I like thinking about making a decision based on what will help me most grow. Will this new location, job, assignment, opportunity etc. help me grow? Will it not? How will it impact my spiritual life or the growth of my family? Choosing things that help us grow sounds wise to me these days.
Today I faced two large projects that both overwhelmed me. Both involved too much information that required winnowing. (To winnow out means to blow or sift through something in order to remove the chaff and find what’s essential.)
When you winnow, you start with an enormous pile–of words, of things, of thoughts, of tasks. And then begin sorting through it—lightly, like wind. The vital things remain; they stay stuck. You can’t get rid of them. The other things flutter up and you can imagine them leaving forever. They don’t really matter to the project.
When I winnow, I keep a highlighter in hand (either literally or metaphorically). I highlight key words, key tasks, and key goals. Everything else I’ve winnowed out.
In many ways, I feel like my whole life has been a winnowing process. The older I grow, the more I rest in what matters. I remove excess. I try to get to the best of everything.
Something marvelous and strange happened late yesterday: I decided to check on the plumcot seeds that sat quietly chilling in the refrigerator. I had already sprouted an apricot seed, and I love plums, so I figured I’d try to germinate the hybrid plumcot. But you need patience for this kind of thing. Like six months of patience while you let the seed stay cold in the refrigerator. And then you need more patience–like years of patience–before you enjoy the fruit.
In August, I placed by plumcot pit in the refrigerator. I didn’t even break open the pit to get to the seed. I thought I’d do that in the spring. Basically, I didn’t know what I was doing. And basically, I forgot about my plumcot seeds that sat hidden in the refrigerator between the jelly and the salad dressing.
But yesterday, I noticed the little bag of seeds and figured I’d check.
When I opened the little bag, it looked like a ball of twine had been placed inside. It was the root! A huge root grew out of my now cracked apart pit! It swirled around, thirsty and ready. So I planted it in a nice pot on my kitchen window sill. I thought maybe I’d see some green in a few weeks, but behold! A plumcot seed sprouting already! Soon, I’ll have sapling. Then, I’ll plant the tree in the yard. Then, one day far into the future, when my daughters are off with lives of their own, I’ll sit under the shade of the plumcot tree and feast on plumcots. I’ll make jams and pies. I’ll make tarts.
As I saw my plumcot seed growing this morning, I laughed that it’s way ahead of schedule. I was going to check on the pits in March. And yet here a tree grows. I remember that my timing isn’t God’s timing. And I especially remember that sometimes, when I think something might take a lifetime, it might just come early. I stand amazed and prepared for anything now.
Today I opened my mailbox to find the book Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making by Andrew Peterson. My wonderful and thoughtful friend sent this book after she began to read it. The book made her think of me! She sent it as a gift so I could read it and give her my thoughts in exchange.
I love this gift! And I feel so loved. I love any kind of book on creativity, and I especially love Andrew Peterson (I listened to his worship song “Is He Worthy?” on repeat for a few weeks). I love when people send me to new authors because they’d imagine we’d be friends.
I want to become the type of person who simply mails books to people in exchange for conversation about the book. What a fun trade!
So here I go, reading a book on creativity and community–all while feeling so loved by this friend. What’s so special about this to me is that this friend and I have hardly spent much time together; we know each other through my blog, my books, and through our shared love of Camp Greystone. But through her kind messages, we’ve become friends. And since the book she sent is all about creating in community, I’m especially thankful for how writing has brought me into a community of friends just like her that I wouldn’t have known well had I never taken the risk to write and create. What a blessing!
Lately, we’ve been cleaning and organizing our pantry, laundry room, and kitchen. I easily spot things we haven’t used in years. I make a neat pile of donations. I also find cans of soup in the recesses of my pantry from nearly a decade ago.
Before a new semester begins, it’s time to cast off all those things that have expired or no longer aid us. It’s time to ask if the things around us help or harm. I remember this work is both physical and spiritual. I consider the command in Hebrews 12:1: “. . . let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. . . ”
What in my environment hinders me in the race God has marked out? What sin entangles me? This evaluation matters not simply for one time; it’s a regular practice just like the way we clean out a pantry. We attend to what accumulates in the soul as we sort and cast off what we no longer need or should want.
I’ve recently reconnected with my love of college basketball. I loved attending college basketball games when I went to the University of Virginia. And now that I’m at Penn State, I have followed and cheered loudly for the Penn State basketball team.
My husband and I love doing this together. We even now go to home games with another couple. We love connecting with fans, grabbing popcorn and a Coke, and doing all the cheers with the crowd. I love attending basketball games because they are inexpensive, there’s no tailgate culture, and you’re home within two hours. It’s the best! It’s a joyful and truly fun experience.
So many of us aren’t the best at finding fun things to do in our lives. We work all the time, or we’re always worried about something and stressed out. Attending a college basketball game is one way to enjoy something fun. I hope you find that truly fun activity in 2020.
My oldest daughter turns 18 years old today! I can hardly believe it. I found myself crying tears of joy, gratitude, nostalgia, and sadness all mingled together. What a privilege to witness the growth of a child to adulthood! I took some time to wallow, but then I turned the page to think of her next 18 years. I’m looking forward. I’m praying blessing and protection. I’m praying for a clear, bright path ahead. I’m praying for unimaginable blessing. Oh, I cannot wait!
Last night, I thought about my current bedtime routine that involves reading news on my phone, laughing over funny videos, skimming Twitter, responding to email, or even drifting off to a movie. I emailed a friend to ask about her evening spiritual ritual because we’re studying the Psalms together. I had just read about the blessing that rests upon the one who mediates day and night upon God’s word. Technically, it reads like this:
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
I took careful note of the “night” word. Day and night. I knew the Holy Spirit had something to teach me.
While I love my morning routine with the Lord that includes coffee, my journal, my special pen, my cozy chair, my cat, my slippers, my Bible, my favorite devotional books, my important view of the sun rising over the neighborhood—I cannot say I take the same care with my evening spiritual ritual. Because I don’t have one.
My friend prays and moves through a ritual of affirmations and gratitude. I thought about what I might do. Do you have an evening spiritual ritual? I want one! My neighbor always tells me to read the Psalms before bedtime to ensure a good night’s sleep. I should listen to her!
So last night, I crawled into bed early. Instead of the Psalms, I decided to read the book of Revelation (I know it’s an odd choice) because it’s such a marvelously image-driven book. I decided to meditate on certain beautiful images and think about the Lord, worship Him, and marvel before I went to bed.
I couldn’t read beyond verses 12-18. I just stayed very still in my bed and pictured what John sees:
I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!
The robe, the golden sash, the snowy white hair, the eyes like fire: I was overcome. The glowing bronze feet, the voice like rushing water, the seven stars in his hand: I tried to picture it using the best of my imagination. The sword in the mouth kept me puzzled for the next few minutes. But then I read how John fell down as though dead. How could he not?
I concluded my evening ritual by closing my Bible and falling into the deepest sleep as I recounted the words of Jesus: I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!
Tonight, I’ll read on and mediate on other powerful images in the book of Revelation. I know it’s not the most comforting of books, and some might say it could foster nightmares. But for me, it’s reminding me of the awesome power of Jesus before I close my eyes in sleep.
I pray you experience great, new, unexpected blessings this year. May hope fill your heart. May you find little miracles and astonishing beauty all around you. Might you unearth the treasure hidden in every soul you meet. I pray you find a creative community where you feel alive and at home. I pray this is the year you feel seen and understood. I pray this is the year you find true love. May you feast. May you dance. May you laugh. May you become friends with at least one child, one older person, and one person who comes from a different perspective than your own. May you pray fiercely, cry uncontrollably at least a few times, and then find great comfort. I pray you sleep deeply, dream wildly, and snuggle a few creatures. May you walk in the moonlight. May you find a friend for life. May you discover a secret spot, a hideaway in the woods, or the perfect getaway. I pray this is the year your story makes sense. I pray you turn your face to the warm sun and take a path that requires faith and courage. May this be the brightest and best year yet.
I am on my way home from speaking at a Cru Winter conference in Indianapolis. I didn’t know but only a few people out of 1500 students and staff. But I found myself immediately connecting with so many people over our shared love of God and helping others grow. I remember the joy of being in God’s family; because of Jesus, we experience authentic fellowship, instant rapport, and deep connection. There were no strangers there.