Looking for Abundance

A couple of weeks ago, a good friend and I began to text one another moments of abundance – moments we could clearly see God working around us, maybe in nature or in our relationships. Looking for abundance, also known as counting your blessings, can change your life.

Let’s face it. This world is hard. Times are difficult, even when things are going well. Just the normal stresses of life – bills, relationships, health concerns, and general worries – are enough to keep our thoughts focused on us, when what we need is for our minds to be transformed to think more about God and what He is doing in and around us.

What I have found is that moments of abundance usually cost very little, if anything. A sunny morning to sit outside while eating my breakfast, taking in the smells of late spring, hearing the birds chirping, and seeing the glory of newly greened trees is a moment of abundance. Sipping a good cup of hot, strong coffee on a cloudy day, listening to good music, talking my dog for a walk, watching kids playing soccer, and laughing with friends are moments of abundance.

The Lord has given us this world to enjoy. In Psalm 104:14-15, we read, “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.” God has surrounded us with good things. He tells us that these are sweet gifts from Him to us, to make us glad and give us strength. What a wonderful God we serve who cares about such things!

He has provided for our basic needs, but God also provides for these felt needs. He wants us to seek out and surround ourselves with good things and to be inspired by His creative work.

I challenge you this week to look for moments of abundance. Begin to train yourself to see the good things God is giving you each day, rather than focusing on the troubles of life. See your attitude change as you are intentional with your thoughts. Count your blessings, name them one by one.

Sights and Sounds of Creation

Yesterday, I was listening to Sally Clarkson’s latest podcast (Women, especially moms – you need to know about Sally Clarkson. Her words are a great blessing to me.), and she said something so freeing. She said that if you are feeling spring fever where you are, give yourself permission and give in to it.

So, today, I am! I am writing this while sitting outside a coffee shop. I may be on my laptop and writing in my notebook, but my senses are engaged just by this change of scenery. I hear traffic – the sound of people going to and from. I see other people also working on laptops. I see construction workers busy with a new development. I smell the freshness of the spring air, and the cups of coffee around me. I taste my own mango black tea lemonade, perfect for a spring morning. I feel the light breeze and the sun shining down on the patio.

We are preparing for our children’s choir spring musical this week, which talks all about God’s creation. God made our senses to enjoy His world, He made our imaginations, He gave us other believers for fellowship, He offers us salvation, and so much more. God gives so many good gifts to His children, but how often do we really take the time to enjoy them all? Do we stop to see the beauty in the world around us?

Are you feeling spring fever today? Step outside, and really stop and look and see and smell and feel and taste the Lord’s goodness. Are you in a trial? Count your blessings, as the old hymn says. God is so good, and His creative acts are everywhere. Take time today to enjoy them and thank Him for His goodness.

Lessons From a Social Media Fast

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

Lent is over. Our fasting is complete, our celebration begins!

Spring is a wonderful season. I am writing this while sitting on my back porch, looking upon the just-budding trees with that fresh, spring shade of green, as well as a couple of dressed-up dogwoods in their whites and pinks. It is a beautiful day, the kind that makes it easy to see the goodness of God in a clear way.

But Lent. I don’t come from a background that traditionally observes Lent, but occasionally I will feel the need to purge something from my life, and Lent always seems the appropriate time to do it. This year, I gave up social media for the 49 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter.

Giving up Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter was not easy. As a culture, we’ve come to depend on them as our means of spreading news, sharing information, and keeping up with family members. I had to get my world news from a source other than Twitter. I had to actually make some phone calls and see people face to face. I couldn’t give up the Messenger app because that is the primary way I communicate with the parents of the kids in my choir.

But now that I am on the back side of my experiment/purge, here are some of the lessons I learned:

  1. I take fewer pictures when I am not posting them. It’s not a very flattering thing to realize that most of the pictures I take are for sharing, rather than for capturing the beauty of a moment, but there it is. I just haven’t been snapping as many shots since I haven’t been sharing them. I have learned that I need to be more mindful of my motives when sharing a picture or video.
  2. I get more done when I am not scrolling. I think this is a pretty obvious one, but social media becomes a time-waster. I have read more books, listened to more podcasts, played more piano, and kept my house cleaner. Most of my time on social media is not productive, but these other things are.
  3. I focus less on what others think of me, and compare myself less to their online versions of themselves. Many more people have written about FOMO – our fear of missing out – but it’s true. Social media tempts us to compare, to worry, to judge, to envy. Stepping away allowed me to see that my own life is good, even when it is small.
  4. I don’t need social media to survive. Will I go back to those sites now that Lent is over? Yes. I miss keeping up with my nieces and nephews and their lives. I miss getting updates and reminders that way from my church and other organizations I am a part of. Will I find ways to continue to curb what I take in from those sources? Absolutely.

So, there you have it. A condensed version of what I have learned this year during Lent. God reminded me that life is more than our online lives. He wants me to depend on Him alone for approval. He has blessed my life immeasurably. He wants me to give the best parts of my day to serving Him and blessing the people in my real life.

In the 21st century, it is almost impossible to get away from the online world entirely. But Lent has reminded me that the online world is just a shadow of our real world – which is just a shadow of the world to come. May I learn to be more present here so that I can begin to understand how I will be present there.

Don’t Take Each Other for Granted

Our little community of faith has lost three prominent members in the past seven months. People who, one year ago, we would never have thought would be gone by this time. People who quietly made an impact on everyone around them, and who are all missed greatly every Sunday when we gather together for worship.

The third one passed away just a week and a half ago. We buried him this time last week. And as we gathered for our mid-week church activities, I watched our people walk as they ate supper together, walked through the halls, and talked with one another. And I realized something important.

Much too often, we take each other for granted.

We just expect that we will always be this way, the way we are today. That the people with whom we live, work, play, and worship will always be there. We treat each other flippantly, even without meaning to. We don’t cherish these moments nearly enough.

Let’s really look at one another!…It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed… Wait! One more look. Good-bye , Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover’s Corners….Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking….and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths….and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it – every, every minute? (Emily) ~ Thornton Wilder, in Our Town

After living through cancer and the side effects of treatment, I no longer take for granted my ability to put together a vegetable soup to simmer in the slow cooker all day, or the beauty of a walk on a  sunny day, or the smell of fresh coffee in the pot.

We need to celebrate each other more. We compete for everything without learning to celebrate the success of others. When someone gets the part, the job, the house, the promotion, I want to take the time to celebrate with them, not be jealous for what I don’t have.

We need to listen more. We move at such a fast pace, and we pretend that Facebook lets us keep up with our friends and family. But it doesn’t replace one-on-one contact with another, over coffee, in the car line, in the pew, at the park.

We need to expand our circles. It’s so easy to find a group of friends who make us feel comfortable and never expand that circle to include someone else. We need to extend the hand, give the invite, learn a name, include the new person.

We need to take the time. We need to slow down, put away the phone, get off the train so that we can take the walk, smell the flowers, pet the dog, and cherish life.

As Emily said, we need to really see life, and the people around us, while we live it.

 

What’s Saving My Life Right Now – Winter 2017

Anne at the Modern Mrs. Darcy (one of my favorite bloggers and podcasters!) is inviting us to share the things that are saving our lives right now, at what is often the dreariest time of the year. We are in middle of winter, the days are just beginning to get longer, the temps are cold, and, at least in my area, we have no snow. (Could we at least have one good snow this year? Please?)

Until that snow happens, or not, here are a few things that are making my life a little happier this winter:

  1. The Inspector Gamache Series. What Should I Read Next? has expanded my to-be-read list beyond measure, including introducing me to this mystery series by Louise Penny, which really hits my winter reading sweet spot. Set in a quaint fictional town in Quebec, we follow the lives of quirky, small-town people who seem to attract a lot of murders, all solved by Inspector Armand Gamache. Engaging and fun, each book gets better and better. The series currently has twelve books, so plenty of reading to fill up the cold days.
  2. Cuties. Citrus is good for us, right? I hear it can even help with winter doldrums. And these little guys come in easy to peel packages. What’s not to love? A cutie and a handful of mixed nuts are a daily snack.
  3. Vaseline Rosy Lips. I basically bathe several times a day in moisturizers during the winter, and my new favorite this year is Vaseline’s Rosy Lips Therapy. It keeps my lips soft, and it’s such a pretty shade of pink.
  4. Hygge. I have been fascinated by the Danish idea of hygge. I told a friend that I should be a lifestyle guru, as I have basically lived a hygge life for the last 20 years. Cozy clothes, candles, good food, warm drinks, creature comforts … yes, please!
  5. Cooking. Out of necessity, we ate out a lot during December. And while I love a fine dining experience, the fast-food experience was what we had most. So I am breaking out my cookbooks (yes, I prefer real cookbooks over almost anything online) and my tried-and-true recipes, and I’m cooking more. And remembering how much I enjoy it.

So, along with coffee (because I am nothing without coffee), those are the things that are helping me face the brutality of winter. What about you?

Create in 2017

After much wringing of hands and wondering if I would even have one word for 2017, I finally settled on one – create. As I move into my 40s, I want to be intentional to create the kind of life I want for myself and my family. I want to make a home that I am proud of, and a life that reflects the particular values that I hold dear.

I want the possessions that we have to bring us joy. If not, they need to go.

I want to spend my time doing things that bring life to myself and my family. If certain activities, habits, or hobbies drain from our lives, they need to be reevaluated.

I want to create a life that inspires others to do the same. I want to listen to beautiful music, read excellent books, cook nourishing and tasteful food. I want to use the good china more, take a walk when I feel like it, light fragrant candles, and eat rich dark chocolate.

I want to talk more openly and freely about my faith and values. I want to stand up for what is right, and against evil, even when it is unpopular and others would rather turn away. But I always want to disagree in a civil manner, showing respect to those with whom I differ, and remembering that we can learn from anyone.

I want to love fiercely. I want to be a better friend, wife, and mom.

I want to take time for myself when I need it, recognizing that I need time alone each day in order to recharge for the next task.

As I have been praying about my word for the year, Psalm 104:14-15 has come to mean a lot, a reminder that all our good gifts come from God, the Creator of beauty and abundance:

You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

If you have a word for 2017, I would love to hear about it in the comments!

The Aesthetics of a Snow Day

20170105_103806We have now experienced the first snow of the year. There’s something absolutely magical about that first snowfall. The excitement of waiting to hear if school will be cancelled, forming plans in our heads of all we will do on our unexpected day off. I love my son’s snow days just as much as I used to love my own.

We have developed our little snow day traditions – time to play outside, hot chocolate with marshmallows in snowmen mugs to warm us when we come inside, and creative play for the rest of the day. Yesterday’s snow day was particularly cold for us, and there wasn’t a huge amount of snow, so we spent less time on the outside play and more on the inside. We had a large box delivered earlier in the week, which I had kept it for just such an occasion. It became the Bat Mobile, complete with steering wheel and computer (made from odd pieces of paper and plastic lids).

Our days are pretty hectic around here. We are busy with so many daily responsibilities, but snow days are our time to slow down, take a breath, and just enjoy.

PS – I am reading through Sally Clarkson’s “Life Giving Home” this year, which includes lots of great ideas for creating a family culture. I’m sure I’ll write more about it as the year goes along, but I heartily recommend it. It is divided into months, with lots of seasonal ideas and inspiration.

 

Out With the Old, In With the New

happy-new-year-2017-wallpaper_8-700x4381This year, 2016, was the year to celebrate, and celebrate we did. From lots of travel (for us), my 40th birthday, our 20th anniversary, and so much more, we celebrated at every opportunity. It was a needed discipline, to think more about celebrating the big things, but also the everyday things.

I’ve been thinking about my one word for 2017, but I don’t have one yet. After two years of very specific words that I felt were handed to me with very specific implications, it seems I am starting the new year a bit behind. I’m trying to be okay with that, and that’s a lesson in itself.

I know some things I want more of, although I wouldn’t call these resolutions. I want more time to be creative, not just in the ways I want – such as writing and cooking – but also in the unexpected ways that God provides. I want to be mindful as opportunities present themselves, and wise enough to know when to say yes and when to say no. As I move into my 40s, I want to become more gracious. I want to cultivate a home that values creativity, grace, and space to be who we are. I want to be more authentic in my relationships, and I want to continue to find and nurture friendships that bring out my best.

I also want to be intentional to develop relationships with people who are different – racially, socio-economically, religiously – and to learn from those friends. I want to be a safe place for people to ask questions about my lifestyle and beliefs.

I want to continue to be involved in my son’s school. Pouring into him is one of the greatest, long-term investments I can make.

I’d like to learn something new, although I’m not sure yet what that is. I want to read more, and spend less time on screens. I want to listen to good music. I want to make and eat good food.

On that note, I’ll end this year just as I did the last, with a section from Robert Farrar Capon’s The Supper of the Lamb.

I wish you well. May your table be graced with lovely women and good men. May you drink well enough to drown the envy of youth in the satisfactions of maturity. May your men wear their weight with pride, secure in the knowledge that they have at last become considerable. May they rejoice that they will never again be taken for callow, black-haired boys. And your women? Ah! Women are like cheese strudels. When first baked, they are crisp and fresh on the outside, but the filling is unsettled and indigestible; in age, the crust may not be so lovely, but the filling comes at last into its own. May you relish them indeed. May we all sit long enough for reserve to give way to ribaldry and for gallantry to grow upon us. May there be singing at our table before the night is done, and old, broad jokes to fling at the stars and tell them we are men.

We are great, my friend; we shall not be saved for trampling that greatness under foot … Come then; leap upon these mountains, skip upon these hills and heights of earth. The road to Heaven does not run from the world but through it. The longest Session of all is no discontinuation of these sessions here, but a lifting of them all by priestly love. It is a place for men, not ghosts—for the risen gorgeousness of the New Earth and for the glorious earthiness of the True Jerusalem.

Eat well then. Between our love and His Priesthoood, He makes all things new. Our Last Home will be home indeed.

Happy new year, friends. May 2017 be the best yet.

Shining a Light in Our Town

I had the opportunity to speak to a WMU group in our city this past Monday as part of the Baptist Women Day of Prayer observance. This is a part of what I shared with them.

I became passionate about reaching people through community after Henry was born and we were spending more time in the community, at the library, park, museum, and Kindermusik. We began to build relationships with people who were good people, but many of whom were lost and on their way to hell because they did not have a personal relationship with Jesus.

At the same time, we also began some outreach opportunities at church in the Colony trailer park. We became aware of just how many needs can be found in that neighborhood, how much poverty and crime, and how many children are living in homes where they have no biblical foundation.

Through what we learned there, our church revamped our food pantry ministry into something more – it moved from a food closet that our secretary used to give food to people into a scheduled, once a week ministry with a staff of volunteers who thoughtfully put together bags of food for families, and who also meet with and pray for those who come seeking help.

In the last six months, our food pantry has had 500 visits, just over 83 each month. We know that those 500 visits actually represent 1,935 people fed in the last six months, which is just over 322 a month. And that’s just operating four times a month, one afternoon each week.

We have seen fruit from that ministry. Just two weeks ago, we had a lady attend a Sunday morning service and receive Christ, all because of the witness of our food pantry volunteers and the volunteers who open our church gym to those living in trailers during storms. Praise the Lord!

But let me back up and tell you a little about what we have learned about hunger and poverty in our area of Daviess County:

In 2015, the US Census Bureau reported that for our zip code alone, 13% of all families are living below the poverty level.

In a home with a female householder, no husband present, and children under the age of 5, this number jumps to 65.9%.

Talkpoverty.org reports that Kentucky ranks 5th overall in the US for the greatest level of poverty.

17.6% of Kentuckians experience food insecurity, which means that they have difficulty providing food for their families due to a lack of money.

Think about the people who live in your neighborhood, go to your church, or who you meet in your daily rounds. Could any of them fall into this category? We have learned not to make assumptions about people by looking at only what we can see. We have learned that if people have to make a choice between paying the rent and utilities or buying food, they will choose paying the rent. People you pass each day may be hungry and you might not know it. Poverty creates a division, and people are embarrassed to admit their struggle.

These statistics are quite shocking, aren’t they? But let me share another statistic with you.

According to Pew Research, in 2010, 30% of residents of Daviess County identified with the “nones” – those who claim no religious affiliation whatsoever. The population of Daviess County is just over 99,000. 30% of that is 29,700. 22% of Kentuckians fall into this category.

Let that sink in for a minute. 30% of our neighbors, family, co-workers, and acquaintances have no relationship with a church. They are not hearing the gospel preached each week, they are not a part of a church body when they face a crisis, they are not involved in the work of the Lord. Who knows how many of this 30% are lost and bound for hell unless someone share the gospel with them?

We can’t deny the mission field! Some of us may be called to go on short or long-term mission trips to other states or other countries, but we are ALL called to be on mission where we are, and the mission field is all around us in Owensboro!

Matthew 28:16-20   The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The Great Commission applies to us in 2016 in Owensboro, Kentucky, just as much as it did to the disciples who walked with Jesus. We are commanded to take the gospel to all nations, and that includes Owensboro. God commands us to share with the lost, wherever we are.

We can be bold because He has given us the authority to do so! Look at verse 18 – Jesus says He has all authority on heaven and earth – therefore! The “therefore” reminds us to look at what comes before, and what comes before is the key to our letting our light shine boldly – we have the authority of Christ when we share the gospel. We have the authority of the Maker and the Finisher of our faith. “Therefore” we can share with boldness!

Matthew 5:16 says, In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Jesus isn’t telling us to shine our light to toot our own horns – a temptation any of us can face in ministry. He’s telling us that we have the light the world needs, and we need to shine that light out boldly, so we can draw others to God.

Daviess County, Kentucky needs the light of Christ. We live in a great city. This is a great place for a child to grow up. We are very community-minded here. But community-mindedness doesn’t take the place of living a bold witness for the Lord before our friends and family. In fact, I would wager that a good part of the “nones” we talked about are involved in our community. They may even be involved with organizations that do a lot of good for our city. But if they do not know Jesus, then it doesn’t matter how much good work they do. They are still lost. My heart is burdened for this group of people. They need to see the light of Christ in us.

What needs do you see around you? How can we look up and around and find the people God has placed in our paths and minister to them? Who do you need to share the gospel with?

Hutchmoot Reflections 2016

With fall break in our parts last week, I’ve had to try to process this year’s Hutchmoot in snippets, which is not the best way, but is sometimes necessary in real life. And which is also ironic considering that some of my major take-aways have to do with slowing down.

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Beth, Sally Clarkson, and Amy

 

As has been our tradition, my friend Amy and I met up at a hotel in Brentwood on Thursday afternoon. Spending time with Amy is absolutely one of the highlights of the weekend. She is Anne to my Diana, Lewis to my Tolkein. An absolute kindred spirit. We talked kids, ministry, politics, and life, and we enjoyed every minute. The time together passed far too quickly.

 

Over the weekend, we ate good food, listened to fabulous music, and heard inspiring speakers. I was reminded that God delights in our creativity, He delights in our art, and He delights in our enjoyment of the artistic process.

I live in a circle that values measurable productivity – numbers, goals, etc. – over intangibles like the creative process, and it refreshed my soul to step back and remember that while, yes, those things matter, they are not the only things that matter.

I am writing this in my backyard, puppy at my feet, a good cup of coffee in hand, watching leaves fall from the trees. God painted a beautiful world full of all sorts of colors. He made the seasons, not just to move us from point A to point B in time, but so that we might take pleasure in them, just as He does.

Our world is so fast-paced, I am afraid we miss these little delights. Hutchmoot reminded me that it is time to put the brakes on the machine, to slow down, to enjoy the passing seasons, to create, and to enjoy what others create. Life is not a competition, it is not a race to the finish line, and it is certainly not about who arrives first. God created the journey, and He filled it with joy.

I was also reminded that God created me to love music, literature, and beauty. Taking time to enjoy those things as He intended only deepens my relationship with Him, as I praise and magnify Him for what He has done, and what He creates through me.

Today, I am thankful for the reminder. I am thankful for the busyness of my life, but I am also thankful for the opportunity to see God through His artists.