2017 Reset Button

Today’s guest post is our first re:create recess of 2017! Last week’s post spelled out what we’re doing here, once a week, on the blog, but here’s a quick reminder: we’re thinking about create with a healthy dose of play and how both can lead to transformation. My friend Cole oozes playful creativity in her fantastic fashion sense and you should be so lucky to see her gorgeous home and courageous use of bold wallpaper… She originally said no to guest posting because mama to three littles is more than enough; but then she shared this tidbit of creative wisdom with our women’s group and so, here we are. I’ve already tucked one monthly card, and now another, into my gratitude journal. Join us in this creative and intentional pursuit?

re:create recess #1: Colecp-meme

If you’re like me, you might need to hit the reset button in 2017. I came into this ‘new’ year harried, beaten down, uninspired, and exhausted, with no gumption to set resolutions, create goals, start a new habit, get organized, become more fit, or get closer to a “new me in 2017.”

It felt like I was just trying to survive. The only goal I had was to sleep! To stay within the confines of my fluffy down comforter and sleep while someone else cleaned, cooked, watched the kids, put away the Christmas decorations, wrote the holiday thank you cards, etc… But one night as I surfed the web in the wee hours, I think I had a “Holy Spirit intervention” because I stumbled upon Ann Voskamp’s blog and her version of making new year’s resolutions. She calls it reSOULutions – a Year of Living on Purpose.

I like Ann’s simple, manageable approach to being intentional about making changes without the anxiety and overwhelm of the traditional approach to setting resolutions. I found myself peeking out from under my comforter with renewed hope excited to get creative and follow Ann’s easy steps to living on purpose.

Ann offers a list of 12 verbs for the new year, one for each month…Embrace, Believe, Do, Learn, Grow, etc., and invites us to add the nouns or intention pertaining to that word. The words are written on a beautifully illustrated printout.

Here is my example. I added my own words and chose to color in the flowers to inspire myself to look at it often (Ann even invites us to frame it!). I’m going to tuck mine inside my devotional, a good reminder of things I want to work on and become better at.cpresoulutions

Ann also created these beautiful monthly cards with the word for each month written on them where you can write your intention and your prayer for how God can lead you in this endeavor. You can cut up the cards and tuck them inside your Bible or devotional along with the other sheet to refer to them often as well….

What kind of year have you had or do you want to have? What are you afraid of or excited about? If you’re struggling to pick up your feet, your head, your eyes or your heart, this might be a small discipline you can do with the Holy Spirit’s help. Maybe, just maybe, amidst the shifting, the changing, the chaos, and the beauty of your day, you will take a moment to remember and breathe and do what the card says…it’s a small, easy way of connecting with God while pursuing stability in an uneasy world. Live on purpose while living out your purpose and your soul will thank you.

cportocarrero

 

Cole has been married to Shane for eight years. She is mama to three children, Ruby, Marlowe, and Hyde. She requires a steady diet of faith and fancy with a little mischief here and there for good measure. She strives every day to be more like Jesus and to remember that she is enough, despite her imperfections.

Merry Merry

silent night wide version
In my work as Church Communication Director, I have the privilege and honor of working with a talented graphic designer, an artist in her own right and also thankfully, my friend, Nancy Ingersoll. She gave me permission to share her beautiful Silent Night which she created for an Advent art display of peace-ful imagery. Please check out her work here.

tree

Feeling merry? For some Christmas does not feel like a merry season. For some it is hard, lonely, depressing. For most it can be exhausting.

Good news (Christmas is always at its center good news): “Tonight, at the foot of the cradle… there are no big people, no powerful people, no proud people. Tonight we are all children who straggle to the manger with nothing. Tonight we are all just raggedy manger stragglers – fathers who lay down all their work, mamas who lay down all their weariness, children who lay down all their wants. Tonight we kneel down before Jesus and reach out our hands that need little – because we want more of God.” Ann Voskamp, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift

My prayer for you and for me today, tomorrow, next week, is that we will take a break from the do-ing to focus on be-ing – being still, being with God and loved ones, being at peace, being joyful. It will take an act of will, this intentional be-ing, but be strong. It takes strength to lay down our burdens when our muscles have become so accustomed to carrying them. Let’s adopt a new posture of strength: kneel. Empty our arms, then hold them out for the baby. It’s that easy, and that hard. The do-ing can wait.

 

advent wreathIt’s time to light the Christ candle! Merry Christmas, friends.

Announcing Peace

Read and light all candles: The first candle represents the expectation of the One who will bring Peace. The second candle represents God’s peace in us. The third candle represents the call to make peace with one another. The fourth candle represents the Gospel of peace. The center candle represents Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Luke 2:10-14

Read: The angels announced: There is so much fear on earth, but do not be afraid. We bring good news of great joy. Your Savior has come! The One you’ve been waiting for, the Answer to your prayers, the Salve for your wounds. He will be your Lord and your lover, the One on whom you cast your cares, the All-Sufficient One. Sing with us: Glory to God and peace on earth. Come, let us worship the Prince of Peace!

Pray: Dear God, thank you for the gift of your Son who is our peace. In the name of Jesus we pray for peace on earth, Amen.

Gratitude Check

Some days are more difficult than others, living in this messy, broken world.

Just before heading to bed last night, Guy turned on the evening news and heard that the little girl, missing for days in his hometown, had been found dead. The suspect? A 15-year-old neighbor. Tragedy times two, two broken childhoods.

Quietly, I slipped into Tween’s room as he slept. I laid down next to him, caressed his face, kissed him gently, prayed and cried. The girl’s mama couldn’t cuddle her baby, couldn’t feel the soft whisper of breath on her cheek. The boy’s mama? I can’t even imagine. And they’re not alone; how many mamas are brokenhearted today? Tween rolled over, content in dreamland, as I uttered, Thank you, God, thank you!, and left him to rest.

We awoke this morning to learn that the sirens we heard last night were in response to a fire at our friends’ house. As I always do when I hear sirens I prayed: Thank you, God, for sending help. And thankfully everyone is okay, but their young kids are understandably scared. This makes two local families who have had fires in the last two weeks. Stuff lost, hassles in progress. It could be worse, but it’s bad enough.

Another mama whispered her feelings of depression, anxiety, loneliness. And the shame that comes with knowing just how blessed you are and still feeling wildly out of sorts. Head and heart disconnect and she’s not alone. We hear the shattered voices in our head, know our own aches and pains, and compare that with others’ beautiful exteriors. Our cell phones keep silent, not because we’ve silenced them, and we think no one is thinking of us. We lose in comparison, even as we know we shouldn’t compare because we will always lose that insidious game.

Some days the brokenness becomes too obvious, too overwhelming. How do we respond?

Writer Kristi Atkinson encourages: “Everything that happens in the world is an opportunity for us to move in love towards God and others.” She wrote a helpful article on praying the news. As we pray, we seek to connect with God’s heart for a hurting world. Then God directs us how to move forward in love, whether that means more prayers or tangible assistance.

And we give thanks because…

thankful

@Ann Voskamp

Even if the something isn’t directly related to the heart ache, and maybe some days it cannot be directly related to the heart ache, we can unearth some reason to be grateful: the air we breathe, a new green shoot of life bearing witness, even the beating of the heart which can be broken.

So, for today, here’s my partial list: a new book I’m reading with Tween; a hot summer day and a house that stays (mostly) cool; the noise of boys playing; sparkling water with a squeeze of lemon; easy, healthy food; daily posts of pictures from the week-long camp Teen is attending; time to draw a silly picture I will mail to Teen; the ability to help as help is needed; our small town that generously responds to others’ needs; health; so much love.

Project Week

It’s been a week of projects around our house. Tween has been working on a science project. Teen completed a career project. Tween had a music lesson in preparation for his first big concert. Teen and I both finished reading books; Tween has almost finished the book he’s reading. And of course Guy and I both have had work projects.

I’ve also been loosely participating in a month-long online life coaching project. The focus is spring cleaning, not so much the house as our lives. This week’s work centers on relationships, and I realized I’ve needed some work on my relationship with myself.

I want to live intentionally, but too often I make lazy decisions. So this week I have worked on making good choices and thinking well about myself in order to break bad patterns in thought and action.

*I have made healthy choices in food and drink, including starting each day with half a lemon squeezed into hot water. I drink less coffee and still feel energized.

*I have gone to bed with a cup of tea and a book. And sometimes Tween piles in bed with a book we’re reading together, so we enjoy some bonus snuggle time.

*I have used the good skin care because, really, what’s the point of having it if it’s too precious to use, if I preserve it for special occasions? Today is a special occasion!

*I have exercised more days than not – a brisk walk does wonders for body and soul. I have caught myself thinking negatively, “I’m lazy. I’ll never be fit because I always give up.” Blah, blah, blah! I can be healthy, even if I’ll always be curvy. Hooray for curves!

*I have asked better questions: not “Does this make me look fat?” but “How do I feel?” Not “What’s wrong with me?” but “What am I good at?”

*I have smiled more. Have you noticed how contagious smiles can be?

*I have said “YES!” to life-giving situations, and I have said “No” when necessary. Here’s a biggie (for me): I went to bed before Teen was done with his career project. He put it off till last minute, and I allowed that to fully rest on his shoulders and not mine. I did get up early (not much, though) to proof-read it and offer a few suggestions, but I did not allow his procrastination to jeopardize my rest. And hallelujah, it all worked out just fine.

*I have told people precious to me how much I appreciate them. I told Teen I am proud of him and added specific reasons I like him. One of the life coaching prompts was to choose your own personal board of directors. When a friend popped into town and we were able to grab a spontaneous lunch, I told her that she was the first person who came to mind. And how glad am I that she responded with a thrilled hug?

*I stopped for a car backing out of a driveway onto a busy road. The sweet old man who walked to the edge of his driveway, helping the car out at a trafficky time of day, gave me the brightest, kindest smile in response for my simple act: I only just stopped. That’s it. But he gave me a gift of his smile.

*This one scares the life out of me but I’m putting it in print anyway: This week I have begun writing the book that has been on my mind for years. I haven’t done much, but I’ve started. It’s something. I’m ready to stop talking about being a writer and actually become a writer.

*Today was not my best day, bumps and annoyances beginning to end (maybe because I simply couldn’t get to the gym first thing? Something to consider…). Still, hard as it sometimes can be, I am choosing to forgive. I am choosing to set good boundaries. I am choosing to focus on the things I can do and let go of the rest. I am choosing to be grateful, to say “Thank you!” to God for the beautiful things.

As I began to write this blog post, I thought the words had run away with the gunk in this day. I felt sad. And then I read this – oh, how I long to leave beauty marks on the world! And just as I finished, tears brimming my eyes, Tween came in needing extra mommy snuggles just because that’s the lovebug that is our Tween. Sitting in my favorite chair, I hadn’t bothered to turn on the overhead light. He said, “Why is my mom sitting alone in the dark?”, the dark being something completely foreign to this Child of Light who must have on all the lights in all the rooms at all times. He sat on my lap. He snuggled in close. He whispered, “I love this mom.” He kissed my lips.

I accepted it all as a gift: from my child and from my God. It might not be too long before Tween decides he’s too old for mommy snuggles so I will soak in them now to remember later. And I recognize the timing as all God, since Tween couldn’t know just how much I needed those snuggles just then.

So, thinking well about myself: even when I care for myself first in order to care for my loves and responsibilities with my best self, things will not always go the way I plan, the way I hope, the way I want. I can react, lash out or walk away, hide; or I can respond, pray, do the right thing, keep moving forward. I can look for the gifts when they aren’t obvious, and then accept the gifts and say “Thank you!”

The newest rose bushes about  to burst, white roses that erupt from pink buds

The newest rose bushes set to burst, white roses that erupt from pink buds

Easter rains yield new beauty

Easter rains yield new beauty

Quirky Christmas

School for 2014? Check!

*Sigh of relief* The kids are off to movies and friends as I borrow a couple of quiet hours to straighten up and address Christmas cards. For weeks the house has been an explosion of Christmas detritus landed alongside, underneath, and atop backpacks, shoes and jackets, sporting equipment, and who knows whose papers for who can tell which subject? I’ve done my best to focus on the important over the pine needle rug, the piled-up dishes, the un-addressed cards. The tree was up and lit for a week before we decorated it in the one 20-minute period both boys were home between school and activities.

Teamwork makes quick work

Teamwork makes quick work

My first waking thought earlier this week: “Even in my dreams I’m racing around!” I awoke just as exhausted as I’d hit the pillow. And then I read, “We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories” (Jonathan Gottschall). My mind’s stories had to be of the rush, hurry, rest-less variety.

I haven’t been in a party mood this year. I have needed – more than usual – time for quiet and reflection, sacred moments carved from the craziness of December church and family life. When I gave my life-of-the-party husband the gift of my company at a Christmas party, a woman I’ve known for some time asked how I am, seeming concerned, then asked, “Just let me encourage you? How old are you?” Guessing where she might be headed, I demurred, “Oh, right, and everything’s heading south…” To which she replied, “But you are still beautiful! I know you don’t feel it, but you are!” … Merry Christmas to me! For encouragement’s sake, I’ve been reminded that my numbers, in years and on the scale, are inching skyward. I’m getting older – and fat – but still beautiful… for my age? Goodness…

So I’ve decided in this too-full season to capitalize on my unique brand of quirky Christmas.

"In My Santa Suit" red toes

“In My Santa Suit” red toes, even though it’s absolutely closed-toe shoe weather

My feather wreath: Dr. Seuss whimsy

My feather wreath: Dr. Seuss whimsy

The Christmas Tortoise candle holder makes me giggle.

Doesn’t everyone have a Christmas Tortoise?

Beautiful and broken snowglobe

Beautiful – and broken – snow globe

Not sure how it happened, but the inside base of this globe tilted while in storage. I almost threw it out last year. And then I didn’t. It’s not worth much, but I have liked it since I first spotted it. And as I held it, paused over the garbage can, I decided that this snow globe will remind me: our expectations of Christmas will always be a little sideways to the lived reality.

Christmas, like life, doesn’t go according to plan. At least, not my plan. And Christmas can still be beautiful, sparkling, iridescent, even when – perhaps especially when – it doesn’t go according to my plan.

These things remind me to be present, to laugh at the silly, to be okay with the imperfections of the season and in myself. Richard Rohr writes, “If you are present, you will eventually and always experience the Presence. It is so simple, and so hard…” (The Naked Now, p59). And my current fav, Ann Voskamp, writes: “I always get my Christmas miracle. I get God with me. That’s really all I have to get ready for Christmas – my heart. So I will just come to Him just as I am.”

My quirky Christmas decorations are talismans pointing me toward a better perspective, icons through which I experience an altogether more important Presence. They may look odd or out of place to you, but they serve a significant purpose for me.

Wishing you a merry – and quirky – Christmas!

 

Death and Hope for Life

We all four hopped in the car, heading to the store to buy Christmas gifts for our “adopted” little boys who live over the hill in a poor part of town. These littles, both under five years old, don’t have families of their own to buy them gifts, a fact that broke Tween’s heart so that he exclaimed, “Let’s adopt them for real! I want two little brothers!” If we could… But we can buy them some gifts to brighten their Christmas just a smidge. It’s not enough, but it’s something.

Only two blocks down the road we got the call: our friend has passed. Just in time for Christmas, he’ll be singing Christmas carols with the angels this year, in the glorious presence of Jesus Christ Himself.

We immediately drove to their house, the privilege and price of being both a pastor’s family and friends. We hugged and cried and sat on the linoleum kitchen floor. The two-ton tabby stepped over and around us, winding between extended hands, his soft snuggles in contrast with the jagged-broken crunch in our hearts. As directed we sent texts and emails to let others know of our dear friend’s loss, one less thing for the bereaved to do.

Our kids were troopers, so sad themselves at the loss of their “local grandfather,” but willing to tell stories, to make people laugh, to give comfort in their way. Together we talked about earth time (a blink) and eternity (forever), about hope in God’s love, about God’s broken heart as He holds His grieving people.

Teen was in kindergarten when cancer took my dad. On Tween’s first birthday, a day of course he doesn’t remember but links them forever. And Tween was in third grade when cancer took my grandma; her last taste of food was a bite of the churro dessert in his Mexican fast food kid’s meal. These boys have witnessed the hard work of dying, that love and sorrow and joy weave families together in painful shared experience, the dying unraveled and the living wrapped up and handed back to the world to figure out a new “normal.”

We sat together not eating through dinnertime until the Hospice nurse and then the mortician arrived. We hugged and cried some more, spoke words intended to comfort, and we left. We picked up the now-cold Chinese food we’d ordered hours earlier. We went shopping for the little boys, our big boys picking out toys and books they loved years ago. We bought big decorative gift bags to wrap these gifts, imagining the boys’ smiles. Where will they be on Christmas morning? Who will help them create Christmas memories? We went home, warmed up and ate dinner in front of a sitcom, an attempt at levity in our sadness.

I didn’t sleep well. Today the sun shines silver through the white-cloud sky, a temporary reprieve from the rain reported to resume tomorrow. It’s cold. I shiver, as much from sleeplessness and sadness as from the actual chill in the air. Tears well up and recede, abiding by a mysterious tear tide chart. They’ll crash, unpredictably. More than once, I’m sure.

I miss my friend, the one who never failed to greet me with, “Howdy, friend!” Whose big hug and stable, unflappable personality chuckled at our silly kid drama, who prayed for us, who modeled for my boys a life of masculine faith and commitment to family, to serving others, to loving well. Who called his wife his “girlfriend” and “sweetheart” because he intended to always woo and court this beautiful woman who won his heart so many years ago. I ache for her as she cannot imagine life without his companionship, cannot fathom coming moments of joy.

Today, in this bleak midwinter, this article appears, some small balm for the brokenhearted.

Emmanuel — God with us. God with us and for us and in us and holding us and this is the Christmas miracle that outlasts all of time…. Evidence of God’s existence is cold comfort. What warms us is the wounded, weeping God who doesn’t write answers in stars – but writes His ardent love in our scars.

“With His scars.

“The miracle of Christmas is we get more than proof of God’s existence. We get the experience of God’s presence.

“We get our Christmas miracle. We get God with us.

Thank you, Father, for sending your Son to be with us, to suffer with us, to suffer for us. Thank you for pouring out your love on us, for holding us even when we can’t feel your arms of love. We need a Christmas miracle of hope in the experience of your presence. Emmanuel, we need you now more than ever. Come, O come, Emmanuel!

Where do we place our hope?

I had a surprising and completely lovely conversation with Tween after Sunday school this morning. I asked him about the lesson, and he told me the story commonly called The Rich Young Ruler (found in Matthew 19:16-22 and Mark 10:17-27): a man who has kept all the commandments asks Jesus what else he must do, and Jesus tells him to sell all his possessions and follow Him.

So I asked Tween what that meant practically, did he need to go home and clean out his room? (Horror! This kid thrives in a creative chaos that boggles his mama’s brain).

No, he responded, but this month’s Sunday school theme is “Don’t Get Wrapped Up in Your Stuff, Get Wrapped Up in Christmas.”

Okay, so what does that mean? Are you more wrapped up in your stuff or in Christ?

Christ, he immediately gushed. (A Christmas blessing for my heart!)

So how could your stuff distract you from Jesus? Isn’t that what the story is about?

He explained: it means don’t get so excited about your toys that you sit in your room playing when you could be out on a beautiful nature walk with friends. Or at church.

Because on a nature walk with friends you experience God?

Yes! You get outside, with other people, and you see what God has created and how good God is and how amazing this world is. That’s what we did all summer in Costa Rica. That’s why we went to Costa Rica. Because Teen had been there and he told us how beautiful it is and that God is at work there, and so we went to see what God was doing.

Joy, unspeakable joy! The kid gets it. He understands that getting wrapped up in Jesus is the only place to be, and he understands the point of our sabbatical trip: to eliminate distractions and seek Jesus.

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:2).

And yet we insist on self-focus which leads to stress and distress, worry and fear. Why, when instead we could have hope, joy, peace, and love? It’s not because self-focus is easier, though it is perhaps more natural.

Ann Voskamp writes: “Worry is always belief gone wrong. Because you don’t believe that God will get it right. Peace is belief that exhales. Because you believe that God’s love is everywhere – like air” (Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, p44 – have I sold you on this book yet? I’m loving it!).

Believing it to be so sacred as to be unpronounceable, Jews don’t speak aloud God’s name, YHWH or Yahweh, and instead call Him by other names, Elohim or Adonai, Strong One, Lord, Father. Some argue that the name itself is the sound of breathing, that our every breath acknowledges God the Giver of Life. And don’t we all really need a deep breath, especially in this busy season? We need a change of focus, a change in our very being.

I am making a commitment this week: first, to breathe deeper, and secondly, to pray each time I change my clothes, reminding myself to take off myself and put on Christ.

Advent Week 2 – Where Do We Place Our Hope?
December 7-13

Read Scripture: Colossians 3:1-17

Candle lighting: Light the first and second candles.

Read: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The first candle represents the hope of Israel. The second candle represents the hope of heaven.

How many times today did you think about yourself: your fears or worries, your wants and needs? We so easily forget the hope God gives us in His Son. Like torn and dirty clothes, take off your troubles and doubts that lead to sin. Put on the hope of your new life in Jesus: the cozy Christmas sweater adorned with compassion, peace and gratitude. Live in hope as you set your heart and mind on Jesus.

Pray: Dear God, help us to let go of everything that distracts us from you. Thank you for the gift of new life. In the name of Jesus we hope and pray, Amen.

 

Throughout the Week// light the candle, read and discuss the daily Scripture and pray together.

Light two candles as you say: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read & Discuss:

Monday// Psalm 31:24// What does it mean to you to hope in the Lord?
Tuesday// Psalm 62:5// How can you rest in God today?
Wednesday// Psalm 147:11// When have you felt the Lord’s delight in you?
Thursday// Matthew 6:33-34// How can you seek God first and worry less today?
Friday// Romans 5:1-5// God grows our hope when we wait for Him. When have you felt stronger after experiencing something hard?
Saturday// Hebrews 10:22-23// How will you draw near to God today?

Pray: Dear God, help us to let go of everything that distracts us from you. Thank you for the gift of new life. In the name of Jesus we hope and pray, Amen.