July’s Scripture Writing Plan focused on God’s movement in our lives. The idea was to set aside ten minutes a day, copy the scripture and circle the verbs found within the passage. Using the daily word as a prayer focus, I hoped we would ask God to help us recognize His activity in our lives and journal our reflections.
Each morning, I tried to slip away to a quiet place to open the Word of God. This worked best when the kids seemed occupied or when I turned on the TV to occupy them (just keeping it real…sometimes you got to do what you got to do.) Some days I was more successful at this than others, but on the days when I was able to give my complete attention to God, His Word and His voice, I felt the time spent prepared my heart and mind for the day’s constant barrage of requests and demands thrown at me. I noticed my reactions to other people seemed more gracious. I said “yes” more than “no.” I was less distracted with social media and more aware of relationships. Heavenly, eternal things seemed way more important than the earthly, fleeting things. I was filled with peace and joy. Don’t get me wrong, life was not perfect, easy or without challenges. There were still trials and life to work through but how I approached those challenges was different. I found myself prompted to rely on the LORD’s strength and reflecting on the words I was hiding in my heart and mind.
Growing up, my dad always said, “Garbage in, garbage out.” I have always remembered that phrase (see Dad, I was listening.) I do not think we give enough thought to what we are filling our ears, eyes, heart, mind and even our mouths with. What we allow in our lives will shape and mold us and eventually those things will impact the way we think, speak, act and respond. This month (and every month), I am choosing “Truth in, Good out.”
The August Scripture Reading and Writing Calendar contains scriptures that refer to our reactions to God. For deeper reflection, I have included question for each passage. My hope and prayer is for you to join me as we dig into the scriptures and ask God to align our reactions to His word.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Philippians 4:8
This has been a busy week and I am feeling tired, cranky and filled with dissatisfaction. My priorities are off and my time has been misplaced. My week’s “to-do” list contains many items that still need to be completed and checked off. I am ashamed to admit this, but the amount of time that I have spent looking at screens might be more than the time I have spent looking into the faces of the people right in front of me. In boredom, I have reached for my phone and mindlessly scrolled through newsfeeds and viewed gorgeous square pictures. In avoidance, I have opened my laptop and pinned pins of inspirational quotes and organized homes, all while my house is left in disorder and a depressed state. Comparison and discontentment have weaseled their way into my heart leaving me to struggle to find joy. I have not spent enough time with Jesus.
Something has to change! Time to hit the reset button! This weekend, I am unplugging from social media. I am eliminating the distractions and quieting the noise so I can hear more clearly and reevaluate my priorities. Time to look at boundaries and commitments AGAIN! It’s time to rediscover who is right in front of me and enjoy their company.
I am looking forward to being present and to listening intently. Listen to my kids share their ideas and dreams. Listen to my husband and hear what has been on his heart. I am going to be aware of my surroundings and look for strangers who may need someone to talk to. Most importantly, I am pausing to listen to God, hear His voice and the divine guidance He wants to give.
If you need me, you will have to find me the old-fashioned way. Pick up the telephone or come on by. I will be happy to see your face and ready to listen.
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
Jeremiah 29:12-13 ESV
All snowflakes begin the same way. High in the sky, a tiny piece of dust collides with a cold droplet of water creating an ice crystal. As the ice crystal descends to earth, it moves through changing atmospheric conditions and responds in the creation of a snowflake. A beautiful and uniquely formed snowflake complete with exquisite patterns and plates. Not one snowflake is the same.
Children are like snowflakes. They start as a miracle, grow and form in the belly of a woman, and then are birthed into this world. Each child enters the world unique and beautifully made. Innocent and new, they do not know who they are or how to navigate the unfamiliar world they have come into.
Children depend on their parents for love and their basic needs. As children grow, parents help guide their children on the path of discovering their gifts, talents, and passions. We want our children to thrive physically, mentally, and spiritually as they grow into the exquisitely designed, healthy adults who they were created to be.
Sometimes, in our zeal to “help” our children discover who they are we often over look important things. Things like our children’s different personalities, priorities, hectic schedules, and most importantly the basic human need of rest. We are an overcommitted society. With good intentions, we end up creating and modeling a hurried, busy lifestyle rather than an atmosphere of rest and value on relationships. If we want our children to flourish in their unique person, we must learn to reevaluate our priorities and work to add rest back into our family’s schedule.
The following are ideas to implement rest back into everyday life. Some might be easier to add into your lifestyle than others. Some might require work, priority, scheduling, and practice. The work will pay off with positive results for all family members. Just as a snowflake is formed by the atmosphere around them, so will your children be formed by the environment you foster around them. Make their ascent into adulthood an atmosphere focused on relationships and with a priority to rest.
- Be “interruptible.” Life happens at unpredictable moments. Be mentally prepared to be interrupted when your kids need to talk or want to show you something. Listening to them now will create a habit and desire to talk to you later as young adults.
- Schedule downtime on your family’s calendar! Include your children in scheduling activities on the calendar. Schedule “rest” first and then everything else next. This will show your children that your family makes rest an important priority.
- Make it a date! Give each of your children the gift of quality time with just you. Find care for your other children so that you can focus on one child at a time. You might be surprise at what you learn during your time together.
- Share a family meal together! Research shows that sharing a meal is good for a family’s health and member’s self esteem. Check out the Family Dinner Project for recipes and conversation starters
- Get into a good book! Cuddle on the couch and read together. Reading aloud has many benefits including increasing attention span, building vocabulary and creating lifelong readers. Reading aloud also opens the doors for discussion about life and difficult issues.
- Go take a hike! Get outside and get moving. You may not think of exercise as rest but the benefits of exercise promotes good health, boost energy levels, improve moods, and helps with sleep. It is a great way to spend time together.
Everyone is creative in their own way. God has created each of us with different gifts and talents to be used to reflect His goodness and His image. Creativity is not constrained within the arts, it is included in the processes of thinking, planning, and decision making. Sometimes, we need to remove distractions and shift our perspective so that we can find the creativity that God designed us to enjoy.
At our last MOPS meeting, my creative Co-Coordinator came up with this amazing activity to help us “notice goodness,” “embrace rest,” and to “celebrate lavishly.” We started our meeting by watching an engaging speaker, Kay Morison, talk about the importance of finding our creativity and embrace it as a way to recharge so we can continue to pour into others. She made a point to say that creativity looks differently in all of our lives and it can be found in things like spreadsheets and in runner’s strides.
“Creativity teaches us to be more present in the moment, enjoy the process, and let go of the end result.”
Kay Morrison-Eyes to See…Creativity
After viewing the video, each mom was given a “Noticing Goodness Kit.” The kit contained cardstock, numbers, mat, a heart, and writing prompts. We organized the items on our paper, glued them in place, and waited for the next instruction. My Co-Coordinator asked us to think about the many things we love and then led us through two or three examples, encouraging us to be creative in how we numbered and wrote the items on our paper.
“On your paper, write number one. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of what you love? (PAUSE) Write number two. What is your favorite smell? (PAUSE)”
Once we all had a good idea of what we were to do, she sent us off to find a peaceful, quiet space. Then we were left alone with our thoughts, a pen and our paper.
When you are a mom of little ones, you rarely get 30-40 minutes of alone time without interruptions. The time to think was a gift in itself.
It took me three or four tries to find a comfortable, quiet spot. Once I found a space, I did nothing but sat and breathed. The silence was unfamiliar. A good five minutes went by before I pulled out the prompts and things started coming to mind. Sometimes, they came quickly. Word after word. A few times, I got stuck and sat in silence again. I found that there was no particular order of importance and one word/memory often led to many other things that I loved. Before I knew it I had 100 items on my paper. I could have kept going.
I reread my list and realized that I had missed things that I absolutely love- chocolate-chip cookies, apple picking, Santa Claus, running, the 4th of July. I also realized that I missed many memories- Story Land with my family, going to Cape Cod, my wedding, soda floats in chemistry beakers with my grandpa, and watching Days of Our Lives with my aunt.
It did not matter what I missed or how many things I forgot. This was not a checklist-type of activity. No bonus points for the best or most unique item. This was practice in opening our eyes to notice the goodness in the every day, in the smallest moments, with the people who you do life with. It was also helped us embrace rest and to celebrate lavishly in what we accomplished.
You do not have to have a special kit to complete this activity. Grab a piece paper. Find 30 minutes of “quiet” time- maybe at nap time or when the kids go to bed. Start one at a time and number your items. I think you find yourself opening up as you go. If you get stuck, here are a list of prompts that you can use: 100 Things I Love Prompts
If you need even more inspiration, check out these pins and the different ways others have completed this type of project:
If you do get a chance to do this activity, I would love to hear your thoughts and how you did.
Embrace your creativity!
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
I bravely and joyfully walked up to my unknown neighbor’s walkway and stood ready to ring the doorbell. The feeling was a familiar one. I felt as if I was fifteen-years old again, carrying the tattered Romans Road prayer card in my hand, confidently uncertain I had the right words to lead anyone to the One who could save their soul from eternal damnation. Now much older and more confident, I held another tattered book in my hand and looked out over the beautiful faces of my group. It wasn’t the First Baptist Youth Group Evangelism Team that stood in front of me. It was twenty-five, enthusiastic, joyful church members holding matching tattered books-caroling books ready for adventure. They were my fellow companions on an adventure of song through the church neighborhood. Our mission, to spread Christmas cheer and joy to our neighbors.
Up until today, my caroling experience was limited to junior high choirs and visitations to nursing homes. I had never been caroling door to door before. We only had a loose plan. Walk, sing, and ring a doorbell here and there. It seemed easy enough and I was fairly confident it would be great fun. I was not prepared for what God had prepared for this day.
At each house, we sang a few songs, presented a kid-made Christmas card, and asked if there was anything we could pray for with them. No questions about knowing where they were going when they died, no judgments, and certainly no expectations. To our surprise, many people shared their stories of hurt, pain, and loneliness and so many people accepted the invitation for prayer. Humbly we prayed, lovingly we hugged, and joyfully we sang and smiled.
The world needs more HOPE, LOVE, and JOY.
I came back home on a Holy-Spirit high! I was so grateful and so humbled that God entrusted us with this type of “work.” In between my thinking and praising, I started to visualize a red line, like a ribbon, that stretched back to my childhood, trailing through present time, and continuing on through my unknown future.
Following the red ribbon back in time, I came to many different situations, opportunities, and experiences which seemed normal at the time. Everyday living, everyday interactions, everyday moments now seemed sacred and holy. Some of those encounters with people, places, and experiences specifically prepared me for the work God has for me to do now AND the work He has for me to do in the future.
My family, the church I grew up in, the correspondence Bible classes at age eight, prayer meetings that lasted long into the night, Christian friends/non-Christian friends, Southern Baptist summer camp, street evangelism with my youth group, college, separation from the Lord, teaching, and marrying my then teacher-now pastor husband. Some of these moments were fun, great, and exciting. Some of these moments were trying, painful, and paralyzing. But each of these moments stand as a marker, an ebenezer, of God’s help and faithfulness on the red line of my life.
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
I have no idea what’s in store for me next but God does. Some days, I am guilty of spending enormous, wasteful amounts of time feeling anxious, worried, and fearful about what the future will hold. I dwell on the next big thing the Lord is calling me to do, all the while almost missing out on what He has planned for me to do right at that moment. I can drive myself loopy with all that thinking. And while, it is good to think about future plans, dream, and prepare; it is wrong to be so caught up with worry and fear that you cannot seek the Lord with your whole heart.
We have a short time left in this year. This season comes so many emotions. If you are dealing with an anxious, hurting, fearful heart, I encourage you to ask God to replace the worry, fear, and weariness with peace, hope, love, and joy. If it is difficult to do, try following your red ribbon back in time, searching for markers of God’s faithfulness. You might be surprised what you find. Some markers will be easy to locate, wrapped in lots of red ribbon and right out in the open; but others might be hidden, tied with a simple bow waiting to be pulled out and discovered. Each marker is a gift from our Lord and our hope and assurance that our future rests in Him.
Live out each day for what it is. Embrace the people and interactions that come into your path. We may never know how God will use them in our future or in the future of another person. Lastly, enjoy! Enjoy this season for the hope that it brings and the peace that is offered. Embrace it all with the Lord’s help.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[for those who are called according to his purpose.”
She rummaged through her wallet searching for something specific. Her soft, aged, wrinkled hands worked tediously through each pocket and in and out of every fold. She knew that it was there but where it was she was not certain. The rest of us looked on in great anticipation as to what object would be pulled from its hiding place. With a smile and a sigh, she pulled out what seemed to be a photograph. She motioned me over and gently placed it in my hand. I looked down to see a handsome man dressed in 70’s fashion. His brown eyes twinkled. His smile was warm and welcoming. Pointing to the picture, she told me it was her son. I turned over the picture to find words scribbled on the back- “Husband. (man’s name.) Married 67 years. Three children (children’s names.)” The program director broke the silence with a little light-hearted humor and reminded the aging woman that the picture was not of her son but of her husband. A funny statement was made and everyone laughed.
There was great care and respect in the interaction between the director and the woman. A familiarity and trust in the way they looked at each other and spoke. The elderly woman smiled warmly at me and gave me a silent nod. I handed her back her treasured photograph and smiled back with a lump in my throat. Sixty-seven years with a man, three children later, and a whole life lived and the details were blurred and hard to recall.
I wasn’t supposed to be there. Through a series of unplanned, God-orchestrated events, I was found myself filling in for my pastor husband at our church’s monthly non-denominational church service that we facilitate for the residents of the dementia and memory care home in our local community. I had never been to the service before and my husband had given me a 5 minute orientation about how to get there, what to do when I got there, and then told me to come up with some short message to share. One other church member, Evie, would be leading the singing. She had never been there before either.
We were led through a maze of hallways and locked doors, and invited to enter a bright, warm room. There were about ten comfortable chairs placed alongside the walls. Four residents silently occupied four of them. One other resident, a friendly, animated man was seated in a wheel chair near the door. Fall decorations were hung from the ceiling and wooden crafts the residents had made were displayed along the walls. A big, bright window and large ,framed, New England foliage pictures added light and cheer to the small room.
A few introductions were made and large-print hymnals were passed around the room. Evie announced the page number of the first hymn and started us through the first verse. In between the familiar words and phrases, I glanced over at the residents singing. Their mouths moved at different times. Wrong words and phrases escaped their lips. With the exception of Evie’s voice, each song sounded off-key, off pitch, off melody, and sung with poor rhythm. BUT each song was sung with great enthusiasm and joy. The residents sang from their hearts with confidence and peace.
With great reverence they listened to and joined me as we recited Psalm 23 and The Lord’s Prayer. We talked about Jesus and the greatest commandment to love God and love others. There seemed to be a trust and familiarity with the songs and the passages for the residents. It was a sacred place and moment. There was unity as we were connected together to a past of a rich tradition of faith held by all those who have gone before us.
With their worlds becoming blurry and details slipping away daily, these timeless truths woven beautifully into hymns and passages, have been locked and stored in the hearts and souls to serve as anchors of hope and comfort.
When everything is gone and has been stripped away, the thing that truly matters remains… love and Jesus.
I have been thinking a lot about this and what is going to matter when I get to the end of my earthly journey. What legacy will I leave? The hours spent worrying about things out of my control. Petty arguments and disagreement with others. Guilt, shame, bad decisions, and fretting over dumb stuff. Things that seem so important now, when they are stripped away what will remain? Certainly, not earthly comforts or physical strength.
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Matthew 24:35
My visit with these sweet, elderly people did more for me than I could ever do for them. Before I left, I took each one of their velvety smooth, wrinkled hands in mine and I looked them in their eyes as if I could see deep into their souls. I hoped with every part of me that they felt loved and filled with comfort and peace. In the short time I spent with them they helped me put things in perspective. They set me on a path to continue to think about what is important in my life and how I am spending this precious time I have on Earth. But most importantly, they were a testimony to me of the kind of things I should be setting my eyes on and storing in my heart and soul for a future that one day will come.
It is Well With My Soul by Horatio G. Spafford, 1873
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well, (it is well), with my soul, (with my soul),
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.