Tag Archives: Everyday Exiles

Spiritual Disciplines

This piece first appeared on Everyday Exiles. The words are my own.

Discipline. It’s a word that can carry a lot of weight, and even have a negative connotation. What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word discipline? Perhaps punishment you received as a child? Or consequences you have set in place for your own children? Or maybe the “stick-to-it” mentality you need to complete a training plan or stay on track with your diet. While discipline can mean a lot of structure, rules, and staying power, it can also bring much freedom in your life.

You may have heard the platitudes “God is more interested in your character than your comfort.” and “God calls you out of your comfort zone.” Whether you believe they’re true or not, like all adages, they come from nuggets of truth. Like Jonah, Job, Nehemiah, and others, God has called countless people out of their comfortable lives to do things they didn’t want to do. He laid out plans for crazy things, like ark-building, sea-parting, and son-sacrificing, and asked for radical obedience. But if it weren’t for the discipline of all those fellows – whether it was their first response to the call, or their last – the fantastic plans God had in mind wouldn’t have come to pass in such a spectacular way.

Spiritual disciplines were created and ordained by God not to punish us or to restrict us, but to bring us freedom. Hebrews 12 tells us this: …but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. God has our best interest in mind when He instructs us to pray, study the Word, serve others, practice solitude, fast, give to the local church, submit to His will (obey), simplify, celebrate, confess our sins, give and receive guidance, and worship Him at each and every opportunity. That list of twelve may seem daunting, but think how many you may already have the routine of doing. Corporately, we can worship, celebrate, confess, and guide. These things happen in communities, and sometimes look different than we think. Confession can take the form of apology. Guidance can be as formal as counseling or as informal as asking a friend for advice. Individually, the other eight disciplines are integral for growth in relationship with the Lord and ability to hear and obey His will. Psalm 94 encourages us with this: Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law. The word “law” here is the Bible, God’s Word, the divine and holy text God gave us to learn from… it isn’t a legislation that sets us up to fail and be punished. Discipline and law are not one and the same; Romans 6:14 reminds us: For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. Law is not what governs us; the only thing that shall lord over us is Christ himself! Submitting to the very Kingship of Christ is how we are free to live without fear, free from condemnation, and free from the bondage of our sin! The disciplines that help us grow closer to the likeness of Christ are what set us free to receive the Spirit of God and all the fruits He has to offer. So if the son sets you free, you are free indeed! (John 8:36)

Savoring Ordinary Time

This piece originally appeared on Everyday Exiles

In the midst of our celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends, buying Christmas gifts while they’re on sale, and decorating our houses for the season ahead, we get caught up in a lot of days in a row that feel “extra”. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t take a long few weeks to celebrate the birth of Jesus, or that we shouldn’t let ourselves get swept up in the celebrations that the end of the calendar year can bring. What I am saying, or rather, asking, is that when New Year’s has come and gone, will we be satisfied with what’s left? What even is left? Our ordinary.

In Emily P. Freeman’s lovely book Simply Tuesday, she invites the reader to find a way to look at the ordinary and even mundane moments so that we may appreciate their smallness. Smallness, she says, is often where we grow closer to Christ. We don’t particularly like the smallness, the ordinary, or the (gasp!) boring, but we do need a nudge to look for God in whatever is right in front of us, however unsightly or messy it may be.

As we navigate the busy and glorious season of Advent, our hearts are naturally more attuned to the Kingdom-looking parts of our lives. You know, the familial relationships that are healthy, the beauty in icicles and snowflakes, and the snuggles as our children are drifting off to sleep, cozied up beside us. But the challenge comes here in January, when the lights and tinsel have been packed away, the sugary dreams have worn off, the “New Year” has been properly celebrated, and we’ve lost a few pieces to most of our gifts that were so carefully chosen, wrapped, and placed under the tree. What happens when all the magic is gone? Do we just attempt to fabricate it?

To be honest, I don’t think the magic goes anywhere. It just looks a little different. In “ordinary time” – which by the way, is an actual part of the church’s liturgical year when the numerous celebrations aren’t happening – magic might be a little more difficult to find, but it isn’t gone. Sometimes, it takes actually resting, looking, and waiting. Hang on to this glimpse of forever we got, while things were beautiful and kindnesses were more frequent. Hold on to the feeling of love and warmth you got in a room full of your people.  Don’t forget that those things aren’t created by the Christmas season – they’re created by hearts full of joy, given to us by a Creator who loves us. He gifts us the ability to see with His eyes the beauty of wonder and truth, to hear with His ears the exciting sounds of creation, to love with His heart those He has placed in our paths. We only need to be willing to receive those gifts and use them in our own ordinary time.

For the Love of Books

This piece originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

One of my (very loose and mostly ideal but certainly not practical) goals of 2018 was to read more.

Yeah, I told you it was loose.

Anyway, I certainly accomplished it, and I’m proud to say that this week, I finished my 52nd book of the year. I know you people who have had reading goals every year and accomplished some sort of list of genres, authors, and new releases have certainly still beaten me, but for my life stage and loosey-goosey approach, I’m happy. My parameters were every bit as loose as the goal itself; almost anything counted. A mix of fiction and nonfiction, a mix of classics and modern YA lit. Some books took me more than a month to chip away at, one page and one day at a time. Other books I finished in a single day, and didn’t discount them for that. I read a poetry collection, and counted it. I counted two of the chapter books that I read aloud to my daughter. I also counted my advent devotional and a few books I read simply because I was interviewing their authors.

All this is to say that I learned a few things during my year of simply reading more. First of all, I learned that I like it better than watching TV. I don’t have anything against TV – in fact, I have several TV shows I love and have watched every episode of a hundred times. But when, at the end of the day, I need quiet moments of relaxation, I turn to books more happily. I also learned that while novels go very quickly for me, nonfiction is more than worth chipping away at. I used to hate reading nonfiction, but this year I have enjoyed more than a few spiritual memoirs, Scripture-based, and Christian lifestyle-type books (What even is the genre for all that, by the way?) and even a narrative nonfiction book that restored my belief in learning history past high school. I’m kidding, a little, but still.

I know a lot of people who would read, but “don’t have time” or they “can’t find anything they like past a few chapters in”. But to you guys, I’d encourage you to stick it out. Stick it out, try to build in the time, stretch your literary vocabulary, and explore a new kind of book you don’t usually read. If you haven’t yet found something you love, try the library instead of a bookstore until you find what you like, (It’s free, y’all. No-brainer.) even if it takes a little while.

What else did I learn? Well, I continue to learn that I’m no good at saying “No” to a book that looks even remotely interesting. A used book sale has my whole heart, and whatever cash I happen to have on me. I like libraries, but usually struggle with returning the books on time. I love my Kindle for the portability, but there’s nothing like turning pages. Reading in front of my kids makes them want to read, too. I’ll never stop buying books. I’ll never stop trading books with friends. I’ll never stop taking books to our neighbors’ little free library. I’ll never give away books that I loved – which results in a truly puzzling storage issue in my home. But most of all, I learned that I still really and truly love to read. I love it. I LOVE IT and I don’t care who knows it.

Enjoy it.

This piece originally appeared on Everyday Exiles

It seems to me that each year, we get more and more hasty. We’re rushing through Christmas to get to Valentine’s Day… then rushing through to the 4th of July. Next thing you know, it’s Halloween, and on November 1st, we see Christmas decorations everywhere. Seriously… What’s the rush?

We’ve lost the art of enjoying the moment. Maybe not all of us, and maybe not all the time. But when we rush from big thing, to big thing, to wondering why there isn’t a next big thing, we’ve lost the ability to appreciate the right now. What’s the right now? Well, it looks like this…

Sunrises. Sunsets. Afternoon sun shining through a canopy of leaves. Full moonlight on dewy grass. Golden leaves on the sidewalk just before they turn brown. Spaghetti sauce all over your toddler’s face. A nicely-wrapped gift on your birthday. A perfectly-plated pasta and a glass of wine. A cupcake. Dirt under your fingernails from gardening. The smell of fresh flowers, brought to you by a friend. An unexpected kind note in the mail, amidst the mundane pile of bills and junk.

In the world of Instagram, we think we have to make everything special that happens into a “thing”. We need to take a photo and post about it (yes, me too!), maybe tag someone who was there. But are we actually enjoying the “thing” itself? Are we slowing down, smelling those flowers, sipping the wine, savoring that last bite, and hugging the friend? Why does this matter, you ask?

It matters because we are created for only a few years on this earth. Yes, our treasure is in heaven, and that’s what we look forward to – but we were put here first. On purpose. For a reason. We are here to live fully, love justice, do mercy, and walk humbly with God… and with our human companions as well. We were put here to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation, the comfortable silence with loved ones, and the sweetly unorganized chaos of our children. So slow down. Take a long look at that ordinary beauty around you. Don’t rush out of that coffee date, even if you still have some errands to run. Savor the conversation, the last bite, the first sip, and the dropping of the sun behind those trees. Don’t pick up your phone and take a picture – enjoy it.

God Loves Celebrations: Part II

This post originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

When I wrote the first post with this title, I thought I was finished with the subject. It turns out, I’m not. My last post was in light of a wedding I’d recently attended, and how amazing and God-honoring it was, how God must truly love celebrations of all kinds, and encourage His children to participate.

Now that Christmas has come and gone, and I’m exhausted with all the joy (and chaos) I’ve been experiencing, it happens to be my middle child’s birthday. Just like any mom who wouldn’t want her son’s birthday to be overshadowed by the birthday of his Savior (well, you know what I mean), I’ve tried to plan a few things, save some presents for his special day, and make sure he feels celebrated. He hasn’t really wanted a party, but told me that for his fourth birthday (the only fourth birthday he’ll ever have, ya know?!) he’d like a “yellow or boy-colored watch” (like his dad’s) and some cake. He didn’t mention a party, fancy food, a special outfit, or balloons – which I do plan to get early that morning, along with some sprinkled donuts. Why will I do it anyway? Because it gives our whole family great joy to celebrate him! The joy I derive from celebrating him must be only a tiny particle of the joy our Father derives from celebrating us.

Let me explain.

I’ve spoken about how God planned all sorts of things for His son’s birth, angels and unkempt shepherds and the like. In Psalm 145, we are encouraged to celebrate His goodness (v7). His goodness when He blessed my husband and me with a son, after a hard season of sadness over a miscarriage. Celebrating my son, for me, is celebrating a gift from God! And God loves the celebration! It is, to both of us, an expression of my gratitude.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells a parable that finishes with a celebration. The prodigal son had returned to his father, hanging his head low and expecting (asking, even!) to be treated like a servant. However, the father is so delighted that he calls for a celebration to rival all other celebrations. That father, symbolizing our heavenly father, celebrates his son’s return, without even mentioning his sins. To bring it back around to my four-year-old, his tantrums and mistakes abound, but his birthday is a day to celebrate his very existence in our family, his very being that was lovingly created by God, who knit him together in my womb (Psalm 139) before we knew anything about him. I’d say that a gift of that magnitude is worth celebrating! And I daresay God would agree.

And still, all through the old testament are more and more examples of celebrations. Harvests, festivals, Passover… there are celebrations for all of these, signifying God’s faithfulness, His provision, and the deliverance He provided and is providing for His people over and over again. He built celebration into the strict rules the Israelites followed in the book of Exodus, and it continues all the way through till Jesus’s birth. There were rules surrounding celebrations and how they were to be observed. But the first rule was that they would be observed. Celebration has been an integral part of His plan for us, from the beginning of time. If in Zephaniah 3:17 it says that He will rejoice over you with singing, then I’d say celebrations are for you, too. 

A Christmas Itch

This post originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

Every year at this time, I get the itch.

No, it’s not just my dry skin.

I get the itch to play that Christmas music, get out my decorations, and even to watch those cheesy movies. You know why? Because I truly do believe it’s the most wonderful time of the year. My home state has a chill in the air – but not too chilly, because, let’s be honest, enough is enough when it comes to cold weather. Lights are beginning to twinkle at some of the houses on my street. Stores are full of Christmassy colors, freshly baked treats, and boxes of glittery cards to send to loved ones. It really, really is the most wonderful, incredible time of the year.

But it isn’t the borderline-oppressive red and green decorations, the Christmas cookies, or even the sweet-smelling wreaths and garlands that make this the best time of year. No, it’s much more than that. It’s the general feeling of goodwill the circulates, because it’s even more apparent than usual that we’re part of a bigger story. The story that began all this stuff, this gift-giving and song-singing, is a story that has always been written. In fact, it started who knows how many millennia ago, before the beginning of time as we know it. And it’s still going on now; we’re not to its end. This narrative, the story of all of us, it’s not even remotely over.

You see, God knew this story was going to play out like this. He knew each of us, before we were knitted together in our mothers’ wombs, before our great-great-great-grandparents were even thought of. Before the flood, or even Adam and Eve. God is so far out of time as we know it that He probably feels like all that stuff was just this morning. He has known forever that we wouldn’t be perfect, or even good, without His help. He knew we’d screw up and need some serious intervention. But He didn’t stop loving us or start holding back His help. He provided the ultimate way for our saving, a way to let us be closer to Him. He had this majestic plan to send His Son before He even created us!

What does all of this mean? It means is that we have been given the greatest gift possible. We’ve been given the most perfect gift in the form of a helpless babe in arms. What kind of God sends His love to someone like that? As it turns out, an all-powerful, forever-gracious, fully righteous God sends His love like that. Love came down, under a bright star, in the dead of night, to an unwed mother and a frightened earthly father. Love came down to give hope, to live a perfect life, to be persecuted and crucified, to make straight a highway for our God to literally come alongside us. Jesus was the first Christmas gift, the most mind-blowing and expectation-shatttering gift ever.

Now, what does all of this mean for us? It means that we can call on God for anything and everything. It means that through Jesus, we are made holy and righteous, and God sees us that way. It means that, through Jesus, we have literally been given every spiritual blessing. Did you read that right? Every. Spiritual. Blessing. (Ephesians 1) That means we have the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5). We can pray directly to our Father and receive the ability to do works, just as Jesus did (John 14). We can ask Holy Spirit to intercede for us (Romans 8).

His Power Is Made Perfect…

This piece originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

This past week, my family had an awful experience. We went on vacation, and our house got robbed. Burglarized. Broken into and violated and stolen from. A horrid experience overall, also stealing our sense of safety along with the thousands of dollars of possessions we no longer own.

Just let me tell you this: if it has never happened to you, there is just no way to know how it feels. It’s interesting, the process of grieving that you go through after your home is violated in such a way. There’s definitely all five stages, and they manifest accordingly: denial (There’s just no WAY that actually happened. I’m dreaming.), anger (I could REALLY punch that guy in the face for breaking my front door and stealing my stuff!), bargaining (If I had just left one more light on, this wouldn’t have happened. I bet the guy wouldn’t have taken so much if we had hidden it.), depression (I’ll never be safe again. Goodbye, sleep, it was nice to know you.), and finally, acceptance (I didn’t really need those things. They were just “stuff” and my family wasn’t harmed.)

Maybe it’s trite that I’m comparing a robbery in my house to the loss of a person in my life, but I will tell you this: it felt like a loss. It felt like a humiliation, a violation, an inordinate catastrophe, and in the MIDDLE of my VACATION! I’m making light of it for your own benefit, but I’ve cried a fair amount of tears over it, too.

But what do you do when this happens? You miss your stuff, of course, but there’s almost no recovering it. There’s perhaps an insurance claim to file, but even that doesn’t replace what you lost, and it certainly doesn’t replace your sense of (false?) security. So I’ll tell you what I’ve done. I prayed that God would take away my fear, my anger, and my sense of entitlement to those earthly things. I’ve thanked Him that no one was home to be violated in person, and that heirlooms and sentimental items weren’t taken. I’ve thanked Him for our friends who rallied around us, and for the fact we could afford to have an alarm system installed (immediately following the incident). I’ve prayed that sleep would return to my husband and me, and that we would not be looking in the face of every stranger, wondering if they were the robber who had offended us so.

In processing this trauma (yes, trauma) I had realized I feel a certain level of guilt. The “what-ifs” and “if-I-had-onlys”have plagued me since I first found out, and my conscience feels heavy about the fact that it happened at all. I am victim-blaming, and I don’t know how to stop. I feel responsible, indignant, frustrated, and sad. I have even had the thought, “Is this God telling us we have too much stuff, or that we put too much stock in earthly possessions?” But no, I do not truly feel that we are being punished. I don’t believe in a vengeful or hurtful God. I believe in a God who will redeem the situation – a God who will provide me with humility gently as I process, and strength to do what needs to be done in the wake of an awful situation. I don’t possess this strength on my own; God has provided me with strength to explain it to my kids, to file reports and papers, to clean up graphite dust from fingerprinting, and to process with my tribe ad nauseum. You see, God can take my frailty and weakness, and turn it into a place for His strength to shine. 2 Corinthians 12:9 is a verse I have clung to: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

I’d be lying if I said that had been easy. But part of my weakness and His strength is that I can ask Him again and again and again to help me let go of the anger and pride I feel, and He will gently lead me to humility and forgiveness. His power is indeed made perfect in my ever-embarrassing and stubborn weakness.