Re: Lent

In regard to Lent…
If you use e-mail to operate the logistics of your work and life, you surely see ‘Re:’ in your inbox daily. ‘Re,’ of course, means ‘in regard to.’  ‘Re:’ signals that someone has replied to an original message.

In a Lenten devotional (The Beauty of Weakness: A Walk Toward Easter) provided by our church, Christ Community Leawood, I keep coming across the theme of ‘Re.’
…Reflection
…Repentance
…Recalibrate
…Renewal

I am reminded by our pastoral staff that Lent (the 40 days leading up to Easter) is a season of reflection and renewal…a time to slow down and take a look at my life and my spiritual walk. A season to identify sins that hinder and recalibrate my habits in a way that leads to a deeper dependence on God.

Christians often use the days of Lent to fast from something significant in their life. This self-denial may come in the form of giving up anything from chocolate to caffeine to social media – or maybe even a more poignant sacrifice. The overall point of this personal sacrifice, according to Associate Pastor Jordan Green, is to “loosen our attachment and recalibrate our contentment.” Jordan writes that by denying our own strength or pleasure, “we might more clearly know the sustaining work of our Lord.”

As we have begun the annual observance of Lent, it is wise to take this opportunity to respond to an original message ourselves. We respond to the message of God’s unfailing and steadfast love – the very same love that Moses and the Israelites sang of thousands of years ago after their miraculous exodus through the parted Red Sea.

“…Who is like you — majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? …In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them…” Exodus 15: 11,13

We respond to the message of this same God who who kept covenant and steadfast love to a thousand generations (Deuteronomy 7:9) and sent His one and only Son, Jesus, to die on our behalf because he so loved the world. (John 3:16)

So how are you using this season to respond to God’s original message of love?

It’s no coincidence that so many of the themes of lent start with the prefix, ‘re.’ Dictionary.com tell us that ‘re’ is, “a prefix…with the meaning “again” or “again and again” to indicate repetition, or with the meaning “back” or “backward” to indicate withdrawal or backward motion.”

Each year during Lent, as we withdraw, quiet our hearts, and break our regular routine, we are invited to reflect, again. We are invited to repent, again. We are invited to recalibrate, again. We are invited to renew ourselves, again. As a matter of fact, our God of love and amazing grace invites us into renewal every day of the year, not only during Lent.

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:4-5

‘In regard to’ Lent, will you respond to God’s original message of love through the disciplines of reflection, repentance, and recalibration? There’s no better place to start than in Scripture and through prayer. On Easter Sunday, let us celebrate the Risen Lord our Savior with a renewed heart, mind, and spirit.

Advertisements

Bracing for Impact?

Bracing for Impact

It’s the first week of summer break. Like many mamas, I’m taking it a little slower this week…relishing in the fact that no lunches need to be packed…there’s no morning bell to beat…no spelling words to study.

But at the same time, as summer has been approaching, I have been bracing for impact. Summer will bring a lot more…quality?…time at home with my kiddos.  Each summer gets less and less exhausting as the kids are getting older.  But, I know there will be bickering, there will be yelling, and there will be tears.  I just hope its not mostly from me.

Whatever this summer holds for any of us…whether its lots more time at home with the kids, a more stressful routine of balancing kids and work, difficult relationships, or even bigger transitions looming in the Fall –  there will be joys, pains, and challenges.  More often than not, we feel ourselves bracing for impact.

But I am reminded of God’s greatest desires for us…

“Don’t let the impact of the world shatter your thinking or draw you away from focusing on Me.” Sarah Young, Jesus Calling, May 22.

The great God of the Universe wants us to put our focus on Him, to seek His face, feel his deep love, and be still in His presence as we face each new day.

“God’s presence is real, full of love, and completely transformational. It takes what was broken and brings healing. It takes what was lost and guides us to our rightful place in the Father. It satisfies the weary, brings light to the darkness, and pours out the refreshing rain of God’s love on the dryest, deepest parts of the soul…He longs to make the reality of his presence known to you. He longs to refresh you with his nearness” Craig Denison, First 15, May 18

I love the concept of ‘making space’ for God.  I was recently taught that even when we use God’s gifts to capacity, we are called to still hold space for God.  Without making time to focus on God each day, the impact of the world (and the little people whom I love so much) will no doubt bring out the worst in me. My goal this summer is to make space for God.  Rather than bracing for impact, I want to feel His loving embrace.

“The absolute, most important single act of the children of God is making space to encounter our heavenly Father in the secret place…It establishes roots which enable us to receive all that we need to bear the fruit of the Spirit.” Denison, First15 May 22

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.  These are the fruits of the Spirit.  These particular virtues have been on my heart for a few years now.  Perhaps because they are ideal virtues to teach our little ones…Perhaps, because they are ideal virtues for us as adults in a broken world.

I struggle.sooo.much to be patient and gentle with my children.

John 15:7-8 says “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you…By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” 

Will you join me in planting seeds as we head into summer? The fruits of the Spirit have already been gifted to us.  But we must nurture them to see growth. For me, it’s only by making space for God and watering the dryest parts of my soul.  Then, we pour out our love to the world around us. Now that’s worthwhile impact.

Double Down

h_t_mcmonagle_030

Five years ago this week, Ryan and I doubled down. Our twins were born on 11-1-11. It wasn’t exactly a gamble on our part, but there was plenty of uncertainty to go around. We had no idea what to expect.

To be honest, if God had approached me before I got pregnant (which He didn’t) and offered me twins, I’m quite sure I would have said, “Oh, wow, that’s so nice of you to offer.” (Gotta be polite, right?!) “But I’m much more comfortable with the idea of three children. We don’t want to have four…never even considered the possibility. So, thanks, God, but no thanks.” To think that in my desire to stick in our comfort zone, I would have actually passed up such an amazing blessing. The real gamble is when we don’t put our trust in God’s plans.

But, still, uncertainty is very uncomfortable isn’t it?!

Being up in the middle of the night with two babies who didn’t sleep at the same time was uncomfortable. Doubling down definitely more than doubled the chaos and tears around our house. I couldn’t have imagined the messes, the exhaustion, or my ability to hit peaks of anger I had never seen in myself before. (And of course, I couldn’t have grasped the joys that lay ahead either.)

Most days, life feels just outside of my control. And that is just the way God wants it to be. Instead of mastering our lives and our days, God asks us to submit to the One and Only Master. EVERY day, I lose my patience. I struggle with yelling at my children. To put it simply, my kids often drive me batshit crazy (sorry).

I am not in control. I misplace my priorities regularly. I make mistakes every day.  Get this…yesterday I washed two mini iPads in the washing machine with the laundry. I kid you not. I cried. Does that sound like a mother who has everything under control?

Control is really just an illusion. For me, control is even an idol. I’m learning, very slowly, that lack of control and a bit of uncertainty in our lives is not bad.

“Our natural inclination is to be so precise– trying always to forecast accurately what will happen next– that we look upon uncertainty as a bad thing.” Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (April 29)

Chambers goes on to explain that the nature of a healthy spiritual life is to be “certain in our uncertainty.” Despite the fact that we are uncertain of what tomorrow may bring, we have peace in our “gracious uncertainty” because we are certain of our God.

If faith is having confidence in what we cannot see, then we must double down in the face of uncertainty. I love how Stefani Gretzinger sings in “Out of Hiding” of God’s promise to be our “lighthouse when we are at sea.” When we lean hard into this faithful God, His love beyond measure brings comfort that no amount of certainty will ever bring.

There will continue to be uncertainty ahead. There will be many dark days in all of our lives. There will be days where any sense of control has simply gone out the window.

Again, I am encouraged by music. Chris Tomlin sings of our “Good Good Father” and reminds us that our God knows what we need before we say a word. He is perfect in all of His ways. And on those hardest of days, I pray that I will listen for His tender whisper and rest in knowing that I am loved by Him. It’s who I am.

————-

“Leave everything to Him and it will be gloriously and graciously uncertain how He will come in– but you can be certain that He will come.” Oswald Chambers

Heart Health

Heart Health

Valentines Day has come and gone. I got my chocolates and a sincere and loving card from my husband. These two items confirm what I know…He loves me deeply, and he knows that I love chocolate deeply. I can only hope that my card to him expressed my love adequately…and also that he will give me some of his chocolate.

My words might adequately express my love, but my actions certainly don’t always express my love. I am often curt and, frankly, just plain exhausted. Sometimes, my exhaustion turns both my heart and emotions to a hard shell…much like that on the chocolate candies. So, quite often, I need to stop, assess the condition of my heart, and simply soften up. I need to ask myself, “How am I nurturing my heart health?”

In a recent sermon at Christ Community Church, our pastor, Tom Nelson, reminded us that we must regularly check the condition of our hearts. The American Heart Association has deemed February to be American Heart Month. According to the American Heart Association, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease. As we all know, regular exercise and a good diet are the first steps towards a healthy heart. Tom drew a similar conclusion as he encouraged us to take notice of the spiritual condition of our hearts.

Just like with physical health, our emotional and spiritual health are also dependent on regular exercise and a good diet. Our pastor reminded me that we must discipline ourselves to actively seek a good diet and exercise of spiritual disciplines…such as prayer, meditation and study of scripture.

Pastor Tom also noted two specific heart killers – a worried spirit and a hurried spirit. Those two traits have the potential to put me in critical condition, daily. So, I ask you…When were you hurried today? What worried you today?

Tom shared that worry keeps us from moving forward in a life with vitality and joy. A life characterized by worry is not the good life God intends for us.  I am certainly not implying that there isn’t an appropriate place for deep concern or lament in our lives. But for a healthy heart, we must genuinely hand over our fears and anxiety to God and seek His supernatural peace that transcends all understanding.  It sounds crazy, but it’s real.

And for a healthy heart, my goodness, we must absolutely slow down and take time to be still. That’s my kind of exercise! It’s difficult to love the people around us when we can’t slow down enough to feel their needs.  And it’s hard to truly be in anyone’s presence if we are always in a hurry.

Join me as I assess the condition of my heart. Can I truly love the people around me if my heart is not well?

I think most people would choose to live for love. It feels good to love others. I know most people have an insatiable desire to be fully loved. I do. But all of the affection, all of the praise, all of the security in the world is not enough. The love of this world doesn’t quite fulfill and doesn’t give us the ability to love back. We must seek God for that complete fulfillment. His love is perfect and limitless.

My healthy heart goal is to live for love…

“It’s to choose to root yourself in the unconditional affection of your heavenly Father rather than seeking fulfillment from the fickle love of mankind. It’s to choose to serve and give rather than looking to receive from a world that has so little to offer. To live for love is to seek first God and his ways and thereby receive the fullness of life only he can give…It is impossible to live for love as Jesus commands unless we first receive daily the perfect, powerful love of our heavenly Father.” -Craig Denison, First 15

How’s your heart health?

—————————————————————————————————————————-

“…You’ve got your reasons
But I hold your peace
You’ve been on lockdown
And I hold the key…

…I’ll be your lighthouse
When you’re lost at sea
And I will illuminate
Everything

No need to be frightened 
By intimacy
No, just throw off your fear
And come running to Me

‘Cause I loved you before you knew it was love…” 

-CLICK HERE to hear “Out of Hiding” by Steffany Gretzinger, Bethel Music 

Wait Here to be Called

 

Mary and Gabriel

I don’t like to wait. I don’t like to wait in lines at amusement parks. I don’t like to wait in the carpool lane at school. I don’t like to wait to be seated at restaurants. Our kids can’t wait to open their Christmas presents. I can’t wait for the magic of Christmas Eve. And to be completely honest, sometimes, I can’t wait for all of the holiday craziness to be over, so we can get back to our routine.

Yet, the Christmas season, particularly Advent, is a season of waiting. The focus of the Advent season, of course, is to prepare for and celebrate the birth of Jesus…and anticipate Christ’s return. Advent reminds us of the importance of waiting.

This past Sunday at church, we lit the third Advent candle, symbolizing joy. Yet, our pastor acknowledged all of the pain in this world. Friends are grieving the loss of loved ones. We are heartbroken by the inexplicable violence and terror in our society. We feel the darkness when lives seem broken beyond repair. In the midst of this season of both joy and pain, we were reminded by our pastor of the words of David, who faithfully sang to the Lord, “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent…” Psalm 30:11-12.

During Advent, we are waiting on the birth of Emmanuel – ‘God With Us’…A God who not only lived and died among us, but a God who promises to be with us in the middle of our joys and our pains. We wait with a spirit of hope. We wait, with faith, for a God who brings peace to our hearts in the greatest times of pain and can even turn our wailing into dancing. When we wait on the Lord, we ultimately put our hope in something greater than our circumstances. Psalm 27:14 encourages us to wait in hope: Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”

We also wait for God to guide us throughout our lives. I once saw an airport sign that said, “Wait Here To Be Called.Wait Here To Be Called”  I chuckled to myself thinking it would be nice if it was that easy. We wait for our calling – to be a spouse, to be a parent, to find the right job or career – to be used by God in some unique way. We wait, not knowing how or when God will answer. Psalm 37:7 reminds us to be patient, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…”

Whether or not we like it, we spend much of our time waiting – waiting for the next stage of life, waiting to feel God’s call, waiting for the pain of death and the pain of sin in the this broken world to lessen. We wait for heaven. We wait for Christ’s return.

The airport sign made me think a lot about waiting on God.

But perhaps instead waiting to be called, our calling is to wait!

God asks us to wait patiently in hope and expectation because He can heal our hearts, give us peace beyond understanding, and clothe us with great joy. So, this advent season…enjoy the wait.

The Angel, Gabriel, rocked young Mary’s world with inconceivable news of an unplanned child. The life she had been waiting for would look entirely different than she could have ever imagined. Gabriel told her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; God loves you dearly.” (Luke 2:30 PHILLIPS).

And the same is for you as we celebrate Advent.

Do not be afraid; God loves you dearly.

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)

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.

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.

 

——————————————————–

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

Hoarding Joy

It was no Sandcliffs fireworks show, but at least we had something!!!

This may not come as a surprise to those who know me well. But when I was a kid, I used to time it perfectly so that I saved my Halloween candy until Christmas. My Christmas candy until Valentines. And my Valentines candy until Easter. I guess I just scavenged through the mid-part of the year to get my sugar high.  My brother, on the other hand, would fully enjoy his candy (then break into my candy stash and steal mine!). I have to wonder…would I have enjoyed the candy more if I had just eaten it when I really wanted it, instead of denying myself the pleasure just to make it last longer?

Talking with our friends, we recently realized an adult scenario of that situation. If we get a nice bottle of wine, we tend to store it away while we enjoy the much less expensive bottle…saving that nicer bottle for a ‘special occasion’. What we end up with is a collection of nicer wine we are afraid to drink because we are just saving it for the right occasion. But maybe the everyday is the right occasion!?

This past weekend, we savored time with sweet family friends enjoying a summer’s night eating and spending time together on the back patio. The kids played with sparklers. We drank nice champagne. We noted that there was no particular special occasion (other than being together, which made it special).  And we wondered if a nice bottle of champagne should be saved for that impending ‘special occasion’ or celebration. I think the conclusion I came to is that the everyday is the special occasion.  And my five year old made me realize what a shame it would be to save the sparklers for only a couple of patriotic holidays per year. Hanging out on the back patio on warm summer nights with dear friends are the memories we will most likely hold closest as life moves on. More so than New Years Eve or rare celebrations, those nights are the champagne worthy nights.

I tend to be quite the planner, but maybe sometimes, just eating the candy when I want it, lighting the sparklers, and enjoying that rare fancy glass of champagne is a perfect celebration…for everyday life. There is no need to hoard joy. Joy is all around us.

A verse that has particularly stood out to me in the past year is Romans 15:13 – “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” My God of Hope is One who yearns for me to trust in Him day in and day out…to allow Him to infuse our everyday with real peace and great joy. And sometimes, that’s easier said than done. We allow the details and stresses of this world to choke our joy.

Oswald Chambers noted that,

“Living a full and overflowing life does not rest in bodily health, in circumstances, nor even in seeing God’s work succeed, but in the perfect understanding of God, and in the same fellowship and oneness with Him that Jesus Himself enjoyed. But the first thing that will hinder this joy is the subtle irritability caused by giving too much thought to our circumstances. Jesus said, “. . . the cares of this world, . . . choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19).

I’m not suggesting that we be careless and shirk our responsibilities. Or that we mismanage that which we have been given. But joy is a gift – one to be enjoyed one day at a time…not to be hoarded for special occasions. We bring God joy, and He wants us to know the same complete joy. I think that if Jesus was with us on our back patio, He would want to light some sparklers and maybe even have a glass of champagne too.

 

“Always keep a bottle of Champagne in the fridge for special occasions. Sometimes the special occasion is that you’ve got a bottle of Champagne in the fridge!” -Hester Browne
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved 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 15:9,11