January 27, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 3}

How are you today?  I think it would be so fun to sit down with you, dear reader, and catch up with you if I know you well already or get to know you if we are not well acquainted.  When I write I imagine I am talking these words, conversing with whomever will read.  I am thankful for words and messages to share with one another and the way God uses people in our lives to build us up with spoken or written truth.

This week I noticed the OPEN sign on the wall in my kitchen many times.  There she hangs to remind me to remain OPEN to the Lord and to whatever life brings.  I had planned many weeks in advance to have ladies over this past Saturday to start a book discussion of Own Your Life, by Sally Clarkson.  I was so excited to begin our journey through the book together.  After scheduling that on the evening of a day our oldest already had a swim meet, my sister-in-law invited us to my nephew's birthday party.  It would be held in the window between the swim meet and our book club kick-off and they live forty-five minutes away.  Of course, right?

We step out in faith and inevitably encounter some challenges!

In my stubbornly determined way, I refused to make any changes, we could just charge through the day and make it all happen.  Then, Thursday of last week, my husband, through circumstances beyond his control, learned he would not be available for our busy January 24.

Deep breath.

Then the questions:  Should I have his parents come and baby sit during the meet?  Should we skip the party in the middle?  Should I cancel our ladies gathering?

No.  The answer was no on all fronts.  We could have a great day together.  We would be tired by the end, but each event was a wonderful thing and the house would stay as orderly as it was because we wouldn't be home all day!  Perfect!!

The main reason I knew we should plow through was because I knew the Lord would give me strength and be gracious to us.  He called on me to start a book group and He would be faithful.  I was holding Him to it!

And He was.
  • The younger two were great at the swim meet, in fact the littlest was unusually calm and delightful in the unstructured environment, only melting down a little toward the end because she was tired.  And the middlest found other waiting-around siblings to play with, in addition to having some electronic entertainment, and the hours flew by.  I was amazed, and thankful.
  • Getting to hang out with extended family at the birthday party was delightful.  I am always glad to see those people who are part of who I am and who I love so much.
  • And finally, to hear many women at our evening gathering share about how long they have been wanting to be part of a ladies Bible study!  Well, I was deeply humbled and blessed by God being with those women.

So, OPEN in the face of circumstances beyond our control.  I usually complain about these things or try to finagle my way out of them.  Really, I do; I am a whiny wimp.  But Sally's book and God's Word  remind me that I have a choice about how I respond to my circumstances ... and I might actually get to see God do some things if stop thinking about myself all the time!

Time to take action:  Are  you in the midst of circumstances beyond your control that make you want to, say, kick, scream, cry, complain, curse, etc.?  Maybe you have a day coming up that you are dreading or are in the middle of an on-going trial.  How can you OPEN up to God?
  • Ask the Lord to help you to taste and see that He is good right where you are.
  • Confess to Him your sinful tendencies to fear, doubt, complain, or try to escape.
  • Rejoice that God will be your stronghold and helper in the midst OF EVERYTHING.  He is always near.  In fact, try to spend more time rejoicing than you do asking and confessing!
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:4-7

Do you have any testimony of God working in your life in the midst of trying circumstances?  I would love to hear your stories!  If only we could meet over a cup of coffee this morning.  I guess the comment section will have to do.

Till Thursday, walk in His way!

January 22, 2015

Why Not?

As I was out for a run a couple of mornings ago, I passed a few people walking to work or school and we had enjoyed that awkward moment together when we're not sure whether to ignore one another or, at least, make eye contact.  Do you know what I'm talking about?

In my personal life philosophy, I like to make eye contact and say good morning, because that person is a fellow human being and I want to acknowledge them.  But then I also wonder if I make them uncomfortable by doing so.  Life has so many delightfully squirmy moments, doesn't it?

Sometimes when I say good morning, I receive a grunt or a full greeting in response.  Other times, I'm past before people have time to respond, (though not because I'm a fast runner, simply because they're taken off guard by my words)!  And there are those who make no reply.

Yesterday after one such moment, the thought occurred to me:

Why not be kind?

That question addresses far more situations than greeting a stranger you meet in the street.  Then, I thought  to myself, Yeah, why not choose to be kind all the time?  That seems like a great way to live.

I also believe it is how God calls us Christians to live, being people who are growing in the fruit of the Spirit.

 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  Galatians 5:22-23
Against such things, there is no law!  We are free to pursue all of these things with abandon, because they will always be acceptable.  So,

Why not be kind?

At this point you might be thinking, Well, Heather, I can think of many situations where kindness is not merited or I cannot muster kindness because of the kind of day I've had or mood I'm in.  I hear you, and I'm with you.  But God gives us an alternative to being driven by the cravings of our sinful nature or enslaved by our passions, which will give us myriad excuses not to be kind.  What's the alternative? 

First, God gives us Himself.  Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin and rescue us from the condition of our sin.  His Spirit takes us residence in our hearts when we believe that Good News.  We have God as our ever-present helper.

Second, He shows us His way.  From Genesis to Revelation we can read God's story of redemption, undeserved kindness, and long-suffering with His people.  He also gives us guidelines for righteous and generous living.

With the Lord near at hand and His way marked out for us, we can choose to be kind, even when the world, the flesh, and the devil tell us, Why not be unkind?  They deserve it!

Will I always be kind today?  NO!  But knowing God gives me hope of transformation, the courage to choose His way, and the joy of knowing I can share His mercy today.  Why not be kind?!

We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.  And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.  If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of Go, God lives in him and he in God.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  1 John 4:13-16a

Till next time, walk in His way!

January 20, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 2}

Funny how quickly days can get away from a person!  Tuesday is almost gone, but I will get this post out in cyber-world before I crash for the night.

As you probably know, I have a theme word this year and one way to keep my mind on it is to write weekly about how it is impacting my day-to-day life. I'm extremely unfocused and can be excited about something one moment and be incapable of telling what I was excited about in the next moment.  Okay, well, maybe I'm not that unfocused, but you get the idea.  Thanks for the accountability this year.

This past week I think the definition of OPEN that I was trying hardest to practice was available to follow or make use of, not taken up with duties or engagements, because things like this

won't last forever.  And, more importantly, I want to learn to be like my Savior.

One of my greatest challenges as  mom is enjoying and engaging with my children when there is SO MUCH TO DO!  As the day goes by and my to-do desires remain unfulfilled, my inner-tension can mount.  Then I get impatient, then I miss the little moments, then I don't love as I should, as I truly want to.

So last week, as I thought about OPEN, I tried to say yes more often, make space for the little people in my life, and do the to-dos when I had moments for them.

Guess what?  Nothing, absolutely nothing traumatic or horrific happened because my kitchen table was cluttered most of the week and I didn't get that really-in-the-way box of things to Good Will.  Remarkable!  Even better, however, I have a lot of really wonderful memories from last week:  I went to the beach with Katherine and helped her put on countless dress up outfits; Elizabeth, Brian, and I played the games they got for Christmas several times; I invited them to help me get some rooms picked up, and the helped with minimal weeping and gnashing of teeth; and my heart was so full of joy in many moments at who the three of them are.

Cheesy beaver teeth!

Being closed can become a habit, but last week I was reminded that being OPEN can become a habit too.  I still gaze at my precious to-do list with longing, but those three definitely out-do that list for winning my heart.

Time to take action:  Maybe you can relate to these thoughts.  You may neither have children nor be task oriented, but perhaps there is some way that you're inclined to stay closed rather than "opening up" to what being OPEN could offer.  This week, ask the Lord to show you how you can be  available to follow or make use of, not taken up with duties or engagements, i.e. OPEN.

Till Thursday, walk in His way!

January 15, 2015

Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder

I recently joined the Sunday school teaching rotation for the the youth at our church.  I was very excited to be asked to teach and look forward to each opportunity to be with the students.  This three-week rotation in the curriculum has us on the topic of grace.  What a treat, right?  I mean, what better  thing could one talk about at church but God's infinite goodness and mercy that are the very basis of our relationship with him?!

Included in the curriculum are devotions the teens can do throughout the week.  I thought it would be a good idea to do them, too.  Today's activity was to read Luke 15:11-32.  Some of you don't even need to open your Bibles to know what story this is, the story of the prodigal son.  Please click the link to read it if you are not familiar with this wonderful parable Jesus told.

What was unique about this little devotional, was their choice to highlight verse thirty-one at the opening.

'My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.'

Most of us at one time or another have been able to relate to the prodigal, running away from God into ungodly living.  But there are also those who can relate to the son, feeling miffed that so much attention is paid to prodigals, when all along we've been so good with nary a word of praise.  The father's response to the prodigal is very unexpected; he throws him a party after all he's done!  But his response to the older son is no less tender; gently he reminds him that all of his riches are always at his disposal.  He doesn't have to live with the father in bitterness.  In fact, he shouldn't.

The story has a few main characters, but the mainest of the main is clearly the father who, Jesus is trying to tell his listeners, represents God the Father.  What a picture of grace!

God loves his children, whether they are near or far off, and whether they have a proper perspective of who He is or not.  He wants to shower us with His love by sharing with us all that He is and all that He has.

There's nothing fair about grace.  We were bought at a price, (I Cor 7:23a).  Praise God He does not treat us fairly, but graciously!

Here's a wonderful hymn by John Newton, set to a modern tune, that came to mind when I was thinking about these things today.  Be amazed by His grace.  Love!  Sing!!  Wonder!!!

January 13, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 1}

Last week I shared with you my focus word for 2015 and invited you to ask the Lord to give you one for the year, too.  Did anything come to mind?  This may not be your cup of tea, and that is just fine.  But if it is, I would love to hear what God has placed on your heart for this year.  As personal accountability, I'm going to write each week about how OPEN has come into play in the day-to-day.

I don't have any profound stories from this week.  Perhaps I will not have a single profound story all year.  That is not the point. The point is to draw near to God, to listen for His voice, to be moved a few more steps away from always thinking about myself, to love God by thinking about Him and living for Him more today than I did yesterday.  Isn't it amazing that the Good Lord has revealed Himself to us?  Isn't it wonderful that we can get to know Him through His word?  Aren't you astounded that you can walk through this world with your creator and without fear?  How I want my mind to stay focused and centered on these truths!

So, OPEN.  The biggest step I have taken so far is to invite ladies to join me weekly for a book study of Sally Clarkson's new book, Own Your Life.  I encountered Sally and the MomHeart ministry shortly before our youngest started Kindergarten.  There was an essay about their family's style of homeschooling in a book about homeschooling philosophies and I was intrigued.  I got more of her books and the rest is history.  I am indebted to her for her wisdom about loving Jesus with one's life, being a mom, and being a leader.  I praise God for that "accidental" stumble into her volumes of writing.  I even spent a weekend in her home once with a bunch of inspiring women from all over the country several years ago.  What a lady!*

Back to the present.  Since we moved to our new town one and a half years ago, I have wanted to start a MomHeart group, but with the time commitment of my husband's new job, I have feared committing to hosting something.  But it's the year of OPEN.  I need to trust that God will work out the details, right?  So, in a very generic and ungraceful way, I cast a net on Facebook to see if any local ladies would be interested in joining a book study.  I tagged several women I know who I thought might want to be a part of the group.  And would you believe it?  Many were!  There's no turning back now!

Sally Clarkson and me, August 2010

On Saturday, I sat at my daughter's swim meet, next to a new friend whose daughter has befriended ours, watching the boys and girls dive, splash, and swim their hearts out.  I felt like I should invite her to join the book study.  Would it be too weird to invite her out of the blue like that?  I almost said nothing, but then my mouth was open and the invitation was extended.  And she said yes!

Being nervous about extending an invitation to fellowship and friendship sounds pretty stupid, now that I write about it.  But who likes being rejected or thought of as weird?  Yeah, those two things almost kept me from OPENing my mouth.

I guess that's this week's OPEN story and lesson.  Being OPEN means extending invitations, not worrying about the response or results.

Time to take action: Maybe you've had a nagging feeling about someone you need to invite over for dinner, a playdate, or a cup of coffee.  Will you be bold this week, in Jesus's name, and extend an invitation?  Let our little Life in the Valley community know how it goes!

*Get this book asap!  Aren't I bossy?  Seriously, though, there are many online book studies starting this month.  I can get you more info if you would like.

January 8, 2015

Interacting with Christmas: Let Christmas Linger

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, full of grace and truth.

Coming off of the Christmas season, those words from the first chapter of John's gospel echo in my mind.

Jesus came!

We spent a whole month, home adorned and extra lights twinkling, meditating on the wonder of it.  I am so thankful for the Christmastime season of the year.  I am so thankful for it this January, that I'm letting it linger on.  Our tree is still up; I plug in the lights each morning.  I only took the wreath off the front door because it was brown and the lights off of the front porch because we had a warm day to do it.  But inside?  Inside, Christmas lingers:
the lights strung over the mantle, 
the nativities displayed on the buffet in the dining room, 
the hodgepodge of ornaments and knickknacks arranged around the house and on the tree, 
the Christmas devotional I am still reading each morning.

Inside these walls, Christmas lingers.

Whether decorations are still up or you're more organized that I am and you've managed to put everything away already is really of no consequence.  But since I have not gotten to packing ours up yet, the decorations have been teaching me a lesson.

The lights remind me of the Light of the world and the truth of His incarnation that can impact all of my days, not just December 25. 
The nativities remind me of Christ's humility, His obedience to the Father, His love for me, the power of grace. 
The hodgepodge of ornaments and knickknacks remind me of a heritage of faith from a family of Christians generations back.
The Christmas devotional reminds me daily just how much Christmas matters and transforms all of life.

The lesson?  I must let Christmas linger inside, inside of me.

Christmas does not need to linger on in our houses.  In fact, have "put away Christmas" on my list for today.  But after the bulbs, baubles, and beads have been packed away, we need to let Christmas linger in our hearts.

Christmas must linger on in our hearts all year.

"Unto you a child is born" is not a message for one short season, it is the message of hope and life of all of Scripture for all of our days.  God fulfilled His promise, the Messiah came!  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and that has made all the difference.  Let Christmas linger.

One idea I had is to keep the Christ candle out all year,
to remind us that Jesus is the Light of the world every day.
Maybe you can choose one ornament or decoration to keep out to remind you all year, too!

January 6, 2015

2015 Theme Word: Won't You Join Me?

Happy new year, friends!  I hope the year is off to a good start for you and that you are feeling filled with the energy that a new beginning can bring.  When I was young we had a fun tradition of writing new year's resolutions together as a family.  My dad kept them in a thin folder that he pulled out to reread to us in early January each year.  They always made us laugh and usually humbled us as we remembered how hopeful we had been twelve months before.  Such are resolutions, right?  I still bite my nails....

This year as 2014 was drawing to a close, I was feeling prompted to pick a theme word for the new year, something to keep me focused and also challenge me to pursue transformation, rather than settling for mediocre.  It is easy to settle, isn't it?  It is easy to believe the hopeless message that some things about us will never change.

But God's Word tells a different story.  God gives us this message:
I have come to give you life, abundant life! 
I have come to set you free from sin and death!
I have placed my Spirit in you that you may grow in Christ-likeness! 
I love you and I want to transform you! 
I am able; trust me!

As I babbled in my journal in the days preceding 1/1/15, I scribbled out some words that seemed like they might be good ideas, forgiveness making the top of the list.  I really need to grow a lot in my understanding and practice of accepting and extending forgiveness.  But there are also my struggles with my pride, and her vicious offspring others-judging and insecurity.  Yeah, that's a huge wing of my thought-life-house that needs reconstruction unto righteousness.  And finally, I thought a lot about my inability to let go of control of my time and take some risks, making space for ministry.  I am so afraid to make commitments, because I don't know what the future holds.

What I wanted was a word that encompassed all of those things.

Lo and behold the Good Lord gave me a word, a simple 4-letter word.  Heather, you're closed and this needs to be a year of being

Open home.
Open life.
Open heart.
Open ,
because my Lord is always open for me.

If you have been around here for a while, you know how much I love words.  So, of course, immediately after God gave me this word I looked it up.  Open has lots of definitions!  I am petrified about how the Lord might use this in my life, but so excited about how all-encompassing OPEN really is.  Check it out:

OPEN (adj)
  • having no enclosing or containing barrier; accessible on nearly all sides
  • being in a position or adjustment to permit passage; not shut or locked
  • completely free from concealment: exposed to general view or knowledge
  • exposed or vulnerable to attack or question
  • not covered with a roof or lid
  • having no protective covering
  • not restricted to a particular group or category of participants
  • available to follow or make use of, not taken up with duties or engagements
  • characterized by ready accessibility and usually generous attitude (giving, responsive, and  frank)
  • having openings, interruptions, or spaces
  • be in operation for business, patronage, or use

Can you see all the spiritual implications of those definitions?  I see many, and they're wonderfully terrifying!

I have already felt the rub, friends, when I've started to grumble or complain, when the children want my attention and I don't want to give it, when my husband needs a hand and I'm busy with my own stuff, when a dear friend releases a book and I know I'm supposed to start a group even though I know how busy the semester is for my husband, and so on and so forth.  Being open does not come naturally.  I like my comfort, my space, my power over my minuscule domain.

For me this is the year of OPEN, and I want to invite you to do two things with me.
  1. Ask the Lord for a word, a nice open-ended word that you can focus on this year and allow God to use to transform you.
  2. Join me as I endeavor to blog weekly about how OPEN is influencing my life in 2015.

Please drop a note in the comments to let me know if you've got a theme word or plan for the year.  I would love to pray for you!