My Ebenezer Stones

During a somewhat impromptu group hymn-sing at Hutchmoot 2014, I was reminded of the richness in the lyrics of “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” in particular, this section:

designFrankly, I’m afraid that most of us might only think of Ebenezer Scrooge when we hear this verse, but the idea of raising an Ebenezer comes straight out of the Bible, from 1 Samuel 7:12:

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, ‘Till now the Lord has helped us.’

The Ebenezer stone was set up to help the people remember, to remember all the ways that God had helped them as they fought against their enemies.

As I stood in the middle of this large group of artists, lifting our voices in praise and testimony to the God we serve, I was undone by the goodness of God in my own life and the ways that He has helped me.

That moment in time was an Ebenezer stone of sorts – a time at the altar of remembrance of all that God had done to gather us there.

But now that I am home, I see Ebenezer stones, moments of remembrance, in my daily life that remind me of God’s goodness and grace.

When I fix a snack and juice for my son, I am reminded of how he is the answer to many years of prayer for a child.

When I look around my home, I am reminded that God cares for me even more than the sparrows, and He has given me abundantly more than I need.

When I stand in a congregation of believers, I am reminded that His Word does not return void.

When I hear beautiful music or eat a delicious meal or read a captivating book, I am reminded that God is the Great Creator, and He makes all things beautiful.

God creates opportunities for us to remember His goodness and grace in our lives, providing us with Ebenezer stones, ways to remember that it is only by His help that we have come this far.

Favorite Things – Fall 2014 Edition

Favorite Things Fall 2014Next week is fall break here, and I am super-excited to attend Hutchmoot for a second year in a row, so I am going to take a break from posting next Wednesday. And, since my mind is already on fall break, and since we have added a little more busyness to our calendar for the next few weeks, I thought I might just share a list with you of some of my current favorite things, in no particular order.

  1. Starbucks Salted Caramel Mochas. Yes, I know the pumpkin spice latte is the fan-favorite, but how can you resist chocolate, caramel, sugar, and sea salt – and coffee –  in one cup?
  2. Dr. Teal’s Lavender Epsom Salt. How old am I again? All I know is that it makes for a great bath in the evenings, really does make my arthritis better, and is inexpensive.
  3. Betty Crocker cookie mix. Sometimes little boys (and moms!) want to make cookies, but there just isn’t time to make them from scratch. I keep several bags of these mixes on hand. All they take is butter or oil and an egg, and you have really great cookies in about 15 minutes.
  4. Walking in Grace and Beauty. Cyndi Spivey is a fashion blogger for women over 40. Although I’m not quite 40 yet, I am almost there, and I really appreciate Cyndi’s approach to the latest trends.
  5. Fall TV, except not network. We watch very little ABC, NBC, and CBS, but we are watching a lot of Doctor Who, Doc Martin, and Father Brown.

**Bonus – I absolutely love Story Warren. They never fail to encourage and inspire me in my parenting and in my own pursuit of a creative life. So, I am terribly excited that they agreed to publish a post I had written about what it really means to teach Henry to sit in big church. You can read it here.

What are your “must haves” this fall? Please share so I can enjoy them too!

Making a Good Impression in Worship

worshipIn our church (and I suspect in yours too), we spend time and energy making a good impression. We want our worship services to be as free from distractions as possible, so we work hard to make sure that the music, sound, lights, and visuals are free from error and problems. A buzz in the sound system, a typo in the lyrics, a wrong chord from the musicians – all are scrutinized and fixed before the time of corporate gathering.

As a part of our worship team, I get this. We want the focus to be away from the tools and on the One who created the tools. So hear my heart with what I am about to say, because I have been on both sides of this table – the one in the congregation, and the one on the stage.

Sometimes we focus so much on making sure the mechanics are right that we forget to make sure that our hearts are right.

I have attended worship services and been distracted by unprofessional behavior on stage. We visited a church where a member of the worship team was leaning against the wall with her foot propped up on the wall behind her while singing and leading worship. Sloppy behavior on stage communicates the idea that what is happening during the music part of the service is not important. (And let’s not get started on worship leaders who tell corny jokes throughout the service. Ugh.)

On the other hand, I have been to polished, professional services where so much energy was put into making the service entertaining that there was very little room for worship to happen, much less for a movement of the Holy Spirit.

I believe that God wants us to approach worship with excellence. If we are commanded to do our work “as unto the Lord” (Col. 3:23), then how much more so should our times of worship be filled with our best work.

And yet, there needs to be a balance, especially for those of us who serve in our churches’ music ministries. FIRST, our hearts must be right. We must have a heart that longs to see God exalted by His people. We must pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to bring revival to our cities, starting with our own church. Then and only then can we rightly begin to consider all of the secondary aspects of modern worship.

Technology will come and go. Worship styles will come and go. But true worship by God’s people remains unchanged. God longs for worshippers who desire to see Him pour out His Spirit today.

(As a late-breaking bit of news, I have an article over at The Kingdom Life Now, talking about our call to service. Click on over and read it here!)

When God Sends Me to Ninevah

For the past six weeks, I have walked with a group of ministry wives through the book of Jonah. We meet each weekday, but we meet on Facebook rather than at Starbucks. We do life together, but some of us live in Kentucky, some live in other states, some live in other countries.

We all met through Hello Mornings and Flourish.me – two really great online resources. Hello Mornings facilitates small group Bible studies that meet through various types of social media – Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Flourish.me is a wonderful blog for ministry wives. We put the two together and have the Flourish.me Hello Mornings group!

I am coming to the end of fiv10615330_10154548986545244_4071143409478131827_n[2]e weeks of reading Jonah almost every day. It’s a short little Old Testament book with only four chapters, but with so much to say.

Chapter four has been my focus for several days. {If you haven’t read it in a while, you can here.} The ending of Jonah is troublesome to me because it is a non-ending. We don’t get to hear how Jonah responded to God, and we don’t find out what he did next.

And that bothers me. I want to know that Jonah did the right thing. I want to know that he repented of his bad attitude and his mongo pity party, and chose to trust God’s provision.

But we don’t get that.

All we know is what God said in response to Jonah. Jonah was concerned about himself. God had saved a group of people who were enemies to Jonah’s people. Then God took away the only respite Jonah had – a vine that grew quickly and then died just as quickly.

In that moment, God cared more about Jonah’s character than about his comfort. He wanted to teach Jonah about mercy and compassion, and although Jonah had recently spent three days in close company with a large fish, frankly, he still didn’t understand what God was doing.

And in that, I see far too much of myself.

God is more concerned with my character than with my comfort. He takes me through dry seasons so that I will learn more about trusting His provision. Like Jonah, I may kick and scream, but it is God who grows the vine and God who causes it to whither. I need to be as quick to praise Him in the times of lack as in the times of plenty.

What about you?Can you see God’s provision in your circumstances today, regardless of what they may be?

How to Make New Friends

newkidThis August, Henry returned to school with one year of preschool under his belt. Last year, he was in a class of 13 kids. This year, eight of those same kids returned. These are his “old friends.” But there are also 13 new kids in his class – “new friends.”

Before the start of school, we did a lot of talking about these new friends, and how they would need someone to help them know where the toys are, how to do the classroom jobs, and what to do at snack time. This was Henry’s opportunity to be a helper, to be a good friend.

When we are comfortable where we are, we forget what it is like to be the new kid. We go to church and sit on the same row with the same people, find “our” table in the breakroom at work, and hang out with the same handful of comfortable friends. And believe me, I understand. I personally love being comfortable.

But I also know what it’s like to be the new kid.

I know what it’s like to move to a city where I had no friends or family – twice. I know what it’s like to search for a job when I have no local connections on my resume. I remember the feeling of sitting in a very full room and feeling very lonely.

So, here’s the challenge for those of us who are comfortable where we are – actively seek out those who are new, and make them feel welcome. And may I say – ahem – this takes more than just a handshake during the greeting time at church. Invite her (or her family) to lunch after church. Get her number and call her or text her during the week. Invite the new mom to go to the park with you and your kids. Ask the new coworker to chat with you over coffee. Whatever you like to do, chances are they will enjoy it as well.

It’s hard being the new kid, whether you are four or 40. It means so much when someone takes time out of their busy day to make you feel a part of the group.

And if YOU are the new kid? May I tell you something? It will get better. Keep trying. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep showing up, even when you would rather stay at home. Eventually, this place will be comfortable too.

Open-Handed Generosity

Phil 419I’ve been thinking a lot this summer about the idea of generosity. How generous am I? Do I give freely of my money, my possessions, my time, my gifts? Am I generous with my words – do I always seek to build up, even when others are tearing down? Am I generous with my attitude, choosing to believe the best when the worst is staring me in the face?

The bottom line is this – do I really trust that God will provide me with enough when I am giving Him all that I have?

Truthfully, giving of my money is the easiest part. I can buy extra groceries for the food pantry, and I can give to the ministries of my church. I will contribute to any need at my son’s school, and I can help the family who has endured a tragedy.

But what about my time? I am stingy with my time. I don’t like interruptions to my schedule. I don’t always allow God to add His own appointments to my calendar. I want to schedule my ministry opportunities like they are doctor’s appointments.

What about my words and my attitude? When someone has slighted me, can I respond with a generous spirit? Will I return evil for evil, or will I instead respond with grace?

Can I be generous with my gifts? Can I share those attributes that God has given me with others? Am I courageous enough to give my gifts both back to the Lord and to a world that is waiting to know more about the One who made me?

You see, generosity is not as simple as throwing a little money at a problem. Certainly, God has called us to be generous with our money and our possessions. And as someone who frequently struggles with contentment in this area, I get how difficult that can be.

But I don’t think that God wants us to stop there. I think financial generosity is just the starting place for a giving life. I think that God wants all of us – everything we have, and everything we are.

The way we steward what He has given us – everything He has given us – is to give it away as He provides us the opportunity.

What has God given you – the things that make you YOU – that you need to share with the world? Will you be courageous enough this week to find one new way to live a life of generosity?

What I Learned From the Dairy Queen Ball Pit

The Dairy Queen ball pit and the Chick-Fil-A playroom are a right of childhood. I have been known to choose one of those two restaurants for the very fact that they have a play area! I try not to think about the germs, wash Henry’s hands before and after playing, and just let him have fun being a four-year-old.

One day this summer, as we were enjoying all that the Dairy Queen playground has to offer, Henry got a rude awakening to the inherent sin nature that is a part of humanity. Another little kid – and I mean LITTLE – was being a bully.

“You don’t belong here. You can’t play here. You need to go somewhere else,” whispered softly enough that parents could not hear.

I was very tempted to wring the neck of this kid, but with an enormous amount of self-control, I did not.

It starts early, this need to see ourselves as better than others. Preschoolers do it, older kids do it, adults do it. We put someone else down to try to lift ourselves up.

We ignore the new woman who walks in the room because she’s not part of our circle of friends

You don’t belong here.

We intentionally exclude people because we are threatened by their gifts and abilities.

You can’t play here.

We try to orchestrate events to put ourselves above others.

You need to go somewhere else.

I’m ashamed to say I’ve both done these things and had them done to me.

What a different world this would be if we could all just enjoy the ball pit together, jumping and laughing and bouncing. The truth is, we are all a mess, and we need grace to deal with one another daily.

Can I offer you a challenge today? Find someone who has bought they lie that they don’t belong and include them today – have a conversation, share a coffee, give a compliment. Let’s change the lie to truth. You are welcome here. You do belong.

How My Garden Grew

10489094_10154256165385244_1045837776_n[1]If you follow me on Instagram, you already know that my garden was a major – MAJOR – part of my summer. Yet again, my sidekick Jill and I, along with a few other people, grew a garden that was entirely too big and too complicated and was ever so much fun.

In May, we were full of hope. We would keep all the weeds at bay, we would not give up come August, we could handle this.

Yeah, right.

We planted all manner of delicious vegetables – a wide variety of peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, green beans, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, potatoes (more about those later), and tomatoes. Back in April, we had a wonderful morning at our local Rural King choosing seeds and plants. We were picking out things like purple bell peppers and saying, “Let’s try it! What can go wrong?”

The optimism, it runs wild and deep.

Let’s start with the cucumbers. They died. One plant came up, produced maybe two pitiful little cucumbers, and then it just died.

Bugs ate the cabbage, and worms were in the broccoli (after much gagging upon this discovery as I was blanching a batch to freeze, I found this method for ferreting out those little critters).

We don’t know what happened to the zucchini. It’s like it was never there. The squash produced beautiful large plants with lots of blooms, but very little vegetable.

10588638_10154394333485244_1628052983_n[1]But let me tell you … if the apocalypse comes, we will live off of green beans and potatoes. I’m not kidding. We planted SEVEN LONG ROWS of potatoes. Seven. Long rows. Of potatoes. And we dug up all of those stupid plants.

About halfway through the summer, Henry announced he doesn’t like potatoes. Tough luck, kid. You’ll be eating them twice weekly all winter.

That garden means a lot of things to us. First, it fills our freezer. If I can freeze it, I will do so until my little freezer is full. Food prices are atrocious, and I am determined to do everything I can to help out our grocery budget.

Second, it teaches Henry that food does not come from cans or bags that are bought at WalMart. Food is actually grown. It has also taught him that growing food is a lot of work and you get dirty doing it.

Third, that garden has become our little sanctuary from the world. It is about as isolated as you can get, and those few hours of quiet each week are something we look forward to.

So even with some disappointments, we’re already thinking about next year – what we will do again and what we will do differently.

10586827_10154441010270244_1225416444_o[1]I don’t know exactly how it will all play out next year, but I can tell you this – we most certainly will not plan that many potatoes again.

Do you have a garden? I’d love to hear about it! Gardeners unite!

My Summer Break

Summer BreakRemember the quintessential back-to-school essay – What I Did This Summer? Well this is it, but I promise to just give the highlights!

When I left you in May, I told you that I needed to take some time off from writing, cut down on my responsibilities, and find time to clear my head. That’s sort of what happened, but it didn’t look exactly like what I imagined.

Here’s what I planned – long stretches of summer days to work in the garden, play at the park, enjoy the outdoors, swim – basically just do nothing but play.

Then we took a nine-day vacation … with a four-year-old … that also included a short conference. And we had Vacation Bible School, where I directed the preschoolers. And we had birthdays to celebrate. And we had a few other things come up here and there.

And now I’m sitting at the end of summer so thankful that we didn’t take on any new responsibilities because we certainly didn’t have room for them.

We did do the other things, but the time for spontaneity that I had hoped for just wasn’t there.

Intention – my word for the year. Yep. It made a comeback.

So here I am, staring down the beginning of the school year, and I want to make sure I am intentional about the fall. As someone once said, “The days are long but the years are short.” The older I get, the more I find this to be true.

I’ve kept a running list through the summer of things that I want to share with you, so you’ll be seeing some of these pop up in the coming weeks. I’m doing some housekeeping around the blog, tweaking things here and there, and maybe adding a few new things. I hope you’ll keep coming back, and maybe ask your friends to join in the conversation.

That’s the biggest change I’d like to make here. I want this to be an ongoing conversation about life. We are all constantly learning and changing, and I want this to be a safe place where we can share our journeys together.

So, let’s start here. How was your summer? Was it all you hoped it would be? Did you take a great vacation, or learn something new?

I Want to Hear from You!

Happy July 28th! This has been a great summer break, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. But first, I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks cleaning up some things around here and planning out the fall (I’ve never had a real plan for this blog before, which is strange, since I thrive on planning.), and I want your input. I have a couple of questions for you below, but if you have any other suggestions for me, or other topics you would like me to cover, please put them in the comments.

Basically, what do you, dear reader, want from this space?


 

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