What to do when you got nothing

The fear of all writers has struck.  I got nothing.  Not an intelligent thought in this head.  Nothing. Nada. Zero.  It’s been taunting me since last night.

It whispered all morning in my ear.  Nothing.  I am empty.  I thought about being empty.  If you are empty than you need to fill yourself.  With what?  And why am I empty?  I shouldn’t be empty because I’ve slept more in the last year than I have in ten.  Seriously.  My brain should be firing on all cylinders.  Creative energy should be oozing out of me.  Instead I am cavernous.   I got nothing.

Back to the question.  If I’m empty then what do I fill myself up with?  Not something more to do.  My TO DO list is already too long.  I don’t want to just fill myself with more busyness.  It’s life-sucking.  I want life-giving.

Over the whispers of nothing and empty came one word.  Jesus.  I knew it was truth.  I didn’t want it to be cliche though.  You know how it can be.  I want it to be real.  I want it to make a difference.

Yesterday at bible study Beth Moore mentioned that Jesus was real.  It was like someone hit me on the head.  He was a real life person!   Not just some bible character, a caricature.  John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”   I need to grapple with that.  What does that mean for me and my life?  What does that look like lived out?  He became human and dwelt here on earth.  Some would say it doesn’t mean anything because it was 2000 years ago.  I disagree.  I think it’s highly relevant and it’s a question that every Jesus believer should be asking themselves.  It means something that He became real flesh and blood.  This is just a start:

Love: He’s the embodiment of love.  He came because He loved us.  He represents His Father who loved us so much that He sent His one and only son.  (John 3:16)  He died because He loved us.  He showed us how to love others and told us this was the most important business for us.

Grace: He gave us grace.  None of us deserved it.  He still gave it.

Truth:  He is all truth.  He never lies.

What does this have to do with filling me?  With filling you?  It’s a good question.  The more people were around Jesus the more they wanted to be.  Beth Moore in her study, Jesus the One and Only, describes him as a “favourite” person.  He was life-giving.  Not just in words but actions too.  Read the gospels.  The disciples.  Mary Magdalene.  Mary and Martha.  James, his brother.  Paul in his one encounter on a road.  He entered into all these peoples lives and they were forever changed.

Shouldn’t that be how my relationship is with Him?  Shouldn’t I be changed?  Shouldn’t I be ever evolving to be more like Him?  I think I’ve plateaued in many areas.  Become complacent.  Content even, to go with the status quo.  Maintaining the status quo can get boring.  Stagnant.  That’s when the water needs to be drained.

John wrote that they had seen Him and were writing to tell others of what they had witnessed and who they had lived with for three years.  Do I really see Him?  Do I see his fingerprints on my life?  In the everyday?  In the funny or the mundane?  Do I stop.and.just.see.Him?  Sadly, most days: not so much.

Maybe I’m at the point of empty because I need to open my eyes.  I’ve forsaken the love I knew first.  He’s been quietly waiting for a while for me to see Him.  I’ve had too many other things vying for attention.  It’s time to get reacquainted with Him.  To be filled again with Jesus.   It’s a good place to begin.

Why Shovelling Snow is Important

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.  James 2:8 NIV

The boys grew up calling her “Neighbour”.  Seriously, I think they thought that was her actual name.  At first we weren’t sure of her name.  So we would say to the boys, “Say hi to neighbour”.  “Neighbour’s flowers are so pretty” or “Neighbour is out working again”.  Eventually the name stuck.  She even starting signing her Christmas cards to us; From “Neighbour”.

She was a widow who lived next door to us in Windsor.  She was a good neighbour.  We did neighbourly things.  Took in each other’s mail when the other was away.  Mark buried a skunk for her, that died in her back yard.  He would do other odd jobs that she couldn’t do.  Sounds weird but moving away from her was hard.  We hoped the new people would be good to her.

Neighbours can make or break where you live.  Our new neighbourhood has some challenges.  Honestly there was a lot I didn’t like at first.  Over the last two years I’ve tried to move past those things and accept the new normal.  Except the barky dogs and the outside lights shining in our rooms all night, I’ve gotten used to most of it.

I didn’t get off to the best start.  For example most of the kids think I’m a really mean mom.  I’ve lost my temper at the bullying and occasionally at my own two as they pounded each other with their fists.

We have rules and boundaries for our children.  It doesn’t always make us popular with our children or our children popular with other kids.

However after studying the book of James last winter and reading a book about being a good neighbour, I was convicted.  I could do a lot better.  How about friendly to start?

I began small.  Praying for neighbours who had lost loved ones.  There were two houses within doors of us who had lost a spouse and a mother.  Taking a minute to talk to the people who live next to us when we are all outside.  It’s baby steps really but they make a difference.

There are four of us on our street now who kind of look out for each other.  Our neighbour right next door is ninety-four and she lives with her daughter.  I really hope I’m like her at ninety-four!  She looks seventy.  She is spry and sharp as a tact.  Feisty as all get out.

The neighbour across the street is a recent widow.  Cancer cut short what appeared to be a great retirement for these two.  They were friendly and had come right over to our house and introduced themselves.  That’s a rarity these days.  I can’t even imagine how hard this year has been for her.

The two of us try to keep our ninety-four year old neighbour from having to shovel.  I shovel when it’s not deep snow.  Jean* has a snowblower and when it’s a big snowfall, she’s over blowing out Eleanor’s* driveway and our combined sidewalk.  Today I was so grateful as she blew out the rest of my drive that I hadn’t finished yet.  The drifts are so big now that I can hardly get the snow up on them.  We didn’t say much other than “Thank you!” but there was a friendly feeling in the air that inspires me to keep getting to know the people around me.

I believe that’s why we were put on earth.  Jesus didn’t just sit in the temple and preach.  He did on occasion.  More frequently he was going out to the people.  Meeting them in their communities, neighbourhoods, even in their wildernesses.  If we really want to be the church shouldn’t we take Jesus to the people?  In our neighbourhoods, workplaces and schools.  Wherever we go.  Whatever we do.  (I’m writing this more to myself than any of you.  I constanly need to be reminded of this!)  If we are there, then so is Jesus because aren’t we supposed to be his hands and feet?  Speak love.  Shovel snow.

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*Names have been changed.

To Market, To Market….

Today I deviated from my usual, ahem, “routine”.  It’s actually a rut, if I’m truthful.  The cupboards were bare.  I usually just head to the grocery store nearby.  But today was Thursday, Market Day.  I’d been thinking about it since last night.  I haven’t been since the fall.  In fact I’ve never been to the market in St. Jacob’s in the winter.  I wanted to get some quality meat and the market is a good place to buy local and organic.  Plus I just like the market.  Ever since I first started to go to the Byward Market, in Ottawa, I’ve loved market shopping.     

My plan was to go to market after dropping the boys off at school.  I started to question that decision as the school got nearer.  It would be more time efficient to go to the grocery store and buy everything in one place.  I almost convinced myself to follow through on that thought.  But deep down the market was beckoning.   

I know this seems over-analyzed for something so trivial.  Unfortunately, this is the way my mind works.  I eventually talk myself out of whatever.  Routine, security, and fear win out.  It’s so much easier to stick to the usual.  I feel safe in the usual.  Most of the time.  If you’ve ever dealt with any kind of anxiety for any length of time you know how hard it is to go against the safe, the normal.  Some days leaving the house is a big deal.  

I had work to do at home.  This was a little frivolous too.  I didn’t really have time for market today, I justified.

Recognition really is the first step to recovery.  Instead of burying this desire, I listened to it.  Instead of talking myself out of it, I started to convince myself into it.  I need to get out and see things.  I’ve been in the house all week.  If I want to be inspired and feel creative, that’s not going to happen at home amid all the pressing needs.  My senses needed an awakening.  The market was the perfect place.

I drove out to St. Jacobs.  It was a beautiful morning.  A little bit of snow last night had left the trees delicately outlined.  The sun was shining and it was biting cold.  Just the way I like it.  The fields were pure white and the wide open space invited me in.  I love the country.  I grew up in a farming community.   It feels like home.  

It was still early enough that there were no crowds and lots of parking.  I went into the new building and the smell of meat, cheese, garlic and other spices tantalized my nose.  The new building is quite bright and open too.  The workers were friendly.  I wandered around looking at meat and prices.  

Even the chicken place wasn’t busy.  On my second stroll by, no one was at the counter.  This is like winning the lottery.  This chicken place is always busy.  You have to be aggressive to get served.  I usually don’t bother because of the crowds.  I wasn’t going to buy anything today but because the counter was empty of customers, I had too!  I enjoyed the luxury of taking my time and placing my order without a single elbow in my side or someone’s breath on my neck.  

I splurged and bought some Egyptian food that my kids will turn up their noses at but I am going to enjoy.  

 As I drove out of the parking lot, a horse and winter buggy drove by.  It’s still new enough for me that it gives me a thrill every time.  

The trip to St. Jacobs didn’t take long.  I was back in an hour.  But I felt like I’d been gone several.  My mind was stimulated.  I had fun.   It may seem small but isn’t it the small things that really make up our lives?  Yeah I want to enjoy the big stuff when it happens but if I can’t stop and love the small things, than chances are, the big stuff will pass me by too.  Our lives are made up of more small things than big.  For me, chucking the rut out the window, and doing something new is all part of abundant living.  I want more of living and less rut.  Going to market was a win for me.  The more you do it, the easier it comes.  

 

This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.  Psalm 118:24  NKJV

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What I Learned From Playing Chess

It’s a PD day for my kids today which is why I’m posting late.  Waking today I was mildly irritated and slightly panicked.  What was I going to do with them all day?  They are up by 6:30 am.  By 9 am they’ve already put in a whole morning!  They just barely got back to school, what with snow days and holidays!  My oldest was bored halfway through the holidays and was practically jumping out of his skin to go back to school.  It didn’t bode well for me and I knew it.  I was going to have to be proactive and honestly I just wanted to follow my own agenda.

I mean I had a blog to write.  I had to do some baking for my gluten and dairy-free son or I will have nothing for lunches for the week.  I’m behind in my bible study homework!   I wanted to do my own Monday routine.

But I knew that left to their own devices the day would blow up in all our faces.  I’ve been there too many times already to know this truth.  The bickering would start between the two of them which would lead to me yelling at them.  Or the TV and computer would dominate the day.  I chose NO to bickering, yelling, TV and computer babysitting.  I would have to step it up today.  I CAN.

One of the things I did today was let my youngest son teach me to play chess.  I asked him if he wanted to play a game.  He said chess.  I usually say at that point, “I don’t know how to play chess.”  Instead I said, “Okay but you’ll have to teach me.”  He had no problem with that.

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This is what I learned as I learned to play chess today:

1.  You have to try something to know if you like it.  I hate board games.  But I’m finding out that I don’t mind strategy games.  I thought I would hate chess but I liked it.

2.  You have to try something to know if you can do it.  We are always telling our boys this.  I should try taking my own advice!  I thought I wouldn’t be able to remember all the rules of chess but I did!  And I liked the stretch on my brain as I played.

3.  My son is a good teacher.  He was able to tell me effectively how to play.  He was patient with me.  He didn’t take advantage of me but offered suggestions or hints.  There was no wild parties after he beat me four games straight.  Instead he complimented me several times how quickly I was learning and getting better.  I think he enjoyed teaching him mom something new.

4.  Giving that time was good for all of us.  I felt good about having spent time with him.  I felt good about myself as a mom, as a person.  Too many times, I’ve only felt regret and remorse.  I made the better choice today.  Him, over all the other stuff that is less important.  It actually brought all three of us together for a time.  The other boy took a video of our last bit of game, giving a commentary of the exciting chess match.  It made us laugh.

I feel like I accomplished something today.  My house is not really all that clean.  There still is some laundry left from the weekend.  I did bake peanut butter cookies for my oldest but no gluten free ones yet.  But in a way I feel like I won today.  It wasn’t a perfect day by any stretch of the imagination but it was a better day.  I ditched the irritation and panic.   In the past, well let’s just say it was a rarity.  I wished it would happen.  Today I didn’t just think it but I acted on it.  I faced reality that if I wanted the day to be a success, I had to participate in it.  Actually that was probably the biggest lesson I learned playing chess.  To be successful, you have to show up for the game and play.  You can’t just wish it to happen.

Reasons to Pray

Is there one area you feel like you have totally failed as a parent, wife, friend or Jesus Follower?  Prayer is one of those areas for me.  I lose focus.  I forget.  I get busy.  I remember to pray for a few weeks only to abandon it again for a while.  There are full days that go by that I have not prayed for my kids!  Or my husband or even myself!  That’s an embarrassing confession!  Most days my prayers are one sentence as I breeze through some errand or drive the kids to school.  These aren’t bad.  I think God quite understands and hears these prayers as well as the longer ones.  I totally believe that God hears the very short one word prayers of moms with very young children!  Most often mine was “Help!”

So what am I trying to say here?  I think it’s more a state of my attitude than the length of prayer.   Secondly, it’s an area God is challenging me to step up.  The topic is on my heart and brain and is coming up in the occasional conversation as well.  

As kids get older, problems become more complex.  Children strive for independence and there are so many choices for them out in this crazy world, some good and some bad, that it’s quite scary.  I feel scared as a parent.  Each of our children have strengths and weaknesses that we’d like to see embraced and enhanced or dealt with and overcome.  Does praying wave a magic wand?  I wish.  It is considered a discipline after all.

I have wondered why is it so important that I pray for my family and friends, if there is no guarantee for a good outcome.  If God already has a plan for their lives and I believe He does, why bother to pray?  These two questions have bothered me for many years.  

These are the answers that God has taught me over the last few years as I’ve studied and read.  It’s an ongoing lesson so don’t think I have all the answers.  I do not – not by a long shot!

  1.  Prayer becomes more like a two way communication link the more I learn about God.  The more I know about Him, the more real and personable He becomes to me.  It really is just like getting to know a new friend.  You have to find out what He’s like and the main source is His Word.  He tells us all about Himself right there.

2.  If you don’t ask, you don’t get.  It’s as simple as that.  I’m just learning this lesson mid-life!  I’m not a boat-rocker.  I get seasick.  I’m learning that sometimes it’s worth the discomfort.  And so it is with prayer.  Ask.  God tells us to ask in Matthew 7:7 “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” I don’t want to come to the end of my life and hear, “If you’d only asked…”   I’m going to ask for wisdom, love, and patience in abundance!  I’m going to ask for guidance and discernment and anything else that will make me a better mom, wife and person.  I’m going to keep putting my requests and dreams before God even if the answers aren’t necessarily what I want to hear at the moment.

3.  Praying gives the control back to God.  Oh I’d like to think I was in control!  That I can control my children and their choices but the truth is, I AM NOT and I CAN NOT!  But God does and he can direct their paths.  In letting go, I am letting go of my pride.  I read somewhere that in letting go of control, you are letting God be God instead of you trying to be God.  It’s about humility and trusting that God knows best.  

 I have started to move on this urging to pray for my family.  There are a few resources I use to help me stay focused.  The books, The Power of a Praying Parent and The Power of a Praying Wife, by Stormie Omartian are really good and give me the words to pray when I can’t find the right ones, which as I start out is most days.  I also pray passages of scriptures.  Ephesians 3:14-21 is a great one.  I insert the boys names in where it’s suitable.  It doesn’t matter how small we start, it just matters that we start to make this a habit that eventually we can’t live without.

 

Anyone else out there struggling with their prayer lives?  What do you do to keep up this particular discipline?

Finding That Sense of Belonging

Yesterday as I stood talking with some women at church, I felt something I haven’t felt for a very long time.  A sense that I belonged.  That “new girl” feeling was gone!  I wasn’t a stranger trying to make conversation.  Instead, a sense of joy filled me.  

Community.  There are so many sermons, blogs and books on the topic it’s overkill.  My question is: Why is it so elusive, if that many people are talking about it?

Here’s my humble opinion.  Feel free to agree or disagree.

Our world is fairly transient.  People change jobs and move all the time.  It means starting fresh.  I’ve transitioned enough times to know that even going with a label or title such as “THE PASTOR’S WIFE” does not mean instant friends or community.  You may have more introductions and avenues to get to know people but it still takes time.  In my experience, it’s taken at least two to three years to know a new city, church or community.  Not only do you have to get to know the area and it’s people but they have to get to know you!  At the onset of a move you have a lot of time but those around you do not.  Make the most of the time they give you!  Accept it’s going to take a loooong time.  

Churches today are also very transient.  Unlike my Dad, who has gone to the same church for eighty-five years, many people change churches one or two times in their lifetimes.  There are as many reasons for leaving churches as there are people in them!  One complaint I do find interesting is “I don’t really feel like I fit in.”  There is some legitimacy to this. I know the church is flawed because it’s filled with people with flaws.  I know many have left because they didn’t feel accepted based on life choices.  This complaint isn’t coming from people who left because of those reasons.  The complaint is based on purely social reasons and I’m not saying it’s wrong or right.  I get it but before you throw the towel in, listen to “the new girl”: you can’t wait for people to come to you.  YOU HAVE TO REACH OUT to those around you and be willing to be vulnerable.  I know you’re thinking, “That’s not right or fair.  I’m the new person!”  No, it’s not right or fair but it’s how things work.  Consider it part of God’s upside kingdom.  New people have to reach out to those around them.  It’s along the lines that leaders are servants.

I have also used the “I’m an introvert” as an excuse for hiding out.  The whole after church crowd is a nightmarish scenario that I flee from.  The crowds mingling, people trying to talk to you only to get interrupted.  People who know me but I can’t remember their names!  Oh yeah, I run from it most Sundays because I walk away feeling stupid.  I’ve said something that was dumb or couldn’t hear what was said, so I faked like I did which results in a weird glance from the other person.  I called someone by the wrong name.  I find it easier just to leave.  As quickly as possible.

When I kick the “I’m an introvert – I vant to be alone” attitude and make an effort, it ends up being worth it.  A smile goes a long way and that’s really all it takes.  

Community however, doesn’t really form with these fifteen minute after church skirmishes.  I have found that the friends I’ve made in the many different churches I’ve belonged to, I’ve made in groups.  MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), bible studies, committees, Christmas and Easter Productions to name a few.  Most times it didn’t require much work.  It just happened because there was time to get to know each other.  Most of my friends, I met after I’d been at the churches a couple of years.  It really does take time.

The group of women I was having fun talking to yesterday?  We all go to bible study together.  We range in age and life seasons and it makes it all the richer.  They bring the best of me out into the open.  I see the best in them.  Their potential is breathtaking.  We laugh and cry together.  We try to wrap our minds around God’s incredible word that He gave to us.  I have watched as these women have been the physical hands and feet of the Saviour they serve, to other women in the group and out in their own communities.  

As I experienced yesterday, a sense of belonging is a powerful feeling.  It lifts you up.  It brings joy.  It’s what God intended when He built the church as a foundation for His kingdom.  Relationship.  Belonging.  Love.

 

A Year Later…

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A little family update.  A few months back I blogged as a guest on Mark’s blog, about moving the boys to a new private school. The decision was the result of a year and a half of struggle, bullying by both students and teachers, and academic boredom at the old school. As a flipped through a journal I read an entry from November 2012.

Where you go, I’ll go
Where you move, I’ll move
I will follow you. (Chris Tomlin)

“Sang that chorus this morning. Last January when we were moving I really liked that song…Today I almost hated singing that song…I’m thinking about the cost of following God…I’m feeling the cost. The boys are feeling it. Not ever did I imagine they would be paying the price the most for moving away.” And then I listed what they had lost. There were a good five or six things on that list including friends, an amazing public school and awesome teachers. My feelings that day almost a year after moving? Sadness, grief, anger, guilt. They were legitimate emotions. Don’t ever kid yourself. If you want to follow God, really follow, they’ll be a cost. He told us that in the bible.

The fishermen left families, businesses and friends to follow Him. He told the rich young ruler to sell everything and follow him. What they had to ask themselves, and we do to, is it worth it? The rich young ruler said no. But those twelve guys, they said yes and their lives were never the same. It’s been the same for us too. That doesn’t mean it’s not hard. Agonizing some days. I know you know that to be true too.
As we approach the two year mark of moving from Windsor to Kitchener, thankfully things have improved. That decision to switch schools has played a huge part in bettering our situation. Thank you to everyone who prayed with us as we made that difficult decision. Four months in and I still feel so thankful every day that I drop the boys off.
The grieving process is still ongoing, especially for the boys but it’s getting better. I still grieve too. It’s been my experience that it takes three years to feel at home in a new city and house. It takes longer to establish friendships and support. But I’ve come to terms with some of the other emotions. The guilt for making the decision to move has abated. Partly because some of the things they lost moving here have been found in the new school. I’ve also accepted that we can’t go against God’s plans and we were meant to be here. That, I am certain of.
Oh and I’m no longer mad at Mark for being a pastor and moving us around the country! It was fleeting but it’s always a good thing: not wanting to shoot daggers at your husband!
As I sat reflecting on what I had written just over a year ago, I felt thankful. Yes, the cost was high but I have a lot to be thankful for. Over the course of a year, things change. Some things get better. Some stay the same and others worsen. I’ve experienced all three. For the most part, things have improved and I’m so grateful. I’m not sure I would have recognized it, if I hadn’t read that journal entry. I realized something. Sometimes we need to remember where we were to appreciate what He’s done for us, where He’s brought us.
Practicing remembrance of how God has worked in our lives always brings hope, gratitude and a deep knowledge of who God is and what he longs to do in our lives.

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you, he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him. Joshua 30:18 NIV

Do you keep a journal or a record of your life? Maybe in 2014 start writing down what’s happening and then in a year’s time, you’ll see God’s handprints all over your life! Wouldn’t that be exciting?!