Wednesday, November 30, 2011





Do we really notice the word, or do we just think of a big meal and a bit of history? We acknowledge the word as the act of giving thanks. Being thankful for what we have. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude, like we talked about here. But let's look at the word in another sense: Thanks-giving.

It struck me this morning that we are not truly grateful for our blessings as long as our hands, hearts, eyes, and wallets are closed. Thanksgiving to me means giving in recognition of all that I have been given. I am not showing true appreciation for the gifts in my life as long as I am not sharing them, paying it forward.

In 1000 Gifts, AnnVoskamp dissects the word eucharisteo, which is Greek for thanksgiving. But to go deeper, the word eucharisteo holds the words charis and chara, grace and joy. Her focus is on finding joy through the giving of thanks, being thankful for all of her blessings.

I am wondering, though, if another way to look at that is to find joy through thankful giving. I know that when I live freely, not counting the cost to me to serve another, I find joy. My heart finds peace. I'm less concerned with my own issues when I reach out to another. I find that as I express my thankfulness to God for what I have by giving of my time, talents, or funds, I am the one that is truly blessed and even more thankful than I was to start with.

I think I might be on to something here. What do you think?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An Attitude of Gratitude

This past week has been filled with doctor appointments, kleenex, midnight coughing, turkey, stuffing, and holiday preparations. Life to the full, as He promised. Here is a blog I posted over at our Mom Time blog on gratitude, appropriate in this season of Thanksgiving. I pray you will be blessed by Luanne's teaching as I was.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Creating a Little Breathing Space

Here is the talk I gave Friday night at the Girls Night Out Breathe event at Fox River Christian Church:
Do you ever find yourself eating something yummy while you are doing something else, only to look down and realize you've eaten the last bite and "forgot" to taste it? Or do you ever pile so much on your plate and can't enjoy any of it, the goal instead to eat everything you had to have? Or is that just me...?

Life can be like that, and the holidays are like life on steroids. We either race through November and December, trying to accomplish everything perfectly, or, we just wake up January 2nd, which incidentally, is only 43 days away, and wonder what happened. Where did the holiday season go already? I finally got everything done and now I’m ready to celebrate and I missed it. Again.

We need to learn to slow down, to breathe, to savor this season, instead of just trying to "get through" them.  I took the word SAVOR and made a little acronym out of it to help us remember to savor not just this season, but each day as it comes.
S: SIMPLIFY Did you know that 6,020,000 websites pop up on google when I searched "simplify life?" After reading through a few, most of them have to do with decluttering your life and your stuff.

I read through a few of them, lots to do with decluttering, both our stuff and our lives. Now, I’m not talking about Martha Stewart’s kind of simple, where I iron my sheets, roll them around paper tubes, and tie them with ribbons so they fit better in the linen closet. I’m talking more about the “don’t be afraid to use Chinet at the holidays instead of dishes that need to be washed before you can even eat off them” kind of simple. You know where you tend to go overboard. Trim it back and give yourself some breathing space.
A: Accept your season of life. Maybe you have grand visions of a giant Christmas tree, with twinkly lights and decorations handed down through generations. Except that you have a toddler. I can’t even tell you how many Christmas’s I had a half decorated tree, but the memories are still sweet. Maybe you are an empty nester and you are wondering if you should even put up a tree. I say do what makes you happy. My mom loves to decorate for Christmas, but the tree itself seemed like too much work for just her to enjoy, so she hangs her favorite ornaments and twinkly lights on evergreen swags, and gave the rest of her ornaments to me for my family.
Accept that financially or relationally you are where you are. If this has been a tough year in either respect, do what Paul tells us to do in the book of Philippians. Focus on whatever is good, true, noble, beautiful, or praiseworthy. It won’t change the circumstance necessarily, but when you focus on these things, the following verse promises that the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4: 8-9).
Accept others in their seasons as well. You know the saying you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family…this time of year gets pretty intense. Give a little grace towards those you didn’t pick to be part of your crowd, but they’re in it anyway. Do your best to get along with everyone, (Romans 12:18) and that will bring everyone a little breathing room.
V: For the next letter, V, I want you to think about your EXPECTATIONs. Yeah, I know, it doesn’t start with V. Now, cross it out in your brain and replace it with the word “VISION.”  We are replacing our expectations with visions. Expectations and visions start out in the same place but leave us in different places. Both begin with anticipation. But, if your expectations aren’t met, disappointment, anger, or frustration can be the result. If you begin by casting a vision, every step in the right direction is part of the journey of making that vision a reality.  Do you see the difference?
I have a vision that my family will grow in their compassion towards others, especially around the holidays, and that at some point in the future, we would spend Thanksgiving or Christmas serving someplace together. That is my vision. Each year, I feed it little by little. Last year we rang the bell for the Salvation Army in front of Sears at Brookfield Square. And let me tell you, nothing says festive like two boys rolling on the floor in front of the red kettle fighting about who was going to ring the bell. And there I stand, big fake smile on my face, hoping I don’t see anyone I know.
This year we added to that vision by filling a box for Operation Christmas Child. I am planting the seeds for the vision I want to see. If I expected that we would all stand singing Christmas carols in front of the red kettle looking angelic, or that my boys wouldn’t whine about wanting to keep some of the toys we were picking out, I would be disappointed in the outcome.
Cast your vision for how you hope this holiday season plays out.  Remember the Andy Stanley quote: Direction, not desire, determines your destination.
Are the things that keep you busy supporting your vision, or just taking up time? Those might be some of the things you trim as you are simplifying, as you are creating a little breathing space.
O: Opportunities, to serve, to live, to laugh. Don’t fill your plate so full that you don’t have time to take advantages of opportunities that come up. I always say that I am fine with spontaneity as long as I can plan for it.
You can serve in an organized way that requires a committee to plan for it, or you can just look for the opportunities that come up in everyday life to bless someone. Playing “Follow the Leader” through a crowded parking lot, I was excited to see the second spot from the front open up and quickly put my blinker on. I checked my rearview mirror to make sure the rest of the parade knew I was stopping, and noticed that the car behind me was driven by an elderly couple. I turned off my blinker and kept going, and watched them pull in, knowing they would appreciate a close parking spot more than I would. I was able to serve someone in my regular day just by being aware of the needs of others.
Last year I invited a few friends over one afternoon to watch “The Nativity”, an afternoon I could have spent trolling the mall in search of the perfect gift. Instead, I made some soup and we gathered to be reminded what this season is really about.
So, leave yourself the opportunity to grab coffee with a friend, or take the neighbor’s kids for a while so she can get some work done. Leave yourself some breathing room in your own schedule so you can reach out to someone else.
R: The last thing we need to do is REMEMBER.
Remember that relationships are more important than activities. If we are snippy with sales people and impatient with our families because we are busy creating the perfect holiday, we are missing the point. If cooking rights for Thanksgiving outweigh the gratitude of having family and friends to celebrate with, it is time to re-evaluate our motives.
Remember to leave room for the unexpected. Cookies will burn. The perfect gift will not be stocked in the size you need. Your kids will tell you the morning of the class party that you are supposed to bring cupcakes. (You might wake up the day before a big engagement with strep throat like I did on Thursday…)
Remember what we are celebrating, the season of Jesus’ birth, the season of Emmanuel, which means God With Us. We are celebrating that God is with us, and realize what a gift that is. Sometimes it is when we try the hardest to have that Holy Spirit spark in our holidays that we miss it. Relax, see where the Lord leads you and the who the people are He has put in your life, and you will see Him. Here is a link to the blog that I wrote in 2009 about missing Him for the entire season.
And lastly, remember to breathe. All together, let’s take one deep breath, think about the vision we have for this season, and focus on SAVORing what we have, instead of just trying to hold our breath and make it through.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Jesus in Dirty Jeans

Wide-eyed wonder played on the four-year-old's face as he looked up in disbelief. Walking toward him was an old man, white beard touching his chest and round spectacles on the bridge of his nose. The boy looked from the man to his mom, looking for confirmation that this was Santa in his regular clothes.

I'd chuckled to myself that day as I watched this exchange from my vantage point on the elliptical machine at the Y; the same thought had crossed my mind.

"Did you ever see Me in him?", came the whisper softly.

"Uh, no," I'd thought to myself, confused. Then the Holy Spirit brought a picture to my mind of this same guy a few months prior. He'd been pedaling slowly next to me on the recumbent bike. His white undershirt was stained and had sweat circles under the armpits, dirty jeans on instead of work-out pants. His beard was matted, and the smell of him made me want to change bikes.

Not one of my finer moments.

"Did you ever see Me?" came the question again.

Jesus tells us what He looks like in Matthew 25:
He is the hungry and the thirsty.
He is the sick and the lonely.
He is the naked.
He is the prisoner.

He is the child on the playground with no mittens or hat. He is the single mom at Wal-mart hoping there really is a Santa to bring her kids presents this year. He is the old woman looking out the window of the nursing home, wondering if anyone will visit. He is the guy down at Frame Park huddled under the bridge. He is the smelly old man on the exercise equipment next to me.

"Oh Lord, forgive me. Forgive me. I didn't know..."

I let my thoughts trail off because I did know. I do know. Sometimes it's just easier to pretend we don't. Again the Spirit brought a verse to me..."You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Revelation 3:17)"

"Forgive me," I'd whispered that day, slowing down on my machine as my eyes welled up. It is a painful process, learning to see the world through Jesus' eyes, but it is a beautiful pain. I cannot look away anymore.

I am praying not only to see Jesus in others, but thinking that as I learn to do that, they might catch a glimpse of Him in me.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Master Plan

Lately I have been learning how to live.

When I went to She Speaks this summer, I had two goals in mind. One, get a book deal, or at least be headed in that direction, and two, hit the ground running as a speaker. I thought I would come home and send out my carefully prepared bio sheets to every church and organization, get an organizer to keep my speaking engagements straight, and finish the chapters on the book I started.

As I sat in each session, listening carefully for that one thing God wanted me to take away, I began to feel sad. Like I was trying to fit into clothes that weren't mine. I thought maybe it was nerves, or the enemy trying to shake my confidence. Instead, it was actually the one thing I was supposed to be hearing. God was not telling me my dreams were dead, but that we were going to rest and just be for a bit.  You might laugh, because I know I did, but the message was "Go home and play with your kids."

Now I won't lie, half of me was like, "Really? I came all this way and did all this work so You could tell me to go home and play with my kids?"

The other half, truth be told, was relieved. This is my favorite season of motherhood, and I don't know why I insist on living with one foot out the door all the time. I needed to travel across the country so God could remind me of what I already knew.

In this season of resting and waiting, He is at work. My eyes and my heart are being opened in new ways. Taking time to read, watch movies, and just hang out with friends with no other agenda than enjoying each other's company are not luxuries, they are the details that make life richer. By sending me home without a clear plan, God gave me a gift.

"God wants me to get where He wants me to go more than I want to get where He wants me to go" is a saying I read in a book by Mark Batterson. God knows His plan for me. My role is to listen and obey.

How about you? Are you taking time to just enjoy life, or are you constantly working towards something? Maybe it's time to take a deep breath, and do nothing at all for a little while. The world won't end or forget you, and you may just find yourself again.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Trust In Relationships

A friend apologized after Mom Time for texting during my lesson. Actually, I hadn't noticed, but I would not have been upset with her because I trust her. If I had noticed, my first thought would have been "I hope everything is ok." We have built a relationship on mutual respect; to be upset before knowing the details would not have been fair to her or our friendship.

Someone has been irritated with me on and off lately...I know, right?! Each time has been due to a misunderstanding or misperception, but here is the deeper question: What does this person really think of me? Do they believe I am a person who would do the things they think I did?

Instead of being angry back or launching into defense mode, I consider where they are coming from. What irritates us or hurts our feelings often speaks to what is going on in our hearts. When this person was irritated at me last time, it was because she felt hurt and left out, which speaks to a deeper insecurity and loneliness that I know this person carries because we have talked about it.

Dr. Henry Cloud spoke on relationships at Women of Faith, and he said that when people don't behave as we want them to, it really isn't their problem, it is our problem. We are in charge of our reactions and feelings. If dogs barking and kids fighting really bug you, the problem is not with the dog and the kids. Our responsibility, no matter what, is to live in a manner that glorifies God. Lashing out in anger does not produce the righteousness of God.

What do we do on a practical level? We pause, considering the other person's perspective, while not owning it, practicing humility and gentleness. The Bible reminds us to live in peace with everyone as far as it depends on us (Romans 12:18), and the first step of that is giving someone the benefit of the doubt.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Dress Rehearsal

“Grab your hat, buddy. We’re leaving in a minute,” I hollered into the playland at our local McD’s.
“I can’t reach it,” came the muffled reply.
Looking through the window, I could see my eight year old son stretched out on the floor trying to slide his arm under the mesh-enclosed steel barrier, his hat about 6” out of his reach.
“How did your hat get in there?”
“He told me to throw it over the fence,” said my son, pointing at his friend.
Seeing the teaching moment, I decided not to ask anyone to unlock the fence so we could retrieve his hat. Instead, we left our name and number with the cashier, planning to follow up later in the week after the cleaning crew was able to get the hat for us.
This experience opened the door for a great discussion on peer pressure with both of my kids. He knew it was a dumb idea to throw the hat over the fence, but he wanted to impress his buddy.
“Now is the time to stand up for what you know is right,” I told him.  “This time it was a hat. Next time it might be someone offering you a smoke or a drink. Or wanting you to steal something with them. Or worse. And the consequences won’t be as harmless.”
While the stakes were pretty low this time, I hope he got a glimpse of the bigger picture.
This life is both the dress rehearsal for future experiences, and the real deal, all at the same time. We can’t undo a decision, and the choices we make today affect the choices we will make tomorrow.
Are the things you are saying “yes” to today opening the doors that you want to walk through in your future?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Change of Pace

Did you ever have it happen that you were losing weight just by the natural process of your life instead of going to the gym and counting every calorie?

OK, me neither. But, stay with me for the sake of the analogy.

I have been one to hunt down God's purpose and plan for my life, trying to fit each day around what I think His will is for me. Lately though, I have taken a giant step back. Instead of over-analyzing and "seeking" myself into a frenzy, I am listening. Instead of "following" God where I assume He is leading, which is akin to staying one step ahead of Him, I have waited and watched for the doors He will open. This is new for me.

I find myself enjoying a front row seat to His work in my life as He leads me in new directions and sears new passions onto my heart. Things that didn't use to phase me now break my heart to the point of tears. I don't know where this is all going, but I don't have to. There is freedom right now, freedom to not worry if all the pieces don't fit into a tidy picture or preconceived notion. My God is bigger than what I could dream up anyway, and to base my life on my own limited scope is, well, limiting.

So, for those of you who "follow" this blog, I have not fallen in a hole. I am just living each day in the direction He points to. It's not that I don't have lots to say; I've made a priority of putting God first, husband and family second, and everything else behind that. Sometimes following God is sitting down to write a blog that He pours into my head, other times it is sitting with the kids watching bedtime tv.

He was been faithful to give me one pure and holy passion, to know and follow hard after Him.

Will you join me?