Questions to Ask Yourself in Hard Times

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 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” But he said to Him, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” And He said, “I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.” Luke 22:31-34

I can only imagine the feeling around the table on the night Jesus was betrayed and taken away from His friends. The tension in the city full of Passover celebrants, the stress around the table as Jesus, knowing what is ahead of Him, breaks bread and passes wine and declares that it is His body and blood they are partaking in.

We forget sometimes that there is a real enemy who hates for us to keep faithful to our ideals for our families and for the Lord. Satan, Peter tells us, is our adversary. He prowls through the earth--like he did when he asked God if he could seek to destroy Job, and recorded again when Jesus says to Peter, "Satan desires to sift you like wheat." Grateful that He also records that He Himself prays for us in times like these.

We are, after all, caught up in a battle that rages in this world--a battle for the hearts and souls of men, called to give allegiance to the one true God, to believe in His goodness, to give the gift of our faith in the darkness--to choose to believe and praise and worship and live for His reality yet to be revealed.

We are getting slowly used to stepping beyond our difficulties and seeing who is really at war with us. We have to sometimes go through dark corridors of dealing with stress, issues, and then by obedience moving on to the pathways of faith, not by feelings, but by depending on His truth.  We can praise Him for His power and the ability to use all things in our lives to make us more into the image of Christ. We ask for His strength and for His grace and power. We walk by faith into our next day, confident that He will always be our defender and our Father and care for all the details of our lives.

I have learned to ask myself questions in the midst of my own dark times, and often asked these questions of other women, too:

Who would like for you to remain bitter? Discouraged?

Who would like for you to give up on your ideals--to say, "I can't do this anymore." ?

Who wants you to be angry at your spouse? To be resentful of your children? Your family? Your in-laws?

Who wants you to worry and fret and stew and hold on to pet fears?

Who is trying to separate you from your friends?

Who is tempting you to think that God does not hear prayer, that He doesn't really care about you? To doubt God's goodness?

I think that it is at this very moment--when the darkness comes in--that faith is of most value and pleases God the most and absolutely frustrates Satan. Satan doesn't think we will believe and be strong. God is already waiting to lead and provide and help. But we have this honorable moment, when we can say, "I love you. I believe you. I will choose to trust you."

David reminds us in the Psalm 139:7,

"Where can I go from thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from thy presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in Sheol, (hell) behold you are there.

If I take the wings of the dawn and dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there your hand will lead me and your right hand will take hold of me.

If I say, "Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night," Even the darkness is not dark to you and the night is as bright as teh day. Darkness and light are alike to you."

And so, we who are the children of the light, can be comforted by Him, who sees all, is over all, is with us through it all, knowing He will use it for our good and for His glory. May He give you encouragement today!

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Today, you can also find me in another friend's space. An interview about my rhythms as a mom, things I would have changed, stories about my life are all on gracelaced.com. Ruth even put one of my favorite verses on a lovely poster, with my favorite flower--a purple bearded iris. Her art is lovely and something very special. Enjoy!

By wisdom a house is built,
And by understanding it is established;
And by knowledge the rooms are filled
With all precious and pleasant riches. Proverbs 24:4

The above was a favorite verse of mine through out the years my sweet ones were at home to remind me to cultivate the reality of Christ in all places of my home, the music, the love given, the meals cooked, the art on the walls, the devotions shared--all rooms filled with the riches of His wisdom truth and love. 

My sweet friend Ruth at gracelaced is doing a special series this month called, Pictures of Grace. Ruth creates such wonderful beauty with scripture and watercolors, and I'm so glad to be part of this series and her blog this week! She's created a lovely print of some of my favorite verses. in Proverbs 24. This week she's hosted several lovely ladies, and right now she has a special going on, too! Take a look at her blog and read her interview  with me here ... Gracelaced

And this is the amazing print she's made of my verse! Love it so much--and you can get a copy at her shop. Enjoy!

And this is the amazing print she's made of my verse! Love it so much--and you can get a copy at her shop. Enjoy!

Mamas Need Friends, Too!

 

We gathered at an old retreat center at the salty water's edge, historic buildings nestled under ancient oaks.

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It had been years since we'd all been together in one place, and there was plenty of giggling and hugging and sharing of chocolate as we hauled our luggage up the stairs to rooms dingy with age but bright with the promise of a weekend dedicated to God and girlfriends. As we pulled couches and chairs together around tables laden with notebooks, Bibles, candles, and flowers, the stories began to spill out. One mama was worried about a son who just couldn't seem to make friends and was often misunderstood and hurt. Another shared the impact a mission trip had made on her heart, turning her plans upside down as she spent several days "useless" in her room with an awful stomach bug, and God reminded her she needed to rest. We prayed over two more who longed for new babies to join their family, and lamented with another whose prodigal son's actions had left her heart bruised. We also enjoyed much rejoicing over new ventures, growth long awaited, and the goodness of God we could see throughout.

"Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God ..."

Acts 2:46-47

Somehow, over the course of those three days, each of our loads was lightened and our hearts were built up as we laid them bare in a safe place, together.

But this wonderful weekend didn't just happen.

Many years ago, I began opening my doors to friends on a pretty regular basis. In the beginning it was two or three of us and several babies crawling around the floor as the moms drank tea and ate cookies and talked, laughed and cried around the living room. We talked about walking with God and potty training, getting the dishes done and the mysteries of Daniel. We walked through marriage difficulties and financial stress, health complications and in-law issues, always reminding one another of God's goodness and love and His willingness to guide and direct and help in every situation.

The gatherings morphed over time, between cross-country moves and the births of new babies, children reaching school age, summer and holidays. Still, the best way to make friends proved to be opening my home--whether it was a casual playtime including children or a monthly book club dinner night when we left them at home. Sometimes we argued. Sometimes, someone misunderstood someone else and we had to work that out. Sometimes a child banged another over the head with the plastic hammer. Sometimes someone couldn't make it for weeks at a time. Still, we kept at it. Because relationships are worth it.

In the midst of a world bent on constant virtual connection, the paradox seems to be that the thing we are most in danger of losing is *actual* connection. As we move forward as a culture where the bulk of our communication and input is what's been typed out on small and large screens, we seem to be rushing toward what I can't help but see as a cliff.

Moments like this don't happen in a text message.

Today, if you're in need of friends, might I suggest something wild and crazy? Consider opening your own doors. Call a friend or two and invite them over. Have them bring their children--or wait for an evening they can come alone, if that suits you better. Choose a good book, read some and get together to talk about it. One year, we gathered in my living room once a month and I read a chapter to my sweet friends as we sat there together! There are several MomHeart groups around the country and even around the world doing just that. It doesn't matter if there are two of you or twelve or twenty or two hundred; if you've known one another for ten minutes or ten years; everyone needs friends and the best way to find like-minded ones is to build your minds around great ideas together.

Thinking of starting a MomHeart group? Want some practical guidance? Check out Sally and Clay's wonderful resource: Taking Motherhood to Hearts!

We also have a MomHeart Group Facebook page where you can share your group if you'd like to open your doors a bit wider--or, If you're not quite ready to start a group of your own, you can use the search feature to see if there's one already meeting in your area!  The Momheart site is another lovely place where those leading groups can receive encouragement.

Oh--those two sweet mamas we prayed for who were longing for new babies? Both expecting, one any day now! Such a joy to be part of one another's lives. 

With summer approaching and the busy-ness of the school year winding down, this may be just the time to consider something new. Friendship is one of the most worthwhile of things to pour some effort into! I pray your own friendships are strengthened as you seek ways to build true, caring relationships into your own busy life. Trust me, it's one of the best decisions you can ever make.

Oh--those two sweet mamas we prayed for who were longing for new babies? Both expecting, one any day now! Such a joy to be part of one another's lives. 

Happy gathering!

Thanks to my wonderful friend, sweet assistant in so many areas, lovely Misty Krasawski, for this great article.

When You Hit a Wall, Breathe! & A New Podcast

He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. Isaiah 40:11

He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.

Isaiah 40:11

A number of years ago, I was more than drained. I had young adults trying to foray into the secular world and find their place in life. One teenager was exploding with hormones and challenged my limits every day. Another was in between colleges and depressed while having to work 40 hours a week. And then there was Joy, full into hormones and teen anxt and I in the midst of ministry, teaching, keeping everyone at least a little centered and only barely making it one day at a time. It was September and all yearly activities were heating up.

Many Septembers in a row were crisis moments for our ministry. The finances would be slim because the money from mom's conferences would run out in August. Often people who were regular financial supporters of our ministry would quit giving in the summer. We still had staff to pay, rent for our office and monthly bills for our office. 

One gloomy afternoon, Clay came in sober of face and said, "We are not going to make payroll. I don't know where we are going to get money to pay, and it may be a few months until we can catch up. We are in a financial crisis, again!"

Immediately a dark cloud came over me and then it was followed by the feeling of carrying a ton of bricks. My first reaction was often, "How can I fix it? I could speak more, write another book, get a part time job, ...!!!"

Why, when we confront a wall, are we tempted to immediately try to take care of ourselves, when all along, our shepherd wants to care for us? 

As I was praying alone later, in the dark shadows of sunset, I sat exhausted, weary of heart and spent. I began to pray,

"God, I can't take this on.

It is too much. I am already carrying all 6 of us and a sick parent. I am going to give it to you. Please take care of this in your way. I am leaving it in your hands because there is nothing more I can carry at this moment."

I realized that there was nothing that was going to change by fretting over it, by trying to manipulate circumstances--it was more than I could provide. But I also had a deep sense of God wanting me to just rest and leave it in His hands. To rest in my heart as I carried on through my days.

I gave him my few "fish and loaves" and knew it was not enough, but hoped that He would provide for all of these pressures while I sought to find rest and peace.

Just 3 days later, Clay called me and said, "You are never going to believe this!

We got a check for thousands of dollars in the mail from an anonymous donor with a foundation." We had received an enormously large check from someone I did not even personally know. It exactly met our need and we were able even to pay ourselves a small salary that month.   

Miracles like this were not always the way God answered. But, always I can look back and see that when I gave God my issues, He always showed me His faithfulness and His ability to take care of my life--and it wasn't dependent on my ability to control or manipulate life. His resources and provision were always better than my schemes.

Usually, when we approach a new commitment in life, we go into it naively, innocently believing in easy happiness, quick satisfaction, fantasies that our accomplishments will be simple to achieve.

Ministry: We are going to change the world with these messages. Then the reality of hard work, too many needs to be met, stressful deadlines and sinful people to deal with as well as finances disillusion us.

Marriage: Now I will be happier since I found my life-companion and I think we will have an easy marriage.

And then the work of marriage eventually sets in. Slowly, we realize maybe we weren't a perfect match after all and selfishness and immaturity and personality difference begin to make life harder. We want an easy solution, a fast formula to become happy without doing the work of practicing love, growing stronger, learning to give unselfishly.

First Child and young children: I have my philosophy down and with my diligent training, good mothering and wise parenting options, my children will be wonderful, we tell ourselves. 

Then, we find after years of working hard, meeting our children's constant needs, we become weary and wonder how we will make it. We see their glaring flaws. We start considering if someone else could do a better job with our children, if perhaps we do not have what it takes to be an intentional mom.

And so it goes with many areas. When we approach some of our dreams with high expectations we often find ourselves disappointed when the rubber meets the road. Or put another way, life loses pizzazz when the sheen wears off.

We look for escape.We dream of ways our lives would be better if.....

But at this point, we must seek to look at Jesus as He is and find His solutions instead of trying to escape the road of maturity and fulfillment.

We must understand God for what He really is to find a way forward. Seeing God  for who he really is, a kind, gentle Father, one who takes children into his arms, the one who touched Elijah when he was weary and fed him, Jesus, the friend who roasted fish and built a roaring fire for the weary fishermen/disciples and encouraged them, will lead us to trust Him and to put our circumstances into His hands.

He is the one who will gently lead the mother with her children. And he will provide shooting stars, gentle breezes, surprises because He sees us, wants to provide and He does care. 

When we know we are loved, we will last longer on the race set before us.

Yes, there is work involved in daily life, but I think there is more joy to be had. And the fruit in my own life of loving my children has resulted in the most delightful close friendships I could have ever imagined. They are such a treasure, and now I see the faithfulness was worth it. I just wish I had taken the time to fret less, stay steadfast and not wasted time when daily there were pleasures, sweetnesses that I now miss--and yes, we are still eating and paying bills. God has faithfully provided through all the years of the slim times in August.

Almost all great ventures in life come with great cost. To pursue excellence requires us to exercise our emotional, spiritual and physical muscles--and always requires us to give up our selfish ways little by little to learn to become a stronger, more enduring servant.

Even as in a marathon or any long race, eventually most everyone hits a wall,

So in life, we hit walls along the way. But finishing the race well is so gratifying in the end. 

But the secret when we hit wall, is to keep going, to leave all of our burdens in his hands, to breathe in the rest that comes from someone else being in charge. Then, when we have left all in His hands, have rested in peace, we are ready to keep running the race. To find new strength, to do what it takes to finish the race and to not be disqualified.

Don't compromise your ideals when you are weary, don't follow unwise friends.

"He who walks with the wise will be wise, a companion of fools suffers harm.".

This proverb is not just for children--it applies to adults--walk with wise people who have completed their race. Guard your heart from the voices that tear you down, that say you can't make it, that you are not enough. God is always enough and wants to be our strength and hope.

I have noticed that many friends who started out well with ideals and based their decisions on what they thought were Biblical ideals, eventually, when life became harder, justified quitting the decisions that they once believed God had showed them to follow. Many people quit when life gets hard, but those who persevere will find the rewards of finishing well to be satisfying and fulfilling.

Many young women I have known who started out their journey in marriage and motherhood strong, are in the midst of justifying bad decisions to quit their ideals based on the voices of other friends who are also compromising. And their friends are encouraging them to compromise and convincing them it will be ok. I see all sorts of ridiculous messages all over facebook, the internet and on blogs where people give each other all sorts of permission to give up their ideals. 

Facebook, blogs, articles of every kind tempt us to compromise our commitments and to seek relief instead of pushing through to find new strength

Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength;.

I have seen peer pressure and foolish advice ruin many a family, cause many a child to stumble or to loose their parents' values and even their faith when thrown into cultural temptations too early when the parents weary of pursuing ideals with them. 

There is no formula to having a trouble free life and even in scripture, we learn from the story of the prodigal son, that there will be prodigals, even to good parents. Yet, we are still called to be the wisest, godliest parents we know how to be in order to please God and actually to find the most satisfying lives. We please Him because we love Him, not because living righteously in this life is easy. And I have found, there are inherent, long term rewards in living steadfastly faithful.

The world, foolish people, facebook, friends of all kinds can lead us to decisions that have devastating consequences in the long run.

Life is indeed hard at this time in history and many times we do not have the support of our churches, our families or our culture to "do hard things" by doing the difficult work of raising godly children. But, God's Word gives us wisdom and patterns to follow because when we follow them, we will find emotional health, spiritual strength and soul vitality--and so will our children, our friends..

A few years ago, I was in London with Joel and Sarah. One morning, we left our hotel and were trying to catch the tube to make it in time to get downtown to a concert. I was running ahead when they both yelled loudly, "Mom! Stop!!!"

The problem was, the cars in London drive on a different side of the road and because I am American, I looked the wrong way when crossing the street and started stepping out in front of a bus coming fast down my lane. I didn't even see it. I didn't know that I was looking and going in the wrong direction. 

Sarah and Joel were not being mean or acting in an angry way. They yelled at me because of the danger I was putting myself into. They were trying to keep me from harm. That's what a good friend does--they speak into your life to keep you from going in the wrong direction or to keep us safe. 

Often, we look the wrong way in life, without even realizing it and judge life imperfectly without even knowing that our decision will have grave repercussions. Friends who really love us will guide us in the right direction, even if it creates momentary conflict. (Faithful are the wounds of a friend.)

God's ways are not optional--His wisdom is always the right wisdom. And He does not advise us in scripture about how we should live life because He wants to make our lives difficult or admonishes us because He is angry.

No, His ways are always, in the long run, going to provide the best overall health for us and give us sustainable lives. Because He loves us, because He is a good parent, sometimes He has to encourage us along difficult paths so that our lives will have good fruit.

Determine to develop friendships with those people who encourage you to be strong, those we see your potential, who will help you and inspire you to be the best person you can be.

Avoid those who give you permission to compromise, who might even advise you to go in the direction of the world's values and choices.

Decide to be excellent in your own life,

so that you can be an example to your friends, your children, your neighbors and husband of what it looks like to love well, to choose morally sound ways in life, to walk in integrity--be that friend others need to have so that they can also have the courage to persevere towards moral an spiritual excellence.

If you are depressed or discouraged, don't give up your ideals. Instead, get some rest, find a way to get refreshed. Look not for friends who will lead you into foolishness and compromise, but search out those who can help you gain perspective, those who will come along beside you to run in life with you because they also need you to run with them.

So few people stay strong in their faith and act faithfully in these times. But you have a choice to make and only you can determine to live a great story. I hope you will be encouraged today as you her Kristen and me speaking about how to stay strong and how to finish well in the race of life God has put before us.

May God grant fresh air in your lungs, energy, strength to finish the race He has asked you to complete. May you live to see His faithfulness and His favor as you follow hard after Him.

 

 

Happy Storyformed Friday! And a giveaway!

Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt

A word from Sally...

When people ask me, "How did your children get into schools like Oxford, Yale, Cambridge? I have to say, "By a miracle of God."

You see, it was never my goal for them to get into the best universities. It was my goal to fill their soul with great stories that were patterns of the Greatest Stories found in scripture. I wanted them to understand goodness, heroism, truth, family values, love, faith by filling their minds and imaginations with stories both from the Bible and from the best writers so that they would better understand God and how to become a part of His story.

As Tolkien says, all great stories reflect a truth from the megastory of scripture--Christ's story from Genesis to Revelation. And a consequence of reading with them, talking with them, discussing ideas, heroes, choices, lessons taught, people living a great story, also happened, as a consequence, to provide them with strong minds, spiritually fit hearts and strong wills to follow hard after God.

I am sooooo excited today to present to you our new website, Storyformed. Sarah, my sweet oldest child, started it several years ago. But when she started her studies at Oxford, it became too much to keep up. So wonderful kindred spirits, Holly and Jaime, Sarah and I will attempt to inspire you in this place. it is a beautiful site with lots of book recommendations, reviews, and posts to inspire you. We will be developing the podcast even more and having lots of ways to inspire you. Hope you will take time to peruse it and be inspired. Enjoy!

A note from new Storyformed Director, Holly Packiam...

 'Stories are verbal acts of hospitality.'-- Eugene  Peterson

Stories have a way of disarming you, of welcoming you into a new world. Jesus told stories to awaken people's imagination to what the Kingdom of God is like, and to help them take their place in it.  We believe that stories have the power to help you discover meaning and morality, to develop character as you become character in the Great Drama of God's work in His world.

The heart of Storyformed is to give you ideas for how to put the best books into the hands of your children. We’re here to celebrate the soul-forming power of imagination, story, and beauty in the life of your child. Our hope is that the books and ideas we write and talk about will help you in the process of forming your children to love what is good, beautiful, and true.

On the site, you’ll find encouraging articles, book recommendations, podcasts, book lists, essays, recommended sites and resources, a Storyformed bookstore, and a library. We’ll be regularly writing about imagination, artists, nature, literary travels (if any come our way) and other adventures that come about between the covers of a book.

Please join us in the Storyformed community as we journey together to cultivate Storyformed homes. We would love for you to connect with us here or on our Storyformed Facebook page. We love hearing your thoughts and answering any questions.

Here are some thoughts from the Storyformed founder, my sweet Sarah Clarkson...

It's no secret that we like stories around here, so let me tell you one to begin.

Once upon a time there was a girl named Sarah who loved good books and wanted the rest of the world to know why they should too. Being an idealistic girl and the child of idealistic parents, she wrote a book about it (Caught Up in a Story) and started a website where people could come to delight and discover stories galore. But, then, being also adventurous and led by all the great books she'd read into the attempting of her dreams, she ended up in Oxford, city of her writerly heroes, and before she knew it she was a student of theology. With a gazillion papers due all the time. And then, on top of all that, she got married. And somewhere along the way the Storyformed project got drastically on hold, much to her dismay......

CLICK HERE to read the rest of Sarah Clarkson's introductory post and to listen to a BRAND NEW Storyformed podcast on story as a form of discipleship!

And enter our giveaway for sharing our new site with your friends. So excited. 

For all of you who share our new site on facebook or twitter, follow Storyformed.com on Facebook or share with your friends in any way, leave a comment on storyformed.com blog and you will be entered to a giveaway where we will pick 3 winners to receive any two books of ours that you choose. 

Choose any 2 books you want for winning our giveaway.

Choose any 2 books you want for winning our giveaway.

 

Thanks for entering.

Enjoy!

Can You Count it All Joy?

"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." James 1:2-4

I am not naturally a very noble or valiant person. And so when I read this verse over the years, I would flinch and go through it quickly, because I didn't relish trials. Our lives have been full of them and I have, at times, learned to dread another day in case it might have some new trial in it. 

Having four children, working on books, ministry and conference for the last 20 years, homeschooling, moving seventeen times, and facing all the unavoidable difficulties in relationships, criticism for my ideals, finances, health issues, loneliness, marriage, the different phases of my children's lives, ministry and an overload of responsibilities, just keeping up with all the work that never ends was so very much harder than I ever realized life would be.

Though I became serious about the Lord and truly committed to going anywhere, doing anything for His kingdom in my early twenties, I no more had an idea of what that would mean, than a little girl who dresses up as a princess and pretends to know what it would mean to become a queen and rule a country. 

Yet, I can look back now, after many years of trials, and see that God had such great plans for my life, and the only pathway to these plans of His was through many trials. I had pretty much committed myself to becoming a warrior for His kingdom in this life, not realizing that in order for someone to become a general to lead others into battle, he must first begin with basic training.

Basic training is that hard, disciplined, demanding season of training that seeks to build strength, self-control, in the life of a would-be soldier. It is also for the purpose of drawing soldiers forward, stretching their capacity to be stronger, more capable, to live up to their own ability and potential.  

After passing successfully through basic training, a soldier must  prove worthy in real battles to earn the right to humbly and wisely lead others into victory in bigger arenas.

And so, because God delights in us entering into the fray of this world, to bring light, beauty, truth and to stand strongly and boldly for His purposes, He sends us trials and training--our personalized basic training-- to prepare us for the platform He would have us stand on. His trials have been the training grounds to give me integrity in my messages so that I really could encourage other women. Only God was there in the dark moments of my life, to see if my heart would respond in faith, to do the hard work, to love when no one else knew I was making this good choice but God Himself. 

And so, my victories through the trials became the very platform in which I saw the grace of God, His goodness and love, as I realized that He had a better plan for me than I had for myself. My integrity was won in the seemingly invisible places, where He was testing and strengthening me for bigger arenas.

Each of us has this same opportunity to live a faithful story--to choose in the trials of life to be faithful, to see our stories as as our training grounds. How can we encourage others in this fallen place if we do not see God's faithfulness in our own story as we hold His hand and move faithfully forward, so that we will have a story to tell, a way to encourage from the integrity of our own lives?

Today, don't resist the trials--they will be the making of your character, the galvanizing of your integrity, the defining of a great story of your King working on your behalf in the history of His redeeming the world back to himself. Today is your opportunity to show forth your true love for Him.

And, surprisingly, in this process, I am finding great, deep down, fulfilling joy. I pray you will, too.

Serving Makes the Love of God Tangible in Our Homes & A New Podcast

Even as He served, touched, encouraged to reach the hearts of His own disciples, so, modeling ourselves after Him, we serve, touch and encourage our children to reach their hearts for Him.

Even as He served, touched, encouraged to reach the hearts of His own disciples, so, modeling ourselves after Him, we serve, touch and encourage our children to reach their hearts for Him.

Though I wasn't quite ready to get out of bed this morning, I remembered faithful Joel who has played music for countless services this week in a variety of places until late at night. Though he is not a boy any longer and between graduate schools for a short time at home, he is still my "boy". So, I arose, as I would any other Easter, put the cinnamon rolls that had been rising all night, into the oven. Next, I brewed strong tea and whipped up our own cheesy eggs so that he would have a tiny "He is risen" breakfast before he took off early to play for 2 more services.

As I sipped my tea, I pictured all of you who serve your families today, on Easter, and every day, who pour out love, training, service of meals and trying to keep your home a place of life amidst the messes and drainers. And I thanked God for you and prayed that you would know how important your work is to the Kingdom. I am convinced that when you serve a child, you are serving Jesus Himself.

When I gather with women, I am sure to hear their stories. Stories of difficulty and joy, happiness and grief, ups and downs that we all face. In these conversations I'm always reminded--Jesus sees each of these precious ones and already knows the story I'm about to be told! He also sees you and cares for you and your own concerns. Jesus came into the world because the people of the world desperately needed hope, comfort, forgiveness, wisdom, and love. He was humble and meek--in other words, he came to slip right into the mundane lives of the normal people for whom He came. When he looked out to the multitudes, like those in my home, he felt compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9).

He was a servant-king. He washed feet, held and blessed children, loved the downcast--the lepers, the prostitute, the poor, the sick-- served meals,  and again I say, washed feet. He was a "man of sorrows, acquainted with grief" as we read in Isaiah. This was His message ...

"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the Lord has appointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty  to the captives, and freedom to the prisoners; To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord, And the vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting, so they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified."

Isaiah 61:1-3

Interestingly, when Jesus came to open his ministry in the temple, it is this very passage that He read. He was on a mission--He was here to heal, to save, to encourage, to proclaim God. When we love Jesus, we will be overcome with His compassion. Our words will be full of power and life and hope. No one will leave our home without having a sense of His hand of love, His voice of truth, His comfort, His strength and calling.

Truly, our homes are the arena in which we can build the life of Christ, and become a sanctuary for those who need to feel His life by being welcomed and receiving a "cup of cold water"-- maybe a home cooked meal, a focused conversation, a healing touch. We celebrate the traditions of home, not because we want to be busier--no one needs that!--but to make the life of Christ come alive, to show the beauty of God, to give our children a live picture of His beauty, His reality, His truth, His words and His outreaching love.

We have been given this day so we might give Him our responsive gift of love, to serve and love and comfort and reflect His spirit alive to all who are in our arena, first our family and then those whom He has providentially placed there.

Homes are the foundations for society.

When the life of Christ flourishes there, the life of Christ will flourish in our nations. But we cannot imitate His life unless we ourselves are spending time in His presence. The older I get, the more I love Him, the more I admire Him and understand the heart of this servant king, who humbly lived His life to pour out for the benefit of others because the very essence of His being was to redeem, to give, to serve.

So this is the source of our strength in tirelessly giving and serving: Christ in us.

Christ giving us His strength, power and resurrection life, lived out through the rocking of children and listening to their starry eyed wishes and stories and giving grace to the unlovely in our lives, because we, too, are unlovely but accepted. We make and serve meals in grateful appreciation to Him who is preparing a future feast for us. We endeavor to give of our love and gracious words generously because He has so given to us.

When we spend time in His presence, we fall in love with Him more, and that love spills over to our children, our husband, and our friends. Jesus himself said, "He who follows me, from His innermost being shall flow springs of living water." His life will overflow through us. Someone, perhaps many someones in your life today, need to feel this touch, these words of encouragement, this life; the actions that say, "The peace and grace of the Lord be with you--for He has given it to me and I, by His healing love, am so happy to give it to you."

How I wish I could have each of you for your own personal tea time to tell you how much He loves you. 

May His life fill and fuel our days as we celebrate this week the magnificent reality of His life in the sanctuary of our sacred homes.

This marks the end of our podcast study of Different, but if you'd still like to learn more about God's heart for you,your children and others in your life who may be Out-of the-Box,please check out the wonderful companion Bible study, A Different Kind of Hero, that looks at How God used people in the scriptures who were Different to change the world.

A Joyous Easter to You!

Now let the heavens be joyful,

Let the earth her song begin:

Let the round world keep triumph,

And all that is therein;

Invisible and visible,

Their notes let all things blend,

For Christ is risen, Our joy shall have no end! 

St. John of Damascus

Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ is coming again. It is the culmination of Jesus' story, this Easter joy. I pray you draw close to this Savior this weekend, the One who is both crucified and risen again!

 

 

The Unstoppable, Power of Returning Spring: A Glorious Easter to You and Yours

Earth, teach me regeneration as the seed which rises in the spring.

William Alexander

I had a sudden realization a few weeks ago, that I had been in England every year for the past four years during the daffodil blooming season. These yellow lovelies, I believe, are happy flowers, delighted to be alive and blooming in their glory.

It was so wondrous after a very cold winter with the dark and dirty that comes with it, to be reminded that spring is on the way--nothing can hold it back. Perhaps many of us need to have hope that there is a spring season of life, beauty and strength just ahead. 

Each winter when all appears to be dead or dying, daffodils pop up, as if out of nowhere, to proclaim, there just may be surprise and delightful life ahead.

The Unstoppable Power of Returning Spring

God masterfully transcribed lessons and insights of life into the very warp and woof of His creation. Spring, summer, winter and fall cast the pulse of life as we experience it.

A time to bloom, to grow full blown, to harvest and then all dies, for a season. Until the cycle of life starts over again.

But winter will not have the last word.

And so there are winters in our lives--times when it appears that everything is dead or dying. Cold, stormy weather beats at the windows of our hearts as well as the window pains of our rooms. As Jesus said in Matthew, there will be times when the storms will burst against our house.

During this darkness of cold, there is a deepening of roots that will allow new and better growth, a putting off of the old leaves and wilted fruit to make way for the new. It is in the darkest of nights that wisdom is learned, perspective is given, humility clothes our soul.

Though in the middle of the night, as in the middle of winter, gloom flows over and the fog of despair rains hard on our hearts. However, this is not the end of our story.

As I was preparing for our Mum Heart conference in London, my sweet friends spoiled me with a couple of nights at this lovely old home/turned inn that used to be the private home of the Gilberts of Gilbert and Sullivan musicals fame. I meandered the many acres by myself for hours and breathed in the beauty of spring, blooms and life that was everywhere a reflection of eternal life. . So sweet to my soul.

As I was preparing for our Mum Heart conference in London, my sweet friends spoiled me with a couple of nights at this lovely old home/turned inn that used to be the private home of the Gilberts of Gilbert and Sullivan musicals fame. I meandered the many acres by myself for hours and breathed in the beauty of spring, blooms and life that was everywhere a reflection of eternal life. . So sweet to my soul.

His going forth is as certain as the dawn, and He will come to us like the spring rain watering the earth.

Hosea 6:8

Yet, even as the sun rises every day after the dark of night, so spring comes every year after the gloom of winter, when even though all appears to be dead, all the powers of the world, all the strength of darkness, cannot hold spring back.

The power of returning spring is unstoppable,

as though God's song refuses to be quieted.

It is a force so strong that it defies all other forces and life will indeed show its glory, its beauty  and strength, again.

Every year, when the darkness seems the longest, daffodils spring up first, even in what appears to be the dead of winter, as though ringing out the bells of the glory of the Life. Blooming "with all of their heart", they proclaim, hope is coming, light is on its way!

These, are a true  picture of resurrection life.

Though all hope had been lost, and Jesus was brutally killed, wounded beyond recognition. Those who appeared as the teachers were instead false prophets, seeking to  grab for themselves,  in their love for power, ultimate authority, and consequently killed the very one who created them.

Tears, sadness, soul-black despondency filled those who had attached their very spirits to His being. Hope disappeared as the sun in a cloud.

But, like the power of returning spring, the grave could not hold Him.

Death was gloriously defeated.

And so the morning dawned, bright and sure, and our Lord defied all that was broken, all that was unjust, all that crushed each heart in this fallen place. Our Jesus brought back the life, that in our wildest dreams, we could only hope against hope, would be true.

Spring reminds us that our hope is sure.

His life conquers all death.

His love heals every wound.

And in heaven as on earth, our hope is sure--

darkness will not have the last word.

"I am the way, the truth and the life."

Nothing can stop the power of His redemption and love.

Let your heart be encouraged today,

He is risen, He is risen indeed.

And like spring, no power or force of man, or designs of the dark one, can hold back His resurrection life,

or His will, where He will indeed make all things new.

I pray blessings of joy, hope and light will come into your precious lives this week as you better understand the personal significance of His coming. 

May you know his deep love today. 

Spring is wild and uncontainable, so ever-present along my Colorado walks just now, but a visual reflection of His loveliness and redemption that is a promise. 

Spring is wild and uncontainable, so ever-present along my Colorado walks just now, but a visual reflection of His loveliness and redemption that is a promise. 

May we each see the hidden messages, symbolic of His resurrection, through every spring flower and bloom and find His joy in this season.  

Shaping the Moral Imagination Through Story and Free Play & a new Storyformed Podcast

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I’m excited to bring you another episode of the Storyformed podcast! We’ll go back to posting At Home with Sally & Friends podcasts again next week, and we have a separate Storyformed podcast in the works for the future! Kristen had a little trip to celebrate her anniversary and so Holly and I conspired with Sarah for this week. 

I’ve been thinking about the idea of developing a moral imagination in children. What does this mean?

Russell Kirk says the moral imagination is “an enduring source of inspiration that elevates us to first principles as it guides us upwards towards virtue and wisdom and redemption.”  

As parents, we are a part of helping our children develop their moral imagination. 

I believe one part of helping our children to develop a moral imagination is by reading them great stories with characters who see themselves as part of a larger story. In the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Pevensie children didn’t merely wander around Narnia, going here and there as they pleased, or for only their own pleasure. They quickly learned they were kings and queens who were needed to bring about life and order in a kingdom where darkness and fear had reigned for years. When our children read this story and others like it, they have the opportunity to imagine themselves as children who have a special and unique calling. If they can imagine themselves as a Lucy or a Peter in their own life, then maybe they can be brave in the midst of their own life and all its challenges.

What our children spend decades imagining may just come to bear witness in their lives as adults. Afterall, it takes having an imagination for any of us to have faith in God. If we can’t imagine God creating the world or God spitting the Red Sea for the Israelites, then our faith can become only ideas rattling around in our brain rather than a faith we are daily living out. 

It has been a joy this week to watch my two oldest talk about the books they’re writing. After years of reading biographies about writers and poets like C.S. Lewis, Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Emily Dickinson, and the great William Shakespeare, and watching my husband and I work on various writing projects, they’ve caught the writing bug. They believe they can write books, in part because they’ve caught a vision by reading the stories of these writers’ lives. They have no illusion that these writers' lives were not filled with challenges and difficulties, but they’ve also seen their perseverance, and fortitude in the midst of hardship. And so, my girls believe God can use them to bring forth stories into the world that carry a message of hope. 

You may be a doctor or an engineer or a farmer. Or you may have other family members who influence your home who plant seeds of ideas of what your children could become one day. In the reading of Farmer Boy or a biography about Jonas Salk (vaccine developer), your children have the opportunity to see not only you, as their parent, living out these vocations, but to also have the space to ponder how the characters of these books make choices. In Farmer Boy, Almanzo and his siblings are helping with summer planting and fall harvesting and wood chopping in winter. In this part of American history, life is challenging, yet Almanzo learns how to deal with all that comes his way. As your children read these stories, they can envision themselves as children who can be involved in helping in the family even if it means taking out the trash or unloading the dishwasher. 

Children also have the opportunity to develop a moral imagination through free play. As they read great stories, the characters and plot lines are likely to seep into their everyday life. In our home, my kids have a huge dress up tub where they can find a myriad of costumes to dress up in. Once they’ve imagined their character, retrieved an appropriate costume, they’re off to find props to play act the story in their heads. If the weather is warm, this usually means the free play is taking place behind our home in the trees of the foothills. As you might ‘imagine’ this is an opportunity for me to let go of my desire for the entry way to stay clean as they track props, costumes, snacks and the like in an out of the house. 

Their is no so-called productivity in their play. They aren't learning something the world sees as useful, or anything skill-related that they can put on their resume some day. But they are experiencing a wonder about their world and “learning to see with the inward eye, forming an interior self,” as Sarah Clarkson says, which will produce their identity and a belief they can contribute in God’s great story.

I pray the Lord will lead in you giving you a vision to develop a moral imagination in your children. As we present ourselves to the Lord, He can show us a path even when it seems no one has traveled it before. 


SO EXCITED TO ANNOUNCE THAT WE WILL BE LAUNCHING A NEW WEBSITE FOR STORYFORMED. WE WILL ALSO HAVE A WEEKLY PODCAST AND BLOG TO INSPIRE YOU WITH NEW IDEAS. 

KRISTEN AND I WILL BE BACK NEXT WEEK FOR THE LONG HAUL. CAN'T WAIT TO BE TOGETHER IN OUR PODCAST. WE SO ENJOY OUR TIME WITH YOU. HAPPY EASTER WEEK.

BOOKS FROM TODAY’S SHOW - STORYFORMED EPISODE #3 - Shaping the Moral Imagination Through Story & Free Play

 
 

 

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Mamas Facing Loneliness

      "But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." Luke 5:16 (NIV)

It may be hard to believe, but loneliness has been a constant companion for me for many years. It causes me to ache inside, sometimes, bringing tears to my eyes and a longing for community.  I yearn for like-minded kindred spirits-- who also "like" me!

    I love having close, intimate friends who "get" me; those who know all about me with all my quirks and petty sins, and still love me. I also enjoy being with friends who are passionate about the Lord, ministry, the Word, and family--who have ideals like mine, but who also love to have fun and celebrate life. My close friend must be someone who understands grace and giving grace, who has learned it by going around the track of life and by being humbled. There are not, in my intimate life, many who fit this longing and who also initiate relationally, as I think this is a lost art!

      For much of my life, I have felt so alone, invisible in my needs to the world of hundreds of people who buzz in and out of my life. Isolated from kindred spirits. Probably some of that feeling comes because I am too busy, and some because I hold ideals that are in a minority in this culture. But as I sit here tonight, I thought since I have felt loneliness so often through so many years, you might, too; and I wanted you to know you are not unusual or alone--there are many of us in the same boat!

       In a world of isolationism, breakdown of families for every reason--moving all over the world and being separated physically, divorce, differing ideals, and just plain lack of commitment--there is personal isolation in crowded neighborhoods. Rarely does one find the simple community of people who hold your values and your faith. Add to that isolation in church, and prospects for friendship can be bleak indeed.

       Yet, I realize it has been this very loneliness that has driven me to the Lord. He has heard me over and over again and He has used this longing to open my heart to others who have needs. Increasingly, He has used it to humble me in my point of need, so that I have more compassion for those who are also separated from support systems.

As a matter of fact, most of what I write about has come from my struggles. This particular puzzle of my life has brought with it choices:  to live out in grace and faith or to live in the darkness of depression. Choosing to believe in God's goodness, has been for me the story where I saw a God who loves me and shows me life and grace and light in the midst. It is through choosing to seek Him and to hold on to His hand and to believe in His friendship that I have found strength and a way to keep going.

       I also know so many young moms who struggle with loneliness during long days in their own homes with their little children. One idealistic young mom cried with me last week, saying, "I just went upstairs for four minutes to put away the laundry, and when I came downstairs, my three year old had used a permanent marker to draw all over the naked body of my 18-month old and then draw all over my favorite blouse--and the carpet! I thought to myself, 'Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life? Take care of these children? Stay home by myself and do this day in and day out? Am I not more talented than this? Will I never have a bigger life?'"

       I giggled at her story about the markers and yet, also felt what she felt. I  personally knew her feelings, as I'd had the same ones when my 3 oldest were all under 5!! This mama is so cute and fun and intelligent; it's just that she's carrying her ideals about family life and children in a circle of friends who don't understand her or support her in a 24/7 life of constant demand.

       So I just wanted you to know today, that you are not alone. God indeed loves you so much and is so very proud of your bringing life and beauty into your homes. He knows your struggles. He sees you and your need to be loved and appreciated and filled up.

However, now in my 60's, I find there are gifts that loneliness brought to me--and see that God was trusting me to learn wisdom because He was with me every day of my loneliness. God did not design this world to be isolated, but He created us to have community.

Please do not think I am talking about being super-spiritual, because I am not. But, because God cares about how I feel, he turned it out for my good because He understood my feelings and sympathized with the needs I felt in this fallen world. These are a few lessons I have learned.

1. Humility--that I cannot make it in life alone just by toughing it out. I really need God and I need others to help me to make it.

2. Compassion, instead of judgment of others. Understanding the needs of others because of my own deep needs. 

3. An acceptance for others who were not just like me. It was the kindness of friends who were different than I was that made me appreciate the friends I did have. When someone showed me kindness, I was so ver appreciative whether we were the exact same or not.

4. Thankfulness came to me slowly when I learned to have gratitude for those God had given when my pride might have kept me from friends who were different. These friends  became treasures because of their steadfast, loyal commitment over many years. I no longer required that my "friends" be just like me or have my values. Tolerant grace and love grew inside my heart.

5. Contentment has come over many years. My spiritual muscle has grown and I am so much better able to fill my life with beauty, meaning, purpose, work and creativity to hold me through all my days. I have quite learned to deeply enjoy my own inner-self  and my own company and to find sweet peace when I am alone. 

 I am still a lover of people at heart and adore being with my "besties" when it works out. But, I have made peace and beauty my world as I walk one day at a time. Maturity takes a lifetime, but God can be trusted to walk with us and to build exactly what our soul needs to survive, if we seek His love and rest in His company.

Of course, if I could, I would have you all into my little living room right now for tea, scones and chocolate. But as it is, I am going to pray for you. You must be a conductor of your own symphony and make a plan to place some pleasure, times with people, outings away from the messy home and sequestering with too many sinful children and one weary mom in one small place. Going to a park, create beauty, go out for a one woman date in a place you enjoy, or just anywhere will change your mood, ease your soul.--just don't stay and stew where you are! In time, loneliness will shape you to look more and more like Jesus when you walk through it hand and hand with Him.

      Do you feel loneliness is a big part of your life as a mama? What might the Lord want to show you in the midst of it? What can you do to reach out to another lonely mama to begin shaping a friendship that will last a lifetime?

Grace and peace to your hearts today.