Full Circle 2013…

Several months ago I was standing in an upstairs room at our Mississippi church leading a discussion group on Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts.  As we talked among ourselves about some of the things that helped us be more focused and grateful, several of the women began to talk about choosing a “theme” for their year so that they could really focus on different areas.  One lady said her word for the year was “simplify”, another said hers was “organize/declutter” and still another talked about just choosing small things to write in her journal each day to help her focus on being grateful.

I’ve had friends who did these kind of things before–my precious #2 (hey, Patty!) chose to do several years in a row focusing on individual fruits of the Spirit. I know of others who have done year-long projects on other topics, as well.  I think we all have–in fact, I’ve done it myself, but it has been awhile.  I stood there listening and, honestly, feeling a bit jealous of their abilities to do these focused things this year.  My year had been anything but focused…unless you count all the going from crisis to crisis-mode and focusing on those as they came along at what felt like a machine-gun pace.  I was ready for a break…and we weren’t even half-way through the year.

We had already faced multiple new and major healthcare issues, seen God provide amazing care and protect us physically as well as financially in the midst of them…and yet I often felt scattered.  I was so scattered at that point, that I racked my brain and couldn’t think of a single thing that I could focus on right then.  I think I hid it more than I showed it, but maybe not.  Does that even really matter?  Maybe it used to, but not so much any more.  I think I will look back on 2013 as the year I turned into the Velveteen Rabbit (the one at the END of the story and not the one at the beginning!)…out of necessity rather than by choice.  God stretched me thin in so many ways that I’m hoping He was more visible and I was less so…I’m absolutely certain I was “less so” in a lot of ways.

This was the year I finally couldn’t keep up.  I was forced to depend on friends and even strangers that God placed in my path to cover me in prayer for the strength to just breath at times.  I’m not used to that.  I’m much more comfortable being the pray-er than the pray-ee.  (Somewhere up in heaven, God just laughed out loud, elbowed an angel and said, “Look at her!  I think she just learned something!”)  If ever there was a year of prayer, this one was it!  From the early days of 2013 in a hospital room or waiting on an ambulance to arrive to care for my beloved husband to the subsequent diagnoses, treatments and strengthening that followed to a totally unexpected move, new job and a brand new house here at the end of the year, this has been an amazing display of God’s ability to care for, surprise, provide, entertain, amaze and just BE GOD in stunning ways for me. Once again, I’m so relieved to be His and so amazed to know that He is mine.

I’ve thought back to that Sunday night discussion several times over the past  few months and finally decided to choose a theme of my own for 2014–one that will allow me to live out what I was supposed to be teaching that night–one that will allow me to live out the rest of Ann Voskamp’s title:  “daring to live fully right where you are.”  As I prayed about how I should approach the coming year, God reminded me of a quote I’ve always loved by missionary Jim Elliott, who said:

“Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

Right now, life isn’t really any calmer than it was back then.  I’ve got a house for sale in Mississippi (it is really fabulous if you need one!), a temporary apartment close to my husband’s work and a new house with a lot of things that need to happen to it before it will really be mine in the way I envision, movers scheduled, visitors who have already come and gone, more planning to come soon and a few new challenges thrown into the mix for good measure…and that’s all just fine.  I still need a lot of prayer and I’m still grateful that God knows everything I need before I do…and that He’s also got a plan for providing it.  Most of all, I’m grateful for a God who sees my mistakes and short-comings and still provides me with new opportunities to try again.

Here’s to 2014:  I’m all in and I’m all here…holding on to God and looking forward to whatever He has in store.  Buckle up, world, I think we’re in for a really incredible ride!

(By the way, if I read the blog note correctly, this is my 250th post!  Thanks for joining me, for sticking around, for encouraging and praying and just generally being fabulous!  I pray God blesses you REALLY BIG in the coming year and that, in turn, you’re able to pass some of that blessing along to those around you, as well!  Grace & Peace!!)

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Merry Christmas 2013

SONY DSCI thought I’d missed it already…what with all of the move details and the recovering from illness and the traveling back and forth and only a beautiful fresh-greenery wreath hand-made by my mother for decoration in this less-than-half-furnished impersonal apartment.  I had already decided earlier in the month that this would just be “the Christmas that wasn’t” for us.  It wasn’t going to be a tragedy or anything.  After all, we were getting a new house two days after it was all over.  This was just the price we were going to pay for making such life-altering decisions at this time of the year.

But God had other plans. 

He has made me rejoice in the beautiful decorations hung in quaint small-town squares and along tiny urban neighborhood streets, in the simple strands of lights hung on the balconies of neighboring apartment balconies and in the multitude of cheery “Merry Christmas!” greetings of store clerks and fellow shoppers.  I was every day reminded that we would be with family for the day and that we (my husband and I) were together in one location again and that was a blessing big enough for the entire season.  I was content, if not wildly happy about this season of cheer.  It would be enough for this year and I was already looking forward to decorating the new house for the season … next year.

But God had other plans.

Christmas came earlier this morning.  I was seated on the carpeted floor surrounded by cats who were vying for the best tummy rub and purring to beat the band, listening to Chris Tomlin sing “Emmanuel” when it happened.  Christmas arrived.  In song words that told me what I already know, but had somehow overlooked in all the living it out this season:  Emmanuel…meaning GOD WITH US.

GOD… WITH us…

TO us…

FOR us…

IN us…and not just today, but EVERY day.

Seems like I just might be ready to get a jump on Christmas 2014…starting now!   Merry Christmas, everyone!

Grace and Peace…and lots and lots of Emmanuel.

Have an extra minute?  Click on the link below and listen to Chris Tomlin’s “Emmanuel” for yourself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Q6PywxAWyw

Lesson #8: Make a list

I’m a list-maker.  I’ve done this all my life.  It helps me take stock for the day (month/year/situation, etc.) and figure out the next thing to do.  List-making has the additional benefit of creating order and making me really think about how things should be approached and prioritized.  I’ve found that really helpful in situations of stress because—as long as my priorities have already been established—choosing the next step seems really natural to me because the important things have already been decided.

List-making scares some people for that very reason.  I know…there are worse things out there, but it is the very idea of creating a set of “non-negotiables” for life seems a bit daunting for some people.  I guess they haven’t thought about the fact that by choosing not to make a stand on important issues, they’ve already chosen their main non-negotiable. (grin)

Once we knew for sure that we were moving, it became obvious that we couldn’t stay where we were.  (You may be laughing at that, but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t realize that and react accordingly!)  You know the old adage about “Failing to plan means planning to fail!” and all that is actually true (there’s a reason those quotes stick around).  This move means we have a whole host of changes coming and while we can’t control all of them, it is a pretty good idea to decide to take control of what you can…or be prepared to live with the decisions made by those who won’t have to live with them.  In short, you need to make your own choices in life. (and that little nugget is all yours for free.)

Moving means that we will need a new place to live, a new church family, a new community, a new favorite place to eat/shop/share with guests, etc.  These aren’t things you just leave to chance, in my opinion, and the first thing you need to do is…you guessed it…make a list.

Our list included things we wanted to consider:  kinds of housing available, location/proximity to work/shopping, drive-time, long-term goals (yes, that lifetime of list making keeps those things close) and short-term goals.  We made a list of things we wanted in our next home based on the idea that this is the area of country where we hope to stay for a very long time.  That means our new home will have to accommodate where we are now, those who will visit (we tend to get a lot of visitors), those we love who are aging (all of us!) and any possible mobility issues for the future…not to mention our needs for security and privacy, a place to store our stuff and create new things, convenient drive-times and general aesthetics.  We were blessed to be familiar with the area since we’d previously lived nearby.  That told us a lot because we knew where we’d been and what we didn’t want, as well.  Armed with this list of must-haves—and must-not-haves!–we set off to hunt down a new house…and…didn’t find it…and didn’t find it…and didn’t find it.

Were we so weird?  What was up with all these people who lived in these places that didn’t meet our criteria?!  How could they possibly manage to live normal, healthy, productive lives?!  (grin)  I mean, I had in my head a picture of what our new place would look like…and I just couldn’t find it.  Finally, after another day of desperate searching, I told my husband that we would have to make some serious adjustments to our budget, our locations or our willingness to compromise on issues of privacy.

After some thought, budget and privacy won out and we decided to expand our search into areas we had already decided we didn’t really want to live.  Nice areas, but we’d already been there/done that/long drive time, etc.  In case you’re wondering, compromise doesn’t always taste good…at least at the beginning.

Armed with an adjusted list and a somewhat pitiful-me attitude, I set off the next day to look at another list of houses.  I was mentally resigned that my house wasn’t out there and I was just marking time until spring when the people who were holding on to my private and perfectly located house would find out they were moving and put it on the market right in the middle of my price range and I’d be the only one who saw the listing.  Yes, I know.  I think big.  (laughter!)  Seriously, God’s word says that He can do more than we can ever ask or think, so I like to prove that by thinking big at the start of things.

My realtor chose the starting place and we set off.  I was amused to find we were heading into very familiar territory…I’d shopped there before, worked there, I knew who lived there, had eaten there…gone to church there…and then we turned into the driveway.  As odd as it sounds, I felt like I was coming home and I’d never even seen that house before.  We got out and went inside…and I wanted to sit on the couch and just cry with relief because it felt even more like I was coming home.  This was my house…way out here…in this place I didn’t really want to live…further from work and shopping and…it was still my house.  Crazy.  This wasn’t on the list…and yet it was almost everything on the list that we’d originally made and prayed over before we started this process.

God is funny that way.  He likes to expand our comfort zones and challenge our expectations.  He likes to do things that only He can do so we know, for sure, that He’s the One who is doing it.  He likes to throw stuff in just because He can and He loves to bless us…even when we’re sure we know better at the start.  That doesn’t mean that His gifts don’t come with additional challenges.  In fact, God’s best for us will often include things that force us outside of what we would ordinarily choose.  It means that He really does know what we need more than we do…those things that will make us more like His Son and help us to put what pleases Him…at the top of our list.

“I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?”  Jeremiah 32:27 (ESV)

“Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us—to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”  Ephesians 3:20-21 (HCSB)