Wednesday, October 30, 2013

31 Days of Listening {to the Word}

It all keeps coming back to spending time with The Lord by spending time reading His Word. Whatever the question, this is the answer.

The most reliable way to know God and hear His voice is to read His written Word. There's no room for second guessing whether it's Him who is speaking to us.

On the streets of London, Kacey and I walked and talked for a long time about how we can know the difference between the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives and discerning when we are simply being influenced by our emotions. My rock in these situations has always {and sometimes only} been God's Word {being a highly emotional woman}. It is HARD to discern whether the Spirit or my emotions are at play. Sometimes it is clear, when the Spirit is moving in a direction opposite of my emotions. But this isn't always the case.

The Word of God is, for me, the most reliable way to know God himself. To know God is to love Him, and to love Him is to obey Him. John 15 calls this sequence remaining in God as a branch attached to a vine that produces and bears fruit. There is another aspect of our relationship with Him though, and that is trust. Trust and obedience work in relationship with one another to demonstrate true faith. I am realizing that we can have one without the other, but without the two in tandem, it's impossible to please God.

I'm reading Jerry Bridges' book "Trusting God" and he says,

" is just as important to trust God as it is to obey Him. When we disobey God we defy His authority and despise His holiness. But when we fail to trust God we doubt His sovereignty and question His goodness. In both cases we cast aspersions upon His majesty and His character. God views our distrust of Him as seriously as He views our disobedience."

"...just as the faith of salvation comes through hearing the message of the gospel (see Romans 10:17), so the faith to trust God in adversity comes through the Word of God alone... It is only from the Scriptures, applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit, that we receive the grace to trust God in adversity."

Bridges quotes Lamentations 3:37-38, which says "Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?". He spends time addressing the fact that many people are offended by this scripture passage, because it's difficult to accept both good and calamity coming from God's hand. And yet we fail to remember that Jesus was put through an excruciating experience that was under God's sovereign control and a part of His divine plan for mankind, all as an amazing act of love towards us. Jesus did not waver in His belief that God was in control, even as He was handed over and crucified. And so we should hold fast to our belief in God's sovereign control over all things, too... and rather than being offended by it, take comfort in it and the fact that God has purpose in all things.

Bridges goes on to say, "God's plan and His ways of working out His plan are frequently beyond our ability to fathom and understand. We must learn to trust when we don't understand... {we must} become so convinced of these truths {the sovereignty, love and wisdom of God} that we appropriate them in our daily circumstances, that we learn to trust God in the midst of our pain, whatever form it may take."

For me, I cannot actively, deeply trust someone or something I know nothing about. Especially when it comes to my young family. And yet, I am promised that I will never come to a complete understanding of God and His ways while I am on earth as a limited human being. And so, I study God's Word in order to learn as much as I can about Him, in order to get to know Him personally and love God more each day. I do this so that my trust in Him grows and is secure. I do this when life isn't particularly hard, challenging, heartbreaking or difficult, because I am guaranteed that those days are coming if they aren't here yet. I want to be prepared to withstand trials and suffering with the grace and humility that comes by walking with God when life has been quiet. To be so convinced of God's Truth that I can trust Him in all circumstances as they unfold in my life, for better or worse.

And the foundation for all of this is The Bible, God's Word. And so, I listen to it. Every morning I am able, I sit down and ask God to speak to me through it. I ascribe power to it in my life and ask that God would use it to change my heart and my life. I hunger for it, and while it satisfies and quenches my soul it also leaves me wanting more of it. It is beautiful and precious to me, as it is the means of my salvation and subsequent sanctification.

I have shifted my measures of 'success' as a result. My scorecard in life used to look like this:

How much have I accomplished?
How quickly and how much better than others am I accomplishing things?
How much praise am I receiving from the people around me?
How good do I feel?
How much do I have, how have I set myself up for more, how secure do I feel in what I've created and what I am maintaing?

My new 'scorecard' is so much more beautiful and freeing...

How much time have I spent with The Lord, in His Word?
Have I spent time laying my burdens down before Him, acknowledging Him as powerful, holy and sovereign?
Am I free from anxiety?
Am I living within the boundaries God has set for me, but freely pursuing Him and following wherever He leads me?
Am I loving others well?
Am I stretching myself with new spiritual disciplines that strengthen my faith?
Am I holding tightly to things He wants me to release?
Am I running from things or people He wants me to engage with?
Am I sharing what I'm learning?
Is my heart humble?
Am I confessing my sin regularly?
Am I listening to the wisdom of others and allowing myself to learn from them?

God's Word sets me free every day. I am so thankful for it, so desperate for it, and in awe of how it really is living and active. We have been given The Spirit and we have been given The Word. I pray every day that I am listening to both as I walk by faith.

Monday, October 28, 2013

31 Days of Listening {give or take a few...}

Sometimes I like to combat my first-born, Type A, legalistic tendencies and and stretch myself to be more free spirited. Taking a break here on the blog, even if it WAS supposed to be 31 consecutive days of writing, was necessary.

Because life needed to happen, and there simply wasn't room in the days to write, until now.

I got to fly across the pond and spend 6 days with my best friend and her family. Then I came home, and while I didn't suffer any jet lag (what!?!?), I did make sure I was going to bed by 8-9pm, and let myself sleep in until 7am. I set aside my morning quiet times for one week in hopes of maintaining health and balance through regular, long nights of sleep in the wake of my trip (the most cerebral decision I've had to make lately, as I LOVE my early mornings and know how much I NEED them). Just when I intended to start my early morning routine up again, both girls got sick with croup and I didn't sleep for two nights in a row. The irony - no jetlag, but sick kids... I'm thankful, even so, that the Lord kept them healthy while I was gone. I was more than happy to be the one up through the night with a raspy breathing babe, and found it easier than ever to give Him praise when I was worried for her health and forfeiting sleep. At least I was home, with her.

It's been nearly 2 weeks since I have kept my normal daily routine, and it all piled up on me last night. I felt out of joint, irritable, restless, tired, discontent, even flat out sad. Vulnerable. I can't wait to share all that I've experienced and learned in the last 2 weeks, but mostly I'm thankful to be back here at 5:15am with my steaming cup of coffee. This morning's chapter by Spurgeon was just what my dry soul needed... words about being chosen by God, being part of the elect, or as he puts it "for some are made the special objects of divine affection."  How beautiful is that!? I could feed on that for days...

The beauty of God's Word and His presence is that it only takes a verse. A few moments sitting quietly before Him. Whatever we can offer... He uses and blows it wide open. Parched for Him for days, within 10 minutes of soaking in the scripture and Truth and I'm full to overflowing again, where just 7 hours ago I felt dry and empty. I need this well, every morning. But I'm greedy for Him so I'm going to sit and stay a while today...

And so, to tie in the theme... I've learned to listen to my spirit. When I feel cramped, to get out of the house (bundling up if necessary) and take a walk in wide open, quiet spaces that are full of His glory. When I feel sad, aching or empty, to fill myself with His Truth and to keep mining it until He speaks to me. Rarely does He take His time, but even if and when He does... I will wait and persist. Nothing is wasted here, no effort is in vain. No hour of sleep begrudgingly given up but happily tossed aside and traded in for the Living Water and Bread of Life, the presence that actually sustains me through the day and brings life to my bones, to the dead places inside of me.

"His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the raging flood; 
When every earthly prop gives way,
This still is all my strength and stay."

Thursday, October 17, 2013

{a few short of} 31 Days of Listening

 I'm noticeably absent from the blog, and as of now failing miserably at blogging for 31 consistent days. 

But can you blame me? Yesterday I got on a plane to London... To visit my best friend for 6 days. And we have a lot of catching up to do. I'm living in her house. Which is all kinds of awesome because just when you think you know someone, you listen in on their bedtime routine with the kiddos and hear the tender way she loves and builds then up when no one is looking (or listening... Or so she thought), creating a safe space for their day to end and offering them words of life and sweet thoughts to fall asleep to. And maybe there's something really endearing but equally hysterical that she does for these girls she loves at bedtime that probably no on else knows about. And you catch her in the act and laugh so hard together when she sees you in the hallway, that your pregnant self thinks maybe today will be the day you finally wet your pants. 

Yeah, so all that... And more... It's taking me away from moments of solitude and I'm saying hallelujah to that! The writing can wait. These moments? They can't. These kids I love like my own need me fully present and focused on them. I'm sealing them into my memory - Fallon, savvy, and jr, at this age here in London right now. Today is a gift and my return flight home already feels too close, and who knows if I'll get to come back again while they're still here. 

And my girl? She has so much to say. Words need to be spoken back and forth that cannot live in the space on these blog pages or in the meager emails and texts she and I send to keep in touch when we are apart. While we have breath and the space to speak our hearts out loud to each other face to face... This is all gold to me and I'm being stingy with it, hoarding it. Soaking in as much of it as I can. Not thinking about how to put to words what I might want to say, or what I think i have to say here in this space on the blog (or to anyone, really, anywhere). 

Just listening, observing, delighting, experiencing, memorizing, laughing, pondering, witnessing, helping, loving and living together this week. 

It's enough. 

How's that for simple?! ;)

Monday, October 14, 2013

31 Days of Listening {to Others}

This exercise of {really} listening, and practicing it intentionally, has been eye opening.

I didn't post yesterday because we had a special out of town guest with us this weekend, and Rob ran the Chicago Marathon. I really love cheering him on from the side of the course, and get a huge rush from being one person in a sea of thousands, cheering on the athletes who have trained so hard for so long, and are trying to accomplish something of this magnitude. Watching them all run past us, pushing themselves so hard. It's inspiring (although I'll never run one, ha!). It's obviously the best when we see Rob and he sees us, and after I hand him water and hammer gel, I watch him as he runs away from us, and my heart swells with a combination of the good kind of pride, awe, love and gratefulness for who he is. God has made Rob so differently than He has made me, with gifts and abilities I'll never have, and it brings me so much joy to witness that.

I listened to those around me yesterday, and heard so many beautiful exchanges. Strangers chatted on the side of the course, introducing themselves to one another and explaining who they were there to cheer on. They asked about hometowns and previous races, and encouraged each other. There was a noticeable absence of comparison or self-centeredness. There were posters with runners' names or faces on them, with words of encouragement or love.

And I got to thinking, why can't we be like this all the time?

Hebrews 12:1-2 says "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entagles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus...".

1 Corinthians 9:24 says "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize."

The life of faith is referred to as a race. It requires training and preparation, and although not always necessary or guaranteed, it's certainly helpful to have encouraging voices telling us we can do it, cheering us on in the right direction, celebrating our victories with us. Reminding us that we are one member of a collective larger group that is all striving for the same thing - to finish the race well.


With this (3rd) marathon experience, I can't help but compare and contrast it to the ways that we, as Christians, interact and exchange words and ideas. Keep in mind that if we are followers of Christ, we are running the same race, eyes on the prize that is Jesus.

I'm frequently discouraged by the words of my fellow racers, though. We are all so vastly different, with a range of life experiences, wounds, losses, dreams, and questions that form the places that we live out of. We all have a great need to listen to one another, to be gentle and seek understanding and find ways to encourage each other. I also believe that we all have something to say, no matter how well formed the thought might be, which is sometimes indicative of how well we are running the race. There should be plenty of grace between us as we lovingly accept where each of our brothers and sisters are in this journey, this race that can be very hard, often lonely, and sometimes confusing. We need each other, speaking words that are life giving and energizing, but also listening quietly to one another.

I read a blog the other day (one that I really enjoy and am challenged by) that spoke from a place of arrogance... the message was "why is everyone talking about X when we should really be talking about Y?". It was a general criticism of some of the online voices of Christianity. And while the topic she was suggesting was of greatest importance is one that we should in fact be discussing right now (a social justice issue), what frustrated me was that she came across as seeming to have all the wisdom and knowledge about what we all should be talking about, first and foremost. And in one fell swoop, she discounted everything that anyone else was talking about at the moment, which might very well have caused some to feel ashamed or embarrassed. I certainly did, but only for a moment.

I love to observe and listen to what other believers are passionate about. And most of all? I love that we are often passionate about different things. When I hear about the way such-and-such cause pulls at my friend's heartstrings, and how it moves her to live differently, it inspires me. I love to celebrate the passion in my friends' lives and the way God is moving and working in them for His glory. But when we step away from celebrating the ways God has wired each of us differently, and yet has called us to all function together as One Body, made up of many parts that serve different functions, and start to chastise one another for not thinking or acting the way WE do? I cannot understand what greater good this serves. It's certainly not Biblical. It's not encouraging or uplifting, and it lacks the humility that Christ became for us, and modeled for us. I firmly believe that we are called to sharpen one another, and sometimes rebuke one another - but within a private context and in a way that is honoring.

I don't think it's a coincidence that the books I've been reading recently are (in order): "Humility", "Introverts in the Church", and "A Million Little Ways". That the topic I was prompted to choose for my 31 Days writing project was listening. I'm learning more about setting myself aside, elevating God to His appropriate place in my life, and experiencing the freedom that comes with really knowing in my heart that these things are true:

1) God is intentional, all-knowing, and full of grace
2) I was designed with great purpose for His kingdom and His glory
3) I am responsible to live out the one life He has given me, without jealousy or pride as I observe the lives He's given others to live
4) In Christ, I find mercy and grace in measures that have no end, as I constantly fall short of all that God calls me to
5) Because of the confidence I have in Christ, and therefore who I am in Him, I can celebrate and encourage others freely rather than feeling threatened by them
6) I realize that I am living in the context of two extremes: because I am found in Christ, created by the Almighty God and filled with His Spirit, nothing is impossible for me. The One True God hears my prayers, and is lovingly paying attention to me. He has planned out the days of my life and goes with me every day. He has called me to leadership, in some ways. And yet, I am one person among millions on this earth. I am a part of a very large spiritual family that is made up of many, many others who are very different from me. I am called to servanthood and bowing low and thinking of others first. I am responsible for living in peace with others.
7) God speaks to each of us, but sometimes He uses different methods or means. He speaks through each of us depending on the way He's created and wired us.
8) God always honors the efforts we make to seek Him through the discipline of listening. When we seek the Truth, we will always find it. And when we listen for Him, whether by reading His Word, observing the world around us, or listening to what others have to say, He always makes Himself known. He wants to be found by us.

If only all of life were like the Marathon yesterday - cheering one another on, honoring the hard work and training that's been happening behind the scenes for such a long amount of time, celebrating differences and enjoying the one thing that brings us all together. Sharing in the sweetness of victory when it's all over. Spending ourselves on each other. Being content to be one person in a sea of thousands.

Running the race with perseverance, eyes on the prize.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

31 Days of Listening {to Others}

For this beautiful, rainy Saturday that we are spending together as family... a song to inspire your thanks.

THANK YOU (Ben Kyle)

Thank you for the way you make a feeling real
Rolling through my heart like a ferris wheel
Thank you for a pretty little laughing heart
Thank you from my heart, thank you from my heart

Thank you for the way you make your light to shine
In between the shadows in the back of my mind
Thank you for the children and the love I've found
Thank you from my heart, thank you from my heart

Let there be light, let there be love, let there be space
Let all the water flow together through the ether and gather in a beautiful place

Thank you for the way you make the showers fall
Like a blanket on the valley when the flowers call
Thank you for creating and sustaining it all
Thank you from my heart and my soul
Thank you from my heart and my soul

Thank you for the way you make the music play
In between the quiet on a beautiful day
Thank you for the meaning in the things we say
Thank you from my heart, thank you from my heart

Let there be light, let there be love, let there be space
Let all the water flow together through the ether and gather in a beautiful place
Let there be earth, let there be sea, let there be sky
Let all the water flow together through the ether and gather over you and I

Thank you for the way you make the flowers grow
Up through the cracks in my fractured soul
Thank you for the way the healing waters flow
Thank you from my heart and my soul
Thank you from my heart and my soul

Thank you for the way you make the moonlight shine
Between me and the horizon there's a perfect line
Like a love upon the ocean anybody can find
Thank you from my heart and my mind
Thank you from my heart and my mind

Let there be light, let there be love, let there be grace
Let all the water flow together through the ether and gather in a beautiful place
Let there be earth, let there be sea, let there be sky
Let all the water flow together through the ether and gather over you and I

Thank you for the way you make my soul to sing
With the feeling there's a meaning here in everything
Thank you for giving me the gift I bring
Thank you from my heart
Thank you from my heart


Friday, October 11, 2013

31 Days of Listening {to Others} {to Myself}

Emily P. Freeman's book, "A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made To Live", was just released and I'm loving it. The chapter on listening is beautiful and inspiring. She talks about how important it is to pay attention to your story as you see it reflected in the stories or in the art of others.

"Madeline L'Engle puts into words for us a very simple truth... 'In art, either as creators or participators, we are helped to remember some of the glorious things we have forgotten, and some of the terrible things we are asked to endure, we who are children of God by adoption and grace.' 

Art makes it possible for us to remember both the beauty and the horrific, the lovely and the loss. Art numbs the wound just long enough for us to be able to access the source of it, to reach down into the depths and pull it up to examine.

The beauty of art is that it separates us enough from our own pain in order to make it safe to appraoch. This movie, this novel, this musical, this song isn't my story, and so I can freely let myself identify with it. In the freedom, the tears have permission to fall. And in the tear-fall, I realize that this movie, this novel, this musical, this song holds pieces of my story after all. 

What touches your soul so deeply that it causes tears to come out? We're talking about magic water that pours out of our eyes. Maybe paying attention to what calls that water forth will give us a hint as to what it is that makes us come alive."

Emily also talks about the importance of listening to your tears, as that last paragraph indicates. This has been my absolute favorite part of the book thus far:

"...maybe our tears are tiny messengers, secret keepers of the most vulnerable kind, sent to deliver a most important message - Here is where your heart beats strong. Here is a hint to your design. Here is a gift from your inner life, sent to remind you of those things that make you come alive. These tears carry the gift of your desire. Listen to them. ...Listen to what makes you cry."

I wanted to write this post yesterday. It's been on my mind since Tuesday. But it means so much more today as I just wrote the previous post with tears falling freely. It feels good to allow our hearts to spill over, confessing the things that we desire or the things that still hurt or the things that point us closer to what we were created to do or designed for.

And in a way, for me it's much easier to write about these things than to speak them out loud. Sometimes the magic water gets in the way, and my keyboard acts as the numbing agent just enough for my heart to spill over. When I read what I've written, whether it's one day later or months or even years, I can listen to myself again.

"Only when we decided to quiet ourselves and listen on purpose did we really begin to hear."

31 Days of Listening {to Myself}

I woke up this morning with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I had such an off the wall dream last night {induced, no doubt, by my pregnant state} that it took a while to break it down and think about why it made me so deeply sad and yet hopeful and full of joy and longing at the same time.

I was going to tell you about the specifics, but as I sat here typing it out, I realized how insane it would sound and maybe even a little disrespectful since part of my dream involved a deceased family member coming back to life. During their funeral.

It's sufficient enough to say that I miss this relative. A lot. Dreams have a funny way of giving life to the desires in our hearts - places that have sat empty and seem to have healed over and lay dormant suddenly spring to life and stir up emotions we didn't think we had anymore. Longing. Ache. Loneliness. Sadness.

So much changed in our family after this particular relative died. In my dream, when this person came back to life, part of my joy was simply in seeing and having the chance to interact and talk with this person again. But a large part of my joy was watching my family be reunited with this person, too. And in a way some of the hard things that have happened since then were erased by the resurrection within my dream.

I don't think it was just a crazy dream. I think it says something about my interior life. About my desire for life where there is death - physically but also relationally and spiritually. There's the obvious desire to see those we love who have passed away from life on this earth and into eternity. But there's a longing in each of us to see the things that have been destroyed or stolen or torn apart be restored and resurrected. Whether it's a physical body or a relationship.

We are promised that this will happen one day - that when Christ comes back, we will experience a New Heaven and a New Earth (see 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1). This world won't be destroyed and obliterated. Christ is going to make it new - He made it once and sin stained it. But He's coming again, to make it new and perfect and this time it's for good. This used to bring me great anxiety - the final judgement. As I've learned that I truly am secure in Christ and saved simply by faith in what He did for me on the cross and by conquering death by his resurrection, I've shifted from fear to hope. I long for the day that He comes back (or takes me home). I long to see suffering, pain, separation, death and injustice done away with and replaced with peace, joy, togetherness, contentment, wholeness, and perfection. I long for the restoration and reconciliation of all things and all people. I long for resurrection.

I could have dismissed my dream as crazy, but instead I listened to it. That longing for resurrection seemed to be the theme and I think it's important to listen to the longing of our souls when they present themselves. This particular longing - for resurrection - it points to what Christ is going to do. It's an empty feeling ache right now because the resurrection I desire in so many ways and areas of my life and the lives of those I love hasn't happened yet. I have a firm hope in God's Word that it is coming, though. I am so thankful for that blessed hope.

Romans 8:23-25 says "...we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently."

Titus 2:11-14 says "For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope - the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good."

Hebrews 9:26-28 says "But he {Christ} has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgement, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him."

Jude 1:20-21 encourages us "But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life."

And so I wait patiently for the blessed hope, with eager anticipation for my adoption and the redemption of this body.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

31 Days of Listening {to the Spirit} {to Others} {to Myself}

I'm giving myself 30 minutes max to write this post, because it's late on Wednesday night and I need to go to bed. And I have so many thoughts! And I could probably spend hours thinking about each thing I've learned and try to do justice to what God is teaching me by writing it all out really well.

But that's not going to happen tonight. Mama's tired, and sleep lands above writing on my priorities list.

Monday was a day for bravery. And laying down defenses. And what I wasn't expecting was the way I responded to this call to walk through my day makeup free. I am not a brave person, by nature. Sometimes I do things and although I might look brave from the outside? I'm a hot mess of insecurity on the inside.

But Monday... Oh Monday you taught me something about myself. I resisted the urge to use the chapstick that has a little bit of a rosy tint, and didn't give in to the temptation to just dab a tiny bit of concealer on my scabbed over enormous zit on my nose (it's concealer - no one would know the difference!), and I went for it 100%. No cutting corners.


Can I tell you something? I spent a lot of time that morning in The Word, intentionally examining what God says about me - about us - and journaling my thoughts and responses. I got so lost in His love and grace and goodness that Robbie ended up a little late to school. I reluctantly stepped away from that lifeline that my Bible has become in order to move through my day's responsibilities. I want it to always be like that. Hesitant to leave Living Waters and Daily Bread.

Before leaving the house I took a picture of my bare face - and decided that even though no one else had (yet), I would post that picture to Instagram for all to see. If I was going to do this, I was going to DO IT. All in.

As I dropped the kids off at kindergarten (Robbie), preschool (Ellie) and childcare (Maddie), a few beautiful things began to happen. More women posting their bare faces on Instagram... more souls exposed and more masks and defenses being laid down for all to see... women all over DuPage County, the East Coast, the South, the Midwest and across the pond. Even a sweet friend serving the Lord in Thailand. A band of sisters emerged, not to act more spiritual than others, not to prove anything to anyone... it was simply an effort to strip away something most of us heavily rely on apart from God for confidence and security.

We all had different experiences, but I would venture to say that most of us experienced terror (at the thought of what we agreed to), insecurity (stepping out of our house/van in front of others for the first time), relief, awareness and then a good amount of freedom and blessing as God worked in each of our hearts in His own ways.

For me? The most beautiful part was watching my Instagram feed blow up with gorgeous women whose bare faces revealed a little more of their soul than usual. The surprising part was that I was overcome with a desire to encourage, uplift, speak into, and come alongside each and every woman taking this challenge. I could tell some were really struggling with it early in the day. My heart went out to them - I wanted to lift them up higher than myself! I wanted to hug them, point out the huge zit on my nose and laugh about it together ("horrible timing, huh!?") - I wanted to disarm and comfort them. I wanted to stand with them in all of our weakness and show them that being who we really are, even when it's not as pretty as we'd hoped, is even better than pretense. And that it makes me want to move TOWARD them, not away (as we all think it will naturally repel others).

The other thing that surprised me was the way I felt like I was relating out of a more honest place as I interacted with other women (whether they had on makeup or not). Sometimes I wear makeup to feel more put together, or after a night of particularly broken sleep it helps me feel ready for the day externally even though internally I want to crawl back in bed or cry. To walk around without a lick of makeup on made me feel very exposed, like my truth was on display for all to see. Some of it (my truth), I'm ok and at peace with. Some of it I like to 'present' to others a certain way, or at certain times, or only to certain friends. Monday kind of took that away from me, and I found myself feeling very raw and like I said, exposed. both physically and spiritually/emotionally. But it also changed ever so slightly the way I related to everyone.

And it was a good thing.

I wasn't comparing myself to anyone. I wasn't hiding parts of me, I wasn't posturing in any way. It's really, really humbling to wash your face and then walk out the door and feel like all your imperfections are like headlamps turned to high beam. Sometimes life humbles us. Sometimes God humbles us. But sometimes it's really good to just humble yourself. Instead of competing for beauty, attention, love, friendship, admiration, or whatever else we might be trying to obtain... laying our emptiness aside and refusing for one day to try and fill it ourselves in ways that still leave us empty shows us just how much we need our Heavenly Father.

A few things I observed during "makeup free Monday":

- our daughters are paying attention to what we decide is beautiful, and we need to be actively living our Gospel Truth in front of them, as well as speaking it over them. One friend intentionally engaged her 4 year old daughter in a conversation about why mommy wasn't wearing makeup that day, and her daughter's reaction surprised her. Our girls, at such a young age, have picked up on the world's definition of beauty. We can help them become Godly, confident women who love Jesus and love what Jesus loves most by walking with them now through these issues. By modeling it. By speaking it. By helping them practice it when they're 4 and 6 and 10, instead of waiting for those adolescent years to come and stir this all up in their hearts only to find that our precious girls have an already-established self image and narrative of who they are and what they are worth that has been handed to them by someone other than God.

- it feels really good to rub your eyes throughout the day, and to wash it morning, noon and night. It's freeing not to wonder if something's smudged or dripping or rubbed off or needs reapplying.

- not going to lie, it feels fantastic to wake up the next morning and apply foundation to cover all those imperfections. It also feels good to realize that so much less makeup than you're used to wearing is more than enough to get through the day feeling put together. I'm much more content with a quicker makeup routine involving about 1/2 as many products than I was a few days ago. Mostly because I don't feel like I NEED all of the rest. Is makeup fun? Yes. I love makeup. I love playing with colors, new products, different looks, etc. I don't think makeup itself is bad. It's like everything else though - moderation is really important. How I use it and WHY is really important. When it gets a little out of control? When I feel like I can't go without it? When I feel like it's accomplishing something for me (that I should be finding in the Lord)? Time to reexamine things. Maybe pull back a little. I'll probably go makeup free a lot more often now, just to keep my perspective on things straight. Not because I particularly enjoy that. But because it was a good exercise for me. Really good. I'm already planning my next 'makeup fast', as well as how I can fast in a few other areas of my life that could really use a perspective shift or just straight up discipline and minimalism.

- there is freedom in breaking chains in our lives, but there is JOY in doing it together with others. I didn't expect so much community to come out of the challenge to go makeup free on Monday with other women, most of whom I know. We were built to live in community with one another. Could I have walked through the day makeup free on my own and still learned a lot about myself? Sure. But I learned so much more by doing it with other women. They spoke into my life. They lived things out loud that I learned from. I could encourage them, knowing what they were going through. We overlapped in our efforts in a way that made us stronger. Definitely more brave. None of us will forget the experience. I don't think it was insignificant to a single woman who participated. And we have each other to help us remember. Doing anything together is better than doing it alone. Accountability is important and helpful, and makes the journey more palatable and the victory 1,000 times sweeter.


I continue to be amazed by the way God FAITHFULLY meets us when we call out to Him. Anytime I have ever sought Him... He has been there. Sometimes it's harder than other times to hear His voice or trace His hand. But I do not doubt His presence. Monday was a day for remembering who we are, how God made us, and what He thinks of us. I think He spoke to us in a hundred different ways, weaving blessing and healing into our hearts as we tried to walk a little closer to Him.

I'm learning that laying things down in order to hear Him more clearly is always worth it. He has a lot to speak into my life, a lot to say about Himself and about me. It's my choice to stop and be still and quiet, to practice the art of listening to Him. There are so many ways I can do this... I know I'm only just scratching the surface.

Related: THIS VIDEO. I had seen it a long time ago, and it was played again for us this morning at Bible Study. So powerful. How we see ourselves, our beauty, as women... Please watch it...

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

31 Days of Listening {to Others}

Introverts In The Church - by Adam S. McHugh

How many times can I bring up this wonderful book I've been reading {savoring} all summer and am now dragging out into the Fall!? I don't want to finish it too quickly - I've learned so much about myself, others, and the ways we relate within the body of Christ and His church. I've also been given the gift of freedom as I learn so much about myself and my husband and the ways we are totally introverted! I know, that might sound kind of funny. I promise we leave the house and have friends. :)

Anyways, once I read a book that I love, I like to keep tabs on the author. What else have they written? Do they keep a blog? Are they on Twitter? I've been pleased to find that in the case of Mr. McHugh, yes he keeps a blog, yes he's on twitter, and hallelujah, he's currently writing a book about {what else} listening.

This man has a lot to say that is very worthwhile. And because Tuesdays are the busiest day of the week around here, and I've been nursing a headache and very normal but uncomfortable side effects of being pregnant since I woke up, I'm going to let Adam do the talking today. On listening.

My favorite line: "...there is no glory in listening." I mean, how can you not love that. I am so drawn right now to the things that don't bring glory in the ways many seek it. It smacks of servitude and love and self sacrifice but mostly Jesus.

Hop on over here, I think you'll be glad you did.  Thanks, Adam!

Monday, October 7, 2013

31 Days of Listening {to Others} {to the Word}

Today is "No Makeup Monday". Did you get the memo? (It's not too late to join us, if you'd like! Just find the nearest sink and wash that pore-clogging makeup right off. You'll feel better, I promise.)

I spent some time listening to my best friend yesterday... her heart for simplicity, and namely her desire to be free of the concern she realizes she has of what others think of her. She is slowly eliminating distractions from her life that keep her from walking closer with her Savior and genuinely loving and serving others. She decided to keep her makeup bag zipped on Mondays this month, and invited us to join her.

Best friend listened to me when I asked her to consider writing every day for 31 days. She took me up on the challenge without hesitation. And now it's my turn to listen to her.

I've been listening to my spirit, but more importantly, The Spirit, as I've vacillated between feeling excited to band together with other female friends and brave the day freshly scrubbed, and feeling absolutely insecure about my untouched appearance. You know, I'm pregnant right now. And for me that means my skin reverts to 13-year-old-Ashley. Pimples everywhere. A nice big infected one on my nose. Little purple pools under my swollen eyes. Redness along my jawline. And because I'm blond, my eyebrows and eyelashes simply disappear without powders and liners crayons and mascara to bring them to life. My freckles are much more obvious. There's no hiding the oily skin without a little pressed powder. This was all much easier to deal with over the summer, when I went makeup free as often as possible and didn't have baby-creating hormones coursing through my body. And oh the sun! How it tanned my imperfect skin. Yes I was free and easy this summer. 

But now?

I wish I had more confidence in my appearance, as it is naturally. But mostly, what I wish is this: that I could see myself the way God sees me. I wish I had the courage to walk into church on Sunday fresh faced and ready to worship in my community, without being distracted by insecurity. That what matters most to The Lord would matter the most to me. The heart is important to me, but if I am brutally honest, sometimes the way I look matters more. (Grace, please? This honesty hurts.) Today is a baby step, in that my sisters and I are attending an event at our church this morning called Moms Together. After I told Kacey I'd join her, I had that stabbing realization that I wouldn't be able to hide out at home or in overly public places (thus remaining fairly anonymous) but that I'd be parading (what feels like) my half-naked self into a gym of a hundred or so women that I know and see almost daily. Women I put my best foot forward for. And this is the kind of gathering I'd usually wear something a little nicer for, and you know, the cute earrings and a little extra eye makeup. 

As I type, I realize that although some of you may be nodding in agreement or understanding, it sounds ridiculous and I am feeling so embarrassed. Maybe even a little ashamed. Because this my friends? This is not the heart I want to have. This isn't the heart I thought I had! A little soap and the willingness to set my mask aside this morning has acted like a flashlight in the crawlspace of my heart. Hello there, dark cold corner. Let's get you out in the open.

I am starting to realize that in my culture, in this community I live in, we are taught how to be presentable. But somewhere along the way, presentable morphed into this nonnegotiable and shaped my heart and mind. More like distorted it to the point that the one place and the one community that I consider the most important and genuine in my life has rarely if ever seen me without at least one of the many defenses I put on or put up in order to feel like I am enough.

Does anyone else struggle with feeling like they are enough? Am I the only one who compensates for what I feel like I am lacking? I know I'm not, because as I extended the invitation to other women last night to brave today sans-makeup, I was met with the same timid "I'm in! And I'm petrified..." responses that mirrored my own heart. 

So here's the thing. I've been listening to others for too long. Some have been well-intended. Some have simply wanted to help enhance any natural beauty I have. Some love me so much that they want me to go through life being loved by those I end up living in community with, and in this broken world we live in, people find it easier to love that which is lovely externally. We don't snuggle up to messes or stink or things that are infected. 

But the truth is, this is the condition of my heart. It's messy. It's stinky. It's an infected mass that I can hide inside this shell of a body I walk around in. I can dress that shell up and dye it, trim it, shave it, pierce it, clip it, paint it, botox it, scrub it, moisturize it, and cleanse it all I want. But that doesn't change what's beneath the shell. 

And what's beneath the shell is what God says is most important. He made all of it, and charged us with taking care of it. But I think I've moved beyond care-taking as a motivation for what I do every morning and before I go out to meet up with others. I've stepped beyond appropriate hygiene and taking care of myself, and moved into the realm of overcompensating for what I perceive to be my weaknesses, shortcomings and inadequacy. 

So this morning I am listening to what God says about me. Because my view of myself is pretty messed up, as far as I can tell. Whether I am objectively beautiful by the world's standards or not is so far from the point. What I think about myself, whether I am listening to what God says about who I am... that is what's important. And where I find myself left of center. 

So... to centering our thoughts and hearts on Things Above - namely, what God says about us.

Based on what Psalm 139 says...
  • God created me (vs 13). And because He's God? That means He did a perfect job. He is intentional, purposeful in all He attends to, and is the Great Artist. It means I'm unique, a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that no one will ever be exactly like, inside and out (vs 14). It also means I am HIS. Anyone who has ever created anything knows that you own and have rights to what you create. And while we're at it, not only does he own me as His creation, but He paid the price for my redemption when He sent His Son Jesus to the cross to die. So He bought me back from death, too. I'm doubly His. I simply cannot understand the depth of His love when I think about it this way.
  • God has always seen me for exactly who I am (vs 15-16). I cannot hide from Him, there is no mask that can cover me when He looks upon me. He knows everything about me, including my spirit AND my external activities... I am familiar to Him (vs 1-4). 
  • God made a plan for my life before He formed my body (vs 16). Who I am is so important to Him that He created that part of me, my spirit, before He created my physical body.
  • God goes before me, behind me, and lays His hand upon me (vs 5). It is in Him and because of Him alone that I can have confidence, rest and peace. His Spirit is always with me (vs 7-10).
  • The darkness is not dark to God, and the night shines like the day (vs 11-12). Nothing is hidden from God. This includes the dark parts of my heart - He sees them as if they were out in the open!
Based on Genesis 1...
  • God made me in His image, and I reflect His nature (vs 26-27).
  • He looked upon the creation of the first man, Adam, and He said that it was very good (vs 31).

Based on Genesis 2...
  • It's not good for us to be alone/isolated (vs 18). We need each other.
  • We were not originally created to live in shame (vs 25). 
And you know what else I just learned? That when I'm facing something that is uncomfortable, that pushes me, and threatens who I thought I was... If I run first to God, to His Word, and seek Him in that place of uncertainty, He can speak the Truth to me in a way that brings more freedom, more confidence, and more joy than a bag full of MAC ever could.

And now I'm late to dropping the kids off for school for all this time I've spent scouring my Bible for nuggets of Truth that I can't get enough of... which means no time to reread this and edit it.

Scary, much?! Hello, internet. Here's who I really am. Unedited in so many ways.

Grace to each of you today, you beauties.

Company Lasagna & the Salad I'm obsessed with right now {recipes}

We hosted an old friend for dinner the other night and I wanted to make dinner special but not at all fussy. Plus, I didn't want to spend most of my Saturday cooking and preparing. My go-to recipe is a simple lasagna. I don't even pull out the recipe anymore, I know it by heart and it's easy to memorize. It's also fun to add in surprise ingredients and change the flavor around a little bit. I think the key to a good lasagna is a short list of quality ingredients. Here's how I do mine... I'd love to hear what your favorite lasagna recipe is and try it, too!

Ashley's Lasagna
{all ingredients can be found at Whole Foods}
Serves 8-10

1 package RP's fresh lasagna sheets (refrigerator section)
2 jars Rao's Marinara Sauce (will only use 1 1/2 jars)
1 16 oz container good quality ricotta cheese
16 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 C grated parmesan
3/4 lb good quality ground beef, browned and drained of fat

*optional ingredients: thinly sliced and sauteed mushrooms or eggplant, frozen chopped spinach that has been thawed and drained of moisture (my favorite), can substitute ground beef for sausage...

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9x13 glass pyrex baking dish.
Pour enough marinara sauce in the bottom of the baking dish to cover it completely.
Lay 2 sheets of lasagna noodles over the sauce.
Spread 1/3 of the ricotta onto the lasagna noodles.
Layer on all of the ground beef (or sausage) and then cover with marinara sauce (about 1 C).
Sprinkle 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese on top. Sprinkle with parmesan.
Layer 2 more sheets of lasagna noodles, then 1/3 of the ricotta, and then any additional ingredient/veggie if you choose (seriously, try the spinach, it's heavenly).
Cover with marinara sauce (again about 1C) and 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle with parmesan.
Layer last 2 sheets of lasagna noodles, remainder of ricotta, 1 1/2 to 2 C of sauce (pressing a spoon down between the sides of the dish and the noodles to ensure that the sauce surrounds the lasagna ingredients around the edges) and the remainder of the mozzarella. Sprinkle with the rest of the parmesan, adding a little more if necessary.

Cover with foil and bake for 30-45 minutes, then uncover with foil when the lasagna seems to be baked all the way through. Bake uncovered for an additional 5-15 minutes until the top layer of cheese begins to brown on the edges. Remove from oven, let stand for 5-10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Pairs well with:

Ashley's Simple Italian Salad
Serves 4

1 package prewashed, chopped romaine lettuce
1/4 C grated parmesan
Thinly sliced red onion
Handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1/2 of a cucumber, cut in half again and thinly sliced
Handful of fresh mozzarella pearls (little balls of fresh mozzarella)
Newman's Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing
1 C garlic and butter croutons

Layer all ingredients in order listed in a large salad bowl, drizzling the dressing lightly and finishing with croutons.

The Perfect Fall Dessert - Caramel Apple Layer Cake with Apple Cider Frosting (recipe)

I made this cake a few days ago, and pulled it out for dessert when we had company over. It was a huge hit. The cake is perfectly dense, moist, and balanced with flavor and sweetness. It pairs deliciously with a mug of hazelnut coffee or black vanilla tea (my favorite warm drinks). You could certainly take it to the next level and serve it alongside hot apple cider!  Regardless, know ahead of time that it is enormous. I plan to slice the rest of it up and share it with friends. It was pretty easy to make and uses a lot of ingredients typically on hand in the fall. Also? The secret to finishing it off is letting it set in the refrigerator after icing it. Enjoy!

Caramel Apple Layer Cake with Apple Cider Frosting

{Taken from A Hint Of Honey & Adapted from Whole Foods Market Recipe}

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1½ tsp. baking soda
1½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
1½ cups light brown sugar
¾ cup canola oil
¾ cup unsweetened applesauce
¾ cup caramel sauce (homemade or jarred)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 eggs
1½ cups buttermilk
Apple Cider Frosting:
7 1/2-8 cups confectioners’ sugar (to desired consistency)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup apple cider or apple juice
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour two (8 or 9 inch) round cake pans and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together whole wheat pastry flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside. In a second large bowl, beat sugar and oil together with an electric mixer until well combined, about 30 seconds. Add applesauce, caramel and vanilla, beat for 30 seconds, then add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk, and continuing to beat until well combined.
3. Pour batter into prepared cake pans and bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle of each cake comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Set aside to let cool for 10 minutes, then gently loosen cakes and turn out onto a cooking rack; set aside to let cool completely.
4. For the frosting, put sugar, butter, cider, cinnamon and salt into a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Arrange one cake on a large plate and spread about 1 cup of the frosting evenly over the top. Arrange second cake on top then frost top and sides of entire cake with remaining frosting. Set aside at room temperature or in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour to allow frosting to set before serving.
Makes a tall 2-layer, 8-9 inch round cake.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

31 Days of Listening {to The Word} {to Myself}

In her second book (which I would argue is her best work) Shauna Niequist introduced me to a concept  that has changed the way I think about and have confidence in the choices I make. She made a list of "Things I Do", and a list of "Things I Don't Do". She argues that in order to say "yes" to the most important things in our lives, we are forced to say "no" to others. We simply cannot say "yes" to everyone and everything.

I've struggled to master this in my life, but the concept of prioritizing my roles, my time, where I spend my energy and what's important was introduced to me in high school. I realize this is unusual and am very grateful for the training I received at such a young age. I was a part of a small group at Wheaton Academy led by Chip Huber that read the book "Ordering Your Private World" by Gordon MacDonald. This concept of being intentional with my time and focus was introduced then, and brought up over and over again throughout my Christian education and in my relationships. In the introduction of MacDonald's book, on page 9, he writes: "The order we seek begins with a thorough scouring of the inside of life. With tough questions that it may take others to help us answer. With a confronting of beliefs and principles that are toxic and destructive. With a listening to the voice of God who has better things for us." And then, on the following page, he writes "If my private world is in order, it will be because I am convinced that the inner world of the spiritual must govern the outer world of activity."

My mentor, Cheryl, has also modeled this for me, choosing to say "yes" to sharing her life and faith with a group of junior high girls (which I was a part of), continuing to meet with us throughout high school, and then keeping in close contact with us as we went our separate ways for college. We remained close even after I graduated college and moved back to the area, and she has seen me through a wedding and 3 births, among other milestones and life-shaping events (not all happy). She continues to speak into my life, and as I look back over the last 21 years that I have known her, I am fully aware that she sacrificed and said "no" to thousands of other things and people in order to say "yes" to mentoring me and the other women who were in our small group.

I've been taught and I've been shown how to prioritize my life, and the Bible is very clear about the importance of living with priorities. In Matthew 22:36, the Pharisees ask Jesus what the greatest commandment in the Law is, and in verses 37-38 it says "Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind". This is the first and greatest commandment."

So loving the Lord and having a relationship with Him is our number one priority, no questions asked.

After that, it gets harder to discern what our priorities should be. I love the way Dr. Kenneth Boa explains it in his series on Leadership Qualities {Priorities}, Published October 28, 2005:

"Ultimately, our purpose for living should be to bring recognition (honor and glory) to God rather than to bring pleasure to ourselves (see 1 Corinthians 10:31). With that purpose in mind we can set our priorities by discovering what will bring the greatest recognition to God. If we do that, unlike the fool in the parable [Luke 12:16-21], we'll be rich in God's eyes...

There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings...

In George Bernard Shaw's play St. Joan, one of the characters asks Joan of Arc why God doesn't speak to him the way she claims God speaks to her. She replies, "The voice speaks to you all the time. You just fail to listen." This kind of listening requires us to acknowledge the fact that Immanuel, "God with Us," is, in fact, with us at all times and in all circumstances. Merely acknowledging his continual, abiding presence is a huge step toward setting our minds on things above and allowing those things to order our steps, our words, and our thoughts. So this ordering of our minds on more than one level at once, is a skill that can be learned...

Paul, whose focused life made him, literally, a world-changer, discovered the key to a prioritized life and shared that key in Philippians 3:10-14... "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." ...Part of Paul's ability to accomplish so much is defined in this phrase: "But one thing I do..."

The book of Acts and Paul's epistles reveal that he lived a real life in real circumstances with real options to choose from. He, like everyone else, had to decide what to do and what not to do. He obviously made wise choices. He pursued matters that mattered. When options conflicted he had the ability to choose well. But priorities have to begin with a "This one thing I do." Without a defining, central Priority, there can be no sensible priorities in leading or in life.

Life is too complex to live it by lists of priorities. Paul knew what one thing gave definition to his life, and all his priorities grew out of that central focus. Priorities help us say "yes" and "no" to things that matter and don't matter. Far more, having a consuming priority redefines how we say yes and how we live to make that "yes" a reality. Our lives are to be given over completely to something bigger than ourselves."

Since first learning back in high school that my life is to be lived within the context of God-given priorities, the first of which is loving and serving Him, many things have changed. I've gone from student, to mentee, to student-leader on campus, to employee, to wife then mother, to small group leader, to mentor... The landscape of my life and relationships have changed from year to year, but my singular priority and aim in life remains the same. I've learned that living out of that singular priority, loving the Lord and serving Him, looks different at various stages in my life. I am responsible for the choices I make as I allow that first priority to shape the rest of my life, the way I spend my time, etc.

And that brings me back to Shauna's two lists: Things I Do, and Things I Don't Do. Periodically I revise my lists. I start with Things I Do. Based on this first list, the second one comes a lot more easily - Things I Don't Do. Knowing what I'm saying Yes to and why makes it a whole lot easier to say No to the things that keep me from my priorities. I love the way she puts it in Bittersweet:

"It's brutal, making the list of Things I Don't Do, especially for someone like me, who refuses most of the time to acknowledge that there is, in fact, a limit to her personal ability to get things done. But I've discovered that the list sets me free. I have it written in black and white, sitting on my desk, and when I'm tempted to go rogue and bake muffins because all the other moms do, I come back to both lists, and I remind myself about the important things: that time is finite, as is energy. And that one day I'll stand before God and account for what I did with my life. There is a work that is only mine to do: a child that is ours to raise, stories that are mine to tell, friends that are mine to walk with. The grandest seduction of all is the myth that DOING EVERYTHING BETTER gets us where we want to be. It gets us somewhere, certainly, but not anywhere worth being."

Here are my lists, as of today.

Things I Do:
(in order of importance...)

  • daily quiet time
  • spend time in prayer, and teach my kids how to pray
  • prioritize our family time, and time with my husband
  • grow our fourth child inside my womb
  • lead Bible study
  • mentor other women
  • journal / blog / write
  • spend intentional time with my closest friends
  • serve as a room parent in my son's kindergarten class
  • look for opportunities to build new, meaningful relationships
  • cook and bake (nourish my family, celebrate, and serve others with food)
  • take a shower and wash my hair, get ready every morning
  • go to bed at a reasonable time / take a nap when I need it
  • open our home to others / host dinners, gatherings
  • take pictures
  • encourage enriching activities for each of our kids during the week (1 academic, 1 athletic, 1 spiritual)
  • read (for myself, to my kids)
  • allow time to relax and enjoy life (taking a bath, going out for coffee, eating pastries, making a big deal out of birthdays, getting the occasional pedicure...)
  • try to stay flexible with our schedule depending on the needs of my family / my own needs
  • plan ahead, be dependable, be intentional about punctuality and communicating consideration of others

Things I Don't Do:
(in order of importance...)

  • spend a lot of time in large groups
  • stay up late
  • cram our schedule full of activities and playdates
  • travel a lot or go on vacations
  • go out on weekday nights (unless it's unavoidable/special occasion)
  • keep a steady, vigorous exercise routine (for now, while pregnant)
  • make to-do lists every day in order to feel a sense of accomplishment
  • facebook
  • decorate our house well, thoroughly or consistently
  • diet
  • yardwork, gardening
  • go to concerts, gamble, try new exotic foods, dress up 
  • allow pets in our home/family
  • compare myself to others and the ways they prioritize and order their lives
  • make the bed (I'd love for this one to make it to the other list - I love keeping things neat but there's only so much time)
  • manicures
What are your priorities? 
What's on your list of Things I Do / Things I Don't Do? I'd love to hear about it...

Saturday, October 5, 2013

31 Days of Listening


  • to pay attention to someone or something in order to hear what is being said, sung, played, etc.
  • to hear what someone has said and understand that it is serious, important, or true.
  • to give ear to.
  • to hear something with thoughtful attention: give consideration.
  • to be alert to catch an expected sound
  • attend
  • harken
  • hear
  • heed
  • mind
  • ignore
  • tune out
  • discount
  • disregard
The word "listen" appears in the Bible (NIV translation) 412 times, heavily in the Old Testament books.

And today, she says it better than I can. So hop on over to her blog for a sweet look at how my dear friend seeks to listen to The One most worthy of our attention.

Friday, October 4, 2013

31 Days of Listening {to our Culture}

There's a fine line between listening carefully to someone or something, and believing what is said. I like to think of that fine line as discernment, and although our culture doesn't value it, it's the only thing that will save us as Christ followers in a world that is filled with so much that is destructive. 

I thought carefully about whether or not I wanted to include Culture in what I listen more carefully to as I write each day this month. And very quickly I decided that it has to be included. If God gave me life here and now, it's for a purpose. And I won't discover more of His purpose for me by burying my head in the sand. 

Yesterday in the surgery waiting room (while Ellie had ear tubes put in and adenoids removed), the news was on and Miley Cyrus was being interviewed. She was discussing her career, her maturing process, and her recent performance on MTV's VMA's. A few of the interesting things that I remember her saying were:

1) She never had a normal childhood or adolescence. 
2) She's never felt more 'herself' than she does right now, she feels free to be who she is.
3) Her performance at the VMA's was well-planned chaos.
4) If you look at pop stars in the past who have had success, like Madonna, they all do this. It's part of the evolution process of a pop star and it's a proven formula.
5) This isn't an exact quote, but pretty close... "You have to get people talking. And you might as well make them talk for 2 weeks instead of 2 minutes."

This is someone who our culture has made famous. It breaks my heart for 1,000 reasons. 


In Joshua chapters 3 and 4, we read about someone else who is "exalted in the sight of all Israel. They were in awe of him..."

I'll give you the summary but it's a beautiful story and you might want to grab your Bible right now and read through these 2 chapters for yourself.


In Deuteronomy 30 (humor me!) God lays out His promises to the Israelites and communicates it all through Moses, who went before Joshua and was his mentor (and what Moses projects to the Israelites, Joshua takes part in as it becomes reality... so beautiful). As I read through this chapter, I was blown away by the way God loves His people and the promises He gives to them, as long as they are obedient to Him. He says that while they are dispersed and experiencing the blessings and curses "in just the way I have set them before you" (vs 1), if they take God seriously and come back to God and "obey Him with your whole heart and soul" (vs 2), then "God, your God, will restore everything you lost; he'll have compassion on you..." (vs 3) and gather them together again, no matter how far away they've ended up. "He will give you a good life..." (vs 5) and make them numerous. And even better? "God, your God, will cut away the thick callouses on your heart and your children's hearts, freeing you to love God, your God, with your whole heart and soul and live, really live." (vs 6-7). He promises them a new start, "...listening obediently to God, keeping all his commandments that I'm commanding you today. God, your god, will outdo himself in making things go well for you..." (vs 8-9). But these promises were for them to see fulfilled only if they loved God, listened obediently to Him, and kept His commandments, wholeheartedly returning to Him. They are warned that "If you have a change of heart, refuse to listen obediently, and willfully go off to serve and worship other gods, you will most certainly die. You won't last long...". We are wise to listen to God's voice alone, respond in obedience, and enjoy His blessings.

At the beginning of Joshua (chapter 1), Moses has died and Joshua (Moses' apprentice/mentee) is asked by God to lead the Israelites as they cross the Jordan river and finally inherit the land God had promised to them. God promises to be with and protect Joshua in the same way He was with/protected Moses. Joshua believes God and steps into position as the leader in the wake of Moses' death, and the men respond to him with willing obedience just as they followed Moses. 

Joshua sends men out as spies over Jericho (chapter 2), and Rahab the prostitute hides them in her home. The king of Jericho finds out and orders Rahab to give the men up. But she hides them on her rooftop and tells the King that they already left her home and doesn't know where they are. Joshua's men escape unharmed by the King's misdirected men, and they swear an oath to remember Rahab and her family when God gives them the land they've been promised. Then they return to Joshua and report back that yes, the Lord has given the whole country to them.

Joshua 3 & 4:

Joshua and the Israelites are preparing to cross the Jordan River and take the land God had promised them, camping out next to it for 3 days. Joshua addresses the people in Joshua 3:5 "...Sanctify yourselves. Tomorrow God will work miracle-wonders among you." (*all scripture verses taken from the Bible translation "The Message")

God tells Joshua that He will begin to exalt Joshua in the eyes of Israel so that they know He is with Joshua like He was with Moses. He gives Joshua instructions for the priests. Joshua then passes along to the priests God's instructions about how to carry the ark of the covenant, how to approach the river and where exactly to stand. He speaks again to all of the Israelites in Joshua 3:9-10 "...Attention! Listen to what God, your God, has to say. This is how you'll know that God is alive among you..."

He explains that the ark of the covenant, carried by the priests, will go into the Jordan River ahead of the people, and that one man from each of the 12 tribes of Israel are to be chosen. When the feet of the priests touch the water's edge, the water will stop flowing upstream and pile up so that the river can be crossed. It happens just as Joshua explained it would and I love how Joshua 3:14 says "And that's what happened." The priests who had entered into the center of the river with the ark of the covenant stood on dry ground until the whole nation of Israel had passed them by, crossing on dry ground where the river once was. 

He asks the men chosen from the 12 tribes in Joshua 4:5 "Each of you heft a stone to your shoulder..." to be gathered together later as a memorial to what God had done there. 

Joshua 4:14 says "God made Joshua great that day in the sight of all Israel." Then Joshua instructs the priests to step out of the Jordan River with the ark of the covenant, after everyone had passed through it, and as soon as their feet all touched dry land the river resumed its flow within the banks as it had before it had parted. Joshua immediately erects a monument out of the 12 stones taken from the Jordan so that future generations know what God has done here for them. Joshua 4:24 "This was so that everybody on earth would recognize how strong God's rescuing hand is and so that you would hold God in solemn reverence always."

So we see Joshua:
asking the Israelites to sanctify themselves for the work God is about to do (3:5)...
calling them to pay attention and listen to what God has to say, so that they know He is alive among them (3:9-10)... 
testifying to the fact that God is faithful, trustworthy and true and that because of their obedience they were able to cross the Jordan just as God said they would (3:14)...
instructing the men selected from each of the 12 tribes to pick up a stone from the dry ground in the river to be a part of a memorial later on (4:5)...
being exalted by God in the sight of all Israel (4:14)...
exposing God as strong and able to save, encouraging a solemn reverence of Him among all people for all of time (4:24)...

I love the idea that Joshua was famous among the Israelites - made famous by God and exalted by Him because of Joshua's obedience and for God's glory. In comparing Joshua's story, behaviors, and fame with Miley Cyrus's story, behaviors and fame, there are a few things I noticed:

1) Who we listen to directly relates to how we behave. Joshua listens obediently to God. Because of his obedience, the Israelites are inspired to listen to God and are inspired to obedience. Joshua is exalted by God and helps usher in the fulfillment of God's promises and blessings.

2) Our culture doesn't value listening as a means for gaining wisdom. It's more focused on being the ones doing the talking and being listened TO. But what do we really have to say? What is our message? When I consider Miley Cyrus' attempt to make herself more famous, her goal was to make people talk about her for 2 weeks, not 2 minutes. I can't help but wonder... after those 2 weeks (at best) are up, what more does she have to show for her efforts? What's been accomplished? What has she given up in exchange for all the chatter she hoped to stir up? 

3) Joshua aspired to serve God and lead the Israelites into obedience and subsequently blessing. Our culture in general seems to aspire to self-worship, which always leads to death.

4) Any fame that we are able to create for ourselves is empty and fleeting. When God exalts anyone or anything, it is for the purpose of honoring Himself and it is lasting. He is the Famous One, and the only one worthy of our worship.

Our culture... it has a lot to teach us if we will listen with a discerning heart. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

31 Days of Listening {to Myself}

Sometimes it takes caring for another person to make a mother slow down and take care of herself.

Being pregnant for the 4th time now is quite an experience. This baby is due around March 25th - right after Robbie's 6th birthday and just before Maddie's 3rd. Ellie will be 4 when the babe arrives. All 3 kids are aware of the pregnancy, and can somewhat project what my growing belly means. They're excited about a new sibling, helping us think up names and dividing up responsibilities already (Robbie's got playtime covered, while Ellie says she'll help feed the baby and Maddie will rock it to sleep).

For as tiring as it was to bring Maddie home when Robbie and Ellie still felt like babies themselves over 2 years ago, it's even more exhausting to be pregnant and running around with a 5, 4 and 2 year old now!

I am finding it more important than ever to listen to my body - when it needs something and I don't respond, I'm not only shortchanging myself physically... but the kids pay for it when I get snippy or tired, and this growing baby depends on me as well to protect and nourish its growth. It feels a lot less selfish to rest when I'm tired, eat when I'm hungry, and slow our pace down so that we aren't rushing around from thing to thing. But it's just as important now as it was when I wasn't pregnant - it was just harder to make the choice back then.

So I will head to bed unusually early without apology. I will take a nap on days that I really need one without feeling guilty for being unproductive. I will spend quiet afternoons in our home, just the 4 of us, teaching my kids how to love and forgive and play and share. I will nourish my body with food and not fixate on when I can rid myself of the baby weight. I will enjoy this process and fully enter into it. I will remind myself that this is a short phase of life, one that is to be cherished and savored.

And I will try to show myself these same kindnesses, long after the baby is in our arms.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

31 Days of Listening {to Others}

My little girl is 4. Well, the older of my two daughters. But she will always be my little girl. Sweet Ellie Sue.

She is having surgery first thing tomorrow morning to have ear tubes put in and adenoids taken out. I'm thankful that this is what our next step is, after 5 ear infections in the last 3 months, fluid that won't go away, and countless allergy/asthma attacks and cold viruses. My sweet girl, how she suffers sometimes. This surgery should bring her relief in many ways, and I'm so thankful for the opportunity for her to have it.

For the last 2 weeks I've been trying to think about what it is like to be her. To be 4 years old, to be around 4 feet tall, with a little world that keeps getting bigger with each day that passes and with each experience she has, but still with so many unknowns. I have been trying to view this upcoming surgery from her perspective, in order to best anticipate her needs. I've been listening to her questions, and paying attention when she repeats back to us (or explains to others) what is about to happen. I've been putting a game plan together.

I think I've landed where most parents do.

A simple explanation of the surgery will suffice...

Ear tubes (like the ones your little sister has!) will help your ears to not hurt as much anymore. Those ear infections are painful, aren't they!? And it's annoying to always have to take medicine to try and get rid of them. At the hospital, they'll give you a mask with silly air that makes you fall asleep, and after they put your ear tubes in they will also take out your adenoids. We aren't really sure what those guys do anyways, except make it hard for you to be healthy when you get a cold. You'll be asleep the whole time and when you wake up, it will all be over and mommy will be with you. 

Picking out a new (clearance, ha!) nightgown to wear to the hospital, and saving it for that day, has given her something fun to anticipate rather than the surgery itself. We have also been calling the morning of the surgery her "special date with just mommy". I feel a little pathetic about this, but any alone time with either parent is automatically a 'date' to our kids no matter what the activity is, so we went with it. Breakfast date with mommy at the hospital (sans breakfast!)! HAHA.

Another simple explanation of what the recovery process will be like...

When we go back home, you get to eat as many popsicles and as much ice cream as you want for the rest of the day because your throat might be a little sore. Also, brave girls deserve a treat. And you are a brave girl. You will get to watch a new movie and rest on the couch. And then it's the weekend, and you know how much fun we have as a family together on the weekends! 

I hope I'm speaking my girl's language. I hope all of these thoughts and plans communicate loving care and protection over her. I hope I've learned to listen to my daughter well, anticipate her needs, and that when my actions speak to her, all she hears is "you are precious to me... you are loved and cared for."

Ellie, on the morning she asked Jesus into her heart this summer.
Precious daughter of the King, indeed.

31 Days of Listening {to the Spirit}

In our Bible Study at church right now we are working through a study called "Detox: Clearing the Way for Spiritual Wellness". It's designed for women specifically, and the chapters are divided up as issues that affect every one of us and keep us from being who God made us to be. We've worked through 2 chapters so far - Fear and Envy. And as you can imagine, it's not lighthearted. Even the chapters I think won't be as convicting end up revealing things in my life and heart that I didn't realize were there. It's connecting a lot of dots for me.

I've been constantly thinking about the relationships that exist between fear and faith, envy and contentment, and the more I mull it over the more the Holy Spirit seems to be opening my eyes. And I'm so thankful for that - when we ask the Lord to reveal things to us, He will! For me, this only happens when I've created space for Him, though. Quiet space. Empty space in my mind. I'm only given this once in my day, naturally - when I'm in the shower. And so I create it again every morning with a quiet time that starts well before my little ones wake up. I read somewhere that it's a good idea to start your quiet time with God by saying "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." (Was it Angie Smith?) I thought that was so beautiful - inviting the Lord to speak, and then sitting quietly. I've practiced this all summer, and have been humbled that my God would speak to me at all, much less open my eyes to things that have brought so much freedom where there was brokenness. He is such a good God.

I didn't think that I struggled with envy when I began our latest Bible Study chapter (which I completed at the beginning of the summer). And then I read the scripture verses that explained what an evil envy is, and how far its destruction reaches in our hearts and spills out into our lives and affects everything. I felt a catch in my spirit as I read about what the woman looks like who does NOT envy. Who is free to live in light of who God is, who isn't chained down by her unmet desires that have wreaked jealous havoc on her soul. That is when I realized that envy had a place in my heart, and was determined to root it out.

What I found wasn't pretty. I was envious of others, but not in obvious ways. A well hidden sin is still sin, though. The Spirit revealed to me that I envied the relationship dynamics of others. I envied the strengths and gifts that other women I admired had, and the ways that God was obviously using them.

The thing I am realizing about envy is that it can be very subtle. It can be born out of a God-given desire. We start with something that is pure - a desire to be used by God... to have spiritual gifts that He will use for His glory and kingdom purposes... companionship and intimacy in marriage... friendships that encourage us... to have children... to raise children that love the Lord... for health... to feel satisfied, protected, loved and full of joy... and yet, when these gifts aren't given to us when we expect them, after we've asked God for them, when they seem like things we have come to deserve, when everyone around us is receiving these gifts and we stand empty handed, the bitter root of jealousy begins to grow.

I had this happen over the summer. I was forcing God's had with a gift I thought I deserved, something I thought every believer was promised and something that I had been asking for for a very long time. It seemed like the time had come for this gift to be given to me, and the more I tried to make it happen, the more frustrated I grew. I saw other women around me who had been given this gift and lived with the joy of it almost daily. It makes me really sad to admit that I found it hard to be happy for them, while I struggled with empty hands and theirs were full. I wouldn't say I was angry at them, but my heart had an ache for what they had and each reminder was painful. A painful reminder that (from my perspective) God was withholding blessing from me.

Instead of running straight to the Lord, I consoled myself. "It's coming", I would say. "Keep working hard at this. Keep praying." But it wasn't something I could force into being. Not by my own strength, not by my own hand. My initial God-given desire, which was intended to be brought before Him, was turning into what I felt was a debt He owed me, a RIGHT that I had.

Eventually things broke apart. What followed was a day or two of the most intense sorrow I have ever felt. I trusted the Lord deep down in my soul, but I couldn't see how things would be pieced back together again. Where I once desired blessing and a good gift, now I just hoped for a little bit of healing. I couldn't stop the tears no matter how much I tried to pull myself together. After a day or so, I decided that God was God, and what He says is True, and because I love Him I will always submit to Him. And that meant laying this all out before Him. I put it on the altar and offered my hopes and dreams and desires to Him as a sacrifice. I told Him that I needed Him, I wanted Him more than I wanted the gift I had been seeking. And if He never gave it to me, I would still love and serve Him with my life and submit to Him in every way, in the absence of this gift. I asked Him to just keep walking with me.

So I gave it up. The dream I had held onto. I died a little that night and I wondered how He would make anything beautiful out of it. But as quickly as things had fallen apart, He came near and began to restore all of the brokenness. I still feel unworthy of how soon He came and made Himself known to me, because it was sheer mercy. One day later and I could feel His Spirit moving in my heart, opening my spiritual eyes to how I had gotten to this place, what I had tried to do on my own, how I had done so much wounding along the way without realizing it as I tried to "help" God's gift along in my life. The way my God-given desire in this area had turned into a right I felt I had to God's blessing. The fact that I had turned the God of the universe into my personal attendant of happiness. Seriously. I shudder at that. My holy God, who has done everything for me that I've ever needed, before I was even born, including the sacrifice of His own Son... treating Him like my personal genie. I had been so arrogant and stubborn.

I am so thankful for the awareness the Spirit gives to us when we honestly seek God. My eyes were opened to my sin, and as I confessed and asked for forgiveness, I realized that my perspective had to change. I'm not owed anything. Everything I have is a gift that is undeserved. My life is not about getting what God says He will (sometimes) give (to some of us). It's about living my life out of loving thanks for what He has already done, even if He doesn't give another good gift. It's enough.

I tended to the one in my life who was directly affected (deeply hurt) by the way I had been living, confessing what I now realized to be true about the things I had done and the ways it had destroyed relationship, and was met with loving forgiveness and gratitude for my new understanding. Hello, mercy. It's nice to see you again. Cool water to this burning soul. More evidence of God's active presence and Spirit in our lives.

And then I claimed the love and forgiveness of Jesus. That it would have no end in my life because He is the source. That I would always have more to pour out to others because it never runs out on me.

If you're still reading, I guess what I'm saying is that I learned this...

- God gives good and perfect gifts, but He gives them in His own perfect time, according to His wisdom and according to the plan He has for our lives. We will seldom understand it, but God doesn't call us to understanding. He calls us to love, to trust, to obedience.

- If I have an unmet God-given desire, I need to faithfully bring it before the Lord. I need to be honest with Him, asking Him to help me live in the tension of wanting what He says He can give, before it has been given to me. Asking Him to help me find contentment and rest in Him in the absence of the blessing. This cultivates a heart of humility, which mirrors that of Christ and brings God glory.

- The harder I chase the blessing, the more I miss the One Who Blesses. The only One who can truly satisfy my soul. The blessings will never fill me up. Yes they bring joy for a while, but God alone sustains my heart.

- Releasing what I desire to God allows me to live out the trust I have in Him. There is great freedom in believing and trusting that my life is unfolding according to His plan for me, and is not dependent upon me or the work I might be able to do to 'help it along'.

- When I find envy showing up in the corners of my heart, I need to listen to that. It says more about my heart, what I believe about God, and how I am choosing to worship Him (or not) than it says about others and what they have. Envy isn't really an issue with others - it's an issue of how I see God and what I believe to be true.

- Freedom from envy comes when I sacrifice my vision for the desires of my heart on the altar, letting them go and refusing to strive towards attaining them. It comes when I cultivate a spirit of humility, waiting patiently on The Lord. Trusting in Him because He is good, He is wise, and He loves me. He gives good gifts to His children, but He also sees the big picture. When I worship Him, I acknowledge that I am not God. And that is a very good place to be.