Category Archives: faith

In Focus — 5 steps I took to Zoom into Better Living

Have you ever simply known that your life had gone a little out of focus?

You are still doing the same basic things, the same routine that has been keeping you going for years.

Yet, something is off.

You find yourself holding your breath, waiting for normal to arrive.  Hello, Normal?  Where are you?

You don’t seem to have time for the things that you once did simply for pleasure.  Tea from the kettle–not the microwave.  An impromptu photo shoot simply because you’ve got cute kids and a perfect patch of sunlight coming in the window.  A game of UNO.  Popcorn and a movie after the kids fall asleep.  Falling asleep yourself next to your dearest love (even though that kind of irritates him).

Where did those joyful little moments go?  When did every day become decidedly less fun?

That’s where I’ve been lately.  I’ve been restless and lacking contentment.  Late 2014 and all of 2015 so far have brought in new challenges that I had never faced before.  There have been many joys and amazing days, but illness and losses in my life and in the lives of people I love put things into a new perspective.  I expected those painful events to fill me with an urgency to LIVE–really live deeply and abundantly–but instead, I felt stuck, disappointed, angry, and frustrated.  Instead of turning to sources of encouragement that I could count on–God, family, the Scripture, dear friends–I turned inward and to technology.  Have you ever drowned your sorrows in Facebook?  Have you numbed the here and now with a hefty dose of daydreaming while reading about other people’s lives on other people’s blogs?  That’s been me.

And then my nine-year-old was working on a family crest.  He worked hard. Markers everywhere!  He drew a shield, divided it to represent each family member, and then he came up with an icon to represent each of us.  Cory was a weight because Daddy is strong.  I was a little laptop–because Mommy loves the computer.

Wait, did you hear something?  Oh, yeah.  That was my heart shattering.

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A number of things–the laptop drawing near the top of the list–helped me to finally see that I needed to take some concrete steps to turn things around–to pull things back into focus.  These are the steps I took, and I’m still working!

  1. I prayed.  I confessed that I been focusing on me and my shortcomings instead of the larger picture of the life God wanted me to live.  I confessed that I had not been living with gratitude.  I confessed that I had not been using my resources (including time!) with intention and intelligence.  I thanked God for loving me anyway!  I thanked Him for my children, my husband, my parents, and the rest of my big, wonderful family.  I thanked Him for friends at our church, in our community, in our past and our present.  I asked for focus, for patience, and for the grace to approach my family and MYSELF with gentleness.  I asked for contentment and peace.
  2. I reached out.  One of the biggest sources of my frustrations and disappointment is the lack of organization in our home.  This has been a problem forever.  I could blame having four children.  I could blame homeschooling.  But I would be pretending!  Let’s be real here.  I have struggled with messes since I was a kid, seemingly cleaning my room every single day but always living in a disaster.  My mom keeps a beautiful home.  I had plenty of positive examples, but I fail regularly.  So…I reached out to an old friend who is an organizer.  We are just figuring out what working together will look like, but it feels wonderful to feel like I have a teammate!
  3. I returned to activities that matter to me.  It might seem crazy to add MORE when my plate is already pretty full.  However, I did some real soul-searching, and I realized that I had dropped a few things that were true treasures in my life.  So in April, I returned to a La Leche League group.  I’ve been an accredited Leader with LLL since 2008, but I have not been affiliated with a group since we moved in 2013.  It was time.  I always thought of LLL as my “positive peer pressure.”  The meetings lift my spirits, confirm my parenting choices, and connect me with like-minded mothers.  Serving mothers and babies in the Leader role always does something good in my heart.  In addition to La Leche League, I added a little crafting and remade my old homemaking binder.
  4. I set some healthy boundaries.  That sounds all psychological and sophisticated, but it is actually code for “got my lazy bum off the computer.”  I use the computer for good things–researching homeschool ideas, looking up recipes, connecting with friends and family–but I get sucked in.  I get wrapped up in things of no importance.  I’ve been feeling like I had way too many voices in my life.  Articles, comments on articles, opinions upon opinions upon opinions!  I needed some mental quiet.  I so easily allow time to slip by, and I’m often left with a lingering feeling of disquiet after I’ve read something controversial.  I’ve strictly limited Facebook to Saturdays, and in general, I’m keeping my computer time quick and on task.  This is a hard one for me.  I asked Cory to make up a new password for Facebook, and he is under strict orders to never tell me!
  5. I surrounded myself with inspiration!  I visited a long-time friend who always inspires me with her amazing work ethic and her fun sense of humor.  I also found two quotations that spoke to my situation and made me feel motivated to create change.  I printed them on pretty paper and taped them on the wall.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” ~Psalm 16:11

^^This passage from the Psalms helped me remember that as long as I am in God’s presence, I have what I need to be content and joyful.  Everything else is bonus!

“If you don’t make the time to work on creating the life you want, you’re eventually going to be forced to spend a lot of time dealing with a life you don’t want.” ~Kevin Ngo

^^This quotation by Kevin Ngo helped me to think about where I do want to place my focus, and it made me realize that the time I spend planning and strategizing is valuable–not just silly day dreaming.

Nearly a year ago, the auto-focus on my camera’s basic lens stopped functioning.  I was struggling with the manual setting.  My brother-in-law who is a photographer and film-maker gave me some good advice.  He told me to take my time.  He said to slowly move the lens back and forth between the extremes on both sides until I find the sharpest focus in the middle–even though the people around me (including those in the picture!) seem to want me to hurry.  The clear image and perfect light are the reward for taking the time to find that sweet spot.

I’m feeling good these days.  I think I am back in focus, but I’m not afraid to put in the time and effort to live life beautifully.

 

When Rest is Required

Dear Readers,

I’ve been thinking.

When people have surgery, they are expected to rest.  When they come down with the flu or bronchitis or a simple, common cold, rest is prescribed.  Sprained ankle?  Rest it.  Mothers tell their children–even the grown ones–to get some rest when they have any ailment or injury.  Everyone knows that rest promotes healing.  It’s a given.

But do we remember that emotional fatigue and pain also require rest for healing?  Too often, we assume that we can continue our usual, zippy speed as long as our bodies are keeping pace.  Although I can’t speak for everyone, I’m pretty good at identifying bodily fatigue.  I recognize the slow, dragging feeling, the muscle aches, the heavy eyes, and sore feet.  I feel them, identify them, and slow down.  I’ve learned that ignoring those signs means paying the price in headaches, sore throats, fevers, and colds.  Not worth the price.

I’m not as good at remembering the toll of emotional busyness.  I think of “emotional busyness” as periods of time when I’m experiencing a wild ride of high and low emotions, a time when I need to invest myself emotionally in events and people that seem to overlap and collide all at once.  That is exactly how life has looked lately.  Crushingly sad news followed by happy news.  A fun trip followed by a sad good-bye.  Scary news before a fun weekend.  And on and on.

You know what though?  I am thankful that I care enough about people to have developed some powerful emotional ties–bonds that require some big emotional investment.  That is something to celebrate.  I want to love and be loved.

Nonetheless, rest is required!

We took a serious Sabbath on Sunday.  Without apology, we announced our absence at an evening event–an outing that the whole family usually enjoys, and instead, we did some restful things.  We attended the morning worship service, changed into comfy clothes, and did nothing of importance!  The kids jumped in thousands of yellow leaves that blanket our yard.  We watched a movie.  Cory didn’t even turn on football until after the kids went to bed.  I did some tidying around the house and snuggled with the baby.  Easy, restful day.

The bad news is still real, but with it has come a lot of love–love from all directions.  The world is still a weird place, and the future is big and open and kind of scary sometimes.  BUT…I know…

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.  Psalm 62:5

January to February: Resolution or Revolution?

Several years ago, I heard a psychologist on the radio suggest that instead of trying to jump-start a New Year’s resolution or major life change on January 1st–right in the midst of the hustle of the holiday season–why not use January as a month for reflection and planning so that FEBRUARY can be the month for a new start?  I liked that suggestion.

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I came into the month of January with a lot of ideas about the goals I would set for 2013.  I already knew that I would work on focus.  I knew that I needed deliberate practice in being mentally present in my day-to-day life.  Maybe you are like me.  I do a lot of daydreaming, a lot of planning for the future.  I can get stuck in a week’s worth of daydreams just because I found a hypothetical something that tickled my imagination.  I am easily distracted from NOW because I’m thinking about later.  Partly, I think I’m like this because I’ve been a student from the time I was four until I left my PhD program about a month before my thirty-first birthday (more about that here).  As a student, especially a graduate student, you are kind of living for the future.  There is always a goal to reach, a step to take, an accomplishment to check off the list.  All of these things hold the promise of something better later.  Graduate school is a great exercise in delayed gratification.  You live like a pauper hoping that someday you won’t have to!

I digress.  (Ironic!)

So in the midst of planning to focus, I started planning a lot of other goals.  I was going to commit to keeping a journal, and then I decided that I needed two journals–one for practical matters and one for fun, artistic stuff.  Then I decided that I also would need a prayer journal.  So much for being focused, huh?  I set some goals about organizing my home.  I set a goal about money management and keeping my e-mail inbox clean.  I set exercising goals and made a plan to read more, take more pictures, and be in more pictures.  Sigh.  I’m really bad at being focused.

Then, right at the end of the month, everything became clear in a three part mini act of God.  First, one of my favorite blogs featured a post that looked a little like mine.  A sweet, godly mom was reflecting on how she had been in survival mode rather than growing in her faith journey.  I quickly wrote to defend her, but I realized that I am doing the same thing, and in writing to support her, I was sort of telling myself that “I’m okay” when maybe I am not.  Secondly, my husband realized that we had drifted pretty far in our financial giving to others and to our church.  In the past, we have seen how much we are blessed by giving, and we want to be generous even in our own struggles.  Very hard, and we totally fail…often.  It was not some sort of legalistic You-Must-Give-Everything-You-Own-Or Else moment; rather it was just a self-assessment of where we once were compared to where we are now.  I, too, had felt that we’ve been living for us instead of truly living for others as we’ve been called to do.  I began to reconsider my New Year’s resolutions at that point.

At the start of the final week of January, I volunteered to teach our Sunday School class on February 3rd.  The people in the class take turns leading it, and I was just in the mood to take a Sunday.  During the service, I decided to sneak a look at the passage that I would be teaching:  Hebrews 5.  Ugh.  That’s a tough one.  And here is where my attention was truly grabbed:

12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Hebrews 5:12-14

While I’m busy caring for kids, tending to a home, messing around on Facebook, folding laundry and neglecting to put it away, driving to and fro, glancing longingly at other people’s lives on cute blogs, reading this and that, sweeping up endless amounts of dry cereal, and doing more laundry, I’m not always growing in the ways that are important–to me or to God.  I am not complaining about my current season of life at all.  I actually love this time in my life with all its messes and demands.  I wouldn’t trade all the cereal for even the biggest paycheck.  Nonetheless, I’ve been in a funk, and I knew I wanted to stop moving through this comfortable but very safe life and instead feel what it is like to have nothing holding me up but God’s will.  Does that make sense?

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I used to be on a major spiritual growth spurt.  During college, I was on fire!  I was reading my Bible and building a healthy prayer life.  It was a great time.  But it was also a time of personal struggle for a lot of reasons, and those dark moments fueled my hunger for God.  I wanted to feel Him and know Him better.  I guess I got too comfy in recent years because the hunger has changed.  I still long for God’s presence and His care, but I seem to want to meet that need in ways that don’t require my work or my time.  Hmmm…not good.  I’ve had “the milk” many times over, but I have to wonder: am I ready for the solid food?  Am I going to just remain satisfied to sip at the sweet but simple parts of the gospel or chomp on the hard stuff?  The real question though: am I going to live it or just think about it.  Some more.  Again.

If you made it to the end of this very long post, here is the conclusion that I’ve reached:

I can set a New Year’s resolution.  It would fine if I worked on the goal to keep my laundry washed and my bedroom floor clear of clutter.  Those are good things.  It would be okay to commit to exercising five days per week or eating more veggies.  But I decided that I don’t need another resolution.  I need a revolution.  I apologize for the corny play on words, but maybe it will stick in your head the way it has in mine.  I need to turn back to the things that matter beyond my day-to-day.  It does begin with focus as I said in the beginning, and the follow-through is a big dose of study and prayer, two things that have moved to the periphery as I unconsciously decided that my house and homeschooling and money (or lack of it) and many other things were more important.

I have no idea if this blog matters in big ways or even small ones, but since it is an extension of me, Warm as Pie is going to change, too.  If you’ve been here before, I’m sure you noticed the new look.  The menu across the top has an addition that I hope you will explore, and the “About” section has been updated as well.  I’ve added a few things to the “Places I Love” page, too.  Each month, I’ll be highlighting different blogs, websites, and even family interviews.  I cannot wait to introduce you to my first family!  But if you’re not really a fan of change, don’t worry.  Most of my blog content will be pretty much the same.  Just me thinking about stuff, taking pictures, and sweeping cereal.

Convicted, yet Uplifted

One week ago, I heard a sermon that left me thinking…and thinking.  The sermon itself had many points that continued to poke at me as the rest of the week passed, but a brief comment exchanged between me and the pastor as I left the sanctuary and we shared the customary hand shake pulled together the illustrations and theme into a clear take-away message for me.  I thanked the pastor for his sermon, and I told him that it was “both convicting and uplifting.”  He replied, “What’s one without the other?” and he thanked me for my feedback.  I could not get that idea out of my head.  As I drove home alone (The kids were under the weather last Sunday, so Daddy stayed home with them.), the idea of conviction as a source of being uplifted rolled around in my mind.  Here are some of my thoughts.

:: If we didn’t feel or know God’s conviction of our failures (our sin), we would wallow there.  We would live rather casually in our own filth, unaware of our stench.  We would never be more; we would never grow.  We might feel something was off, but I don’t think we would care very much without the discomfort of conviction.

:: When we are convicted, we are in a really fertile spot.  We can accept the sting of conviction–and with God’s grace–let that sting be a sort of growing pain.  We can be lifted from a dirty, mucky place and reach skyward–a growth spurt that we would never have taken if we hadn’t known that we were stagnant and broken.

:: If God didn’t promise to lift us but merely pointed an angry finger at us and shot us to the ground, His conviction would not be fruitful.  Being the sovereign God of all, his conviction would be just and right, but it would produce only punishment.  Conviction without grace is like stamping on new plant’s first shoots every time they break through soil.  God doesn’t OWE us His grace; He could stomp all He wanted and leave no room for growth, but fortunately, God is a loving, compassionate father, and His conviction comes with an unimaginable dose of mercy and the promise of help to be more than our sinful little selves.

:: In our judicial system, we convict criminals.  A conviction is an official declaration of guilt.  In theory, a conviction and a sentence to prison or service carries the possibility of rehabilitation.  In the best of situations, a conviction is a chance to turn a wrong to right, a crooked path to a straight one.  That happens sometimes.  Unfortunately, the system is endlessly flawed with potentially unjust convictions and other complicated factors that work together to create a culture of anger, bitterness, mistrust, and entitlement inside the prison walls.  Rehabilitation seems like a very unlikely result.  It’s imperfect, but even this literal, judicial conviction pauses the cycle of crime and potentially reverses it.  How much better, then, is God’s conviction of us in His perfect justice, mercy, and grace?

:: The opposite is worth considering as well.  What does it mean to be uplifted without having been convicted?  We could believe that Jesus came and died on the cross simply as a nice thing to do.  We could even recognize the beauty of his selfless act.  But Christ’s act isn’t redemptive if we weren’t in sin to begin with.  The story of Jesus would only be drama–just a bunch of fireworks, and the sense of peace and hope that believers possess would be empty.  Faith would have no power because the source of our faith would all be show.  We cannot truly be uplifted if we were never guilty.  The “lifting” is also meaningless if we are guilty but never convicted of that guilt.  We can’t have all the joy of the faith if we don’t want to look at our sin.  We would be raised from where?  If we don’t know that God’s love is unmerited, we can’t understand that we need His salvation and are powerless on our own.

::  And here is where I’ve been all week:  I can lift my children up by praising their every little act, word, or creation.  I can let them live in a big puddle of empty praise that does nothing to help them better themselves.  In time, when the world shows them their faults and they realize that they cannot be the champion in every race, they will distrust me and fall embarrassingly into a heap of humiliation.  I can also convict my children of their mistakes.  I can shout at them for leaving their toys all over the place, dropping one shoe at the door and the other under the couch, hitting a sibling in the heat of a disagreement, and forgetting their manners at the table.  I can issue a punishment for their disobedience, send them to their room for talking back or lying or neglecting a chore.  But if I only convict and never teach, I leave my children in a place from which they can never rise.  They must know their failures but see the opportunity to rise.  That will only happen if I extend them grace, teach them what to do instead of yelling what not to do, and welcome them into a place where it is safe to fall and to stand again.  I will aim for that balance, all the while giving thanks that God has the equation just right as He parents me.

When I think about this “convicting versus uplifting” dichotomy, I realize that the pastor was quite right.  One is nothing without the other.  A conviction is an end.  A sense of being uplifted is just an elevator ride.  When in balance, conviction is discipleship–the learning, the awareness, the launch pad for salvation.

(Note: The actual sermon focused upon Luke 20: 19-26.  Jesus tells his listeners to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and render to God what is God’s.  The sermon asked us to consider what is truly God’s (everything!) and what we fail to give Him.  It pushed us to examine ourselves for the sin that lingers in us and to rejoice that we can be set free from those sins by Christ who pays our debt and covers our shortcomings.)

Blogging for Peace: I Would Never Have Thought

When I re-started this blog almost three years ago (September 22), I never imagined what it would become for me.  And I didn’t realize–until these last few months–how much I would miss it when life took me away for awhile.  I would never have thought that blogging was so closely linked to my faith walk, but as the summer months pulled me away from the blog and out into the sunshine/pool/car/park/kitchen/zoo/lake/mall/library, I realized that my blog has become a gratitude journal of sorts, a place to stand before God and thank Him–with my words and my photographs–for the beautiful world and beautiful life that he has given me.  The blog gives me a chance to pause and reflect.  It puts perspective on the daily trials and helps me to realize that broken sleep and a messy kitchen should never take away my joy.  Even real, deep tragedy like a profound illness, unemployment, injury, poverty, and death do not have to be the end of joy when your joy comes from God.  This little spot on the internet gives me a chance to remember those things.

And so…I’m now blogging for peace.  To my own surprise, I’ve found that I  need this space, this chance to be myself, stretch my creativity a bit, and ponder the goodness of life, in order to have peace in my mind and spirit.  I had been forgetting to make time for such things, and the truth was revealed in my shortening patience, my negative “self-talk,” my discouragement, and a general sense of being down.  Time to get back on track!

Time for joy to take over.

So Much to Say About Being a Mom

(Giveaway Tuesday!!!!  Can’t wait to share the new MOPS book with you.)

In honor of Mothers’ Day and in celebration of the birth of my nephew, Miles, I am kicking off a blog series about motherhood.

Today is Mothers’ Day, and I’m filled with many emotions.  I miss my mom a lot.  Every single day.  I miss seeing my mom-in-law, too.  And my Grandma.  But I’m also grateful to celebrate my own motherhood next to the little snuggle bugs who made me “Mommy.”  This photograph was taken on the day that I first gained that oh-so-special title.

At the moment when I first held my new baby boy, I knew the “why” of my existence.  I felt certain that I had found the work for which I was made.  This arena is where I’m best equipped to impact the world and bring God joy.  It’s also the place where mistakes have a mighty sting and emotions can become painfully intertwined in the practical steps of daily life.  But the rewards are too great to articulate, too sacred to fully grasp.