April 30, 2015

Interrupted by Grace 2015: From Drain to Delight

I'm blogged daily in April. and it ends today!  Learn more about the series here

This is it, friends!  April comes to a close and so does another interrupted by grace series.  My prayer this morning is that my offering of words has pointed you to the Grace-full Interrupter, our God who loves us, rescues us, and works in our lives for His glory.  I don't want to miss Him because I am too busy, to distracted, or too self-absorbed.  I don't want you to miss Him either!  May God continue to prick us by His Spirit with reminders to love Him and love one another deeply from the heart.

Yesterday was the day I planned to put Sally's advice into practice by spending some unstructured, unscheduled time in nature with the kids.  The weather forecast earlier in the week indicated that Wednesday would be perfect for it and our calendar was blank, a match made in heaven!  With a little planning ahead, I had some special snacks for the trail in case we got hungry.  We were ready for our souls to be filled.

After wrapping up the three R's and a little science and history, we laced up our shoes, filled up the water bottles, buckled our seat belts, and headed for a local state park.  Online I had learned about a trail that sounded perfect for our group: short, flat, and near a stream.  I'm so grateful to the fellow who had taken the time to write about his experience there; the trail was perfect for us!

 We stopped at a bench to eat our snacks and I was overwhelmed by the pleasure of being there, with my kids.  I was interrupted by grace when I thought, I love my job!  Then I said it out loud for them to hear, so they would know I am thankful I get to spend my days with them.

Friends, what you need to know is that I haven't always and I don't always love my work.  When my kids talk, they seem to all want to talk at once!  When it's time to do any kind of work, at least one child complains!  When we put them to bed, they don't always stay there!  When I think about how daily I have to keep on repeating the same tasks, chores, and responsibilities, I don't always (or ever) squeal with delight!  But sitting there yesterday, having my soul filled by views God's beautiful woodsy creation, warmed by the bright sunshine, and touched by my kids' contentment, it hit me how much He has done in my heart over my mommy years to move me from thinking of caring for my children as a drain to a delight!

Later on our stroll we stopped at a small "beach" and the kids spent quite a while being themselves with the sand, rocks, and water: skipping stones, making small dam, throwing rocks into the water, creating paint from colored stones, digging holes, etc.  We talked, laughed, and enjoyed.  WE ENJOYED!

It is not always easy to enjoy, is it?  We get snared by the to-do lists, the responsibilities, the difficulties and challenges, the exhaustion, and the burdens.   How quickly we can forget that God calls us to rest and to fill up our souls on Him and what He has created for our pleasure!  I tell ya, that excursion energized me for the cooking, laundry, and other work I had to do the rest of the day.

If you are feeling depleted, take a few minutes today to think about what recharges you and what areas of life you need God to show up and transform your attitude.  Then make a plan to do one soul-filling thing before the week is out.  Also be on your toes looking for times that God is interrupting you by grace.  April may be over, but not God's work in our lives!


I suppose now you'd like to know who won the coffee and chocolate, don't you?

You're the winner!
I will be in touch about getting your treats to you.

April 29, 2015

Interrupted by Grace 2015: Soul-Filling or Soul-Sucking

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

Leave a comment (or do more see here) to win yourself a bag of coffee and some chocolate bars!

On Sunday evening at our Own Your Life book study group, the topic was owning your emotional health.  The thrust of the chapter is that a wise woman takes good care to fill herself up so that she has a well out of which to give to others.  And empty well refreshes no one!

Our hearts and souls are vessels to hold all that we deem valuable.  If loveliness of values, greatness of thoughts, and civility of life are treasured there, the people who come into our presence will draw beauty from our lives.  p 133

Sally had many suggestions of "soul-filling habits" and encourages her readers to think about how to weave some of them into their lives.  At the end of the chapter she suggests choosing one thing to do in the coming week to fill up your soul.  A great idea that, during our group time, we each took time to think about and share what we committed to do this week.

In contrast to soul-filling intentionally with good things, our hearts can be filled with the junk that life after the Fall offers us.

If ugliness, anger, coarseness of spirit, resentment, criticism, and darkness permeate the moments of our existence, then our souls will reflect the darkness hiding and residing in our hearts.  p 135

So another thing I asked our group to do on Sunday night was think of one thing they could let go of this week to make space in their soul for the good stuff!  That's what brings us to yesterday's interrupted by grace moment.

For ages I have wanted to get my Facebook checking habits under control.  Often I'll make some weak commitment to myself, not tell anyone, and then go right back to checking every time I have a spare millisecond in the day!  During our discussion my friend Julie mentioned how looking at Facebook at a random time introduces all kinds of thoughts and ideas that at the moment distract her and pull her away from what she wants to or needs to be thinking about and/or doing.  That resonated with me.  That is exactly what happens!

I knew then that I needed to reign in my Facebook checking to eliminate the soul-sucking nature of it.  And I knew I'd have to share my commitment with the group - to only look a few set times a day - so I would get some accountability.  Mondays aren't normal school days around here, so yesterday was my first day to really try out the less Facebook time.  I was interrupted by grace with the clarity of thought most of the day, the increased desire to focus on the kids and be present for them, and embarrassed by how much I thought, I'll check Facebook, throughout the day.  Usually my motivations for checking are for selfish, I-hope-I-have-a-notification reasons, so this process is convicting!  But I want more room for others and for the Lord in my soul and maybe this little step will help me grow in wisdom and have a soul filled with more good reserves.

What's cool, is that Sally gets these ideas from the Bible!
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 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."  ~Jesus, Luke 6:43-45

Feel free to join in our group's activity for this week and choose a soul-filling habit to start and a soul-sucking one to reign in or kick to the curb!  For more ideas, definitely pick up Own Your Life, by Sally Clarkson.  Our group has been enjoying and benefiting immensely from reading it.

April 28, 2015

Interrupted by Grace 2015: When Another Makes You Dinner

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

As I begin writing today, a beautiful cardinal mama is on the bush outside the window chirping her beautiful song.  It was chilly yesterday, but spring is here and our part of the earth is warming up.  The birds are willing it with their songs!  Oh boy, now so many more birds are singing.  Lovely!

You came for an interrupted by grace story, not to hear me babble in the praise of birdsong, so on to that.  Before I do, however, I want you to stop for a moment and think about your yesterday.  Where did God show up?  Did you notice Him loving you, encouraging you, admonishing you, or helping you at any point yesterday?  Give thanks.

My sister and me

Okay, NOW I will tell you my little story!  When I sat down to start the day yesterday, I was filled with dread at the thought of having to come up with something to make for dinner and having to make it.  I love cooking for our family and eating - yes, it's really the eating I like best - but some days I am not excited about it.  Yesterday was not a burdensome day, it was not because I felt overwhelmed or anything like that.  I think it was just the fact that I would have to think of something, make another decision, and then carry through.

At this point, you either understand what I mean or you don't.  If you do, here's a virtual fist pump.  If you don't, you can just think I'm weird.  That's a fair assessment anyway.  <wink>

We had plans to head into my hometown in the afternoon for a visitation.  My high school friend's dad died on Friday and I wanted to stop in to extend my condolences.  Since we would be close to my sister, I texted her to see if we could swing by.  Guess what she said in response!

Feel free to come by though.  I have a ton of food.
I could feed you guys.  Isaac has a game at 6:15.

She could not have said anything more beautiful than, I could feed you guys!  Friends, I was interrupted by grace that God saw my silly little "ugh" at having to make dinner and provided another to make dinner for us.  So kind of Him, and my sister!  It was hilarious to listen to her tell the story of how she had gotten so much food the night before at the grocery store for poor planning and being too hungry, but I am so thankful it prepared her to be able to have us for a little visit with her and her cool family.

That's all for today!  God knows the deepest longings of our heart and the temporary, somewhat whiny, little groans.  And He is gracious to care for us through them all.  On Sunday our pastor said, and I paraphrase, "What do we call ourselves?  We call ourselves believers, not accomplishers or doers, but believers.  And what do believers do?  They believe."  Let's believe today in God's promises: I love you.  I redeemed you, on purpose.  You are my child.  I care for you.  I will not leave you or forsake you.

Keep your eyes peeled, He might just interrupt you by grace at any moment!

***Don't forget to get your name in the hat for the giveaway.  It ends tomorrow night!***

April 27, 2015

Interrupted by Grace 2015: Sinner, Come Home

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

Good morning!  This is the last Monday of this year's interrupted by grace series.  The month has flown by.  I can hardly believe it.  Remember to get your name in for your chance(s) to win the giveaway before lat Wednesday.  We'll pick a winner on Thursday morning!  I've reposted the details at the end of today's post.

On Saturday morning I was in Luke 18 and was struck, as usual, by the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:  “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner. 
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

I love the simple prayer of the tax collector.  God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  He knows that before  the Almighty, Holy, Righteous, Creator, God of all things, he is nothing a sinner.  He brings nothing to the table in his own defense.  He knows that without mercy from God, he cannot be in His presence.  Thank you, Jesus, for the story with a message that reminds us that God does have mercy on sinners!

You can't miss being interrupted by grace when that's the whole point of the story!  Humbling ourselves before God, acknowledging that mercy and grace can be the only basis for  our relationship with Him, and these things coming from Him, is what justifies us before Him.  Neither announcing our good deeds and proclaiming how they out-weigh the bad nor explaining to God how much better we are in comparison to another will save us.  No.  Getting on our knees and confessing that we are sinners in need of mercy from the God we daily offend, THAT is the road to justification before out God.  THAT is the simple path to a life-changing relationship with him.

Jesus came for sinners.  He said so Himself:
But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 
Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.  Luke 5:30-32

The truth is that we are all "the sick," sinners who need to be called to repentance.  Repentance: to do an about face and start running to God away from sin, rather than continuing doing it the other way around.

The point of Jesus' parable was driven home yesterday when I walked back into the sanctuary after taking Katherine to the nursery.  The worship team was singing these words as the offertory:

Come home, come home,
You who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home! 

I love that last line and wrote it really big at the top of my bulletin: Calling, O sinner, come home!  Have you never believed?  Jesus is calling you, sinner.  Repent! Come home to Him!  Have you believed for years and years and you're feeling bad about something that happened recently?  Jesus is calling you, sinner.  Repent!  Come home to Him!  Are you a Christian who can't seem to shake some habitual sin?  Jesus is calling you, sinner.  Repent!  Come home to Him!

Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling.
Calling for you and for me.

Won't you come home to Him?

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The Giveaway!

At the end of each monthly series, I love to give away a couple of treats.  Seems to me like a good way to wrap it up!  Next Thursday, I will announce the winners of these tasty local treats:

A bag of Colombian coffee beans roasted by Commonplace Coffee.
Three Gardner's chocolate bars: PB Meletaway, Salted Pretzel and Creamy Caramel.

How can you enter?  Glad you asked.  Here are some ways to get your name in the running one or more times:
  1. Leave an "I'm in!" comment on a post between now and next Wednesday, April 29 before midnight EST.
  2. 'Like' my Facebook page.  Here's a link!  (If you're already a fan there, that counts for an entry.)
  3. Share a link to Life in the Valley or the Life in the Valley Facebook page on your page.  Or if you don't have Facebook, share Life in the Valley with a friend in another way.
  4. Share your own interrupted by grace story in a blog or Facebook comment sometime before the giveaway.
I work on the honor system around here, so just let me know how many times I should put your name in the hat!  Also, if you are not a coffee lover, enter anyway.  Commonplace coffee makes a great regift; any of your coffee-loving friends will be glad to take it off your hands, and you still get to keep the chocolate!

April 25, 2015

Interrupted by Grace 2015: Listen to Your Elders!

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

Today I want to share another's words with you, because her words were my grace interruption  as I started the day yesterday.  Sally Clarkson is an author and woman whom I greatly respect.  Her Biblical counsel was used by God to change my life as a wife and mother.  I can never express enough gratitude for her or to her.  Yesterday she shared a blog post called, "Balancing Life and Controlling our Circumstances is not even Biblical!"  Catchy title, right?  Makes ya want to read.  So I did and, boy, was I grateful.

A typical day in the living room of our home.
And, yes, they complain when it's time to pick up!

Often it is tempting to make light of the comments and advice of those who have gone before us.  We think, If I hear, "Enjoy them, they grow up so fast," one more time I'm going to scream!  But I am learning that listening to our elders, anyone who is ahead of us in this little thing we call life, could be the very best thing we do for ourselves and our families.  So today I leave you in Sally's hands, because I was so touched by her words yesterday and pray you will be, too.  Life can always be meaningful; Praise God!

From Sally:

Last month, I was with a group of young women speaking at a small group Bible study. At the question and answer time, so many wanted me to give them a formula to assure them that they were doing all of the right things to be sure their children would turn out ok.I also realized that because I made it to 60 and I am still alive, my kids made it through their years into adulthood with faith in tact, with vision for life, and still loved us, that somehow, I must have “done all the right things” or perhaps was more in control of my life.
Reality is I have never been in control and there were never formulas I could count on. Each child was extremely different. Each year was a new kind of stretch to my life, I always had challenges and kept looking for the time when life would settle down.
Expecting to be able to control life, children, husbands, friends, church, family is a road that leads to disappointment. We cannot make life behave by just trying harder or getting the right book, planner or instruction. Truth is, God wants us to rest, to leave our burdens in His hands, to learn a little more every day, how to walk by faith, love and become more patient, work hard and enjoy our days that He has given. As I thought about these things, I remembered an article I wrote some years ago, right in the middle of the “messiness of life” that I hope will encourage you.  Continue reading here: http://sallyclarkson.com/balancing-life-and-controlling-our-circumstances-is-not-even-biblical/

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Friends, if you have not had a chance to check out the giveaway, it is coffee and chocolate.  You should totally get in on it, because COFFEE AND CHOCOLATE from local businesses.  Yay!  Get the details by clicking here.

April 24, 2015

Interrupted by Grace 2015: Kindness and Compassion

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

This week my poor husband has been battling a never-ending headache.  With the end of the semester quickly approaching, this is, well, a real headache!  He needs to be able to be alert and focused, but he is incapable of either.  And you know what has surprised me?  I feel compassion for him and wish I could fix it!

Does that surprise you?

It should, because I think a wife loving her husband when he is having a difficult time should be a given.  But it isn't always for me.  I tend to be too much of a score-keeper.  There have been many times that Colin gets sick and rather than think, Poor guy, I will go the extra mile to help him, I think, How convenient for him that he gets to lie in bed while I have to keep working, dealing with these kids, and keeping the house running.  Humph.  I don't even get to lie in bed when I am sick.

Over Lent, you might remember that I shared that I was going to go through the Love Dare to give up thinking about myself so much.  I have been sporadically praying that I would be less selfish in my life and in my marriage.  So this week, I have been interrupted by grace observing myself not getting bitter, proud, or mean in response to Colin's down week.  I genuinely feel bad that he's not able to do what he wants and that he cannot shake this silly headache.  Holy cow, could God be changing me?!  Could it be that when we cry out, God comes to our aid and helps us navel gaze a little less and provides everything we need for life and godliness through His Spirit?  Get outta town!

The most mind-blowing moment of the week came last evening.  Because of a rescheduled Cub Scout meeting, both the big kids had Scout meetings.  At some point Colin had committed to the Scout duties: dropping Elizabeth off at her meeting, attending Brian's meeting with him, and picking Elizabeth up on their way home.  I was looking forward to the couple of hours of quiet at home to catch up on some tasks while Katherine slept and the others were out.  Unfortunately, Colin had to come home early from work because he just couldn't focus on anything and wanted to try to rest the headache away.  It didn't work.  So he asked if I could take the kids to their meetings.

And just like that I said, "Yeah, I'll do that," without any annoyance or of-course-I-have-to-do-it sigh!

I couldn't believe myself!  I was interrupted by grace that God had me in a kind and compassionate state.  I knew it could only have been Him preparing my heart and helping me to be gracious.  It gave me such hope!  I know that there will be many self-loving moments ahead of me in our marriage, my parenting, friendships, etc.  But what a gift from God to feel a moment of answered prayer and forward progress:  Heather, there is hope.  Do not despair.  I am at work in your life and heart.

Thank you, Lord.

My friend, don't you despair either!
The Lord is at work in your heart and life.
Ask and you will receive.
Let's trust Him more today that we did yesterday, shall we?

By the way, I had so much fun at Brian's Cub Scout meeting!  The boys each shared about collections they have - adorable.  And we planted seeds.

***Hey, if you missed yesterday's giveaway announcement, check out the end of this post!***

April 23, 2015

Interrupted by Grace 2015: Taffy Pulling & the Giveaway Announcment

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

In yesterday's post, I mentioned my common tendency to get to the middle of the day and freak out a little if we haven't completed the day's school work and I have to use rest time to do so.  I get flustered and feel uptight inside.  My brain is telling me to not worry about it, there is still plenty of day left and I'm the only one putting pressure on myself anyway; but it can be a challenge to get the rest of myself to be reasonable!

One of Elizabeth's Language Arts activities yesterday was to make salt water taffy.  She has been reading excerpts from Lois Lenski's, Strawberry Girl, in which they harvest sugar cane and make candy.  The activities this week center around reading directions and giving instructions.  My girl LOVES  to cook or bake anything - except recipes that require the handling of raw meat, haha - and she said this was the best Language Arts lesson yet!

She was able to do the work on her own, but we hadn't had time to get to the "pulling" part.  I had planned for us to do that together and knew it would be fun and messy, but as I realized it was probably going to take up most of rest time, meaning most of the time in the middle of the day when I take a kid break, I started getting flustered.  I was not speaking and acting as kindly, gently, and patiently as I should, because I was only looking at the timer ticking away the minutes, thinking about other things I needed to be doing, and feeding my flustered feeling.

Elizabeth was having a great time pulling taffy and chatting away to me!  And I was unterrupted by grace as the Spirit basically said to me, Chill out and choose what is right!  I was choosing sinful behavior over righteous.  I was choosing self over God and others.  It wasn't making me feel good, but I was continuing down that path anyway because I wasn't getting what I thought I needed.  God reminded me that He would both forgive me and give me all I needed to turn around and enjoy the taffy pulling as much as Elizabeth.  I am always lamenting that I feel like I don't get to spend enough time with her anyway.  There I was, having time with her!

I wish I could tell you I did a perfect about-face and the rest of the time I was full of joy.  It wasn't perfect, but it was convicting and challenging to think about how I was in the midst of something I wanted but not getting something else I wanted.  Boy, I sure need the Lord's help each moment of every day to simply embrace each moment of every day for what it is, not cursing the moments for what they are not.  God is good to interrupt us by grace to help us see our errors, His loving-kindness, and offer forgiveness and hope!

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Psalm 103:8-12

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The Giveaway!

At the end of each monthly series, I love to give away a couple of treats.  Seems to me like a good way to wrap it up!  Next Thursday, I will announce the winners of these tasty local treats:

A bag of Colombian coffee beans roasted by Commonplace Coffee.
Three Gardner's chocolate bars: PB Meletaway, Salted Pretzel and Creamy Caramel.

How can you enter?  Glad you asked.  Here are some ways to get your name in the running one or more times:
  1. Leave an "I'm in!" comment on a post between now and next Wednesday, April 29 before midnight EST.
  2. 'Like' my Facebook page.  Here's a link!  (If you're already a fan there, that counts for an entry.)
  3. Share a link to Life in the Valley or the Life in the Valley Facebook page on your page.  Or if you don't have Facebook, share Life in the Valley with a friend in another way.
  4. Share your own interrupted by grace story in a blog or Facebook comment sometime before the giveaway.
I work on the honor system around here, so just let me know how many times I should put your name in the hat!  Also, if you are not a coffee lover, enter anyway.  Commonplace coffee makes a great regift; any of your coffee-loving friends will be glad to take it off your hands, and you still get to keep the chocolate!

April 22, 2015

Interrupted by Grace 2015: Gifts and Talents

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

Hi there!  I'm popping in a little later than usual today which, of course, has this type-A gal stressed out.  This morning I had to prioritize my time differently and have not been able to blog till now, at 2pm.  One of my funny reactions on many of our homeschooling days, especially if there's work that I have to do with our oldest during the usual 1-2pm rest time, is that suddenly at about this time I feel crazy behind, under some self-imposed pressure, and like I've accomplished nothing.  It's wacko, but I like to let you know what I'm really like so you know who you're dealing with here at Life in the Valley.  I have a feeling tomorrow's post will be about that.  As for today, I've got a short word about the kids' Sunday School and gifts and talents.

On Sunday the kids came home with their usual papers from Sunday School, but they weren't just stuffed into a bag.  My husband had nicely stacked our many "church papers" together and I made the effort to pull out the kids' papers, because I wanted to ask them what they talked about.  I love that at our church all of them are learning the same thing at age-appropriate levels.  Sunday's topic was about how God gives His people gifts and talents.  Of course, it is always amusing to ask the kids what they learned: Elizabeth usually says something comprehensible and mature; Brian has to be asked to specifically try to remember what the passage was about, then he can get talking; and Katherine most often tells us what songs they sang and anything that happened with or to the other kids during class.  They are all so their own age!

Yesterday morning, I was having breakfast with Brian and Katherine.  I always finish first because I'm a pig far more focused on my food.  I grabbed Brian's paper and asked Him what he thinks his current gifts and talents are.  His first two responses were his ability to roll his belly and his video game skills!  Then he said he was pretty good at reading.  We continued with the list with several of my ideas:

I was interrupted by grace thinking about how God gifts each of us to serve in His Church and in the world.  How fun to have children already thinking about giving God thanks for our gifts and inviting them to dream about how God might use them and their gifts for His glory.  I am curious to see what my children will excel in as adults and then to look back to these days for the seeds that started in them as children.  I'm also so thankful for the work God has done in my life to encourage me, using His Word, my own Sunday School classes, sermons, and various trainings, to embrace and use my own gifts.  I am always floored when I think about how God invites us and wants us to be involved in His kingdom work.  Incredible!

April 21, 2015

Interrupted by Grace 2015: Surprise Visit

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

Coming off of such a fun weekend with the husband, I would not have believed Monday morning could match it.  The kids and I were hustling and bustling to get the house put together, and I was beginning to wonder who would show up for playgroup.  (I always start doing that as ten o'clock approaches.)  Quite close to ten, Katherine requested that I go to the dining room and pretend to be a shopkeeper so she could come buy something.  There was a pile of mini board books on the floor and I started arranging them on the table for her to maybe choose to "buy."

While this was happening a van pulled into the driveway that I assumed, based on the color, was my friend Nancy and her kids.  So I hollered to my kids, "Hey, someone's here.  Katherine, you can get the door."  The scurrying began.  While picking up a soccer ball to put on display, I glanced out the window to confirm who it was and beheld not a brunette driver pulling out her keys and turning to open the door, but rather a blonde, pixie-cut lady.


It was my turn to run to the door, across the sidewalk and rocks, to hug my friend who'd driven an hour and a half to surprise us by joining us for playgroup with three of her five amazing boys.  I almost cried, but I kept it together.  Composed and calm as I usually am, you know.

Not long thereafter, Nancy came with her trio of offspring and the three of us ladies had a great time talking while we took turns holding the babies they each brought along and the rest of the children played together.

It is always delightful to sit with friends, old or new, and get to know each other better or catch up.  I was interrupted by grace through such a wonderful surprise.  It is always balm for the soul to have any amount of face-time with a "bosom friend," as Anne of Green Gables would say.  I would argue it is even more of a gift to sit in a room with a newer friend and an older friend and awe at how God provides company and companionship for us wherever we go.  Interrupted by grace, indeed.

Do you have stories, even from this interrupted by grace month, of how God has used friendship to show you how much He loves you, to bring a smile to your face, and/or cause you to reflect on His provision for you?  I hope you do!  Perhaps if today's post brings someone to mind, drop them a note, give them a call, or pop in for a visit this week and bless them with a grace interruption as my dear friend, Emily, did for me today.  I sure love the stories God weaves through our lives and how often He weaves exactly the right people into them with such precise timing!

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!