Live Lent (2018)

Mom Down!

I’ve been sick for two weeks now. What began as a lousy cold–power through, Mom, as most moms do–and I thought I had and was mostly on the mend–became a painful ear infection and virus v2. Six days on antibiotics and I still have pain and no hearing on my left side. Bleh!

Thankfully, I have a loving family determined to carry on around me, caring for me as they go. Guy bought lovely red tulips to bring me cheer and took care of all the kid-duties I couldn’t manage. Q13 offered to refill my water bottle, among other simple tasks. As John says, they have loved me in truth through their actions: “…let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18).

Meanwhile, Lent began this past Wednesday. Lent, that church season during which Jesus’ followers traditionally give up or take on something to more closely identify with the suffering our Lord endured for our sake.

Give up…dessert? alcohol? social media?
Take on…a new form of service? more/different forms of prayer?

I googled Lent and came across this fantastic New York Times article reporting that the Church of England has asked their parishioners to give up plastics in order to better steward God’s creation. As an animal-loving vegetarian environmentalist, mostly for stewardship reasons, I ❤ this so much! They’ve even created a daily calendar of actions one could take to limit plastic consumption…which I plan to print out and work towards.

Research shows the best way to create a new habit is to change one thing at a time, and to stick with it for at least three weeks. So during Lent, we have an opportunity to create two new God-honoring habits, or really dial down on one. Even week by week small actions will make a difference, in our lives and the world.

January 2017 I began keeping a Gratitude Journal, and in January 2018 I recommitted to it. I also recommitted to what should be my ongoing practice of reading the Bible daily; in mid-February I can say that the combination of daily Bible reading + gratitude has brought me new joy.

So here we are at Lent, a new opportunity to create lifestyle changes that will identify us as Jesus’ followers.

In my job as Church Communication Director and based on our sermon series in 1 John, I created a list of twelve things one might do during Lent.

12 Things to Do During Lent
based on 1 John 3:11-5:21
February 14-March 31, 2018

  1. Repair a broken relationship.
  2. Donate goods, money and time to charity.
  3. Set aside regular time to rest in His presence (i.e., read the Bible, pray, worship, sit quietly with the God who loves you).
  4. Do intentional loving acts for those who wouldn’t expect it.
  5. Since Jesus Christ came in the flesh, do something to honor your God-given body (i.e., exercise, eat healthy, soak in a hot tub, get a massage)…and pray!
  6. Search the Bible for passages about the Holy Spirit and spend time getting to know His voice.
  7. Memorize and meditate on 1 John 4:7-12.
  8. Pray for a hard-to-love person in your life and ask God to change your heart.
  9. Read the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and ask God what He wants you to do to faithfully keep His commandments.
  10. Read a book to grow your belief in Jesus as the Son of God.
  11. Pray with bold confidence, for yourself and for others, according to God’s will.
  12. Ask God to identify and cut out sin in your life.

With little energy to do much else, I joined a Facebook group: 40 Bags in 40 Days. Created by a woman who follows a Lenten discipline (though that’s not required), the idea is to declutter our households and donate to charity. Which fits well with #2. So far, I’ve attacked some bathroom and refrigerator drawers (much of which went in the trash), and plan to keep at it.

As with any day, any season, I cannot yet predict how this Lenten season will pan out. I pray that God will grow me in new ways, teach me new things, ingrain in me new ways of being that honor Him and mark me as His follower.

What will you do?

Walk in Love
Week 7: Love One Another
1 John 3:11-18

Connect
If you’re married, reflect on highlights from your wedding day. If you’re not married, reflect on a time you knew you were well loved.

Study
Read aloud 1 John 3:11-18.
Compare 1 John 3:11 to 1 John 1:1, 5. What does love for others have to do with God’s light?
Contrast the negative example of Cain’s relationship with his brother Abel to Jesus’ positive example of love.
Compare vv13-15 with Matthew 5:21-22, then explain John’s equations: hate=death and love=life.
How might sharing your possessions be an example of laying down your life (vv16-17)?
Can someone speak lovingly but not in truth? Can someone act lovingly but not in truth? How is it different to love “with actions and in truth” (v18)?

Live
How do you know if you love someone? If someone loves you?
How could you handle well a religious disagreement that brought about hostility?
Without breaking confidentiality, what have you done to intentionally act lovingly towards someone who was hard for you to love? Did it change the relationship and if so, how?
How might material possessions get in the way of one’s spiritual life?
What would it look like for a church to be generous with Christ’s love? What can you do, personally and as a Community Group, to more generously share Christ’s love?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray that God’s love will overflow your life.

Problem-Solving = Creativity

Today’s guest post writer holds a special place in my life: mother-in-law, the wonderful woman who raised my Guy to be the creative, giving, thoughtful man I love. Her creativity impressed me from the first time we visited their family home. Something was always baking or cooking (all three of my guys drool for her cookies–and she graciously keeps them in supply), her walls covered with handmade-by-her needlework, and she often had a current project in her lap. And I love today’s post about creativity as problem-solving right in your own environment.

Create Challenge #24: Nancy Ricketts

Let me introduce myself…as per instructions from my beautiful, talented, creative daughter-in-law.

NRickettsMy name in Nancy Ricketts. I am nearly 75 and have been blessed with many opportunities over the years to be creative. I could say something about “creating” two wonderful sons, but I give God credit for that…I only helped a little.

It seems to me that I create because of need. There is a problem or an opportunity that calls out to be solved, fixed, improved. My own home is my current creative laboratory, so here are some examples of my brand of creativity. The way I’ve chosen to decorate expresses creativity with shapes, patterns, textures, objects, light, colors and use of space.

Let’s start with the front door of our home. It is a bit plain and needed a creative touch. A local thrift shop provided inspiration. Don’t you think it looks better with a band of roses overhead? The view overhead changes with the seasons. Fall leaves and pine swags await their turn to appear.NRicketts door 2

When we moved here almost four years ago, we were overwhelmed by the huge blank living room that had a wall of windows and a very high ceiling. On a trip to South Africa I found a large fabric wall hanging; at the same craft fair my husband found some beautiful sketches of San tribal members, also known as “Bushmen.” One thing plus some other related things create a whole. Problem solved.NRicketts wallNRicketts elephantsNRicketts San

Creativity can also be involved when things need organizing…whether planning a dinner party for 20 or dealing with a messy pile of fabrics and sewing materials. I confess it was not a fun creative project to sort out stuff from my home workroom, but the organized results are satisfying. Moral to this story: Do not expect every creative project to be joyful in process. Creativity may be in disguise as hard work!NRicketts org

NRicketts rosebush coverBehold the covered rosebush! A plastic tablecloth from the Dollar Store protected my precious yellow roses from marauding, hungry deer that see our yard as an evening buffet. This covering worked well during the night, but obviously can’t be used in the daytime, and unfortunately, the deer recently discovered that the roses are also tasty during daylight hours. Creativity does not always solve the problem!

NRicketts flowersDeer do not eat our patio flowers, leaving me with plenty of pretties to put into tiny bouquets, my current favorite way of expressing creativity. Some of these are given to people onNRicketts nosegay our Food and Friends (like Meals on Wheels) route every week, others are given to friends, neighbors, or staff at our local medical office.

Rejoice in the creative abilities God has given you–enjoy and share them with others! How pleased our Heavenly Father must be to see us explore and use the gifts He has so graciously given us.

Create

I wrote here about my intentions for, and here about my results with, “my word” for 2015: Put yourself in the way of beauty.

As 2015 came to a close, I reflected on the fact that my word had truly stuck with me and changed the way I lived. And so I asked myself, what’s next?

The word leaped to mind like a leopard that had been lying in wait:create

I have some creative projects I’d like to kick into high gear, projects for which I set goals I later let slip away. Beyond work, I’d like to be more creative in regular life, in play, relationships, and frame of mind. When I shared the word with others they responded with an impressed, “Oooh…!” It’s the right word at the right time for the right person: me.

Our creative instinct gives testimony to our having been created in the image of a creative God who has given us the privilege and responsibility of co-creating this world we inhabit. We mirror God to others through our creative acts, and I’m convinced we also tickle God pink with joy as we indulge the gifts He has given us.

I’m excited about living into “create” this year as it has so much potential. It is SO much bigger than we typically define it. We can create…

…art, atmosphere, beauty, community, compassion, design, experience, family, friendship, growth, health, home, hope, innovation, joy, laughter, legacy, love, marriage, meals, memories, music, peace, poetry, rituals, service, space, stories, traditions…

Just some of the things I have created so far this year…

rest – I continue to indulge my bedtime ritual, hand and foot massage, tea and book;
space – Tween and I cleaned out his closet;
play – swinging from the big tree in our front yard resets perspective;
stories – I have collected and edited such great stories for church publications;
health – always a work in progress as I try to move more and eat well;
peace – I have reveled in my love of reading, on my own and with Tween;
prayer – our family has prayed for loved ones using Christmas cards as a prompt;
balance – I am prayerfully considering open doors, allowing myself permission to say no as necessary;
healthy and delicious meals to nourish my family (some of which I will share on this blog);
friendship – I invest time in walks and evenings out with special people;
memories – Guy and I stayed up until the wee hours working with Teen on a school project, and I let Tween have ice cream for breakfast while we read in bed on a Sunday morning.

Have you noticed that interesting ideas spark during ordinary activities? My brother-in-law and I discussed creativity while we washed the Christmas china. Also a creative-type, he asked about my writing and goals for this year, and when I mentioned I had chosen “create” as my word for 2016, that I would attempt to structure my daily life and goals around that word, we hatched an idea about which I am beyond excited.

Throughout this year my blog will feature writers, painters, photographers, musicians, parents, teachers, missionaries, activists, philosophers, church leaders and more, all sharing perspectives on and experiences of creating. Together we are going to blow the roof of this word, “create.” We are going to see that it is so everyday true-to-life and still so crazy-spectacular. I can’t wait to learn from each guest post, and I’m so grateful for those who will join me in this creative adventure.

I am thrilled to be able to create a platform and community for people from all arenas of my life, living out their calling in such marvelous ways, to share about creative expression. The Create Challenge guest posts begin next Wednesday, friends!

Ready, set, CREATE!

Garage

“Mom, I’m okay, I wasn’t involved, but the police want you to come pick me up.”

My heart races at this rush of words through the telephone.

Teen and two other boys had permission to spend a summer night at another friend’s house. He has a game room and they wanted to play late into the night.

Teen neglected to tell us parents would not be home; we goofed and didn’t check.

Someone invited someone who invited someone else who did something stupid to attract police attention before arriving at the now-party. Police ran a license plate, called parents, and eventually discovered unsupervised minors, some of whom were still obliviously playing games.

Guy went to get him while I stayed home and prayed. Obviously the car ride home involved a conversation about trust and a now-depleted, in fact negatively balanced, Trust Account.

Teen has never been a big gamer. He is a health-conscious athlete and mostly a likable, good kid. He gets in trouble because he acts impulsively, the tell-tale symptom of his ADHD which inclines him to risk-taking. Honest to God, I’m grateful his risk in this situation was relatively low.

Teen barely knew the kid for whom the cops arrived and he easily recognized the stupidity of the kid’s actions. He never argued about being grounded. He understood that the situation could quickly have become So Much Worse. He learned something.

A summer week without friends might be a rough kid-consequence, but his parents enjoyed hanging out with our Teen. He won’t say it, but he might have had some fun with his family, too.

This is the reason we spent our not-truly-a-staycation cleaning out and reorganizing our garage (aka storage-unit) into a hang-out space. Not in response, as we’d already begun the process before the incident, but because we want our house to be a place Teen wants to bring friends.

Teen’s tendency has been to go out rather than invite friends in. Understandably, as our smallish house lacked a space with sufficient separation from Family Life. Almost simultaneously, Teen bought a PS3 + games from a friend who had moved on to a newer system, and friends offered us their sectional couch and rug. We saw an opportunity.

garage

Purging in process

garage 2

Prepping for sanding/painting

Parents did most of the purging; Teen put on his work clothes to move furniture, to sand and paint. He offered input on where things should go (he pushed us to purge even more) and what else might be needed (mini fridge, space warmer for cold nights). He even reorganized games into attractive storage boxes.

It’s still a garage – bikes and sports equipment, tools and laundry, no cars (we live in California) – but thankfully, the renovation worked. Over the last three months, Teen has stayed home more than he might have AND he has invited friends in. Goal! It has also given Guy a new opportunity to bond and play with his boys and provided another comfortable hang out space.

Our garage-pantry makes for easy snack access; cat = happy, too!

Our garage-pantry makes for easy snack access; cat = happy, too!

No perfect solution, the Man Cave has also created new problems. Teen hears the siren call of video games so much louder than our reminders to get homework done first. It has become a too-frequent escape when he’d prefer not to engage with family. And the three guys enjoying the space so much sometimes leaves Mama out. As families do, we negotiate as we go.

We listened with ears, eyes, heart, and our love for Teen led us to a Labor of Love: a garage hang-out space. He receives love best through Time and Gifts, and I’ve seen it in his eyes – he understands that we spent significant Time to create a Gift of space for him.

I asked him again today: “Are you grateful we worked so hard to create this space for you?”

He responded, “No, Mom. Seriously, are you really asking me that? Yes, I’m grateful.”

Sarcasm aside, he is grateful. He received the love. I’ll take it.

The #Day Challenge

I’ve picked up an odd habit this year: I have said Yes! to an assortment of (mostly) online challenges, all for a set number of days:

The 30 Day Power Purge
Soulful Spring Cleaning: A 30-Day Life Reboot
Lenten disciplines, an annual 40 day adventure
The Body Love Experiment 21 Day Challenge
40 Days of Prayer (for a season in our church life)
Clean Eating 30 Day Challenge

Hmm, now that I look at the list, I see that my challenges center on a theme: cleaning out and cleaning up, whether it’s the kitchen junk drawer, my attitudes or relationships, my eating and exercise habits, or my prayers. Sometimes I crack myself up!

With the arrival of summer vacation, I am reminded of the theme song to one of my favorite animated TV shows, Phineas and Ferb:

There’s a 104 days of summer vacation
And school comes along just to end it
So the annual problem of our generation
Is finding a good way to spend it

Phineas Ferb

Around here it’s 72 days of summer, unless you’re in middle school and then you have 73. In any case, a finite number of days with the challenge to fill them well.

Truth: my kids can get pretty sludgey. I can almost watch them melt into primordial ooze as they stare blankly into screens – phone, computer, or TV. They’ll get up eventually, to eat or use the facilities, but return to their well-worn cushions of thoughtlessness. They get less creative and more grouchy as the day wears on.

I can’t have it, and I know from years of experience that they lack the drive of Phineas and Ferb and I lack the skills to make a good summer cruise director. However, I make a pretty good chart and so, some years ago, I devised a summer activity chart for each child. They have to do 5 activities each day, each for at least 20 minutes, and all of them at least once between Monday and Friday. There is no screen time between 9am and 4pm unless both boys have completed their five activities. If they complete all activities at least once before the end of Thursday then Friday might contain even better activities and treats.

Each year I tweak each kid’s chart – new interests and strengths (and occasionally, new weaknesses) require different activity suggestions. I’ve intentionally made the activities general so the kids can apply their creativity to how they will complete the activities.

For example, this year Teen’s activities include: reading, exercising, Eagle Scout project, creativity, writing, Bible, act of kindness, chores, and extra chore.

Tween’s activities include: reading, physical play (exercise, but at 11yo it’s still “play”), creativity, Bible, trumpet, Khan Academy, Typeracer.com, writing, act of kindness, chores, and extra chore.

Yesterday was the first Monday of summer. I reminded the kids Sunday evening that the charts were coming. All warning aside, when they saw the charts you might have thought I’d told them the world had cancelled summer. Teen threatened to leave the house, all day all summer. Tween, less mobile and just as determined, followed suit. I calmly explained that less than two hours of activity suggestions in 14+ hours of sunlight – and they have lots of choice in every regard – was not an unreasonable request, and yes, they’d still get plenty of screen time, fun- and friend-time. And then I left them to it while I walked the dog and walked off my frustration.

I do realize that at 11 and 16 years old it is less plausible that they will enjoy checking things off a chart. However, I also realize that they don’t transition well, that they benefit from lists and suggestions, and a chart has proven more effective than repetitive mom-reminders. And I need a) time to do what I need to do and b) time with them, and the chart helps them know what they should do with and without me.

Despite their initial loud and dramatic protests, they settled in. Among other things, Teen went for a bike ride that led to a hike that led to tree climbing; Tween played tether ball, cleaned the tortoise enclosure, and we read together.

As we read, Teen came in with a bottle of bubbles a friend gave him in honor of getting his driver’s license. He obviously thought it was funny to blow bubbles at us; we found it funny, too. The bubbles were captivating, iridescent in the sunlight, big and small and beautiful. He put the bubble wand in front of Tween’s bedroom fan, then went to fetch another bottle of bubbles so he had two wands to create a bubble wonderland. Tween bounced on the bed to catch bubbles with his hands, his feet, even his mouth.

bubbles

We played and laughed and caught and popped bubbles for I don’t know how long. Eventually Teen was done. Tween and I finished reading our chapter, and then I made the craziest suggestion: push me on the swing? Tween couldn’t believe it.

We have a swing in the big pine tree in our front yard. It’s been on my mind for weeks, waiting for the ‘right’ moment, and this was it. I sat on the swing and, at first, Tween leaned against the tree, ridiculously smirking at me. He couldn’t believe Mom was doing such a kid-thing. But why not? So he pushed me, and I squealed, and we laughed some more.

The day started with battle cries and ended with hysterical laughter. Energized by day’s end (and not drained!), I’ve created my own activity chart. My sons’ mother, I also benefit from lists and suggestions, evidenced by the number of #Day Challenges I’ve undertaken this year. So I’ve joined my kids in the challenge of how to fill our summer days well. My chart includes: work (of course), exercise, reading, creativity, Bible, blog, “project” (a little something I need to get into gear), and purge (once begun, constantly in progress).

And on Day 2, I can already say with confidence: it’s working for all of us. I’ve completed at least five if not more of my activities each day, and so have the kids. Today they didn’t complain at all. I had to go to the office for a couple hours and Tween texted me a picture of his chart with check marks and the word, “Finished!”

Too soon we’ll have to say, “Finished!” to summer and “Hello” to a new school year. But I’m determined to fulfill this 72-day Summer Challenge and live the days well.

Uncluttering Our Lives: Simplicity

Oh, the irony of the day set aside to consider simplicity being more complicated than any typical day! Between church, sports, and school commitments, this family set off running in multiple directions. Some of us said goodbye more than twelve hours ago and haven’t been face-to-face since. And before bedtime one kid suddenly started puking. Nope, nothing simple about this day.

Let’s face it: simplicity is simply a struggle for most of us. Culture pushes us to be more, do more, buy more, more, MORE! We measure our worth – consciously or not – by the houses we live in, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, the gadgets we carry, the black space (as opposed to blank space) on our calendars.

I am not a simple gal, though I long to be. I dreamily page through each issue of Real Simple magazine, knowing it is not now nor ever will be my life’s reality.

I am dramatic and disorganized, complicated and continually overwhelmed. I fight hard, and maybe not hard enough, against the entropy determined to rule our home. As much as I dislike being a stuff manager, I spend a fair share of every day shuffling our belongings (backpacks, shoes, laundry, dishes…) from here to there and another fair share ignoring belongings that ought to be shuffled. No matter the organizational systems set in place (yes, we have key bowls and shoe baskets, not to mention laundry baskets and towel hooks), it still feels like a sisyphean battle.

After remodeling bids came in way too high, dear friends have recently taken advantage of the economic upturn to sell their house. Any move prompts a purge, and they purged prior to putting their home on the market and again more thoroughly once it sold. Watching the process has initiated something in me, and I have begun to ask myself (and Guy, who might be a tad overwhelmed at this turn of ‘tude): “If we were moving, would we move this?”

We opened the garage for just one hour this weekend and came up with an obscene number of things we could donate or sell, some stuff in good usable condition but so well put away (read: ignored) that we hadn’t seen it in years. We’ve listed only a fraction on a local ‘garage sale’ listserve, and took a trunk-full to the Rescue Mission drop-box. We have so much more to do!

A laundry basket filled with items to sell/donate

A laundry basket overflowing with items to sell/donate

Why do I hang on to stuff I don’t use when it could be precisely the thing someone else needs? Why do I hang on to earthly treasures I have ceased to treasure when they might form a wobbly barricade separating me from Jesus?

Jesus wants to be my treasure. He wants my heart, but it’s pinned beneath towers of cascading clutter.

Guy and I married when we were 23 years old. We lived in small spaces and moved every few years, and so we left my archivally-preserved wedding dress in a corner of my grandmother’s closet. Some years ago during a Chinese Checkers marathon, I asked her if I could at long last have it back. She sat up straighter, made a funny face, and confessed: “It’s gone.”

My wedding dress had been stolen when she moved from an upstairs to a downstairs unit in the same building.

While I felt strong disdain for whomever would steal boxes from a 96-year-old woman as she belatedly moved to a downstairs apartment in a building she had occupied for 30-some years, I also experienced heartbreak for my lost wedding dress.

And yet…
* I had no plans to wear it;
* I have no daughters for whom I should save it;
* And, most importantly, its loss has in no way affected the quality of our marriage.

That loss has affected my view of stuff, however. If I can release my wedding dress into the great wide world (of dirty rotten grandma’s-box stealing thieves… oops, sorry), then I can certainly let go of items far less sentimental.

As a family, we have done a few things to counter the cultural tide, to anchor our hearts solidly in Jesus’ kingdom:

1) Among our posted family values: “Boredom = Opportunity” and “Play!”
We try hard not to over-schedule our kids. One sport at a time, and mostly rec leagues, and no more than three weekly activities each season (sport, church, music) has been our MO. We also don’t allow screen time during the school week, so the kids have plenty of time to get bored, to be creative, and to simply be kids who play. One Mother’s Day when Teen was still in elementary school he made me a home-made card that read, “Thank you for not over-scheduling us so that we get stressed out!” Melt a mama’s heart!

2) Another family value: “Need vs. Want.”
We don’t buy just because we want. We weigh desires against needs. We can easily convince ourselves that we need more, but honestly we need far less than we think we do. Staying out of stores is also a big deterrent against shopping for entertainment.

Creating margin on the calendar and on our counter tops will be an ongoing process, but it’s one to which I’m committed. Here are a few of my recent and regular steps:

1) Set a timer for 20 minutes, choose one cluttered space, and attack. When possible, set aside a longer block of time.

Even 5 minutes could make a dent in this pile

Even 5 minutes could make a dent in this pile

2) Continually winnow. I’m not one for taking everything out of a space and only putting back the essentials. That approach feels too drastic, too large, too time-consuming. And so I try to look fresh at each space as I come to it: what do I see today that I can let go of? Same goes for the calendar: do we need that activity? and likewise: what good activities are missing because we seem to be overscheduled?

It's tempting to say I need a bigger closet, but I really just need less stuff

It’s tempting to say I need a bigger closet, but I really just need less stuff

3) The Art of Simple has become one of my favorite blogs. The posts tend to be short and to the point of simplifying so many areas of life.

4) A book I expect to come back to again and again: Throw Out 50 Things. Gail Blanke walks you through each room/area of your living space and your brain and examines why we hold on to our stuff and our unhelpful thinking patterns.

And a Bible study for you, as together we treasure our relationship with Jesus.

Connect
Reflect on an example from your life when you lost (in some way) a precious possession. What was it and what happened?

Study
Read aloud Matthew 6:19-21.
Give three examples of someone storing up treasures on earth. What do you think Jesus meant by storing up treasures in heaven?
What problems result from storing up treasures on earth (v. 19)?
What are the benefits of storing up treasures in heaven (vv. 20-21)?

Live
In what ways can earthly treasures get in the way of storing up heavenly treasures? Explain.
How does storing up treasures in heaven help you simplify on earth? (cf. Mt. 6:33)
Where would you put yourself on a spectrum from hermit to hoarder? Explain.
Describe a time in your life when you lived simply. What were some of the advantages?
Name one or two obstacles to simplicity that you might be able to remove from your life, and how you might begin to address them this week.
Which Faith Training Exercises have you tried recently? Share joys and struggles.
Which exercises might God call you to this week, and why?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that the Holy Spirit will use a discipline of simplicity to draw you nearer to God.

Word

You may have noticed the cultural trend away from resolutions – 25% of people who make resolutions break them within a week – and to choosing a guiding word instead, something like “Love” or “Focus” or “Courage.”

For those who follow Jesus, our word ought always to be “Jesus,” the name of our Beloved continually on our minds and hearts and whispers.

But there are many ways to focus on Jesus, many ways in which Jesus wants to grow us, and many, many words from which to choose.

A few years ago I chose “endurance,” as in, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). Except that running is not my thing, and the whole idea of endurance deflates me. Endurance sounds like agony, hard work, the opposite of joy and fun and life.

Early 2014 I attended Donald Miller‘s Storyline conference (highly recommend!). I was already using his daily planner and each day I would write “LOVE!” on that planner. Except I only used the planner when I was in the office (four days/week), and then I was out of the country for two months, and during the fall I felt so overwhelmed I didn’t resume the practice (but will – it is January, after all). So even “love” wasn’t the best guiding word for me as it didn’t inspire me as it should.

So this year, what’s the word? It’s a phrase, actually:

“Put yourself in the way of beauty.”

It comes from the movie version of the book, Wild, in which Cheryl Strayed walks out of her broken-to-bits life and into the wilderness, walking herself into the woman her mother raised her to be. I read the book when it first came out (much preferred it to the movie version) and it almost convinced me I’d like to backpack, to take on a quest of sorts. When Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl voice-over’d this sentence it jabbed me in the best way. I remembered reading it, was sad to have forgotten it, as it’s such great advice. It’s advice my mom, my everyday model of grace and beauty, might have spoken to me.

But first let’s define beauty. I actually really like this definition from Dictionary.com:

“the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).”

I expected something more superficial, as so much of beauty in American culture is just that, surface-y and fake, and absolutely not what I’m going for.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”

God created and creates and everything God has made is good, beautiful. Even when life gets all wonky, God works His beautiful purpose in our lives. We just don’t always see or appreciate God at work – hence my ongoing search for miracles in the mundane. (Hah! I just mistyped that “mundance” and I kinda like it – let’s do a little boogie!).

God surrounds Himself with beauty – “Honor and majesty surround him; strength and beauty fill his sanctuary” (Psalm 96:6) – and His people who share Truth are also beautiful – “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7).

Then there’s 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.” This one reminds me of our well-meaning Sunday school teacher who used it to beat up her 7th grade girls’ small group; um, excuse me, but what 7th grade girl isn’t more than a little bit concerned about outward appearance? Yes, focus on inner beauty (as I plan to), but also teach the arguably most awkward humans on the planet how to do their hair and dress to their body type and love the physical shell God gave them. Be good stewards of the inside and out of God’s gifts.

One more Scripture, Philippians 4:8 uses a synonym for beauty – “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

So what might putting myself in the way of beauty look like on a day-to-day basis?

Getting up early or sleeping in. Naps are definitely beautiful!
Time with God in His Word
Smile, laugh, enjoy
Solitude and relationships in a healthy rhythm
Gym time and walks with friends and dogs
Surrounding myself with good stories and uplifting people
Meaningful work and play projects that motivate and inspire me
Concerning myself less with what others think and more with my own well-being
Creating experiences and making memories, not collecting stuff
Decluttering home and life so the beautiful stands out
And so much more!

As I’ve been pondering this phrase for a couple of weeks, it has already prompted different behavior, giving me hope that this word will stick in all the right ways. After Christmas we spent a few days with Guy’s parents in southern Oregon. High on our kids’ priority list: snow play. In two cars we drove to a nearby mountain and found easy parking. We tumbled out – dog, too – and threw a few snowballs, took a few pictures, and tossed our freezing-cold selves back in the vehicles, all in less than fifteen minutes. I started flipping through the pictures I’d taken and hardly noticed when the rest of the gang hopped back out again. A natural spectator, it would’ve been easy for me to wait in the car. Instead I decided to put myself in the way of beauty, to open the car door, step in the snow, walk up the hill, and see what God had done. Yes, it was a decision, just like staying put would have been, but this decision I made for beauty.

Look what I found:

A solitary pop of color

A solitary pop of color

Do you see the sunshine heart? God loves me!

Evidence of God’s love in a sunshine heart

"Survive Rough Times"

“Survive Rough Times”

snow redeems

 

It hasn't melted yet...

It hasn’t melted yet…

I also found my family – Guy, boys, my beautiful mom and my nephew, our dog – and together we played and laughed and enjoyed the beauty. A SoCal girl for most of my life, snow has been an occasion, not a regularity, and I really do prefer moderate temperatures. But I am glad I got out of the car to put myself in the way of beauty.

Here’s to a Beautiful New Year!