Devotion>Decency

Decency: behavior that conforms to accepted standards of morality or respectability

Devotion: great love, affection, or admiration for someone

Recently the Lord spoke to me the phrase “the decency is gone”.  As I looked up the definition of decency, I heard the Lord speaking that His standard is here and the world’s is gone.

Later that day the Lord was so good to give me another phrase: “Decency is being replaced by devotion.”  He wants me to look to Him with great love and affection because He is the only one who can show me my true, Christ given identity.

I was reminded of the story of King David, who brought the ark of the covenant back to Jerusalem after it had been in the hands of the Philistines.  David was so overwhelmed with the glory and goodness of God watching the ark enter the city that he basically danced around in his underwear with praise.  The daughter of the previous king was watching him with disdain.  Later, she confronts David saying, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would.”

Instead of being embarrassed, King David proudly responds, “I will celebrate before the Lord, I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.”  David had his eyes fixed in adoration upon the Lord and the praise that David exhibited was exactly what God wanted from him.

Let us not conform to the standards of this world, but to adore our father above all else.  Above comfort, above a good name, above decency.

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.” John 14:15-17

The fire

The noise first alerted us to a problem.  Our old house had been renovated so often that the living room was a windowless cave.  We often found solace in the protection from dangers that lurked outside, but tonight it was a hindrance.  It was late that is when bad things happen.

Orange light filtered through the diamond window of the front door as we crowded together to look.  I gasped as tongues of fire consumed the house across the street.

That was the nice house on the street, I moaned.

When 50% of the street was vacant we learned to appreciate the houses that were nice.

Sirens wailed in the distance.  Coming for us, I thought.  Momentary pride over being amid such excitement flashed through my mind but quickly I scolded myself for craving negative attention.

A fire truck roared down our quiet street and we moved to the porch. The heat felt like we were at a huge bonfire, warming my face from 100 yards away.

The entire neighborhood was awake now.  Huddled safely in twos and threes, gazing back and forth from the fire to their neighbor they whispered.

Do you know what happened?  Isn’t that the house that was busted a month ago?  I heard they had a pretty good operation going there.

My mind flashed to that warm evening in May, pushing my toddler boy on the swing in the big Maple behind the house.  The gaggle of neighbor girls surrounded us, taking turns pushing him too hard for my comfort.

Don’t go so high, I warned.  They giggled, probably at my prudence.  These girls walked across the street alone from the age of three and I was worried that my 2 year old would fall out of a baby swing.

I enjoyed their company and the ability to feed them the love they lacked, but sometimes I wanted to be in my yard alone with my child.  Maybe someday we would have enough money and time to put a fence up, but for now their eagle eyes spotted me every time I came out the door.  Besides, isn’t that what we came for?

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a black van pull up across the street.  It seemed out of place, but most of the view was blocked by the side of our house.  As I turned my attention once again to pushing my son a loud crack rang out and in an eternal instant I realized this was a SWAT raid.

Fumbling with the buckle I grabbed my boy out of the swing while and shooed the girls home.  I probably should have walked them home, but in my own panic and worry I took care of us first.  Besides, they didn’t seem fazed, just another day in the ghetto.

Locked.  The back door was locked.

I pounded and pounded for what felt like an eternity.  Maybe it was only 3 minutes, but it was the longest three minutes of my life.  I didn’t have my phone, I didn’t have a key, and I wasn’t about to run to the front door where danger lurked.

Finally, he peeked out, realized it was me and opened the shoddy old door wide.

I walked in shrieking and trembling.  Trauma has a funny way of bringing out the rage in me.

Why didn’t you let me in?

I didn’t know you were outside, I’m so sorry.

We watched out the bedroom window that evening while the police plopped a folding table on the porch to measure and record large packages of drugs.  This was nothing newsworthy in a city the size of ours, but we surely couldn’t stop watching.

The heat brought me back to the fire, a reminder that we lived in an abnormal place.  The kind of place where people eyed you when you told them where it was.  I could never do what you do, they would say.  A pleasant way of saying you’re crazy.

Tears formed as I looked to see folks from the neighborhood, gang members, young men, old men, carrying the weight of the hose from the hydrant to the truck.  This is why we moved here, I thought.   This place is more than a statistic.

I started to see past the brokenness, the hurt and the pain.  This was a neighborhood, just like any other neighborhood, full of good and bad.  As often as I sat trembling at the bad, I more frequently thanked God for the good.

This neighborhood was alive.  People spent hours outside, knew your name, and said hi as they walked home from the bus stop.  I couldn’t help but smile when the opening of a fire hydrant on a hot day turned the whole street into a pool party.  It wasted thousands of gallons of water and was illegal, but kids splashed in the spray, the old folks sat down and dipped their toes in the dirty stream that washed by.

We were no longer frightened by the outward displays of fear and antagonization, knowing there is light in the darkness.

Time seemed irrelevant as we watched the flames lick the house.  How long did we stand there?  30 minutes, an hour?  How long does it take to extinguish a fire?  The house would smolder for days, and the neighbors would gossip for even longer.  This marked the beginning of the summer of fire, a rash of vacant houses burning hot in the night.

That summer, in the midst of the fires, I would imagine the rainy days as God’s great cleansing of the sin and evil in this place.  Maybe it was just rain, but it gave me hope to imagine more  Why not expect things to be different, for good to break through the bad, for the light to shine in the darkness?

Months later I would sit on the porch watching a girl dressed in pink ride her bike up and down the sidewalk in front of that burned out house.  A glorious reminder that God will make all things new someday.

Years later we would watch out that same upstairs window as the city demolished the house.  In one day it was gone, and in it’s place a dirt lot sat waiting, expectant.  The only way to experience newness is to demolish the old.

Foggy sadness

The day is moving along but the fog outside has intensified.  By nine it should be dissipating, driven away by the newness of the day and the sun shining bright.  But today, this second day of the year, it’s worsening.

Sadness crept into my heart in much the same way.  When things should be the most joyful, sadness can be as the fog, thick and relentless.  In some ways I welcome it, that old familiar feeling.  I allow myself to wallow in my surroundings, in the things that shouldn’t be, but are.

I want to feel entitled to my sadness.  I want to feel justification that the world is against me and that life is harder for me than those around me.

Selfishness is the root of sadness.

I needed to climb out of the hole of self-pity, but first I needed to let myself cry.  To feel the feelings that God gave me, even if they are no indication of the life He has for me or the nature of His goodness.

I spent evenings in the ambiance of the Christmas tree lamenting what doesn’t seem quite right.  Selfishness gave way to self-reflection and I could hear God calling me to more.

I remembered years past, the sewing, the painting, the embroidery that I would put my identity in for a while because I saw others doing it and knew I could too.  Then I was tired and burnt out with no time or space left for projects.  These four, almost five, children have taken up every nook and cranny of our small house.

God began highlighting how important creating is for my own, wait for the dreaded word, self-care.  But self-care isn’t selfish if it connects me with my Creator.

I thought back to the prophetic word I received last spring, the one about how I would write and that would snowball into big and beautiful things.  The word that I’ve tucked in my back pocket just waiting for God to make happen.  It turns out sometimes He’s just waiting for us to make the move.

Writing requires nothing more than a pencil and a piece of paper and certainly I have plenty of room for that.  My laptop easily slides under the couch for a few words here and there.

Writing.

Always something I’ve dabbled in for a few months and then lost interest or inspiration, God has prompted me to look past the need for “inspiration” and just put words on a page on a regular basis.  He’s pushing me out of my comfort zone.

I want to write short stories, maybe an entire novel someday.  Not today, not tomorrow, but soon enough that will feel possible.  I just need more practice.

Brad is the writer in this family, but who says there can’t be more than one?  It only makes sense to take advantage of living with the best editor I know, the one who has taught me everything I know about writing.

To top it off, I get a pretty good discount.

A new thing

About a month ago as I was laying down for bed, an image of a fire burning came into my mind.  I closed my eyes to see what God had for me.

I found myself a couple of stories up in an old building downtown.  As I looked out there appeared to be a beautiful sunset, glowing orange and red, but as I moved closer to the window, I could see that buildings were on fire.  However, instead of it being detrimental, I had the sense of this being peaceful and good.

I was moved outside on the street and noticed the fire was burning certain buildings, but instead of destroying them it was making them new again.  This was downtown revitalization, one building block at a time for the Kingdom.

Suddenly, I was back in the room where I began, and there was a line of people around the perimeter of the room (it was large and open) reaching their hands out and praying.  I looked out the window and saw people praying and walking away from the building to bring Jesus to the community.

God is raising this up.  I am certain he is placing dreams in Kingdom minded people’s heads right now of businesses they want to start and ways they can make this community better.  I don’t know if it’s a coffee shop or a guitar store, but I do know for certain that when God is in charge of these dreams He has a big plan for us and for our community.

The School of Kingdom Writers is going to draw 24 people who will live and work in Zanesville, who will wield the power of the Kingdom of God to restore brokenness and bind the brokenhearted.  They will support and encourage a thriving community, while learning about how to claim writing and media spaces for God.

I am so looking forward to what Zanesville will look like in 10, 20, 30 years.  It will be a different place, a place where God manifest presence is known.  We pray and believe that addiction will flee, sickness will be healed and hopelessness with be replaced with Jesus, our everlasting spring of Life.

 Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43: 19

Business, not as usual.

Not many know this, but the first business Brad and I ever started was an online hookah retailer.  Yes, you heard me right, we sold hookahs in college.

I can’t stop laughing while writing this out because it seems so long ago and so foreign, but once upon a time this young married couple at Ohio University went into business with a friend because they thought they could get a corner on the hookah business in Athens.  Plus, we enjoyed smoking the fun fruity tobaccos.  They were somehow “better” for you because they tasted good, right?

This isn’t something you lead with when introducing yourself, or even when sharing your life, but it’s an important part of our story because it was one of the first times we decided to do life differently.  Not surprisingly, it didn’t go well and we weren’t able to quit our jobs and lived as the hookah kings of Athens, but we began to learn lessons about what it means to own a business.

A few years later after doing the “normal” job thing we both quit to travel and pursue God in greater measure.  We developed our own businesses because we knew deep down there had to be more for us than working 40 hours a week to make a corporation rich.

We built our businesses, I took pictures and Brad designed websites, and we made them work mostly on our own.  We prayed about them and when things were hard we asked God to bless them and help make ends meet.   The beautiful thing is he always did; we always had enough.  We built our businesses and God was our sidekick.

A few years passed and after many late night front porch sessions it was decided that Brad would build a new company that helped people self-publish their writing.  We were older and more in tune with the Lord.   Through prayer this direction felt right, but it was still us doing the building and the grunt work.  Again, we would come to the Lord with prayer requests when money was tight or when there was a tough situation, but this was still a business that WE made and that WE were in control of.    Despite that, He has blessed this business beyond measure and we have learned to hand over more of our lives, little by little, to the God and creator of our Universe.

God began calling Brad and I to full time ministry this past year.  We explored and prayed for what that would be, and slowly the vision came into focus.

We are to start a School for Kingdom Writers here in Zanesville.  Students will live here for two years, immersed in both a writing and Kingdom living program.

For the first time in our lives, this is all God.  There is no way this school would come to fruition by our own accord.  It’s too mighty and massive and we are not skilled in all the parts necessary for it to thrive.  Oh, not to mention the large cost it will incur, and we are a people that live committed to doing everything with zero debt.

But God has relayed to us in many prayer sessions and prophetic words via our brothers and sisters that HE is going to do this in His power, not ours.  We are merely vessels, but he has assured us to dream the big dreams that he is laying on our hearts because they will certainly come to pass.

This doesn’t mean we sit back as passive spectators in our life, but it does mean that we can choose to not participate in the worry and stress that comes with starting a non-profit.  We get the chance to trust our creator fully and without waver, knowing that even as we’ve held onto parts of our lives for our own, HE STILL PROVIDED FOR US.

This is a defining moment in our lives as we take the leap of faith from in control to His control.  We are all in, ready to look like fools for the sake of the advancement of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  His wave of great mercy and love is coming in and it will wash over everything in this land, in this community and The School of Kingdom Writers is going to be one part of how He chooses to spread His message.  To God be all the glory.

Fall leaves

When we moved here my heart filled with gratitude knowing that we had a beautiful sugar maple right outside our dining room window.   It was a deep desire of my heart to have beautiful fall leaves in our yard, and God fulfilled that unspoken dream.  I watched the leaves begin to yellow, turn to light orange and then to a robust rust before letting go and burying our yard in 3 inches of mulch.

Last year, instead of their beautiful show, the leaves simply dried up and fell off.  No colors, no excitement, just bare.

We guessed it was due to all of the construction and digging that happened around it, but it cut through my heart knowing that what that tree showed was exactly how I felt in my heart.  I was dried up, tired, ready to be done and dull.  The fact that a tree could be such an accurate reflection of our life was astounding.  I’m sure I’ll always remember the year that the tree lost its color because it was the ending of one of the hardest years of my life.

This year, our colorful tree has returned and I watch the hues change with awe and wonder.  Our bedroom glows yellow when the sun shines on it.  I can’t stop staring out the window while we eat dinner, knowing how fleeting this orange is.  I want to soak up every last moment before the cold, dull winter sets in.

The tree is turning it’s beautiful colors once again, and I think of how I too have been renewed inside.  Beauty for ashes, I know there’s a gift in there.

 

 

Creative boost

Last week I delivered a short message to our church on creativity.

This week I’ve realized how uncreative I’ve been for months.

God truly has a sense of humor, and I am thankful he can use me despite the fact that I am not qualified nor do I even feel qualified.

There have been times in my life of free flowing, ample creativity.  Everything seems like a new idea, something to start, something to try.  It’s exciting and pleasing and my brain goes a hundred miles a minute thinking about all that I want to make.  It can also be disruptive and frustrating when I don’t have all the time to create all the things I would like.

But, there have also been many times, like now, where I am a dry well.  There is nothing bubbling up inside of me, no desire to make new, no ideas rolling around in my brain all day long.  It’s a struggle to even sit and make myself write.  I haven’t picked up my camera because I don’t see anything worth taking a photo of.

I’ve been waiting this dry spell out for a long time, and it’s hit me that maybe this time I can’t just expect to feel a fresh wave of creativity without giving something of myself.  Perhaps I need to water my well.  I need to drag a hose out, huff and puff my way over and water that dusty hole until it fills again.

So, I’m writing.  I’m going to force myself to edit the 6+ month backlog of photos that are sitting on my hard drive.  I’m going to schedule walks to woods into our days and enjoy this land that we’ve been given, even if the grass needs mowed and the weeds need pulled.

Creativity is more than inspiration, it’s a lot of hard work.

It is one of the most important ways that I feel connected my Creator, which might explain the often disconnected prayer life I’ve been leading for a couple of months.  I trust the Holy Spirit to show me out of this funk, and I’m excited to see the new life that is formed.

If I want creativity I must be willing to give up something else.  My brain does not have the capacity for it all, which means that I just found my toddler walking around with an empty-ish maple syrup container.   Today, I’m giving up non-sticky floors, knowing this feeling of connection and creativity will give me the boost I need to get through the everyday cleaning that has to happen in a house of 8.

This isn’t my best writing, my house is a mess and my hair isn’t brushed, but I wrote.  I’m creating something new and that’s exciting.

Seasons

This will be the third September in a row that we enter into a huge life transition.  Two years ago we took over as owners of a restaurant and one year ago we closed that restaurant.

This September the Lord is leading us to a project bigger than ourselves, bigger than we could ever accomplish or set out to do on our own.  In three weeks, we will no longer have a steady income provided by the work of our hands, but we trust that God always pays for what He orders.  This is exciting, wonderful, terrifying and beautiful.  The Kingdom of God is forcefully advancing, and He wants us all to play a role in this movement.

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When we allow ourselves to live seasonally, not just in the physical seasons, but also with the seasons of life, we begin to appreciate what each one has taught us and how it changes our perspective to look forward to what is next as well as appreciate where we came from.

Sometimes we come from a long, hard and dull winter and we’re left tired and restless.  We can appreciate the newness that is springing forth in our hearts because we’ve been through the wilderness.  Other times we’re worn out and tired from a nonstop summer season and are ready to cozy into a quiet autumn rest.

Seasonal living is a recognition that if we’re walking with the Lord, ALL the experiences we live through are significant.  The negative experiences grow and shift us, and the joyful ones encourage and build us up.

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The year we owned a restaurant was one of the most tumultuous and turbulent years we’ve ever experienced.  There was much joy to be found, but it was coupled with a heavy dose of exhaustion, frustration and feeling a little like God has led us to a place that makes no sense.

When we closed there was a rehabilitation period that we went through as a family.  We were disjointed and quite short with each other while living from a place of stress and exhaustion.  It took time and energy to apply with our children and ourselves to relearn what our priorities are and how to love first.

Just today I realized that I am still readjusting.  I’m learning to get back into routine tasks like walking to the woods on hard days, or good days, just any days.  Getting outside as a family is good for all of us but was one of the first things I dropped during that hard season.

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I parked myself near a patch of butterfly weed this morning and to watch the monarchs, the swallowtails, the cabbage moths and the bumblebees share this glorious plant.  It was incredible and wonderful and reminded me of how much beauty God graced this world with.

We are created in His image and when we appreciate the beautiful butterflies, the stunning flowers of the field and the smells of a late summer walk we are communing with who God is.  He is the most outrageous lover of beauty that ever has or will exist.

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A few years ago during a hard parenting season, God spoke the phrase “steer the ships” to show me what raising many kids would look like.

I got an image of a fleet of old fashioned sailing ships in my mind, some are far ahead, some are a little behind, another might be off to the left or the right but they’re all headed in the same direction.

Sometimes one of us drifts off track, but God reminded me that my job as a parent isn’t to make them exactly like all the other ships but instead to make sure they keep traveling in the same direction as the rest of us.

God has made us wonderfully unique, but he has also formed us into a purposeful family.  We are made to leave a legacy to our children and our grandchildren, and I think the best way to do that is to make sure we are all headed ever closer to the One who matters most.

Seek & Find

I made sauerkraut yesterday and had a bowl of leftover cabbage pieces for the rabbits.  This morning I gave first pick to the bunnies that are growing out, but still had a little left.  As I looked back and forth between the other 10 cages I noticed one of our beloved does, J-bunny, eagerly jumping up and down in a way that just screamed “pick me, pick me.”

I opened her cage and poured the rest of the bowl in; she began chomping the cabbage with vigor and God spoke to me that he gives his gifts to those that eagerly seek Him.

Many expect Jesus to just appear to them out of thin air just because they believe he exists.  Certainly, in his sovereignty he can do that, but I know that the more we seek him, the more we spend time praying, reading his Word, thinking about Him, the greater His desire to fill us with His goodness.

If you believe that Jesus exists, I pray that the desire to pursue him with everything you are floods your heart.  It will overwhelm and invade your life with all the goodness and gifts that a loving Father lavishes upon us.