Back a Little Ways

Why do you way is hidden from the Lord; 
my cause is disregarded by my God? 
Do you not know? Have you not heard? 
The Lord is the everlasting God, 
the Creator of the ends of the earth. 
He will not grow tired or weary, 
and his understanding no one can fathom.
Isaiah 40:27-28

The last month has been spent pruning, preparing and packing to put our house on the market. As extra furniture has been cleared out and closets have been cleaned, I've stumbled across some unusual items.

The mate to the sock I threw away 6 months ago...
A scary looking, seriously fossilized bug or two...
The cap to a lip gloss I no longer own...
A remote to one of our TVs...
Gloves I thought I'd lost...

Making these little discoveries, has reminded me of one of my favorite ways to read the Bible. I go find a scripture I really like and read the verses around it. I often discover something totally unexpected when I do this. 

The verses above appear just before these well-loved words in scripture:

He gives strength to the weary 
and increases the power of the weak. 
Even youths grow tired and weary, 
and young men stumble and fall; 
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. 
They will soar on wings like eagles; 
they will run and now grow weary, 
they will walk and not be faint. 
Isaiah 40:29-31

Soaring on wings like eagles and running without getting weary is the stuff superheroes are made of. It's no wonder I, along with many others, likes this passage. But when I back up a few verses I pause.

Maybe sometimes the reason life seems hard is because I spend more time questioning God than trusting Him. I try to walk in my own strength or figure out problems on my own. Before I can walk without growing faint, I have to run into the arms of Jesus. He is the giver of my strength.

So glad I went back a little ways...

Why not go find one of your favorite verses and read the surrounding text? Could you come back and share with us what encouragement you found back a little ways?

Paint This Town Red

Today I'm kicking off a new Friday series - The Best Worst Mom Ever. Each week I will share one of my multitude of parenting blunders and what I learned from God as I stumbled.  Enjoy!

Walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8

Piercing blue skies showered sun on their blond heads as they played. I watched my two littlest ones chase each other with giggles, peacefully oblivious to the chore I undertook on the other side of the glass. As they played I placed phone call after phone call to break the news. 

My husband was diagnosed with cancer.

Somewhere among the calls, I lost sight of them for just a few minutes but I wasn't overly concerned. Our home was built with a port-a-cochere. They were safely separated from the street and the world by an electronically sealed iron gate. Still I knew little kids could get in big trouble in a matter of minutes. I quickly ended my call and went in search of my sweethearts.
See how cute they were when they weren't red!

I found them in the garage. One was covered head to toe in red spray paint; the other was colored just on the tips of her tiny fingers. It didn't require a consultation with Sherlock Holmes to determine the perpetrator. 

As I scrubbed my little ones clean I just kept bursting out laughing. The whole situation was too ridiculous to elicit any other response. On a day I might have otherwise been crying my eyes out, I found myself joining in my preschoolers' giggles.
Two days later the "victim" returned to preschool still tinged pink. I must admit her odd skin color was the least of my concerns until... the preschool called wanting me to pick her up fearing she had some sort of a rash. It required a healthy dose of humility to admit that she didn't have a rash but had instead been spray painted by her sister. 

The journey ahead of me was a scary one. Each morning I had to surrender my fears and choose to trust the One who knew my future. But I knew just as God had given me the gift of laughter on that difficult news day, He would give me exactly what I needed to walk every day of our cancer journey.

When we encounter difficulty, it's typical for someone to tell us something along the lines of "Don't worry. You got this. God won't give you more than you can handle." I love Steven Furtick's take on this:

In reality, God gives you more than you can bear all the time. On purpose.It’s only when you can’t bear the load that the strength of Christ kicks in…and He becomes everything you need and more.
Just as I needed humility to admit my parenting blunder to the preschool, I need humility to admit I can't handle this thing called life without God. Whether my day holds a diagnosis or everyday girl drama, I have more than I can bear. That's why He bears my burdens instead.

What situation in your life could the presence of Christ paint a different color if viewed through the lens of relying totally on Him?

A Blessing's Birth

Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish.
Isaiah 38:17

Yesterday I sat around my kitchen table with the five people I treasure most in this life. Together we dreamed about our new home currently under construction and searched for scriptures to paint onto the walls of every room. Tears rimmed my eyes as I watched a long-held dream unfold.

This isn't the first house I've built but it's the first we will bless in this fashion. 

I still remember exactly where I was sitting the first time I heard of a family writing scriptures on building materials of their home. I was in my 20s and had never owned a home. I meet biweekly with other new moms who knew they didn't have all the answers and needed the insight and counsel of someone farther down life's road. 

Our mentor mom gave us a plethora of helpful hints for building a happy home. Tips like:

1) Squirt pinesol in the toilet before your hubby comes home...that way he'll think you've been cleaning all day.
2) Fry up some onions in a pan and then artfully place your purchased meal on your dinner plates...that way your dear spouse will think he's eating a home cooked meal.

But nestled among her tongue-in-cheek humor, she gave us a picture of a Christian woman. She was the first person I've ever known who wrote scripture on her home. She was so committed to making her home a place where God was honored that she sat in the yard and prayed over her home as every board was laid. 

Much has transpired to lead my family to yesterday's table. It is through pain, heartache and hurt we have reached a point where we long so deeply for God's presence in our home. In these difficult circumstances I couldn't see the blessings God was birthing through pain. 

Maybe you're facing something insurmountable today. Or maybe it's just a big pile of little inconveniences are blocking your perspective. The day will come when you sit at the table and watch your dreams unfold. 

Surely it was for my benefit I suffered such anguish...

What blessing will your pain birth?

When the Snow Doesn't Come

I'm convinced the vast majority of Southern children learn to pray in our schools. No prayer is allowed in public schools. And no the teachers don't lead them...but I suspect they join them. Every child here prays for snow. The slightest chance of snow means school is canceled.

Today their prayers and mine were answered. By 7 this morning the superintendent was calling to announce school was dismissing four hours early. Only it didn't snow. 

Sometimes the snow doesn't come.

We have a set of expectations - of a way we anticipate life working out, or circumstances changing or our prayers being answered - and it simply doesn't happen. 

Expectations are tricky - like trying to view a single snowflake. Where I live we rarely get the puffy, fat flakes. Most of them are near indiscernible specks. If you squint and cock your head to the right you can (sometimes) see them fluttering to the ground. But if you look at the ground where thousands of them have congregated you realize it actually is snowing.

I can't always see God at work. Sometimes when I squint and cock my expectations-filled head to the right I think I see something. When I focus on Him I realize He's been at work all along making a pile of snow. It just shows up some place other than where I've been looking.

What are waiting for God to do today? Could your expectations be keeping you from seeing His work?

Learning to Live Lean

Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, 
and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.
Luke 16:10

This time of year every media outlet in America is abuzz with tips, programs and pills to help you shed unwanted pounds. Advertising dollars are spent like pennies. Gyms are packed. There is no shortage of advice on how to get and live lean.

The best fat I've ever trimmed though hasn't been from my waistline. 

My greatest weight loss accomplishment wasn't fitting into a smaller pants size.

It was learning to live financially lean.

No I'm not a financial guru (although I reside with one). But I have learned (mostly by osmosis) a few tips. Here's my top five.

1. Cook From Your Pantry - I plan my meals around what I do have not what I don't. This requires me to make substitutions in recipes but it also makes cooking a greater adventure. By using what I have on hand I significantly decrease food spoilage.

2. Use Cash - Money spends quicker but much more responsibly when you limit discretionary purchases to cash. If I said I haven't rebelled against this particular tip a time or two or a hundred I'd be lying but it is also the most effective way to keep yourself (or your spouse) accountable to the budget.

3. Make Substitutions - I used to exclusively use high-end, name brand cosmetics and toiletries. I have found by switching to a generic but still high-end brand such as Costco's Kirkland, I get the same quality at significantly lower cost. 

4. Shop the Clearance Rack - I have boots that cost me $12, jeans for which I paid under $2 and necklaces I bought for $2. No I didn't "settle" with any of these purchases. I just waited. Patiently. Eventually the things I want will go on a significant sale and if they don't I figure I didn't really need them to begin with. I save thousands of dollars each year by purchasing my family's clothing needs at near garage sale prices and still have the pleasure of using never-used items.

5. Spread the Love - My daughters and I share shoes, shirts, scarves and jewelry. Any item that's "one size fits all" finds its way onto more than one body in any given year. By sharing we each expand our wardrobe at no additional expense. Even if you don't live with a whole gaggle of same sex individuals like me, you can still employ this principle with a friend or relative (such as a sister or aunt) who has similar size and taste as you. Consider arranging a regular mid-season swap where you trade some items without any need of return.

Are you ready to lose the weight of your worry by tightening your financial belt? Which one of these tips could help you the most? Do you have another idea you'd like to share? Share your ideas in a comment below...

A Sure Foundation

He will be the sure foundation for your times,
a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge;
the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.
Isaiah 33:6

Yesterday I trudged through mud, balanced precariously on a 2x4 and braved air colder than my outfit could defend. So much adventure just to walk into a house that looks like this:


Because it's my house... or it will be someday. Every brush of the boards is an encounter with my heart. The smell of the timber is the scent of our future. It is a thrill to imagine our family there laughing, loving, living. My soon-coming house is just a house but the people who will live there are treasure.

But you know as treacherous as the journey into that sticks and concrete was, I was totally at ease when I walked around on the foundation. It is a firm foundation. I have total confidence in it and know with certainty it will hold no matter how many trips I take around it or how long I linger.

The other day I confessed to my teens just how deeply I desire to be the best possible mom. The four little women who occupy my space model my habits, speech and attitudes. Frankly, I don't always care for the magnifying mirror of myself I see in them. In those moments I'm reminded again how much I need God every minute of every day.

I need Him to be my sure foundation. 

No matter how many trips I take to His side, He doesn't tire of hearing from me.
No matter how long as I linger in His presence, He doesn't grow weary.

Honoring Him is the key to this treasure. 

I don't know what your path to God looks like. It may be muddy. Your walk may feel uncertain. You may feel unprepared for the journey. But don't let that stop you. 

Time with Him will give you the sure foundation you need. 

Have you walked with Him today? Why not stop right now and place your life on footing that will not fail - a sure foundation.

I Can See Myself in Your Eyes

Come near to God and he will come near to you.
James 4:8

"I can see myself in your eyes." With her face inches from mine, my youngest whispered these words. She wouldn't have seen this reflection at a distance. It required proximity.

Sometimes God doesn't feel close to me. Instead He feels absent, away, adrift. In those times I remember the brush of His words in my heart and His movement in my everyday circumstances. I used to complain during those times; to blame Him for the lack of intimacy.

Now I know I need to move closer to Him to see my reflection in His eyes.

It is in moving closer I hear His heart beat. 
It is in pressing in I detect the His whisper of His love.

I need this for more than just me. My family needs me to stay near to God. Believe me. When I back away...It. Isn't. Pretty. 

I need to move closer to Him so He will be reflected in my eyes.

How close does God feel today? Do you dare to move closer to Him and see your reflection in His eyes?

The Resolute You

Your hearts must be fully committed to the LORD our God, 
to live by his decrees and obey his commands.
1 Kings 8:61

Shannon. Shannon. SHANNON.

As I child I would get so lost in books I wouldn't even hear the sound of my own name being called. Today I still can engross myself in story, especially the kind that has twists, turns and a puzzle for me to ponder - one like National Treasure starring Nicolas Cage.

During one of my favorite scenes the hero, Ben Gates, breaks into the oval office to examine the famed Resolute desk. This presidential landmark has seated Presidents for over a hundred years. It was a gift from Queen Victoria to Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880, fashioned entirely from timbers from an abandoned British vessel (The Resolute) which was salvaged in the United States by James Buddington and later returned to Britain. 

Today is a day for resolutions. Whether you title them goals, commitments or dreams many of us will chart a course today for the coming year. The word resolution has the same root as the word resolute. Both mean firm in purpose or belief or steadfast.

I think the story behind our nation's resolute desk has a lot to teach us about New Year's resolutions. That ship failed or at least its captain did. It was commanded under Edward Belcher who abandoned it only 18 months after it was commissioned. Sometimes our commitments are like that.

We begin the year eating healthy and going to the gym but start consuming chocolate for breakfast by January 15th.

We spend the early weeks of the year joining together around the family dinner table only to abandon that plan for the convenience of fast food just a few short weeks later.

But the Resolute's story didn't end with its captain's abandonment. It went on to significant purpose. Thousands of official documents, laws and decrees have been signed on its timbers. It has buoyed the arms of Presidents at war. It has captured tears silently witnessed by its polish. It has born the weight of Presidential worry and decision. 

This year as you pen your plans, I pray you remember the story of the Resolute. Weeks from now you may need to pick up your plans and rely anew on the Unchanging One who aims our hearts, plants our feet. He is our Resolute.

Many of you have inquired about the 12 Days of Christmas Gifts series I wrote in December. It will be available in its entirety (including the previously unpublished portions) as a free download later this month. I'll keep you posted!