March 26, 2015

April Series Announcement!

Hi!

If you have been a reader for a while, you know that for the last few Aprils I have written a daily series called Interrupted by Grace.  April is coming up and so is the series!  I know, I know, I'm excited, too!!

Our Sunday lunch reminds me of God interrupting me by grace;
He totally turned my attitude around in worship that morning!

Here's the history on how the series began, from a post I wrote three years ago tomorrow.
A few weeks after Katherine was born, I was texting with a friend who inquired about how I was doing.  [Thanks, Chrissie Koerber!]  I mentioned to her that I was amazed at how often I'd been interrupted by grace in the transition.  So many moments that could have led to despair - the extra days in the hospital, the challenge of a three year old with a new baby,  the messiness of my house, and my old fashioned sinfulness - were eclipsed by Spirit-whispers of forgiveness, hope, and grace.  The breath of life blowing away the stink of death.
I have this sneaking suspicion that the Lord is often doing this in our lives; He loves His children and wants to draw near to them.  But I wonder how often we miss His whispers because we're not listening for them.
My goal this April is to post an anecdote each day of a moment in which life was interrupted by grace. 

Then from Day 1 of the series that year:
My friend, Sarah, inquired about what exactly I mean by interrupted by grace.  Good question!  The general idea is this. The Holy Spirit dwells within us and can speak into our hearts throughout our days, but often we are far too busy or distracted to remember this reality, let alone listen for His voice.  Shortly after Katherine was born, I noticed that sometimes I'd have surprising moments of peace or joy where I felt prompted to just stop for a moment to reflect on the delightful fullness of life, the depth of Christ's forgiveness of my sin, or some other blessed thought.
I called this being interrupted by grace - Spirit-breaths of fresh air in the staleness of life lived on autopilot.
I believe these grace interruptions can take many forms, so I don't want to stifle the Spirit's creativity for reaching you.  But here are some ways the Lord might interrupt you with grace, either in the midst of complete chaos/fear/pain, a fantastically perfect day, or somewhere in between:

  • something a friend, family member, or co-worker says or does that leads you to reflect on God's love
  • an edifying song that comes to mind "out of no where" that leads to repentance or simply encourages you
  • feeling like you just need to stop for a moment and give thanks
  • a call or letter at just the right time
  • scripture coming to mind when you need it


Would you like to participate?

Now that you know what's coming up, would you like to join me?  Of course, one way is to read along.  But I would like you to go one step further by being on the look-out in your own life each day of April for ways that God is interrupting YOU by grace.  If you feel ambitious, you could post about it on your own blog or Facebook page or Twitter.  Tag #interruptedbygrace on the end for good measure!

Most importantly, I pray this series will draw each of us closer to God and inspire us to open our lips to give Him praise and give testimony to His love, goodness, might, and grace.

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.  Jeremiah 29:13

Let's get interrupted!   Autopilot no more!!
Heather



PS  At the end of a series, I always do a give-away.  Keep your eyes peeled for that too.  I don't have a huge reader base, so your chances of winning are pretty good!


March 24, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 11}

Here's the intro to the 'Open for 2015' series, if you'd like to know what it's all about.


Today I have to come clean about a couple of my thought habits, patterns I can keep hidden from the world because they dwell in the realm of my mind.  It is very fortunate that others cannot read our minds, don't you think?  And yet, if we don't share about how sin wars within us and tries to claim us, several detrimental things can happen.  First of all, we may never make any progress against it.  The sinful thought pattern which dissolves our joy and drains our hope will continue its reign of terror in us.  Secondly, we miss opportunities to love and support one another in the Church.  We risk carrying on thinking that others are doing just fine and we are the only ones experiencing the difficulty of living in the 'now and not yet'.  It sure is lonely; we're all sitting in the pews next to each other, lonely.  And finally, we rob the Lord of opportunities to be glorified!  For if we, in the Church, are talking about our struggles with sin and encouraging and admonishing one another as to how to trust in the Lord and find our freedom and forgiveness in Him, He certainly is glorified as we come together in unity and can bear witness to His redemptive work in us.  I hope that by sharing a little about my week you will find courage and hope to believe you can be transformed, find companionship, and glorify God.


A few things happened this week that made me happy for my friends: I learned that one of them got to take a trip to Disney World with her family recently; another bought a motor home for their family to travel; and a small group of my friends got to support another woman in a time of need.  These are all super great things, right?  I was so glad to know these events were going on!

Then quick as lightning, in all of these things jealousy and discontentment barged their ways into my heart!  wanted to go on a vacation.  wanted to take an awesome road trip.  wanted the freedom to be with that group of ladies.  Friends, I didn't even have to think about it.  One moment, rejoicing, the next moment, me, me me!  Mind-sin works like that, doesn't it?  I believe these moments are when we get a real feel for what that whole "sinful nature" thing in Scripture is about.  I didn't have time to pause and think, "sin was just right there with me."  Such a good friend to stick by us ... ugh!  I would like to tell you this is the first time this has ever happened to me.  But, alas, that would not be true.  Even from childhood, envy and discontentment have been close companions.

But there is hope!  In these moments, when sin is poised to run us through with his spear of envy, discontentment, rage, lust, fear, unbelief, or whatever the moment's poison would be, WE ARE NOT HELPLESS!  Christians belong to the Lord; the Spirit lives in us and we are new creations, whether we feel like it or not.  We can be OPEN to turning to God's way, even if it feels like we'll never change and we'll always be stuck in the same sin ruts.

For me this week, the Lord has had me thinking about being OPEN to contentment.  For the truth is, while (like a brat) I thought, man, I want to go on vacation too, and have a cool motor home, and have a life that frees me to be available, I was happy for my friends and am objectively content with my current life.  The evil one just wanted to derail me so I would forget the goodness of God, fix my eyes on what I couldn't have, forget to pray for urgent needs, and pursue my own glory.

Oh, thanks be to God that He puts His Spirit in us.  Right in those lighting-strike-sin moments we can equally as quickly turn back to God, seek His forgiveness, and ask for His strength not to run down the road of discontentment, darkness, and death, but rather to run to contentment, light, and life.  He is the provider, the light of the world, and the source of life!


But godliness with contentment is great gain.
I Timothy 6:6


Time to take action: I do pray that this resonates with many of you and that you take heart in knowing that the Lord is near.  He is near!  He lives IN you!  Do not lose heart.  That is maybe satan's the primary goal, that we lose heart and choose unbelief.  It irritates him when we believe God!  So I guess today, be OPEN to contentment in the Lord.  The moment sin creeps in, stop and remind your sin that you belong to the Lord and your heart is off limits to anyone but Him!  One other thing you might want to do is confide in a friend and ask them to join you in prayer for continued transformation by the Holy Spirit in specific areas of personal struggle.  We need the Lord and we need each other!

May God bless you today.

March 19, 2015

When Jesus Gently Says, "Chill Out."

I have been reading through the book of John this Lent, spending two days per chapter.  Being almost three-quarters of the way through, one message has been ringing loud and clear to me:

"Chill out, Heather, my dear, because I am the Lord."




The words of Jesus, page after page, have been soothing my striving-weary, guilt-tormented, fear- haunted soul.
"Chill out, Heather, because I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he as crossed over from death to life." (5:24)
"Chill out, Heather, because all that the Father gives to me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away."  (6:37) 
"Chill out, Heather, because I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (8:34-36) 
"Chill out, Heather, because the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that [you] might have life, and have it too the full." (10:10)

Sometimes after being a Christian for a while, we can forget the sweet joy of the truth that we belong to the Lord.  We get caught up in what we're not doing, not doing well enough, or fear we may never be able to do.  Looking around at the waves, we take our eyes of Jesus and start to sink.  A read through the book of John beckons us to come close and remember, to sit down and rest easy, to not let our hearts be troubled, to trust in God and also in Jesus. (14:1)


Great comfort comes to the Christian knowing (and regularly refreshing one's memory) that Jesus is God and He is the one who loves us and secures our place in His kingdom.  As I asked the Lord to help me express how reading John has been affecting me, I started personalizing the famous 'I' statements of Jesus found in the book of John.  Would you join me?

I am the bread of life. (Ch 6)  Jesus, You are the bread of life for the whole world, but You are also my bread of life. 
I am the light of the world.  (Ch 8)  Jesus, You are the light of the world, but You are also the light of my world, and my life! 
I am the good shepherd. (Ch 10)  Jesus, You are the good shepherd of the whole flock of Your people, but you are also my good, faithful, gentle, and trustworthy shepherd. 
I am the gate. (Ch 10)  Jesus, You are the gate into the sheep pen of God's people, but You are also the gate that opened up to me. 
I am the resurrection and the life. (Ch 11)  Jesus, You are the resurrection and the life for the whole world, but you are also my resurrection and life.  I have life because You live! 
I am the way, the truth, and the life. (Ch 14) Jesus, You are the way, the truth, and the life for all people, but You are also my way, my truth, and my life in this crazy confusing world.
Thank you, Jesus! 
Amen.


March 17, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 10}

To get the low down on what this series is all about click here.

Some really affirming things happened or were said to me in the last week, and it just plain felt good.  Sometimes a girl just needs a little encouragement, not because she is down or weary, but because she is human and loves to be noticed, appreciated, and uplifted now and then.

Oddly enough, for as much as I crave such things, I don't know what to do with them when they come.  I think, Is it too trite to say a simple thank you?  Can I think of a not-too-cheesy way to give God the glory?  I also quickly try to discredit them: Oh dear, if they only knew these other things about me, they would want to take back those kind words!

So this week with, a well-received blog post last Thursday, a really kind note from a friend on Facebook, and a sincere and loving email from my mom, and words that were spoken to me at our book study by a friend, I have been thinking about being OPEN to affirmation and encouragement.  Too often I crave it, and make it the ultimate thing.  (I over-check to see if people have 'liked' my Facebook posts; and I can get real grumpy if no one takes notice of what I'm doing for the family.  I'm selfish, y'all!)  Then if I don't get what I'm hoping for, I do get down.

But if I press on in what I know God is calling me to in a given moment, day, or year, with my eyes fixed on him and my heart determined to love Him and love others - something I have light-years to go to master - then when affirmation and encouragement come, I can thank the Lord for the gift!  And I can tell the messenger how God used them to touch my life.  Isn't it neat when someone shares with you how God used you to help, motivate, or encourage them?

Thankful is how I feel about this past week.  Outta no where when I least expected it, those words were a burst of wind in my sails, a warm breeze of love blowing over me from the Lord through the encouragers.  I have renewed energy to keep writing, to keep opening up our home, to keep reaching out, to believe that maybe God is doing something in and through me, to press on past the ever-present guilt prefectionism pours on me.

If you shared a word with me or liked or commented one of my blog posts this past week.  Thank you!  The Lord used to to uplift me and I am grateful.


Time to take action:

Early last week I sent a note to thank a friend who had said some things at our Own Your Life book discussion that were a huge blessing to me.  I felt a little dorky sending it, because it required revealing some of my insecurities.  But wouldn't you know it, she was as encouraged by my email as I had been about her remarks!  All that to say if you have something nice to say to someone or an observation to make about them, open up your lips and let it out.  This world, the flesh, and the devil bombard us with messages about how we are not measuring up, how useless we are, how we are one step away from being found out and ruined.  People are as desperate for kind words of encouragement and hope as you are.  This week, let's be messengers of hope, speaking words of life to the people we encounter inside our homes and out.

My friend, Sally, wrote a great post about kindness's power to give hope.  I encourage you to read that for further inspiration.

Press on in His way this week, friends, being OPEN to opportunities to give and receive affirmation.

March 12, 2015

How to Use Your Place to Make Space for Relationships!

A couple of the ladies in our book discussion group have commented recently on how simply and graciously I make it look to have them in our home week after week.  Reflection on those comments reminded me that hosting is something I have learned over the years.  Today I'd like to share some tips with you about how you, too, can simply and graciously open up your space so relationships can be made and can grow.

The root of my desire to have people filling our home comes from the way I was raised - thanks, mom!  Mom loved to throw parties, feed people, and, primarily, make sure people felt loved and cared for: from neighbors to my dad's graduate students, from her friends to ours.  Consequently, people loved to be in our house and knew they would be welcomed there.  In my adult life, I have been driven by a desire to help people feel comfortable, especially those who are in a new place.  In graduate school we lived with many international student families.  God gave me opportunities to host play groups, holiday meals, and be a welcoming face and friend on the playground.  I felt a sense of mission not only as an American, but as an ambassador for Christ.


More recently, I have been influenced by Sally Clarkson and her tireless encouragement to make happen what you yourself want.  You feel the need for a playgroup?  Start one!  Can't find a women's Bible study?  Lead one!  You just need a friend?  Be one!  I have been blessed 1,000-fold by taking Sally's advice.  I cannot over emphasize how wise such advice is!

Make no mistake, I also highly value hospitality.  I believe God has given me the gift of hospitality, which comes with a compulsion to welcome others and make sure they feel loved and cared for, especially when they are in "my" space.  But whether or not you have this particular gift, you can learn to be hospitable and use your space and place to make room for relationships to flourish!  

Thus, without further ado, I present to you:


Heather's Simple Gathering-Hosting Tips!


Identify a Target Group - Do you want to get to know some specific folks in your neighborhood or church or work?  You may be thinking of two friends or all of the women in your congregation.  Either way, think about who you want to have or who really needs to have a space to find relationships.  When we first moved to our current town, I had no idea how I was going to get to know ladies at church.  So a few months into our time there, (and since I was not new to hosting and we had plenty of space), I put an announcement in the bulletin and invited all the women in the church to tea, because I needed some friends.

Forty or fifty women came!


Don't do all the work - When I hosted that gathering of ladies, I followed a pattern I had used when hosting informal women's gatherings when we lived in Pittsburgh: provide the drinks and ask people to bring food, if they are able.  No one is put off by that!  In fact, people love a chance to prepare and share their favorite appetizer or dessert with others.  So, when I have a larger gathering, I make it pot luck.  My primary focus is making space for relationships to blossom and flourish, not to be praised for all the work I did or to win a culinary award.  Believe me, when you have women, beverages, and food, relationships are a natural byproduct!

One more note, you can invite your family to help you get things ready, too.  I'm fairly certain that my ten year old could host a tea for me if I were indisposed.  I think that's pretty cool.  And my husband helps to get the kids into picking up the place before our Sunday night book club, which brings us to our next topic.


Put housekeeping in its proper place - Earlier in my hosting days, I would get really nuts and be inhospitable to my family while getting ready to extend hospitality to others.  I have learned a couple of things to keep my priorities straight. First, Martha Stewart's not coming to the gathering, so chill out.  In fact, even those who are are excited about your invitation so they can get in your space to critique you.  They're coming to be with you!  Secondly, a little mess or disorder sets most people at ease.  It is a blessing to others to know that their gracious hostess also a place for everything and everything is not in it's place, just like at their house.  I do try to make sure no one will trip over anything when they are here and I do like to vacuum.  But often parts of the kitchen counters look like what they looked like on Sunday night when my ladies came over.  I used the dining table above for our drinks.






Choose a signature style - I have a pattern, so every time I have a gathering I set things up in a similar way.  Out come the china tea cups and the boxes of tea.  A pitcher needs to be filled with water while the kettle boils.  Milk into the pitcher and fill the sugar bowl.  Brew a pot of coffee, and so on.  Having done such events with small and large groups numerous times makes the process quite simple now.  But early on I wrote out a list each time so I would not forget anything, scatter-brained but detail-oriented person that I am.  Tea parties might not be your thing.  You might be more of a pop, chips, and video games or a movie kind of host.  Or maybe your style tends more toward meeting up at a coffee shop.  Remember, the goal is making space for relationships.  Do that in the way that you feel most comfortable and your guests will feel at ease as well!


Friends, I hope this is enough to get you thinking about how you might use your place, no matter the size, to create space for people to get to know one another and for relationships to be fostered.  The Lord has given each of us a specific space and specific contacts at this moment in our lives, right now.  Let me encourage you to take advantage of whatever He has provided and use it to bring light into dark places!


Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.  Romans 12:13


March 10, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 9}

If you want to know more about what the weekly "Open for 2015" posts are about, learn more here.

Remember me sharing about that day I got really mad at my husband recently?  Oh yeah, that was just last week!  Part of my frustration that day was feeling like I never get a break or at least like I never have the privilege of taking one.  Truth be told, that's a big fat lie.  It's not like I work all the time! But I do often feel an internal pressure that tells me I need to be doing something productive in every. moment. that. is. free.

All of you know already that is a terrible way to live, just like I also know.  But in the face of so much to keep up with, the struggle is real.

How in heaven's name can one take a break when there is JUST SO MUCH TO DO?!?!

After wading my way through the overly-emotional response to my circumstances last weekend, this week I have been meditating (a little) on rest.  If I am going to be a healthy, calm, kind, generous wife, mother, and friend, I have got to learn how to rest, when to rest, and what makes me feel rested and restored.  I need to be OPEN to taking the time to explore these things and to making time for rest.


Let me be honest here for a moment.  What I really want is a perpetual vacation where I am waited on hand and foot, have no responsibilities, and can do whatever I want.  Don't we all kind of want that?   C'mon, admit it.  This is a safe place, you can be yourself here and no one will shame you.  But then I have to ask myself, Is that what I really want?  A life dedicated only to me and my pleasures?  I think it could get lonely really fast.  So what is it we're looking for when we say we need a vacation or deserve a break?


What we need is rest, real rest.


The Bible begins talking about rest just into the second chapter of the whole book!  GOD rested!  Okay, if the Creator needs to rest and talks about rest, then there is some root to the reality that we do need to take a break now and then.  What we must note, however, is that God rested after putting in some good work!


I am perpetually tempted to put off the work so I can rest, which makes the rest unrestful because the work lurks around the corner, stealing the restfulness away from my break!  Shucks.

Considering how Almighty God rested challenges not only how I think about rest, but also how I think about work.  The Lord has given us all work to do in offices, homes, churches, communities, and organizations.  He calls us to excellence and diligence in glorifying Him in it all.  He also calls us to unburden ourselves to Him and to take Sabbath rest.

Over the past week I have been thinking about these things and endeavoring to make more stark divisions between my work and my rest, mentally blocking out breaks to create a rhythm of rest through the week and planning for Sundays to be days mostly of rest.  The tough thing about rest is that it forces me to to be OPEN to trusting the Lord for wisdom about how to use my work time, to being content with that which does not get done, and to seek guidance in learning how to rest.  I have so much to learn about God and about myself!


Rest reminds me of one more glorious thing.  This world is fading away.  Reality as we know it with all of its demands and our limitations is temporary.  The Father gives us eternal life with Him in His place where He is the light and focusing ourselves wholly on Him will no longer be a struggle.  THAT is going to be awesome!  Rest points us to Christ and our eternal rest!!


Time to take action:

Read Hebrews chapter 4, it is one that comes right to mind when I think of God and rest.  Then consider these questions for yourself:
  • How can you create a rhythm of rest in your life, times to pause maybe morning and mid-day to breathe, meditate, pray, or play?  Consider taking a weekly Sabbath day.
  • What unrestful habits are taking up time and space in you day that could be eliminated and replaced by something that truly brings your spirit rest?
  • Praise God for the work He has given you to do in this season of your life and rejoice that He also calls you to rest sometimes, to learn from Him!  Pray and ask for His help to both work and rest to His glory and honor.

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His.  Hebrews 4:9-10

March 5, 2015

A New Question to Ask Kids

You have heard it before; the conversation goes something like this:
Adult:  And what would you like to be when you grow up?
Kid: Maybe a fireman or policeman or doctor or ... superman.

It is not uncommon to invite kids to dream about what they will be when they grow up.  It is fun to imagine being someone who saves people, helps people, owns a shop, designs new products, makes people laugh, or creates/performs amazing works of art.  The endless possibilities of childhood are wonderful!



Out of the blue one evening as I was preparing dinner, I thought to myself that as a parent, I couldn't really care less what my children grow up and do as a career, as long as they are people of integrity, with strong character and a devotion to loving God and loving others.

As a result of that, I pose a new question to ask our kids when we invite them to think about their future:


What do you want to be like when you grow up?


Adding one little word changes the whole feel of the question!


Often when our kids express what they desire to be when they grow up, they are already thinking about what they want to be like: courageous, helpful, kind, creative, entertaining, etc.   We can invite our children into conversations focused not only on the skill development, education, and training required to be something, but also on how they can, right now as young ones, strengthen those character traits that they want to have to be the kind of person they want to be in the future.

Character is transferable!  An honest man will be honest no matter his career. Trying to catch up and develop character as an adult is difficult - old habits die hard!  Learning new skills, on the other hand, is comparatively easy.


Here are some follow-up questions you can ask your kids to get them thinking:
  • Who do you know right now who lives and is the way you would like to be when you grow up? Maybe they could talk with this person or people about how they came to be who they are.
  • What can you be doing now to develop those qualities in yourself?  This is a great chance to talk about how God grows the fruit of the Spirit in us as we seek to be obedient to Him.

I do believe kids need to dream about what they will be when they grow up, it give them a chance to think about what they love to do, what they are good at, what they can learn, and how they might serve the world!  However, what we do for a living does not define us and can also change a lot throughout one's lifetime.  Those two reasons make me want to invite my kids to think even broader than occupation, to consider who they want to be and, then, how those qualities will assist them in whatever career path they take.

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  Ephesians 5:1-2

Now I wonder for myself, what do I want to be like when I grow up?