The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars but do life’s common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.
– Robert Louis Stevenson
If we are not careful, we will miss it. We might overlook the joy and satisfaction found in ordinary things. We may fail to notice the extraordinary things disguised as common, everyday experiences. The brilliant lessons masked as seemingly dull duties. Within our routines there are priceless opportunities to build character and relationships, practice joy, and learn how to rest in contentment. These are the sweetest things in life.
Yet so often, these are the very things we cast aside and replace with desires and wants of enticing, more showy and sparkly things. The things we see in our Facebook and Instagram feeds that tempt us to identity crises, make us think we need more, need to do more, and make us question who we are. Envy, entitlement, and discontentment start cracking away at our hearts and seep into places that conquer and steal our attention away from the things right in front of us- the people, the tasks, the little tedious things that are often add up to some of the most valuable things in life.
We must be careful not to miss out on the work of our
present circumstances. Faithful, ordinary work can be the extraordinary beginnings
of dreams coming true. The hard and difficult situations, the ones we wish
would vanish, are battle grounds of victory and strength that may be needed in
the future. The daily grind of dealing with people and their needs can turn
into connections that give us the resources and tools to move our hopes into
new territories of growth and confidence. These are the sweet things, my
My prayer for today is that we see clearly. When we find our
mind and eyes wandering to greener pastures, may our hearts bring us back to the
sweetness of nearer things. To the places and circumstances where good, sustaining
things are found through common, hard work and mature into sweet, beautiful lessons
that bring us lasting joy and satisfaction.
Twenty eighteen went out with a bang. An actual, literal bang.
I was having a great hair day. I had just left my hair stylist and needed to pick up a few things at the store before going home. The traffic was heavy, but I knew a shortcut. I zipped right by the line of cars and laughed at my good fortune of avoiding the long wait. When I arrived at the market, I was even happier and pleasantly surprised to find an open parking space right in the front of the store. Everything seemed to be in my favor!
About one minute later, my positive mood and character were challenged. Pulling into the parking space, I took the turn a little wide. An awful metal scrunching, fiberglass crunching noise accompanied the turn. It took me a minute to figure out what had happened. Did I really just bang into and swipe the PARKED car next to me? I hoped I had imagined the noise, but from the looks of the people passing by, I knew it really happened. I put my van in park, slowly stepped out and shamefully walked around the back. Silver streaks from the front of my van beamed and highlighted the dark gray fender of the other car. Ugh!
The driver of the car was not there. For a split second, I dabbled in the thought of what it would be like not to have a conscience and enjoyed a scandalous moment of how easy it would be to leave the scene. Conviction quickly crushed the faintest of wrong thoughts to a complete close. My conscience and the Holy Spirit gave me forceful push forward into the market on a journey to find the owner of the struck vehicle.
How do you find a stranger in a whole store of strangers?
Embarrassed and annoyed at myself for getting into this situation, I mulled over
the next steps. I called my husband for support. I walked in and out of the store
several times. I talked to myself- possibly aloud. I most likely looked crazed.
I needed help.
It seemed best to start at the market’s little café. I walked up to the hostess and explained my situation. She smiled a gracious smile and told me without criticism that everything was all going to be okay. She tried to encourage me with the fact that most people would have just left (yep! But, no, not an option.) She said she would do what she could to help me find the car’s owner.
Within seconds, the hostess had a team of people in action- she mobilized the servers. She sent word to the employees in the back room and at the serving counters. The open layout of the store provided me a full view of the word being spread. With each person told, I waited to see if they would stand up and move forward to me in annoyance and irritation. It took less than ten minutes to ask everyone and no one stepped forward. I thanked the hostess for her help and walked back out of the door disappointed the situation was not resolved.
Back at the van, I scribbled a note of apology, with my
contact information, on a ripped piece of scrap paper. I tucked it under the
other car’s windshield with a prayer. About thirty minutes later, I received a
phone call from a very nice man explaining he was the owner. “Accidents happen,”
he said. He even thanked me for being an outstanding person for taking responsibility.
The hardest part was over, an insurance claim was made, it was all very easy, and
we all went on with the rest of the day.
This small little blip in my day had not destroyed my peace or happiness. It did not wreck my good day nor did it cast a gray shadow over it. This tiny accidental bang gave me one more intentional opportunity to test out some things I had been working on all year.
Growth- my chosen word of the year. Growth in my responses versus my reactions. Growth in my resilience. Growth in the knowledge of what’s important and what’s not. Growth in the ability to ask for help, to let things go, and to be able to accept my mistakes with grace and understanding. These things and more.
If this small incident happened at the beginning of 2018, at a time when I was stretched too thin by over commitments, running around with my priorities out of sort, and in a place of depriving myself grace, this little incident would not have been so little. It would have taken up way more emotional space than it deserved and would have skewed my perceptions of my abilities. It would have left a negative mark on my day.
“All growth depends on activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort. And effort means work.” Calvin Coolidge
In many ways, this was one of the most flourishing years of growth that I’ve experienced since becoming a mother ten years ago. It was also a continual season of hard work provided by challenging situations that were taxing physically, emotionally and spiritually. I experienced both the pain and beauty of growing. And it often came in unexpected ways at unexpected times.
The most important thing for me, was to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18.) With this as the foundation (or soil,) everything else I wanted to grow in would flow from it- the way I think, act, respond and love. When we are rooted in a place of truth, secure in our identity of Christ, and nourished by the grace and love of Jesus, the perfect atmosphere of growth is created. The more I meditated on things of God, the more I felt a greater inclination to change and an intentional shift to focus more on life’s important things.
When we are rooted in a place of truth, secure in our identity of Christ, and nourished by the grace and love of Jesus, the perfect atmosphere of growth is created .
My priorities needed to be rearranged. I reevaluated my schedule and our families activities. What once seemed pressing and demanding, seemed like things that could wait. I worked hard to create a balance of work and rest. I wasn’t perfect. Many times things went off-kilter. There were times I felt overwhelmed. But instead of staying in the rushed craze, I used those times of induced stress, hurrying, and irritation to remind myself why the balance was important. I breathed more slowly, lingered with my children longer, asked for forgiveness A LOT, and prayed constantly.
By the work of the Holy Spirit, grace
and love for others grew in ways greater than ever before. My eyes were open
wider to seeing people for who God created them to be and seeing their need to
feel loved and valued in different ways. I tried to take time to sit and listen
to people, give them my attention. I felt (and feel) compelled to hear their
stories, give them a chance to use their voice. I pray my words and actions in
those conversations and interactions, left streaks of grace and love beaming
and highlighting their lives.
The hardest part of growth is the pruning part. The part when things are cut away,and weeded out to make room for healthy growth. This year brought about a lot of change and pruning. I had to say goodbye to expectations, to some people and a role I loved. I had to keep reminding myself that it was all for the good. That it would work out the way it was suppose to, all in the right time. I tried hard not to let the “goodbyes” be a distraction, but allowed myself some time to grieve. I kept moving forward in the direction I felt God calling me too. And I’m still moving. Moving and growing.
The hardest part of growth is the pruning part.
Growth doesn’t halt at 2019. It doesn’t change because a yearly focus word changes. It doesn’t stop, even when we wish it would. It is always a continual process in all our lives. The important thing is what we do with the opportunities and how will we respond to the situations that will grow our character. We will be embrace them? Or with the opportunities make us wither back in fear, anxiety and selfishness?
Growing is not easy. It’s messy, and effort is needed. But the end result is beautiful and good. For many of us, we do not have to grow alone. When we actively seek to grow as a person, desire to grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord, and rely on dependence of Jesus, the courage and strength to do this type of character growing is available to us. There are people who want to help us too. They want to cheer us on, tell us that we are outstanding people (even when we feel unable, messy and foolish) and maybe mobilize a team of other people to help us find the things we need. Let them.
I think all of us should start 2019 with a bang! Hopefully, not an actual, literal bang like an accident. But a bang of growth. It’s a new year to take responsibility. A chance to reevaluate priorities. A time to embrace challenge. And an opportunity to ask for and accept help more often. Be on the lookout for the beauty that comes out of all of it. You may be surprised where you find it. I’m cheering you on. Happy New Year!
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)
“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.
What if we turned things upside down today? What if we gave people what they didn’t deserve and didn’t give them what they did deserve? What if our words and actions were so infused with grace, they were able to disarm negativity, counteract conflict, and give courage and boldness to others when received?
Grace is unmerited love and mercy. It’s an undeserving gift and it’s not easy to give. It’s difficult to bite your tongue in response to a bitter comment or biting criticism. It’s hard to think beyond hurt feelings and bruised emotions and offer forgiveness. It’s tough to be a presence of grace with an offensive person. The message of the world says, “Give ’em what they deserve!” ”You deserve better than that!”
I am not promoting we go around acting like feeble, push-overs, or passive, fake happy people throwing grace around like magical, rainbow fairy dust. Giving grace is a bold, brave, intentional choice. It means choosing to respond instead of react. It means pausing, getting our thoughts together, and then speaking truth in a loving, respectful way. There are many situations that need to be further addressed, processed through, and worked on; but grace is the invitation to a pathway of respectful discussions. Grace can be a gateway to a journey of healing and restoration.
As a follow of Christ, we do not have to rely on our power to be a grace-giver. We shouldn’t. We have access to power, life-supporting love and strength through the Holy Spirit. By excepting and receiving God’s grace, we in turn can extend grace to others with God’s help.
10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. -1 Corinthians 15:10 NIV
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. -Hebrews 4:16
So today, join with me in the practice of grace giving– and keep in mind, there will be a time when we are in need of grace too. ❤
I had the most beautiful, most vivid experience this week. Every month, my church joins with other churches in our area to pray for families, churches, and our community in strategic and relevant ways. Each church takes one day to pray for twenty-four hours in what we call One Church-One Day. ¹
On Wednesday morning, at 6:00 AM, my church’s prayer chain ended. Morning time is my favorite time with its quiet, peaceful sounds and the songs the birds and insects make. I walked out onto my deck to sit down to enjoy the morning with my coffee and my thoughts. About fifty people from my church family had been praying, one hour each, over the twenty-four hour period, and I love to think about all those people united in prayer.
The morning was dark gray with threatening storm clouds hung overhead. The air was still and there was no sound. No birds tweeting, no crickets chirping, no crows cawing. Just stillness and silence. I thought it strangely wonderful to have such silence after twenty-hours of offering up words and petitions to God.
At almost exactly 6:30 AM, the silent morning was abruptly transformed into a rushing, loud crescendo as the heavens let loose and rain poured from the sky. It was almost as if all of our prayers, every single word uttered, had saturated the atmosphere, collecting in a great cloud, and God replied in the music of the rain- as if saying I hear you, every word I heard, and now I will hold your prayers safe in my hands and will respond in my timing for my perfect plan.
What a comforting thought! God the Provider- Yahweh Yireh- sending the rain to refresh the earth, support new growth, and wash things clean. I enjoyed the rhythmic raindrops on the roof and side of my house. And peace washed over me.
Fast forward through a busy day of homeschool preparations, housecleaning, kid-caring, errands, and cooking. The rain had stopped sometime during the day and the kids had been outside playing, enjoying the sun. I was in the middle of making dinner when I stopped to glance out the window. Misty, quiet rain was coming down but only one side of our yard. It was an odd sight, and I wondered how a rain cloud could be so precise.
My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of my name, “Mom, Mom, come quick!!!” It’s a rainbow!!! Mom, Mom!!” I ran out of the house to join them and looked up…across the sky, right over our house was a bright, beautiful, complete rainbow!! If it wasn’t for my daughter, I would have completely missed it. Its sight was an extravagant gift, one more reminder of God’s promises and His faithfulness. God sees, God hears, He responds, and He is faithful.
I wanted to share this story as an encouragement. The Bible tells us:
1.) God hears our prayers. He listens to our concerns, our petitions for loved ones and He wants us to tell Him our desires. God cares.
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14
“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:12-13
2.) God responds… sometimes not in the way we want, sometimes not in the way we think, but He always answers. And when it seems silent, keep praying, because He is still listening. In His timing, He will break through the silence.
“He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.” Psalm 91:15;
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Luke 11:9–10
3.) God uses others to remind us of His faithfulness and promises…and we all need reminders now and then. If you are reading this and do not have anyone who can remind you of such things or do not even know where to begin looking for God, find a local church. There are beautiful communities of Jesus-loving people who would love to tell you their stories of God’s faithfulness, pray with you and help you find Him right in your own neighborhood.
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:23-25
“They all joined together constantly in prayer,” Acts 1:14
¹ Here is a helpful information and an amazing model of One-Church, One Day that we used. http://onehopenetwork.org/about/
-your blood makes a roundtrip tour of your body, cleaning and nourishing cells, and returns to your heart²
-251 babies are born worldwide³
That’s a lot of curiosity, care, and new beginnings happening all at once. So imagine what can happen in 158 minutes- the time it takes to drive up north to Joe Dodge Lodge in Pinkham Notch, NH. Fortified by a commencing prayer, each minute of our drive & discussion helped cleanse my mind and nourish my heart with truth and grace. Curiosity weaved its way in and out of our conversation as we shared stories from our summer vacation and pointed out pretty landmarks and quaint New England farms as we drove past. I finally felt as if my mind and my heart were in a good place. I finally felt prepared for a new beginning, ready for a new adventure.
We pulled into the parking lot of the Pinkham Notch Vistor’s Center right around dinner time. Pinkham Notch Vistor’s Center is a main hub of hiking and outdoor activities. Hikers can find a place to rest, get clean, nourish hungry bodies, and purchase gifts and gear. Many trails start and return to the visitor’s center making it a great place for new beginnings and celebrating adventurous ends.
I lugged my pack (and the jumbled mess of three shopping bags full of extra stuff) into our room, dropped it on my bed, and we headed over to the dining hall. Tonight’s dinner was a delicious spicy peanut tofu dish with rice, bok choy, salad, and freshly baked bread. I felt content, comfortable and a little bit tired. Jet lag was still haunting me and beckoning me to bed. A few things needed to get done before I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep for the night- one of the most important things, reorganizing my pack.
We made a quick stop at the shop before going back to our room. Several other people were there quietly looking through racks of items and contemplating the latest weather report. The peaceful library-like atmosphere was suddenly interrupted when rambunctious laughter broke through the comfortable hush.
A couple of Appalachian Trail (AT) Thru-Hikers were standing by the information desk, oblivious to the disruption their loud giggles and boisterous joy made. With a tiny bit of snooping and a little bit of overhearing, I learned they had just come down off the trail (the AT) after hiking and sleeping in the rain for three days. Their plans for the night included eating pizza and staying at an AT hostel/campground in a neighboring town. But they needed to get there first. They bounced off towards the candy section and I went to the front desk to purchase a map. No one was at the desk when I arrived, so I waited patiently, enjoying the fact that nothing was on weighing on my mind and I had no other place to go. Within a few minutes, the absent cashier returned with the two happy hikers.
She had been trying to find them a ride into Gorham (about 15 minutes away) and now was apologizing for not being able to find anyone to help. The two thru-hikers told her it was no problem, not to worry, they could and would just walk. It was getting dark and I was intrigued and interested to hear their story. I looked over at Jennie, Jennie looked at me. We read each other’s mind, “Why not? Why not start our new adventure with some new friends?” And I blurted out, “We can take you.”
They were happy! We were happy! Everyone was happy! All the happiness felt like an energy boost of contagious joy! Off we went to Gorham, the two thru-hikers, Jennie and I and their gear. Introductions were made, their trail names are Hero and Gazelle. Gazelle has been on the trail since February and she’s planning to finish the 2,181 mile hike by August 29th. I can’t remember how long Hero has been on the trail but he will finish shortly after Gazelle. They are both NO-BO Hikers- that’s AT Hiker terminology for North Bound, starting in Georgia and finishing at Mt. Katahdin in Maine.
Our two very joyful, very grateful thru-hikers had a wealth of hiking knowledge they were very willing to share with us. We fired away with all the questions we could think of. They gave us information about camping on the trail. They told us they go off-trail and stay in a hotel once a week. How nice a shower and clean sheets feel after a week on the trail!
Me, Gazelle, Jennie, Hero at Mr. Pizza
We talked about what to pack and learned a new hiking term- a shakedown. A “pack shakedown” is a final sorting and getting rid of unneeded items. Gazelle told us that if any of her friends want to go hiking with her, she shakedowns their packs. Many of things she listed off as unneeded, I had one (or two) already packed in mine. I had some major work to do when we got back to the lodge. One note, Hero and Gazelle were not completely unreasonable. They both agreed you should have something in your pack that might not be necessary, but makes you happy- for Hero it was Starbursts and Fritos for Gazelle. Both food items…. hmmm… I had food items, toiletries, a lot of extra clothing, AND several items that just made me happy…
Before went our separate ways, Jennie and I to shakedown our packs and Hero and Gazelle to devour their pizza, Hero left me with his mom’s email address to use as a hiking-hotline for questions (more about later.) Gazelle left me with one last piece of advice- not everyone’s advice is good for everybody. You have to find and do what’s best for you!
My pack and the jumbled mess of stuff. Picture taken during the shakedown.
Jennie and I drove back to the lodge in high spirits. We were motivated and inspired to lighten our packs and remove all unnecessary items. It took some time, packing, repacking, sorting, and discarding. While I didn’t remove any toiletries items (I really couldn’t think of doing without them then), I did take out a lot of my snacks (I always have way more than I think I need) and I cut down the amount of clothing I was taking. I went with Gazelle’s advice to wear a pair of clothes and have another pair dry in your pack. I like clean clothes but I do not like to have to the carry extra weight so I thought for three days, just three days, I would have to be okay with stinky, sweaty, dirty, unclean clothes- #firstworldproblems
With our packs ready for the morning, we headed back to our room for what we hoped would be a good night’s sleep. Jennie and I set our alarms for 6:30 AM to ensure we would have enough time to eat breakfast and catch the hiker shuttle to the Carter- Moriah Trailhead by 7:30AM. What a day it had been! We said goodnight, turned off our lights, and I finally gave in to jet lag as it drifted me off to my last night of CLEAN sleep.