign that his mom posted on their fridge when he was younger.

“If you are feeling far from God, guess who moved?!”

Such great truth in this rhetorical question. And a good one to mull over when we are feeling an air of discontentment or facing a transition or trial we haven’t invited God to be a part of.

In John, Chapter 15, God calls us to remain in Him – to seek His presence in all circumstances. God promises us that our joy will be complete when we remain in Him. He doesn’t promise that all of our days will be ‘happy’. But instead, He offers a consistent peace and contentment – a supernatural joy that is not dictated by our circumstances. So, when we are feeling uneasy and distressed, it is fair to ask ourselves if we have moved away from God.

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you…Now remain in my love…I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” –John 15:4-11.

Speaking of moving, our life in SoCal has been short-lived, as we are moving to Kansas City this summer. Let me tell you – Southern California is just as dreamy, just as beautiful, just as warm…just as expensive, and just as far (too far) from my family as I have always suspected. My heart will mourn the loss of our amazing Southern California lifestyle. But, my soul is at peace. My trust is in God as He leads us.

Three months ago, I couldn’t stomach the thought of leaving SoCal – starting over, yet again. I dreaded even having to tell people that we are moving, again. Moving is hard….something I never planned on doing much. Our twins will have the unique distinction of having lived in four states before they turn four. Our third grader will start his third elementary school. Yep, that’s four sets of insurance, four sets of doctors, four sets of schools, etc. etc etc. But, it’s also four sets of incredibly unique experiences and four sets of lifelong friends I wouldn’t trade for the world. We hope to settle in nicely in KC and stick around for a while.

I’ve had a hard time striking a balance in my mind of how much God is in control vs. how much we make our own choices. These areas are grey. I do not believe that Ryan and I are robots, having been ordered by God from state to state. We have made our own choices. But I do believe that God has led us. And He has blessed us in each new home and community. I have to trust that God is in control as we pray for His guidance and leading. There is sweet freedom in giving over my sense of control.

We often have to make life decisions and face trials that require putting our full trust in God to lead us. Perhaps like me, you also have to occasionally check yourself to see if you have moved away from God. Where can you turn over a bit more trust and control to God in your life today? How can you pull in just a little bit closer to God? After all, the Creator of the Universe has His loving eye on you. Are you close enough to feel it?

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” -Psalm 32:8

No matter where we live, I am learning that true geographic contentment and complete joy is found in the presence of God. No moves required…God just calls us to remain in Him.  Chris Tomlin’s song,“I Will Follow,” has provided recent inspiration for me:

“Where You go, I’ll go. Where You stay, I’ll stay. When You move, I’ll move. I will follow…I will trust in You alone.”

Later in the song, Tomlin goes on to sing, “In You there’s freedom for my soul.” Amen to that! My prayer is that throughout life’s many trials and transitions, we would all seek to remain in God…to follow Him and feel that unique freedom offered by remaining in God’s love…through the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I also love Andy Grammer’s song, “Back Home.”

“La-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah. La-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-doe.
And no matter where we go, we always find our way back home.”

These lyrics might just have to be the McMonagle Family mantra. So, Kansas City…the McMonagle Six is coming ‘home.’ (Can you wear swim trunks to elementary school in Kansas?!)
__________

“The life-maps of God are right,
showing the way to joy.” -Psalm 19:8 (The Message)

How Perception Colors Life

The Dress

Have you ever thought about the fact that heat is cooler than air conditioning? Sounds silly, but I’m just referring to the fact that in the summer, our bodies are generally comfortable when the thermostat is set near 75 degrees. In the winter, we are comfortable with the heat set at about 68 degrees. The heat is cooler than the air conditioning. We would be burning hot if we jacked the heater up to 75 in the winter. (*Southern Californians should disregard this example – I can explain to you what heating and air conditioning are at another time.) My point is – our perception of a comfortable temperature varies greatly according to our current circumstances – the seasons.

Merriam-Webster defines perception as “the way you think about or understand someone or something” and “the way that you notice or understand something using one of your senses.” Our perceptions are obviously variable.

And how about the darn color of the dress debate that has rocked the Internet this past week? Once again, perceptions, based on senses, vary between the ‘white and gold’ and ‘blue and black’ camps.

I have a couple of thoughts regarding perceptions:

First, I make too many judgments based on my personal experiences and senses alone. We must realize the limits of our perceptions instead of making broad, general assumptions about other people’s lives and decisions. You might just be seeing white and gold when the other person’s dress is really blue and black. So be careful about what color shoes you suggest she should wear.

Second, my limited perspective on life (based on my perceptions) is flawed, compared to the great omniscience of our perfect God. What I think is a trial or less than ideal situation is often a blessing. I am in no way speaking into the specific trials of your life (especially considering my last paragraph!) But, the reality of my limited perspective makes me aware of my need for immense TRUST in God.

I stumbled upon an article, Faith and Human Perception, by Thomas Rotkiewicz. I love the way he pulls together the concepts of perception, life’s trials, and faith:

“My mind processes information within limited frames of reference. My interpretation or perception of anything will not be the same as yours because your awareness may be based on a number of different factors… When we face various trials, how can we distinguish between what we believe to be happening – based on our limited perception – and what is really happening from God’s perspective? How can we put our trust in experiences, feelings or human wisdom as reliable indicators of the true nature of what is real or what isn’t.
…God tells us to trust Him, and not to rely on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5,6). Why? Because He alone knows what He is doing and why. I certainly don’t have an accurate or perfect knowledge of all things – or even any single thing. And this is where faith should come into play, reaching beyond our own limitations and placing our trust in the One who has no limitations.”

Even Napolean Bonaparte wisely stated that “The strong man is the one who is able to intercept at will the communication between the senses and the mind.” And the ‘father of modern philosophy,’ René Descartes warned us to do not wholly trust our limited senses which deceive us from time to time.

It all comes down to this: I see white and gold, even though the dress is blue and black. It does me good to take a step back and ask myself how much I let my personal perceptions drive my judgments and decisions – about others and for myself.

The phrase, ‘hindsight is 20/20’ makes so much sense that I’m surprised it isn’t scripture. How many times have I faced a challenging situation where God has eventually blessed me out of my mind? How many times have I been so sure about what is right, only to find out that I wasn’t?

Maybe at some point, I’ll really begin to believe that it’s best to not trust in my own understanding alone. God’s eyesight and His perspective are perfect. I must put all of my TRUST in this great promise:

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” -Psalm 32:8

Dim Uneasiness

Dim Uneasiness

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis is most definitely a timeless classic. This “masterpiece of reverse theology” (Patricia Klein) is genius. Over a year ago, I heard a sermon focused on the twelfth letter from Screwtape to his demon nephew. The demons’ ultimate goal in this letter is to make the Christian lukewarm in his faith – basically taking away his peace and hope…the baseline of his joy. The scripture passage the pastor associated with the sermon was Jeremiah 2:13.

“for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

Several points from the twelfth letter stood out to me. The demon notes that it doesn’t take one great big glaring sin to make us feel far from God. In fact, a simple “dim uneasiness” that results from a lukewarm faith might be even more effective to pull us away from God.

“…we do not have to contend with the explicit repentance of a definite, fully recognized, sin, but only with his vague, though uneasy, feeling that he hasn’t been doing very well lately. This dim uneasiness needs careful handling. If it gets too strong it may wake him up and spoil the whole game.
…As this condition becomes more fully established…you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention…You will say that these are very small sins…But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy [God]. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out in to the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.”

Screwtape’s simple goal is to make us lukewarm towards God. Then, our wandering attention allows us to put our hope, and ultimately our trust, elsewhere.  Wow…how easily I do settle. This concept of settling for a dim faith reminds me of another C.S. Lewis quote:

“…like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far to easily pleased.”

It is soooo easy for me to be content in a state of dim uneasiness. And settling on a dim faith is plain rotten compared to bathing in the fountain of Living Waters. The broken cisterns of this world – the things we think fulfill us – don’t hold water. At least not Living Water.

Remember – “Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.” Many of these broken cisterns that give me temporary satisfaction are not bad in themselves.  But they don’t provide the same deep, deep joy and peace as my God of Hope. The water from the broken cisterns is anything that takes the place of God in my life – whether for a moment, a day, or longer.  What are the ‘cards’ in your life that carry you away from the light to a place of dim uneasiness? I can think of a few right off the bat.

I bet I don’t have to tell you this, but life is unpredictable. Sometimes, life feels downright unfair. Often, life is difficult and exhausting. Life is also beautiful and a gift to be savored. One of my favorite writers, Glennon Melton, describes life as ‘brutiful’. A state of dim uneasiness is no way to approach this kind of life. Instead of relying on any broken cistern, I know it is in my best interest to seek God and His Spirit to give me peace in the moment, to sooth my soul throughout the day, and give me rest in the night. He is my Living Water and He alone will give me the peace, hope, and joy that He wants nothing more than for me to have.

“O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee…May richer, fuller be…
O light that foll’west all my way, I yield my flick’ring torch to thee…May brighter, fairer be…
O Cross that liftest up my head, I dare not ask to fly from thee…Life that shall endless be.”
-“O Love That Will Not Let Me Go”; George Mattheson, pub.1882

I’ll take richer, fuller, brighter, and fairer any day.

Happy ReNew Year

Happy New Year

I’m not really a big fan of New Year’s resolutions – perhaps because I have a fear of failure. I can’t stand the thought of letting myself (or anyone else) down. I almost feel like I have a better chance of success if I don’t put extra pressure on myself. So, instead of making resolutions, I tend to look at the New Year as a clean slate…an opportunity to renew myself. January feels like a natural time for renewal. The beginning of the year is quieter, and for this reason, January is becoming one of my favorite times of the year. (And not just because the temps are in the 70’s in San Diego this week. ☺)

This January, I am focusing on a couple of areas. The first being to finally find my regular exercise routine here in California…and not drinking beer in the month of January. Small steps, folks. You may notice I have not cut out wine or Makers Mark, and I certainly can’t make any commitments into February. Both of these New Years efforts might be a result of my five-year-old telling me I look like I have a baby in my tummy. (kind of like Jennifer Garner’s baby bump.)

My second area of focus is with my family. I am with them almost all of the time. But my goal isn’t particularly lofty… really my goal is to just to show up. Not just physically, but also emotionally and playfully. I want to play more with my kids. To be less distracted by mundane daily chores and social media and communication. I don’t think I’m alone in this boat.

I saw this amazing Spanish Ikea commercial last week (on social media, of course). It really impacted me. Given the choice between getting anything they could imagine from Santa or spending time with their parents, the children in the interview chose the quality time. The video is touching – take a look. It made me think about opportunities to renew my self in 2015.

Last week, at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church, Senior Pastor Mike McClenahan shared some valuable thoughts on renewal that poked at my heart. I think that there are great take-aways here whether or not you are a Christian. The pastor encouraged us to think like Jesus, to act like Jesus, and to be like Jesus. Okay, that’s a lot of pressure for a girl who never wore a WWJD bracelet.

Regardless of your faith, it’s hard to deny that Jesus was a pretty stand-up guy. We’re talking about a man who encouraged people to love above all. Not to judge. To treat others as you would want to be treated. To honor our parents. To forgive. To serve. To take care of the poor. To welcome children and to be like them. He was man who spent time with untouchable people, prostitutes, and the greediest of tax collectors. Jesus was cool.

Romans 12 encourages us to “not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” So, I think renewal is a good place to start, no matter what month it is, no matter how many times I have to renew myself. Have you ever seen the bumper sticker that says, “I love your Christ. I just don’t love your Christians.”? Without daily renewal, I have no hope. WWJD is a heck of a lot of pressure. But, if I can just focus on the basics of being like Jesus – loving and serving others – then just showing up (and playing) is enough for me this year. In what areas of your life would you like to see renewal in 2015?

This past Sunday, Pastor Mike McClenahan reminded me that not only was Jesus born on Christmas as our God on this earth. But he grew into a man who taught us what love really looks like…what it really means to show up. I love the idea of a fresh start on January 1, but renewal is just as available to us on the other 364 days of the year. And this year, I’m going to remind myself that renewal is an option every day. Sounds much better than focusing on failure to me.  Talk about taking off the pressure.  Daily renewal is going to help me show up. To love. To forgive. To serve. And to simply play with my children and maybe even be more like them.

Pretty sure I’ll need renewal in August as much as January. Happy ReNew Year!

“Too much to make sense of it all
I know that Your love breaks my fall…
… Oh, to be like You…
..Forever The Hope in my heart.”
Scandal of Grace by Hillsong United.

The Thief of Joy

The Elf on the Shelf

The lines have been drawn. Which side are you on? If you are a mother of young children, or if you know any young families, you may have heard of The Elf on the Shelf. Less than a week has passed this Christmas season, and I have heard more mention of the infamous Elf than Jesus and Santa Claus combined. Not bad for a newcomer in an ancient tradition.

It seems that some moms embrace the Elf with gusto. The Elves in these particular families play funny pranks and show off naughty deeds like spreading flour all over the counter or removing ornaments from the Christmas tree. I recently learned of a creative Elf who is encouraging his family to do good deeds and acts of love. The parents of ‘creative’ Elves often enjoy posting pictures of their Elf’s shenanigans on Facebook or Instagram.

Then, there are the Elf haters. These parents have decided that the Elf is annoying, creepy and unnecessary. The camp of the Elf haters is most definitely growing. These parents enjoy slamming the Elf on the Shelf on Facebook. But, I have to wonder, do these folks express their distaste for the Elf on social media because they carry a bit of guilt that their Elf is not quite as exciting and creative? Are they annoyed that they feel pressure to have their Elf be more ‘fun’?

You see, when it comes down to it, I think Santa knows exactly what he is doing. He sends the ‘fun’ Elves to families who thrive on creativity, pranks, and imagination. To these families, I say, let your (inner) Elf run wild. And he sends ‘laid-back’ Elves to families who don’t quite have the creative juices or emotional or physical capacity to pack one more detail in their days. That’s the kind we got. Our Elf, Bell, is a charming little guy. However, he is fairly simple. He shows up in a new spot each day, keeps an eye on the kids’ behavior, and reports back to Santa each night. Not many shenanigans.  I don’t want him setting bad examples for my hooligans. I just hope he isn’t telling Santa how often I lose my cool!

When it comes down to it, I think we should make peace with the inner-Elf we have been given. If creative parents thrive on a ‘fun’ Elf, let’s not make them feel badly about their efforts. For us less creative or too exhausted parents with a ‘laid-back’ Elf,  let’s celebrate the Elf that we have. No need to get your panties in a wad about other people’s Elves. Because you know what, comparison is the thief of joy.

In a season that boasts the phrase, “joy to the world,” let’s encourage each other to find our own joys. And let others have theirs. If your joy is in Jesus, celebrate the birth of our King. If your joy is in your family, take as much time as possible this Christmas season to just be together. If your joy is in the traditions of the season, blow up that front yard Santa and put those stockings by the chimney. I expect all of these sources of joy are appealing to most of us. That’s why the ‘hap-happiest season of all’ has been sung about my many artists as ‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

The key here is to not compare oursELVES with our neighbors. Because we’ll never find our true joy there. The reason comparison steals our joy is that by comparing ourselves with others, we will ultimately be annoyed by them or green with envy. And who wants to be the grinch?!  Even without realizing it, I fall into this pit of comparison and am oppressed by these emotions of being annoyed or envious daily. Whether or not you have an Elf on the Shelf in your house, let’s all find ways this holiday season to find our own joy and celebrate those of each other.

It does me good to focus on the actual ‘the reason for the season’. We should take heart in knowing that Jesus, our God who was born as a tiny baby to two nervous first-time parents, came so that we may have eternal joy. And it’s helpful to remember that for many people, it’s not the most wonderful time.  This season can be painful for some.  No matter the sorrows we face in this tough, hard, prejudiced, sin-filled world – He will come again. If we just put our hope in Him, our hearts will rejoice, and no one will be able to take our joy away. In the meantime, we are told that if we ask, according to the will of God, our joy will be full.

This Christmas, I’m all about ‘joy to the world’. But that seems like a lot of pressure, so I’m gonna start by focusing on our family. I’d like to teach my kids how the original Sinterklaas*, good ol’ Saint Nick, actually focused on giving, not getting. I think my little rugrats are ready for that. And, I’m asking God for a simple time of celebration. Bell, our Elf, is welcome to watch from whichever spot he has chosen to perch himself for the day. He just better not get in my way.

“There’ll be much mistltoeing
And hearts will be glowing
When loved ones are near
It’s the most wonderful time
It’s the most wonderful time
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
– written by George Wyle and Eddie Pola

*I’m a big fan of a book our Nana recently gave us.  If you want a good explanation to share with the kids for the combination of the traditions of Santa and Jesus, check it out: Buck Denver asks…Why Do We Call It Christmas? The Real Story Behind The Holiday by Phil Vischer (the Veggie Tales dude)

Lonely In a Room Full of People

Loneliness

A month or two ago, after our move to California, I would have told you that I was not quite ready to make new friends. But that sentiment has changed. I’ll admit it…I’m lonely now. I’m in a new place and missing having best friends nearby.

I used to think loneliness was a weakness. Or that you could only be lonely if you don’t have any friends or people around you. But I have lots of friends across the country. And a loving husband in my home. I have little people around me almost all of the time. My little pink shadow, Hannah, pretty much never leaves my side. We recently had 4 sets of visitors in 5 weeks. I haven’t exactly been alone. As a matter of fact, I LOVE to be alone. I CRAVE time alone. But I am restless. There is an ache in my heart.

Wikipedia will tell you that loneliness is “a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation or lack of companionship.” Among the steps to deal with loneliness, WikiHow suggests getting a pet or joining an online community. I get it. There are plenty of people who suffer from loneliness due to being isolated. I could benefit at this point by getting out there and putting a bit more effort into developing new friendships.

I have thought about this topic a good bit over the last month or so as these feelings of loneliness have snuck up on me. As the topic of loneliness keeps presenting itself over and over in different contexts – blogs, books, articles, sermons – I’m realizing that perhaps loneliness is more ‘normal’ than I realized. Even The Huffington Post defines loneliness as a basic human condition – “To be alive is to be lonely” says the venerable HuffPost. Well, that’s crappy…no one ever told me that…Except they kind of did.

When I was in high school, my Young Life leaders told us about a ‘God-shaped-hole’ in our hearts. One that nothing could fill, except for God. They said that trying to fill that hole in my heart – with even the best things of this world alone – would leave me feeling empty. Twenty years later, I still struggle with how that reality affects my life day in and day out.

Success doesn’t cure loneliness. Attention doesn’t cure loneliness. Being in a room full of people doesn’t cure loneliness. Close friends and family really don’t even cure loneliness. I have found that on the days when I have posted a picture on Facebook or shared a new post on my blog – the days I keep looking at my screen to see who has liked or commented…those are the days my loneliness is emphasized. Not necessarily because I miss my friends. But because I’m looking in the wrong places to fill the hole in my heart.  Lately, in this new place, I keep thinking – if I can just get in a visit (or a phone date) with a good friend or family member…if I can just post a picture to share my life with friends and family…if I could just steal a couple of hours alone with my husband…if I can just find my routine. But every time these are the only ways I try to fill my heart, I come up not.quite.full. So based on my own personal experience, to be alive and not seeking my God first, is to be lonely. Maybe The HuffPost is on to something.

Perhaps loneliness isn’t a weakness. Perhaps it’s not a curse on the human condition. Because so often, it’s this loneliness that drives us back to God. In her book, Playdates with God, Laura J. Boggess describes this desperate, empty feeling as “groping for God.”  Boggess quotes Saint Augustine from AD 397 as writing that our “heart is restless until it rests in You.” AD 397!  Clearly, loneliness is not a new cultural phenomenon, and I’m not alone in my restlessness.

Blogger, Sara Hagerty wrote,

“He made me to crave being known and yet He allows me to feel the all-too-frequent disconnect between what I think I need, from another, and how they respond. He carved this hole. And only He will fill it. Holy lonely.”

This Holy Lonely she writes of drives us back to God. Loneliness is a gift for those of us who struggle to balance the joys of this world with our fulfillment in God. Loneliness re-orients us to the One and Only. He then points us to the many, many blessings in this life.

When Jesus was teaching his closest buddies in Matthew 6, he told them to FIRST seek the Kingdom of God…then everything else will follow. The companionship of true friends and close family is most definitely a blessing that I hope to never take for granted. I can’t imagine navigating my life without them. And I look forward to developing close friendships here in our new community. But I’m just still learning…over and over again…that the best friends and family in the world don’t quite cure the restlessness for me.

As a matter of fact, maybe even being alone more could be the key to healing my aching heart. My friend, Doug Swagerty, recently preached a sermon on loneliness at Christ Church Santa Fe. He encouraged the congregation to trade loneliness for solitude. He shared the wise words of Paul Tillich:

“Language…has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.”

When I am able to find a bit of solitude to allow God to fill my ‘Holy lonely’, when I seek first the Kingdom of God, everything else does come a little bit more naturally.  And I feel more of a peace as to where God has me today and where He will take me. In this kind of glorious solitude, I can be alive and not lonely.  Very much alive, actually.  So there you go, HuffPost. When was the last time you enjoyed a bit of glorious solitude?

In the long run, I will see that loneliness is not a weakness. As a matter of fact, I believe that loneliness will have strengthened me. The ache in my heart reminds me just how much the people who surround me each day bring me happiness and joy.  And that same ache reminds me even more that my ultimate contentment rests elsewhere. You can be lonely in a room full of people. But the more mysterious and unique truth is that you can find complete peace in a bit of solitude.

“Be still, and know that I am God…”  ~Psalm 46:10
“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”  ~Isaiah 54:10

The Butterflies Have Left The Building

Newly Engaged

I wake up some days, almost in disbelief, that I have been married for more than 13 years. Not only am I not a kid anymore, but I have a slew of kids of my own. Does anyone else feel this way? And these kids…they have to be fed THREE times a day, EVERY day!  Sounds simple, but sometimes the simplest things in life can seem overwhelming. And too often, I fail to seek the potential for daily delight from the greatest blessings in my life.

I’m sharing this piece for my friends who might find themselves in the same place as me. This is also for my friends who are newly married. Really, this post is for anyone who loves someone – family, friends, or romantically. Because love isn’t as easy as it looks. This is for my friends who love Jesus. And this post is for my friends who just love to love. This post is for me…or I wouldn’t have written it in the first place.

The butterflies have left the building.

Recently, my husband traveled for work all week. I missed him a ton. I imagined how painful life would be without him. I was lonely. This past week, he was back. But instead of making lots of personal eye contact and giving him spontaneous kisses and hugs here and there, I unloaded the dishwasher. I changed the sheets. I often let the busyness and exhaustion of our days pull me down. And I sat there and wondered where the butterflies went.

Ryan and I started dating when I was 18…no doubt my first and only true love. I remember when I could barely concentrate on speakers or in church if he brushed his fingers on my arm or hand. In those days, any time he touched me, my entire body felt like it was on fire. If he liked a certain food or song, I certainly was going to do the same. And I quickly decided I didn’t need Alanis Morissette if he didn’t like her music! Maybe not the most independent stage of my life, but I was newly in love, and the butterflies were irrefutable.

Now, almost 18 years later, I still love when he puts his arm around me and holds my hand. But sometimes I forget to crave it. We have grown to naturally appreciate many of the same foods and songs. But truthfully, the butterflies are long gone. I can even concentrate on a speaker when he puts his arm around me:-) Ryan is my best friend and an amazing husband and father. But just this past week, I wondered where the butterflies went and if he felt the same way. I wondered if I was in trouble if I couldn’t feel butterflies after only 13 years? After all, I hope to be in this thing for another fifty years or so! But with no butterflies?! I couldn’t help but wonder if I was a dud of a wife.

And then, on Sunday, I heard a brilliant sermon on sloth. SLOTH of all things! Had I known this was the sermon topic, I might have suggested a morning at the beach or Sea World instead. After all, a mother of four young children and an incredibly hard-working man who is endlessly devoted to his family didn’t need this sermon. We are lucky to put our feet up to watch an episode of Breaking Bad before 10pm. (And he’s lucky to stay awake through the whole episode!)

Many of my thoughts from here on out are based on the words I heard in that sermon. They are not my own original thoughts. But, friends, I have to share them with you. Sloth, the young new assistant pastor, Jonathan Kerhoulas, at Redeemer Pres in Encinitas told us, is best expressed – NOT by a lazy attitude, but by zeal over petty matters! How about insisting on loading the freaking dishwasher or other household chores to the point that I don’t look up to make eye contact, give a gentle kiss, or receive a hug from the most important person in the world to me. How about being short with him because I insist on being right. Sloth is a pre-occupation with things that don’t matter. And one of the worst ways that sloth can rear its ugly head is when we become lazy to the demands of love.

In any relationship, we are called to never act out of selfish ambition. But instead we should put the interest of others before our own. These are the demands of love. Not getting household chores finished. Not being right. Not responding only to the butterflies. We must not allow ourselves to be zealous over petty matters. This past Sunday, I was reminded of the fact that we cannot afford to be lazy to the demands of love, even when (maybe especially when) the butterflies are gone.

“If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after’ is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,’ then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from ‘being in love’ — is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit…this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.” -C.S. Lewis

I am still ‘in love’ with my husband. But I believe the distinction here that C.S. Lewis is referring to is the butterflies. The flutters in my heart and stomach gave me the guts to commit to him for the rest of my life. But this ‘quieter love’ – ‘strengthened by habit’ – gives me the assurance that we will desire each other for that long.

Yet sloth can so easily sneak up on us, right?!  Jonathan told us that sloth is the sin that says, ‘whatever’ or ‘who cares’. For me, sloth tempts me to give up on the passion when the butterflies have migrated. Sloth sabotages the beauty of life and the ‘quiet love’ that fuels healthy, passionate marriages. When given in to the temptation of sloth, our wise young pastor said, we may feel completely full – yet we are still starving.

I am reminded that I must not give into the slothful spirit of ‘whatever’ just because the busyness of life seems to fill me up. 1 Thesalonians, Chapter 5 tells us to “rejoice always” and “do not quench the spirit”. The Greek word used here is actually the same as the word meaning ‘to not put out a spark or a flame’. Paul was writing about the Holy Spirit. But his words also make me think about how the spark in our relationships shouldn’t have to be diminished when the butterflies are gone.

But true love, life long love, does take a bit of effort. We must continue to remind ourselves to serve one another, to not be zealous over petty matters, and to rejoice regularly in our quiet love. And then, only, then can the spark continue to fan the flame.

What drives you to meet the demands of love? To make that extra effort on the days when the butterflies are long gone? I was reminded by this fascinating sermon (the one I didn’t need?!) that the best way for me to understand how to show love is to look to the only person in history who met the demands of love perfectly. When I look to Jesus, when I let His love shine on me, the demands of love don’t seem so daunting.  And the butterflies don’t seem so necessary either.

Since they day Ryan and I were married, we became ‘one’. But it’s our individual personalities that pull us towards each other. Oswald Chambers wrote that “our individuality is to be rendered incandescent by a personal relationship with God.” Incandescent is defined as red-hot, aflame, passionate, ardent, and fervent. Gosh, who needs butterflies?!

Routine Miracles

Telluride in the Fall

Are the leaves changing color where you live? I must admit…I miss getting to experience those first exciting hints of fall like we did in Colorado and New Mexico. Friends are posting pictures of the Aspen Trees on the mountain in Santa Fe. And Colorado is showing off with amazing fall colors in contrast to snow-capped peaks. Newsflash – the palm trees don’t turn brilliant colors and shed their leaves in the winter. While it’s nice to throw on a tank top and flip flops to walk the boys down to school, I do miss the natural transition to jeans and boots. I have a feeling though, that come February, I will not miss fitting four kids into snow boots and winter gloves.

I have long thought that the vibrant colors of fall are a creative gift from God. I bet He came up with that idea so we wouldn’t complain so much when the time comes to rake the leaves out of the yard.

And along those same lines of God’s creativity, I think the clear reason that newborn babies are so scrumptious and have that amazingly unique smell is so new parents have the super human ability to wake up every three hours through the night for weeks on end. Douglas Quenqua wrote about a study published in the journal, Frontiers in Psychology, confirming that ‘new baby smell’ acts as a kind of sensory rush for mothers. According to the study, researchers asked 30 women — 15 who had recently given birth, and 15 who had never given birth — to identify mystery scents while their brain activity was monitored. When given the smell of newborns, the women all showed activity in the same dopamine pathways that light up after ingesting stimulant drugs and enjoying good food. God is a genius! It’s as if He has it all figured out. It’s a miracle in the first place that babies are formed in the womb and bless our families the way they do. But it’s a routine miracle that these little miraculous lives enchant their parents day after day, night after night – even in the midst of serious deep sleep deprivation.

Routine miracles are events that happen regularly – every day…every year…often enough to see a pattern – yet you are still absolutely blown away each time. I won’t see very many changing leaves in SoCal this fall. But every time I see the sun set over the ocean (apparently it happens EVERY DAY here), I am in complete and utter respect for the beauty of life.  And for our magnificent Creator.

“If God creates such exquisiteness, how much more magnificent is the Creator? Even the most spectacular displays in the cosmos only hint at the splendor of God; the deepest insights into nature are shallow observations compared to the depth of the nature of God.” – Margaret Feinberg, Wonderstruck

Routine miracles are truly a gift. I hope that each time I witness one of these routine miracles in my life, I can be reminded of Jeremiah 31:3. The Message translation reads:

 “I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love, and more love!”

In the midst of my mundane routine (like sorting up to 84 socks per week!), God gifts me with little reminders of His everlasting love for me. And no matter how much I screw up, how much I loose my patience with my kids, how much I fail to show my best friend how much I love him — the leaves still turn, the sun still sets, my growing babies still enchant me. And I am reminded that “God is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).  And He loves me yesterday, today, and forever.

My Jesus Calling devotional on October 8th reminded me that every day I must look beyond the mundane, chaotic, and often sad circumstances of life and discover God gazing lovingly back at me. What are the routine miracles in your life this week? It is my prayer that we all recognize and appreciate the routine miracles and feel the deep love that God has to offer through those events. So grab a pumpkin latte (or maybe a pumpkin ale if its warm) and soak up the gifts of fall.

*photo cred to Mariah A-g of Telluride Ski Resort on Facebook

Love is a Funny Thing

Love Written in the Sand

I’ve never had a move I was ready for. Maybe when I went off to college. But who knows if you are really ever ‘ready’ to leave the nest.  After all, I was leaving behind every person who had loved and nurtured me since birth. I know I was excited to go. But I was certainly nervous when my parents drove away as I stood on the sidewalk in front of that SMU freshman dorm. With all of my moves, I’ve been a little excited about what is to come, but scared too.

I spent my first 18 years in Columbus, GA. And I planned to spend the rest of life there post-college. Since the day I left home in 1997, I have lived in five states.  Six if you count our summer in NYC. I have yet to have a move that wasn’t a blessing. Every city in which we have landed has been wonderful in its own unique ways.  And every city has people who think they live in the best place in the world. And they all do.

God gives us gifts in unexpected forms. Often, we don’t ask for them. I didn’t exactly ask God for any of our moves. As a matter of fact, I prayed to not have to move the last two times. But hindsight is 20/20, and I am thankful for each opportunity I have had to explore new places, gain new perspectives, put down roots in new communities, and love new people. The cities, the local cuisine, the churches, the mountains, the beaches – they all wooed me and gave me new appreciations. But, it’s the people who stole my heart along the way. And lots of them still have a piece of it.

And my closest loves – they’ve been by my side the whole time. My dearest husband, my best friend…each and every new place is home because he is by my side. Our four littles light up our world wherever we are (and simultaneously make me crazy no matter where we are). Our immediate families, even from thousands of miles away, have stood right by us, supporting us with unconditional love.

And my God, my ever-consistent and loving God. He pursues me in all places. For all time. Ryan and I have landed in some pretty amazing places – New England, Colorado, Santa Fe, Southern California. These locales have made us happy. But, as I heard in a sermon a couple of weeks ago, our story is not one of happiness. Our story is one of God’s faithfulness. Of God’s relentless love. The sermon encouraged us to define who we are, not by our circumstances, but by His love.  And one of the many ways I feel God’s love is when it shines through people.

The love of all of the friends we have made in each city over the last 13+ years fuels me. Each time we are about to move, I think that I have plenty of friends and don’t have the capacity to love any more friends like the ones I have – I just want to put a cap on it and enjoy my peeps. But it’s no different than having the capacity to love one more child when you think you can’t possibly love another like the last. And God has put some really amazing people in my life. He might just even decide to do it again here in SoCal. I’m getting open to that idea. I might take the cap off.

Because you know what…love is a funny thing. If you’ve read my blog much, you may know that music inspires and energizes me. For the first time ever yesterday, I heard Jason Mraz’s song, Love Someone. It’s just awesome.

Love is a funny thing
Whenever I give it, it comes back to me
And it’s wonderful to be
Giving with my whole heart
As my heart receives
Your love…
…When you love someone
Your heartbeat beats so loud
When you love someone
Your feet can’t feel the ground
Shining stars all seem
To congregate around your face
When you love someone
It comes back to you

Love is a funny thing. Not only does my heart beat louder when I love someone, but it feels so good when it comes back. The investment is worth the return.

My dear friend, Toni, shared an observation in her blog, beWARM, that caught my attention:

“When we have the joy of experiencing of deep connecting to others – and ultimately to God – we begin to wonder why life can’t be more of that.”

God’s deep desire to connect with me brings me a baseline of joy and love to work from. I guess God is just blessing me with opportunity to connect with lots of ‘others’ through our moves. But of course, you don’t have to move to connect deeply with people. There are opportunities to ‘love someone’ at every turn. Take a moment to let Jason Mraz inpire you and give some love away today. Maybe to your spouse or best friend. Maybe to a friend you haven’t connected with in a while.  Just love someone.  You may find that it comes back.  And you probably will wish that life could be more of that.

 

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Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God… -1 John 4:7

…On Beginnings and Endings

photo-26

Well…when you ask for God to reveal His plan…you better be ready for an answer! In Don’t Take the Boat to Tarshish, I expressed anxiety over what God had in plan for our family. And in Leaning In, I shared more fears about the unknown. I reminded myself that fear is not from God. Instead, he asks us to put our hope in Him…leaning in and seeking His strength.  Easier said than done.

Our family of six, (formerly known as the ‘CO McMonagles’ and most recently known as the ‘NM McMonagles’) is becoming the ‘CA McMonagles’. We are moving to San Diego. I’ll be honest; I’m very sad to leave our life and dearest friends and family here in Santa Fe. I do believe, though, that San Diego is not going to be rough. I started praying for a miracle last fall…a miracle to keep us here in Santa Fe. My friend, Lois, tells me that miracles don’t always look like you think they will. Throughout the last year, I have slowly stopped digging my heels into Santa Fe and honestly started asking God to make me open to His plan. That’s a miracle in itself. So God gave me hope in the meantime. Hope is one of those fuzzy/hard-to-define words. But hope is worth grabbing and holding onto. Hope lends sanity to the everyday.

“…in a big, loud world – we hold on to Hope. Hope for the impossible, hope for the unlikely, hope for the unexpected, hope for the improbable — because hope is nothing else but the spine of faith…for Hope in [God] is the anchor of our soul.” –Ann Voskamp

An anchor to our souls…how awesome is this little nugget of truth from the Book of Hebrews?! It is in great hope that I am trusting that God has heard my prayers and is showing us miracles, no matter how unexpected the form. I have real hope that God has our family in his hands as we launch off on this great new adventure.  Saying goodbye to our friends in Santa Fe is going to be difficult. But a new start doesn’t demand closure.

“Everyone now wishes for ‘closure’. This word is unfortunate; it is not faithful to the open-ended rhythm of experience.” John O’Donohue, An Abundance of Blessings

For a girl who thought she would live in Georgia her whole life, it’s kind of surreal to think that I’m moving on to my fifth state since I left my childhood home. I’ve learned that with a move, real closure isn’t necessary. I have taken a part of each city and my dear friends in each place with me. Life truly is an open-ended experience.  Rather than an ending in Santa Fe, I’m focusing on a new beginning for the CA McMonagles. In his meditations on endings and beginnings, O’Donohue continues,

“A beginning is ultimately an invitation to open toward the gifts and growth that are stored up for us.”

Lois also recently shared with me a beautiful song that I might have listened to three hundred times in the last few weeks – Hillsong United’s, Oceans. It’s worth a listen and pretty fitting for our move to the Golden Coast.

“You call me out upon the waters. The great unknown where feet may fail. And there I find you in the mystery…For I am Yours and You are mine. Your grace abounds in deepest waters. Your sovereign hand will be my guide…”

Uncertainty is, no doubt, unsettling. Answered prayers and miracles rarely look like what we would have expected. But it’s in the deepest waters, deep in the mystery, where grace abounds. Are there places in your life where you can ask God to make you more open to His plan?  Some areas of life where allowing more hope will give you more peace in your days? I encourage you to seek the mystery in the deep.  Because the grace is so sweet.

So here’s to new beginnings…especially when they don’t have to dictate an ending. Santa Fe will always be a part of our lives. Watch out – the McMonagles, in all our chaos, are about to take SoCal by storm. There is part of me that thinks my Toyota Sienna mini-van is going to instantly turn into a jeep without a top the minute we cross the California state line. And speaking of songs…I’m trusting Katy Perry and Snoop Dog that like the California Gurls in their song, I’ll instantly become fine, fresh, fierce, tone, tan, fit, and ready – and basically just lay under palm trees sipping gin and juice all day. Who’s gonna watch the kids?!  I’m in.

 

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” –Hebrews 6:19