The Playground and the Meadow

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The playground has a castle and a drawbridge and three slides and a climbing wall. There are tire swings and baby swings and regular swings and even big red chair swings the adults can sneak onto if there aren’t a lot of kids around.

When we’re at the playground, my kids are wild and rambunctious and run around yelling and playing and leave every ounce of energy there. The surrounding fence keeps them IN and they swing and slide and climb and run and there’s just so much to DO there.

The Meadow is a wide-open space with exposed granite and a gentle stream. It was made to be a ‘backyard’ for our mountainous neighborhood full of wild hills and forests of trees. There’s one pond and one picnic table and six Adirondack chairs. The stream has tadpoles and the pond has rocks at the bottom from two summers ago when my littlest toddled over, crudely tossing in every pebble he could find.

An army of trees circle the Meadow – more a protective shield than a boundary line – and cast long, lean shadows over the stream and the pond and the exposed granite. In the late afternoon, the sun peeks through with a wide smile like it’s trying not to get caught in a game of hide and seek.

In the Meadow, my kids imagine they are Susan and Edmund exploring Narnia, defeating the White Witch valiantly. They chase butterflies and bring me dandelion bouquets and pretend the big oak is their secret hide out. He chases after her, desperate to be big like she is, and she holds his hand as they cross the slippery rocks so he doesn’t fall and scrape his knee yet again.

In the Meadow, there isn’t as much to DO – there are no swings, or slides, or castles – but there’s so much to BE. In the Meadow, they are free to Be imaginative, Be together, Be relational, Be intentional.

They have fun DO-ing together at the playground, but love BE-ing together at The Meadow.

“He lets me rest in the meadow grass and leads me beside the quiet streams. He gives me new strength. He helps me do what honors him the most.” Psalm 23:2-3

I get caught up in the doing of the playground, too. My playground is ministry and work and friends and family and home. It’s joyous and blessed and holy and necessary. It can become a playground of To-Do’s though, if I’m not careful.

Read the rest over at Compassion That Compels today!

The Gentleness of God

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We met once a month at her house and we’d always sit on the couch with all the flowers that overlooked her garden. Her pup would sit between us on the cushions and sleep for the hour and a half we’d talk. I soaked up every single word she said in my Japanese-designed journal, furiously scribbling her every word with my mechanical pencil. Always a mechanical pencil.

Her wisdom ran deep and her gift of insight and prophecy were direct from God. She’d talk and I’d write and then often she’d pause to make a seemingly unrelated comment or ask a pointed question. But it was always related somehow and most often made tears spring from my eyes and it was as if God Himself were the one speaking. Always as if it were God.

One spring day, as the roses were blooming pink over my shoulder in the garden, I sipped iced tea and poured out my heart over a troubling issue I was facing. My heart was heavy and my mind in discord and she had been espousing all manner of wisdom and scripture related to the issue.

I sat with my head down, tears falling onto my flower-print cocktail napkin and she paused — one of those God-Speaking pauses — and she asked (in more of a statement than a question),

He’s always gentle with you, isn’t He?

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I’m sharing over at Be Still Be Free today! Hop over to read the rest!

A Beautiful Life: Wrap-Up

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He runs with his whole self — arms pumping and knees high and it’s full body engagement, all the way down to his toes, his running.

Her limbs keep growing — long and lanky. Legs keep her grounded and confident and arms emphasize the truth she speaks when it counts the most. They don’t stop growing, those arms and legs.

They climb the leafless tree into their self-proclaimed fort. She’s the mom and he’s catching the bad guys. They hop over the babbling stream and look for tadpoles, although I suspect it’s a tad early. Her shoes have been come off and the water tickles her toes. She squeals in delight.

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He must catch up to her — though he’s four, he’s almost as strong and fast as she is (in his mind) and trails just steps behind. He plays anything she requests for the sheer pleasure of being with her, but I suspect it won’t be long before he starts demanding his own way.

These trees are still bare and the sunlight filters through gently, casting long, sinewy shadows just like her limbs. In a blink the leaves will appear then disappear again and she’ll be old enough to leave…long shadows of those arms and legs resting in her wake.

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I didn’t plan to take this time today…to press pause on my to-dos and come to this meadow — our Eden — to play. I didn’t plan to be still on the large rock and lay back to feel the sun on my face, hear the babbling of the steam and be lulled into a peaceful surrender by the breeze.

I didn’t plan on watching them age before my very eyes and be moved to tears by their laughter. I didn’t plan to notice with excruciating detail how quickly they’re growing up. I didn’t plan on any of it.

My plans included a bullet pointed list anxiously waiting to be slayed — a dinner to be prepared, a laundry basket to unload, a work project to complete. And, and, and.

But He directed my steps today. I chose to walk with Him and he led me on a more important path, and it led to this beautiful moment.

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Here on this rock, despite my stress and worry, I found pleasure never-ending in the sound of little footsteps and pebbles tossed into the stream. Here on this rock, I found true joy in the laughter of fighting bad guys and playing tag. I found contentment and that supernatural way time can stand still when you are.

Here, on this Rock.

I didn’t plan any of this today, but He did.

My cup overflows.

You direct me on the path that leads to a beautiful life.
As I walk with You, the pleasures are never-ending,
and I know true joy and contentment. (Psalm 16:11)

* * *

I hope you’ve been blessed by this series, and I pray the varying voices of the guest writers has left a melodic symphony playing across your heart. But most importantly, I pray you’ve been encouraged to Tharseo — to be of good courage and good cheer — simply you are free. Click here to read the rest of the series — posts by bloggers I adore with my whole heart.

Watercolor hearts photo ©iStock.com/beastfromeast (modified by Elevate Ideas)

Always. Pantote.

JUMPING SILHOUETTES

Always be joyful. (1 Thessalonians 5:16)

You know the verse. It’s the first part of a long command to always be thankful…always pray… no matter what happens.

Always be joyful.

A stand-alone sentence is a stand-alone verse blended into a unified command reiterating to always. And I wondered about that word always…because really, it can’t mean a-l-w-a-y-s, right?

Always be joyful.

It can’t mean be joyful during…

…moments when your marriage is struggling.

…days after you’ve received a difficult diagnosis.

…weeks when your child is wayward.

…months when money is tight.

…years that relationships need reconciling.

…decades you’ve lost all dreams about your future.

It can’t mean to be joyful when Life shows up the way Life does – unannounced and uninvited, with fists flying and guns blazing 

Always be joyful.

It certainly can’t mean that. Right?

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I’m honored to be sharing over at Compassion That Compels today! Click over to finish reading!

Compassion That Compels is a ministry showing and sowing God’s love and compassion with Compassion Bags for women battling cancer. I’ve gotten to know Kristianne online, and her heart and desire to serve women battling cancer is the real deal. It’s an absolute honor to be involved in the smallest way with this ministry!

Life’s Journey (A Beautiful Life: Week 6)

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WEEK 1 — INTRODUCTION

WEEK 2 – DANCING AMID DISASTER

WEEK 3 – BEAUTY IN THE BROKENNESS

WEEK 4 – SINK OR SWIM

WEEK 5 – A BEAUTIFUL LIFE

MOM2Oh my gosh, y’all – check this out! IT’S MY MOM! Please, please give an enormously warm welcome to Nancy! 

My mom is retired and lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She loves reading, photography, nutrition & health, and walking every day out in God’s creation. (After all, she lives in the prettiest place in America. Who can blame her?) She isn’t on Facebook and doesn’t blog (yet……?), but has always been gifted in the written word. As I was praying about this series, I just knew it was God’s leading when she flew back and forth across my mind. It’s such an honor that she said YES; what a treat for me to have her inhabit this place this week. Take it away, Mom!

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He wooed and graced me with His love and Presence

He watched and molded and shaped my growth

He stood by protecting when I looked in wrong places

He showed me the truth, the way to go

He generously, patiently watered my seeking, not letting despair and discouragement drown me

He triumphed with me in all my victories, tempering the losses with His eternal love

He gave me Beauty for ashes; identity in Him; faith for tomorrow, because He lives

He still leads me besides still waters; is the lifter up of my head; nothing can ever separate me from Him

He continually cleanses me, washing me in His Blood

He is my All in All; His name is Love

- Nancy Hope

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Additional Resources: Looking for some tools to help? Check these out!

1. Overcoming Obstacles of Cerebral Palsy Focus on the Family Broadcast. Okay, I know the title doesn’t sound like this would be fitting for many, but TRUST ME when I tell you this is some of the best Focus on the Family broadcasting I’ve ever heard. It’s the story of a mom whose son was born with cerebral palsy and how they chose to find the beautiful in the chaos. He went on to finish college and become a doctor, and I promise you, it’s the most empowering and uplifting thing you’ll ever listen to.

2. Questions to Ask on Your Dream Day. Sometimes we find beauty in life when we pause and BE and allow ourselves to ask questions of God and ourselves. This is a beautiful post about giving yourself permission to dream and what to ask.

Watercolor hearts photo ©iStock.com/beastfromeast (modified by Elevate Ideas)

A Beautiful Life: Week 5

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WEEK 1 — INTRODUCTION

WEEK 2 – DANCING AMID DISASTER

WEEK 3 – BEAUTY IN THE BROKENNESS

WEEK 4 – SINK OR SWIM

SARA-HEADSHOT

This is Sara. I first met her years and years ago at my sister-in-law’s house, and as we chatted in that kitchen one summer day, I remember distinctly telling God that I really, really needed to be friends with her. She has a confidence and wisdom that I was desperately lacking, and just knew in that place you know, that I could benefit from being around that. And here we are, a decade or so later — not just friends, but partners in this ministry-movement-thing called BE. God, you take all our little dreams and blow them up into amazing every time, don’t you?

Sara is a lover of life and of people and believes in a life of transparency and honesty laced with grace and kindness. After God practically had to hit her over the head, she finally grasped the concept that it is okay to be exactly the way He created you to be and who He created you to be (though she admits He has to remind her every once in a while). She also enjoys exercise, entertaining, decorating for the holidays and family dinners. And although she enjoys sharing life with others, nothing can replace the joy of serving her family — sitting for hours at ball fields, cooking, endless hours of homework, listening to the stories of the day, or admiring the one that completes her and makes her a better person. She podcasts and writes at Be Still Be Free.

When Monica approached me about contributing to this amazing series, I fell immediately in love with the Bible verse she chose:

Psalm 16:11 from The Voice: “You direct me on the path that leads to a beautiful life. As I walk with you, the pleasures are never ending, and I know true joy and contentment.”

And then she went on to tell us that the Hebrew word for “never-ending” means enduring, strength, victory!!

I immediately began to think back about my journey over the last 10 years. Soon after my 30th birthday, I became very aware of a lack of joy in my life. With all of my heart I wanted to know and serve God, but when I looked around I didn’t really feel the presence of God in my life. Have you ever been in that place? You know God as your Lord and Savior, but He feels so very far away no matter what you do?  And Psalm 16:11 states that “He directs me on the path that leads to a beautiful life.” Even though I believed with every ounce of my core the truth in that, I felt abandoned and alone. And most certainly my life did not seem beautiful. How could I feel like this? So much of what I had wanted in life I had (an amazing husband, two children, a house, security, friends and so forth).

But I was feeling so joyless.

“As I walk with you, the pleasures are never-ending…

Hmmm, never-ending (enduring, strength, victory). Even though I didn’t have this verse in my life at that particular time, in my heart I knew something wasn’t right and I certainly had no victory and my strength was wavering. However, by the grace of God, there was this small voice I began to hear that said something like,

“Sara, this is not all I have for you.  Surrender your life; pray for transformation; allow me to work in you and I will show you joy and contentment”.

Okay, I hear ya God. Now what? What do you want me to do? Should I go join a new Bible study, lead a new Bible study, become a better person, join a ministry, be a better mom, be a better wife? Maybe those things will please God and He will direct my path.

For months, I struggled with what I was DOING wrong…and then instead of using a still, small voice God had to get kind of loud and shout to me

“Be still, and know that I am God!”

And really, if I am being honest, I didn’t even hear the “and know that I am God part.” I just heard the Be Still! With much desperation for being rescued, I began to Be Still.

The last part of Psalm 16:11 says, “and I know true joy and contentment.”

At Be Still Be Free we did a podcast one week on Be Joyful. We discussed that one of the definitions of  joy is “a happy state that results from knowing and serving God.” And that joy is in direct proportion to a believers walk with Jesus. I then realized something that changed my life forever; although I felt God directed my paths, I took over from there. I tried with all my best efforts to show God He could be proud of me and be pleased. Look at all the things I do, look at all the ways I am!…all without knowing it I had become judgmental and prideful.

And I wasn’t that way just with others, but with myself. You see, we often impart what we possess. (tweet that) I was so unhappy with me, that I was unhappy with everyone. I was so worn out by doing that my cup was empty of what mattered — like knowing God — and full of the lies of Satan.

BUT GOD, in all of His goodness, has shown me that He wants to be on the journey with me. That I don’t need to worry about what the rest of the world is doing…just how I am allowing God to walk with me, directing me in a beautiful life. (tweet that)

After what seemed like forever of God calling me into a time of solitude, He has lifted the lid and is starting to lead me down new paths. Some of the lessons He has revealed during this time are:

  • “Be Still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). To know God means to be still first. We often think that by doing more things for God we will know Him better. But God literally tells us “to be weak in the knees”, to fall down before Him and allow Him to lead us.
  • God does not need us to change the world. He chooses to change the world through us.
  • The gospel is not about all the things we do right or do wrong. The gospel is the Good News of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. All that other “stuff” is religion. Once we accept Christ as our Savior, we need to allow Him to bring Psalm 16:11 to light.
  • “The unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit is of great value in the eyes of the Lord” (I Peter 3:4). If unfading beauty is a gentle and quiet spirit, then I want that. Learning how to communicate with the world is just as important as what you are saying if not more. If God is going to use me, I need to learn how to be gentle and quiet.
  • “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
  • And lastly, God does not count how many things we are doing right or wrong. He is not interested in numbers or productivity. Rather, He is concerned with my willingness to grow in Him and be used by Him. He will take care of the rest…I just need to be careful not to take over. (A Mary spirit)

There are so many more things I want to shout from the mountaintop, but these are some of the most definitive lessons for me. God’s desire is for us all to live in joy and contentment. Growing pains are never fun, but the end result is so worth it. My prayers for God to change the way my eyes saw, to open my ears to His ways, to mold my heart to love like Him were answered. Now, it’s still a daily journey but Praise God that He is so full of love and mercy! Praise God that He never gives up on us…never leaving us or forsaking us! Praise Jesus for a Gospel story! And Praise Jesus for the freedom that comes in Being Still!

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Additional Resources: Looking for some tools to help? Check these out!

1. Lord Is It Warfare? Teach Me To Stand by Kay Arthur. Study and devotional that will equip you to recognize and understand the spiritual warfare that is inevitable for those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ.

2.The Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free by Nancy DeMoss. Amazing book and study that offers the most effective weapon to counter and overcome Satan’s deceptions — God’s truth!

Watercolor hearts photo ©iStock.com/beastfromeast (modified by Elevate Ideas)

Sink or Swim (A Beautiful Life – Week 4)

A BEAUTIFUL LIFE-01

WEEK 1 — INTRODUCTION

WEEK 2 – DANCING AMID DISASTER

WEEK 3 – BEAUTY IN THE BROKENNESS

KATIE

I met Katie at Allume as our little motley crew sat down for our first meal. We shook hands and introduced ourselves and within 15 seconds she deadpanned the funniest thing I think I’d ever heard in my life and I knew I was going to force a friendship upon her whether she wanted it or not. That night as we passed the salt, our newly formed little posse staked our claim and etched our names on that table, thereby daring anyone — anyone — to sit there the rest of the weekend. God knit us together forever. We might just get matching tattoos.

TexasNorth is a little farm in Western Michigan. It’s home to 25 chickens, 35 longhorn cattle, a chocolate lab (Abe), 3 barn cats, a fabulous office-man-by-day-farmer-by-night husband, and 3 ridiculously cute children (and that is no joke, I could eat up her kids just from their instapix). Katie — the mom of this zoo (and author of the journal) — has been known to mow the lawn in a skirt and roast marshmallows after dark. She believes in Sunday school and miracles and apple pie, and writes at TexasNorth.

i.

There is not much about the ocean that is supportive of human life. We cannot breathe in water. We cannot swim like fish. Gracious, after 20 meters our bodies sink rather than float…that’s a simple law of physics. No, there is very little that invites us into the deep.

ii.

I am watching a community grieve a child of 13 who was diagnosed with cancer seven days ago and is gone today. They swim blindly, searching for any sign of light to point them out of the wreckage.

I am holding the hand of a friend whose spouse has walked away. Where is He? she wonders, but it is not her husband she is asking about.

I am desperate for the sun. Winter is creeping in, freezing emotions and motivation…taunting with short tempers and too many tears from little people. Is this all there is? Am I destined for ashes instead of green pasture?

I am beginning to think land is not safe, either.

iii.

What? What is there? When your body is in the very real wreckage of every day life in this broken world, what is there to do? The water is too deep, the ground is unstable, and we find ourselves with no soft place to land.

We must keep moving. I know you are tired. I know you want nothing more than to sit…to sink…but, rest will come when this season is over. For now, there is a battle for your heart and you must stay alert. Swim. Run. Fight. Ask. Laugh, yell, cry and fall…but keep moving. He will find you and He will literally raise you up. Love is not what He does, it’s who He is. (tweet that) He will leave the flock to come find you, every time.

Remember, Friend, that your home is neither here nor there. Keep your feet light and your heart focused on Christ. Your life, your hope, your comfort is found IN HIM and nowhere else. Surround yourself with Truth that does not falter under the pressure of our heartbreak or doubt. Truth that pierces darkness. Truth that is beauty amongst wreckage.

“I am the Lord and I do not change.” (Micah 3:6)

“We do not lose heart.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

“Spirit lead me where my faith is without borders.

Let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me.

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander 

and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.” 

[*lyrics by Hillsong United, Oceans]

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Additional Resources: Looking for some tools to help? Check these out!

1. Mentally Strong People: 13 Things They Avoid. Loved this article from Forbes about how to grow mental strength, even if you’re not a naturally optimistic person.

2. Gratitude and the Hand of God by Karen Yates. Beautiful post about choosing “to take ownership of our attitude, wield our sword, and fight back.”

Watercolor hearts photo ©iStock.com/beastfromeast (modified by Elevate Ideas)