Sunday, August 12, 2018

That One Time God Hijacked Netflix...


Charles Stanley interrupted my Netflixing at 1:00am. I was halfway through one of my House Doctor episodes when the TV suddenly went black. The remote sat untouched on the arm of the chair, and I sat confused nestled down in the couch cushions. After a brief black screen, Charles Stanley – in all of his suit and tie glory – appeared behind a polished wooden pulpit out of nowhere. Now, I know too much about God to ignore something like that. As much as I wanted to see the chimney breast’s new wallpaper and updated master bedroom, I knew God was after my attention. I resisted the urge to grab the remote and troubleshoot the issue. 

Earlier in the evening, while in a bit of a funk, I asked God for guidance in my spiritual life during a half-hearted journaling session. A few hours later, the power of the Holy Spirit broke through my complacent cookie-eating and chocolate-almond-milk-drinking pity-party to remind me of His power…and to show me point-blank how much I’ve been blatantly ignoring Him.

The past few weeks I’ve found myself dragging – up too late at night, in bed too late in the mornings, always trying to play catch-up. My lovely boys have seemed too loud, too much, and too needy. My husband has seemed too busy, too impatient, and too insensitive. I’ve been struggling to handle it all and instead of running to God and begging for his help, I’ve done my best to “just keep swimming” until I’m barely treading water. This whole time, I imagine God has been right beside me, just waiting for me to ask for His strength to continue. To cry out for his reserves of patience and energy. To diligently pray for guidance not just to make it through the day, but to thrive each day.

I have a terrible history of thinking that being self-sufficient is somehow godly or beneficial. That people who muse about “letting go and letting God” aren’t really trying – that they’re guilty of some pie-in-the-sky mindset that little songbirds are going to flit through their windows and clean their kitchen. I’ve often harbored the idea that God is needed so much more in Somalia and Afghanistan and China that I should just handle my life to the best of my abilities. In doing so, I’ve put God in a box. I’ve denied the Holy Spirit access to my heart and mind, and I’ve set myself up to think that I’m capable of loving my husband and children in my own power. I’ve placed my own needs last by not making time to sit in His presence. When I don’t drink the living water, how can I provide a peaceful home for my family?

The Holy Spirit is there.

When I’m struggling, it’s because I’m living in the flesh. I’m trying to take care of my family through my own power – not relying on The Helper. He has given me the capacity and enabled me to do everything God wanted me to do at this particular age and this particular circumstance, throughout the rest of my life.

He who has indwelled me and is running over inside of me is my guardian; the source of my energy, power, and purpose. Jesus Christ forgave my sins when I asked him, and the Holy Spirit sealed me at that moment. I immediately received the Holy Spirit. That receiving was instantaneous, but living it out is a lifelong process. He convicts me, forgives me, guides me, and guards me.

He intends for me to live for Him by trusting in Him every single day. (Luke 24:47-49, Mark 16:15)
I need to claim the presence and power of the Holy Spirit of God. I need to stop relying on myself and lean on Jesus, who is living in and through me. He is prepared to equip me…but I must be prepared to let Him lead. The power of the Deity is living inside of me, but if I’m not acknowledging or claiming Him, I’m ignoring him. He did not ask me to do the best I can. I am designed to do what the Spirit of God will enable and allow me to do.

The Power of the Holy Spirit is God’s divine energy and authority released in the life of the believer for the purpose of godly living and fruitful service. (So says Charles Stanley. I know because I took sermon notes in the middle of the night. While not watching Netflix.)

I’m equipped with the presence of the Holy Spirit, but I’ve been attempting to live in my own power. I haven’t given myself the time and space to sit in His presence, to reflect on His power, and to genuinely ask for His guidance. Lately, I’ve been overwhelmed, exhausted, stressed, and spread too thin. In the midst of it all, I have not stopped once to seek His help. I haven’t made time to seek His presence or counsel. He’s my seal, my salvation, my life. He wants me to live in His strength, His power, His life, for His glory and honor. To be spirit-filled means confessing, repenting, yielding, surrendering, acknowledging His ownership, and allowing Him into every nook and cranny of my heart and mind.

So, in response to my cursory prayers of “What should I do, God?” he gave me a very clear and concise answer! I will be looking up verses about the Holy Spirit and researching the Greek and Hebrew words referring to the Holy Spirit. I will be daily asking for His guidance and wisdom. And with his guidance and wisdom, I will be reading through Proverbs to hide that wisdom in my heart.  

Ask and ye shall receive...even in the doldrums of midnight Netflixing. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

My One Word


Since 2015, I've prayerfully considered and carefully chosen one single word to focus on each year. In lieu of New Year’s resolutions, My One Word allows me to cut through the ever-present pressures and white noise of life. At the end of 2014 I was juggling a new baby and a two year old; I was overwhelmed by parenting two little boys, preparing for the homeschooling adventure, and attempting to keep my head above water with household duties. The word nurture helped me rightly order my priorities. I needed to nurture my children, nurture my marriage, and -- most importantly -- nurture my relationship with God. That focus word became a lifeline while navigating the adventure that was 2015.

As 2016 loomed on the horizon, I longed for a purposeful vision that would sustain my hopeful family ideals. God placed the word intentional on my heart, and I began to focus on it with laser precision. By the summer of 2016, I had permanently deleted my Facebook account in an effort to be fully present for my husband and kids. I intentionally invested in specific books, authors, and podcasts that spoke into my life in a meaningful way. My broad and wide friendships were culled down to a small handful of deep and intentional relationships that can weather any storm. The ebb and flow of this intentional lifestyle anchored me to Christ and kept unnecessary distractions at bay.

As the sun set on 2016, the pace of life had quickened beyond our comfort level; the dawn of 2017 found my husband and I in need of rest. Simplify became the cry of my heart. We cut out activities that kept us on the go -- to include bible studies and marriage-building classes at church -- choosing instead to focus on our family at home. I purposefully stopped blogging for most of the year in an effort to simplify my mind and heart. It became a time of sheltering-in-place to build a biblical foundation that will (hopefully) sustain our family for generations to come. Instead of a weekly women's bible study, I began to read the weekly Torah portion. As a family, we simplified life by celebrating biblical holidays rather than getting caught up in cultural, quasi-religious agendas that, in the past, just kept our wheels spinning. Friday nights have become a beautiful celebration of God's commandment to rest; Shabbat dinners at the dining table on Granny's fine China are now the highlight of each week. Far be it from me to alter our Shabbat routine -- my children won't allow it! Living a simplified life has blessed our family beyond anything I could have imagined in January of 2017.

Looking back, I can see how living a nurtured life led to an intentional vision of simplification. During the times I neglect nurturing my soul with God's word, my stress levels rise and I become an impatient, graceless mess. If I allow myself to get caught up in the endless oblivion of my phone screen, I lose intentionality and am carried along by wisps and whims of nonsense. My family deserves better...and so do I. Were I to try and sign my kids up for every enrichment activity under the sun, we'd end up cranky and stressed from overextending ourselves. It's my responsibility to carefully weigh our commitments and simplify family life. I am the gatekeeper and guardian of our home, may I not be caught sleeping or chasing after the wind during these precious, formative years.

As yet another year draws to a close, I am brimming with hope and possibility for 2018. The word flourish has been flitting and fluttering through my heart for the past couple of weeks; I long to see how God uses this new One Word to guide me through the next twelve months. I will continue to nurture my family and my soul. I will seek to be intentional in all of our dealings and decisions. I will carefully simplify anything that can possibly be simplified, and -- with God's help -- I will flourish in the process!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Childhood Adventures

This week we embarked on a much-needed family vacation to the prairies and mountains of Oklahoma. The beginning of June brought with it one week of vacation bible school, immediately followed by the annual Classical Conversations Parent Practicum. My brain was full as a tick by the time practicum ended. Mark had a particularly busy week at work -- his birthday proved to be an especially busy day. We were all plumb tuckered out and ready for some fun! (Now that I've reached my southern colloquialism allotment for this particular post, I'll move on to our actual adventure.)

Happily, this getaway mirrored many of the family vacations of my own childhood. Fort Sill, the Wichita Mountains, The Holy City of the Wichitas, museums, ice chests packed to the brim, and a lifetime of memories -- what more could we want?! Part of the reason we chose this location was because of my own experiences...the other part is that we were limited by a three-year-old's bladder and a five-year-old's capacity to sit still in the car. Car-naps aside, those limits were both tested! Fortunately, we chose an extend stay hotel with free laundry amenities; I washed pee-pants and a urine-soaked (albeit waterproof!) car-seat cover soon after our arrival.


The Wichita Mountains are so unsuspectingly beautiful. From far off they don't seem like much, but closer inspection reveals prairies bursting with color and gorgeous rock formations. It was exactly as I remembered...but better! The Holy City revealed a few forgotten surprises -- the Ten Commandments section left me giggling with nostalgia. As a girl, I thought it was so neat to see and hear the story of Moses receiving the Torah up close and personal; it was so fun watching Asher experience it for the first time! Granted, it's a roomful of dusty mannequins older than I am, but they're tied to happy parts of my childhood.

The boys had fun following Daddy through the rocky paths and dirt trails snaking through biblical scenery. The chapel held an unexpected surprise when a little bird flitted and twitted about over our heads, then perched on the cross at the altar. Keane thought that was particularly hilarious! My heart swelled with joy watching our boys explore the lovely landscape. We'll definitely plan a return trip when the weather is cooler. It was nearly ninety degrees by the time we reached the top of Mount Scott for a quick peek at the valleys below.


Before leaving the hotel room that morning, Asher said, "Mom, I really hope we get to see some buffalo in the Wichita Mountains." I prayed aloud that God would allow us to see just one buffalo, and told Asher to wait and see if God would answer our prayer. We passed a few herds of longhorn as we drove...but no immediate buffalo sightings. It took a bit more exploring, but we came across one lonely buffalo, resting in the prairie grass! The boys were thrilled, and Asher immediately recognized that God answered our prayer. (For the record, they named him Buffy the Buffalo.)


Fort Sill was a treasure trove for Asher, although Keane was less impressed because he was sleepy. I was glad to have the assistance of a helpful attendant with a handy map to fill in my memory gaps. I remembered bits and pieces, but time had marred the details. Of course, everything was smaller than I remembered! We enjoyed the air conditioned buildings, but braved the ninety-nine degree heat to find a 155mm howitzer -- one of the guns that my grandfather shot during WWII. Asher thought it was so special to get to see it! He was a trooper, combing through countless pieces of military equipment until we found the right howitzer. (I had no idea there were so many makes and models from so many countries on display at Fort Sill!)


There were so many occasions where Asher looked up at Mark and I to tell us thank you for taking him to Oklahoma. Keane enjoyed exploring the hotel room and watching the prairie dogs run around with each other. I enjoyed spoiling them a little more than usual with souvenir shopping...Mark just rolled his eyes and went with it! Watching the boys have special moments with Daddy made my heart smile, too. We returned home exhausted, yet full of sweet memories that we'll talk about for the rest of our lives!

Monday, February 13, 2017

To a Thousand Generations


Before my children were born -- or even a glimmer in my eye -- I prayed they would come to know and love God at an early age. As they grew in my womb, I asked God to place his hand on them and lead them according to his plans. With each passing day, I pray they see me following Yeshua...and see his covering grace every time I fail.

Soon after Asher turned four years old, he began telling us he wanted to ask Jesus into his heart. My husband and I would tell him what a wonderful idea it was, that it was such an important decision, and we would encourage him with prayer and scripture. But we didn't sit him down and walk him through "the prayer" -- we wanted him to have a full understanding and not ever look back and feel coerced. We wanted him to see it as a transformative life decision...not just a quaint, feel-good prayer.

Six months went by with him persistently asking about accepting Christ. I sought the wisdom of my father, who (coincidentally) dealt with a certain daughter asking those same questions at age four. We also asked our family pastor about his thoughts on Asher's age and ardent interest in following Jesus. He provided us with a book that thoroughly explained the gospel in a way that children could understand...and Asher insisted we begin reading it.


In between chapters, I took to hiding the book under a stack of my books; I wanted him to have to hunt for it when he was in the mood to read and learn more. We took about nine weeks to slowly and methodically make our way through the four-chapter book, at his leading. One Friday evening after our family Shabbat dinner, he dug the book out from underneath my Bible. "Let's read this, Mom."

I told him that we were on the last chapter, and it was the chapter about choosing to follow Jesus. Without any hesitation, he told me that he wanted to finish the book and ask Jesus into his heart right then. No more waiting. He wasn't going to let us put him off one more night. At three months shy of being five years old, my son knew what he wanted. Who was I to squelch the Spirit after almost nine months of prodding?

With Keane in my lap and Asher snuggled in Mark's, we sat together as a family for this holy occasion. We spoke of belief, acceptance, repentance, and following Jesus. We prayed and hugged and called grandparents and celebrated with all of Heaven!


One week later, our family and friends gathered in our yard to celebrate Asher's baptism. My father honored us by reading scripture, sharing wisdom, and praying. With the same hands that welcomed his little body into the world, my husband and I gently lowered him into the water, and raised him up to walk in the newness of life in Christ Jesus. His little buddies all had front row seats -- everyone clapped and cheered as he emerged dripping wet and full of smiles! I pulled out my granny's fine China and we shared a meal of fellowship.


Faith. Family. Friends. Food. It was reminiscent of the early church, meeting in homes and sharing the joys of life! It was a day I will forever cherish in my heart.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A Season of Blessings and Thanksgiving



Late summer and early autumn swirled with Texas heat and ran high with emotion. We buried my grandmother in late August, started homeschooling in September, and tried to find a new life rhythm throughout many illnesses in October. The funeral brought with it hard questions from my four-year-old son. “Mommy, if you go to heaven before me, who will take care of me?” He would break down in tears for missing his great-grandma a few times a week. This little boy of mine has dealt with difficult things and shown wisdom beyond his years.

In this midst of trying to settle into a new normal, my two year old somehow managed to get salmonella poisoning; he’s an ardent thumb sucker, so he picks up germs like a magnet. We’ve gotten to the point of keeping him home from the church nursery – every couple of weeks he contracts some respiratory illness or stomach virus – my husband takes Asher to his class and volunteers at guest check-in, while I stay home with Keane and attempt to watch the sermon online. I’ve become a bible study dropout as well as a marriage class dropout…for the sake of keeping my little family unit sane and somewhat healthy.

The changing of seasons has brought a restful, hopeful anticipation (hopefully cooler temperatures will soon follow). To prepare my heart for the coming season, I’ve focused on finishing L.R. Knost’s Jesus, the Gentle Parent, as well as cultivating an atmosphere of thankfulness in our home. Amazingly enough, these two endeavors have gone hand in hand. One particular portion from the last chapter of her book birthed a purposeful question in my mind and heart.

She writes:
“So often when we read God’s word we hear what we’ve heard from the pulpit instead of hearing the voice of a Father who loves unconditionally, sacrificially, and eternally. And so often what we’ve heard from the pulpit is accusation, damnation, and condemnation. It’s no wonder we have problems trusting in God’s unconditional love if all we hear are commands, demands, and reprimands echoed in those misguided voices…it can feel like…you’re digging and sifting and winnowing your way through years of hearing human interpretations from God’s Word spoken from the pulpit and from Sunday School teachers and Bible camp counselors and parents and friends and relatives, etc…”

Those impactful words led me to this question: Am I listening to echoes of misguided voices, or am I listening to the still, small voice of God?

Granted, I’ve been blessed with fabulous parents, pastors, teachers, and counselors along the way. However, I have also been exposed to more than my fair share of skewed, judgmental, unloving Christians. None of us are perfect. Especially me. I’ll be the first to admit unloving, harsh, judgmental things have lived in my mind and heart, and have been spoken from my lips. I pray that I am forever changed in that regard. I can easily think back to my childhood and recall several poignantly defining moments that are forever etched in my soul. They shaped my views of God, because a child’s first exposure to God is based on the people in his or her life. We are either the hands and feet of Jesus, or a stumbling block in someone else's path.

I remember hearing about the scandal of a pastor’s daughter’s teenage pregnancy…and I don’t remember any kind words said about that situation as it was whispered between the adults at church. I would have been four or five at the time, and I still remember the lack of grace. When I was in the seventh grade, I witnessed firsthand women from our church, who we called friends, tease my mother behind her back. I guess most people assume children don’t pay attention or won’t remember – I definitely did both. As a young teenager, I witnessed an adult youth group leader remove various students’ True Love Waits cards from a bulletin board when there were rumors of premarital sex. Inadvertently, I was taught to be judgmental and harsh from this lack of grace played out by those I looked to for guidance.

For me, based on my history of experiences, I know how easy it is to slip into those old mannerisms, because those old voices still roll around my heart and head. For better or worse, they became part of my formative years. My goal as a parent is to never let my children experience those types of behaviors in our home. I can’t control the outside world, but I can control the people we welcome into our lives. I can control my own words and responses to situations. I can teach grace and love by modeling them in my speech and actions.

As a pastor’s daughter, I’ve heard more of my father’s sermons than I can count, but one of the lessons I most remember came not from the pulpit, but at a restaurant. My family was eating lunch at Chili’s on a Sunday afternoon in Mansfield, TX. It was very busy from the church lunch rush, and our waitress was remiss in refilling our drinks the entire meal. When the check came, I urged my father not to leave a tip, because she had given such poor service. As I watched him write in an amount for the tip, I objected once more. He spoke words that I will never forget as long as I live, and bring tears to my eyes even now: “Robin, it’s called grace.” I remember feeling speechless, a major feat for my talkative teenage self.

Four words, not a three-point sermon, are what I’ve held on to throughout my adult years. I have been the recipient of God’s unfathomable grace more times than I’ll ever know. It’s that type of grace and love that I long to impart to my children. It’s this particular season of the year that heralds such a message. Before the craziness of Christmas comes the quiet of Thanksgiving. I will work to create a loving, graceful, thankful environment in my home. I will teach by living instead of simply speaking. I will strive to cultivate a safe, nonjudgmental space that speaks truth in love. The past couple of days have found me working to implement tangible traces of grace in our home. I’ve created a list of family goals for November, and have made a Doxology printable (complete with a photo I took in our neighborhood’s nature preserve). We begin our mornings by lighting our Thankful Tree and singing the Doxology. While these may not be monumental for my young children, they work to bring a sense of peace, calm, and an attitude of gratitude to my mama-heart. I pray you will find the same in this season of life!



Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Our Shalom Summer


Late spring and early summer proved to be a bit busy for our family. My husband and I were involved in a Sunday evening marriage enrichment course and a Thursday evening discipleship study -- long nights for two little boys, lots of homework for Mommy and Daddy, and about twelve weeks of being stretched thinner than usual. Both courses greatly enriched our lives, and we came away from the experiences with a bevy of new friends. Win-win! We were also ready for a break...which led to our laid-back, Shalom-style summer. Lots of rest and peace for this family!


In the weeks since, we've kind of sheltered-in-place at home. I've been planning and prepping for homeschooling, spending more time in the kitchen, and allowing my mind and heart space to breathe. Nearly two months ago, I permanently deleted my Facebook account...and it has made a world of difference! Motherhood is my current mission and ministry, and I needed to prune away distractions for my own sanity. Over the past several weeks, a handful of people have asked me when I'm coming back to Facebook; I'm so relieved to say, "Never!"


This time has also allowed me to finalize our core values and family mission. Our core values came about when I was listening to a Wild+Free homeschooling podcast. Our goal for homeschooling is to create disciples and life-long learners who marvel at the world and how it works -- I chose our core values based on the goals we want to achieve as a family, and the lifestyle I want our children to value. The idea for our family mission was born out of our discipleship group; I got the idea when we were talking about how our lives fit into God's story, and how he is the author and perfecter of each of our stories. Hopefully, it will keep us mindful of our purpose.

  

The boys and I have started making sourdough bread -- they make wonderful messes while learning about fermentation and feeding the starter. Keane is a big fan of burying his hands in the einkorn flour, than flapping his arms like a bird. This has proved to be a patience-building exercise for Mommy! My goal is to stop buying pre-made foods; I want them to value what goes into their bodies and appreciate the baking process. They eat their sourdough bread with almond butter (not yet homemade) and jelly (with dewberries and grapes they helped handpick). Next on the homemaking to-do list: homemade kvass with the leftover bread crusts, and then homemade cocoa almond butter. I'll attempt these next kitchen adventures in a few weeks...baby steps!


As a former teacher, I've no doubt over-prepared for our inaugural homeschooling year. My main struggles will most likely be consistency and balance (things I struggle with in my personal life, as well). Although, I do have the benefit of Asher's ultra-consistent personality and his passionate tenacity to learn. He'll keep me on track...probably more than I'd like! I'm so excited to share the adventures of education with my children. It is an honor that God is allowing me to speak truth into their lives, and I do not take this journey lightly.

With the dawn of each new day, I attempt to implement spaces of Sabbath margin. If my heart and mind are intentionally focused on restful Shalom, I find that I'm more patient and peaceful with my family. I've traded the fancy brewing machine for a whistling kettle and teapot; I light candles to create a mellow atmosphere; we listen to music throughout the day instead of allowing the TV to be our constant soundtrack. I also scaled back my photography endeavors, which leaves more time at home with my family. Small things tend to make a world of difference in my home. My days have become a beautiful blend of delicious tea, intoxicating candles, calming essential oils, Andrew Peterson, J.J. Heller, Jill Phillips, and Andy Gullahorn. I lack the time and money for spa days and weekend getaways...but I do have the ability to craft a peaceful home.

Along with scripture, I'm working my way through several books by some of my favorite authors: Sally Clarkson, L.R. Knost, and S.D. Smith. Filling my mind and heart with beautiful words written by inspired authors keeps me focused on truth, goodness, and beauty. It's those very elements that I long to instill in my children. Of course we still endure some crazy, chaotic days, but the foundations of Sabbath and Shalom keep me grounded in the midst of it all.



Thursday, June 23, 2016

My Faith Story


I was raised in a Christian family and vividly remember asking Jesus into my heart at age four. With a childlike faith, I understood that I needed Jesus in my life, and was baptized a few months before my fifth birthday. Growing up, I always knew Jesus loved me and that I was made to worship, serve, and love...but as I became an adult, things weren't as easy as I'd always understood them to be.

I married while still in college, and soon began teaching fulltime. The long hours I kept grading papers, planning lessons, figuring out classroom management, reading endless books, and generally just trying to survive, left me exhausted and nearing depression. In an attempt to maintain a happy demeanor, I ended up spending more time with one of my girl friends than my husband. I was extremely na├»ve and lacked wisdom (although at the time I never would have recognized that about myself) -- I didn't realize I was dealing with depression; I just knew I felt "happier" when we stayed out half the night, laughing and dancing at the bar.

That entire time, I was running from my problems, running from God's grace. It led me down the path of an emotional affair and eventual divorce. I resigned my teaching position. I packed up and moved to England to pursue a very wrong relationship -- under the guise of following my dreams of teaching in another country. A lie to try and hide my blatant sin. My depression deepened because I felt like such a failure to God and my family.

The entire time I was in England, God kept pursuing my heart. I began to read scripture and online devotionals because within my heart of hearts, I knew the only way out of the pit of pain and depression was through Jesus.

Early one morning on the train from Cambridge to London, I broke down and called my parents. Through that difficult phone call, I began to admit the extent of my sin; they responded with God's love and grace. I knew I deserved their anger and disappointment, but they chose to offer the healing balm of holy love. Over the next couple of weeks, I filled in the gaps and details of my hidden story via email...and again they extended grace, filling the dark places of my heart with hope.

I remember sitting in Westminster Abbey during an Easter service, tears streaming down my face. In the midst of a beautiful liturgy, I knew that God never gave up on me. No matter how far I ran or how badly I messed up, he wasn't finished with me. Not long after that, I came back home to face the consequences of my decisions. Through it all, God placed people of faith and encouragement in my path to speak truth into my life. He kept tangibly reminding me he loved me, and that I was worthy of his love. I was never beyond his reach. After a lifetime of knowing about God's grace in an academic sort of way, I finally fully experienced it -- not just in my head, but in my heart. Along the way, I met and married a godly man who helped me further understand God's unconditional love, and we've been blessed with two sons.

Eight years after my greatest failure, God spoke to my heart at the end of a church service. He reminded me of how far he had taken me. I lived the life of a prodigal, and he ran to me while I was still far away. When I couldn't do anything but hang my head in shame, he gently lifted my chin to dry my tears and kiss my cheek. At that moment, I felt called to be baptized again, this time as a testament to his relentless grace, and my life of hope in him.