How Can This Be?

Last week, I was rereading Mary’s story in the Gospel of Luke. Mary, a young virgin, engaged to Joseph, a man of good lineage. Her engagement was part of socially acceptable plans, plans that would provide her security in life. She might have thought of her future often, preparing herself to be a wife, dreaming of what it might be like to be married. Every day that went by was one day closer to those plans coming to fruition. Then something happened that would change everything. God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary with an incredible message that would challenge her plans and replace them with a new calling from God.

I can only imagine the thoughts and questions racing through her mind as she tried to process the impossible things the angel was saying- “You will conceive. You will give birth. You will name him Jesus. He will be the Son of the Most High.” Although, the Gospel of Luke does not tell us her exact thoughts, it does records one of her questions. A question I think we can all relate to, “How can this be?”

Mary’s first response to this overwhelming information was a question. And her response is similar to many other people in the Bible who also had their days, their plans, their lives interrupted with what seemed like unimaginable missions and impossible callings from God. Callings that would be difficult, go against social standards, and change the trajectory of their lives in order to fulfill the plans of God. In many of their stories, their immediate response to overwhelming information was a “Who am I?” “How can I?” “I am only a….”  

I think many of us have similar first responses to when God calls us to Himself or to His work. While, our circumstances and our callings might be different, the heart of our responsive question is the same- doubt.

“How can this be, since I am a sinner?

“How can this be, since I am unqualified?”

“How can this be, since I do not have the resources?

God’s answer has been, is, and always will be the same. The answer is- “I am with you.” (Exo.3:12; Joshua 1:5, Luke 1:28) We can do the things God calls us to do because of Emmanuel, God is with us. Often, God’s callings come at times that interrupt our carefully crafted plans. They ask us to replace our doubts and fears with faith. He knows your past and your future. He knows where you are lacking and wants to equip and use you in those places for His glory. He knows you don’t have all the resources because He wants to be the One to provide them and He wants you to trust and obey in faith that He will. God fully knows, and has no doubt, that you are the right person for the mission, the job, the good work that He is calling you to do.

Mary didn’t have all the answers or all the details. She didn’t have a spreadsheet, a timeline or a budget. But she did have faith and was told the Holy Spirit would come over her to make this impossible, miraculous thing happen. And because Jesus, we also have the Holy Spirit to encourage us, empower us and remind us- God is with us. Nothing is impossible with God. Anchoring ourselves in those truths and answering God out of a place of faith, our second response can be one of trust and action. We can respond in the same as Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you said about me come true.”(Luke 1:38)


December Acts of Kindness Calendar

Although kindness and charity should be given in every month, December brings a special focus to these things. It’s a month of reflection. An opportunity to focus outward instead of inward. A time to give rather than receive. If you are looking for a few ideas to practice acts of love, kindness and giving to others, check out our plan for December.

Each morning, our Kindness Elves, Amelia and Olivia, will suggest the daily act of kindness to complete as a family. There’s something for everyone on the calendar. Some of the ideas, like donating blood, are obviously for the adults (that’s the one that is going to stretch me the most!) Some of the ideas will take a little longer to complete than others. All of the activities can be done together with each other’s support and encouragement. 

Just a note…This calendar is not meant to add to the holiday hustle and stress. It’s not to give us one more thing to do. Rather, it is a reminder to slow down, gather around a table, have good conversations, create for and think of others as a family. 


Here I Raise My Ebenezer: “Like Sand Through an Hourglass…”

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“Like sands through an hour glass, so are the days of our lives….” The signature words and distinctive tune flowed from the TV. It was one o’clock and I sat comfortable and warm on my aunt’s couch.  With a bright smile, my aunt came over to serve me lunch, a turkey sandwich and a cup of Folgers instant coffee. She sat down beside me like she had done on so many other weekdays.

Over the next hour, we allowed ourselves to be swept up into the drama of Salem and followed the unfolding of the Horton family’s stories. We watched the trials and triumphs of Bo and Hope’s love. We laughed over ridiculous storylines and plots, and debated which characters the writers would bring back from the dead. This was our shared guilty pleasure and this time turned into one of my fondest memories. Memories that had little to do with the soap opera and everything to do with the time we spent.

I didn’t have the years or the perspective to appreciate it then. I knew my aunt was a busy woman- a wife, mom, personal trainer and volunteer- but I didn’t know what it really meant to choose people over to-do lists.

My aunt made it seem like there was nowhere else more important than serving me lunch and spending time with me. She made me a priority. She gave me her full attention and time. How much I wish I could go back and thank her. Thank her for providing me a safe place. Thank her for her hospitality and presence. Thank her for her gentle guidance and inspiration. Thank her for taking time to stop, look, listen and linger.

I can’t go back or even tell her now. My aunt was stolen away from us twelve years ago from complications due to cancer treatments. Even when she was in her hospital bed, weak and in pain, she still managed to smile and made you feel as if you were the only person that she wanted to be with. Her presence offered hospitality. She wanted to hear how you were doing and made sure you knew your situations were just as pressing as what she was going though.

Although I can’t go back, I can move forward. I can be thankful for the time I had with my aunt and put into practice what she modeled. I can be thankful for every day, and what it brings, the good and the disappointing. With intention and sacrifice, I can see each person as an opportunity to encourage and build up, to make them feel valued and special. And make them feel like there is no other place I would rather be than with them in that moment.

Like so many of us, my schedule is busy, expectations are high, the demands and distractions seem unlimited. It’s hard to stop. But time seems to be slipping through my hands more quickly than ever and I’m more of aware of this than ever before. Time and people are precious gifts and to treasure them is wise.

So with these realizations, I’ve been making difficult and intentional choices to stop, look, listen and linger. I’m making space in my schedule by saying no to things and saying yes to people. I’m trying not to be swept up into ridiculous dramas or the fantasies my imagination writes so well. I’m debating over things that need to be let go of, handing them over to God to overcome, and not letting the destructive ones make a reappearance from the dead. I’m always, always, continuing to work at presence with people- with littles and bigs.

It is here I raise my Ebenezer. Thanking the Lord for His help so far. Thanking Him for the strength, energy and grace to get through my days and the reminder that time and people are special gifts. It is here I thank the Lord for the people in my life, like my aunt, who took time for me and modeled what it looks like to stop, look, listen and linger; and what it means to use our precious days wisely before they slip away.

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A Month of Ebenezers

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The cool, salty spray was fresh with hope. Freedom danced in the air and adventure whipped in the wind. The ferry plowed confidently through the rolling waves, moving steadily closer toward to the small island- my new home. Things had happened very quickly in the last few days. It felt like a dream but this was very real.  I looked back at the mainland, straining to see the only life I had ever known. A life of safety and security in family and home; and more recently a life marked with deep regret, painful shame, and shattered dreams. My heart was broken in so many ways. I was lost wanting to be found.

This was the beginning of a season in my life etched by indescribable grace, raw and challenging growth, and sincere gratitude. The slow tempo of the Island offered me a sanctuary for reflection. It was a place where freedom bore new dreams upon windy, high bluffs. Grains of inspiration were discovered on long stretches of sandy beaches. Revelation was abundant and overflowing in every bit of natural beauty.

I spent hours and hours walking. Every step seemed to beat out the pain of the past and moved me forward in a journey of healing. Jesus was undeniably close, patiently waiting for me to acknowledge Him again. And when I did, He met me right where I was- no judgment or condemnation. He quietly listened to my questions, stood by me as I let loose my anger and grief, and didn’t turn away when I bared my shame and surrendered my guilt. He comforted me with love and made me feel like I was the only one who had His attention. From the deepest places of my clouded heart came drops of appreciation that turned into storms of praise.

For the first time in a long time, I was able to hear the Holy Spirit’s quiet voice over the clanging lies, taunts, and distractions that I had given my attention to for so long. The Holy Spirit burned away unwanted things and brightened a flicker back into a flame. He gently guided me through acceptance, helped me turn back to God in repentance, and gave me help, power and protection in the process. I was wanted. I was found. And my response was gratitude and praise! The more I praised, the more I moved forward. The more I moved forward, the more my heart healed. The more I healed, the more I realized who I was and what that meant.

There is a story in the Bible about a battle in which the Lord helped the Israelites to win. In the place where their enemy had been routed, the prophet Samuel set up a “stone of help,” an Ebenezer, saying “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” (1 Samuel 7:12) The “stone of help” would be a reminder of God’s promise, power and protection, always serving as a prompt to praise.

Sometimes through the battles, discouragement, and troubled times it can be hard to be grateful, yet I believe, it’s during these times that our practice of praise and gratitude brings about the richest, most genuine, most powerful praise. Powerful praise that God turns into hope, freedom, and renewal.

Gratitude doesn’t need to be perfect- it’s a process. It doesn’t have to be elegant words- messy emotions from a sincere heart work too. With each step of the journey, wherever God may take you- to windswept islands or a third-floor apartment in an inner city- set up your “stones of help” and use them as a prompts of praise. For the more we praise, the more we realize what we have and the more we have we realize what that truly means.

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Although, every day, in every season, in all circumstances, is a time to be thankful, November is a special month of reflecting on what it means to thankful. I like to take this month to think about how I can better cultivate a heart of gratitude, not only in my life but in our family’s life as well. This month, I am looking back at the Ebenezers I’ve set up in my life. I’m using them as prompts of praise, to tell my story of where the Lord’s help and protection have covered me and where His power is taking me next. Join me!

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Quiet Reflections

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The quieter you become, the more you can hear. –Ram Dass

It couldn’t have been a more perfect ending to the day. The light breeze rippled over the surface of the lake creating a watercolor reflection of the peachy-blue, dusk lit skies. Gentle waves lapped up against the shore in a relaxing rhythm inviting me to slow my breath to its beat.  My family’s silhouettes bobbed up and down in a canoe as they paddled out toward the sunset. Echoes of their laughter bounced back to me with joy. I stood at the water’s edge to take it all in. The scene before me seemed like it was painted just for me. Painted with attention to detail and brushed with peace and love.

The rush to get to camp and the busyness of the day melted off every tense and tired muscle leaving puddles of unwanted, unnecessary stress on the shore. I felt lighter, freer. Peace quieted my mind and made space in my heart to hear. To hear is so much more difficult to do than to listen. At home, I listen to the noise of the world and responsibilities at high volume. But here, at camp, God had cleared my schedule and removed distractions. He quieted the noise and had my full attention. I was ready to receive and hear. And here are a few things I heard…

“Be still, know I am God.” Psalm 46:10

“Let me teach you and give you rest.” Matthew 11:28-29

“You are mine.”  1 John 3:1, 1 Peter 2:9

“I made you in my image, wonderfully and fearfully made, with a purpose.”  Psalm 139:14, Ephesians 2:10

“I delight in you.” Zephaniah 3:17

“I have great things planned for you and your family. “ Jeremiah 29:11

“Let me go first. You are not alone.” Deuteronomy 31:8

“Rest in the confidence of my faithfulness.”  Psalm 91:4

“Enjoy life and all I have given you.” John 10:10

And, “I love you. Abide in my love.” John 15:9, Jeremiah 31:3

God wants to paint a scene of peace and love just for you too. It might not be a lakeside sunset, but He KNOWS how best to get our individual attention with a pursuit of love, grace and mercy. God wants to help quiet our noisy hearts to embrace a quiet one, to move from half listening to wholeheartedly hearing.  So, be ready to be caught off guard (in a good way) and be ready to receive what He wants to you to hear.


The Brief Guide for Summer Living

The Brief Guide for Summer Living

Where have I been? I’ve been taking some time to finish our homeschooling year, wrap up ministries before the summer break, and spend time with family and friends. Time seems to be flying by faster than ever. Each moment seems more precious than the one before. The cliches about time (the ones I heard a million, gazillion times when I had newborn babies) are ALL TRUE!!!

In thinking about time, I’ve been trying to be more intentional with how I spend it and focusing on people and relationships first. This means I’ve been slowing down, sitting down, and quieting down. It’s taken a few weeks to start breaking the habits of busyness. It seems like I am hardwired to be in constant motion (sometimes due to choices and situations; sometimes due to survival of taking care of and living with kids.) It can feel strange, extending, and challenging to slow down but with each moment focused on the less comes more of the life-giving, life-enjoying, and more meaningful things. This heart work is worth it and I have been enjoying it!

Instead of a summer bucket list, I’ve written a “brief guide”  (see above) for how I want to live my summer. It’s the more and less of summer which I hope will lead to creating habits of the more and less of life. I hope you are having a great month and taking time to slow down too. ❤

 


“Shanna, Shanna”

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Our days are filled with urgent and important things vying for our attention. Within the day’s whirlwind of busyness, it’s easy to focus on the urgent and lose sight of the important. It can be a struggle to favor crossing items off our to-do lists to spending unscheduled amounts of quality time with people. It can be difficult, feel uncomfortable, and might seem plain impossible to stop and rest. We have become tightly scheduled and overbooked. White spaces on our calendars are a rare find.
 
And I can be the worst culprit. If I am not intentional, my pace of life can be all consuming and exhausting. I can easily fall into the race of rushing from task to task, place to place, activity to activity. Instead, I want my life to be one of making time for others, resting in my surroundings, finding beauty in the quietest places, and tuning out the voices of the world to focus on hearing His voice. I want my legacy to include, “She made time for others and she loved well.”
 
It’s true, tasks, meetings, errands and chores need to get done but not at the expense of the quiet, more meaningful, and important things in life. There needs to be a balance.
 
This is a real, age-old struggle. In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus enters the home of a woman named Martha. “Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.
 
But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
 
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
 
Just replace, “Martha, Martha” with your name and read it again- “Shanna, Shanna, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.”
 
It grabs your attention, doesn’t it? If that one thing Mary was doing was stopping, listening, and resting at the feet of Jesus, I think following her example would be the best thing we can do today. I want to challenge you to take a few minutes to reevaluate today’s activities and give more attention and focus to the quiet, important things in your life. Relationships, people, listening, cheerfully helping, joyfully serving, answering with kindness- those types of things. I think we will find the urgent things are not as urgent as we thought they would be and the important things are more important and needed than what we thought. Have a great day! ❤