Laugh or Cry—Just Live Your Crazy, Quirky Life

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“Just be. Do you know how to just be?” my mother asked as I jetted out the door.

“I’ll try,” I said, waving goodbye to my kids.

Truth is I’m not so good at “being.” I’m a doer who loves to keep moving. Perhaps you are too.

When busyness beats heavy on our lives, sometimes we need to push away and find a quiet place. For me that happened a couple weeks ago at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference.

I even took the time to watch the Chewbacca Mom’s video. (I practically live under a rock, so you know that the entire internet saw this video.)

When I saw Candace Payne laughing hysterically, I didn’t need for the successful authors to explain personal branding to me. Candace’s video brought it all home. Just be yourself, your crazy, quirky self.

Just be.

For me, this means I need to lay aside people-pleasing.

Last week at church, I heard Matt Chandler preach this thought-provoking sermon, where he said all our idols stem from four basic sources:

  1. Comfort
  2. Control
  3. Approval
  4. Power

While I might struggle with all four, the approval idol holds a stranglehold on my life. It keeps me measuring up to other people’s standards. It ruins authenticity and shatters confidence.

Here’s the thing about idols. The devil doesn’t want us to see the ways our hearts crave and praise other things. He loves busyness because it masks our idolatry.

Those five days I spent at the writer’s conference gave me time to pause and listen to the silent driver behind so many of my decisions. So much of my fear is rooted in the idol of approval.

Finding some breathing room in the midst of life’s chaos also means we can reconnect with the One who conquered sin—the stunning One that heals and cleanses us of idolatry.

At the conference—besides running smack dab into my disease to please—I cried a lot. I even broke down crying in front of several well-known authors.

I cried tears of joy at the realization I’m not the only struggling writer. I broke down in frustration. I wept as I laid down the writing/approval idol.

I even teared up during pitches to agents and publishers, too. You know what? I don’t even care if everyone remembers me as “that weepy girl.”

It was real. Turns out just being requires honesty. Maybe Candace Payne has raucous laughter, and I have buckets of tears?

God wants to set us free moment by moment as we live and breathe in His presence.

What are some ways you can slow down and create some breathing room in your life?

4 Reasons I Quit Using My Bible App

Why I Quite Using Add heading

I never meant for my phone’s Bible app to replace my Bible. It just sort of happened.

Gradually, YouVersion was the only way I read the Bible. It started off great. I kept track of where I left off. I could listen and read simultaneously, which added depth to my reading.

Then laziness set in and I only half-heartedly listened. Here’s where it gets embarrassing. At some point I discovered all the multitasking I could do while listening to my Bible . . . like play Solitaire.

Even as I completed my reading each day, I wasn’t getting anything out of it. My mind wondered, and when I used my phone app, it wondered A LOT.

I can’t even tell you the number of times I opened the wrong app. Call it muscle memory, but my fingers seemed to always find Facebook or Twitter. And just like that twenty minutes vanished.

So I’m quitting my Bible app and here’s four reasons why:

1. I’m going back to my leather Bible because I want my kids to see me reading it. I want them to see me pacing around the house with my nose in the Book, not the app. God knows they see me often enough with my phone. I want them to know mommy reads her Bible.

2. I miss holding the soft leather cover and flipping the thin pages. I love to underline and write in the margin. I know you can do that in the app, but it’s not the same as inking a sentence I hope my grandchildren will one day read. Turns out, Crossway makes a Bible for scribblers like me. You can check it out here.

3. I want to linger on the pages. Since the app the quality of my Bible reading has slipped big time. I love the Bible app in a pinch and for those who wouldn’t otherwise read it, but I know me. I tend to hustle through. I don’t want to read the Bible the same way I read my e-mail or text messages.

4. I want to remember where stuff is. Remember Bible drills? I dominated at that game. The youth leader would usually say. “Take out your swords,” (meaning the Bible). Next we would race to whatever obscure book and verse they called.

Today, while thumbing through my Bible, I caught myself thinking, “Where is Galatians again?” Use it or lose it as they say. I’m already losing so much attention and focus to my phone. I don’t want to lose this too.

Don’t everyone go quit your Bible app. YouVersion and other apps are wonderful tools, and the app developers are pure geniuses. But for me, the decision seems right at this stage in my life.

I may still use it from time to time, when I’m in a waiting room or to listen to it in the car. I’m sure I’ll whip it out when life gets hectic, but I’m done with depending on my phone for my Bible.

I’m saving my phone for audiobooks and e-books, not for reading the Good Book. For that I want to hold it in my hands and flip the pages.

What about you? What’s your favorite way to read the Bible?

Laundry, Motherhood, Prayer

IMG_0007.JPGAs a child I daydreamed of monasteries and monks and what it would be like to cloister away all day to pray and read.

I love solitude, and I thought monks—with all their praying—were as close to God as you could get.

Ok, maybe I was a weird kid. But even as a child I saw prayer’s importance.

In junior high I scrawled my prayer needs into a journal, faithfully tending that list. By high school praying had etched itself in me, carrying me through two years of ministry training and then college.

I never really struggled to pray—not until marriage and motherhood, when diapers and dishes swallowed up my time. After kids, the question, “Have I prayed today?” quickly turned into “Did I remember to brush my teeth?”

On these days I appreciate the simple prayers—what Anne Lamont calls the “three essential prayers, “Wow,” “Help,” and “Thanks.”

Motherhood showed me how I complicated prayer. I treated prayer like an end itself—like a spiritual barometer—not the bridge to know Jesus.

I no longer see prayer like a subject we can master. It’s not a game we win or lose.

Imagine if we charted and measured how much we talked to our spouses or our children?

God doesn’t watch us from on high with a stop watch, calculating how many minutes we devote, just like I don’t carefully measure the minutes my sons spend with me.

But I do take note when they choose to snuggle up next to me. I notice their small acts of gratitude and love. God, too, notices when his children trust him enough to come—not out of duty—but out of love. God doesn’t judge us by the clock, but he does test our hearts for faith.

Sometimes we forget that mountains don’t move because of heavy-duty lifting in the act of prayer, but the faith behind the prayer—faith in the Mountain Mover.

We earth-dwellers so often forget that without faith we will never please God (Heb. 11:6).

As humans this confounds us. I can picture myself in that fanatical crowd after Jesus feeds the five thousand. They can’t wait to find out what they must do to accomplish God-pleasing work. Jesus’ answer still catches me by surprise.

He didn’t tell them to go to the synagogue to pray for hours or send them away pledging a laundry list of good works.

Here’s how John’s Gospel records it, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent’” (John 6:29).

Believing. The true work of God is not in doing, but believing.

Allow that truth to sneak into your heart and smuggle out the fear your prayers don’t matter or measure up. Allow the grace-healing power of belief to set you free so you can keep trusting and talking to the One who offers unending relationship.

And when we begin to remember that our prayer walk is really a love walk, we’ll run to prayer

Practical Prayer Help

  • Don’t wait for quiet to have a “quiet time.” Solitude may never come, but God can calm your nerves and anxious heart when the house pulses with the busyness of life.
  •  Plan it. Set your alarm and coffee pot. If you want to develop a workout routine, habit experts tell us to lay out our clothes the night before. In the same way remove some of the barriers to prayer. Get your spot ready, complete with Bible, blanket, pen, and notepad.
  • Carve out time. Make what Ann Voskamp calls “hard stops” to pray. I think of these as little mini vacations from work and kids—time to connect with God, if only for five minutes.
  • Get sleep. Sleep might as well be a spiritual disciple because without enough of it, all the other spiritual disciplines falter.
  • Walk. For me motionless prayer so often lapses into sleeping, so I pace around my house to keep myself awake and focused. If you’re able, quit the house for a prayer walk outside.

Birthing Dreams and Needing Someone to Believe in You

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They don’t call it the ring of fire for nothing.

The baby’s head was crowning, and my midwife could see his full head of curly brown hair.

“Push,” she said for the fifteenth time. The pain was immense. So was the fear, and as I sat fully dilated in tub of warm water, this wasn’t a great time to lose my faith in natural birth.

I was seconds away from holding my baby if I could just push a little harder…

But instead of pushing I wanted to give up. I questioned my ability to give birth to this kid, and the soundtrack in my head went a little like this:

You’re incapable.

You can’t do it.

They’re going to have to cut this baby out of you.

Almost as soon as I heard those thoughts, they were coming out of my mouth.

“Maybe I need a C-section. I don’t know if I can do this.”

Thankfully, my midwife and nurses believed in me, even when I didn’t. My husband and mother believed in me too.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, God believed in me.

“Push,” she said again. So I did, not the test-the-water, half-hearted pushing, but the real, let’s-get-this-baby-out kind of pushing.

I knew the difference then, and I know it now. Sometimes I want to dip my toe in the water and talk about doing hard things, but other times I do those hard things.

There’s pushing in fear, and then there’s pushing past fear.

Are up against something tough? Or maybe God made you mayor of Toughville? Don’t bow to fear. Don’t give way to panic.

When fear crops up, find friends to ground you. Find a community to believe in you.

A friend recently reminded me of the ugly, beautiful chaos of birth. She’s helping me stay grounded and give birth to my own little bundle of a book.

What dreams are you wanting to give birth to? What tough things do you need to push through?

Find a way to silence the self-doubt and the mental fortitude to bear down and push past the pain. I believe in you and so does God.

It’ll all be worth it.

What Tom And Jerry Teaches us About Preaching the Gospel

Tom and Jerry

The Tom and Jerry cartoons always bored me. Why would anyone want to watch Tom chase Jerry for more than one episode?

Despite, Tom’s near catches, Jerry almost always outwits Tom. The same story told over and over again gets old.

Or does it? I never grasped Tom and Jerry’s power to hypnotize until my two-year old dragged me onto the sofa with him to watch. That day I understood why the cat-and-mouse franchise just celebrated its 75th birthday.

Right there on the sofa Tom and Jerry taught me three principles we as Christians need to embrace as we preach “Christ and him crucified,” (1 Cor. 1:23).

  • Children don’t watch the show to hear a new story. They watch see the old story told in a new and interesting way.

Tom and Jerry’s producers know how to reinvent the classic cartoon without losing its essence. Through updated music and modern animation, its creators keep the story relevant.

Churches must do the same. Creativity doesn’t change our message—it only enhances it. We need to tell the Christ story in a different way.

Books chock full of religious jargon, or “Christian-ese,” fill libraries. We need to find fresh words and replace stale analogies. When we talk to our friends about Christ, we need metaphors that relate to culture.

  • My kids watch to see the simple story unfold into new layers.

They find comfort in knowing how the basic story doesn’t change.

And isn’t this true of the gospel? We could live for 500 years and never plumb its depths or appreciate its beauty.

The gospel’s never-ending work in us keeps peeling callouses from our hearts and challenging us to new levels of love and grace.

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  • The story itself matters.

No one tunes in to see if Tom will actually catch Jerry (although he does a few times). Creators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera understood this.

Likewise, Christians need to stand on the conviction the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus matter. But for an example of an old story told afresh, we can look no further than the Cartoon Network.

That day on the sofa I saw Tom dance the flamenco across the screen, in step with a castanet-clad kitty.

My five-year old’s eyes widened, probably anticipating the banana Jerry flings onto the platform.

I don’t remember the rest of the episode. I was too busy watching my son’s belly jiggle in laughter while I savored their wild guffaws, their eyes transfixed on the TV.

**Author Note: This story first appeared on Authenticity Book House’s website.

Five Things I Want My Kids to Know on MLK Day

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I’m a white woman raising a black niece and two biracial sons, but we don’t talk about race at home.

We’ve shielded them from the recent racial tensions in our country. We don’t talk about Ferguson at the dinner table.

My five-year old says daddy is “brown,” and that sums up about all he knows. We’ve chosen to let our kids develop their own self-concepts without the labels of “white,” or “black.” Because last time I checked my sons are both.

My kids don’t recognize skin color as relevant information to any conversation. They don’t see race as a differentiator.

I don’t think my children are the only ones who are naïve to race. And this gives me so much hope. Without the color concern, racism could die in their generation.

It sounds so idealistic until I take a walk with my niece and hear her startled questions.

When I ask her if she knows what race means, she hasn’t a clue. I get the same answer when I ask her if she remembers Martin Luther King, Jr.

Apparently, she wasn’t listening to me this time last year. So we walk and talk. And I begin to grasp for the right words.

I don’t want her to live with her head in the sand. I want her to know about the Civil Rights Movement without reliving the pain or implanting fear.

We talk about segregation and how grandma wasn’t allowed to attend school with black children when she was a girl.

“But that’s wrong, auntie,” she says, and I nod and segue into why MLK day is a holiday. We talk about Jim Crow laws and Rosa Parks.

But that’s not all I tell her.

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  • I tell her that she lives in a better world than the one I grew up in, where subtleties of racism existed everywhere and were felt by everyone.
  •  I tell her the hue of her skin doesn’t mean anything in terms of what she can accomplish.
  •  I explain how she can live beyond others’ preconceived ideas and that I want her to live untethered by conventions. May she never allow herself to be defined by a “gap,” whether it’s race or gender.
  • I tell her racism still exists and like any other sin it begs for grace, redemption and a love that “covers a multitude of sin,” (1 Peter 4:8).
  • I want her to know that racism isn’t an American problem but a human problem and that there’s a cure. “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Galatians 3:28 NLT).

 

She listens, and I see the question sprout on her face. She wants to know more about grandma and segregation. “But that happened so long ago,” she concludes.

I start to explain how 60 years ago wasn’t that long, but I realize that to her, it feels like ancient history.

And this, too, gives me hope.

 

When Work Doesn’t Feel Like Worship

Photo by Mark Spearman, via Creative Commons.

Photo by Mark Spearman, via Creative Commons.

Mom kept the gritty green soap by the sink for dad to scrub the grease out of the creases of his hands. Tractor grime and machine oil made a home in his fingernails.

As a child, I would watch his pocket knife scrape the black from underneath his nails. They never stayed clean for long. Roads needed grading, cattle were hungry, and fences never mended themselves.

Those dirty, work-worn hands held me and tucked me in at night.

While some men punched out blue collar jobs with disdain, my father arrested each day with joy.

I still glimpse that joy in him today. As he drives a bailer through wind-swept, Oklahoma fields, he brags about his view from the cabin, as if to say, can you believe I get to do this all day long?

Interrupt him and you’ll hear the same maxim, “We’re burning daylight.”

Although dad’s no armchair theologian, he understands as well as Adam the outcome of man’s fall: dusty earth and sweat on his brow. But dad has never seen work as a curse.

Dad’s habits teach a message of faithfulness in the way he wakes up every day to welcome work as a reward.

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Photo by David Brossard via Creative Commons

Photo by David Brossard via Creative Commons

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As a child, dad didn’t believe in church, and I wasn’t sure if he believed in God. If he prayed, it was while he chopped wood or sowed fields by the last light of day.

He hasn’t memorized much Scripture but can preach about how an open heart can find joy in the mundane, and how a sharp mind can find interest in almost anything. And he can talk for days about agriculture if you let him.

His life speaks about finding purpose in labor, how to toil well without trading peace for grumbling.

Isn’t there always room to gripe about our lot in life?

But dad’s learned the expense of complaining isn’t worth the return. A paycheck-to-paycheck life teaches thankfulness in a way that having more than you need never will.

I can’t recall a day his hands haven’t found something to do. Maybe that’s just life on a farm.

Or maybe it’s because he doesn’t see work as a burden. He chooses to see work as life-giving instead of soul-draining.

Today my father’s fingernails still attract dirt from every direction. He often jokes that he gets to play in the dirt with his favorite toy, a mini bulldozer. As he clears pastures and levels earth to make ponds and houses, you would never know he’s working.

He tells me he’s made his peace with the One who never stops working on our behalf.

I think work can lead us all to worship if we’ll let it.

 

This post is a part of The High Calling’s community link-up. Anyone can share stories. Check it out here.

 

Brossard Photo Credit

Spearman Photo Credit

 

 

 

When Trusting God Doesn’t Come Easily

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I have a love hate relationship with Proverbs 3:5-6.

God’s Word, I adore, but I’m not great at trusting.

Oh how I want to live out its beautiful simplicity. How I’ve pined for God to direct my path all these years. But lately, I just can’t help feeling mocked by this verse.

Telling me to lean not on my own understanding is a little like telling a height phobic to climb his first ropes course.

I didn’t realize it at the time. I was too busy laughing, but I witnessed this very thing when my 5-year old cajoled his dad onto a ropes course.

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My little guy couldn’t go up alone, and I didn’t bring closed-toed shoes, so my husband took the bait.

Mike comes from a long line of a feet-on-the-ground kind of people, and I’ll never forget the look of nervous panic on his face the first time our son asked him to ride a toddler roller coaster.

I saw the same look on his face as he stared at the five-story ropes course. But up he climbed and never looked back. He maneuvered the course, careful to avoid the many zip lines.

Not my son though. Once he was comfortable with the harness, he knew it was okay if he slipped. He understood he wouldn’t fall beyond the harness’ grip.

My son moved so fast the workers made him stop and wait for Mike to catch up. I lost count of all the times he zipped along, feet dangling in the air.

The ropes course has two exits. Take a bungee-type leap from the top or walk the ropes down. My son took the plunge. His dad took the long way.

I can’t help wonder how many times I’ve taken the long way because I couldn’t trust that God’s grip was strong enough to keep me from falling.

How many times have I missed the fun of zip lining through life because I couldn’t silence the nagging doubt in my mind?

I know I’m not alone. We’re safety obsessed people in service of a dangerous God.

Still, I watch God wooing me up my own ropes course of faith. My feet long for the ground and my hands ache from holding onto the cord that’s holding me.

Lately, I’ve failed at living Prov. 3:5-6 because I’ve made it all about me. I’ve put all the balls in my court.

It’s like I have an app gauging how well my heart is trusting, and I keep checking it all day instead of checking in with the trustworthy One.

One thing about trust I’m sure of, it doesn’t come by looking inward. Trust happens as we gaze upward.

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The Brave Song

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As I awake a tidal wave of anxiety rolls in and pins me to my bed.

I hear the kids downstairs, and that tone of voice means one thing—a fight will ensue. I pull the covers over my head and let the undertow of dread pull me under.

The kitchen needs cleaned. The laundry beast needs tamed. Church responsibilities loom. Is this my life?

I hear my husband break up the fight. The house quiets, but an unseen hand turns up the volume of negativity in my mind, lies amplified.

You’re a failure, the worst mom ever. Loser. Fat. Idiot. Hack. Poser. Socially Inept.

If “hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul,” as Emily Dickenson said, then my hope just flew the coop.

But then I hear it, my new war cry. An anthem I sing to myself when I don’t want to face the world outside my covers.

Be brave.

That’s all I say, but the whisper stirs in me courage to quit the bed and put feet to floor. I am brave, I tell myself. No longer a lily-livered girl, God made me strong, confident and full of faith.

I’m learning to speak kind words to myself—the words of God. These truth words don’t come easily. Sometimes they burrow through two tons of lies before they can settle in my mind.

On my darkest days these lies roar to me from my dreams. Singing the brave song helps. Faith quiets the lies like rain clouds part for the sun.

The Bible brims over with songs of courage. Some days I murmur these ancient brave songs to myself.

“Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,

 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,  who satisfies your desires

with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Pslam 103: 2-5 NIV).

Abraham knew about bravery. I can see old Abe leaving home when God said so, setting off for destination unknown. I see him stroke his beard and ponder. Does he overanalyze every bend in the road like I tend to?

I didn’t think so a few years ago. I saw Abraham as fearless—so patriarchal and perfect. I realize now perfect, is what I imposed on Abraham—it was the ideal I reached for. Perfect and fearless.

I’m sure Abraham had moments, seasons—maybe even years of doubt.

I can see Abraham having it out with God right there on the road to Canaan, maybe just like the fight I heard from my covers.

God, why are you making me move? Can’t you just tell me where I’m going? Can’t you see what a huge inconvenience this is for me?

Abraham, the father of our faith, probably knew better than anyone how belief and fear can mingle.

Watch him walk toward Mt. Moriah, wood on his back and his Isaac chatting innocently by his side. You think his heart wasn’t pounding out of his chest?

But somehow Abraham learned that faith is not the absence of fear. He learned to dance to the rhythm of his own fearful heart.

Abraham found his own brave song.

Maybe it was the sound of bushes in the wind mixed with the cricket’s song, the first time God appeared to him.

In the middle of crippling fear, faith can arise. It can be as simple as a tune that your heart hums and when all hope has vanished.

What’s your brave song? What tract do you play in your mind to overcome fear?

 

 

 

 

Quitting My Media Habit Cold Turkey

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Media consumes my day, scribbling in the margins of my life.

I know I’m not alone.

An October study found Americans swallow up a whole 11 hours per day of various forms of media ranging from texting to radio. This same study predicts American’s appetite will average 15 hours a day by next year.

I feel the effects on my attention span. My young children tax my brain enough already, so I decided to take a drastic step to reclaim my mind. I set aside the remote and started a one month media fast.

Could you do it? I struggled through, and I already feel myself thinking clearer and praying more.

I feel a little like Cinderella once her fairy godmother poofed onto the scene, but instead of a gown and carriage, I’ve been given the gift of time. Three hours more per day descends on me like a package out of the sky in the form of no television, movies, Facebook or fiction.

So with this newfound gift of time, I accomplish more. I have even started this blog I’ve been meaning to get to for years. Without the distraction of TV, I brainstormed a book I want to write.

As a reward in itself, I study the Bible and exercise once the kids visit lullaby land. Quitting my media routine redeems 8:30-11:30 p.m. Every. Single. Day.

Replacing a bad habit with a good one is the only way to avoid returning to the foul habit, so I read every day, juggling between two or three different books.

Reading sharpens my thinking and speech. Conversations come easier, and I pause less often to think. My language and vocabulary have improved, and all the reading sharpens my writing.

I don’t check my Facebook feed five times a day anymore. This hones my focus to accomplish the tasks before me. You might still find me wondering around my kitchen trying to remember what I was doing, but my memory improves daily.

As far as TV goes, I don’t miss it at all. Most of the time I only sit in front of the tube to spend time with the Kenyan. He winds down. We hold hands and laugh with each other at the jokes. Sitting with the Kenyan I miss, but the mindless TV I will skip in the future.

Movies I definitely miss. A good movie is art. I will add movies back into my schedule once I make more progress on the blog and book.

Fiction I will add back into my media diet but avoid the meaningless novels cluttering my library. Instead I’ll focus on classics, bestsellers and historical fiction.

I pick up fiction second only after my head goes numb to nonfiction. This is when AMC’s Walking Dead would tempt me, but I will turn to fiction much more after seeing the benefits I’ve reaped so far.

Have you ever gone to sleep Sunday night and wondered, what happened to the weekend?

Before quitting my media habit, I often asked myself this. So the next weekend I would set out to rest more intentionally spending more time on the couch with my remote, but rest never comes.

Instead, TV arrests me and I end up serving it. True rest comes from erasing the extra media scrawled into the margin of my life.

No longer a slave to media, my mind can rest, explore and think freely. I bless the day I found the freedom to turn it off. Now I can rest.