At Any Time

I’m so used to describing life in terms of “seasons.” You hear people say at church, “I’m in a season of fruitfulness” or “I’m in a season of waiting” or “I’m in a season seeking God” or “I’m in a season of trial” or “I’m in a season of rest.” I tend to box myself in to the season I think I’m in, and I forget that one cannot box God into predictable movements in our lives.

I do like patterns, but sometimes a season doesn’t behave like it’s supposed to.

So when I’m out in the backyard to view the Winterberry’s new bright berries, I compliment my husband on how he removed most of the Velvet Leaf that covered our raspberry patch. I expected to see the bare, brittle canes rising up to the near-winter sky. After all, it’s mid-November. This season means the garden has gone to sleep under the lull of frost and bitter wind. It’s the season of emptiness and waiting.

But it’s not at all. My husband and I see a strange harvest where no harvest should be. We peer down and find the brightest, ripest berries. We stand there, gobbling up the berries like children. (We’re in a season of adulthood, but even we don’t behave as we should.) I remember that seasons don’t always do what they’re supposed to do or yield what I think they’ll yield.

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On this late autumn day, I stay observant with my hands open to receive whatever comes. I don’t claim I know what’s supposed to happen or what a season of life means. God can do anything, at any time, in any way, to any one, by any means.

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What Would Happen?

If you take a can of pumpkin puree and stir in two eggs, a box of vanilla pudding mix, sugar, flour, chocolate chips, salt, and some baking powder, something will happen. I set up the standing mixer, and we just start dumping. It’s more fun this way, we decide. When the mixture looks like cookie dough, we drop spoonfuls on the pan and bake them at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.

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They are delicious! If you’re reading this blog for accurate, organized recipes, I apologize. We just needed to not know exactly what was going to happen. I realize how much of parenting joy in the past has been about letting children experiment, but I forget this. We come more alive in the process of investigation and discovery.

I want to add to my parenting vocabulary more and more these statements: “Let’s investigate. Let’s test this. Let’s discover.” Great afternoons begin with the question, “What would happen if. . . ?”

Set up the mixer, and let them start dumping.

 

 

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You Aren’t the Light: You Witness the Light

The light astonishes us this morning. The sun rises and shines on the bare tree, and it shimmers gold against the gloomy, storm painted sky. A picture can’t even capture the glow, but believe me, I witnessed it. I stopped and marveled. Later, I find other witnesses who saw what I saw and felt what I felt.

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We witnessed the light.

I remember how many mornings in the past half decade that I quoted the little verse in John 1:8 where the apostle writes about himself strangely in the 3rd person: “He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” Something about being a witness to the light resonated so deeply with me as I blogged about ordinary days with my old camera in hand. I chased the light down every day and snapped pictures of what new thing it illuminated.

Today, once again, I remember how I don’t have to be the light. I don’t have to chase fame or prestige or the spotlight, and it’s such a relief. It’s so pure and simple to stand in this world as a witness to the light. It’s so pure and simple to witness and testify every day of my life about God. I am not the light; I am a witness to the light.

This is the same apostle who says about Jesus, “He must become greater; I must become less.” I think about the rhetoric that exalts the self at every turn, as if you only matter if you have impact and followers. But here, it’s as if John retreats into obscurity and simplicity, from attention and public clamoring, as he writes his witnessing account of Jesus. I love the mission of it all–to be a witness to light and not want to be the light yourself. It’s a good reminder and a freeing reality.

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What’s Enabling This?

The sickening smell fills the garage and overflows into my lovely, cinnamon scented kitchen. I labor to ensure the perfect scent in my house. You know what I mean: the Yankee Candles (Coconut Vanilla and Autumn Wreath), the wax melts (caramel latte), and the mulling spices (clove and ginger). I love the smells of November. So when the smell of death enters this sanctuary of autumn, I know what’s happening because it happens every year.

Some creature has tried to nest in the insulation in the garage and has died. My husband is traveling, so I know I have to dig around in there, find the dead chipmunk (I think it’s a chipmunk), and remove the thing. I send one text of support out:

I’m going in.

I put on rubber gloves, examine the part of the wall that allows creatures to enter, and pull back the insulation. As I do this, the decaying carcass falls into view. I’ll spare you the nightmarish details and just tell you that it was gross. And it smelled. Badly. And it was sad. I was sad for a second and then disgusted.

I’m so disgusted I fling the dead thing so far out of my garage that I lose sight of it. And in a fit of disgust, I rip the entire wall–the one with the crack that lets the creatures in–off to reveal corroding and infested insulation that I then yank down in one large sheet of putrid hiding for creatures that die there.

And I realize this: I’ve just removed the structures that support what brings death. I’ve just disabled everything that draws the creatures in. I’ve just cleared out the space and let the fresh, clean, light air in. No more cozy nest. No more dark little refuge. Never again can the creature return because what draws it no longer exists!

All afternoon I think about corrosive sin in my soul. I ask what structures in my life aid and abet what opposes godly living. (Abet: I’ve never used it in writing before. It’s a verb meaning to entice and encourage towards wrongdoing.) I remember to think about the whole structure of my life and whether I’m set up well to honor God. I ask about physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. While I’m not sure my rampage and tantrum are the best methods to destroy parts of life that harm me and my relationship with God and others (think gentle recalibration instead of ripping down walls and insulation), I do think it’s worth asking the question, “How does the structure of my life–my schedule, activities, relationships, thinking, and even financial choices–encourage personal holiness?”

If something isn’t leading me towards Jesus, I take the dark thing’s hiding place apart. I let the light in.

Oh, the clean, fresh autumn sanctuary!

 

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Keep the Habits in Place and the Emotions Will Follow

This morning a friend posts something that Paul David Tripp says about what to do when confronted with a trial. It’s simply this: “Don’t forsake your good habits of faith. Don’t question God’s goodness. Look at your trials and see grace. Behind those difficulties is an ever-present Redeemer who is completing his work.”

I think about how much of my day is about keeping “good habits of faith” in place whether or not I feel any connection to God, to grace, to joy, or to peace. I open my Bible anyway because I know that God is working whether I perceive it or not. I write in my prayer journal anyway because, after all this time, I know I cannot trust my emotions or my experience of Jesus. Emotions are clearly not the right measuring tool. The truth of God’s love has not changed even if I have a sleepless night, a bad attitude, and discouraging fears. So I keep the good habit in place because I know that I need it. It’s like food I need even if I feel no hunger. I die without it.

Sure enough, I turn to Psalm 55:22 even though I do not want to be in this rocking chair with this Bible and this distant God that seems so far away from my heart, but I read the promise here: “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.”

I keep the good habit in place and know God is listening.

 

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When She Asked Me How to Have a Good Day Every Day

Stay with me: the answer is coming. But first, I’ve been teaching my writing students that “essay” comes from the late Latin and Old French word meaning to “weigh” or “sift” or “attempt” or “put on trial.” How perfect for the work of writing anything at all! When students consider a topic to explore, it’s a weighing out, a sifting through, an attempt at meaning, and a way to put the thing on trial to test its quality.

I love essay as a verb. I’m not blogging; I’m essaying. I’m sifting through this day for meaning and beauty and for evidence of Something More. I’m putting the negative, disappointing worst of it all on trial up against the goodness and mercy of God. That’s what I do. Every day, I do this.

So this morning when one daughter asks for the secret of it all–the secret for having a good day every day, we talk about two things that took me five years and thousands of essays to understand. I’ve sifted through it all to find this:

1. You look for God’s special blessings (Psalm 31:19, Lamentations 3:22-23) that often come disguised as something you don’t like at first.

2. You look for ways to be a blessing to someone else (Isaiah 58:10).

If you do this, every day of your life, perhaps every day could indeed be good. In this model, bad days are good days, even if the special blessing God sent was that you were a blessing to someone else. (In other words, if you can’t find #1, you get it through being #2.)

But it takes a certain sifting and weighing, of attempting and putting on trial, to see the blessing. And it takes a self-abandonment and willingness to cooperate with God to act as a blessing to someone else. Both points stand up to history and to this present day when all three of us are sick with various ailments: When I look for God’s gifts, I see them. When I look to be a blessing, I am.

And the day turns into a good one because Jesus was here, and I knew it.

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A Little Mystery on the Porch

I hear about a black cat with a star on her chest who lives somewhere down the road, around the corner, and into another part of the neighborhood. My daughter loves this cat, and she’ll often travel to find her, no matter how long it takes. She’s taken various friends on a journey to visit this outdoor cat. A few days ago, she even takes me to find this cat who prowls about in this far away yard. She talks to the cat like they are old friends. She shows me how the house where she lives has a special access through the garage for the cat.

Today after school, just as my daughter puts her backpack away, we see something extraordinary: the black cat with the star on her chest is standing right outside of our back door like she’s waiting for us, like she’s now visiting us instead of the other way around.

And she’s meowing and looking right at my daughter.

But how? How did she know this was our backyard? How did she know the little girl who visits her lives in this house? 
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Now, the day shimmers with mystery. A cat we visit now visits us, and nobody knows how or why. We just know that the cat knows, somehow, and we marvel at a mystery.

And my daughter feels special. I had prayed that something might happen today to encourage her heart and give her some confidence that she wasn’t invisible. I tell my neighbor I’m praying for this encouragement. I had hoped for some kind of good test grade or recognition. I didn’t think God would send a black cat with a star on her chest, but it seems that He did! And this little visit from a mysterious cat was just the balm she needed.

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Fingerprint Animals

My daughter asks if we can make “fingerprint animals” as an art activity. She brings out her little stamping pad and paper, and she’s off to create! It’s so precious and simple. You can watch all sorts of youtube videos and explore so many Pinterest accounts with little scenes made of fingerprints. Imagine zoo animals, underwater creatures, birds, and bugs.

My daughter likes mice and whales.

The whole time, I’m thinking of her unique little fingerprint that she shares with no one else in the entire universe.

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This is me, and this is what I’m making from it. 

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It’s a simple activity for Friday afternoon. I know it’s something for children, but I’m imagining a scene of little hedgehogs, pigs, and lions. I remember that living with flair means you make art with children at least once a week.

 

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I Was Warned But Didn’t Listen

Three years ago, I blogged with joy about how we turned Velvetleaf into a beautiful indoor arrangement. You remember the story: My mother and I discovered this unwanted, invasive, terrible weed in the pumpkin patch at the fruit farm.

velvet leafWe created the most lovely bouquet. I boasted about how living with flair meant turning the obnoxious weed that nobody wanted into something beautiful.

Velvet leaf in houseBut if you remember the story, the farmer warned us: “You do not want this anywhere near your home! Even one seed will destroy your yard! You can never get rid of velvetleaf. Don’t do it.”

I did it. And in summer, I threw the bouquet into the compost bin next to my berry patch because I wanted something fresh for my living room. I hadn’t been to my berry patch for a month or so, and I venture out this morning to find this:

IMG_6654I was warned and didn’t listen. Velvetleaf now covers my berry patch. My poor strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Immediately, I remembered with shame how even a little sin—something that seems beautiful that nevertheless plants a seed into the heart—will take over my life and choke the landscape of my soul. I remember how David cried out in Psalm 139: “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts. Find out if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!”

Velvet leaf—such a small, harmless looking thing—harbors toxins that destroy plants, blocks light from your crop, stays viable in soil for 50 years, is highly competitive with anything around it, knows how to block herbicides, releases chemicals to starve other plants, and if you crush it, it thrives.

I remember the warning from the farmer I never heeded today. And I praise God that “He is faithful and just to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

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Morning Light: 3 Promises from Scripture

I gaze out as the morning sun rises through the Weeping Cherry. It’s new and hopeful as I turn to God.

I find this as I read Psalm 21 where David praises God:

“[You have] made him glad with the joy of your presence. . . through the unfailing love of the Most High, he will not be shaken” (Psalm 12:6-7). I read it again with joy:

“. . . glad with the joy of your presence. . . not be shaken. . . “

David knew that gladness comes from the joy of God’s presence always available to us. He knew this unfailing love that, even in the midst of battle and great fear–would keep him steady.

But then I read this familiar verse just a page over in Psalm 22:

“They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.”

Finally, I read the incomprehensible words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 6 where surely he was shaken, disappointed, and discouraged. He writes in verses 4-10 about everything that could possibly go wrong: He has trouble, distress, hardship, beating, imprisonment, sleeplessness, hunger, dishonor, loss of reputation, insult, near death, great sorrow, and poverty.

And yet. He says this:

“. . . having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

What promises to know! What did David and Paul understand about Jesus to know this saving, joyful, abundant presence? That’s what I’ve been exploring lately. I’m growing in my faith to know these promises–to have nothing and yet to possess everything–because of Jesus.

(And did you notice that the light comes through the leaves on the Weeping Cherry that have been ripped or damaged? I love that in those places of pain, Light comes through! David knew this in battle; Paul knew this in prison. They had nothing yet everything.)

 

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