There Are Stars in the Southern Sky

It was just a few short weeks ago, but it feels a lifetime. Hero Hubs and I were sitting outside with the lights off, half a world away with the sounds of the African night all around us. For days, we’d been watching a small family of bats that was nesting in a little space between the doorframe and the door nearby, and at dusk they’d come out to begin their nightly ritual of swooping through the air above our patio.

As the bats collected their meal, a few insects at a time, the hubs and I talked. We stilled, hushed and listened to the birds and the sounds and the low murmur of television sets and other human life in the cottages nearby. The incredible gift of echolocation amazed us and we watched how quickly the bats changed course: their flight might be aiming straight at our heads, then they’d adjust direction within inches of our ears and we’d hear a gentle swoop as they passed.

It was one of those irresistibly special moments where I thought to myself, “I wonder… could anyone else in the world being doing exactly this thing at this moment?”

I was delighted by the experience, grateful we were outside thinking and talking and looking up and not inside staring at screens. And while the idea of a few bats whirring past my ears made me a bit nervous, I just decided… I am not going to be afraid. I’m going to live this experience, this moment.

There are stars in the southern sky.

And I can honestly say I’ve never seen stars like I’ve seen them from the southern hemisphere on a clear night, near the bushveld and far away from bright lights and city pollution. It’s become a ritual on every journey back to SA. We always find at least one night, and we look up at the sky together, sit quiet and talk. We talk about our lives, what we are hoping for or preparing for in the season ahead. And this time we talked a lot about my Dad-in-law’s (I prefer Dad-in-love’s) health. We were startled by how fragile and weak and declining he seemed when we arrived back in SA.

Three weeks. It was a precious and good time making new memories with family. We were also privileged in our visits into Kruger National Park. Blessed to see animals and sights we’d never seen before in the previous ten years of game viewing together. Lions mating, wild dogs with pups, a hippo having an argument with a crocodile, and back at our cottage, several gorgeous species of kingfishers fishing right off the porch where we were staying. We watched yellow weavers making nests in an acacia tree overhead, listened as they chittered feisty arguments about who would get which branch, marveled as they clipped away at last year’s nests and let all that hard work drop into the pond below to make space for new nests.

It was as if the very voice of God was whispering to my soul with every sight, with every sound, with every blessed moment… I’m with you and I love you.

I was grateful for that whisper — I just didn’t know yet how much I needed it.

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We spent our last few days in Bloemfontein, soaking in the last few moments with Mom and Dad before we’d be half a world away again. On one of our last nights, Dad had a roll of toilet paper by his chair, which he decided to pass to sweet baby Catriana (now ten months old) to see what she might decide to do with it. She rolled it out and began tearing strips into shreds, and I watched her enjoying her new toy, but I really took in Dad just enjoying her. There was a beautifully bright gleam in his eyes.

At the end of those three weeks, we said a really hard, really sad goodbye. Living far away is just hard. Really hard. For the last four years, every goodbye has been a scary could-this-be-the-last-one goodbye.

With Bloemfontein in our rear view mirror, we endured the treacherous five hour drive to ten hour flight to fourteen hour flight to five hour drive home. We arrived exhausted, and after a brief rest, jumped in to all the commitments on the calendar. Quiver Tree Academy (our homeschool) started up again, at least until everyone got knocked out by some unpleasant virus that came for a visit.

The news came just two days after our return, Dad was in the hospital. Day after day we did our best to keep going here, while waiting to hear news about Dad, doing poorly there.

Life is messy hard when you are mostly waiting but have to keep living.

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We’d only been home ten days when we heard the news.

I’ve had the privilege of calling two men Dad in my lifetime. And now my second Dad had breathed his last breath. That night, Hero Hubs drove to the airport to get on a plane the next morning, headed back to our beloved country again.

It has rained every day this week, and the stormy skies seem to reflect the sentiments in my own soul. Grief is a path that can take you in several directions, almost simultaneously. Angry and sad, grateful and glad for the memories, hurt and fearful when you consider the great separation between you and this person so dear to you… you can jump from one path to the next, one emotion to the next, in the blink of an eye.

You can be sitting still on the outside, but on the inside, your soul feels like it’s rocking in a tiny boat on tempestuous waves.

For days now, we’ve been mostly sad. I’m sad that it seemed best for the kids and me to stay here while HH traveled home to bury his father. We FaceTime, sad at this loss, sad at the separation.

It takes a while for me to remind myself that sad is often right, and appropriate, and it’s okay. Not every sentence needs to end with an exclamation point.

I think about what wise old Job said to his wife, when she was so bitter at all the sadness in their lives and said he ought to curse the heavens for all the broken parts of his life.

But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” {Job 2:10}

We came home to the leaves falling from the trees, the reminder that part of the renewing is in the letting go. The beloved dogwoods in my front yard will bloom again in the spring, but first leaves have to fall. This too is part of the process.

It can be awfully hard to lean into trusting that even though you’re not in control, somehow life can still be okay. It can be hard to sit still and trust the special gift God gave the bat to keep it from hitting you in the head. But a small kind of miracle can take place if you can let go.

New leaves will push through in the spring and life will be renewed. A tiny whoosh passes by and your ear canal catches it and tells your brain — that’s the sound of a tiny little bat who just changed direction mid-flight to avoid colliding with you. Rejoice in how amazing it is. Even if it’s also so simple.

The Dad our family will say goodbye to tomorrow was often a man of few words, but also a man who spoke up when it was time to speak. He was a man who made efforts to greet cashiers at the checkout in their native language, and even if the first three languages he tried didn’t work, he kept trying.

Sometimes the simple things are the most amazing.

I’m grateful we had three more weeks of memories so recently. I’m grateful Dad had 77 years of life. I marvel that he was just a few weeks shy of being married 50 years to the one and only love of his life.

Living out a promise faithfully for 50 years. Beaming in his last few days at the mischief of passing a roll of toilet paper to a baby just to see what she’ll do.

Sometimes the simple things are the most amazing.

There are stars in the southern sky.

And there are stars right where you are, too. And it’s amazing to think the light that you’re seeing often started its journey from those distant places before you were born. The very star you’re wishing on might’ve died years ago, but the light it let off is still on its journey in this direction.

Even though his journey wasn’t an easy one, Dad had a light in his eyes and goodness in his heart, and it’s a gift to think about how that light still shines, and will still shine in his absence.

Sometimes, the simple things are the most amazing.

xCC

What We Can All Learn From the Rio Olympians: the Danger of Trying to Do It All

Have you been staying up way too late following the Rio 2016 Olympics? I’ve mentioned before — the Hero Hubs was a competitive swimmer for many years so you can probably guess which sport is on lots lots at our house this week! Whether you’re a fan of the swimming (which can teach you a lot about learning to Swim Your Own Race!) or watching gymnastics, dressage, fencing or track and field, there is one stand-out lesson I’m confident any Olympian could teach all of us.

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Now in case you’re not familiar with my little family, let me give you a quick backstory to make sure this post all makes sense. We are a human party of six — two adults and four kids, and I think we’re going to stop here since that’s all the hands covered. My husband is a professional photographer, and I assist him at weddings, bridal portraits and engagement sessions, but he handles family sessions and commercial work solo.

While photography currently pays our bills (and I dream about the day writing will, too) it is also something we both really enjoy, especially because of those four aforementioned humans we are blessed to have in our care. They really do grow and change and learn something every day, and we really love capturing the journey.

The one challenge with being a pair of photographers is discovering that one of us is always not in the picture, because, you know, that one is behind the camera. We can occasionally try to set something up to get everyone in, but you try convincing a seven year old, a five year old, a three year old and a nine month old to all simultaneously look in the same direction, at a camera with nobody behind it AND smile. Then let me know how that works out for you.

So, we do occasionally employ the services of another photographer, so that, ya know, we can have a picture of all of us that we didn’t take with an iPhone we propped up against a rock somewhere.

And let me just mention one more time, I really love photos, and have been dreaming about having one really great family photo, now that we think all the humans are here, to hang in our home.

And this is where the story begins.

The Story About How I Try To Do Too Much

We made an appointment with a very talented photographer for a photo session for our family. It’s not unusual for me to give advice to other couples or families planning for a photo session, so I took some of my own advice and started thinking through how I wanted everyone dressed. And then a happy thought bubble emerged, and I asked the hubs if maybe I could pretty please get my makeup done for the session.

And I pondered clothes and stressed clothes and everything that seemed to match among the children somebody had already drizzled olive oil on or something.

So I managed to scoot away with the baby and the oldest along to help for a wee shopping trip for the first time in maybe … two years or so… and I found some options for the session and it went way more smoothly than I expected and I was so thankful I was in tears on the way home. But I basically had something for me to wear at that point. And the hubs was covered. Thanks, Amazon.

The day of the session was postponed thanks to weather, and in the meantime I asked the hubs at some point when I didn’t think he was paying attention and would say yes if maybe I could also just get the girls at the salon to quickly dress my hair up after makeup.

The new session day arrived and I couldn’t find clothes that really matched nicely so I asked my Mom for help and ran out to shop again and found a dress for the Belle which meant this shirt would look best for this boy and that shirt for that boy, but by now I’d bought a lot of stuff, but everyone was going to match and maybe that was okay because I just about never buy clothes for my kids because my Mom always does, and we are blessed with lots of handmedowns.

I scurried home with the treasure and took off again not long after for hair and makeup which took longer than expected — how I didn’t expect that when I’m a wedding photographer and hair and makeup often take a good wee while, I don’t know — and there wasn’t time for me to fetch pizza I was supposed to grab on the way home, so a frozen one came out quickly instead and we rushed and shoved pizza into small faces and wiped those faces and shoved them into the clothes and I fed the baby and scurried her into her outfit and everybody was rushrushrushed and when we finally got into the car just about on time, I was like… holy cow that was nuts.

During Operation Awesome Photo Session, I wasn’t the nicest Mommy, nor was I the most helpful wife. We didn’t have a major fiasco and I’m sure the photos will be great because our friend Dana catches lightning in a jar on a regular basis. But, I kind of got absorbed in OAPS at the expense of — well — the people who were going to be in the pictures, who are, ironically, the reason the pictures matter. It’s really the people.

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The Trouble With Doing Too Much

The thing about doing too much is, yes, maybe you can get it all done — but will it get done well? I’m grateful to say most of our days are not like that day, where the pace was too quick and the hurry started to hurt.

There are hundreds of thousands of options for our every day lives — so many things we can do — but if you try to do the metaphorical hair and the makeup and the clothes and and and (give some thought to what those might symbolize for you), you might not do anything really well.

Jane Austen describes her lovable and fallible character, Emma, like this:

She had always wanted to do every thing, and had made more progress both in drawing and music than many might have done with so little labour as she would ever submit to. She played and sang;—and drew in almost every style; but steadiness had always been wanting; and in nothing had she approached the degree of excellence which she would have been glad to command, and ought not to have failed of. {Emma, Jane Austen}

Austen highlights the fact that Emma had the talent, ability and resources to be excellent in many things, but she didn’t approach excellence in any thing because she wouldn’t faithfully submit to persevering in one thing — she lacked perseverance, and chose rather to do a little of everything instead.

Unfortunately, we often drag our children (and/or ourselves) into trying this sport and that sport and this instrument and that club and this activity. Our calendars fill, and we might feel like we’re doing well to give our lives so many options and entertainments and interests. But we have to keep the balance in check. Here’s the thing.

Any of the Olympians you might be watching in Rio right now will tell you — they didn’t get there by doing everything. In the history of the Olympics, no one has ever medaled in everything. I did a little research and couldn’t find athletes who ever medaled in three sports or more. There are some who’ve medaled in two sports, but the sports are usually complementary — like swimming and water polo, or Nordic Combined and Cross Country Skiing — or they take place in different seasons — one is a Summer Olympics sport, the other, winter.

Most often, an athlete at the Olympics got there by doing one thing, and working at doing that one thing continuously, faithfully, with perseverance and grit.

I will not excel at every thing. My kids will not excel at every thing, but they could be great at some thing if I could help them learn the discipline of perseverance (which I’m most certainly still learning myself!)

And I have a deep desire to parent my children well and a lot of the most important moments we’ve ever had — the most meaningful conversations and memories have happened in the margins. Those passing moments when a thought pops into their heads and they ask a great question. Or the moments when we have time to open the Children’s Bible as the last kid is finishing their dinner, because we’re not rushing off to something else.

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How Not to Do It All

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

If you’re not sure what those main things are in your life that need to be the non-negotiable parts that take center stage, I have two simple encouragements for you.

First, press into Jesus. Choose to let the God of the universe direct the course of your life. His plans for it are good! Read His Word and think about how it applies to your life.

The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9

Second, pray lots and often. Don’t beat yourself if this doesn’t look how you want — this might not be the season for an hour in the garden before sunrise. Pray when you can — in the car, in between this and that — just let the conversation keep going.

Ask for help to discern which things are the things you ought to commit yourself and/or your children to, and which things are just fluff on the calendar that is going to make life really hard for you. Maybe your kids will be a little bit disappointed that they can’t do all the things they want to do — but remember, number those days — and you’ll know that you only have so many before those precious people are out the door and on their way.

Teachers, instructors, and sports coaches can be amazingly wonderful influences on our kids, but they are no substitute for us spending quality one-on-one time loving each child and training him or her up in the way they should go.

Third, get practical. Start writing down which things are the main things, the non-negotiables, for you and your kids. Train your calendar to submit to the goals that you have for your kids and yourself.

I’m confident you care more about the character and integrity of your soul, and about the character and integrity your kids will have when they leave your home, than you care about a corner kick or mastery of the scales. Your will have to work to make your calendar submit to your primary goals. No can be hard, but sometimes yes ends up being much harder.

If you need it, These Two Resources might help you figure out what your primary goals are. But the surest way not to reach your goals is not to set them.

Slow down and enjoy life today friends. Love the people that matter most to you, and remember that every yes is also a no. And every no is also a yes.

What do you want most to say yes to? I’d love for you to share goals, or resources that have helped you figure them out, in the comments!

xCC

Two Great Resources for Figuring Out What to Do With Your Life

In my most recent couple of posts, I’ve shared a bit about the wisdom that comes from numbering your days, and about Four Ways To Hear from God once you’ve numbered those days and then want to start figuring out what the heck to do with them. I hope you’ve been encouraged by these posts, because truly friends, this is what we have. These are the days and we don’t know how many we’ll get! It’s scary deep that simple old saying:

If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.

Along with numbering our days and digging deeper into the heart of God to find the things He created us to do, I want to make the most of this opportunity (while I might have you thinking these deep thoughts) to share a couple of practical resources with you. These have impacted me in a significant way, in helping me recognize both the limitations of my time on Earth, and the possibilities.

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Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us… {Hebrews 12:1}

Perhaps it goes without saying, but let me still say it: any other practical resource is no substitution for running after the heart of God and asking Him to lead you personally toward the destiny He has for you. With that being said, I believe there is a place for practical resources, like books that can help us think these things through and better understand deep and important concepts about the race we’re running. Even though C.S. Lewis (for example) died before I was born, he still remains a part of the Great Cloud of Witnesses that has formed and informed my faith, and ultimately drawn me closer to Jesus.

Simply put, the pen is mightier than the sword… and I am mighty grateful for it!

I’ll just mention a couple of favorite books in this post, but I’m sure more will follow in the days ahead. First…

Leading on Empty by Wayne Cordeiro

I hope you’ll answer no to this question, but have you ever arrived at a season in your life where you felt like you were completely spent in every way possible, and if something didn’t give, you weren’t going to be able to survive another day? Well, years ago, Wayne Cordeiro hit that wall and just kept on running… for quite a while. He eventually found himself on a curb weeping uncontrollably when he’d gone out for a jog before a speaking engagement. His journey through complete burn out and full-on depression, which he describes as a “three-year odyssey” changed his understanding of life, his core values, his goals and even his understanding of his calling.

In Leading on Empty, Cordeiro recounts this journey, with illustrations (you know I love my word-picture analogies) that have stuck with me since when I first read it six or seven years ago. The most important insight I gained from this book was the ability to look at the balls that I’ll juggle over the course of my lifetime, and to recognize which ones will bounce if I drop them, and which ones will break. As a daughter or a wife, a mother and a Christian, there are roles that only you can fill, positions that only you can hold. It is essential for you to understand which roles those are.

My thoughts? Learning to recognize what’s breakable is perhaps THE MOST important part of the process of numbering your days and gaining understanding about what on earth you’re here for.

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Living Forward by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy

If you want someone to tell you exactly how to start figuring out your primary goals, how to “triage” the different dreams and responsibilities you have for your life, and what to do once you think you’ve got those priorities figured out, this book is FOR YOU. I think this is the most practical, step by step approach to “Life Planning” I have ever read or even heard of. This quote sums up why I was challenged to take the concept of Life Planning seriously:

Most people spend more time planning a one-week vacation than identifying the outcomes they want to see in the major areas of their lives. Is it any surprise when life doesn’t turn out the way we want? {Hyatt and Harkavy, Living Forward}

What kind of parent do you want to be? What kind of co-worker or boss? What kind of husband or wife? What practical goals can you set to make sure you’re moving in the right direction? Living Forward is full of VERY practical wisdom to help you systematically plan how to achieve the goals you might set for yourself in every role in life you choose to take on.

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My thoughts? You are MUCH more likely to achieve your goals — no matter what category of life they fall into — if you have a plan in place to help you take practical steps toward crossing those finish lines. 

Another favorite quote I’ve mentioned here before, from Michael Hyatt, is that “A goal without a date is a dream.” If you are not taking any steps toward turning your goals into reality, they are truly just dreams. If you’re okay with that, then okay — but if you want to do something about it, this book will help you figure what that something out to be.

I have followed Michael Hyatt and been grateful for his practical, instructional guidance for a long time now, and when he advertised that he and Daniel Harkavy were looking for a group of folks to preview Living Forward, join the Launch Team and give feedback on their personal experience with the book, I jumped at the opportunity to grab a free copy and dig in. I was not disappointed.

What It All Boils Down To

There are probably thousands of books on the shelves that offer to help you figure out where the heck you want to go and how you’re going to get there. What Color Is Your Parachute? has sold some ten million copies and has a 2017 version coming out this month. The Purpose Driven Life has been translated into 85 languages and named the “bestselling non-fiction hardback book” in history.

We all struggle to decide what to do with our lives at one point or another — don’t be afraid to look for help, because that is an excellent way to take a step toward figuring things out.

If you read the stats on career changes, it seems people are struggling more than ever to find the things that make them come alive, and to focus in on what’s most important (which by necessity means choosing to say “this, that and the other are NOT as important.”)

Keep counting your days and giving thanks, and seeking a heart of wisdom from Jesus. But don’t be afraid to employ additional resources to help you figure out how to get to the places you believe God wants you to be.

I’d like to share (from personal experience) a bit about the danger of trying to do it all soon.

In the meantime, keep asking, praying and planning! I’d love to hear from you — do you have any questions about what I’ve shared above, or have you read a book that has helped form your future? Please join this conversation in the comments!

xCC

When You Realize You’re Mortal, What Next? Four Ways to Hear from God

It’s 8:45 and the boys are outside playing and one little girl is begging for a tea party and I’m sweeping a combination of Cheerios, sunflower seeds, and a whole lot of dirt into a dustpan. The light is streaming in from the window outside at just such an angle that my kitchen floor is really showing me what’s on it.

It’s only at a certain time of day, during certain times of the year, that the light comes in just right and illuminates this floor to show me just how often I ought to be pulling out the broom.

If I waited only for moments of illumination to get it done… my goodness, what a mess we’d be walking through.

If you read the post I shared last week, you might be giving some thought to numbering your days to gain a heart of wisdom, knowing that Being Mortal means you have a finite amount of time to achieve your goals on this Earth.

But sometimes that kind of realization can be an “Okay, well now what?” sort of moment. You realize the hourglass is on the table and the sand is pouring — so what are you gonna do about it?

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Years ago, I was praying about whether this crazy tug on my heartstrings to move to Scotland and help start a church there was a figment of my imagination or the actual voice of the Lord saying, “This is the way, walk in it…”

I sat across the desk from a pastor I deeply respected and asked for his advice about hearing from God. He gave me a word-picture illustration (obviously the perfect way to explain something to me with my love for words and visual analogies) of a series of lights lining up in a harbor to indicate safe passage to a vessel wanting to navigate their way through. He spoke to me very clearly about four unique ways we often hear from God, and said that in his own life he often looks for these things to line up to get a good sense of the Lord’s leading.

I’ve thought lots and often, and even studied a little further, on those leading lights that vessels will look for to help them navigate shallow waters or dangerous channels. In the years since that conversation, instead of waiting for the light to shine through the window onto the kitchen floor of my soul, these guide-markers have served as ways that I could press into God, with all my heart and all my mind — in hopes of hearing His voice to do His will.

First, the Good Word

God will never lead you to do something that contradicts His Word. It would be a contradiction of His very nature — since the Word of God is something He so clearly spoke into existence with the idea that no matter which way the world might tug us, we could learn His heart and hear His voice in the gift of the Bible.

Don’t cross it off as a fad for bracelets only appropriate in the 90s — What Would Jesus Do is still a valid question for 2016. What can you learn about the heart of God by reading about how Jesus interacted with the world He lived in? What wisdom can you gain from pouring over the Proverbs and considering how they apply to your life right now? What can the honest hearts and passionate worship of the Psalmists inspire you to step into? Paul Harvey can’t tell you the rest of this story — you will have to dig into the Word for yourself to find it.

Next, the Holy Spirit and Prayer

Jesus put it this way: “My sheep know me, and they hear my voice.” Sometimes there’s a whisper that you don’t hear with your ears — you hear it with your heart, with your soul, and you somehow recognize that it’s not your own voice, the one you hear in your mind when you’re reasoning things out for yourself, but it’s a very good voice. And sometimes that voice tells you to do things that scare the mess out of you and require all kinds of courage. It calls you to love fearlessly. It calls you to reach forward when you want to draw back, or to hush when you want to shout. And it leads you toward a greater sense of purpose, often a sense of hope that you can when your own mind says you can’t.

That voice — the voice of the Holy Spirit — is a gift to the believer. This mysterious and glorious third person in the Trinity will lead you on the adventure of a lifetime if you’re willing to hear Him. And sometimes, it’s the voice of the Holy Spirit that you sense in your heart when you just “know in your knower” that you should go this way, even when you want to go that way. He will not lead you on paths that contradict the Word of the Lord. He’ll whisper conviction when you choose not to tell the truth. He’ll whisper hope when your heart has nothing but doubt. He’ll always whisper words from the heart of the Father — He cannot do otherwise.

Talk to God, be as honest as you can be, and don’t be afraid to just sit tight and quiet, listen and wait. Give thanks and remember His goodness — in your heart and with your words. Let your soul get still enough for the world to fade away in the light of His glory and grace.

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Third, the Counsel of Godly Believers

Christianity is a team sport, and the great cloud of witnesses who’ve gone before you are like teammates and in many ways like coaches for the journey. Just like the pastor who encouraged me to get alone with the Lord and study and pray and listen for His leading, there are times when each of us need another brother or sister to look at our lives and tell us what they see. You cannot hold the counsel of other believers above the Word of God or the deep sense of conviction you might sense from the Holy Spirit. If there is contradiction here, choose God’s Word. If the lights don’t line up, be patient and wait.

But don’t discount the wisdom of those who are wiser and who’ve walked the road you’re walking already. Seek out the guidance and advice of mature believers you respect. If you want a marriage that honors God, look for a couple you see whose marriage you’d like to observe. Ask how you can serve them and take every opportunity to ask good questions. If you’re thinking about stepping onto the mission field, speak to someone who already has. Ask what they wish they’d known starting out, or how the Lord confirmed His will to them.

We overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the words of our testimonies. We encourage each other to keep running the race with our eyes fixed on Jesus. Jesus is behind us, before us and runs alongside us in this race, and our fellow believers can teach us more about Him by sharing about what He’s done in their lives. If anyone says fix your eyes on anyone but Jesus — look for a new mentor.

Last, The Present Circumstances

While we want our hearts to dwell with God in heavenly places, our feet are still firmly planted on planet Earth right now. That means that our circumstances can also be an indicator of God’s will. God can change our circumstances to make anything possible. And He can lead us in ways that will help to change our circumstances, too. But sometimes, He chooses not to change our circumstances, and instead our circumstances are one of the ways He can “set the boundary lines for us in pleasant places.” This often requires trust and wisdom on our part.

Now that I’ve explained those four leading lights, let’s put all this into practice as an illustration.

A Plane Ticket to China — Good Plan, right?

Why am I not buying a plane ticket to answer a call to minister in China today, even though I love the Chinese people, have a desire to see that nation love God, and have even studied Mandarin a little? First, I’ve been reading my Bible, and while I do see God’s heart for the nations throughout Scripture, I do not have a sense that He is specifically drawing me to places in His Word to step out and move to China. So I don’t have a sense that that first light lines up. Is His Word leading me there? Not today.

Second, He has been speaking to me about faithfulness this year — and I’ve constantly sensed the Holy Spirit saying “be faithful, where you are with what you’ve been given.” This leads me to believe God’s calling me to faithfully serve Him where I am, instead of jumping on a plane to go somewhere else. What’s the Holy Spirit’s whisper? Stay put right here.

Third, no one I respect or admire as a Godly believer, in fact no one at all, has suggested I buy a plane ticket and head to China. I imagine if I sat down with my pastor and said, “I want to buy a plane ticket to China to go minister there today,” he’d have a confused look on his face and discuss all the things I’m involved in (like parenting four children) right where I am, and he would NOT say “You’ve got my blessing for the journey!”

Last, nothing in my circumstances leads me to believe this is the will of God. My husband would not be in agreement with it. We are in no way prepared to pack up our house and lives to move to another country today. Financially, we would have a lot to figure out in terms of finding people to support this mission. And yes, money can be an indication of the will of God. He does make provision for the journeys He ordains.

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While this might seem like a bit of a silly illustration, I hope you understand the meaning behind it. God is good enough to clarify and verify His will for us in many ways. If you’re choosing between peanut butter and jelly and ham and cheese, you probably don’t need to stress whether the leading lights are lining up too much — but if you’re thinking about which college, which church, which job, or a plane ticket to China, it’s a great idea to actively pursue God’s heart through studying His word, talking to Him in prayer, seeking out counsel from other believers, and even taking your present circumstances into consideration.

When it comes to figuring out what to do with this one wonderful rare and precious life you’ve been given, these four areas are a great place to start. In my next post, I’d love to share some specific resources with you that have been great for me as I’ve looked at figuring out how to wisely use my time for the journey to faithfully serving God with the life He’s given me.

It is SO good to hold things up to God’s light and ask Him to illuminate the path for you. Don’t wait for a sudden burst of illumination to tell you which way to go. You’ll probably be wandering aimlessly, and you won’t have a clean kitchen floor. 

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) … and the best way to figure out what those good works are God created us to do is to ask Him.

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On Being Mortal and Living Well

You know what’s not really a fun topic of conversation? Death. That’s probably at the top of the uncomfortable discussions list, right?

But, you know what’s really an important topic of conversation? Death. Sometimes it belongs at the top of the list of conversations that need to happen.

At the recommendation of my awesome sister (who is part of the team launching this great website – check out some of her great workouts here!) I recently read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. In it, Gawande discusses the differences between the ways that humans spent their final years, weeks and hours a hundred years ago, with how we spend them today in western society. He also contrasts the methods of care most prevalent for the elderly in the United States at present with alternative options and the types of care the elderly (including his own grandparents) were/are likely to receive in his parents’ homeland, India.

In the book, Gawande describes the way his grandfather was treated in the last few decades of his life. He lived well past 100 and was cared for by his extended family in a way that allowed him to continue to live the life he loved until his death.

“He was surrounded and supported by family at all times, and he was revered—not in spite of his age but because of it. He was consulted on all important matters—marriages, land disputes, business decisions—and occupied a place of high honor in the family. When we ate, we served him first.” {Atul Gawande, Being Mortal}

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I think I stopped reading for a moment at this point, just to ponder how radically different care for the aging — and respect for the aging — is today. The elderly seem more often the target of jokes than the recipients of respect in our society.

An important part of the premise of Being Mortal is that as modern medicine has advanced, we have become less able to come to terms with death, even when it’s knocking on the door. And, clearly related to this is that fact that today we’re more likely to “overact” to attempt to fight and stave off death with medical acts of heroism, which might actually do more harm than good. But our “overacting” can actually hasten death, completely change the experience of a person’s last days on earth, and reduce the time a person has to gain closure with loved ones and find a sense of peace before they pass on.

While Gawande isn’t writing from a Christian perspective, he is writing with the idea that there are greater and lesser ways for a person to spend their final years, and their final days on Earth.

So. Death. Is this something Christians ought to spend time thinking about?

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

As Gawande interwove his research with the stories of a few lives and deaths he’d encountered personally and professionally, I began to see emerging three important questions we would all do well to consider when it comes to numbering our days:

  1. How do my loved ones want to be cared for as they age?
  2. How do I want to be cared for, especially if there are circumstances which mean I might not be able to communicate my wishes?
  3. What am I going to do with the days I have between now and then?

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I decided to do a little math (ya know, just for fun) and see how many days I might have left… and laugh at me because you know I’m a homeschooling parent, I made a funny little error. I was feeling generous and first said, “Okay, let’s say I live to be 85,” and without thinking I multiplied 85 by 365. That would give me 31,025 days right? Except I forgot to subtract the nearly 35 years I’ve already lived. Once I subtracted those 35 years and gave myself the 50, I realized I only have 18,250 left. That kind of seemed like a lot… but then, after looking at that grand total of 31 thousand something… it kind of didn’t.

In the most literal sense, taking a moment to “number our days” and think about how many days we might have left can really bring into perspective the idea that we aren’t going to live forever, and if we want to do something more than just trundle along and let life happen, we probably need to get our heads in the game and start making some decisions.

Michael Hyatt recently challenged my heart (or maybe even called my bluff?) by saying:

A goal without a date is a dream.

What he meant by that was that if you have ideas in your head of things you want to accomplish, but you’re not taking the time to make the necessary plans to see those goals accomplished, you’re really just dreaming. If you’re okay with having dreams but not putting your feet on the floor to see them happen, well, that’s fine — but don’t be surprised if life doesn’t hand you your dream and ask if you want fries with that next week.

I’m really grateful that I’m not the first Mom ever to have more than a kid or two. And about three years (and I think two kids) ago, I was visiting a friend of mine who had five kids at the time. She was a little further down the road than me in the homeschooling journey, and she was definitely further down the road in the parenting journey, and since I have more admiration and respect for her than you could fit in a backpack, I was busy making mental notes throughout our bit of time together.

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As I watched her gently balancing a baby, an upset toddler moment or two, a few things that needed to be put away, and the little pile of this and that that had been swept but not delivered to the rubbish bin yet, this one sentence stuck out above everything else as something I felt I needed to write down and remember:

We can basically only do one thing a day.

What she meant by that was that with her five kids in tow, they weren’t going to be going to the library and the pool and stopping by Grandma’s and running to the grocery store. If they went to the library, that was probably the only adventure for that day. If they went to church on Sunday, they’d probably be home afterwards for the rest of the day, or just be out and about in their own neighborhood.

I thought long and hard about those words, and as two kids became three, and three became four, I began to see the wisdom in this slower pace. We could be running from this camp to that pool to this practice to that play date all summer long. But I’ve noticed whenever I try to squeeze more into a day than just one thing, I’m not exactly the Mommy I want to be to my kids. I’m not exactly patient. I’m not exactly relaxed. I’m not exactly peaceful. And the kids? Well, you know that old saying about them being mirrors? Truth.

When I drag my kids from this to that to the other in the name of “full” I end up feeling like the day has, in some strange way, also been empty. I never really got a chance to connect with each of their hearts. We never rubbed shoulders side by side on the couch reading a book, or got into more than a brief logistical conversation. The kids develop little “behavioral patterns” — but I’m so bent on doing the things, that that main thing — training them up in the way they should go — becomes a sort of side thing that I hope to be able to do when we’re not so dang busy. When I don’t speak to the patterns, they become habits. The kids’ patterns… and mine.

So, I’m recognizing this is the deal for this season of my life: based on the current nap schedule, and the idea that we will perhaps do one thing most days, my personal achievements are not likely to stretch far past one thing on any given day.

Besides your normal day to day responsibilities — whether it’s laundry or bookkeeping or bum-wiping or meal-cooking or teaching or homeschooling or all of the above — the time that you have is limited, and the quality time that you can devote to the things that seem like the big things? It’s probably even smaller than you think. Not just the number of days you have left — but the numbers of hours you have inside of those days for doing those big things.

What an irony to stumble upon: when I try to do less things, I seem to get more done. The right more. The good more.

And this is where I’ll leave you with a challenge. Take a minute to number your days. And perhaps even check out Being Mortal at the library or grab it on Amazon.

If you find yourself thinking, “Heck! I’ve got a lot to do and not much time to get it done!” don’t freak out. Come back for my next post, where I’d love to share a resource or two with you for turning those dreams into goals. And figuring out which goals are the best ones to begin with.

To you precious and incredible readers who’ve taken the 2016 Reader Survey — thank you again and again. It has been a gift to my soul. I hope to keep writing to bless your hearts. And if you haven’t but want to? Click here.

With Love…

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A Blue Period and My 2016 Reader Survey

They say it comes in different ways to different people. To artists like Van Gogh and Picasso, to authors like Jack Kerouac. It’s this place where it feels like a blanket of sad lays down on a life. It’s heavy and it’s confusing and it might make you question just about everything, including your self and your gifts. Do you still have anything to offer the world?

Jack Kerouac said, “I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.”

Maybe it’s a place most folks who tend to live life as a “creative” go through. I sat around a table with a few photographers last week and was amazed at how people working creatively in a completely different sphere can experience the same sufferings. Do you have anything worth giving?

Maybe for me, it was the “baby blues” that often come to visit when a new baby’s made an appearance, and they’re so full of joy and the world seems like a big mess. Maybe it’s the state of the nation I live in — looking at things and wondering how the heck this whole mess can get cleaned up, made right. The justice and the love and the mercy — how do we find them and live them? Maybe it was the four months I spent trodding word-by-word through Les Miserables. Maybe it’s trying to figure out how to do all the things I hope to do when there are all the things I need to do. But probably, all these things swirling together with a dash of discouragement and a whisper or two from the enemy of my soul combined to create my own little blue period.

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Seems to me that almost every time God whispers something deep and purposeful to my soul, my enemy is likely to come with his own clever ways and ask, “Did God really say?” 

So I’ve floundered and failed and fallen short for what feels like ages but is probably more like a good solid handful of months. And I’ve wondered and worried and asked — what about the miserable? What about the racism? The rioting? The troubles nearby? And the ones I know of, so much like these, back in countries I love on opposite sides of the globe?

Do I really have anything worthwhile to say?

Did God really say?

On a beautiful Sunday morning in a community of believers, we sang these old words made new — a hymn from the 1800s, remade for this century:

Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal.

And I remembered those whispers from God’s heart to mine at the beginning of the year. He didn’t ask for the moon or a million prayers or my firstborn.

He certainly didn’t ask me to fix the world’s problems. He just whispered: Faithful. Be faithful.

And this is the truth that is changing the blue to a bright and hope-filled green for me: I can’t heal the world. On our own, We won’t heal the world. But heaven can. And if we’re faithful — if we will faithfully live out the radically counter-cultural love that God calls us to, we’ll pave the way for heaven on earth.

So these are the ways I’m moving forward right now. I’m asking forgiveness for my lazy, hope-less soul, and gratefully receiving new measures of hope, which are my own choice to take after all. And I’m asking, Lord today, today, help me to be faithful.

In a desire to start afresh with an eye toward faithfulness, I’ve created a little reader survey. Just 9 super simple questions, to help me understand what would bless your heart, and help you on your journey toward faithfulness, and ultimately, toward Jesus. I’m hoping to be faithful with the gifts I’ve been given, and to encourage you in yours, too. I hope you precious and dear readers and friends will forgive me for the ways I’ve been unfaithful, and pray for me, as I pray for you, to keep turning to Jesus and finding His will and His way. We will fall short, we will be forgiven, and we will keep going deeper into Him.

Will you please take a moment to take this survey? Your time and your genuine honesty would be a gift to my soul, friend!

I’m excited to start this journey afresh, and praying that in the days to come, it will bless your heart…

Be encouraged today. Earth has NO sorrow heaven can’t heal. And our part in the story? Is faithfulness.

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Please click here to take my 2016 Reader Survey