A missionary of LIFE.

The Lord urged me to take an extended social media break in the month leading up to my birthday.  It was a wonderful time off and I’m not dipping a toe back in.  The last month I felt clear headed, able to write just for fun and not likes, and found myself having more free time to ponder with God or really listen to my kids.  In this age we are all learning how to live in this technological world, one that we’re not quite made for and is fairly foreign to our DNA.

One evening last week I lit the lights on the deck and sat with the Lord in the fading sun.  He spoke so much as I sat and scrawled it across my notebook.  They are words I treasure, and ones that I will ponder and read over and over again until the content truly seeps into my bloodstream.

For much of this past year I have had this nagging in the back of my mind that I should be, should be, should be doing something more with my time or with social media or with ministry.  Super vague, and kind of maddening, right?  At the heart of it I thought I was making sure that I wasn’t “wasting” anything God gave me, but truly I think I was just longing for greener pastures, one that is a little more glamorous and exciting than my stay-at-home mom life.

On the patio God showed me that I have been looking for a ministry, but I’m already living a mission.  That my whole life is a mission, and my mission is LIFE.  If it looks like I dabble in a million different little projects it’s because that’s reflective of my LIFE with the Lord.  If my writing shifts and there’s more prophecy last year than now, or more photographs this month than last, it’s because life is fluid and balance is a lie.  At the heart of it, God has called me to live my faith and share my life.  It’s impossible to wrap a whole life up in a neat branded and beautiful package in which you can always be sure what you will get.

There’s parenting, homeschooling, running a school, relationships, photography, writing and so much more.  This space will always be a smattering of those things, and I’m sure will change as the years march ahead.

I’m not confident that I’m a missionary of this ONE wild and beautiful life I get to live with our Savior.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10

An air conditioned life

We finally completed (or nearly completed) the deck on the back of our house.  We put an addition on 4 years ago when my grandma came to live with us, and I’ve been anticipating this deck to be finished ever since.  I love being outdoors.  I love eating outside, checking on the gardens, and spending time with my children in the waning hours of day.

When we lived in the inner city of Columbus, I fondly recall late nights sitting with my love on our old broken porch.  We would sit in the dark dreaming about the future and spin the web for the life we are now living.

I’ve been reflecting on those nights and am surprised at how little time we’ve spent out on the deck after the kids are quieted in their beds.  Perhaps it’s because we’re older, or busier, or more tired, but it hit me that here we have air conditioning and there we did not.  When the heat was oppressive the porch was an escape, but now we have to leave climate controlled comfort to sit where the bug bites and summer heat smothers.

“Battle with unconditioned breath the unconditioned air. Shun electric wire. Communicate slowly. Live a three-dimensional life; stay away from screens.”
                                                                                                     -Wendell Berry

It makes me want to turn the A/C off and throw the windows open more often.  Grab the box fans and sweat through the summer weeks that seem so short once the dull days of winter are upon us.

We’ve never taken our kids tent camping and were recently talking with our boys who are interested in going.  Our oldest was talking about feeling uncomfortable in the heat of the day and the cool of the night if we were in a tent (he was trying to convince us to get a camper) and Brad said, “But that’s the benefit to tent camping.  You get to feel all the things and connect with nature in a way you never could if you weren’t forced to be out in it.”

I’m happy to have the luxury of central air here.  I am absolutely less grumpy during those dog days of summer, but there’s something that we miss when we jump from climate controlled space to climate controlled space.  The earth is here for us to experience, and I for one will be throwing the windows open more often to feel what the wind will bring my way.

The Power of Words

Written in March 2020

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The other night I could not sleep and felt panic gripping my body so I turned on some worship music. The clock on the stove read 3:13 and I heard the Lord whisper Romans 3:13.

“Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.”

“Well…that’s heavy,” I thought.

As I pressed in I realized that He was leading me to pray for the blood of Jesus to cover the careless words that we as a nation speak.

I prayed over our world and our country, that God would heal our tongues and that His people would turn back to Him.

The power of the tongue can be measured in life or in death. Just think about the stark difference in the words of Hitler and Mother Theresa.

The book of Proverbs is overflowing with verses that touch on the power of words:
Proverbs 11:9 “Evil words destroy one’s friends; wise discernment rescues the godly.”
Proverbs 11:12 “It is foolish to belittle a neighbor; a person with good sense remains silent.”
Proverbs 20:15 “Wise speech is rarer and more valuable than gold and rubies.”

There are times as a mom that I find myself speaking always/never statements out of frustration. Things like “You always fight with your brother” or “You never pick up after yourself.” I know from my own experience that these sorts of spoken sentiments can become part of an identity, and not a God given identity. Just because they squabble with their siblings does not make them a fighter, nor does leaving trash on the floor make them a dirty person.

In this hour I feel God is saying that we have become loose with our lips, believing that with “anonymity” our words do not matter. But He has seen the overflow of hearts and it grieves Him. It grieves him to see the untruths spoken carelessly on social media, the snide comments to friends and family, and the twisting of words through the news media to terrify and frighten.

The Lord impressed upon me that the world can change when the message of hope is louder than that of doom. People are hungry for truth in a world filled with lies. “Who can we trust?!” they cry.

When you speak, type, or share something you empower those words. It is not passive.

The most important command God gives us is not to be right, it’s to love. Everything we say or write must be filtered through a lens of love. We have to care more about our audience than we care about being right.

Love conquers and covers all. Love always wins. Everything else will fall away, but love never fails.

So today, in the midst of everything happening in our world, let us choose words that offer hope, love and peace.

Distractions

I sit and write amid trash and crumbs strewn across the table.  One child is sedated by a show, one squirms on my lap and the others are outside, finally making their own fun.  The morning has been full of tempers that have flared.  Tempers that lashed out at each other and the schoolwork that we tried to do.  Forever I will be learning to not lash out at their lashing out because how in the world can I teach them to be calm when so many days I’m like a pressure cooker that’s not properly vented?

For years I’ve been trying to figure out how to do social media well.  Sometimes it’s looked like being off for an extended period of time, others times I’ve felt called to intentionally engage with people instead of just creeping by like a stranger in a white van  (no offense to my friends in white vans, you guys are my favorite).

A friend and I recently spent some time in prayer because we were both felt like we were not giving God our best.  My distraction is social media.  It’s my go to when life feels too consuming (which with five kids feels like most of the time).  I’ve felt this pull, this tension, to draw back knowing that it is taking up too much of my brain space for me to be the kind of mom I want to be, but also the kind of friend I want to be to God.

Naturally, the week after we prayed, I spent much of it scrolling through social media, attempting to engage but doing a whole lot of creeping.  I then felt that guilty pull of knowing that I want things to be different but doing absolutely nothing to change it.  A few nights in this strange anxiety began to hit me, a feeling that I haven’t felt for quite a while and one that tells me to stop and look around at why this old feeling is trying to make a new space.

After a vacation followed by a couple of weeks of sickness I realized my guard was down.  I was tired from mom’ing and from holding things together when Brad and the kids were sick.  The enemy attempted to hit me at a time when I was soothing my soul with social media instead of Jesus, and he almost got me.

Then I heard the Lord tell me to lay low and seek Him until he told me otherwise.  I don’t often hear such direct commands from Him, but I knew this meant to stay off social media until I heard further.

I used to think that being off social media for good would be the answer to all my problems.  If only I could just delete my accounts forever, that would make things better.  Lately, though, since we’ve started the School of Kingdom Writers and I’ve felt a pull to use my personal social media accounts for His good, I’ve realized that I must learn how to do social media God’s way.  I believe that He has this perfect way for us to connect and teach and encourage each other in Christ, and I know that I just need to learn how to do that without being consumed.  It sure seems like I should have that under control before we set out to disciple and teach others.

Last night I began to sense that God was telling me to post online, check and respond and then get back off.  As I began to sense that and wonder if it was really God, I also began to wonder if it could really be that simple?

What if I waited until God told me, posted and checked in, and then signed back off again?  I don’t need to let it consume me, I don’t “owe” anyone a quick response, I don’t need to dull my sense or feelings by looking at what other people are doing.  I can put my content out there, connect with people as I see fit, and then log back off and into my real life where there are real problems that I need to have the courage and fortitude to address.

As my friend Sarah says, it’s so beautiful how God invites us into things with him.  He doesn’t force us to join him, but he will gently remind us that we indeed have a part to play in becoming closer to Him.  The more we seek Him, the more He responds.

It’s really as simple as that.

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

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.