random ramblings, vol. 11

It's been awhile, so here we are.  Random Ramblings - vol. 11.  :)

1) For all my friends who are moms, or who are wondering what life will be like if and when they are moms:  this article is for you.  There is no "right" way (in terms of working or staying at home); it's all hard.  So thanks for doing what you do the way you do it.  All of our daughters, sisters, cousins, etc. will benefit from watching you navigate life with the grace (and sometimes lack thereof) with which you do.  You are gutsy, women of God.  And we're blessed to know you.  Thanks for living your life so boldly and transparently.

2) Sunshine is... lovely.  Especially at the end of January in the Midwest.  Check out these awesome reflections from my friend Arman at The Edge of Clarity  - inspired by the sun, and by the Son.

3) I am so grateful for the myriad of voices that have shaped my faith and helped me to find my own voice.  Shout-outs today to Nancy Beach, Bill Hybels, Madeleine L'Engle, Sarah Ban Breathnach, and Matt McMann, for being 5 of the best coaches ever.  Even when they didn't know they were coaching me.

4) While I recognize that the whole image/exercise thing can be an idol (thanks, J-squared - I do need to watch it) - I am very, very grateful for Zumba these days.  There's a piece of me that thinks (during every class): "Good Christian girls do NOT dance like this..." - but I love it, nonetheless.  (Tho you may note that I have not yet announced to my class that I am on staff at a church...lol.  Hm.  Maybe I should!  They might actually come, then...)

What I love most about Zumba is that you can't do it well without at least pretending to be confident - and as you pretend, somehow you cross over to actually being confident.  Zumba is ridiculously sexy.  As a single woman, I feel quasi-ridiculous dancing like that.  And I'm quite grateful that my class is mostly women - well, and Pete.  (A very nice, pot-bellied, and older gentleman who shows up in a sweatsuit, which is not standard Zumba attire.  I have no idea why he comes to Zumba, but he makes me smile.)  I walk out of every class feeling better, and better about myself.  And today - Barry, you'd be so proud - I was in the front row.  :)  And I didn't mind!!!   This is progress.  Lol.

5) I've been thinking a lot about vision lately.  Re-reading Andy Stanley's Visioneering.  Reflecting on the verse in Scripture that says that without vision, people perish (Proverbs 29:18, KJV).  I've let a lot of things steal my joy and my vision lately.  It's time to redefine it.

6) Last year I went on a retreat at the beginning of February last year that redefined a lot of things for me, particularly the definition and practice of Sabbath-keeping.  I'm very sorry to say I've lost sight - no, not sight.  practice - of that particular vision - but I am nonetheless dedicated to reclaiming it.  Most definitely looking forward to this year's retreat at the end of February, and the redefinition of this year's path forward that will inevitably come.

7) I was talking earlier this week with my absolute BFF, Sara - and I just have to say: there's something incredibly awesome about knowing someone who's known you for more than 1/2 of your life, has seen you at your absolute worst (and oh, heck, yes, she has!!!) - and knowing that they still love you.  In spite of that fact that you (and I quote) "attract drama."  lol.  okay.  so I do.  but someday it will be worth writing about.  ;)  And in the meantime, even if I do not provide legitimate literarily resourceful material... It's still awesome knowing that someone can see past all my failings to what I will be in Him someday.  I love that, actually.  :)

And there you are.  Random Ramblings, vol. 11.



"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." - Luke 2:19

Every now and again, God sends someone into my life who, for whatever reason, just seems to know what to say.  Some say that's the prophetic in action.  I don't care what you call it - I'm just glad it happens.

I woke up early yesterday, and one of the first things I read was an email from... well, a friend, for sure - but an unexpected one.  I'm not even 100% sure how we went from being people who knew the same people at church to being friends, but we're definitely there - and this morning's email was proof positive.

They were just two words in the middle of a letter, but they shaped my entire day: "You're important."


Can I just tell you, I really can't honestly remember the last time anyone said anything even remotely like that to me?


From a traditional religious perspective, that word carries all kinds of danger and warning with it.  The Pharisees and Sadducees - they were important, right?  (Mild sarcasm alert:)  So by all means, belittle yourself, so you won't be caught in that trap.

And yet...

Jesus spent His entire time here on earth walking among and ministering to "the least of these."  Women, children, lepers - you name them - if they were outcasts of society, you could bet Jesus was spending time with them.  And He wasn't just around - He was doing things.  Like healing them.  Defending them.  Telling the self-righteous, arrogant people who knew how to "get it right" and therefore felt justified in judging others to take a flying leap, and to look in a mirror on the way.   He gave dignity and hope to everyone He encountered (well... except maybe to the self-righteous, who didn't think they needed it).

Dignity.  Hope.  Importance.

I'm not sure it was possible to know Jesus and not feel valued.  (Sidenote:  I think even the people He yelled at were people He valued.  He wanted them to get their heads out of their rule books and change their attitudes so they could actually see and know God.  Even when they killed Him, His heart toward them was compassionate and forgiving...)

Maybe it's just because we don't want to risk being Pharisees, or maybe it's because no one thinks to remind us and so we forget, but I think it's possible that we don't always really understand that we're important.  The Bible tells us that God knows how much hair we have (which is really impressive, when you think about it), that He knows the plans He has for us (do you know how many people there are on the planet?), that we're a part of what He's doing in the world to draw all people to Himself; theologians call mankind "the pinnacle of creation."  And it's easy for me to look at other people and see their value, to see someone hurting or stressed out and take an extra 5 minutes to say, "Hey, you're not alone in this. I'm with you.  I'm praying for you."  But for whatever reason, I'm somewhat floored when someone does the same thing for me.  I get it that "people" are valuable to God; but I don't think I always get it that I'm actually one of them.

So those two words yesterday were life to my soul.  I carried them around all day - listening to God whisper their truth to my heart.  I'm ... important.  Not in some puffed up, obnoxious way - but in a quiet, loved-deeply and individually valued-by-God way.  I think if you'd asked me if I knew I was important to Him, I would have said yes in a heart-beat, but yesterday I realized that I tend to measure my value by what I do.  I have people in my life who are awesome about saying "thank you" and "great job" - but so often it's about what I've done, and not who I am.  And I guess that's what was so life-giving about hearing those words from my friend.  Those words, in their original context, weren't about what I could do.  They were about me.

It was pretty amazing.

And I love how God took those two little words and turned them into a day-long conversation.  I think it was Rob Harrison who once reminded me that even Karl Barth could sum up all his theology by saying, "Jesus loves me, this I know."  Sometimes I think we really do just have to ditch all the complicated whatnot of our lives and go back to that, and like Mary, just treasure that truth, and ponder it in our hearts.

So if you've been in a season lately where you've just felt devalued, or if you feel as if you are valued more for your usefulness than for who you are, I'd encourage you: Remember that you're important.  Before He created you, He knew you (Psalm 51).  You were born on purpose, with purpose, yes - but the point is, you were born.  The God of the universe thought you up, and made you - and He loves you tremendously.  Just for who you are.  As you are.  With no conditions or escape clauses, no opting out, and no regrets.

Jesus loves you, this I know - for the Bible tells me so.  And He is with you, always.  Whatever this day may bring.

when God asked me: "...why?"

Solitude and silence are two disciplines that I often practice together.  They can be separated, but it takes a lot of intentionality to practice silence in a group, and solitude just lends itself to being quiet.  Saturdays, as my current Sabbath day, usually have a good chunk of time built in for both these disciplines, but I try to find time during the week, simply for my sanity as an introvert, to be quiet and alone, too - and one of the easiest ways I know of doing that is turning off the radio when I'm driving, and letting my car become a sanctuary of sorts.  I don't always pay attention to what's happening - or what could happen - in that silence.  Sometimes it is simply a refuge from the noise of life, and I don't spend my time in silence listening at all - I spend it mentally reviewing and processing through events and conversations, and forget to ask God what He thinks about any of it.  But one of the most awesome things about silence is that it creates the opportunity for Him to speak with a higher probability that I'll  hear it.  (Which makes the discipline of practicing solitude and silence totally worth it.)

I was driving home from my Zumba class the other day in the quietness of a cold winter's night.  The stars were shining; there was snow on the ground.  The YMCA where I take my class is out in the middle of ... well, I'm sure it's somewhere.  ;)  But it means that the drive home is on a winding road through large forested properties, and it's absolutely beautiful.  As I was driving home that night, I looked to my left, and there was a large log cabin-like home just visible through the snow-covered trees, with its porch lights on, and it looked so incredibly welcoming and ... well, homey.

And out of nowhere, it hit me.  This deep, intense longing:

I want that.

...oh.  God... I am so sorry....

And there was like this pause in the Spirit (for lack of a better way to describe it), and then He said, "... why?"  

It wasn't quite an incredulous sort of question - because He's God, and He knows everything, so He couldn't be incredulous about anything - but there was very definitely an element of kind challenge and serious questioning in the tone of His question.

I had an instant answer, of course.  Ruth Haley Barton says in her book, Sacred Rhythms, that our souls have no safe places to speak - that the minute they try, we meet them with instant judgment and commentary.  That was very true for me in that moment.

"It's coveting, God!  It's wanting something I don't have.  It's discontentment with where I am in life, with what You've given me.  It's sin!"

Oh, Hap.  

It's not like you want that specific house.  You're not asking to trade lives with those people.  You don't want their lives.  You want what that house represents to you: a home.  marriage, kids - a family.  love.  blessing.  prosperity.  hospitality - and the ability to offer it freely.  And those are actually good things to want!  They are things I made you for - things that I call "good."  

Wanting them is not a sin.  You are not coveting - you are longing.  

There's a difference.

That was hard for me to get my head around.  I'm still working on it, actually.  But here's the thing:

Psalm 37:4 says that if we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our hearts.  There are two ways I've heard that interpreted.  The first (and most common) is that if you make God your One Thing - if your absolute first priority in life is spending time with Him, and putting Him first in everything, then He's going to give you your heart's desires.

But here's the second (and I think possibly a more accurate) interpretation: that if you delight yourself in the Lord - if you are happy to be with Him - then He will give your heart the very desires it has.

Do you see the difference?

It's not just about getting what you want - it's about the very things you want being from Him in the first place.

I'm not sure what to think about that conversation.  It's not like there's honestly much I can do about it.  But it is definitely food for thought.

What do you think?

2012: Shifting Into A New Reality

Doesn't that sound trendy?  ;)

Believe me, I titled this post tongue-in-cheek, thinking about how "culturally relevant" it sounded - but God willing, it's not quite as full of hot air as it could be.  :)

I read one of the most incredibly profound books while I was flying to and from the East Coast over the holidays, and I hope that if you get a chance, you will go to your nearest local bookstore and order a copy (if they don't already have it in stock).  It's called SHIFT, by Peter Arnell.   I could summarize it for you, but I think Peter does a way better job of it himself:

For a number of reasons, towards the end of 2011, I found myself increasingly un-Happy.  Part of it, honestly, was just imbalance on my part - being too busy, being busy doing the wrong things, not having enough downtime to meet the needs of my inner introvert, and accidentally but subconsciously beginning to identify myself by what I do, and not by Whose I am.  Reading Peter's book was inspiring and timely and as far as I can tell, God-orchestrated.  (I mean, really - what was I doing in the business section of Barnes and Noble?!  How did I end up there?!)  Lol.

I came away from reading this book confident of two things: 1) change is possible; and 2) I'm going to need some help.

There are a lot of things in my life that I wish would just shift by themselves.
They're not going to.
If I want to see things change, I'm going to have to do something.

Some of the negatives are circumstances that I simply cannot do anything about, except pray.  Only God can move those mountains, and if/when He's ready to, He will.  But there are things I can change.  Things I can control.  Things I can do.

So as I took my annual beginning of the year retreat to finish Peter's book and pray over this coming year, here are the things I've determined that I would like to either see shift or to see God do in me, as we stand at this year's annual crossroads, choose a path and start walking into 2012:

1) I want to be more present.
     - Paying attention to the moment.
     - Really listening to people.
     - Enjoying what I'm eating, and stopping when I'm full.
     - Noticing nature; taking time to look at the stars.

2) I want to be more silent.
     - Listening to what I'm actually thinking, and what it reveals about my heart.
     - Listening for His voice; learning to know Him better.

3) I want to be more intentionally grateful.
     - I need to write it down: what am I thankful for today?

4) I want to make some personal shifts in how I structure my lifestyle:
     - Diet: I need to eat things that are good for me, that promote health.
     - Exercise: I need to try to exercise at least 2x a week (if not more).
     - Image: I've always wanted to dress with a little more style.  This is my year to do a little bit of shopping - to buy clothes that flatter and fit.  I will always be most comfortable in jeans and a sweatshirt, but as I start to eat better and exercise more, I know from experience that I will feel more confident, and I want to look it.  I can't go nuts; my debt-reduction plan needs to stay in place - but I need to give myself permission to look nice.  And I needed a new haircut.  Which I got today.  (And I feel fabulous.)   :)

5) I want to read and study more.  (Leadership books and stories.)

6) I want to write more.  And maybe finally take the risk and see if I can sell it.

7) I want to go deeper with Jesus, and fall more in love with Him than I have ever been.
     - Listen.  Pray.  Fast.  Wait.  Worship.
     - Dwell in the shelter of the Most High.
     - Walk into my calling.
     - Live with purpose. Live with joy.

So that's the new reality; at least, it's what I'm hoping for this year.  I don't know when/how/what it will all look like - but because He is with me on this journey, I know it's going to be full of adventure and fun and learning and grace, and an experience far greater than anything I can imagine now.

Please feel free to check in with me from time to time, and ask me how it's going.  And go read the book.  You won't regret it.  :)

Happy New Year, friends.  Be blessed.