Relationships are Important

My church has been working through some really good things recently. We’ve been having open meetings to discuss ways we can better advance our mission within our community and within our church body. One of the big things we have discussed is how we relate to one another – how we communicate information, how we welcome people, and how we need to know one another better.

Relationships are so very important. God did not create us to live in isolation. He gave Adam the animals, Eve, and eventually children and grandchildren – who would all go on to populate the entire Earth. He gave us the Church universal and the local body to help us grow in our faith. God is the One who created friendship. He intends for our relationships to build us up and glorify Him.

But, let’s face it. When relationships work well, they are the riches of life. When they don’t work well, life really stinks. Here are some things I have learned in my 40 years about good relationships:

  1. My mother used to say, “To have a friend, you have to be a friend.” When we find ourselves without friends, we might need to look at how we are treating others.
  2. As an extension of #1, making and keeping friends really does depend on me. I can’t wait for someone else to reach out to me. It’s my responsibility to make the first step.
  3. Patience and flexibility are key. No one is perfect, including me. I need to extend grace to my friends, just as I want them to extend grace to me.
  4. While I need to be the initiator, friendships are not all about me and what I need and want. It’s give and take, and I need to be ready and willing to offer to do my share.
  5. Love really does make the world go ’round. If we show a little love and kindness, we will reap multitudes of rewards.

So, what relationships do you need to work on? Do you find yourself surrounded by lots of great friends, or are you in a dry land with few close relationships? What steps can you take to improve your friendships?

Celebrating the Ordinary

At the beginning of the year, I shared that my word for the year would be “celebrate.” In learning to celebrate the everydayness of real life, I realize that not every day brings a party. Some days we are glad to just to make it to bedtime. Some days, bedtime is the celebration!

Some days, I celebrate in a small-big ways. A mocha just because it’s a nice day. Treating myself to that shirt that’s on sale. Taking the free sample of bread at Great Harvest, or using the coupon for free ice cream.

Other days, the celebration is just that we made it. We made it through the day, the week, the month, the year. On those days, I fall into bed exhausted and praying that tomorrow is better.

But, thanks be to God, I will live to see tomorrow. I will get to have sore calves because I had the energy to volunteer for lunch duty. I will get to be frustrated because I could help my child with the homework he doesn’t want to do. I will get to fuss at traffic because I have the strength to drive and run errands.

These ordinary, sometimes not-so-good days are just as worth celebrating as the big occasions. They don’t get the press of birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations, but they are the stuff that make up our lives.

These days are worth celebrating, too. I just need a reminder sometimes.

How do you celebrate everyday living?

Doing Your Own Work

School has been in almost two weeks in these parts. We are slowly beginning to find our rhythm, although I wouldn’t say we’re quite there yet. I still don’t have a great morning routine for myself. In particular, regular exercise is not so much happening. I’m counting on time, a little trial and error, and some planning to get us where we need to be.

I entered yet a different stage of life with this school year. I now have a child who stays at school all day, but I have a young puppy at home who needs caring for (i.e., taken outside) at regular intervals.

I am volunteering more time at school. I backed away from some other commitments so that I can put my energy into my family. I am slowing down a little bit, prioritizing differently, and changing the way I think about my time.

I really feel like God is telling me to “stay in my own lane” in this season. I believe that He has work He has designed for me to do, but it’s not going to look like it has in the past. It’s not even going to look like what He has given my friends to do.

I am reminded of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. The master gave one servant five talents, one three talents, and one servant only one talent. They were all given different amounts, and they all behaved differently. The first two servants were considered faithful because they used their talents wisely, and the third servant was unfaithful because He did not.

But when we look at the first two servants, they didn’t do the same things. They used their best abilities and the time they were given, and they did what they could. And for that, they were rewarded.

I’ve not been given the same gifts and abilities as you, and certainly not in the same measure. God has given to each of us differently, as He sees fit. But it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I stay in my lane – that I use what He has given me to the best of my ability, for the time that He gives me to work.

My life and service will look different from yours, and we can thank and praise God for His infinite wisdom to make us all unique. What matters is that we focus in on what He is asking us to do today, and serve Him with gratitude.

So if you are looking for me, I’ll be over here in my own lane. It’s the best place to be.

The End of Summer, the Schedule of Fall

13937888_10157237184645244_6718831127143171991_oSummer in these parts moved fast this year. In May, I remember counting up the days until school started again and wondering how we would fill them.

Ha.

Those “lazy” days of summer were anything but for us this year, and it was with a lot of relief that we entered the schedule of school last week.

We finally have some predictable structure to our days. Yes, there’s homework. Yes, soccer and piano lessons will start soon. Yes, we will be busy with church. But … it’s not all quite so random. And we are not good with random in the Holmes household. Even the new puppy is slowly adjusting to this new normal.

Yep, we added a puppy to my post-chemo brain life. His name is Robin, and he’s Henry’s sidekick (We all know and understand that means that mom and dad do most of the actual caring for the puppy. Henry takes care of the playing.)

After such a crazy summer, I’m trying to add things only slowly and intentionally into our schedule this fall. What is most important to us? Where do we really need to spend our time and energy?

I plan to get back to writing here soon, at least semi-regularly. I hope you’ll join me on Wednesdays.

How is your family making the transition into late-summer/fall?

The Importance of Working Together

Last week, we attended the annual meeting of our church’s denomination. It was a great three days of meeting new people, learning from great teachers, and remembering why we believe that the gospel and all its implications are so important.

One of the highlights for me was seeing my friend Amy serve as the first female assistant parliamentarian for our denomination. She is one of the most intelligent, gracious, and godly people I know, and I was thrilled to see others recognize what I have known for years. I loved celebrating her accomplishment with her.

This week, our church is holding Vacation Bible School. We started the week with a record number of kids, which means that around 1 pm every day I am ready for a nap and a second cup of coffee! A friend whose children are attending our VBS this week asked me on Monday, “How do you all pull this off every year? How do you make this work?”

I have one answer for that – it takes every single person who volunteers to make VBS work. Not only that, it takes lots of people using their unique gifts and talents well to pull together and make VBS happen.

My friend Amy and our Vacation Bible School have reminded me of an important truth – we need each other and the gifts and talents that we all bring to the table. I have unique giftings, and so do you. We need to allow one another to serve, and we need to celebrate when someone else does something well.

Whether in our churches, our offices, or our neighborhoods, we need not begrudge someone of their talents and their opportunities, but we should celebrate with them. By making space for everyone to use their gifts, we all serve more effectively.

Can I challenge you today to find a way to celebrate what someone else is doing well? Rather than allowing jealousy to keep you from acknowledging the talents and opportunities of someone else, could you take steps to recognize and affirm them?

Kindergarten Graduation

We are continuing our year to celebrate (my word for the year, which you can read about here) with Henry’s kindergarten graduation this week. I know – kindergarten graduation. We graduate everything anymore, but nevertheless, we will be there, and as his teacher has told him, some moms will cry. (When asked if his will, he gave an emphatic yes.)

We are blessed with the sweetest little class of kids. They will tell you they want to stay in kindergarten (they love their wonderful teacher to bits, and they have had a great year), but they are so ready for first grade. They know their stuff, and it is time to move on.

We all reach those places in life – we have learned what we need to, we have grown, and now it’s time to pack up the classroom and move on. Unfortunately, we don’t always do so gracefully. I’ve reflected on this often since turning 40. I am no longer technically a “young adult.” I am officially in my middle years. And while that absolutely does not mean putting on the mom jeans, forgetting to color my hair, and settling into old age, I think it does mean embracing this stage of life, not trying to hang on to what has passed, and allowing myself to move gracefully forward.

Friday night, twenty of the sweetest little kids will perform “The Little Red Hen,” don blue caps and gowns, and revel in the excitement of their accomplishments. They will head into summer break full of excitement for the future. What if we all looked at milestones in life through those same eyes? What if we refused to mourn what is over but looked with excitement at what is to come? I think we would find ourselves less bitter, less stressed, and with more zest for what our futures can be.

Whether we are six or 40, the future is as bright as we imagine it.

Dreary Days

It’s been gloomy around here the past few days. The amount of sunshine I see really does affect my disposition, as does the lack thereof – and the last few days I have seen mostly clouds. I got out of bed this morning feeling all my various aches and pains, and cooler, rainy, cloudy weather had me feeling a little down.

But I determined that this would not be the course of my day. So, I showered, lit a fragrant candle, turned on a favorite podcast, wrote a few letters, exercised, and set about my tasks for the day.

I still feel the aches and pains. I am still chilly (hello, well-worn cardigan), and long to see some sunshine. But by taking a few minutes for some things that I enjoy and that bring a sense of beauty to my day, I set my attitude not toward the things that are wrong, but toward things that are good and lovely.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

What do you do to lift your spirits on a gloomy day?

Seasons

12990873_10156786009335244_6828089269176082029_n[1]There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth. Ecclesiastes 3:1 (The Message)

I love living in an area that experiences four distinct seasons – winter, spring, summer, and fall. This spring, the flowering trees and bushes have been especially brilliant in their displays, showing off with bright whites, pinks, yellows, and purples. I enjoy coming to the end of winter and anticipating that first showing of spring … and then waiting for the first 80+ degrees streak and planting our garden (which we started this week), as summer is clearly just around the corner.

These seasons mark the passage of time, break up the year into segments, each with its own goodness and glory. Creation does indeed display the wonder and majesty of the Creator. God paints in wondrous colors, all vivid and unique. He inspires artists – painters, musicians, and writers through His perfect, ongoing creative acts.

As the seasons of the year come and go, I am reminded that so do seasons of life. And while we lament the passing of one season, we need only remember that the next season, though different, will be no less wonderful.

Right now, we love our garden. It’s new, freshly tilled, no weeds. By August, we’ll begin feeling differently. We’ll grow tired of working in the heat, pulling weeds, and picking beans. We’ll be ready to close shop as fall begins to peak around the corner. But the end of the summer always brings the greatness of fall – cooler days, s’mores, bonfires, the return of school.

Each season, while glorious in its own time, passes, leading to another season with a different set of expectations, but with a goodness all its own.

And so do our lives.

“Taste and See…”

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
    blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8

20160403_125154In this year of celebration, God is re-teaching me to enjoy – to really savor – the good gifts that He has given. I am learning again to use all my senses and marvel in the God of creation. I want to listen, to see, to taste, to feel, to smell all of the great experiences that God creates anew each and every day.

We have taken our American Puritan work ethic to its furthest extreme – if we are not busy being productive at something, then we mistakenly believe we are wasting time. But God created us for space and for rest, as well as for work. He created within us the desire to enjoy His creation – to listen to the birds, to smell the coffee, to taste the cake, and to stare at the clouds.

Work is good, and yes, God made us to work. But He also made us to stop and see how good He is. In the psalm above, He invites us to use our senses to understand His goodness.

This week is spring break in our corner of the world. I have every intention of using this week as an excuse to practice doing just this, to enjoy my people, to rest, and to remember that God made the world for us to care for and to enjoy.

Can you sense His goodness today? If not, might I suggest walking outside for five minutes to stare at the sky, and take in creation with all of your senses? His handiwork is all around you, if you will only “taste and see.”

For Wednesday of Holy Week

That is when one of the Twelve, the one named Judas Iscariot, went to the cabal of high priests and said, “What will you give me if I hand him over to you?” They settled on thirty silver pieces. He began looking for just the right moment to hand him over. Matthew 26:14-16

Father, as we ready our hearts for the coming of Easter morning, help us today to recognize the ways that, like Judas, we betray You for a cheap thirty pieces. We belittle your sacrifice in a thousand ways. We forget the grace You have given us. Like Judas, we walk with you, and then we turn away when Your plans don’t match our own. Forgive us.

We collude with the enemy. We flirt with worldliness, and sometimes we have an all-out affair with it. We are tempted to wander from our faith, especially when Your plan isn’t clear. Forgive us.

Father, may we see our wanderings and recognize them for what they are. In Your mercy, call us back to repentance. Keep us from the darkness, fill us with Your light. Remind us again and again that You are our Savior, Redeemer, Deliverer, Strong Tower, an ever-present Help in times of trouble.

Prepare our hearts, Lord. Let us learn from Judas, but never follow his path. Show us the ways we sully Your sacrifice. Bring us back to fellowship with You. Prepare our hearts this week. Show us with fresh eyes Your glory.

Amen.