Gazing Upward
  • Faith and Living
  • August30th

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    I’ve always had a love for pretty things.  A breathtaking work of art, an intricately designed ring, eye-catching home decor, a sleek and distinctive wardrobe piece.  I can’t even enter an office supplies store without ogling the colorfully designed notebooks and file folders.  It takes every ounce of self-control to not carry the item(s) to the cashier or complete the online checkout process.

    For a long time, I carried around a burden of guilt for my attraction to beauty.  I chastised myself for being so materialistic.  I wondered why beauty had such a powerful yet calming effect on me.  But a godly counselor revealed to me that the longing for beauty is actually hard-wired into our minds and hearts by God’s design. He created us for perfection and utmost beauty that won’t be experienced until Christ returns.  But what inspires awe in this world is a glimpse of the glory and grandeur we’ll behold in eternity. So our affinity for beauty isn’t wrong or evil in and of itself.  It’s part of our nature.  What matters is what we do with our desires, allowing them to lead us toward either holiness or worldliness.

    A few years ago, I came across a quote from author Harper Lee in reference to herself and her sister:

     

    “One thing about us, we can appreciate beauty without needing to possess it.”

     

    Oh how that has stuck with me! Every time I find myself in a store lusting after something, these words remind me that it’s possible to admire the beauty without having to bring it home with me.

    Through this process, I’ve discovered the value of self-denial.  If there’s a discipline that is completely lacking in our American culture, it’s this practice of saying no to temptation.  We can just look at the rising rates of affairs and divorce, obesity, extravagant lifestyles (with equally excessive debt), and destructive addictions to confirm this observation.   Even two-thousand years ago, Jesus warned,

     

    “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

    – Matthew 16:25

     

    While self-denial may sound like a punishment to ruin our fun, it’s actually a pathway to peace and contentment.  One of my favorite British authors wrote a novel in which one of the main female characters resists multiple opportunities to compromise her marriage for a moment of carnal pleasure.  Our society would say that such a decision leads only to regret and self-pity.  But for someone who looks to the Lord to fulfill their every need, the outcome looks vastly different.   Consider how the author describes her faithful character:

     

    “…for she had the true serenity that stems only from self-denial.”

    – Elizabeth Goudge, The Heart of the Family

     

    I had to read that sentence several times to digest the meaning.  In doing what she knew to be morally right and God-honoring, she lived with a heart, soul, and mind that were calm, untroubled, and peaceful.  Before reading that line, I probably would have guessed that the secret to achieving serenity was a tranquil, simplified lifestyle (which seems impossible with four kids).  And a super-clean house (also impossible with four kids.)  Or maybe a vacation on a desolate beach with just my husband and a tropical drink.  I could come up with several more scenarios.  But I’m pretty certain self-denial wouldn’t have been top of my list.

    Jesus says in Luke 9:23,

    “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  

     

    Sometimes our self-denial may initially feel uncomfortable.  Just yesterday, I listened to an episode of The Simple Show podcast called “Life in Cambodia.” (Click here to listen.) The guest, Marla Taviano, shared her journey of God’s call to move their family to the other side of the world.  Prior to that revelation, they were saving up to go on a short-term mission trip to Cambodia. While they had received some monetary gifts to help cover the expenses, they were also determined to finance the majority of the trip’s costs on their own because they wanted to feel the sacrifice.  By forgoing certain privileges, they were preparing their hearts to understand and relate to the culture and people they would be engaging.  And through that process, Jesus was refining their desires and priorities.

     

    The beauty of self-denial is displayed when we surrender our personal desires and indulgences for the benefit of others.

     

    If we practice self-denial on a regular basis, we strengthen that “muscle” so that we are prepared to turn away from truly captivating yet devastating temptations.  We’re allowing God to cultivate a habit of self-control and a heart for sacrificial service or giving.   It’s saying “no” to ourselves so we can say “yes” to God.  With this new perspective, I’ve been making an effort to deny myself even seemingly harmless pleasures.  Maybe it’s a bowl of my favorite ice cream. Or a new necklace, even though I may have the money to buy it.  Over time, my ability to say “no” will increase. And so will my delight.

     

    “Jesus’ demand for self-denial is another way of calling us to radically pursue our deepest and most lasting joy.”

     – John Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World

     

    The apostle Paul reminds us in Galatians 5 that if we live by the Spirit, the result in us is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  If I had to define serenity, the fruit of the Spirit is a pretty good description!

    My personal prayer is that I would have eyes to see the beauty of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross eclipse the allure of pretty things.  That I would grow to treasure eternal significance over instant gratification. And that in this chaotic, self-focused world, I would stand out from the crowd with a serenity that only comes from a commitment to live like Jesus.

    The question I’m learning to ask daily is:

    “What must I lay down today so I can take up the cross and follow Him?”

     

    Serenity waits for us there.

  • August18th

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    It’s been a week since my youngest of four kids started kindergarten, and I’ve found myself a bit sentimental and nostalgic.  A quiet house can do that to you.  So I spent some time reading old blog posts to revisit the season of life when my kids were home all day long.  I reasoned that reminders of terrible twos and temper tantrums would make me especially grateful for the hours of silence and freedom I now have to myself.

    When I stumbled upon the post below from 2010, I not only melted when I saw the baby faces of Carter and Grace, I also felt encouraged by the reminders to embrace the daily grind. Even with my freed-up schedule, I can still get grumpy with the mundane rituals, especially when they become maddening with carpool delays, rushed dinner prep, endless chores, and bedtime-routines-gone-askew.   No matter our age or the season of life we’re in, the daily repetition of ordinary tasks can drain our joy, if we let it.

    But I love what author Richard Foster writes: “If we fail to sanctify the ordinary, we will be leaving God out of a large part of who we are and what we do.” For the mom struggling to hold onto her sense of purpose as she labors to get through the day, I especially hope the truths and insights below will be sweet to your soul.

    P.S. I’ve quickly adjusted to the calm and quiet hours by myself, and they’re glorious! No more tears from this momma!

    May 3, 2010
    (This was a few weeks after we adopted and brought home Grace from China.)

    On our flight home from China, I told Scott I was craving normalcy and routine. After weeks of anticipation (and anxiety) before our trip, and a long 17-day adventure across the world and back, I was ready to become a family of four and embrace the daily grind. Simple tasks like laundry, driving Carter to Mother’s Day Out, and grocery shopping seemed refreshingly simple.

    It didn’t take very long after arriving home before I began dreading the chore of folding clean clothes. And resenting the number of times I have to scrub our kitchen table and booster seats in one day. And feeling drained trying to create new ideas for fun and entertainment for two toddlers.

    Words of Wisdom

    The other day, I suddenly recalled a series of devotions I read in one of my seminary classes. I pulled out Devotional Classics edited by Richard J. Foster, and found the highlighted wise words penned by Kathleen Norris. Here are some tidbits I’ve pulled from her portion in the book:

    • “And it always seems that just when daily life seems most unbearable, stretching out before me like a prison sentence, when I seem most dead inside, reduced to mindlessness, bitter tears or both, that what is inmost breaks forth, and I realize that what had seemed ‘dead time’ was actually a period of gestation. It is a quotidian mystery that dailiness can lead to such despair and yet also be at the core of our salvation.”
    • “The contemplative in me recognizes the sacred potential in the mundane task.”
    • “Repetition is both as ordinary and necessary as bread, and the very stuff of ecstasy.”

    God gives us work to do. And whether it’s at home, in an office, or even on the mission field, the work often involves repetition. Sometimes He’s inviting us to play. Other times, the mindlessness of the task frees us to worship Him in the midst of our busyness. There are moments in the day when I long for leisure time that is all to myself. Freedom to curl up and read a book. Or catch up on blogs. Or watch Tivo’d episodes of my favorite shows. And then I am reminded that motherhood is my job right now. That’s not to make it sound technical. Being a mother, and staying home with my kids, is a joy and fulfilled dream. But there are duties that come with the package…changing diapers, disciplining, cleaning up toys, preparing food for hungry mouths. Not to mention the sacrifice of self-denial. You can’t always sleep, eat, or play when you want to.

    When you want to escape from your responsibilities and mundane tasks for something more exciting or fulfilling, remind yourself that this work is just as important. When you feel like you must be missing your calling, that you can’t possibly be impacting the world for Christ while scrubbing dishes in the kitchen sink, let His Word remind you that He created this assignment just for you! Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” 

    As I reread the thoughts of Kathleen Norris, I was encouraged to embrace the mundane this week and find Him in those moments. In this season of my life, God has called me to be a stay-at-home mom of two toddlers. The days can be long. The work can be exhausting. The chores can seem endless. The time not my own. But when surrendered to Him, the rewards can be big. We don’t have to search in a church service, in a Bible study, through a praise song, or at a big spiritual retreat to find Him. He can be found in every simple and common thing we do.

    **If you have particular habits or ways you find God in the mundane, please share in the comments!  I’d love to hear and try your ideas!

    Copyright: tomertu / 123RF Stock Photo
  • August11th

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    This morning, I tearfully watched my youngest child pull the straps of her multi-colored, zebra-print backpack onto her shoulders and walk into the elementary school as a kindergartener.  Leading up to this big day, she and I read many books together to prepare her heart and mind for this big step.

    The one story she wanted to hear repeatedly was I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas.  It’s a sweet, reassuring tale about how the momma pig’s love is with her piglet all day long, whether they’re together or apart.  She loves him even when he accidentally makes a mess, or trips over his shoelaces, or makes a mistake.  For my nervous, 5-year-old perfectionist, these were comforting thoughts.

    I’ve spent the last few hours cleaning my kitchen and doing laundry.  Don’t be impressed….this is much more an issue of me being a control freak than a diligent housewife.  If I can’t do anything about how my child is doing at school, I’ll find something I can control. It’s my way of bringing chaos into order. Plus an orderly room makes me feel more peaceful.

    As I pushed my Swiffer back and forth across the kitchen floors, I prayed that all four of my kids would remember throughout the day how loved they are.  I prayed that if they felt lonely, intimidated, insecure, or imperfect, that they would pull confidence from the truths and lessons we’ve tried to instill in them.  And just maybe, the little tale of a momma’s love would give them the quiet assurance they need to overcome their hesitations or fears.

    The Lord used this same book as a sweet reminder to me this morning that He loves me all day long as well.

    Even when I’m trying to control circumstances.

    Or when I make a mess out of a situation.

    Or in those moments that I doubt the goodness of His plans for me.

    His constant and unconditional love settles my restless spirit and aching heart. And I’m reminded that just as He has equipped me for every good work, He has given my children everything they need for today.

    I just looked up at my bulletin board and saw the verse Deuteronomy  31:8…. “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”  We don’t have to spend a moment apart from our Father! Regardless of where we’re headed or where we’ve come from.

    I’m praying for you fellow mommas who sent your babies off to big school today!  We have loved our children well, and Jesus loves them greater still.  Let Him be your source of comfort and love today.

     

     

  • May16th

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    Every year, I seem to engage in three periods of reflection and evaluation:  the launch of a new school year, the celebration of a new calendar year, and the transition into summer.  There are always fresh ideas, new goals, renewed resolutions, and unbridled determination (which may or may not last but a few days.)  The allure is that I love fresh starts and second chances.  These times remind me that I can make a choice to break out of unhealthy or unproductive patterns. I can give a worthwhile goal another GO. I can reprioritize to include a project I’ve long kept on the back-burner. And I have an excuse to go splurge on new office supplies. Because who doesn’t feel better after buying a pretty new notebook and fancy colored pens and nifty paperclips?? Nothing makes me want to get organized like gorgeous, patterned filing folders.  Surely I have some soul sisters out there who feel the same way.

    So the 2016-17 school year is wrapping up, and I’m making my summer wish lists, bucket lists, and project lists.  As I look back at my 2017 New Year’s goals, I see one resolution in particular that I did not make good on…. updating my blog.   I kept putting it off because I wasn’t sure where to start, or if anyone actually reads blogs anymore, or if I even remembered how to sign in to the dashboard! Alas, five months into 2017, I’m adding it to my summer goals and giving it a try.

    I’ve always loved to write, and this blog was such a great forum to sift through my thoughts. It’s a space where jumbled emotions transformed into words and coherent ideas. It’s a space where I often had big revelations in the midst of typing about mundane happenings. And most importantly, this blog became a “stone of remembrance” for me where I could look back at posts and recall the many times God demonstrated His faithfulness. Because I certainly can’t rely on my memory anymore!  In the limitless world wide web, I found a small sacred space where I learned more about God, myself and others.  I made connections with incredible people whom I never would have met otherwise, and I was left the better for it.

    Let me clarify, I’m not calling this blog itself “sacred.” What I mean, is that I have found that when I take a few moments to quiet myself before Jesus, He can bring some sort of order to the haphazard impressions and feelings that emanate from this crazy life. In fact, when I set apart these moments to reflect and look for His hand at work in my daily life, I find myself humbled, encouraged, inspired, and changed.  And I was much more likely to reflect on daily life when I was blogging and writing.  Sometimes these moments were just a few seconds and sometimes they were much more. No matter their length, the key is that they were moments I set apart – and when I do so God makes them sacred. He does that for us all whenever we come before Him.  I look forward to sharing the silly, the serious, and yes, the sacred, as I continue this journey as wife, mother, and friend.

  • December4th

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    I apologize for being long overdue in giving an update.  I don’t have any excuses except that having four kids is kicking my tail!

    I went back to the breast specialist yesterday, and the abscess seems to have cleared up!! She could still feel a small mass but thinks it’s the tissue healing underneath the biopsy scar.  I won’t go back now until February 4th (unless of course the abscess is still there and starts growing again). They’ll repeat the mammogram to ensure that all is normal.  I just have to say HOORAY!!!! for no surgery. Thank you for all the prayers and sweet words of encouragement. I can’t even imagine how I’d cope with the healing process when I can’t even manage my own family and home when I’m healthy! 🙂

    Another good report came a few weeks ago…actually the same day we got the good news from the biopsy report. I took Maryn to our allergist so they could confirm what her allergies really are. I was scared that there was something I wasn’t cutting out that she was allergic to because we couldn’t get her BMs back to normal.  At first, it looked like eggs might be added to the list. But at the end of the testing, it was just milk and soy allergies which we had assumed based on our pediatrician’s visit. The REALLY good news though is that the results showed up as intolerances rather than full-blown allergies, so she should outgrow them before she’s 15 months!!! (Carter was SO excited when he heard Maryn had allergies and said, “Thank you Mom! Thank you for giving Maryn what you gave me! She’s just like me!!”  So needless to say, I haven’t broken the news to him yet that she doesn’t really have bad food allergies like him after all.

    Maryn did incredibly well. She didn’t even cry when they pricked her back. She is the most chill, laid-back baby. She even fell asleep while waiting for the test to be over.

    (Check out my baby’s arm rolls. See how many you can count. Hee hee. 🙂 )

    The other fantastic news is that the allergist thinks we should be able to use Nutramigen if I decide to stop breastfeeding, as opposed to the ridiculously expensive prescription formula. I may not make it another 6 months (I’m craving some chocolate BIG time!), but I’m sticking with it for now.  I actually feel really great after dropping dairy from my diet. The soy….it’s coming close to being a deal-breaker for nursing but I’m slowly finding good and even delicious recipes and foods that are gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free. My favorites are chicken fettucini salad, kale sausage meatballs, and cranberry apple stuffing (my Thanksgiving treat). I can also eat gummy bears so I’ve been gobbling them down like they’re becoming extinct. If you are or have been in the same boat, let’s please swap some recipes and ideas.

    We’re so thankful for the positive news! Thanksgiving pictures are soon coming your way. The kids put on their annual show, and guess who the plump turkey was????