April 20, 2015

Interrupted by Grace 2015: Marriage Fun

I'm blogging daily in April. Learn more about the series here.

Most of life is routine and expected, as I'm sure you know very well.  Regardless of one's marital or family status, there are bills to pay, dishes and clothes to wash, work to do for employers or classes, people to love and care for in relationships, etc., etc.  It is a treat when life is interrupted, so to speak, with a little fun.  This weekend had a couple of highlights for me, both with my husband!

All dressed up for a "Night at the Races" a couple of months back.

Let me be the first, maybe, and certainly not the last, to tell you that life changes when you have kids.  You think when you get married that you learn a lot about how selfish you are.  Well, then you have a kid (or more) and you really learn what a selfish jerk you can be, and the Lord drives home what sacrificial love really means.  It's cool, because you also get to grow in your understanding of and appreciation for His love for you!  But it can be quite the journey, facing the facts and all.  Thankfully the Lord is gentle, His Spirit is always near, and He's not finished with us yet!  

Tiny kiddos are a lot of work and can quickly take away from marital intimacy, and I don't mean intimacy-intimacy, I mean simple things like having a good conversation without interruption!  Can I get an 'amen,' parents?!  It takes work to keep the marriage relationship close and vibrant as the family grows.

Besides kids, there is also the stuff I mentioned at the beginning, which I affectionately call LIFE!  Life can really get in the way of marriage enjoyment: at least one person has to work to bring in enough money to put food on the table and keep a roof over the family's head; then there's all the mess that's made by the family living under the roof; and, in addition, sometimes the roof leaks!  Myriad time-consumers exist to keep us from remembering, Hey, I married you and I like you, and spending quality time together.

This weekend I was interrupted by grace when Colin and I got TWO opportunities to have good, ol' fashioned fun together.  I do not take these for granted as much as I used to!  Saturday night my in-laws kept the kids for us and we enjoyed several hours out.  In the end I joked with Colin that it was a theme date; we played catch, then went to eat and watch the Pirates game at a local restaurant.  Good times!  Our second bit 'o fun was last night when we participated in our church's youth fundraiser talent show.  Both of us were involved in musicals and other musical pursuits throughout our youth, but we'd never done anything together.  After hearing the Frozen soundtrack, Colin and I had decided that some day we needed to sing Love is an Open Door together.  When I was at a youth meeting and they started talking about a talent show, I knew our moment had come!  Practicing over the last month has been a ridiculous amount of fun.  Performing yesterday was the icing on the cake!

Thinking about this weekend reminds me of how important fun is for a healthy marriage, and how quickly it can gets squeezed out with the demands of life or an unexpected really difficult time financially, medically, or relationally.  Our marriage is not always roses, but neither of us would trade the hard times we've walked through because they have contributed significantly to the strengthening of our faith and our marriage.

Are you married?  Has it been a while since you've gotten to have fun with your spouse?  Can you plan a time soon for just that?  Spend a little time reflecting on what ways the two of you have fun or have had fun together in the past.  Treat yourselves to some time together, just the two of you, not for business affairs!  (It doesn't have to be out or expensive, either!  Plan a date in and/or exchange childcare with some friends.)  May God bless you as you write some new good memories onto the pages of your story together.

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

April 18, 2015

Interrupted by Grace 2015: The Voice Choice

I'm blogging daily in April. Learn more about the series here.

I haven't mentioned it here yet, but in early June I will be attending a MomHeart Intensive Reunion in Colorado.  That means I will be spending a weekend away with about forty other women, to be led and taught by Sally Clarkson and her amazing ministry team, some of the time in her very home!  It is a reunion because I had the opportunity and privilege to do the same back in 2010, just after we moved back to Pittsburgh.  Recently when Sally started talking about getting a reunion together, I figured it was a pipe dream.  A bunch of other ladies said they were going to pray about it.  I was like, Hey, that's a great idea!  I should do that too.

Once the dates were settled and the count limited to 35, I mentioned it to my husband and we both agreed it was a lot of money for us right now.  I still felt such a stir about going.  So a couple of days after the announcement I sat down and said to the Lord, I'm not going to worry about this.  It is in your hands. I will mention it one more time to Colin and then be done with it.  I looked more specifically at the costs, asked my mom about frequent flyer miles, talked briefly with Colin that morning, and let it go.

Friends, "letting it go" is not my style.  I'm a worrier by nature - though the Lord has done a lot of work on my heart in that area - so I usually over think about things, try to work everything out in my head, imagine possibilities, etc.  This time, I didn't.  I guess I really believed it was in God's hands and however it went was alright!  Weird.

At some point during the day, my husband called me and said (I paraphrase), "I was trying to think of something to get you to make you feel loved and special.  You already have flowers on the table, so not that.  Then I thought about how much you want to go to that Intensive and we have a tax refund coming... I think you should go, because I know it will make you so happy."


 I mean, seriously, another chance to be with Sally and in her living room?
So exciting!!

A couple of days later, however, it began.  The voices.  They sound like this: Those ladies have so much more to offer than you, you don't really belong there.  What will you wear?  Everyone else has such nice clothes.  All of those women are such "good Christians," if they knew what you're really like they wouldn't want you to come.  Have you done enough what you learned last time, used it well?  And so on and so forth.

The enemy was picking out every. single. one. of my inadequacies and fueling the fires of doubt and despair in my heart and mind.

I was interrupted by grace when the Spirit helped me to see the lies for what they are, acknowledge to God what was going on, and to seek Him for strength to resist temptation and protection from the evil one.  I sat down yesterday morning and thought, I should talk with God about this, because I know it's going to get worse if I don't.  Oh, how gracious he was to meet me, comfort me, assure me, and love me through His presence and Word!

God reminded me of all that He had done to get me to the first Intensive weekend and all He had done already to get me to this one.  He reminded me of how He used the last Intensive to launch me into some new dream-fulfilling opportunities.  He reminded me that the enemy seems more powerful that he actually is.  He refocused my eyes on HIM.  I didn't need a self-esteem building exercise to change my thinking, nor did I need to just ignore the voices away, I needed the Lord!

I know this won't be the last battle.  In fact, I often find when God sets me on a path satan's first line of attack is to fill my mind with doubt, even as extreme as making me doubt if I believe in God.  But boy, what a grace interruption to remember that this is the same old story - because the devil doesn't have any new tricks - and I am always safe in the arms of God and must listen to His voice alone.  Same goes for you, my friend!

Deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.

April 17, 2015

Interrupted by Grace 2015: Ordinary Day

I'm blogging daily in April. Learn more about the series here.

The day for "this post" has come.  I cannot think of any stand-out interrupted by grace moment from yesterday!  There was one quiet moment with one of my kids where I remember thinking, this is a grace moment for sure.  But, of course, now I cannot recall what was happening then.  Life, right? 

Looking back over yesterday I am thankful that it was so ordinary.  We took Colin to work, did school work, lunched, went to Gym and Swim, watched Despicable Me 2, picked Colin up from work, had dinner, put Katherine to bed, then Brian and Colin played a Mario game on the Wii and Elizabeth and I went for a run.  After those two were in bed, I reviewed my Sunday School lesson and ironed.  By the grace of God, I cannot recall any personal moments of intense frustration or aggravation; usually I can recall at least one or two.  I guess there was some Blueberries for Sal hangover into yesterday!

Writing this for you this morning I am interrupted by grace, because I'm not embarrassed to report that I don't have anything.  In the past, I think I would feel obligated to make something more of an ordinary day and feel like I failed at writing the series.  I would, no joke.  I'm thankful that we can keep it honest around here at Life in the Valley!

How have things been this week for you?
Been keeping your eyes peeled for grace interruptions?
Have you found God faithful?

I read a verse this morning that encourages and convicts me.  I will close with it for God to use to speak to you, too.

"For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."  Luke 11:10

April 16, 2015

Interrupted by Grace 2015: Children's Books

I'm blogging daily in April. Learn more about the series here.

I love when God catches me in the midst of my work.  As a mom, I am not abundantly patient with my children.  I tend to be either calm or I snap at them; I have this breaking point at which I just cannot be patient any more.  I don't particularly like this about myself, but it is who I am right now.

The thing I try to remember, and even remind my kids of, is that the only person who I can control is myself.  So if someone is irritating me, the only control I have in the situation is over my own reaction.  At each turn, I have a choice.  (It is so much easier to tell my kids they should do this, than to do it myself. haha!)

Yesterday I was interrupted by grace with a reminder of this very principle in Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey.  A little girl, Sal, and her mother go blueberry picking on Bludberry Hill.  Mother is there to work, collecting berries to can for the winter.  Sal is there because Mother is.  She is picking berries and eating most of them, rather than filling up her pail.  At one point she drops a berry into her mom's pail.  When she reaches in to get it back, she accidentally grabs a handful, because her mom's pail already is so full!

Here's the next page:

Mother doesn't reprimand angrily or shame Sal for interrupting her work, she simply speaks her directions kindly.  What a great reminder to me that I can be annoyed, but still speak and act lovingly!

I know that it is a children's book, so the characters can be made as virtuous as the author would, but the truth is the truth.  We are called to love and love is costly.  I need to die to myself and my desire to "let loose" or keep a record of wrongs, so love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control can rule in our home.  Like our pastor quoted from John Stott on Sunday, 

"The essence of loving is giving.... Moreover, the degree of love is measured partly by the costliness of the gift to the giver, and partly by the worthiness or unworthiness of the beneficiary. The more the gift costs the giver, and the less the recipient deserves it, the greater the love is seen to be. Measured by these standards, God's love in Christ is absolutely unique. For in sending his Son to die for sinners, he was giving everything, his very self, to those who deserved nothing from him except judgement."

I want to be a loving as the mothers in children's books, because Jesus loves me with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love, to quote Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible.

I'm so thankful that God interrupts by grace and speaks as kindly to me
in order to mold and shape me -
as little Sal's mother does to her!

April 15, 2015

Interrupted by Grace 2015: Answered Prayer

I'm blogging daily in April. Learn more about the series here.

Good morning!  At least that's the time of day where we are.  The sun keeps coming up earlier and earlier and setting later and later.  We the people are reveling in spring here in the northern hemisphere!  It is glorious.  I never realize the toll winter has taken until I can start opening the windows and our yard can be played in all day.  It is so wonderful that I can't even come up with a better word than wonderful, I am left full of wonder.

But anyway, that has almost nothing to do with today's post, except that spring reminds us that the academic year is nearing its end.  My husband is a university professor, so our life runs more on the academic timetable than the yearly calendar.  He is one month away, now, from freedom from lecturing, lab running, and grading for a while!

When the custard place opens, we know summer is coming soon!

Last year after the semester's end, we visited my parents in Rwanda.  That trip was amazing, but I am glad not to be planning for that again this year!  International travel with a family is a little bit of work for a mom, hahaha.  If we could teleport, however, I would go again in a heartbeat.  Today, even!

Having had a HUGE getaway last year, I was thinking it would be fun to have a tradition of an end-of-year trip for our family every year, a couple of days to get away for some fun.  I have been wondering what we should do and coming up dry.  At some point in the last couple of days I did shoot up one of those quick prayers, God, would you guide us to just the right thing?

Yesterday, I was interrupted by grace when I looked up a new place I had learned about from a stranger at Commonplace coffee.  Commonplace is a fabulous little coffee shop near campus (and with shops in Pittsburgh, too) where many regulars hang out in the morning. Every time we drop Colin off at work I have to decide if the kids and I will be making stop there or not.  Yesterday I planned ahead and had their math and language arts with me for them to do while they sipped their steamers.  Yeah! <high fives self>

During our time there a fellow who I hadn't ever met came in and sat down on one of the couches.  We were both participating in a conversation with mutual friends, but had not been introduced.  At one lull in the conversation I was thinking, alright, I gotta know this guys name and learn more about him.  He is Joe and he works in the Art Department.  Super cool,  I love art!  Before we left, I learned - I have zero recollection of how the topic came up - that he grew up on a bird farm near DuBois, PA.  Then he shared with us about the beauty and wonders of that area, Elk County Pennsylvania.

I didn't even know there was an Elk County or that there were so many Elk in our state!  He shared about a cool place to go see Elk and an interactive learning center.  I forgot the name of the place, but found it online last night, the Elk County Visitor's Center.  And guess what?  They have a place you can stay right there on the grounds!

Of course, it may not work out for this to be our end-of-year trip, but I am hoping and praying that it will!  I emailed last night to find out about the availability of the house.  I was interrupted by grace at how God can use a new acquaintance to answer a prayer and that He hears and responds to what I think are "low priority" prayers.  Cool beans.

I don't want to forget that God loves and cares about me.
I don't want you, dear reader, to forget that either.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.  Matthew 10:29-31

When have you experienced the Lord loving you this week?
Tell a friend all about it!

April 14, 2015

Interrupted by Grace 2015: Time to Work

I'm blogging daily in April. Learn more about the series here.

Since yesterday's post was long, today's will be brief!  We had incredible weather here yesterday, almost like summer.  The kids played outside for most of playgroup and then my friend, Julie, invited my bigger two for lunch and more playing at their house.  Actually, her kids invited mine and then asked their mom if it was okay.  Remember doing that kind of stuff when you were a kid?  I do!  Julie's a generous friend and mom so, after mentally reviewing her cupboards and fridge to make sure she'd have food for them, she agreed to their already-arranged plan, 

I was interrupted by unexpected quiet time.  Katherine watched a show while I cleaned up the morning and got our lunches ready.  We had a really peaceful lunch together, chatting and writing a grocery list.  She went up to her room for rest time and I was able to get our lessons ready for the week.  It was almost unbelievable!  I was so grateful to Julie and to God for the provision of unexpected quiet and space to tackle the two things I really needed to do that afternoon.  The gift was made even more precious to me when exhaustion hit me at about dinner time.  I would not have had the energy to use the evening time to prepare those lessons.  Praise God!

How has God been kind to you in the last week?  Have you been interrupted by grace, maybe surprised by joy or unexpectedly provided for?  Feel free to share a story any time in the comments!

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Ashe

April 13, 2015

Interrupted by Grace 2015: Power to Keep Serving, Eggs?

I'm blogging daily in April. Learn more about the series here.

Saturday we spent the majority of our day in Pittsburgh at Allegheny Center Alliance Church for our oldest's final Bible Quiz of the year, which was followed by an awards banquet.  We all had a great time.  While Elizabeth was quizzing the rest of us sneaked a few blocks away and strolled the Andy Warhol museum, since young siblings don't do well being quiet during quiz rounds.  The girls did very well and their team even got a trophy for coming in third in the group of junior quiz teams.  It was a delightful morning and early afternoon.

We got home late afternoon and Colin needed to get back to work.  The kids and I hung out and recovered from the day away.  The weather was beautiful, so we even got to get outside for a walk, that turned into more of a race because Elizabeth and Brian asked to take their scooters.  Why did I say yes to that?!  Hahaha.

Everyone got to bed a little later than usual and by that time I was beat.  I was content with how the day was spent and went to bed early.

Sunday Stress
Then I woke up on yesterday morning and sat for some quiet time before the rest of the family woke.  Right away I started talking to God about how hard it is to figure out how to use my time.  Saturday (the day I had been perfectly content with the night before) had not been productive.  I couldn't really call it a day of rest, because it was active and with people.  But I also couldn't call it a work day because, well, I hadn't accomplished anything that needed to be done like school lessons for this week or cleaning up the kitchen counters.  I wanted Sunday to be a day of rest, but could I afford to do that?  I want to invest in relationships and keep what really matters at the forefront of my life, but then at some point I have a freak-out about all the other things I "should" be doing.  AH!

I find myself in this struggle a lot.  There aren't enough hours in the day.

As I prayed, I laid out the situation before the Lord, admitting that my concerns are trivial in the grand scheme of personal problems, but wanting to share my concerns with Him just the same.  Then opened to Luke 6, toward the end it says this:
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

Those words really spoke to my heart.  If I want to be filled up with good things, so that I have the energy to keep on serving and loving and working as needed, I've gotta make sure I'm storing up good things!  God's Word reminded me I am not alone, the Lord is with me and the power to keep on in this relentless life will come from Him, storing up His good things in my heart.

Immediately after this I decided to read the next chapter of Own Your Life, by Sally Clarkson, which "just happened" to be about tending your soul and investing in yourself so you can invest in others.  Mid-chapter, Sally writes: Life is draining, every moment, all the time.  We have bills to pay, work to do, meals to make, people to care for, tasks to complete -- and then we must repeat these tasks again and again.  p.133  

Hahaha!  Preach it, Sally!  God knew I needed to read that chapter at that time.  Those words were like a hug from Him.  He knows what life is like and He will also strengthen me to keep at it.  (He'll strengthen you to keep at it too!)

God's Sense of Humor
Around this time, the kids started coming downstairs, first Katherine, then Elizabeth.  I decided to whip up some scrambled eggs for us.  I would make more for the guys later.  Just as I was about to serve our plates, Brian came down.  He could have my eggs.  They started to eat while I made another small batch for myself.  I was looking forward to that breakfast.  Then, seconds away from serving my plate, in strolled the husband.  He could have those eggs.  I handed him the plate and whisked up a final batch for myself.

Inside, I was laughing.  Good one, God, I thought, preparing me for this very moment this morning!

I guess I would summarize all of this by saying I was interrupted by grace that God took my concerns seriously, despite how trivial they are in the grand scheme of world troubles.  He met me with His Word, encouragement from Sally, and an immediate opportunity to serve with joy.  Pretty sweet!

I wonder what kind of grace interruption today will hold.
Keep your eyes open to see where the Lord interrupts you by grace, too!

*Photo Credit to Vickie Deyarmin