Sunday, January 29, 2012

No Matter How, Just Count Them!

Still on my soapbox of counting blessings--those grace gifts all around us that come down from our Father of Lights, in whom there is no variation or shifting shadow! Why count?

Because it adjusts our focus to what God IS doing, instead of what He isn't.
Because it reminds us of how much we have, even when we don't have much.
Because it makes you smile.
Because it changes our hearts from the inside, to the outside.
Because it brings strength, peace, and hope.
Because it's portable.
Because it trains us to see all that we don't usually see.
Because it looks for purpose in the difficult and the mundane.
Because it allows us to glimpse all of our gifts, not just the big ones.
Because everyone has gifts to count.
Because it ushers in the BIG miracles!

One comment I've heard is from people who are afraid they can't sound eloquent ... poetic ... musical. But can you count? Counting is personal ... flexible ... as creative or factual as you need it to be. Count in a way that you are comfortable with! Ideas of ways to count:

  • a list
  • photgraphs
  • video snippets
  • music lyrics
  • scripture
  • quotations
  • drawings
  • cartoons
  • journalling
  • scrapbooking
  • sharpie tatoos
  • audio recording
  • a mix CD
  • sound effects
  • slide show
  • poster
  • glass markers
  • chalkboard
  • paper crafts
  • any combination of the above or of unlimited other ways!

So what are you waiting for? It's only the end of January .... And it's really never too late to start counting!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

To Know Is Not Enough

We know how to look.
We must learn how to see.
We know how to hear.
We must learn how to listen.
We know how to touch.
We must learn how to feel.
We know how to taste.
We must learn how to savor.
We know how to think.
We must learn how to reason.
We know how to talk.
We must learn how to converse.
We know how to do.
We must learn how to serve.
We know how to say thank you.
We must learn how to be grateful.

"Now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."  1 John 3:2 (NIV)

More glimpses of grace gifts:

#144 the pace of a well-prepared day
#145 the chatter of an 11-year-old as we make cookies together
#146 the hourly rescue: my Bible, 1000 Gifts, my journal, my list
#147 scratching pencils and tapping keys of children working on assignments
#148 cheese bubbling on fries
#149 Josh walking in the door early because game-club was cancelled
#150 soft whoosh and cool breezes of a fan
#151 teaching about the sun using a globe
#152 teaching school stretched across my bed
#153 getting the icing for the sugar cookies perfectly stiff
#154 remnants of the hole in the backyard under the swingset - and years of outdoor adventures that created it
#155 tender-hearted boys who quickly jump in to help their mom with the aching back
#156 breakfast made for me and brought to my room
#157 all three of us working quietly on our own things, but together.
#158 starting the day laughing together at funny street performers on YouTube
#159 dirt on the floor reminding me of new boots, a back yard, and outside play.
#160 rain clouds moving across the sky on cooler weather
#161 the unlocking and turning of the front door knob
#162 the thousands of things Stephen says that make me laugh!
#163 a sense of complete peace - I had almost forgotten this feeling.
#164 sushi and comfortable conversation

... and on and on they come!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Power in Just Saying Thank You

I am currently reading One Thousand Gifts: a Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp. When I chose the books, I liked the idea of the title, but I completely missed the subtitle. “A dare to live fully right where you are ….”

A dare? To live fully? Do I not live fully? Is it something I really need to be challenged to do? My life certainly feels full: full of activity, full of noise, full of living … and full of dares.

I live in a house full of dares. With three boys all vying to claim the rights to be king of the moment, dares are etched into every comment, every declaration. Every word said, every action done, every choice made is done with at least some attention to what the brothers see and think. It used to drive me crazy … OK, more crazy … but I’ve since realized that it is wired in the nature of men to live life on a dare.
The word “dare” means to have the necessary courage or boldness for something. Does it really take courage to live fully? How else does one live?

Something in my spirit stirs. Is that what is missing?

I must confess, I have been asking myself this question for a number of years now, I just didn’t realize it was the question I was asking. Year after year I have fought against feelings of brokenness and failure, waking every morning to fend off the sense that I was drowning in my own life. I’ve been haunted by childhood dreams of what life should be like for me, nightmares echoed in my observations of the lives of so many women around me.

Shouldn’t I be the one driving the newest car? Shouldn’t I kiss my charming husband goodbye each day, and greet him with dinner on the table as he comes home? Wasn’t I supposed to have the typical middle class life that my mother modeled for me? Why did God impress on me so early how important a job it is to be a husband helper, child builder, and home maker … if … if He was just going to make that … impossible?

I’m not happy here … in my life. And yet, as I watch so many women who have the life I planned … the life I wanted … they aren’t happy either. How do I live this life—the life God has given me fully? How do I live it at all?

Most days, I feel like life is happening to me. It sweeps me along like a current and I can’t manage it. I barely keep my head above it. I try to school the kids, try to wash clothes and prepare meals, try to pay the bills. I’m trying to please the kids, trying to please my employer, trying to please the homeowners’ association … and I just feel like … like I never can.

I can’t even please myself. “Alone! You’re all alone!” “No one will ever love you like this!” “If so-and-so really knew how you are doing this, they’d take your kids away!.” The serpent’s lies hissssss in my head! I grumble and cry and again and again doubt God’s love for me and His plans for my life.

There. I said it. The source of my fear, my ache, my sorrow is my discontentment and the root of my discontentment is my lack of trust in God. How do you reverse distrust? How do you eliminate discontentment?

Is it really simple? As simple as the opposite? As simple as saying thank you? I start a list. A simple, childlike list of things I’m grateful for. I call them gifts, because they are gifts … from the One who loves me more than I can imagine. Can a full life really be found from simply opening your eyes to the fullness of life you've already been given? Is that really all I have to do - to see and say thank you?

I’m still writing them down, gaining momentum as I train my eyes to see more and more of the gifts around me. I didn’t even know they were there. And as I write them, I feel … blessed. Blessed to have my life. To have my gifts. Blessed to be me.

More gifts to mention:
#68 scones ready to go in the oven in the morning
#69 words to write … coming again after being dry
#70 no real desire to watch TV or play games tonight
#71 actually looking ahead to the next day before going to bed
#72 insomnia transformed into breakfast, lunch, the start of a grocery list, and 1/4 of the surface of the table
#73 unanimous agreement to open our home to someone in need
#74 a few hours of sleep in the early morning that got me through the day
#75 opportunity to encourage a friend
#76 adventure at the surplus/thrift/junk store
#77 the sun playing peek-a-boo through the clouds
#78 time to work on Saturday presentation
#79 sheets and pillows that smell like the sweet outdoors
#80 cooling air outside
#81 waking up in the way-too-early AM and being aware of the call to enter the suffering and loss of dear friends through prayer
#82 two human-children bed warmers snuggling next to me on a very cold night
#83 kitty therapy – our gray kitty babies in the regular kitten room where we can freely play with them
#84 new books in the mail
#85 the opportunity to encourage new homeschooling families
#86 the overwhelmed single mama who needed my counsel on homeschooling
#87 Robyn’s joint custody ruling
#88 Carrie, and her love and encouragement
#89 reminders again and again that when I feel hopeless there is always YOU. YOU are right there. YOU are enough!
#90 conversation about a job
#91 the way my covenant family and worship encouraged my heart today
#92 ease and speed in preparing my Journey lesson
#93 a glimpse of how Jesus is transforming me into a peacemaker
#94 being with Journey girls after more than a month long break!
#95 really yummy spaghetti that was easy to make
#96 the influence of boys like Neal and Reed on my little boys
#97 kitchen is cleaned and caught up!!!
#98 breakfast in the crockpot this morning
#99 finding fleas instead of worrying about mites
#100 getting to revisit memories from Beauty and the Beast (with Helen)
#101 catching up on Bible reading with FREE Internet audio Bible
#102 letting Josh spend a whole day with his girl
#103 better information and motivation at the sleep doctor today
#104 a great, productive family meeting
#105 a unique awareness of my dependence upon God because I’m single
#106 remembering that He who owns the cattle on a thousand hills secure my debts
#107 early to bed
#108 Bible time with the boys – talking about scripture and praying together
#109 wrestling through the awkwardness of being different … and realizing how different Jesus really makes me.
#110 being loved enough to be treated like a Princess for a night
#111 the feast of the senses that is musical theater: lights, color, music, dance, story, song….
#112 soft fur and rumbly purrs
#113 real world learning because we took time to be in the real world
#114 red-brown hair, a freckled nose, and socks in bed
#115 a clean, quiet closet to pray and study
#116 a second mama whom I love as much as the first one
#117 acoustic strumming of lovely tunes
#118 Alex … at Robyn’s house … for a whole weekend
#119 unexpected drive time that compels me to talk to Beloved
#120 Andrew learning lessons the hard way
#121 something ugly-beautiful: rows of stark, naked trees along the river
#122 bright sun, no clouds, on a canoe trip day for boys
#123 sounds of two very large boys wrestling on my bed
#124 memories of three little boys wrestling on the same bed (but it was bigger then) and snuggling up—all four of us—for the night
#125 reminders of the incredible men of God whose teaching I have been privileged to sit under during my lifetime
#126 something wrinkled: the sweet faces of my mama, grandmas, and great-grandma, who all remind me to embrace my trials and keep pressing on
#127 one grace smoothed: my path (Luke 3:5)
#128 one grace unfolded: the over-abundance of clothing we are blessed to have
three gifts found in Christ:
#129 Romans 3:24 freedom from the penalty of my sins
#130 Phillipians 4:6-7 peace that comes through prayer and prais
#131 1 Corinthians 12 unity with one covenant-secured body of believers
#132 a grace in the weather: enjoying 70 degree temperatures in January
#133 one gift that made me laugh: my very silly Stephen
#134 one thing I shared: a favorite book by a favorite author with Andrew
#135 a growing up conversation with a bashful son, who answers honestly anyway
#136 breaking cry of our red-shouldered hawk that we’ve been missing for a couple months
#137 watching Gracie enjoy her freedom after convalescing with a hurt paw for two days
#138 Oatmeal-orange-chocolate-strawberry-banana-crunchy sugar-all warm from the oven and ready to eat
#140 online audio Bible to help me catch up on my backlogged Bible reading … again
#141 sweet friends’ gifts of a blender, a computer monitor, citrus fruit, and a ride for a stranded kid
#142 the still-wonderful laptop my teenager is learning Spanish with
#143 the warming love of my sister who wanted us to have a new computer
… and more gifts to count and to come!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Quiet Place of Retreat

Every morning the alarm goes off and I jump out of bed. OK, well actually the alarm only goes off some mornings ... and usually I jump out of bed so I can cross the room to hit the snooze button ... but eventually my days starts like it does for many people around me. I rush into the day trying to put together my mental checklist. I make breakfast, pack lunches, get boys up and going, and start the tasks of the day. I navigate my checklist, trying to weave through the chaos of living in an unkempt house, filled with loud, noisy children, and secured by a pile of bills yet to be paid ... all of these things demanding my time, my attention, my money, my sanity. The breakneck pace of the simple world I have chosen to live in makes me wonder how I would cope with a world that is more complex--be it working outside my home, rushing kids around to multiple schools and activities, or even just trying to please a husband. I have searched for years for a way to calm the clamor and conquer the chaos, trying lists and accountability partners and rewards only to discover again and again the only thing that can bring me peace.

I'm not a morning person, so the momentum of propelling myself into immediate activity first thing in the morning often seems like the intuitive way to keep myself awake, not to mention to actually accomplish something before noon. Yet the only way that I reach the end of the day feeling satisfied with what I have (or haven't) done is when I spend time at the beginning and throughout the day looking, listening, waiting, being still, and remembering to let myself be led by the One who made me for a purpose and who knows how today can bring me closer to fulfilling that purpose.

Being still ... waiting ... listening .... All are very hard activities to learn to do well in our culture. With all our modern conveniences to do survival work for us, we continue to overload ourselves with more tasks and call them necessary. We drown out the cries of our own souls with images and noise and imitation relationships until silence and stillness seem wasteful, dull, and tedious. We exhaust ourselves to the point that if we aren't doing something we can't keep our eyes opened or our minds engaged. And by we ... I mean me.

One of the things I love about new beginnings ... about the new opportunities afforded in recurring routines ... is that I am reminded again and again to return to what is essential. Not what I think is necessary, but what my very soul needs. Once again, I'm reminded of how badly I need quiet time in the morning to read from ancient pages about the One who has brought me this far. Once again I draw close to His heart to pour out to Him my concerns, to ask Him for help, to share with Him the my delights. As I try to do this in chaos I remember, again, that I need a place to retreat to His arms, so one more time I clean out a bag ... a corner ... a closet to set aside as my personal Holy of Holies where I can worship Him.

My house is still in chaos. My schedule packed with more things to do than there are hours in the day. Even my room is a disaster, but this morning, I retreat to the lovely prayer closet I have restored and sanctified for the purpose of worshiping the Lover of My Soul. It is a place of beauty ... of simplicity ... a place of escape into what is eternal from that which will continue to change until it ceases. This is my response to needing the SHELTER of prayer. This is my retreat.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The 4 Minute Mothering Habit

Again, I'm reminded, and I wonder: When will I be over it? When will I forget? When will my scarlet D be removed? Again I tell myself: Never. It is a part of who I am - a part of the story that God has written into my life, and God never uses erasers on our story. I am divorced. I don't have a husband or a marriage. For now, that's not a part of the adventure God has written for me. 
It's not that I envy others who experience wonderful marriages ... that I would ever want to take the joys and struggles of marriage away from someone else .... I just grieve again and again for all those dreams and plans of which I have had to let go. Again ... and again.

I go through all this emotion while reading a favorite blog ... Not that it's unusual for me to experience a lot of emotion when I read Ann's blog, but I don't like these emotions ... don't like revisiting them.

But what she shares is truth ... a key to strengthening relationship ... advice for enhancing koinonia. She asks Who doesn’t want a deeper relationship? and I remember "Bloom where you're planted."

I may not have a husband to try these methods with, but I have relationships. And although they may require some very different things from the marriage relationship, they still need some of the same things too. So I take her advice, and consider what it should look like with my boys, and how these 4 Minute Marriage Habits can be transformed to 4 Minute Mothering Habits:

1. Four Focuses
Four times a day focus on the promises I've made to God in raising these boys to manhood. When they wake in the morning, leave the front door, return to front door, head off to bed - even with my young men, these are the four critical archways of time in our day. Touch or whisper encouragements at these gate points, reminding them that they are my treasures. No matter what has transpired through the day, I should take these four opportunities to remind them that no matter what has happened or what will happen, I want them and am here cheering for them.

2. Four Touches
Four times a day, intentionally touch them. Hug them and look in their eyes. Rub their back. Hold their hands a minute. Kiss their hair. Intentionally repeat it four times daily. Connection requires contact. Even though my boys are at different stages of acceptance of public displays of affection, they all still need to be touched. I need to look for private moments to remind them that we are connected and that they are very much loved.

3. Four Affirmations
Four times during the day, thank them. For diligently completing schoolwork, for being kind to their brother, for giving me a hug, for taking out the trash. Look for the ways to thank each of them. Recognize the strength in their character and compliment it ... but be prepared to give them a specific example or two of how they demonstrate such qualities.

It has been a long time since I thought of this, but when the boys were little, I had simple goals. One of them was that each boy, when asked "Who is mommy's favorite?" would say, "Me." I want each boy to feel so special to me, that it is easy for him to believe he is my favorite. I still want that today, but that goal gets lost among the goals of finishing schoolwork on time (or at all!), and getting everyone to the places he needs to be, and remembering in between all the taking-care-of to make sure I get a shower and eat and read my Bible! The 4 Minute Mothering Habits can go a long way to making each of the boys feel special, treasured, favored.

As I consider these habits, I suddenly realize the biggest way that these 4 Minute Mothering Habits differ from those in Marriage: I am only doing these for them until I surrender these habits to their new wives. And after all, that is one of the biggest reasons I want to mother them well - because I want them to be loving husbands and fathers who know how to love and to be loved.

So I guess it is all about marriage after all. And I do play a very big part in this loveliest of relationships!

Spiritual Check Up

Well, 10 days into the new year, and I'm still with my resolution to read my Bible every day and to keep my list of 1000 gifts. As with most things once the novelty wore off (around day 3!), and it became hard. Yesterday I had a major breakdown when it took me hours (literally!) to read my several chapters of Genesis. After pondering what my problem was I realized that when I read scripture, I rarely just read it. My brain is interacting--asking questions, imagining the real lives of the cast, noticing relationships and patterns. Because of this, my inclination is to study it using commentaries, word studies, and making charts and lists. Often the resources I'm using don't answer my questions, and I have to search the Internet to see if I can find some answers. I want to read through my Bible in a year, but I want to study it for myself too!

Once I realized what my hangup was, I called a friend for advice on how to handle it. Her first question to me: What is your purpose for reading through the Bible? Well ... DUH! I realized that I need to be very clear on what I'm doing, so for now, I'm just reading and making some notes, and I'll just keep doing that until I can pray about it a little more and decide if this whole read-through-in-a-year things is what God wants me to do, or just what I want to do from legalism.

My list of grace gifts is growing so quickly. Several times I've found myself feeling down or frustrated or overwhelmed, and I've just pulled out my Grace journal and reviewed it or added to it. This hasn't been any kind of magic solution to overcoming the emotions of the moment, but it does change my focus and has restored much of my peace. It's odd too, that sometimes I hold myself back from counting things that I deem "little" or "silly." I realized that on Christmas day my kids love what is in their stockings as well as their "big gifts," so it's OK for me to be grateful for the fun little things God does because He knows that only I will love them!

Here are the things, silly or not, that I've added to my list:

#41 "Mom, getting on Pinterest is one of the best things you've done!" [because I'm actually making recipes and doing things from it]
#42 Helen
#43 Christmas money to spend from a family member
#44 encouragement from a sister in Christ
#45 watching Andrew soften to correction and teaching through the course of an afternoon
#46 everyone waking up without a fight
#47 enjoying worship with our Praise team at church--twice!
#48 being reunited with friends who've been away from our church
#49 seeing a young man who grew up as a "hero" to my boys, and meeting his wife
#50 realizing how much I was enjoying Sunday worship (Thanksgiving makes all the difference!)
#51 Hearing Andrew say, "TEN DOLLARS?!?!?" [as the offering plate was passed by us]
#52 having Matthias over and hearingthe boys enjoying time together
#54 returning to God's Word late at night (remembering to return is HUGE!!!)
#55 great, trusted, "Duh!" advice from Eva
#56 a photo I loved and time to play with it
#57 time alone with Josh to talk
#58 opportunity to let a single mom friend board here
#59 the stirring of my BIG DREAM
#60 dinner with Helen's family
#61 a CPAP hose on hand to replace a broken one
#62 sunlight after a rainy morning
#63 grown up conversations with my almost-grown-up son
#64 finally getting school on track -- sorta
#65 spiritual conversations with a friend who trusts me
#66 ice cream with Stephen -- and great conversation!
#67 two hours with the younger boys gone so I'm alone enough to think and write and read

.... and the gifts continue!

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Taking the Joy Dare!

I have struggled for some years now with depression. Too many losses, the hardships of life, brokenness from sin, compounding health issues, loneliness--a recipe for depression. Through it all, I have seen with unusual spiritual clarity that the refuge for my emotions, my sanity, my spirit can only be found in the Lord. There have been moments when it was so clear I could almost touch it--the only way to lose weight, master my money, guide my children, figure out how to handle the next bill is to cling to the Lord and seek His help. I lose the clarity quickly, overcome by the wind and the waves around me ... distracted from my Lord. I often tell my kids that if they can't remember too many things of which I set a good example for them, I hope at least they remember that I was always willing to try again and to start over when I was going the wrong way or was trying to do something I felt called to do.

This year, I'm trying to change my year ... my choices ... myself ... by changing my focus. I'm convinced that overcoming depression, anxiety, fear, and so on occurs by cultivating gratitude. So I'm taking the Joy Dare. I'm daily recording the things I see around me that God is giving me. I've started counting my gifts--gifts I get every day, almost hourly ... or moment by moment. They are gifts of graces, given to me by my Father. I am counting to a thousand--my Thousand Gifts--and beyond. In my first week, this is the start of my list:

  1. a NEW year filled with hope
  2. enjoying worship together with all three of my boys
  3. favorite old movies filled with memories and emotions
  4. hearing God's voice in sermons and scripture
  5. a beautiful, warm, sunny first day of the year
  6. an afternoon nap
  7. a kitty sleeping on the bed next to me
  8. new beginnings
  9. a second visit with Jackie and Gracie
  10. changes in Grace--she's growing up!
  11. recognition of returning to the ruts in my life.
  12. first coffee of the year with Carrie
  13. a camera to borrow
  14. holding a warm, purring kitty (obviously not ours!)
  15. Stephen waking me to "put me to bed."
  16. a warm, safe house on a cold night
  17. being trusted with the trials of people I love.
  18. Smooth sheets and soft warm blankets
  19. a turkey feast with my kids!
  20. listening to the boys playing PS3 together and laughing
  21. LEFTOVERS!!! (Means I don't have to cook!)
  22. an 11-year-old who can make breakfast!
  23. glimpses of character growth in Josh
  24. remembering to pray with Andrew
  25. a lazy day AND
  26. forced return to the routine and to work
  27. my brown eyes that look for the best in things
  28. my affectionate, sensitive, very physical body language
  29. a completely and totally God-given ability to look into scripture and see connections, relationships, and applications
  30. a NEW attempt to read through my Bible in 2012, with NEW expectations of success
  31. excitement, anticipation, appreciation in the boys eyes as I try again to make food from scratch regularly
  32. spiritual growth in a young man's beliefs after having to let go so he could find his own path to His Father
  33. the privilede of praying for friends in the middle of trials
  34. a friend who finally received a successful heart transplant
  35. a kid who loves being outside riding his bike  
  36. electricity and water paid up!
  37. Caramel Banana Pie
  38. the change purse Papa brought me from Nepal ... where the Gospel is so needed.
  39. groceries!
  40. encouragement and hope from the Gospel that is never far from my thoughts

...and counting!

If you'd like to join me, try starting with the January Joy Dare, in addition to other things that the Lord shows you throughout the day.