Using True Gifts

Christmas is a magical time. Enjoying the peace and promises of the season, time with loved ones and reflection is truly amazing, isn’t it?

As the season begins to wind down and we start to look ahead to the new year, I’ve been focusing on taking it all in and making the most of this season.

If your house looks like mine, it’s probably a little fuller than normal. Between Santa, grandparents, friends and other exciting events, we have toys, clothes and other gifts scattered everywhere. In a way, it’s fun. I love watching my kids remember a present, break into it, have a blast, then move onto another. The process keeps repeating itself. They’re having fun and spending a little less time in front of the television (unfortunately…no less time arguing 😉 ).

I’ve been thinking about how it all applies to my life. How can we make the spirit of Advent last a little longer? I think it does start with gifts…but not the gifts found under the tree.

I don’t know if any of you watch Nashville. I’m a guilty watcher. I’ve always been drawn to music and certain songs have always stood out to me. One of them is from the show’s soundtrack…it’s called “It Aint Yours to Give Away.” Maybe you’ve heard it…maybe you haven’t.

The following are a part of the lyrics to the song:

What if you’re just a vessel
And God gave you something special
It ain’t yours to throw away
It ain’t yours to throw away

As I drank a cup of coffee the other day, watching the tree and bundling up against the freezing temperatures outside, this song came to mind.

We may not all be gifted with money, extraordinary musical abilities like the actress in this show or anything that feels super exciting, but, we’re all gifted just the same. None of us is alike, none of us has the exact passions or drives as others.

It became a convicting thought for me. One of the gifts that I’ve often taken for granted as something I just enjoy, is writing. I’ve loved putting my thoughts to paper forever; in fact, it’s often the easiest way for me to communicate or make a point. Ask me to speak in front of 100 people and the results may be less than applaud-worthy. Ask me to sing, dance or perform an amazing task, I’ll fall short (though I’d have fun trying). Numbers? Science? Forget it. Writing, however, is my happy place.

As such, as the year gets underway, I’ve decided to create an Advent devotional for next year. I get to keep the season going while using something that I feel I was given as a gift. Maybe it’ll just be a fun project, but, maybe it will be more. Right now, I’m following in what I feel led to pursue.

More than just me; I believe we’re all provided with little gifts. Maybe you know sure as day what yours is. Maybe you’re less certain. But, I’d encourage you to think about what you enjoy, where you find your heart and your head when you’re not focused on everyday tasks, what you long for, to acknowledge it as a gift and to pray about how God is leading you to pursue it as this advent season comes to a close. Let’s keep the season going, even when the world says it’s time to move on!

Advertisements

Putting Down Roots

(Photo credit: https://www.facebook.com/jwhitmanphotography/)

Our family has been blessed by adventure over the past few years. Many of you have followed our journey. But, as quick snapshot…

John and I got married in college. Living between John’s roommates and my still great friend/roommate was an adventure of it’s own (ha!). But, from there, we came home and started exploring next steps. We found an apartment in Hershey…but it was short lived.

The opportunity to purchase a home presented itself! We bought our first home, knowing it wasn’t our forever home. But, we poured our time into it, made it our own and loved it! As we started exploring what was next, we were given the opportunity to move to Asheville, NC. Our house sold quickly and we moved in with my parents over the holidays (with two children in tow) until we left Pennsylvania and headed south!

We knew Asheville wouldn’t be our forever home, but we thought it would be home for longer than it was. We developed amazing friendships, traveled back to PA for as many holidays as we could, doubled our family and tried to enjoy one day at a time.

Almost two years in, the calls we’d waited on came and we learned we’d head back to PA. So we did. We lived in a hotel for three months (this time with four kids and a dog in tow) and waited until our home in NC sold, to move into our new home in PA.

Now…here we are.

It feels strange in some ways. There’s nothing “new” right beyond the horizon. We have no more plans for children (though we are hoping to begin a foster journey in the near future). Our kids have started a school that we see them in for the long term.

We’ve begun to talk about our house as though it might be where we actually stay. We talk about projects, we invested in landscaping, and we talk about what we might want to do (gasp) a few years in the future.

We’ve settled into a church that is starting to feel “home.” Our kids are developing friendships and we’re meeting their families. We are making a targeted effort to get to know our neighbors (which is a little different in the Northeast!).

We are planning for our first holiday season in our own home in five years…no travel required!

This weekend, we took another big step – at least it was for me. I started to literally put down roots. I planted bulbs, laid grass seed, and purchased bushes and trees that have started to go into the ground.

Given our past 9 years, it feels strange to think ahead a few years – let alone to spring – as though we may still be in the same place without any life-changing moves or changes in store. It feels hopeful.

Yet…we remain open. I never want my “roots” to prevent us from following where we are lead. We feel strongly that this life is not meant to be a product of our plans…but instead, that we are supposed to be part of a bigger plan…our lives are not our own.

Even so…roots feel strangely comforting for this stage in life! For that, I will be grateful. One moment at a time! Here’s to the journey!

When Thoughts are Jumbled and Words Aren’t Enough

 

 

I woke up this morning thinking about how the day was going to go, getting my ducks in a row and thinking about the to-do list I keep in my head.

Then I opened the news (something I do every morning), and was stunned. Last night, while many of us slept, tragedy unfolded on the west coast. I’m sure you’ve seen the details, and I’m sure you sat in shock as you read or watched first hand accounts from those who’s lives were interrupted by complete and utter chaos and terror.

My hearts go out to those who saw the unimaginable, those who lost loved ones and those who must begin the long journey to recovery. Like most of us, I just can’t wrap my head around this and other acts that seem to dominate the news cycle in recent years.

This year we’ve seen tragedy at home and abroad, we’ve watched natural disasters unfold in real time, we’ve searched for ways to reach out, to connect with those we’ve lost touch with and to provide tangible assistance where it’s needed most.

I’d encourage everyone to continue in these efforts. Small acts of kindness, prayers, “reaching out,”…they all make a difference.

We won’t have answers, we won’t be able to understand the “why,” and that’s hard, especially when we value control. But, if you’re looking for something extra, something to hold on to as you start your day, as you try to find ways to help and as you think about the world your kids are venturing into, I wanted to share scripture that I am holding onto, that I found during devotions this morning.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” 1 John 14:27.

As I read this, I realized it really is the whole picture. It’s easy to resort to fear, maybe to anger, when it feels hard to find something to ground ourselves to. But, we’re called to find peace, peace that can only come from one place. We aren’t to live lives of fear.

I think all of us could use a little of this, especially on days like today, how about you? Look for ways to be a light, to reach those who need it most, and move forward in real peace that’s promised. This world? It will be filled with trouble, with tragedy and with hurt – we see it every day, but peace is promised.

Praying for those in Las Vegas. Praying for peace.

The Place You Chose for Me…

I love when I can share a little bit about what’s going on in our lives. Sometimes, that level of honesty is terrifying. But, lately, I’ve heard from a lot of you that you can relate. So, I’m going to keep the trend moving.

Moving from NC to PA has been a challenge, but not the challenge that we expected.

See…we never expected Asheville to feel like home. We didn’t expect the longing we’d feel every day for that amazing little haven that we had in the mountains. We didn’t expect to miss the life we built and the independence that was a part of it.

All we saw was the small picture, the homecoming to PA.

And a homecoming it has certainly been. But, again, not the way we thought it’d be. You see, we changed in Asheville; we grew together and (literally) grew our family. We changed the way we looked at the world and at this life.

Here’s the thing; our friends and family back in PA grew too. Whether it was having more kids, changing life views or other – really exciting – things, it’s not quite the place we left. And that’s a GOOD thing. But, it’s a hard thing when you’re trying to make the pieces fit together.

Throughout it all, a song that has meant a lot to us is by Sidewalk Prophets, called “To Live is Christ.”

Here are a few of the lyrics:

If I rise, let me rise on you
Not on all of my successes, my esteem or my pursuits
If I lose, let me lose my life
Cause if I belong to Jesus, the flesh is crucified

If I grow, let me grow in You
Wilt the seeds of wanting more
Rippin’ pride out by the roots
And if I’m still, let me hear You speak
Not the tone of my transgressions,
But the song of the Redeemed

My great desire is to be with You
But this is the place you chose for me
This is the place you chose for me
To lift my cross and give everything
This is the time you gave to me
This is the time you gave to me

Lots of lines from the song stand out to me. But, the one that really hits home is that this is the place he chose for me. This is the time he gave to me.

Think about it. There have been thousands of years of human history. Thousands of time periods to live in. A million places to live…and we are here. In fact, our decision to return was bathed in COUNTLESS hours of prayer. We know that this is where God sent us, just like we knew Asheville was where he sent us back in 2014. These decisions weren’t made lightly or on our own accord, they were grounded in prayer and a whole lot of time in scripture and deep discussion.

So…what do we do with it? Where do we go when our expectations or comfort levels don’t quite match what we thought they’d be?

For me, the answer to that question lies in looking up. In reminding myself that this world? It’s temporary. I have this place, I have this time and I have the blessings that God has poured out on me to make the most of them.

If I sit around questioning everything, or longing for a place that I wasn’t meant to be in forever, I’m wasting the “right now” and the “right here.” I’m throwing away the potential for a lot of great things. A little perspective change goes a long way.

We were blessed to get to travel back to Asheville for the first time since October, last week. It was amazing and that place will always have a little bit of my heart. But, instead of longing for it so greatly that I miss what could happen here, I’m going to keep it tucked in that little place, saving it for when I get to go back. How lucky are we to get to call lots of places home?

Where are you at today? Are you longing for something that “was” or something that “could be” and overlooking the now? Let’s do this life together, and let’s do it well!

Love Erases Lines

My thoughts are scattered this morning; I think a lot of people can relate to this. I share this not for sympathy, but to ask you to bear with me as I try to share what I believe I need to share. It might not be succinct, it might not flow just the way I’d like it to, but I think right now the message matters a little more than the delivery.

First, I need to start by saying that I don’t know who you are. I don’t know where you come from. I don’t know your background or the experiences that have shaped you into who you are today. I don’t know your beliefs. I don’t know what you care about, what you’re passionate about or what drives you.

But, you’re loved. You matter. You’re more than a definition. More than a descriptive phrase or word. More than a statistic. You are a human that was created for a purpose, and that means so much.

Right now, it feels like that basic fact has been forgotten by so many. We’ve begun to identify by those phrases. To measure our value and the value of others by categories, by lines, by division. We’ve lost sight of the fact that these lines and dividing factors have been created by others, by humans, by thoughts, by errors, by bad judgments and by weakness. That they are words that shouldn’t matter.

Today, however, they do.

They’ve driven our country to take sides. Scary sides. Sides that have lead to real action and devastating consequences. To hatred of the “other,” and real hurt and fear. We’ve seen it in action over the past week.

I’ve heard it all. I’ve heard some share that they needed to turn off the television because of the bombardment of stories. I’ve heard others share that they’re heading out to protest, to take action. And, I’ve heard far too many say nothing.

As Christians – it’s hard. I get it. It’s hard to take a side and to be counted. It’s hard to put love into action when we aren’t sure what that action should be. I think I speak for a lot of us when I say that it’s easy to feel compelled to act, then to fail out of fear or a general lack of understanding of what that action should be.

I don’t think it needs to be that hard.

Here’s the thing. We are called to love. To love unequivocally. To love in a way that is clear, obvious and felt by those who need it most.

I think we know that. But, I think what comes next is where the challenge begins.

I’ve seen a lot of churches speaking out, saying it’s time to take a stand…and I agree. I not only agree but I applaud them for breaking the silence that needs to be broken. Bigotry, hatred, racism; these are real words with real-life consequences that change and hurt real lives. They have no place in the church. Change starts with acknowledging the need for it.

It’s time to start erasing those words with love. To put it into action. So many times, we say we love and we mean it.

Then the “but” comes in. We become unsure of how to act while still reflecting Christ. We start to mix up the word “love” and the words “fully support and agree with.” We believe that showing love, the love that we’re called to show means we need to fully jump on board and support something we don’t believe in, so we fall short. I’m just as guilty of this as others.

I think love is meant to be more simple than that. It’s meant to be a reaching across the aisle when no one else will. It means standing when no one else will. Calling someone who’s feeling rightfully angry or scared and saying “I’m here.” Praying for those who are oppressed.  Listening. Lamenting. Crying out for those who need it most and standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

You can love someone you don’t understand. You can love someone you disagree with (hello; we still love our spouses when they wrong us, don’t we?). Love doesn’t need to mean agreeing 100% of the time or jumping on board something we cannot accept. Sin is still real and must be dealt with, but so is God. Love is so much deeper than that.

We not only “can” love; we are called to do so.

John 13:34 says: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

There’s no “but…” there’s no “except…” there’s nothing but a very specific command.

When love is put into action, it changes hearts. It breaks stereotypes. It becomes a foundation for a relationship that can become so much more, a relationship that can lead to change and sharing, but only when it’s genuine.

Most importantly, it erases lines. When we drop our preconceived notions and reach out in love, we start to break down the barriers that are so prevalent in our country today on both sides. We start to eliminate the frustration this world feels towards Christians who claim to love as Christ did – without prejudice or preconceived notions – but fail to act differently from the rest of the world. We start to make a difference, one life at a time.

The world needs this type of love, today, right now, right this second.

What would happen if you reached out? If you took the status you shared or the article you “liked” and changed the way you acted in an intentional, real way?

If we could all commit to living out the command that we are called to live, to love without restraint, I think the change would send shock waves across this country that would be tangibly felt and noticed on a wide scale.

Right now, a lot of people and groups of people need that kind of love. They need a refuge, a place without barriers, without lines, without division. The church can be that place without compromising principles, without double standards and without changing values. But, only when love is at the foundation.

It starts with us. It starts with acknowledging that there is a problem and committing to act accordingly.

Let’s shine a light during this dark, dark time. Let’s start to erase the lines that have become so prevalent in our world. Let’s love in tangible ways that will lead to softened hearts, changed minds and unity in a time of crisis.

 

 

 

Seeing the World: Kids in Tow

This year has been a whirlwind!

In addition to doing day to day life, we’ve had many opportunities to travel, that we have taken advantage of to the fullest extent possible. So much so, that I’ve had a lot of people ask me to start sharing how we do it. Based on this, I thought I’d share a few lessons (most of which we have learned the hard way) that we’ve picked up traveling by plane, train and automobile – seriously – with the kids in tow.

Before that though, I wanted to share why we do what we do.

I think that this world is an amazing place. But, I think when we stay in one place, our view of the beauty that is “out there” – both natural beauty and cultural beauty – becomes limited. I think that when we think how we do things is the “only” way to do things, we lose a feeling of connectedness that brings people together, that helps us to appreciate day-to-day life, and so much more.

As such, I think one of the best gifts I can give my kids – even if it’s at the sacrifice of how I’d like to see the world – is the opportunity to take it all in. Sometimes that means a road trip a state or two over. Sometimes it means a trip across the ocean (we took on Spain with the twins a few months ago!). Sometimes it means leaving our bubble of comfort and going down town to connect, learn and show a little light to someone who could use a pick me up.

At times this sounds better in theory than in practice. Sometimes it means massive breakdowns that leave people staying. Sometimes it means seriously questioning my ability to parent after I lose it for the 10th time in a day. Sometimes it means tired kids who are off schedule and unable to cope (through no fault of their own).

But for us, the challenges are worth the reward. I love the discussions we get to have as we travel. I like getting to share history with my kids while watching them interact with it in person. I enjoy watching curiosity and comfort grow through nothing I’ve done, but rather, through experience.

Full disclosure: this does not mean we live a life of extravagance by ANY means. I am a bargain shopper. I look for deals like crazy. During our last trip we probably made 50 or more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We find ways to travel in a way that fits our budget and means…which is part of what I’ll share a little as we go along.

Pulling off my last post, I’m grateful for the opportunities we’ve had lately, even when it feels like we are barely keeping it together. I’m learning that a little travel leads to a great desire for more, and I hope we can continue to find ways to see the world as a family. I also hope that by sharing some of our experiences and lessons, that we can make others feel a little more confident in taking that first step or two out into the world…with a kid or two along for the ride.

Next stop: travel bucket list. Have one? Please share!

The Problem with Prosperity

It feels like we’re bombarded with messaging from all sides some days…right? Sometimes it’s hard to sort it out, to make sense of it and to decide what sits with us for the long run.

One of the messages I’ve been seeing crop up a lot, and discussed even more, is the “prosperity” gospel. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, you are not unfamiliar with the concept. In this view, those who trust Christ and live according to his standards are automatically blessed beyond measure. Those who give the most receive the most. Those who live their best lives are blessed accordingly.

Before I go further, just from reading that, I think it’s obvious why there are some skeptics when it comes to Christianity. When these promises fall short, who’s left to blame?

The Problem with Prosperity

Here’s the thing. This life is hard. We’re promised it will be. We will be handed more than we can handle on our own, forced to rely on a God that’s so much greater than us. We will be tested the way a silversmith tests silver until we are refined.

When we focus on prosperity alone, we focus on a half (at best) truth.

I tell my kids regularly that God is not a genie. “Why?” you might ask? Let me walk you through it.

The other day, my kids were with me in a store. I saw my middle one bow his head as we walked to the check out. “Lucas…what did you just pray about bud?” I asked, thrilled that he felt the need in the middle of his day to resort to prayer.

“I prayed that God would make you say yes when I asked for Pokemon cards,” he replied. Cute? Yes. Limited view of how this whole thing works? For sure.

Another day, my oldest was playing a game with his brother. He prayed out loud that his brother would lose, giving him the opportunity to pick the next game.

We have thus had to have some serious conversations about the fact that while God can intervene in all aspects of our day, he’s not to be treated like a genie who grants wishes and all of our hearts desires on a whim. That prayer is so much more than asking and receiving. While this is a Biblical promise, there’s much more to it than this.

When we focus only on prosperity and on the expectation that we will be blessed, we miss out on a few important things.

First, we set ourselves up for disappointment, not only in this life, but in our relationship with Christ. When we expect blessings because we’re following the rules, we fail to prepare for what might feel like very real heartaches and failures. We forget that the Bible also promises that in this world we will face heartaches, challenges and temptations that feel much greater than ourselves.

Second, we develop a limited view of God that looks a whole lot like the view that my children naturally have. We fall into the rut that tells us that we have to behave a certain way to get rewarded, instead of following biblical guidelines because of our love for Christ, for a deeper relationship and all that it entails.

Third, we forget that blessings don’t always come in the shape and form that we expect. We have these ideas about what feels best, what we truly want and desire. We forget, once again, that our view of blessings is limited. We lose sight of the idea that sometimes blessings come from situations that hurt, situations that make no sense to us…and might never make sense on this side of heaven. When this happens, we fail to appreciate the real blessings in life because we fail to recognize them.

The Flip Side of the Coin 

If you’re reading this and thinking “wow…what’s the point?” or feeling as though this is more of a discouragement than anything else, I want to share a little encouragement. What I feel is a more accurate view of real life with God.

Recently I’ve gotten to share really great times with really great friends…people that I know God has put in my life for a reason. Friends who show up for a minute to drop off baked goods. Friends that come over for game nights. Friends that set up picnics, who we can laugh with when we forget utensils and improvise. Friends that we’ve walked through real-world heartache with on more than one occasion. Friends that we’ve hit the ground praying with when that’s the only – and best – course of action we have.

During some of these occasions and during some serious reflection (I feel like the front porch is a great place for this), we’ve gotten to talk about how God really does bless us with things we desire. Perhaps it’s because he puts those desires on our hearts – I think this is absolutely true – but, I also think it’s because he really does want to, just because. I feel like we just get so busy, so bogged down that sometimes we miss out on them.

I thought back to the house we live in right now. It was the neighborhood we wanted to live in when we found out we’d be moving back…but building here would cost more than building the exact same home in a neighborhood down the street. Using logic, we reserved a lot in the other neighborhood and designed the basic layout of the home we’d build. During the relocation, it fell through; we wouldn’t be able to build the home we wanted and take advantage of the benefits the company offered. We were heartbroken.

We were told about a home in the neighborhood we wanted in the first place…a model home that was perfect and could be modified a bit to meet both our needs and budget. We jumped at the opportunity and are still in the process of settling into this new home. While it would have been easy to focus on the heartache of losing the home we thought we’d be building, God had something even better in the works. Looking back, it’s amazing to see how that plan worked out. This home can be a refuge for people who are hurting. It can be a place to build memories with our family. It can be a place that our friends can come for a break and where we can share many laughs (and already have!).

It seems like a simple example, but sharing it with friends, we’ve heard similar stories of blessings in disguise…even blessings that have come after loss and true heartache – life changing heartache that hurts so much it manifests itself in a physical way.

God blesses us – but not because we expect it. Not because it’s guaranteed. And, not in the way we think it should look (although sometimes it does!).

When someone promises an easy life filled with blessings – financial or otherwise, think critically about that promise, and instead, look for truth and balance. The problem with prosperity (aside from almost blatant falsehood) is the limited view of something SO much bigger, that it creates.

What are the blessings in disguise that you’ve seen in your life? Where can you look back with thankfulness, even if it felt impossible at the time?