A Serious Time Out

I learn a lot about God through parenting. I learn about what it is to love and also disappoint with the way that love is expressed. Discipline is a perfect example. I didn’t ever really understand that part in scripture where it says that The Lord disciplines those He loves (Heb. 12:6), until I started putting my daughter, Esther Hope, in timeout.

She cries, she argues, and then she wants a hug. She feels alone and hurt and like her world is falling apart. She’s 3, and this timeout feels like it’s the most serious thing she’s experienced. And yet she has no comprehension that it’s only because I love her that I do it. I want her to grow up to be a decent human being, and so part of teaching her how to behave involves some sort of dicipline.

Since the novel coronavirus pandemic, I have been feeling like I have been put in a serious timeout. It’s actually been very much like how it must be for my 3-year-old.

I cry, I argue, and then I want a hug. I feel alone and hurt and like my world is falling apart. The stay-at-home order felt like the most serious thing I’ve experienced. And at first, it doesn’t even cross my mind that perhaps this is happening because God loves me. Perhaps part of teaching me involves this kind of discipline–a serious timeout.

I could write probably four different blog posts about the different lessons that God has been teaching me during this time. I will focus on this major one right now: Provision.

I’m the type of person who will plan out a day to the T. Those of you with children can imagine how this usually goes for me. If I’m honest, the fact that my kids have completely thrown off my routine has been a consistent point of contention for the past four years–because pregnancy did that too, let’s face the facts.

Planning out my day with timetables and routines doesn’t leave room to be surrendered to The Lord, nor does it leave room to be present to the reality of needy children. The plan is usually tossed, yes, but there is this lingering resentment in my body, as if tossing the plan isn’t suppose to happen. As if surrender and flexibility and presence is a burden.

When the stay-at-home order was issued, both my kids were old enough that I could have a somewhat regular schedule for each weekday. Gym on Mondays, Leader’s Meeting on Tuesdays, story-time at the library on Wednesdays, BSF on Thursdays, groceries on Fridays. Each nap time, I had a focus for that day, and even though my plans would need reworking, I still had several pillars to fall back on and to ground me. But they were my pillars, and they soon crumbled when everything was cancelled.

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God put me in His serious timeout and told me to think about my choices. Why did my patience thin so much when needing to be present with my children? Why did I feel being flexible with their schedules and needs was a burden? He didn’t ask these questions in an authoritative tone, but in a loving manner. He didn’t scream at me out of rage to go sit in a corner and think about what I’d done. He quietly nudged me into a safe space to reflect upon the ways in which I had been functioning during “normal” life.

I do not believe my wiring for order and structure is wrong, and I acknowledge that God has designed me this way. I do, however, see how I have made idols of my own schedule and plans. The problem with this is that these are not always The Lord’s plans for me (Proverbs).

But knowing this, for some reason, doesn’t make me less likely to fall into the trappings of over-planning or trying to prepare in ways that I’m naturally inclined to do. And it’s because of just that–I’m naturally inclined to do it. To change this, I needed to come to the root of the issue, which was staring me straight in the face as I wrestled with these frustrations about my tossed-away routine as well as this new anxiety of an unprecedented virus infecting people around the globe and in my own neighborhood.

Deep down, much of my desire to plan and prepare was rooted in a fear that what I needed would not be provided for.

Each time I got irritated with a change in my schedule, I feared that I would not be provided with enough time.

Each time I felt anxious about not knowing the next step, I feared that it would not be provided for me, and I’d be left stranded.

Each time I felt frustrated with unchecked items on my to-do list, I feared that I would not be able to provide whatever my to-do list promised at the time: a clean house, a perfectly balanced budget, the best “stay-cation” schedule for our family…

But here’s the thing: Provision happens in the present, and oftentimes, we don’t even realize it’s impact until it’s in our past.

I was craning my neck to look ahead so that I could get a jump start on providing what only God can truly provide. But as I rested in the quiet moments of being at home with my kids–the episodes of Daniel Tiger, or threading toothpicks through the colander, all sprawled out with the pots and pans on the kitchen floor, I could see where God had already provided more than enough.

I had enough time.

I had enough space.

I had enough resources.

I even had enough sleep and downtime, something I didn’t know how much I needed.

This timeout wasn’t a punishment, it was God’s way to showing me His goodness and provision that has surrounded me this whole time.

This isn’t new for God. He’s used to this kind of thing–people forgetting who He is and what He’s done for them.

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In Exodus, when the Israelites were wandering around in the wilderness, newly freed from slavery, they didn’t know what God’s provision would look like in the future. They only looked back to remember Egypt.

But then, in the moment, honey-bread rests with the drew, quail flies into waiting nets, water pours from a rock.

God’s provision is in the moment. It’s right now. It’s not for me to know how it will be in the future. But I can trust that it will be. I can trust that it is.

This is only becoming clear as I look back to remember, something those same Israelites and their descendants were instructed explicitly to do by God Almighty Himself.

This is what He was nudging me to do during this time of unrest: remember His provision, and also, to become aware of it in this moment.

This was something I was not naturally doing in my everyday routine and rush. And even with more time on my hands during the stay-at-home order phase of the pandemic, it has become an act of resistance to not look ahead. Life is slower because of it; I am not on social media, I do not binge watch the news, I do not stock up on toilet paper or Clorox wipes. I have had this time to work at resting in the provision of The Lord, at trusting in His love.

And I realize I have only had this time to do so because of the serious timeout He’s put me in through this global pandemic. Don’t worry–I am not so self-centered as to believe that all of this was so that I could learn a lesson. But I’d also be foolish to think that God would not use a crisis for good–to strengthen the faith of His people and help them to lean into His goodness and love.

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This is one of the many things He has done for me. And I will remember it.

This is what redemption is. This is what provision looks like.

my bread & butter

There is a science behind bread-making. This post is not going to explain that science, because I am very much still learning it, but just know that there is a science.

There is an art to bread-making too. Just look at the beautiful artisan bread-maker’s Instagram accounts and you will see absolutely beautiful works of art that you can smear with butter and eat your fill of.

Perhaps it is this wonderfully complex combination of science and art that has enticed me into baking bread. That, and the extra time I have on my hands due to the stay-at-home order in Illinois, and the global pandemic. Also, my mother was a baker of bread. Simple, delicious, braided loaves that I used to tear off pieces of and toast with cold butter so it would melt into the nooks and crannies. There is something healing about bread. And there is something healing about baking it.

But I also have an affinity to bread-making because of this science and art balance that I mentioned above. Because, while so many of my friends and family seem to fall into a definite camp of either left-brain logical or right-brain creative, I am smack dab in the middle with equal parts artistry and order. To my knowledge, I’ve always been this way: borderline neurotically organized, yet wildly creative and artistic in multiple categories.

Bread-making requires both of these skill sets and aptitudes, but it also requires both a love of both the product and the process.

The Bread-making process reminds me of the necessity to be totally present in life, intentional about showing up, and completely committed to doing something outside of my comfort zone. Because, in order to make bread, I have to commit: I have to plan several days in advance. I use what I have to make something and the goal is usually something pretty specific. I mix and get messy, and I time it out as best I can. I take notes, mess with temperatures and flours and hydration percentages; I learn as I go and eat the product of my labor, even when it isn’t perfect.

Like so many things in life, if it’s only a love of the product, or of what the product is suppose to be, or of what the product says about me, then it’s not enough to keep me going. Because I can totally buy bread at the store. No, it’s the process of baking bread that I have ended up falling in love with, and the little things that make that process mine.

This morning, I rose early to catch my sourdough starter at it’s peak. I smile as I see that it’s tripled in size, and smells sweet and tangy with lots of little bubbles grasping at the sides of the glass mason jar. I had pre-measured the leftover whole wheat and All-Purpose flour combination the night before, which was just what I had during this pandemic-induced-flour-shortage. In the quiet, dark morning, while the coffee brews, I decide to use significantly less water this time, as last time my dough was too wet and I over-worked it. I adapt.

It’s only 7:15 am, and already the process is going strong. Springy bubbles ripple at the top of the softly domed dough, and I can tell the gluten is being strengthened with each stretch and fold, which I repeat every hour for at least four more times. It won’t be until tomorrow that I can pop my loaf into the hot oven, and even then, it still may not turn out exactly as planned.

Showing up and working hard and long at something like bread, knowing that the end product might be exactly what I’m hoping it’s not, well that’s humbling. It’s also life. And it’s also beautiful.

I’m finding that sometimes God leads me into other areas of life that way. He draws me into a process that entices me, but where I’m not exactly certain of what I’m doing. There are moments I feel totally in over my head. I’m learning on the job, and I’m excited but also nervous about the end result. It’s messy, and while it can be a forgiving and flexible process, I have to pay close attention; I have to take each step at the right time. Too early and it won’t work, too late and it’s a wash. I have to show up, plan accordingly, but also be ready at a moment’s notice to move and change and adapt to what’s next.

This is what life is like with God.

This is what I’m learning through bread-making.

I suppose I could be learning these lessons through so many other things, because truly, The Lord places metaphors for Life with Him in everything, if I’m looking.

But right now, I’m learning it through baking bread.

I’m learning to show up, to properly prepare, to take the next right step, to be slow, and to move at the right time, and to let go of expectations and trust the process with Him by my side.

This. This is my bread and butter. 

And He is the Bread of Life.

Never A Failure

Never a Failure (1)

I began my career as a high school English teacher with an unapologetically idealistic attitude about the difference I could make in my student’s lives and in Chicago’s far South Side community as a whole. After all, when you’re young and energetic and still on an academic high from all of what you’ve learned as a recent college graduate, there is literally no passion you cannot chase successfully.

I think I envisioned myself as one of those young, inexperienced, yet unexpectedly inspiring and successful teachers you always see in the movies. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to achieve, but I also had no idea how hard it would be.

After three years of teaching in Chicago Public Schools and living in the Roseland community, that passion I had clung to so dearly dwindled from a raging fire to barely a smoking ember. What I believed to be God’s calling for my life now felt far away – lost, even.

I was tired; I was bogged down with paperwork; I had too many classes; I had over-crowded classrooms; I had a steep cultural learning curve that I was barely getting over the hump with, and on top of that, being a recent hire made my job security slim to none. Some students consistently skipped my class; I struggled immensely with getting certain kids to listen, or to even pick up a pencil; many of the tests I gave came back with dismal results; I was constantly sleep-deprived and over-stressed, and I got sick more times in a single year than I had in the past four combined – in short, I felt like a complete failure.

So, when I left the teaching profession at age 25, I felt disillusioned and disheartened about passion as a whole. I thought that if I couldn’t live out my perfect dreams of being an inner city educator, then how could I hope to live them out in any other area of my life?

But mostly, I was just afraid – afraid that because I had quit, that meant I would forever be labeled a quitter – afraid that because I had given up on a past hope, then all hope was lost for me – afraid that because I hadn’t achieved this dream, I would never achieve anything of value.

But more than anything, I was afraid that all of this meant I was a failure.

Two years later, when I found out I was pregnant, those fears resurfaced. I was afraid to have any expectation of motherhood at all, or of my child, for that matter. I didn’t want my passions to be killed yet again.

And I didn’t want to fail.

But how could I hold a new life inside of my own body and not have wild and courageous dreams for her? How could I not hope for so much in this tiny person’s future? How could I not cling to the promises that God had made to this little baby, and also to me?

 After quitting teaching, and especially after becoming a mother, I was pitched into a new season of life where my motivation was very different than it was when I was fresh out of college. But I’ve come to realize that isn’t bad.

We would never say that the little girl who dreamed of being a ballerina at age 5 failed because she ended up becoming a doctor at age 27.

In the same way, God showed me that I wasn’t a failure simply because my dreams in college changed into different dreams even just a few years later.

My passion for teaching impoverished urban kids has grown into a passion for raising my own kids to befriend them and advocate for their rights and for their futures. My passion for living in the Roseland community of Chicago has grown into a passion for pushing myself to see things from other’s perspectives, and learning to love all people where they are, not where I think they should be.

It would take more pages than I can count to recall all of what my former students have taught me, and all of what I am still learning from my Chicago neighbors and South Side friends. But I know that God has used these experiences to mature me and help me see that his perfect plan for me is never just one thing.

My daughter is toddling around now, and a new life is growing inside of my belly, along with new passions and new hopes. I know not all of those fleeting and idealistic dreams will come to fruition in this lifetime, but some of them will, at least to some extent. The rest can wait for heaven.

Passion, in the form of tentative hope, peeks forth from already-fertilized soil. Dreams have grown and died and been stripped away to make room for a new and freshly pruned crop. It’s the way things grow, and it’s the way we grow. And I know now that it is never a failure.

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog

Let It Be Enough: the prayer of a minimalist

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A few years ago, I started the practice of a breath prayer, very similar to the contemplative practice of centering prayer, if you are familiar.

It includes a name for God that is especially meaningful to me at a specific time, and then a very simple request for something that I can only receive from Him.

Some of my most common breath prayers over the years have been ones like these (so you get an idea of what I’m talking about):

“Prince of Peace, comfort me.”

“Lord of Hosts, be my defender.”

“God of the universe, keep me present.”

“God who sees me, remind me I am loved.”

In my minimalist journey, the simplicity of these prayers has been essential. They focus me throughout the day and allow me to connect with God without having to have this intricate, hour-and-a-half-long “quiet time”. They also have helped me get through those early stages of having a newborn who nurses every hour. I remember being up at 3am with Esther, and praying a breath prayer over and over as I nursed and bounced her back to sleep. I couldn’t think of much else to do or say, but having a simple heart-felt prayer truly centered me during those hard moments of exhaustion.

And now, I find myself reflecting on these prayers as part of my journey towards minimalism. See, I’ve recently gotten into another kick of purging things. It’s been so good to simplify again. And being able to get rid of the access clutter in my life has helped me address some other areas of cluttered baggage, worry, and stress that I don’t really need.

I feel myself reawakening as I continue to let go of physical things. It’s almost like…since I can let go of these material possessions, then I can more easily let go of the other heavy burdens.

I can let go of the expectation for my parents to give me only what God can give me. I can let their best efforts and their love be enough.

I can also let go of the expectation for my husband to give me only what God can give me. I can let his love, leadership, and overall character be enough.

I can let go of the expectation for myself to be perfect as only God is. I can let my personality, my capabilities–really, myself be enough.

I can let go of the expectation for this life I’m living to be picture perfect and neat, or exciting and adventurous 24/7. I can embrace the chaos or the monotony or the less-than ideal circumstances, and let this beautiful life that God has given me be enough.

And I see now that God has given me another centering prayer to say in one breath– another breath prayer: “Be Enough.”

Or perhaps, “Let it (him/her/me/them) be enough”.

It is not a command to be good, kind, cool, pretty, sexy, pure, clean, happy, or whatever else enough. It is an invitation to let each moment, each person, each item in my home, each piece of food I consume, each word I say, each action, and each situation God brings me— to let all of it be enough.

That is contentment.

And in my quest for minimalism, I realize that it is not about creating a certain aesthetic or getting rid of things just for the sake of being less cluttered. It is a quest for contentment with what I have, and actually requiring less to be content in the first place.

To allow my possessions to be enough.

To allow a simple schedule to be enough.

To be content enough not to “buy” into the message that I am what I have.

The truth is, I am enough. I can, through Christ, be enough.

Today, like all days, I need to breathe this prayer in and out each moment.

Let my milk supply be enough. Let the babysitter’s care for Essie be enough. Let the sleep I end up getting be enough. Let the training for the 10K I get done be enough. Let the snacks I bring to MOPS be enough. Let the time Esther takes to walk be enough. Let the money my husband makes be enough. Let the groceries I purchased this week be enough. Let my attempts to fill our CRU table be enough…. 

All of these are enough ultimately because only you, Jesus, are enough.

You hold all things together. You make all things enough.

Sufficient for Me: a hard word for 2018

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This month is a weird month for me.

This time last year I was finishing up the last of my Bradley birthing classes, rubbing cocoa butter on my stretch marks, and doing crazy amounts of walking and squatting as to attempt to induce labor.

My little girl is 11 months now, and we are a month away (obviously) from celebrating her first birthday.

Cue emotional sobbing about the swift passage of time.

Milestones such as this one that is about to occur are a chance to reflect on the year past. However, I will save my motherhood lessons until next month when my little Esther will actually be 12 months.

For today, I want to take a good long look at what I want this next year to hold (yes, I know people usually do this in January, but I’m different and slow, so deal with it).

For those who used to read my previous blog (The Art of Breath), and this post (yes, all five of you), you know that God usually gives me one word to focus on throughout the year. This word was usually given to me in September because, up until fairly recently, I was either a student or a teacher for whom the new school year was usually the best time for start fresh with a new focus. But somewhere between quitting my job and having a baby, the word “Journey” was my word for like a year and a half. This January, The Lord released me from that particular word, although not it’s lessons, and gave me a new one.

That word is Grace.

Grace is one of those words that has a very different meaning depending on who you ask. A dancer might say it is elegance with which movement is executed. A young boy might tell you it’s the short prayer he says with head bowed and eyes closed before he is allowed to dig in. A landlord might think of the period in which she allows for her renters to get away with being late on their payments when the term “grace” is used.

But my word of “Grace” for this year of 2018 refers to the unmerited favor of God, and then my responsibility to extend forgiveness to others based upon my state of such gracious love. Grace, for me, encompasses so much–forgiveness, freely giving without expectation, long-suffering, forbearance, seeing God’s blessing in and among trials, and choosing to bless others when it’s hard.

This word might sound precious and sweet, and oh, it is! But it is also a hard word.

There are some people I need to show grace to (forgive), people who really do not deserve it, or even know that they have hurt me or continue to do so.

There are some situations I have to walk though gracefully, choosing to experience God’s blessing, even though it seems like there is no good that can come from such circumstances.

There is gracious service to give, and the call to not expect anything back in return– not even a “thank you”.

There is the task of letting go of my own ambitions goals and expectations for myself and to receive grace in each disappointing let down that comes this year.

I began this post by writing that I want to take a good long look at what I want this next year to hold. This is not exactly true. Because in all honesty, I do not want to do these things that grace requires. They are not exactly fun to work on and sometimes seem to be bitter pills to swallow in the name of no immediate recognition. And when I’m merely thinking in terms of this world, rather than eternity, I really just want to toss this new word out the window and pick a word that fits with what the selfish person inside me really wants 2018 to hold.

And then I am reminded of hose verses that Shane & Shane put to my current favorite song.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says, “…’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

And I know that it is the weakness in me that cringes at this grace-word, and all it means for me. Not just for this year, but also for the lessons I will learn and carry with me into the next year, and years to come.

And I am reminded too, of the whole point of each “one word” for the year. It is not so I can focus myself on what I would like the coming year to hold. In fact, it is often quite the opposite. The whole point of each one word is to submit to what God wants to do with me and in me for this period of time.

But it is not I who have to worry about producing enough grace to accomplish all of these things–the forgiving, the serving, the walking through trials, the patience, the loving till it hurts. No.

His Word says that it is His grace that is sufficient for me. His mercies are fresh every morning, new and tailored for the particular day, which I am always ill equipped and ill prepared for. His power is perfected in my weakness because it makes me lean on Him fully, rather than relying on myself.

And so I start this February out–because, yes, I’m a little late on the New Years Resolutions, and also because this is not so much a resolution as an acknowledgment of God’s work–with this beautiful, hard, complex, and scary word. A grace-filled word. A word chalk-full of potential and freedom and life. I start this season–because I don’t really know if God will release me from it after a neat little calendar year–with this word:

Grace. 

His one word is sufficient for me.

Stuff That Lasts

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I used to have a poverty mentality when it came to stuff. Like, physical stuff. The poverty mentality is one which decides that more stuff for less money is better because, well, you get more. It’s about the quantity of stuff (food, clothes, gum balls– whatever), not necessarily the quality.

But after one too many “BOGO” sales at Walmart and Rue21, clipping coupons for processed food that I knew wasn’t healthy for me, and that I would never buy unless I had a coupon, as well as after the 10 Hanger Project, I realized that cheap stuff doesn’t usually last.

It was a few years ago that I started to think of my wardrobe as a year-round capsule, with some very seasonal pieces here and there I could stow away for the winter or summer (think shorts and bulky sweaters). With this in mind, I decided to invest in a few very nice, and quality pieces, which I usually got secondhand via consignment stores, eBay, or Thredup. I’m talking things like a pair of J Brand skinny jeans, my Matt & Nat saddlebag, and this super versatile Market & Spruce navy blazer that I’m wearing now. This worked wonders for my tendency to shop for clothes, because I was very specific about what I needed (read: wanted) and would be willing to spend money on.

I started to apply this principal to other items too. Baby products were a go-to, since my little girl is just under 11 months, and most first-time mothers research the heck out of their baby products. But I also tried to think about it with kitchen utensils, household cleaning tools, home decor, and even food.

(Note: With food, think of it as what will make a lasting difference on your health or on your experience of the food, not so much about the quantity or expiration date. Organic chicken has less hormones that will screw up your system, for example, so it might be worth it to spend the extra cash. But that tray of Fanny Bay oysters with butter sauce and $18 glass of Chardonnay may not add to your health, but is worth the splurge when you and your hubby are celebrating your 10th wedding anniversary because you will always remember it and smile. That kind of lasting.)

I’m finding that if I’m careful about researching the quality and functionality of a product, whether an item of clothing or a kitchen gadget, I’m more likely to appreciate it, and also take good care of it. In addition to it simply being of higher quality and lasting longer, my care and pride in these things also make them last.

This is a good lesson to learn. The Tripp Trap high chair my daughter sits in at breakfast will probably be used by all of our kids. My long sleeve wool black dress will likely be a staple in my closet for years to come. Even our stainless steel water bottles will no doubt help us save money for as long as my husband can keep track of them 😉

But even these heavily-researched, quality-made, price-compared, and highly-functional items do not fall into the category of “stuff that lasts”.

Tee shirts get holes. Evens ones from Banana Republic. Sheets get stained. Even ones with good reviews and high thread counts. Purses wear out. Even ones that go with every outfit and fit all of your “essentials”. And while I don’t think there is much wrong with hunting for the few quality items that will make your wardrobe functional and fashionable, or that will help you be more sustainable in your cooking and lunch-packing, I cannot deny that for me, it is easy to get swept away by these seemingly lasting things, which are, in all reality, completely temporary.

They are temporary not simply because they all will get holes, stains, or wear and tear. They are temporary because this entire world is passing away. Even your kids are temporary. Even your best friend or your spouse or your mom is temporary. Even you are temporary.

Here’s where this post takes a turn, people.

“So we do not loose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing fur us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”  (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

As a follower of Jesus, part of my job while I’m here on this temporal earth is to stare at the unseen–the eternal– to not become blinded by the transient. And, if I’m honest, I spend far too much time looking at temporary things. My heart, on the surface level, loves things that don’t last. There is always something immediate and attractive that keeps me from anticipating heaven, and all of those unseen things that are little tastes of what is to come.

God has used many things to get me to be smarter about what I spend my money on, and choose to own. For ethical reasons, like: who made it and how were they treated? For practical reasons, like: am I really going to wear that enough to justify the amount on the price tag? But the world still tempts to distract my wandering heart, even in this noble call to minimalism.

I am reminded that spending hours price-comparing a purse that I don’t actually need is not saving me anything, and is actually hindering me from being of use for the spread of God’s Kingdom. Being prideful about the fact that all of the furniture in my home was purchased used or given to us as gifts does nothing to prepare me for my future home in heaven. Researching and reading reviews of the safest and most versatile baby carrier might help me rest easy when I wear my daughter out and about, but it does nothing to foster those invisible Fruits of the Spirit that will help me rest easy in the gracious arms of Jesus.

My point is, even being prudent and wise and a minimalist can make a girl take her focus off of the real point of this life. This time we spend here on earth is merely a blip on the frequency of eternity, and none of our capsule wardrobes, safe carseats, or eco coffee mugs will matter one we get to heaven and see our Savior’s face.

Temporary things don’t matter as much in light of eternity. Peter says that a person can become “so nearsighted that he is blind” (2 Peter 1:8). We are capable of getting so focused on temporary things that we become blind to the things that actually matter. A mouse infestation can make us forget about our future inheritance, eternal security, and the grace that God promises to pour out for us for all eternity. We quickly loose the joy of our salvation and future glory because of a grape juice stain on the carpet. We become focused on the here and now. And it’s not that we shouldn’t pay any attention to the issues that surround us, what we choose to spend money on, or how we choose to do life with our families and friends, but we need to look at all of these things with an eternal lens.

At any moment, I am going to be taken into a new existence. I will not care at all about some of the things I currently obsess with.

So while I’ll probably still be very choosey about what I hang in my closet, and I’ll likely still invest in grass-fed beef over the cheaper tubes they sell at my local grocery store, I will remember that these things are not a part of that category of “stuff that lasts”, and I will fix my heart, my treasure, and my eyes on what truly is. The invisible stuff. The God stuff. The real stuff that lasts.

Begin Again

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I’ve done it again.

The thing I vowed to never do and the thing I knew was oh-so wrong, even as I found myself doing it.

My husband has left the house for a few hours to cool off and I sit alone shame-faced, tear-smeared, and utterly disappointed in myself.

Not but four days ago I remember writing in my journal how I was giving up being negative for the month of September. And now I am eating those written words like a bitter pill.

I screwed up… again.

I silently wish over and over that I could do tonight all over, to not be critical, to hold my tongue, to pray instead of voice my disapproval in such a nasty and disrespectful tone of voice…

Oh God, could I just start over? Please?

And it’s not until now that I remember the words of St. Benedict: “Always we begin again.” And I think about what it means, in my faith, to be born again.

So often I want the development of my character (and the character of others) to be a neat and tidy process. I want to look back and see a steady progression into a better person, more self-controlled, patient… (I could keep going).

But all too often I look at my journey and I see a tangle of stuff– good things and bad growing up together. One stupid habit abolished only to be replaced with another one, equally as detrimental. I see plateaus and back-slides and screw up after screw up– the same ones over and over again!

If I look at the world, I don’t often see much grace for this kind of messy progress or lack of improvement. If I look into myself, I don’t always see hope, especially when I’m here–sitting on the couch waiting for my husband to come home so I can apologize once again for being the way I don’t ever want to be.

But I do see hope in those words.

Always we begin again.

And I think of the way life is.

How trees say goodbye to their own leaves each fall, and how they start from scratch come spring.

How each January the first, most of the world makes promises and vows that are oddly similar to last year’s.

How, in the beginning, children need you oh-so badly, and then they grow to leave you and be needed by their own little ones.

How even though I’ve been born already, 28 years ago to my then 28-year-old mother, I was born into a different kind of life at age 20–a life that is now reminding me of my need for a kind of grace which I cannot get from the world at large.

Always we begin again.

I see that supernatural grace in the eyes of my husband, who knows Jesus, when he holds me once again. I see it when I wake up in the morning with the permission to be different, to “put on” the woman I know I can be despite the woman I was last night. I see it when I forgive my parents for the things I’ve vowed to do differently for my daughter. When I let my upstairs neighbor borrow my vacuum for the sixth time this week and patiently explain how to use the new washing machine (I’ve lost count of the number of times).

I see it in God’s love– a love like a kid loves a raggedy old stuffed doll to pieces. And I know that I am that ragged little doll. And I know He loves the stuffing out of me. It makes no sense. And that’s why it’s grace.

And I know that I must give myself this love-grace too. Otherwise, I don’t think I am ever really able to begin again.

So tonight I’m starting over. And when I screw up in this same way a few days, weeks, or months down the road, I will breathe deep, let go, and I will begin again.

Always.

Am I really Enough?: Living life on the verge of doubt and learning to dive in deep anyway

“Shame is all about fear. We’re afraid that people won’t like us if they know the truth about how we are, where we’re from, what we believe, how much we’re struggling, or, believe it or not, how wonderful we are … Continue reading

One Word 2016

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“If you’re like most people, each January goes something like this: You choose a problematic behavior that has plagued you for years and vow to reverse it. In fact, you can probably think of two or three undesirable habits—make that four or five…”

These words can be found on the now wildly popular One Word Website.  And oh, how true they are. This time of year seems to be the time for a litany of imperfections to be perfected and a throng of promises to be made commonly titled as “New Year’s Resolutions.

At the gym I work at, we have an expectation that the Monday after January 1st will be crowded with people who have vowed to “get their life back together” by coming to cycle classes and pumping iron in the weight room. My boss tells us to be ready for the New Years crowd, but we all know that that crowd will disperse by mid-February.

And so it seems to be the case with other new years focus on problematic areas in need of correction.

Workout regimes fall to the wayside, diets are broken, cuss words are spoken, and those pictures we told ourselves we’d finally take or put into photo albums remain caught behind lenses or just not taken at all. It seems that the juggling act of trying to improve different parts of our already messy and chaotic lives is just too hard. How can we stay consistent with self-improvement when our focus is split into fractured pieces– our work life, our love life, our families, our personal fitness goals, our dreams, our desires for a better “me”?– it seems impossible to focus on all of it!

The idea behind Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen’s “One Word” philosophy is that we can do something about one thing this year instead of nothing about everything. They encourage you to boil it down to just one single word, to move beyond the cycle of long lists of changes you want to make that never get tackled.

“This process provides clarity by taking all your big plans for life change and narrowing them down into a single focus. Just one word that centers on your character and creates a vision for your future.-myoneword.org

I was first introduced to this idea by one of my best friends, who told me that God always gave her a word that He used to teach her through each year. I thought I felt God using specific words to teach me as well, but I never formally chose one single word to keep my thoughts tethered to during these lessons.

Finally, I was encouraged by another friend to actually pick my “one word” last year, and, although I don’t think I lived it out perfectly, it was helpful to have one theme to keep coming back to  throughout 2015.

My one word last year was “Slow”, which came, unknowingly at the time, during a year that would prove to be chaotic, shifting and a complete whirl-wind.

Having to keep coming back to the word “Slow” kept me grounded during times of change, patient during times of waiting, and calm during times when I normally would have lost my head.

This one word reminded me to breathe when I wanted to just walk out of my classroom full of students and never go back. It kept me patient when our heater wasn’t working in subzero weather and when water leaked all over the floor, pulling up the tile and making it impossible to walk anywhere without slipping or getting a shoe-full of dirty water.

This one word kept me from making hasty decisions when we were house-hunting, and kept me silent when I normally would have exploded with frustration at husband’s and my disagreements.

It kept me patient and plodding along as I trained for my second marathon, restless to race through a long trek that was going to take more out of me than I expected.

This one word kept me from jumping to conclusions when misunderstandings with family and friends arose. It kept me patient and prayerful when I got the letter in the mail that I was no longer employed by CPS, and it kept me hopeful and trusting when I still didn’t have a position number or a paycheck as 109 students met me in my classroom on the first day of school.

“Slow” kept me restful when I was sick and itching to get out of bed and get back to work.

It kept me patient with myself and determined when I was so depressed that I dreaded getting out of bed in the morning to go to a job that I hated.

“Slow” kept me patient with myself during the ongoing transition into working with my husband at a job I had no idea how to do. It kept me calm during times when I felt frustrated with my lack of progress, reminding me that this might be a slow process, and that it was more than okay.

“Slow” also showed me areas in my faith walk that I had skipped over, impatient to grow in places where God had not yet given in the increase for lack of my quiet and calm attention. He scaled me back with “Slow” so I could be nursed in areas I needed to mature in, a slow process that I couldn’t rush through no matter how determined or strong-willed I was.

I’m not saying I did it perfectly– there were plenty of times I flew off the handle and was completely out of control when I should have been slow and calm, as my husband, friends, and students will be quick to tell you– but this word “Slow” helped me keep it together more than I normally would during a year when I needed to rest, have patience, refrain from rushing into decisions, be extremely calm, and have painstaking endurance.

“Slow” permeated into all areas of my life– my personal life, my relationships, my work, the forming– or rather, the unraveling– of my identity, my faith walk, and even my health.

And so this year I trust that the word God is giving me will be perfectly designed to get me through 2016, even if I do not live it out perfectly.

As this new year was approaching I began to ask God what word He wanted me to focus on. Over and over again I kept hearing one word repeated to me, but I didn’t want to listen. You see, it was sort of a scary word for me, and I was hoping that it might be something else. 

But as I scanned my journals, BSF lecture notes, written prayers, and even the songs I had been listening and dancing in worship to, I knew that this was the word He was giving me.

 My one word for this year is “Surrender”.

Is there a more important word in the life of a Christ follower? But even more personally, is there a more important word in the life of a control-freak, type-A, worrier like myself?

I think not.

And so, as I look towards the year ahead, there are definitely some big decisions, plans, and changes coming along down the road. And I’m going to need to surrender all of them to God. 

This doesn’t mean that I don’t do anything about anything or have no part to play in what happens. It just means that I will take every thought, decision, action, and plan captive to Christ Jesus, and be obedient to Him and Him alone. It means letting go of expectation and preference so that I am I indifferent to any choice that is not Jesus-approved. Surrendering my plans, my dreams, my body, my mind, my desires, and my plan to Him and allowing God to really take control of where I end up.

Hm. Sounds a lot like what it means to follow Jesus doesn’t it? I should probably have been doing this already…

But to have a whole year to focus on simply surrendering… is a little scary because it requires complete trust in what I cannot plainly see. (That’s what faith is isn’t it?)

I remember when I first became a Christian about 6 years ago, laying in bed imagining what my life would be like, and God clearly spoke to me saying, “Claire, your life is not going to be anything like what you can dream up right now.”

I still believe that is true today, and that no matter how many times I envision the future, my life is not going to be like anything I can imagine.

And so far, that has proved to be true.

The thing that makes it less scary is that I wouldn’t change it for the world. So I guess I can trust Him, can’t I?

I know I have little hope of living out a long list of resolutions that I might want to make– get up every morning at 5:30am, workout everyday, get certified in 6 different fitness formats, master html and photoshop, open up an online store….. I could go on.

But I can do my very best, with God’s help, at living out one word to the best of my ability, and to allow it to permeate all areas of my life.

And with a word like “Surrender”, I guess I have no choice but to let it control everything I’ve got.

What’s your “one word” for 2016? I’d love to read about what word you’re going to live out this year!

On Pouring Into Others: a privileged girl and a dying man

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This sign hangs in my little make-shift office that is in reality just a corner of my dining room blocked off by bookcases and a paneled screen.

I often look at this sign as a reminder that I need to take care of myself SO that I can take care of others. “Put on your own oxygen mask first”. But today I am wondering to myself if I use this as a justifier.

How do we know if we are really pouring into others? 

I get up at around 5:45am and have my quiet time with God. I eat some zucchini bread with some coffee while reading and journaling out my prayers. I do my p90X workout at 7am, then clean the kitchen until about 8, then work on some marketing projects for our family business. Around 9:30 I step out of my little oasis, my safe-haven of a home, and rush off to the Kroc Center to teach my weekly PiYo class.

On the way I see people. I see a man sleeping on the sidewalk near a gas station, a tarp covering him. I see women walking with their children all bundled up, trying to catch the bus on this blustery cold day. I see men with cardboard signs making their way to the busy intersections near the highway, trying to gain the sympathy of passer-bys.

I teach the class to about 8 participants and we have a great workout and prayer time after; specific prayer is requested for our neighborhoods that are riddled with gang violence. After that, I drive home, get out of the car, and I see my neighbor. I yell his name and he immediately turns directions to come towards me.

(I’ll call him Leo, but it’s not his real name.) Leo lives in a little house across the street from me– lived there for a long time. Leo is about 45 years old, but he looks over 60. Leo is dying of lung cancer.

He’s completely drunk, as usual, but I stand with him by the curb and listen to him talk for a good half hour, making sure he’s not in the street when cars drive by. I don’t really know what to say or how to help him and it makes me feel helpless.

His mind wanders, and he keeps talking, but I’m not sure about what. The alcohol is making him slurr his words and the man has only a few teeth left, so it’s hard to understand him. I recognize the hurt in his voice. I have no idea what he’s going through right now– to know that he’s dying and to know that he could have prevented it–but I can imagine.

I can imagine and it brings tears to my eyes. He tells me they will take him to the hospital soon, but until then he keeps staying with friends and family because he doesn’t want to stop breathing in his sleep and lay alone in his house until someone finds him. He wants to be found by friends. This is where I start to cry.

He reflects on his children. His wife. He hopes he can kiss her again in heaven. He tells me in one breath that he is so angry at himself for doing this to himself, and then in the next that he has no regrets and that he’s happier than he could hope to be.

He smells like cigarettes and liquor, and I wonder if he will remember this conversation. I hope he will remember the hug, the warm smile in the bitter cold wind, the patience with which I try to listen to him. I hope… I wish he would surrender this habit of cigarettes and booze. I wish he would try to live out the rest of his short life in sober consciousness, with intentionality and dignity. I wish he knew something other than drunkenness and a chemical high.

I wish I could encourage him to change now, to let him know that it’s never too late… but… it is too late, isn’t it? He’s going to die. Soon. What would I do? Would I change? If there no hope for a future improved by my choices? Would I even try?

I suddenly want to leave, and I feel so guilty for it. But it’s cold and my ears are starting to go numb, and I really can’t understand a lot of what Leo is saying. Still, I listen intently. This conversation is making me so sad and I can’t do anything about it. But he seems comforted just talking to me, so I stay and I listen, and I pray…

Lord, please give me the words you would have me speak.

Nothing.

Lord, please show me what I should do.

Nothing.

Lord, work through me so that I can help this man.

Nothing.

What the heck? God, why can’t you use me here? I’m right with him! I can do something, can’t I?

But God didn’t have anything else for me to do. There was nothing of myself that I could pour into Leo. There was nothing I could change in him. There was nothing I could say to make it better. My cup, regardless of whether it was full or not, was seemingly not pouring into any of the people around me who seemed so desperately to need filling.

And even now I ask myself, why? Why couldn’t I have helped? Why couldn’t I have done something?

I think the answer is a little more simpler than I usually like: I am incapable.

I don’t really know if Leo simply needed someone to talk to, or if there was something that he needed to hear in that moment. All I know is that I didn’t do any “pouring into”. All I did was listen to him speak, simultaneously listening to the quiet sound of my heart breaking.

I go inside my warm home with quaint decor and a clean kitchen, with two cats sleeping on the chairs and reminders to “do all things with love” on the walls. I feel utterly guilty for having what I have, living how I live, and owning what I own.

I only hate my own privilege when I can’t seem to use it to help someone who doesn’t have it.

My cup– if we’re going with this whole metaphor thing still– feels completely drained dry after my interaction with Leo. I’m emotionally exhausted, guilt-stricken, and heartbroken for my neighbor, and for this community at large.

“It is not selfish to refill your own cup so that you can pour into others. It’s not just a luxury. It is essential.”

But to refill my cup would, in fact, seem selfish–like a luxury. In fact, most of what I did today– the quiet time, breakfast, workout, job, cleaning, and marketing work– it all seems like luxury compared to what I see when I look outside at this dark and hopeless part of the city that I’ve now been calling home for the past 3 years of my life.

“Put on your own oxygen mask first!”

–I’ve been told to do this, but it doesn’t seem right. Not when people are sleeping on sidewalks and sleeping at friend’s houses because they might die in their sleep.

No it doesn’t seem right when there are people in need everywhere and when it’s really hard to know if helping is helping or if helping is hurting… a lot of things seems pointless and stupid when looking at the heartbreak that surrounds me.

This world isn’t fair. I believe that this outrages God more than it could even outrage us.

And I believe that God loves Leo and the homeless man at the gas station and the bundled up mommas and their little sweet babies and the men standing at the intersections with signs. He also loves the drivers who pass them by and the ones who roll down their window to toss them some change. He even loves the helpless white girl who doesn’t know what to say to a dying man.

This world is dark, riddled with guilt, and it’s so sad. But the beautiful thing is that God’s cup never runs dry, and he continues to pour it out in the form of Christ’s blood. It doesn’t always look like I think it should look, at least not on this broken side of eternity.

But it’s like Leo said to me today, “Oh I believe it’s going to be much better after death Miss Claire. I do. I just don’t know what it will hold, and that’s what scares me, but I believe it’s going to be better than this…I do believe that…”

I do too Leo. I believe it will be a time and a place where all of our cups will runneth over.