Cherishing What Matters

Photo by Stuart Miles taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by Stuart Miles taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Sometimes I approach Thanksgiving with a bit of a hum-bug spirit, thinking of all the to-dos and obligations. Other times, like this year, I toss those to-dos and self-imposed expectations aside to simply be. To enjoy time with family, the colors of fall, the smell of roasting turkey.

This year feels especially significant as it’s our daughter’s first Thanksgiving home, post college. Oh, how we’ve missed her, which might seem strange, considering she’s only 45 minutes away, and comes home quite often. But if you’re a parent, you understand. Our hearts hold tight to those precious gifts God once placed firmly in our hands. Today my sweet friend and fellow ACFW writer Ginger Solomon tells us about a special Thanksgiving blessing she received one year. As you read her post, think of your family and the love that holds it together. Or, if family is tough, think of the close relationships God has developed in your life. And hold tight to them. Invest in them. And thank God for them

A Special Thanksgiving Blessing by Ginger Solomon 

On this day twenty-two years ago–well, technically yesterday, but it was Thanksgiving Day that year—I delivered a turkey of my own at 2:19 in the morning. My turkey weighed 9 lbs and measured twenty-two

Photo by kangshutters taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by kangshutters taken from freedigitalphotos.net

inches long. He’s a big boy now, or rather a man, growing to a pretty tall 6’5”.

Every year, I give thanks for that child and the six others God has blessed me with.

Psalm 127:4-5 says, “Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior’s hands. How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them! He will not be put to shame when he confronts his accusers at the city gates.” (NLT) Well, I’m not a young man, but I still feel blessed.

Many people thought I was crazy after I announced pregnancies four through seven. I mean really, didn’t I know what caused that? Yes, people did have the audacity to ask those types questions. Most times I just smiled and ignored them.

Sometimes when I took them all to the store with me, which I did have to do for a while—my oldest was thirteen when the baby was born—I’d get odd looks, or a my-you-have-your-hands-full.

But even though I had some tough days—as most moms do—I wouldn’t trade any one of them for the world. They are unique individuals and will bless society with their gifts and abilities.

IMG_0496My first child (24) will graduate from nursing school with an RN next month. Child two (22)—mentioned above—graduates in May with a BS in Engineering(Computer). Child number three (18) just started college, aiming for a BS in Engineering(Mechanical). Child number four (girl #1; 17) will graduate high school in May. She wants to be a children’s pastor. Children five through seven (15, 13, & 11) don’t quite know what they want to do yet, but whatever it is, I’m ready to be amazed by God.

So this Thanksgiving as you wipe dirty hands and faces, worry about spilled something, struggle with getting a child to bed because he or she ate too much dessert, be thankful. That child will grow up and teach you much about trusting God.

And if you don’t have a child of your own, or yours are grown, help a mom out when she looks a little frazzled. Carry her groceries. Wipe a face. Hold a hand. Clean up a spill. If you’re a stranger, offer to push her cart while she carries the baby or consoles the toddler. Pay for her groceries, her lunch, or just a can of soda.

Even if all you can offer is a smile, she will be grateful that you’re not frowning at her because her child is having a bad day.

I pray blessings on your family from our family. Happy Thanksgiving.

Ginger Solomon is a Christian, a wife, a mother to seven, and a writer — in that order (mostly). When Solomon author imagenot homeschooling her youngest four, doing laundry or fixing dinner, she writes or reads romance of any genre, some sci-fi/fantasy, and some suspense. She’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, president of her local writing group, and writes regularly for two blogs. In addition to all that, she loves animals, likes to do needlework (knitting, crocheting, and sometimes cross-stitch), and is a fan of Once Upon a Time and Dr. Who.

Visit her online at her Website, her group blog Inspy Romance, her Facebook Author Page, on Twitter @GingerS219 and Pinterest

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this. What’s your Thanksgiving and Christmas look like? Will you have family close? For those who have strained family relationships or are mourning the loss of loved ones, I’m sorry. That’s tough. I hope you have a strong support group around you to help you enjoy this time. I hope you’ll find a way to make Thanksgiving special, however that looks for you. For those who will get to spend time with their loves ones, don’t let the to-dos take away from the must-dos of showing love, spending time, sharing laughter… eating massive quantities of pumpkin pie. With a decaf, almond milk latte, of course!

Cultivating Intimacy

ID-10094176

 

 

It’s easy to fall into rote behaviors. To pray without thinking; to worship half-heartedly with our mouth singing one thing while our mind jumps to every task awaiting us. To read Scripture without personalizing and digesting the precious, intimate, life-changing Words of God.

It happens every year, it seems. Actually, more like every month, but admitting such would be far too self-disclosing. Somehow, my to-do list begins to grow, tugging at my heart, my mind, my worship. And when that happens, I’m left with two choices: keep going as if busyness is somehow normal and desirable, as if it’s perfectly okay to allow the temporal to crowd out the eternal–to keep me from the One person, the only One, who can strengthen, nourish, refresh, and fulfill me. Or I can stop! And make a conscious choice to slow down.

King David’s words to his son, right before assigning him a monumental task that would take decades to complete, really resonated with me this morning.

“…learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately. Worship and serve Him with your whole heart and a willing mind. For the Lord sees every heart and knows every plan and thought. If you seek Him, you will find Him” (1 Chron. 28:9 NLT).

Learn to know God intimately.

Worship and serve Him with [my] whole heart. An undivided heart. A focused and surrendered heart. And a willing mind, AbideVersejpg-photopublicdomainwhich means, I need to surrender my mind, and all those lists and agendas that run through it in a given day, to the lover of my soul. If I do that, if I intentionally seek Him, I will find Him.

Today, I need to unplug. Slow down. Rest and connect. And I plan to intentionally fill that need. This morning my sweet hubby and I are going to a lavender farm not too far from us, so we can enjoy the beauty of God’s creation, a creation that naturally draws the heart to the Creator. We’ll listen to praise music. Pray. And simply rest.

What about you? When was the last time you set your to-do list aside and simply slowed down? What are some ways, when your heart and mind feel pulled in a thousand directions, that you still it and center it in worship?

Share your thoughts in the comments below, and have a happy, restful, worshipful weekend!

Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock, Americans Love Their Clock

Last night our church talked about the parable of the Good Samaritan and somehow this led to a conversation on social mores and customs. (I’m not sure if it was a way to excuse our Americanized, “It’s all about me” mentality, or if we just happened to hop down a rabbit trail or two.) The jest of it was that Americans do things so differently than the majority of other nations. Many of our neighboring countries place a high priority on relationships. According to our small group leader, in Africa, relationships are valued to such an extent, one stays until a conversation is done–until the conversing party excuses them. There’s no, “Hey, I hate to cut you off, but I’ve got to go.” If you miss work, you miss work. I suppose you’d learn to schedule your fellowship time on Saturdays. lol.

In America, it’s all about productivity and achievements. People think nothing of fathers who can’t make it home for dinner or mothers who have their nannies on speed dial. It doesn’t take long to figure out where our priorities lie. Relationships? Not high on the list.

And before I get too far, I have to admit, I am very guilty of putting my schedule before relationships. Partially because I’m an introvert–a gregarious introvert, I suppose you could say. It’s not that I can’t handle social events–in fact, I’ll probably be the most talkative of the bunch. It’s just that I’d prefer to stay at home. With my computer, my books, and maybe some softly playing music. But if I’m not careful, my tasks can dominate my day, leaving others feeling a bit unappreciated.

This is a balance I’m not sure I’ll ever master, but it’s one I can never neglect. For me, scheduling works best. (That sounds a bit odd, I know.) With my family, there are certain days and times that I set aside to be available. With my friends, I’ve had to schedule days in. That way I can’t “get too busy” or conveniently decline. And with my daughter, it can be even harder because as a teen, she’s convinced she doesn’t need parental time. Only I know she does. It’s the time spent in leisurely walks or nestled on the couch that will glue our hearts together when the threat of rebellion seeps in.

Elizabeth George, author of A Woman After God’s Own Heart, has an effective way of keeping first things first. Each day she grabs a slip of paper and folds it into individual sections. Each section is given a category: God, husband, children, and so forth. She begins with prayer, “Lord, show me how I can demonstrate that you are first in my life today.” Then, “Show me how I can love my husband today.”

She comes up with one tangible way to bless each of the individuals on her list. For her God category, perhaps that means spending time in prayer. For her husband, it might mean cooking a special meal. Or maybe she’ll call and ask, “What can I do for you today?” (Gotta tell you, the first time I tried that one, I was pretty worried. Visions of my husband unloading a mammoth to-do list filled my mind. But most of the time, his requests have been very minimal.) It doesn’t really matter what the action is. What’s important is that she took the time to be intentional with her love.

It’s always better to be proactive than reactive. I’ve known so many couples standing on the other side of divorce that highly regret the lack of time they spent investing in their marriage. I’ve also seen countless parents watch their children spiral into destruction, wishing they’d been more consistent with family time and Bible discussions.

But on the flip side? I’ve also witnessed many couples married for decades still light up when their spouse enters the room and I’ve watched numerous adult children look upon their parents with deep respect and admiration.

They say hindsight is twenty-twenty, but all you’ve really got is  today.

So here’s the challenge: the holidays can be stressful or enriching. You can have the best decorated house on the block, attend all the right functions and buy that perfect gift for the tenth office party you’ll attend. Or, you can scale it back and determine to put first things first, even if that means saying no to that time-sapping function. Or perhaps forego cooking that ten course meal in order to spend a few extra moments with your family. Better yet, find ways to include your children or grandchildren in the preparations, focusing more on the event than the outcome. Meaning, if your ten year old’s iced cookies look a little less than perfect, let it go.

What about you? Are the holidays a time of stress or a time of celebration and connection? If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, perhaps that’s a sign to scale something back. What “Americanized’ traditions and expectations have seeped into your holidays, detracting from its true purpose? What steps can you take to refocus? What events and activities do you need to say no to? And what could you do simpler?

Tomorrow we’ll talk about the ever-invasive threat of materialism. Yeah, I know, this topic is way overdone, but if you’re anything like me, the constant reminder to put first things first with a counter-culture mentality is a constant battle. One worth contemplating periodically.

1 John 3:18 “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

Staying Grounded

The other day I was talking to my husband about what a wonderful, peaceful summer I have had. It wasn’t that I sat around all day, it was the fact that what I did was on my time. No (or relatively few) deadlines boxing me in, no jam-packed must-do-lists dominating my schedule. Nothing but day after day of opportunities with ample time to grab the ones that appeared most appealing. It’s funny how much stress can be eliminated if you get rid of the “have-to’s”.

My husband had to remind me, of course, that my peace was temporary. Come fall (which will hit me head on tomorrow), my schedule will once again be jam-packed and I’ll be chasing the clock, cramming as many things into my day as possible. And if I can do two or three, or even four, things at once, even better. Just thinking about it gives me high-blood pressure, but what stresses me out most of all is not my upcoming schedule and commitments, but the possibility that I will get so distracted with the here and now that I’ll lose sight of my life-line. Because without a consistent and continual connection with the Holy Spirit, I’ll come crashing down faster than a torpedo. (Unfortunately, I’ve learned this from experience.)

And I think God is trying to warn me of this very thing. Because He knows how much I need Him–for sanity sake. Everything feels so much easier when my heart is connected to God. It’s easy to get caught up in my to-do list, allowing the day-to-day circumstances to dictate how I spend my time. But God has a better plan. He doesn’t want me chasing my tail–He wants me chasing Him, allowing Him to take care of the rest. If I would but take the time to listen. So now, knowing that I’m easily distractible, easily overwhelmed, and blinded by the here and now, I’m asking God to intervene. To grab hold of my heart, drawing me closer to Him day by day, moment by moment, grounding me in the center of His will. (Perhaps a bottle of super glue would help.)

I always find it amusing–or perhaps convicting is the better word–when I hear the same thing from multiple sources. It’s like God knows His message is gonna get jumbled between my ears so He’ll tell me in multiple ways at various times until it finally settles into my heart. Knowing how busy my schedule is about to become, I have been sharing my concerns with God, asking Him to help me stay centered in Him. And day by day, He has been answering that prayer, through books, sermons, and songs.

A few days ago, a friend mailed me Francis Chan’s latest book, The Forgotten God. In a nutshell, it’s about relying on and connecting with the Holy Spirit. (It’s hard to connect with God when you’re living off of shout-out prayers.) As I read, I was reminded afresh of my deep need for God and my tendency to allow the mundane to crowd Him out. But having spent the summer resting in His hands, feeling His love pour through me, I am unwilling to return to that place of hurried distraction. And yet, I know without God’s miraculous intervention, come September, I’ll be pulling my hair out chasing after yet another to-do list.

So I set the book down, turned on some Christian music, and closed my eyes, allowing God’s presence to fill me. And I asked for help.

About two hours later, help came in the form of a sermon. (Funny how that works.) I hope my church will put up a podcast so that I can link to it. It was a great message and the start of a great series entitled, “Finding Balance”. Our pastor gave tips on how to take control of your life and your schedule so that it doesn’t take control of you. For the most part, it came down to prioritizing and intentional living. If I really love God like I say I do, if I really believe that He is in control and that He guides my steps, then I will not allow other things to crowd Him out. I’ll guard my quiet times even if it means leaving something else undone. And to a large extent, that comes down to faith and trust. Do I really believe that God is working everything out for my good? Do I really believe He is in control? Or is that just a cute phrase that’s easy to say on Sunday morning but quickly forgotten when deadlines loom?

Today I’m making the choice to trust God not only with my salvation but also with my schedule. I will trust that if I put Him first, He will take care of the rest, believing that whatever doesn’t get taken care of must not have been as crucial as I thought it was. And when that frantic, distracted, and quite frankly, irrational, side of me wants to press to the surface, telling me I don’t have time to stop and pray, I’ll repeat one of my favorite phrases in the Bible, spoken by Jesus Himself: Luke 10:42 “but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.” Only I like to personalize it. “I will choose what is better, and it will not be taken from me.”

Read the whole passage here and then ask God to show you, day by day, moment by moment, what is the “better” God wants to give you. Then ask Him what you have allowed to get in the way.