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Wherever Fall Finds You

Fall is upon us. Yes Fall, where the cool winds blow in and draw us inside, where we make hot and savory meals in the crockpot, and cuddle under a throw to sip hot tea or a Pumpkin Spice Latte. The glorious season where we get to slip our unpainted toes into the comfort of knit socks and cute leather boots. Its that time again, where we get to slow down, just a bit, to admire the beautiful changing colors around us, and if we’re quiet enough, to feel our hearts stirring with the changing leaves.

We  gather together as the nights get darker and cooler, to laugh, and light candles, prepare and linger over hot yummy food, and good company…

If I sound nostalgic, its because I now live in Southern California. Yes, Sunny Orange County where Fall is a little bit of a pretense, since the days only continue their hot and humid march in their season-less monotony. Nonetheless, even us Californians like to gather together as the nights get darker and cooler, to laugh, and light candles, prepare and linger over hot yummy food, and good company, as we enjoy the months that transition us into the close of another year.

 

I have gotten to experience Fall in many different places and life circumstances, from my childhoods in Lake Tahoe to college days and early professional years in Sacramento and San Diego. From being a newlywed in St Louis, to a new mom in Sedona, to living as far away as Madrid, I’ve seen fall come and go in many different colors, and flavors, surrounded by different (and sometimes unexpected) people. I could tell you the Falls that were the most beautiful, most festive, and flavorful. If we had more time together, I would share with you about the Fall months my heart was full with friends and community, and the ones when loneliness followed behind me like a hand knit scarf.

Its easy to think that Fall should look and feel a certain way. But those that find themselves displaced from their homes by floodwater, for the broken hearted that mourn the loss of someone they thought would still be here, for the warrior women mustering courage as chemo drips into their veins, for you who are scared, or lonely, or disillusioned, Fall might look different than what you envisioned.

For those of us wrapped in Autumn nostalgia, and enjoying all the trimmings of Fall, enjoy. But for those finding that the festivity feels hollow this year, take heart. Jesus is in our midst, whatever your Fall looks like.

As I anticipate this season with my family, the prayer that I want to share with you is one we have spoken since I had to sit on my knees to reach the dinner table as a small kid. Its a prayer that my two little girls know by heart. I like it because its simple. It invites Jesus to come and join us wherever we’re at. Come Lord Jesus. It asks Him to make His home in our hearts and walls. Be our guest. It recognizes and thanks Him for what He has done, and what He is doing in our midst. Let these gifts to us be blessed.

As you snuggle in, and draw your loved ones close. As you slow down and sip life in, I pray that you would live out this prayer in your ordinary, every day. I pray that it would weave into your threadbare soul and keep your heart warm with a homespun kind of hope that gives comfort no matter where you find yourself this Fall—unpainted toes and all.

My First Book Launch Team: More Than Just Making It

About 6 weeks ago I signed up to be a part of my first ever book launch team. I didn’t know what this was exactly, but I knew I was 100% behind the author Erin Odom. You see, I’m in a writing support and encouragement group called Hope*Writers. Us Hope*Writers, we like to stick together, to pray for one another, to give positive feedback, and to promote each others work. But in HW, Erin is a shining star. Not just because her blog, Humbled Homemaker, is an amazing resource for moms (it is!), and not just because she is a great writer (she is), but because she is a person that is always answering questions, lifting others up, and offering encouragement and useful advice to other aspiring writers. This is an author I want to get behind.

To my surprise, her book More Than Just Making It wasn’t about mindful living or deeper spiritual awareness like I initially thought. Those are threads woven into it too, but when my book arrived in the mail, I laughed out loud. The full title was: More Than Just Making It: Hope for the Heart of the Financially Frustrated. While I’d love to read another book on living in the moment, receiving this book was a God wink, or as Erin calls it, “a kiss from Jesus.”

Yes God had been listening to my prayers. A burst pipe and a flooded house have displaced us from our home all summer. Dealing with insurance and the onslaught of expenses was not the easy process we’d imagined. In March my youngest daughter was diagnosed with a rare auto-immune disease that meant a week long hospital stay, prescriptions, and a monthly visit to the hospital’s infusion center. As a LCMS pastor, my husband is blessed with a generous paycheck, but all these circumstances on top of each other, meant God was challenging us to make every dollar count.

 Money is an uncomfortable topic that most of us would rather avoid. But Erin cuts through the tension with personal stories that pull you in. Her useful advice feels like its coming more from a friend over coffee, rather than just a book of how to’s. More than that, her engaging stories and compelling honesty help me think about other friends that may be in need. Friends that beneath the smiling facade, might be struggling to buy enough food to feed their family. Her book has helped me become more clued in to the difficult reality that exists within my own community and church.

I recommend Erin’s book if you’re looking for ideas on how to make your budget stretch, or even looking for supplemental income. I also recommend her book for those that are financially secure, to go along with Erin on her journey as an educated woman from a “good Christian home,” living in poverty. She upends our comfortable categories, and challenges readers to see that anyone could find themselves barely making it.

More than Making It shares a message of hope, offering practical advice, along with the hope that comes from faith and God’s redemption.

After all, Erin Odom is an example of how God can walk with us through difficult circumstances, that shape us into Hope*Writers; she is a walking testament to how our sad songs become love songs, and how our struggles transform into stories of His goodness.

Pre-order your copy of More Than Just Making It before September 5th to receive $220 of free bonus gifts. 

Dog Years

Hours pass like a slow drip, belly full of jumping beans,
Days ticked off a calendar,
Until the day that meant another year older,
“When Mommy…when?
“Shhh…Not yet.”

At a desk, Staring out the window, 
Sprinklers dot the glass,  
Sun and kelly green grass shout summer,
 “Ms. Lake, Can we leave….now?
“Shhh…Not yet.”

Slow days measured by ringing bells
The hallway stretches so long,
Ruby red cap, pressed gown, behind a closet door,
“Is it time?”
“Shhh…Not yet.”

Hair grown long, mind made up,
Perfect plans with sips of coffee,
Kitten Heels, A job, A lease
“Do I have it figured out?”
“Shhh..Not yet.”

Candles, a ring, a date on the calendar,
One day that changes all tomorrows,
Wrapped in white, hair pinned to perfect,
“Dad, Am I ready?”
“Shhh…Not yet.”

Swollen, aching, impatient 
Bursting with life, Ripe with change,
Belly hiding toes, Quiet pastel room,
“Dr, Is she coming?”
“Shh…Not yet.”

Anxious, praying, hoping trusting
Letting go of what is, Waiting for what’s coming,
Tears of change, Heart spilling life,
“God…Will it ever make sense?”
“Shh…Not yet.”

 

 

 

When You Love

 

Fickle child don’t pout,
Your birthday candles are puffed
and tucked back in their box,
But look at the twinkling lights
He’s hung for you in the sky,

Your castle made of blocks
may reach high and then fall down,
But you are His temple,

Your sweet head may swirl with fears, doubts, and a gajillion “what if’s”,
But your heart is
safely tucked inside His heart

Your balloon floats out of sight.
But He is everywhere,
At the end of the rainbow,
On the tip of your tongue,
In your dreams, 

When you love,
When you’re brave,
and especially
When you feel all alone.

 

 

 

 

Finding Faithful

When I was 5, my mom lost me in a small department store. She thought I was with my dad.

 I found a blonde woman with a kind expression on her face. She took me to a clerk that announced my mom’s name in a loud tinny voice over a microphone at the register.

I know now that if my mom had known I was lost, she would have searched for me frantically. She would have performed the kind of urgent red faced dance I do when I lose sight of one of my daughters. As a child though, I bought a small yellow bungee cord that I attached to my mom’s belt loop. Holding the other end, I thought I’d found a fool proof way to always keep my mom close- so she wouldn’t lose me ever again.

How often do I fool myself into thinking that God has lost sight of me or just doesn’t care? How often do I mistrust the people I love and trust most? In life’s uncertainty, I feel like a five year old little girl, lost amidst the shelves of unfamiliar problems, peering up at giants I don’t recognize.

In my insecurities, I hide, run away, and tether myself to false control in the form of approval, possessions, status, and ego. I beg God for my own plans to work out, rather than trusting in His plans.

This week we’re exploring “faithfulness” in our fruit of the Spirit Facebook study. What I’m realizing is that my own capacity to be faithful, depends on trusting God’s faithfulness to me.

I wish I could tell that five year old little girl how much her mommy loves her- how desperate her mom is to keep her safe. But I couldn’t understand this kind of fierce love until I became a parent myself.

I’ve come to learn that my mom’s love reaches further than a four foot bungee. More than that, I get to experience relationships that require a delicate balance of loving and trusting and holding another’s fragile heart in my careful hands. But even in faithful and loving relationships, I can get hurt and I can hurt those I love most. I’ve come to learn that God has designed these complicated relationships for me to seek His faithfulness, and to cultivate a deeper dependence on Him.

I can soak up God’s love and faithfulness to me in his Word, and when I feel lost I can whisper His name and find my way home. From that place of centeredness and security, I can be a faithful wife, compassionate mom, and kind stranger. I might feel lost sometimes, but I never leave His sight.

Giving up On My Dreams and Living in my Reality

I have a book that I bought that is supposed to teach me how to get things accomplished.

Its called “Eat that Frog,” by Brian Tracy. The only problem is I haven’t read it. I got that initial jolt of excitement when I read the back of the book while browsing in Barnes and Noble back before I owned a kindle. “Eat That Frog is a proven system for dramatically improving your time management skills so you can get more done, more effectively, in less time.”

Doesn’t that sound great you guys? It sounded great to me. I got a high when I bought the book, knowing that I was taking the first step in improving my time management. Only problem is I never seemed to find the time to read it. And that was BEFORE I had kids!

Because it always seems to be something, some excuse that holds me back from doing the things I know I should do. I’m sure you can fill in the blank with the prescription you’ve written yourself for personal improvement, “Once I’m done with ______________ then I will do this _____________.” I don’t know about you, but something always seems to come up that prevents me from being my aspiring self.

Take this blog for example. I haven’t written a thing because I’m always waiting for the perfect circumstances to sit down and pour out my heart in a meaningful way. The stars just haven’t aligned recently. So instead I’ll settle for an afternoon in my hotel room, my dog snoozing on the chair as the sun streams in through the clouds and sheer curtains on the seventh floor. I won’t mention my toddler covered in erasable marker creating a masterpiece on her arms and the coloring book on the floor beside me.

But I’m stealing a moment to write this because I’ve made a resolution. I’m going to stop waiting for the “once…then…” to be fully present in my life now. But I’m also going to stop trying to measure myself against an impossible standard.

This means a house thats relatively clean and not immaculate.

A diet that is a happy blend of salads and protein shakes and wine and chocolate chip cookies.

It means feeling accomplished when I find time to do a 10 minute workout instead of delaying working out until– well you know all the excuses.

It means sharing a blog post that shows my life and heart in process.

Its having friends over to laugh and sip wine on a Monday night while my kids sleep in the next room.

Best of all, having friends that love me and celebrate me and all my contradictions– the former hair stylist that never does her hair, the pastor’s wife that doesn’t like small talk and potlucks, and the stay at home mom that longs to change the world. 

I love stories about people accomplishing amazing feats, stories about redemption, the stories that depict people’s love and dedication to one another and their calling– the underdog that overcomes impossible odds to do something amazing. But sometimes these stories paralyze me.

Sometimes I need to step back from my aspirations and live my life one word at a time. I need to remember that the small things, like mustard seeds have incredible worth and potential.

So I’ll plant these little seeds that I have right now.  I’ll plant myself in this moment. And I’ll grow. I’ll grow little by little, in these days of undone to do’s, my barking dog, and a bed that seems to keep unmaking itself every morning.

I think I’ll focus on these little things and let God move the mountains.

 

 

Called to Be

sister

Calling. Something that seems to come outside us. That irresistible thing that beckons us, shapes us, needs us to engage. I don’t know about you, but this is a word that I’ve grappled with every few years, finding it impossible to sift it down to one single grain.

But I think more and more, calling is the complicated thing that our generation and younger generations seem to long for. To live a life of purpose that somehow pays the bills and fulfills us, so our lives feel good, and look good on Instagram. Is that what calling is? Or does it have an illusive quality- something we’re always looking to find more fully- but never fully “arrive” at.

When a person tries to fill themselves up with purpose, or position, popularity, or possessions, they are going to become bloated, and so incredibly empty.

In 1 Corinthians as Paul addresses the people of Corinth, he scolds them for allowing themselves to become “overinflated or distended” with pride- the Greek word physioo. As Pastor Tim Keller points out in his book about self forgetfulness, Paul doesn’t use the normal Greek word for pride, hubris, but makes a point to use this other, more descriptive word to emphasize the Corinthians problem.

When we try to fill ourselves up by searching for approval and achievement, we’re going at it the wrong way. Calling isn’t something that we need to search for outside of ourselves, but something God has planted within us; who God has created us to be. It flows out of who we are. Our essence.

Calling isn’t necessarily how we’re going to pay the bills, but maybe a nice bonus. Calling isn’t going to make our lives fall into perfect order, or gain us popularity, or make us look good on Instagram. Calling doesn’t mean that we always want to do it either- sometimes following our calling feels like trust, obedience, and hard work.

Calling is living out who God created us to be in a life that serves him and the people around us. It can be as small as writing an article for the preschool newsletter, reading our kids poems, or making a meal for good friends to share over a good conversation. It can look like sitting with someone when conversation is halting and uncomfortable and tears flood our vision. It can go bigger than we imagine by rebuilding a village in Africa, raising thousands of dollars for the underprivileged, or finding a cure that saves millions.

Calling isn’t about going to the right college or having a fantastic resume. It isn’t necessarily about traveling across the world or impacting thousands of lives. Lived out, calling looks like the next right thing.

But the point is- calling isn’t something we have to earn or prove, its created by God, and fueled by the Spirit. Its about prayer, faith, and steeping ourselves in His word. Day by day, minute by minute calling is lived out in trust and obedience.

So how do we teach our kids this, as we ourselves are still figuring it out?

I don’t have all the answers, but I think the first step is not pushing our kids to achieve. Achievement is great, but it flows out of being who we are. No I think first we need to teach our kids how to be. How to be present, how to be honest, how to be loved and loving, how to be whole. The first step is teaching them how to be God’s child. That happens when we bring them to church, when we pray with them, and read God’s word, when we talk with them and answer their questions.

But most of all it happens as we live out God’s calling in our own lives- quieting our hungry egos and filling ourselves up with him. Remembering that we don’t need to be popular, or skinny, successful, or rich to be loved by Him. We already are.

Prayer
Remind us that only You can satisfy this ache within us.

We come to you now with open palms and empty souls.
We are dry clay jars of dust, ready for you to fill us, fuel us, and repurpose us for Your glory.

We feel hungry and empty,
And yet we look to be filled by whatever is at the end of our fingertips.
Until we are full, and bloated, and completely unsatisfied.
Sometimes we’re distracted into believing we have all we need,
Sometimes we’re smug and satisfied, easily pleased with our own abilities.

Thank you for tugging our hearts back to You,
For reminding us of our overwhelming need for Your Glory.
Thank you that the Holy of Holies dwells in our chests,
No longer behind an untouchable veil.

Let us lean into our longing and linger in Your presence,
As you pass over us let us realize the magnitude of Who You are.
Satisfy us with your fullness, and let us continue to hunger for You

Thank you for reminding us that only You are our source for true fulfillment.
Touch us with Your presence Lord,
Fill our heart cups with Your living water
Fill our souls with the bread of your life.

We lift our palms to you, empty and filled, lost and repurposed.

 

Loved over Perfect

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I want to walk the fine line of perfection.
I want to be one way- until I lean too far in one direction, and then I overcorrect, leaving me dizzy with indecision and insecurity.

They call it happy medium, like there’s a measurement that amounts to that, but I’m realizing that its a constant balancing act. The moment I think I’ve got it down, my illusions comes crashing down as I face my false reality.

I think this is a dance we do as parents, as spouses, as kids, and at work, with our friends and even with people we don’t really like. Pretty much, as humans, we can try to walk life’s fine lines.

As I look at the scattered pieces of false realities and loose ends, I’m challenged to look at the fragmented beauty right in front of me.

Shakespeare writes in As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” He asserts with bold certainty that life is scripted and predictable, as we continue to go through the same lines and choreographed movements like a carefully directed play.

But God gave us free will. He gave us the ability to move and speak and choose as we wish. When we choose the right thing purely, its beautiful and organic, and right. When the right thing is forced it rings false,
like a dripping sweet compliment or a forced apology. And that is why God made us people that are freed by his love, that freely choose to love.

Love isn’t a carefully marked path, but a stumbling journey of trying, and failing, and keeping on moving, even if you don’t know if you’re going in the right direction. The life that God calls us to isn’t a pin straight line of truth, but blind steps of trust and obedience. Never as a mere pawn or player in a prewritten play, but gentle steps that unfold our own stories.

These stories aren’t measured by their perfection or our performance. No, these aren’t stories reviewed by critics or competing to be on a bestseller list. Each story is God’s love story to us. As we fall, and get back up, as we doubt, and trust, and hide and seek, and find, our stories unravel into a picture of forgiveness, of redemption, and of imperfect progress.

I will never walk the tight rope of perfection as a mom, as a wife, a friend, or any person. So instead of training my steps to fall in perfect line with who I think I should be, I land in the soft place of grace, where I am restored and reshaped. Instead of placing impossible expectations on myself, I can live loved. Loved by God, loving myself, so I can pour love into the world around me. Because when I’m loved, being perfect doesn’t seem so important.

“Come, Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it
Mount of Thy unchanging love”

How to Be Content

BE

“Dove,” she crooned in her sweet baby voice.

“What? Dove? No, what did you say?”

“Dove, dove, dove,” she insisted, pointing at the mantel above the fireplace.

I thought my 18 month old daughter was pointing to the small wooden bird standing there beside the carved books, shaped in the letters “B,” and “E,” for each of my daughters. But, was it possible? I don’t remember even showing her a picture of a dove, and for goodness sake, wouldn’t she just say bird?

She was getting frustrated now, gesturing wildly, and saying the word again and again, gaining more and more confidence, “Dove, mommy. Mommy! Dove!” 

I stood and picked her up, carting over to the direction her chubby finger pointed. I left some distance from the bird, to see if she chose it herself. She lunged with open hands toward it, and so I plucked it from the shelf and handed it to her. She cradled it and gazed at it lovingly “:Dove.”

I could have missed it. This gorgeous moment with my daughter as she dazzled me with who God is creating her to be. I could haver hushed my baby’s persistent babbles, and swept her up to rush her to bed, and misplaced this moment like a doll’s lost shoe. For some reason, tonight, I lingered, and witnessed a fragile miracle.

Earlier as I sprayed and wiped my counters as my girls busied themselves with preparing a meal in their play kitchen, I prayed out loud, “God show me where you want me to be. There are so many things I love and long to do, but I want to be present with what you’re asking me to do right now. If its being the best mother and wife I can be, then help me to find joy and fulfillment in that.”

You see friends, I’ve been falling into the trap of gazing at other people’s grass. I want to do something impactful with my life. You know, something with a flash and a bang. Lately I’ve been thinking if I didn’t have the responsibilities before me, then I would have time to do something, more significant. Cringe. It sounds worse on a page before me, but sometimes I need to face my ugly truths to be delivered from them.

We all long for significance. To be known. And often in our culture of mega blogs, self publishing, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, we think the way to prove our worth is to be known by a thousand of our closest friends. We have platforms, and events, we want more likes, and shares, and followers. Church ministries count the number of heads to measure impact. We want to be fabulous, popular, right, knowledgable, and valued instead of simple, humble, open, seeking, and small. But when we look to be known in the way our world packages it, we can miss being known by the person right in front of us.

Life on life, hand in hand, sip by sip, we find that the heart of what we really crave is in the sweet moments wrapped in friendship, and motherhood, lost in moments we rush by looking for the next best thing.

This afternoon I met a friend for coffee and told her secrets. We watched our kids dig in the dirt and plant imaginary seeds.

I came home and danced with my girls. Watching Elyse learn to move again is a tiny wonder. Bree copied my goofy dance moves and helped me make waffles for dinner. 

And each moment was significant. It was beautiful, and small, real, and meaningful.

I long to be known, but then, time and time again I hear the dull thump of a hollow dream as God reminds me that nothing else but Him will fill me. 

The dove is in the story of Noah’s ark. It returns to Noah with an olive branch to show him that there is dry land. The dove represents peace to show God’s reconciliation with man after the flood. The dove is also the form the Holy Spirit takes over Jesus during his baptism in the Jordan. A dove could be another bird, but in the Christian faith, it isn’t. Its because of faith, that we see something more- we believe in more.

Elyse could have seen a bird but she didn’t. In a simple wooden bird, she saw a dove. I could chalk this up to a weird coincidence, but I don’t. I see my baby girl reminding me that I am already known, and I see God using a simple moment, to remind me that He is in our midst- among clumsy ballerinas, golden brown waffles, and a carved blue and red dove- perched beside the word “BE.”

Chasing the Sun

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In the dark tomb of fear,
Waiting for light of day,
The dark chill whispers; waiting
For mercy to appear.

Sing me a night song
Until it is daylight,
Hum to me hope
This night is so long.

Faith never waning,
For you I will wait,
Redemption in the mourning,
Roll the rock away.

Black fades to grey
A tapestry of dawn
The glow of sun is coming
Night turns to day.

Night flees without a trace
The sun rises boldly
Trickling water to a river
It tastes like Grace.