New Things

New Things

I am sitting on my pack porch enjoying a sunny day. It’s crazy to think that on Sunday we had a few inches of ice on the ground, and today it’s 60 degrees! But, that’s Kentucky for ya! We had multiple days of being stuck at home and I hoped that would give me a chance to write. I tried, but mostly I stared at a blank computer screen. The struggle with writer’s block is real right now. It’s not a shortage of thoughts. It’s a major traffic jam! Read on if you dare. This is purely me trying to get unstuck.

I alluded to a life changing decision a few weeks ago. After many months of praying and waiting, we made that decision. My husband and I decided to leave the church that we have been a part of for 30 years. It’s a great church. It’s where we cut our teeth as baby Christians. It’s where we fell in love, got married and built our family. It’s where all of our friends are! It’s been our social life, our kids’ school and our compass. But, over the past couple of years we have felt increasingly like square pegs trying to fit into a round hole, and we knew it was time to go. It was terrifying and sad, but I can honestly say that I am so relieved now that the decision has been made. I know that we did the right thing for our family.

I confess I’m rather surprised at the place where God has us right now. We have been visiting the Russian Orthodox Church in our town. I first learned about this church years ago when I wrote an article about it for our local newspaper. It was so different than anything that I had ever known. I was intrigued, but the thought that I might someday be a part of that church never crossed my mind. Then my sister-in-law, who is from Russia, moved here and was looking for a church. Of course I told her that I knew of a really great one, and she has been going there ever since. She invited us to come a few times, but since it met at the same time as our church, I never made it. Then, a few months ago my son started attending there. I saw the young man, who I had been dragging to church for several years, suddenly be excited about going to church. He got himself up on Sunday mornings, dressed up, went to church, stayed late for coffee hour and then came home excitedly talking about it. This got my attention! When we decided to part ways with our old church, we decided this was where we would visit and see if maybe God was calling us to Eastern Orthodoxy.

While the services are still so foreign to me, I actually love them. Worship is all encompassing and beautiful. I love the sense of unity that I feel when I realize that Christians all over the world are singing the same songs, listening to the same liturgy and lifting up intercessory prayers together. I am amazed at the emphasis on readying oneself for communion. I thought that I might walk away from something so different than what I am used to with a lot of questions, but to my own surprise, I find myself walking away with answers to questions that I have always had. I also find safety in the fact that this church has not given way to whims and trends, but has remained the same for a couple thousand years. And I also like the safety of the hierarchy. I still have a lot to learn, and we are still seeking the Lord about where He would place us, but at this point I can honestly say, I hope it is here.

I am anticipating some joyous occasions in the coming months! I will tell you about them as they unfold, but where 2020 was a year of mourning and adjusting, 2021 looks to be a year of celebrating. The Lord is good! Over the past weeks I have marveled at how the Lord always goes before us and always prepares us for what He is about to do. I was talking to a woman yesterday and she said, “You seem like the kind of person who has a lot of amazing stories to tell.” I just laughed. Our Heavenly Father is amazing!

Well, maybe I have successfully cleared the traffic jam. A big question that I’m asking myself right now is, “Why do I write?” And, “Where do I go from here?” I would appreciate your prayers as I try to answer these questions.

Choose Joy

Choose Joy

About thirty years ago I read a beautiful allegory called, “Hinds Feet on High Places” by Hannah Hurnard. You know that a book is a good one when it burns an impression in your mind that stays with you for the rest of your life. There is one scene that has stuck with me all these years and I have seen it again in my mind many times. The main character, Much Afraid, is on a journey and in this particular scene she finds herself in a barren land. The ground is dry and brown, with no signs of life. But, Much Afraid comes to an old pipe and looks down to see a lovely, tiny, yellow flower blooming where a drop of water occasionally falls. Much Afraid asks the flower its name and it sweetly exclaims, “Behold, me. I am acceptance with joy.”

Have you ever come upon dry and barren places in your own journey? I have. I’ve been alive for close to fifty years now and I’ve suffered enough to know that not every leg of the journey leads to happy trails. In fact, I hate to be brash, but, sometimes, life sucks. When I was younger and still very optimistic, those moments when my visions of rainbows and sunshine didn’t pan out, were like a punch in the gut. But I have learned that even in the midst of those sucky, painful and gut wrenching moments, just like that tiny flower in the wilderness, I can choose joy.

How can we choose joy in the midst of suffering? I think that in order to have true joy we need to turn our eyes toward heaven and remember that God is good and he knows our suffering. If we choose to abide in him, he will abide with us. (John 15:4). Life isn’t always so great. Sometimes we suffer. We face disappointment. We may make choices that result in unpleasant consequences. In those seasons of life we may not feel happy, but we can choose to put our hope in God and trust that, “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5) Putting our hope in God and abiding in him may not result in giddiness or walking on sunshine, but it can result in something much deeper, which is joy.

I think that we have to guard our joy, because it can be stolen. Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I agree with this statement. Comparison generally doesn’t lead to gratitude. It can lead to discontentedness and even bitterness. Your life might not look like so and so’s, and that’s okay. I wish I was a couple of inches taller, but I never will be. I can compare myself to the tall girls and feel sorry for myself because I have to ask for help to get something off of the shelf, or I can accept that this is the way God made me. We are all different and we all have unique situations in our lives. This is where acceptance with joy comes in to play. Bloom where you are planted and rejoice.

Do not let people steal your joy. Just like life sucks sometimes, so do people. (Me included.) People can be selfish, gossips, know-it-alls, controlling and sometimes just downright mean. Don’t you be a victim! Don’t you let them steal your joy! If they are hurting you, get to a safe place and get help. If they are messing with your mojo, you stand up to them and tell them no. Above all, don’t allow them to continue stealing your joy by holding on to bitterness or unforgiveness. These two things are the biggest thieves of all.

Last but not least, control your thoughts. Don’t dwell on the unpleasant things. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.” If you choose to dwell on the good things, this is choosing joy.

I pray for everyone reading this today. I pray that today you will draw near to God, who loves you and longs to abide with you. May he bless you and keep you and give you the strength to choose joy. Amen.

Thoughts on the New Year

Thoughts on the New Year

Life is a journey, and this past year it has taken quite a few unexpected turns. Last year at this time I was thinking that 2020 was going to be an ordinary year. 2020 was anything but ordinary! I think it was ten years wrapped into one. That leg of the journey brought so many friends; old friends, new friends and it exposed the true friends. I have been amazed at the kindness and generosity of people. I learned that hope isn’t what I thought it was. 2020 brought miracles. It brought amazing gifts, joy and miraculous transformations. 2020 also brought pain, grief and disappointment. There were moments of anxiety like I’ve never experienced. Oh, there was also a pandemic. And riots. But let me tell you, I experienced the goodness of the Lord like never before. He has answered my cries for help. He has comforted me. He has answered prayers in the most unique ways. Sometimes I try to process it all, and I can’t. How is it possible that so much happened in 12 months time?

What does 2021 hold? My family already had our first major plot twist. We have made some decisions that are kind of turning our world upside down. We also have multiple celebrations to look forward to and I’m full of joyful anticipation. But, I’m also very conflicted. Last night I started crying in the kitchen. It’s only January and I have already felt all the emotions that there are to feel.

In the midst of it all, I know that God holds those who love him close. In the scary moments, we can cling to him. In the sad moments, he weeps with us. He rejoices with us in our celebrations. He loves us always and will never leave us or forsake us.

The Lord has put a verse on my heart that I think will be my theme for 2021. “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” Psalm 91:4

I don’t know what this year will bring, but I know that my Heavenly Father is in control. So, c’mon 2021! Bring it on!

Impact-It’s the Little Things

Impact-It’s the Little Things

I got stuck on intuition. Like, didn’t write for a week, stuck. So, I thought of another word. Maybe that’s cheating, but the point is to keep writing, right?

You never know the power of an encouraging word spoken, or of a simple act of kindness. I love reading about people who have made big differences in other people’s lives. What I’ve noticed is that they are usually people who do a whole lot of little things. So, if you want to impact the world, start paying attention to the people and the needs around you. Love those people and meet those needs.

Honestly, it’s pretty easy to be disgusted with the world right now. If you get on social media and watch the news, it seems like the world is a terrible place, full of hate. But, I challenge you to scale it down. Look at your neighbors and your co-workers. During this insane season of life, there are good people reaching out and helping others.

So yes, we are all impacted by politics and the state of our economy. We can worry about that. We can spend our time watching videos of riots and read about the injustices, or we can get out there and make a difference. And by make a difference I mean help somebody in need. Drop off a meal for someone who is sick. Buy groceries for that family who is struggling financially. Open your home to the child whose parents can’t afford to stay home with them while the schools are shut down. Call that elderly person who hasn’t left their home in months. Write letters and send cards. Let people know that you are thinking about them and praying for them.

Do you want to impact the world? Be kind. Be friendly. Be generous. Find little ways to to take care of people. In a world where everybody is shouting and name calling and fighting, I think that quiet acts of love can make a much bigger impact. So, let’s do it! Let’s drown out the negativity with our own battle cry, and let’s impact the people around us in a real and eternal way.

T is for Tea (and travel)

T is for Tea (and travel)

I was struggling with this one. I was supposed to write about travel, because that was the first word that came to my mind. I asked my husband for a t word and he came up with tea. And then, I realized that, for me, tea and travel kind of go together.

About ten years ago my husband and I went to Oslo, Norway for a wedding. It was late May. We took the metro from the airport and as I looked out the window, I was amazed to see my favorite flower, Lilacs, blooming everywhere. But the best part was when we got off at our stop. The smell of Lilacs wafted through the air. It was heavenly!

Oslo is a very beautiful city. My brother-in-law took us on quests through the parks and the city streets to find the perfect cafes. That was my first taste of the European way of life. When you sit down in a cafe to a cup of tea or coffee and a fresh baked treat, you do not rush. You sit, you talk, you laugh and you enjoy. This was difficult for me as I tend to be antsy. The American in me felt uncomfortable and wondered if it was okay to stay so long.

One of my favorite memories was when the mother of the bride invited my husband and I to her apartment for tea. She met us at the metro stop near her place. There were many apartment buildings. Every balcony had flowers and plants. Many of them had little tables where I could imagine people sitting and drinking their tea. On our way to her apartment we stopped at a bakery and picked out some pastries. Her place was lovely! It was everything that I thought a European apartment should be. Big, heavy, wooden doors, tall ceilings, beautiful art and books galore. We sat at a table and enjoyed wonderful conversation, tea and sweets. It was so pleasant and relaxing. It’s one of those memories that I savor and sometimes I try to imagine myself back there in that place.

When we returned from that trip, I tried to establish a daily tea time. I never was able to do it. I have learned to like and appreciate tea, and I’m always down for pastries. It’s the sitting still and relaxing part that is difficult. However, I just realized that an American version of tea time has become a part of my life as a result of that time. My husband and I started drinking coffee together every morning. I get up first and make it and we sit in our bed and talk before the day gets started. Now days are kitten joins us and her loud purring has become a part of the tradition. It’s my favorite part of the day. So, maybe I don’t do tea time every afternoon, but I do do coffee in the morning with my husband and my cat. Close enough!

My favorite part of these writing prompts is seeing where my imagination will take me. This one was a stretch!

Simplicity

Simplicity

I want to start by saying that I do not consider myself anything near an expert on these topics that I am writing about. I am simply following a series of writing prompts, using the letters of my name and the first word that came to mind for each letter. I’m trying to write as often as I can, without a whole lot of overthinking and worrying about what I say.

Simplicity is something that I have longed for. I finally got a good dose of it in 2020, and I like it. I do worry a little about becoming like Timone and Pumba, so happy with their hakuna matata lifestyle that they almost kept a king from doing his duty. So let me start by saying that I don’t think simplicity is hakuna matata. I don’t have a problem free philosophy, and while I do my best to cast my cares and worries on the Lord, they do exist. Simplicity is not being selfish and centering your life around yourself. It is freeing yourself from excess so that you can love others better.

Simplicity is not laziness. It’s not doing something sloppily or halfway. It’s also not thoughtless or apathetic. Rather, simplicity is choosing what you will pour your effort into. My natural tendency seems to be going overboard. In the past, I have bought too much, decorated too much, and spent too much time on certain things, while neglecting other things. Simplicity is avoiding going overboard.

I don’t think that there is a formula for simplicity. Your simplistic lifestyle is going to look different than mine, and that’s okay. Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I spent too many years of my life comparing myself to others. I never felt like I measured up and, as a result, I was always striving, always exhausted and never at peace with who I was. I believe that a major component of simplicity is giving up who you think you are supposed to be, and figuring out who you actually are. Embrace who God created you to be and where He has placed you. Don’t let comparison to others hold you back or lead you you down paths that aren’t yours to follow. It’s okay to say no to things. Simplicity is being yourself.

A big thing for me has been learning how to say no, and not feel guilty about it. We have to understand that there are seasons in life. There are some seasons where we are able to give ourselves more to different things, and there are seasons when we have to hunker down and pour ourselves out for our family or a particular situation. Sometimes you just have to say, “Sorry, I can’t do that right now.” That doesn’t make you a selfish person. That makes you a focused person. Simplicity is knowing where you are needed most, and giving yourself there.

Sometimes we have to say no to ourselves as well. Consumerism robs us of simplicity. Being overly sentimental weighs us down. In both situations we end up with too much stuff. A year and a half ago my family went on a trip to Germany and Austria. Up until that point, I was a notoriously heavy packer. But we were taking 5 kids with us and renting a minivan when we got there. Also, we were staying in Airbnb’s, which meant that taking elevators was not on the agenda. I watched a lot of videos on how to pack light and everybody got to bring one backpack with everything that they needed for two weeks. What I learned from that experience is that we don’t actually need that much stuff. We don’t need drawers and a closet overflowing with clothes. That trip inspired me to come home and purge my wardrobe. Maybe someday I’ll get really radical and whittle it down to a capsule wardrobe.

Also, on that trip we had to limit what we could bring back with us. I am a sentimental person and I like keepsakes, but I am learning to say no to myself. We bought some Christmas ornaments while we were there. We like to purchase ornaments from the different places that we visit, so that every year when we decorate our tree, we can remember those places. I like that tradition. I also bought a shirt in Vienna that I loved and wore a lot. It is pretty thin now and has a little hole in it. Writing this post has reminded me that it’s time to go ahead and let it go. I made a photo book of our trip and looking through it is my favorite way to remember our trip. The cowbell that I bought in Salzburg sits on my piano and collects dust. Thats a purchase that I could have done without. Simplicity is learning what you need and letting go of the stuff that you don’t.

What is simplicity? It is freeing yourself from excess so that you can love others better. Simplicity is avoiding going overboard. Simplicity is knowing who God created you to be, and not trying to someone that you aren’t. It is knowing where you are needed most, and giving yourself there. And, simplicity is learning what you need and letting go of the stuff that you don’t. Simplicity is freeing and life giving, both to the one who embraces it and the people that they love and serve. I want to embrace it more and more!

Inspiration

Inspiration

I personally am inspired by all kinds of things in all kinds of ways. For example, when I need to be inspired to clean my house, I watch before and after cleaning videos on YouTube. A few months ago I was inspired to start walking more when a very busy guy told me that he runs ten miles several times a week. I thought, “If he can do that, surely I can walk at least 10 miles a week.” (Nasty weather has uninspired me, but I’m going to get back on that!) Looking through my favorite cookbooks inspires me to spend time making delicious food for my family. Walking through an art museum awakens creativity inside of me and inspires me to surround myself with beauty. In the spring time I love to take walks in the woods with my camera, taking photos of wildflowers. This inspires me to be content with where God has me and to bloom where I am planted. Reading beautiful literature stirs my heart and inspires me to think deep thoughts about people, the world, good, evil and everything in between. People inspire me! I am inspired by people who put others before themselves, who overcome adversity, and who are faithful. My family and friends inspire me.

While many things inspire me, I am happy to say that I have discovered the one thing that is my true inspiration. I have found that when my life in God is stagnant, I lack inspiration. But, when I am drawing near to God and spending time with Him daily, I am filled with creativity and I am inspired in many ways. I’ve come to the conclusion that God, the Creator of all, is not only my source of life, my hope, my joy and my strength, but He is also my inspiration.

Risk Taking

Risk Taking

When I think of risk taking, I think of one of my favorite rides at Disney World. It’s the Mexican boat ride in Epcot. If you have been on this ride, you might be scratching your head and wondering how one of the calmest rides at Disney makes me thing of risk taking. Let me explain. When I hear the phrase “risk taking”, the first image that pops into my head is the cliff divers that are portrayed throughout that ride. I personally would never dive off a cliff, but I can think of something comparable. Choosing to love is like diving off of a cliff!

I totally believe that love is a choice. Some people say that they fell in love at first sight. I don’t think we “fall” in love. It’s not an accident. It’s always a choice. Rather than falling in love, we take a giant leap of faith and dive into it. I think it’s possible to have strong feelings and emotions for someone that you haven’t yet chosen to love. The tricky part is sometimes telling the difference between love and emotions.

I can tell you the exact moment that I chose to love my husband. We had been good friends for four years. In fact, I considered him one of my best friends. Also, I did have “feelings” for him. I loved his heart for God and people. I respected his work ethic. He was hilarious! And, he wasn’t afraid to be brutally honest. Also, I thought he was really cute! When I thought about the kind of guy that I wanted to spend my life with, it was him. But I hadn’t yet chosen to love him.

We fell….I mean chose to dive in and love each other on a mission trip to Mexico. I’ve told his side of the story plenty of times, but this is mine. We were in Mexico and we were at the home of a local pastor. He had a big courtyard where the church would meet. There were always people there visiting. I remember looking at Joshua, sitting on a plastic chair in that courtyard. He was surrounded by people. He was laughing and talking to them, and his love for them was sincere and sweet. In that moment I said to myself, “I want to be a part of what ever he is a part of, for the rest of my life.” I didn’t know if he loved me. I didn’t know if we would get married. I had no idea what the future held, but I knew that in some capacity, I was committed to Joshua.

When you have a baby and they place it in your arms, you look at it and you feel a strong emotion. That emotion is not love. That emotion must be like what a cliff diver feels when he walks to the edge, looks down and contemplates diving in. Diving in is the commitment, just like choosing to love is the commitment. Love is feeding that baby around the clock, changing diapers, and pacing the house bouncing that screaming baby when it has colic at 2:00 in the morning.

I’ve never literally dived off a cliff, and I am not planning to. I imagine that the result is a pretty hefty, yet temporary, adrenaline rush. When you choose to dive into love, something eternal happens. In the beautiful story, Les Miserables, Victor Hugo wrote, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” How can we see the face of God and not touch eternity?

I believe that loving is something that we have to keep on choosing. Sometimes we have to choose to lay down our selfishness, and love. We have to choose to overlook things that annoy us, and love. We have to choose to forgive. We have to choose to do the hard things. So, yes, I think that choosing to love is just like diving off of one of those giant cliffs. It’s a big risk, but it’s worth it.

Housekeeping

Housekeeping

I approach this topic sheepishly. It’s been a struggle for me my whole life. A family joke is that I knew how to hire and fire housekeepers before I was eighteen. As a kid and single adult, my bedroom was always a mess. When my husband and I were dating, someone felt that he should see the condition of my bedroom before deciding if he wanted to marry me. That was embarrassing, but fair, I suppose. I’m glad that he loved me enough to go ahead and seal the deal.

As a stay at home mom with little kids, I was overwhelmed by laundry, toys, dishes and kid messes in general. I was often discouraged and ashamed. I was stressed out and could not relax in my own home. My husband is a doctor and coming home to the chaos of a messy house, little kids and a stressed out wife was tough on him, and I’m sad to say, our marriage. He would offer to help, but I was defensive and embarrassed and it almost always led to a fight. We had housekeepers off and on, but the house still always felt messy.

A few years ago I finally figured out the main problem. We had too much stuff! There were too many clothes, too many toys, too many knick knacks and too much junk. I began purging stuff. Every year I would purge a little more. Last year I went really crazy and decided to become a minimalist. I haven’t quite achieved that goal yet, but I did get rid of a lot of stuff! I am finding that the house is a lot easier to keep clean when I don’t have things everywhere.

Also, it helps that the kids are older now. Everyone has their own laundry day and washes their own clothes. They clean their own rooms. They all have chores that they do and while the house isn’t perfect, MOST days it’s pretty good. There are a few little hot spots that I know I need to get to. I am going to clean out that area under the buffet! Every time I open it storage containers come tumbling out and it drives me crazy. And I really need to organize the kids’ craft supplies, and the basement storage rooms need to be purged, but overall, I am pleased with things.

The best part of having a clean-ish house is that I can relax at home now. I don’t feel guilty or stressed. I am learning to stay on top of things. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a clean the baseboards once a week kind of girl, but when the kids need to earn extra money, they do baseboards and windows. My house will never be on the cover of an organized living magazine, but it’s cozy and there is order. My goal for my home is that it will be a peaceful and comfortable place for my family to gather. I don’t like it when my house is full of stuff, but I am overjoyed when it is filled with the people that I love.

So, if anyone were to ask me advice on how to keep their house clean, I would first laugh at the irony, and then I would tell them to get rid of things that they don’t need. On that note, I think I just figured out what my plan is for the rest of Christmas break. Anyone need some stuff?

Creativity

Creativity

Covid 19 inspired a lot of creativity at my house. I decided early on that we were not going to spend our isolation watching TV or playing computer games. I don’t know if I would have been quite so resolute if I knew that we would still be isolated nine months later! I’m glad I didn’t know.

My three youngest kids have spent a lot of time doing arts and crafts. We have even had a friend come in to do art lessons. The kids have mastered tracing and moved on to free hand sketching. They have become quite creative with paper crafts. They worked together to make a 3D Santa sleigh with reindeers that was pretty impressive. They have painted, molded, cut, glued, sewn and decorated. Currently, one just finished writing a letter, another is tracing and one is coloring with markers. I love that I never hear, “I’m bored!” They never even ask for computer games anymore. They might watch 30 minutes or an hour of TV, and if we decide to skip it, they aren’t upset. They will happily play a game instead.

Creativity has also been abundant in the kitchen. I tried to get on the sourdough wagon, but failed! We didn’t starve though, because my 17 year old son has fed us very well this year. We have gone out to very few restaurants, even while on vacation. Cooking throw downs have become our new thing and this has resulted in a lot of fun and some pretty amazing food. I confess that our grocery bill has soared, but it is cheaper than taking our family of nine out to dinner once a week.

I can’t say that I personally learned any new creative skills, but I have enjoyed cooking things that take all day. And, I spent some extra time and love on wrapping presents this year. I love not being rushed and being able to slow down and enjoy the processes.

So, by the time this is all said and done. we will have spent a year social distancing. We’ve given up a lot. Some might feel like they had an unproductive year. However, I feel like we have birthed and fostered new levels of creativity in our family. That is something that my kids will carry with them their whole lives, and for that, I am grateful.