Thursday, March 31, 2011

my March Challenge… to be continued!

The conclusion of my March Challenge: grace, grace, grace!

I'm so proud of myself! And proud of every one of you who tried this with me (or your own version of the same thing)-- the last half of March I have been more consistent with getting up by six-- about 5/7 days every week. And I’ve greatly benefited from having a clear head and joyful, focused heart by the time the boys hit the deck raring to go. My mornings have been so much more grace-filled and less cranky!

BUT, I’m tired. I haven’t kept to my promise of getting to bed on time (averaging 10:00-10:30pm, several 11:00pm-s and one 1:00am!), and I’ve been skipping naps to do creative projects, which rest and refresh a different part of me, but don’t do anything for my sleep quotient!

So… heading forward, I’m still resolved to do my best to get to bed by 9pm so I can read for half an hour to unwind before lights out at 9:30. And I’m still resolved to get up by 6, moving it up eventually to 5:30, so I can have time to connect with Jesus, exercise my body, journal out my thoughts, and organize my day before it starts.

I am so thankful for grace, lately growing even sweeter as I notice it in the holy, mundane, daily rising and setting of my life.

Monday, March 28, 2011

how to be Mary and Martha at the same time

Whatever you do, work heartily,
as for the Lord and not for men,

knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.

You are serving the Lord Christ.

Col. 3:23-24


Stumbling into my kitchen this morning, bleary-eyed and achy-boned, I am confronted by an enormous silver basin dominating my kitchen table. Great stacks of plates covered in smears of cream, cake crumbs and oily traces of vingared carrots, lurching towers of gilded tea bowls, chunks of mashed potatoes and apricot glaze, heaping handfuls of greasy silverware. But I am humming to myself as I begin sudsing and scrubbing and wiping and rinsing. My heart is replete. I am content. I am learning how to be Martha and Mary at the same time.

Jesus could have eaten off these plates. In fact, in a way, He actually did.

The ten ladies with names like flowers who sat around my table last night left as hungry as they came. None of the salads or fruit or meat or bread or cake or candy could satisfy their aching insides, and the music they heard was just a taste of what could fill their empty hearts.

Fascinated, they listened to a song I wrote about following Jesus wherever He leads, and then a song in their own language about God’s mercy and care, the same sweet, immanent God Whose presence filled the room as I sang. Chills on their arms, they said. Sweetness in their hearts. Oh, that they would ask: Who is this God?

The chai was a success. And among those hearts sat one, at least, who would know more, who wants to sate her hunger for True Bread and Living Water. She, who faithfully came hours early to help me chop salads and arrange fruit and lay the table, she who is my mother and older sister combined in one loving heart, who encourages all my cultural efforts and praises my American cooking. Would there were more like her-- that this whole group of women would say, Let’s study together. Let’s make this once-a-month party a time of learning, of praise. Let’s seek Him together, in this community, in this safe place.

They stay until almost midnight, talking, laughing, eating chocolate cake with whipped cream and cinnamon, wiping their plates clean like children. The detritus left behind in their wake is considerable.

But, as I wash dishes this morning, mulling the evening over in my mind, the basin is already more than half empty before I realize: This task is not burdensome. Not burdensome! I actually looked forward to tackling my mountain of dishes, because I knew it would give me time to sing and pray. Jesus is here, now. Here, with me, in my kitchen. Turning it holy. Singing with me while I wash and dry.

Suddenly, like turning a surprising corner, mundane jobs have become for me doorways into His Presence. Martha, with suds on her hands, is discovering her Mary heart.

You are serving the Lord Christ.”

When it’s Jesus I’m washing plates for-- and with-- there is only unspeakable joy.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

out of the mouths of babes

[I’ve been memorizing Colossians In A Year, Two Verses a Week….]

It’s naptime. The house is quiet. Having traded actual sleep in favor of a much-needed processing session with my journal, I’m stretched out under my quilt attempting to relax for the last half hour or so before the boys wake up.

My mind is mulling over Colossians 1:21-22, and I get stuck in orbit here:

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” (Col. 1:21)

How does evil behavior create enmity with God in my mind? Apparently, my actions affect the state of my mind toward God. Evil actions equals mental enmity. So then is the reverse also true? Can holy behavior, holy habits, create mental intimacy with God?

Maybe this is the beginning of the answer to my current, two-fold question for myself:

  1. How do I really, actually “practice the presence of God” throughout my day? How do I actually remember to count His gifts, to stay constantly aware of grace?


2. How do I live fully authentic, fully alive, in this life, with these responsibilities, these demands on my time? How do I create art of any kind within these limits? How can mundane acts of service-- laundry, dishes, cooking-- translate into creative opportunities?

So much of my day consists of mundane activities I accomplish on auto-pilot while my mind is elsewhere. Could these activities actually be a doorway through which my mind could receive creative inspiration from the Holy Spirit? Does completing mundane acts of service for my family out of love for Jesus actually give Him the chance to love me back by feeding my creativity while I fold or wash or peel potatoes?

Can I increase my intimacy with God by intentionally choosing the state of my mind while I serve?

If Paul’s formula is true (and it’s in the Bible, so it must be), then serving my family with a willing, loving spirit, as if doing it for Jesus, can produce intimacy with God in my mind and heart. So... if my hands wash dishes with a grateful, loving attitude, as if Jesus Himself had eaten a meal off of them, then He can come near and gift me with creative inspiration? If I serve my family lovingly, willingly, as though each of them were Jesus Himself, He can use my faithful behavior to bring my mind (and then my heart as well) into communion with Himself?

A story comes to mind, something Will said to me on our U.S. trip last year. One crisp fall day, while we were staying at my aunt and uncle’s house in Pennsylvania, I wandered down to a peaceful spot at the bottom of their garden where there is a weathered wooden swing hanging from a branch. I needed a few minutes with Jesus. Will had been riding a little car around in the driveway, but he followed me down there, and quietly climbed up next to me on the swing. He sat still for about 10 seconds, and then hopped off and said, “Come on, Mom, yet’s go!”

I said, “You go ahead, I’m just going to sit here and talk to Jesus for a few minutes.”

“Ok, Mom.” He backed away and started off up the hill toward the house, but he quickly turned around when he didn’t hear me saying anything.

“Go ‘head Mom, talk to Him!”

“I am talking to Him, in my heart,” I explained.

Very emphatically, at the top of his lungs, he insisted:

“No Mom, talk to Him with your YIFE!”

I sat there, stunned. I was so sure he was going to say “mouth” or “yips”-- but this. This. Out of the mouths of babes.

I want to talk to Jesus with my life.

Will you explore this with me, you other moms with young kids, desperate for intimacy with Jesus throughout your day, and maybe longing for space and time to practice creativity? Will you try talking to Jesus with, through, in your “yife” too?

[All photos taken by me at my aunt’s house in PA, used by permission.]

Friday, March 18, 2011

thorns while panning for gold

(Posting later than I meant to… two days of heavy snow and generator power this week equals virtually no internet. Thank you for grace!)

Christa Wells. Stay-home mother of 5 in North Carolina. Singer. Award-winning songwriter. Real. Raw. Edgy. Sweet. She makes art in the midst of chaos, uses chaos to make art. I read a guest post here, saw her name for the first time, clicked on the link and bought her just-released album, How Emptiness Sings. Even the title on its own tugged at my heart, spoke truth. I clicked on samples, snatched patchy split-seconds through my terribly slow connection-- enough to know I wanted her voice, her art, her life speaking in my kitchen and my heart. 7 songs, 7 days. Gifting to myself one song each day to savor: I want to live listening to truth shone through this fresh prism.

Today, all day, is track 1: Panning For Gold”

I saved it (bursting with anticipation) to listen to for the first time after my journaling this morning, in the dark and quiet of an early-morning house. I drank in deeply fresh sounds, fresh poetry bright-clash-ringing like gold on steel. Then I painstakingly created a little pocket of alone-time this morning (requiring at least 3 phone calls and some last-minute rearranging) and went for a walk with this song (my third completely-alone-outing in 2 months...I am getting better at this, I hope?)

On the street, staring at my feet while fixing my earbuds, I crash through low-hanging tree branches and glean a sharp memento of my carelessness.

Down in the riverbed, I crunch through snow, follow cow tracks, see…

thorn branches. Long, cruel, sharp.

There's Jesus, waiting for me in the riverbed. Meeting me here. Today. In person, on my Lenten journey toward His Cross.

I push pause on my iPod, stoop, pull off one slim sword, hold it in my hand, press the tip with the ball of my finger. Ouch. Imagining cruel hands mercilessly pressing a wreath of hundreds down onto my head, imagining this tiny scratch turned into a hundred bleeding slices gouged in flesh.

You wore these on your head… for me? I whisper.

Silence reigns, alive with a resounding Yes.


Today marks six years to the day since my first date with my husband. He picked me up in his truck at 5:00 on a Friday, led me on a walk around the lake in the center of our town, a little oasis town on the edge of a huge Central Asian desert. Here was this lake, shining blue, and here were this man’s eyes, shining bluer, sparking with earnestness as he told me the whole story of his life, him who up until that afternoon had offered no more than “How’re your classes?” or “How was your week?” These tossed out casually, shyly, in our small group of single friends, him being the tall quiet one who lived out of town and drove in for our get-togethers…

And then came the day, 6 days before, when he’d taken a group of us on an outing in his truck and at intervals asked me weighty questions like, “How did you get to Asia?” and “Are you planning to stay long-term?” These coupled with snowballs and a big grin, all directed at me. The offer of a jacket for the cold. Twinkling glances in the rearview mirror. That day I sensed a current from him, and it made me nervous. How much older than me was he? What would we say to each other? Two different countries, two different eras even-- how would we communicate? (Because back then, when I was so grown up and knew next to nothing, words were everything.)

So here, now, walking around the lake, words come. His New Zealand voice articulately, earnestly threads thoughtful words into his story: his coming to love Christ more than anything, his learning about the thousands of unreached peoples of the world, his growing passion to reach them regardless of cost, his coming to Asia single and remaining so for the past 6 years, trusting, waiting, working… His blue eyes flash purpose. I listen, spellbound. He’s taller than me, our strides match as we walk.

We get back in the truck and drive to dinner. Dinner turns into coffee, an eccentric rosy-lit shop tucked below street level. We sit in a cozy booth and look at each other across the tiny, glowing candle warming my clear pot of strawberry tea. It’s then that I really see him, those ocean-blue eyes windows into a heart of solid gold. And I think, this is what I want in my life. Those eyes. This gold. Coffee turns into a slow meander back towards my apartment, a time of prayer together, and I float up to my room at the end of this perfect, 7-hour first date, with that unmistakeable knowing buoyant in my heart.

Panning for gold. There have been thorns, there will be thorns. But I know the one who bore the crown of thorns for me. I know Him, that unmistakeable knowing buoyant in my heart. And I know my husband with the heart of gold, the man God chose out of all the world to be mine, perfect for me. For the rest of my life, despite the thorns, because of His thorns, I will be joyfully panning His world, the pages of His Word, and my sweet husband’s heart for oh-so-worth-it, priceless-beyond-measure glinting gleams of gold.

(Thank you, Christa Wells, for breathing new inspiration into this singer/songwriter mom of two in Central Asia!)


March Challenge Check-In, week 2 (posting half-way through week 3!):

Lights out by 9:30pm: um… none. A couple nights by 10pm, then I was sick, then we had guests… so I bet you can guess what’s next...

Up by 6am: only 3/7, plus 2 mornings at 6:45… (I was sick for 2 mornings too)

Journaled: 4/7

Exercised: (still using that 5 minute plan more than anything else...)

Worshiped: still finding a rhythm. First thing after the alarm? Still groggy. While I exercise? Less focused. Just one song before reading the word? Better.

Planned: every morning, even if it was just choosing a dinner recipe a breakfast, writing it down and thinking through whether I had all the ingredients… definitely a 5:00pm stress-saver!

So… not doing so great, but.. there is so. much. grace.

Friday, March 11, 2011

this. this is why I am here.

At ten minutes to 8pm, I lay out a soft red and gold scarf and place three books in three different languages on top. As I fold the scarf gently around these three translations of the most widely-read, widely-translated book ever written, under the jitters of inadequacy in my stomach lies a deep sense of awe that He would choose me. Most of my life I’ve felt capable, prepared, in-control, and I like it that way. I like choosing activities and projects that I know will let me keep feeling that way. But this life I’m living here, now, is more by acquiescence than choosing-- a desire of my heart answered with a call, a personal invitation I accepted, rather than something I created for myself to do.

And now, on this night, I’m struggling to believe it’s me He’s chosen to carry these words down our street under a glittering star-encrusted sky, to the green gate and the waiting house with yellow light streaming kindly from the windows. Me, invited to bring His words, wrapped in red and gold, to open and delve into with another seeking heart.

I push open the green gate and walk around to the back door, and she ushers me into that kind light and lays a low table with a brand-new plastic tablecloth and silk-covered cushions. And we sit, this beautiful seeking heart and I, for two hours, thinking and talking about this great God and His Word. And under my stomach jitters, which are gradually turning into more serious cramps and bubbles, I continue to feel a deep, peaceful excitement. I am, after all, not the teacher. He is. And He is the best one there is. He wrote His own curriculum, after all, and it is perfect. Complete. Simple enough for a child to understand, rich enough to spend one’s whole life mining and never reach the end of all its treasures.

I strain to concentrate over the gurgling in my stomach. Finally at 10pm, in the midst of her showing me another precious little book of truth she was given years ago by someone else-- another step in her path to Him, reminding me the whole road doesn’t rest with me (thank God!), I am just His next sovereign piece-- finally, I have to ask to use their outhouse. I squat, shivering in the chilly air, her standing right outside, me shrinking from the noises I know will follow and the humiliation of being a private American… and she, my older sister, my true friend, is laughing at my apology-- “Better out that in!” she chuckles, and we are easy together and as I squat in the shack she continues gazing at the incredible stars.

The theme of our evening.

She’s told me about rising at 5am to pray, about going outside in the tangible peace of the early morning, alone with God and the birds, and the way her soul feels lifted and fed. And we’ve read Psalm 19 together in three languages to find the word “glory”, and how the heavens declare it, day after day. And I’ve told how William has recently exclaimed over the stars, since we’re not often out at night, and I’ve talked with him about what a great God we must have Who could create such beauty.

And I think, as I squat in increasing misery, how symbolic this is: my utter inadequacy, in the most humble of positions, in a rickety wooden shack under a glorious star-studded sky. His glory covers all my humbleness, my humanness, my not knowing the answers, the language barriers (which surprisingly were hardly apparent tonight, to my relief)… His heavens themselves are enough to speak of His glory, without me. I get to be the vessel through which His heart and love and words can be spoken, and the pleasure of that sensation is His gift to me. But He is already pursuing His own, and I am just along for the ride.

I excuse myself sorrowfully, my stomach clutched in the beast’s awful claws, and stagger home to writhe in bed and make multiple trips to the bathroom with a bucket under my mouth, thinking all the while that if this is the best our enemy can do, if he thinks this will keep me away, he’s a bigger fool than I thought. Nothing could keep me from this. Wild horses. Avalanches.

When sleep finally does come, I drift off knowing I am cradled in the same Hands that flung each of those glorious stars, that knit my body and heart together, knit her too on the other side of the world, and gently led me to her street, her gate, her heart. And I sleep, in peace.

This. This is why I am here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pieces of India, and March Challenge Check-in (belated)

(Due to internet issues my Week One check-in is a few days late... thankful for grace!)

March Challenge Check-In, Week One:

Lights out by 9:30pm: 5/7 evenings (blame the other two on too many great blogs! And lack of self-control… working on that one)

Up by 6am: 5/7 mornings (blame the other two on sick kids and wet beds)

Journaled: 6/7 mornings

Exercised: 5/7 mornings (definitely used my 5 minute plan a few times!)

Worshiped: every day (a couple mornings I just put worship music on during breakfast and sang with the boys)

Getting there slowly… I feel so encouraged just having a goal and a plan in place, and I already feel more rested and more at peace in my spirit.

And as a reward for my labors last week in James’ absence, here are the “pieces of India” he brought back for for our love, and food for my beauty-loving soul.

Friday, March 4, 2011

{a grace-filled postscript}

Ok, so maybe “NO EXCUSES” in big capital letters was a bit hard-core. I guess I’ve always been an all-or-nothing kind of girl. In re-reading my last post (in response to kind, grace-filled comments by a good friend and mentor) I can see I did come across rather militant!

Well, if I’m going to start a new habit, I do need a good plan. I need good motivation. And most of all, I need accountability. I guess flinging this March Morning Challenge out into cyberspace and committing to regular updates in this space is one way for me to keep myself accountable. This early-to-bed, early-to-rise is something I’ve been wanting to adjust in my life for a long time-- ever since before my kids were born, actually. And I finally feel like this year, in this season, God has given me the doable combination of a realistic goal, good tools, and good motivation. I might actually get there. I’m excited.

In her note full of love, my friend asked a beautiful, appropriate question:

“Can you give yourself the grace that Jesus gives you?”

In other words, where is the grace in all of this challenging and charging? Where is the rest? Where is the abiding in Jesus and enjoying His presence all day long? Can I live in His grace enough to be kind to myself the way He is kind to me?

Recently, the word grace has been mysteriously appearing over and over. Paired with this March Challenge, it's another thread God is weaving in and bringing to my attention. Apart from my friend’s email this afternoon, my most recent "grace" sighting was this morning, in a local acquaintance’s car en route to a friend’s house in a neighboring town. Perched on the dashboard of the car was a round glass container probably containing air freshener, if the car’s pungent atmosphere was any indication. Printed in a ring around the glass (and remember, we are not in an English-speaking country) was a string of English words. The only word I could read clearly, lit up by sunlight streaming in through the right-hand side of the car was… you guessed it… GRACE. I am not kidding.

Even - maybe especially - in taking on new challenges, there is always grace.

From a fabulous book I’m devouring (in my new, quiet, morning hour):

Jesus said, “Come to me...and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28)

So how do we go to Jesus? How do we get the peace and rest that he promises? In the cacophony of voices that shout for our attention, how do we discern which is his?

Hearing God’s voice requires a new way of listening, a new way of seeing. In my life that perspective was often provided by the chaos itself. When I am able to see difficulties and everyday struggles as God’s way of honing my character, I am better able to appreciate the lessons that life’s messy and chaotic moments have to offer.

But that is only half of the equation. If I intentionally withdraw from the chaos on a regular basis, I am a more patient mother, a more loving wife, and a gentler person. By spending time alone with God, I allow him to care for my soul so that I can better care for those he has entrusted to me.

And later on, in her chapter on Solitude, Keri writes:

As the mother of young children I’m often tempted to give up on solitude or meditation. I can’t do those disciplines, I think. I’m like Jesus, always interrupted with other people’s needs…

So should I just give up on solitude because I am in a serving season of life? It is precisely because we can’t typically get to the bathroom alone that we need times of intentional solitude. Times when we get someone else to watch our kids, draw a line in the sand and say today, for an hour or two or even three, I’m going to be alone with God.


Does it seem impossible?

The more it seems impossible, the more you need it.

(quotes from God’s Whisper in a Mother’s Chaos, by Keri Wyatt Kent)

For me, my daily craving for solitude is being filled through committing to and protecting my early morning rendezvous with God. This will not be the same for every young mom. Each of us has to discover (and listen for) God’s specific direction in our individual circumstances. One friend I know listens to the One Year Bible while she nurses her 4-month-old. Another friend uses her kids’ morning video time to have her quiet time alone. God will give us each a different strategy. My goal is to create a habit of doing something every day towards my spiritual and physical health, and... early mornings are a really good goal for me right now.

So.. it’s 9:08pm. My pillow is calling. Keep sending your words of grace, to me and to each other. As my friend said, “Breathe deeply. Breathe in the love of the Holy Spirit.”

Grace. And peace. To you. From God our Father.

(Col. 1:2)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Challenge Begins

The Motivation:

Being a mother of two toddlers means my days are complicated, messy, distraction-filled, fun, exuberant, disorderly, chaotic… which makes it really challenging - nigh unto impossible - to focus on Jesus, stay patient and loving, plus have an organized productive day, if I wake up with them.

The solution? Get up before they do. Get up to worship, pray, journal, exercise and plan before the troops charge in. Which means... I have to go to bed earlier, because I LOVE (and need) my sleep. To feel rested, I really need at least 8 hours of sleep in America and 9 hours in Central Asia (because life is just that much harder). Glad that I know this about myself… too bad I also love to stay up late and work on projects or click on just one more wonderful blog, which means I’m always groggy in the mornings, which is why I’ve labelled myself “NOT a morning person”. The thing is, I’m not sure that’s exactly true-- I have this sneaking suspicion it’s a bit of a cop-out. And these are desperate times.


The Challenge:

One Month (March 1-31, 2011) of Maximizing My Mornings.

IN BED BY 9PM, LIGHTS OUT BY 9:30PM, UP BY 6AM (or earlier).


The Contender:

Me, a self-proclaimed NON-morning-person and mother of two preschoolers.

The Plan:

6:00 up, journal 3 pages stream-of-consciousness (a strategy for unblocking creativity from a book I’m going through)

6:15 exercise 20 minutes to a video (my only option right now since it’s below freezing outside), while listening to worship songs.

[IF DESPERATE, do Kat’s 5-min exercise plan: 10 push-ups, roll over and do 10 bicycle crunches, stand up for 10 squats (about a minute). Repeat 5 times! DO SOMETHING to exercise every day. That's what forms the habit.]

6:35(ish) Read the Bible chapters for the day from John Kohlenberger's chronological Read Through the Bible in a Year book; journal one thought and one prayer for application. Pray for my children and my husband using Kat’s monthly prayer guides.

6:50 Spend the last 10 minutes looking over the day, choosing a dinner plan, writing to-do lists. Commit the day to Jesus.

(The goal is to push back that 6:00am wake-up time by 5 or 10 minutes each week, so that by the end of the month I’m at ::gasp:: 5:30AM?????!!!)

The Fears:

I haven’t consulted my husband about this yet… what about movie date nights?

(Start the movie RIGHT after the kids go down at 7:30 - leave the dishes - as long as the movie is 2 hours or less, I can still be in bed with lights out by 9:30.)

What about late night phone calls with my mother?

(Call her in the mornings, chaotic kids and all-- keep it short and sweet.)

What about my overflowing email inbox?

(Leave it! The important emails will get dealt with, and a bit of invisible disorganization for a month isn’t going to kill you.)

What if I miss a morning? What if I ::gulp:: FAIL?

(Just keep going. Start over. Go to bed early that night. Do your 5 minutes of exercise anyway, whatever time it is. Get your kids to do it with you. Don’t get discouraged… What's that saying? Rome wasn't built in a year? Well, a habit isn't built in a day.)


Day 1

How’s it going? Terribly. I went to bed an hour late (10pm) last night because I was getting ready for this morning. Great. Then Will had a screaming fit at 1:00am (wet his bed and was half asleep), and woke Ben up who also started screaming. Great. Then Will was up again at 4:00am to pee and couldn’t manage his pants. (My husband’s out of town this week so I’m on day and night shifts.) So… we are all cranky and tired, I didn’t get up until the boys woke me up after 7:00am!!! Fantastic Day 1, right? Really setting the standard.

BUT I did manage to do my journalling while the boys played in their room before breakfast; I did my Bible reading and praying while finishing my pancake after they left the table; AND and I did a whopping half of Kat’s 5-min exercise routine (that was all my poor pathetic muscles could handle! Sheesh!) in my bathrobe. Which I’m still sitting in. But it’s SOMETHING, right?

So. Nap this afternoon (can’t wait). Early bed tonight. Try again tomorrow. The going is the way. Right?


Most of these ideas came from Kat @ Inspired to Action. Here are some of my favorite things she is offering:

Link to Maximize Your Mornings free ebook

Link to Kat's HelloMornings challenge

Link to a Wife's Prayer Calendar: Praying for Your Husband

Link to a Mother's Prayer Calendar: Praying for Your Children

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