Do Everything in Love–How?

One phrase I frequently use around our house with my children is this:  Do everything in love. It comes from 1 Corinthians 16:14. A couple weeks ago, I wrote it on a piece of paper (well, on the back of a piece of paper that had printing on one side–we like to reduce, reuse, recycle around here). Then I taped it to the side of a kitchen cabinet, where it remains visible throughout our days (and supper times, too). It’s very basic, and Woodrow–the artist of our family–would have produced something much more creative. But it gets the point across.

lamp in pine tree

So if a constant refrain in the instructions I give my children is Do everything in love, how do I give them a framework of what that actually is? What do I mean by Do everything in love?

I decided we needed to dig deeper into this, so I brought my Bible to the supper table one night–I have a captive audience there, so it seemed an appropriate time.

First, I surfaced the topic of doing everything in love. I asked why they think I give them this instruction, and why this is a high value in our family. From there, we could reflect on the verse from which this command comes. As a family, we could remember that we want to hold to this instruction because it originates in God’s Word to us.

vintage keys

After asking how we know what love is, we read Romans 5:8…But God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This is ultimately our frame of reference for love:  Jesus Christ surrendered His life for us, and the Father sent His own Son to die as part of His great rescue plan.

So how do we live out that kind of love–a love that puts others before ourselves? For this part of the discussion, we flipped over to 1 Corinthians 13–the oft-quoted Scripture at wedding ceremonies for generations.

ice cream cones

We read…Love is patient; love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. And so on. We also discussed the words in this chapter that remind us we can perform great feats and have deep knowledge (or even give all we possess to the poor) but still not have love at the root of our motives. The boys cottoned to the idea that we are simply making noise if we exercise great faith or great abilities without love. They tried out some of that “clanging cymbals” and “resounding  gong” racket the apostle Paul mentioned at the beginning of the chapter.

Now I hope that, as we continue to remind each other to do everything in love–and to confess to each other when we don’t–we’ll grasp what doing love truly involves.

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A Letter to Myself on My Birthday

This past week, I celebrated my birthday. My family let me sleep in that morning, so the day certainly started well and then got better and better. A card from a friend, a text from my brother, a package from my parents, a box of goodies from my sister-in-law, handmade cards from the boys…And our home school day went well, too.

girl jumping with red boots

I read a book in 2017 called Choosing Real:  An Invitation to Celebrate When Life Doesn’t Go as Planned, and in it, the author mentioned how she writes a letter to herself  each year on her birthday. Even though it was just September when I read this book, I jotted down a note to write a birthday letter to myself come January.

Here’s the one I penned for myself (for the first time ever)…

Dear Allison,

God’s healing never stops! Receive the healing that He is working in you now, and keep walking in that hope, a confident hope in the fact that His power is at work. Victory in everything that matters will overflow as you walk in His hope.

Learn to stop being self-aggressive and to revel in all the mercy He gives you. Remember that you are created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for you to do. Enjoy partnering with Him in those good works!

hearts with daisies

Expect the unexpected. Keep your eyes wide open and see through the eyes of faith. 

You’re 44 now, and you know yourself well. Do what makes you come alive! And, please, at least CONSIDER learning to go to bed earlier. 

Never underestimate dancing to loud music in front of the bedroom mirror as the mood lifter it truly is. And remember to continue not caring when your dental hygienist explains to you how to get your teeth whiter. Laugh as much as you can, even if it’s just to the extreme burping video on Facebook. A cheerful heart is good medicine. Let God heal you that way, too.

Until next year, Allison

 

 

My 2018 Word of the Year: Plenty

When I think back to my 2017 word of the year–heal–I feel a bit sad that I chose that. Healing necessarily focuses on what’s wounded or ill–so it can get healthier, yes, but… I was pondering recently the idea that ruin always precedes redemption and, in fact, there must be ruin before there can be redemption. So maybe my “heal” gazed more upon the ruin than it should have.

Yes, I needed to trust God for some healing of heart and soul, and I sought to take those disappointments and wounds to Him (sometimes it was less prayerful and a lot more grumbling-ful)–and then throughout the year, additional hurts surfaced where I needed God to apply healing, too.

full jars

Isn’t that the way life is, though? Every new season of life brings its hurt and its happiness. One fundamental truth in my life has helped me rest in Christ’s healing recently:  Life is hard. Sometimes it feels that life is simply pain. But Jesus is real, and He’s with me.

I hear Him whispering to me, “Stay with me here. Stick close to me in this. I know when you hurt, and I also know this life may begin to hurt more. But if you stay with me, I will take you deeper into my love and my fellowship. And at the end, there will be a treasure.” Maybe this past year was more about God’s preparing my heart for healing, and maybe that will take root in more significant ways in the future.

juniper

But on to 2018 and a word that makes me feel full just saying it:  plenty. 

I began reading a book I got for free on Kindle called Minimalist Homeschooling in December. Early on, the author writes about the value of “enough”…having enough and doing enough and prioritizing enough. And that enough can also be viewed as plenty.

If I have enough, do I need more? If not, that’s plenty.

cookies for sale

Without gaining another single thing, I have plenty for which to give thanks. Plenty of reasons to rejoice in the Lord. Plenty of causes to be joyful always (and I believe joy and pain can co-exist in Jesus).

Throughout the year, I’ll be looking up Bible verses that speak to the topic of plenty–there are plenty of them (ha). Here’s one that I’ve long treasured…

Lamentations 3:24–I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

Although the word “plenty” doesn’t appear here (or any of its synonyms), I read this verse and think about feeling richly satisfied with (or in) the Lord, who is my portion. He has plenty of grace for me; and His grace is plenty good. When I’m full-up on what the Lord provides, that is plenty.

yellow mug

One way I’ve already applied this concept in 2018:  I noticed on Facebook a call for cold weather gear for a homeless ministry in Orlando. With this week bringing some below-freezing temperatures to central Florida, the homeless community has seriously been in need. So I began gathering up items, in particular a hooded pull-over (never worn) and zip-up fleece and a windbreaker, along with a hand-me-down coat and a hat and pair of gloves that were long-ago gifts. I don’t have another pair of gloves, although I’m sure my husband has some I could borrow if the need arose (I already borrow his socks on occasion.) That hat? I’d probably wear it–once in a very rare while–if I’d kept it. But I have plenty:  a warm house, lots of quilts, another coat that I DID keep for myself, lots of clothes that I can layer for warmth.

The giver in me says, “Give it all away!” while the pragmatist in me sometimes says, “Keep what you need so you don’t have to buy more.” However…when I approached the closet believing that I had plenty–and, if I had more need of my own, that God would sufficiently supply what I might need–it felt thrilling to keep adding items to the donation bag.

I think I’m already finding that “plenty” is a great perspective on the new year.

 

 

 

 

2018: New Year, New Goals

2017 is now in the books, and I’m ready for a fresh new start. This past year held many triumphs for me:  I made a Power Point presentation for the first time! I know, hard to believe. The first one of these I ever created was for the talk I gave this past summer at my sister’s church about the Luo Pad project.

I also explored some caves with the boys’ Cub Scout pack this past spring, on a camp-out at Hog Island recreation area in Withlacoochee state forest. That was a first for me, too.

roller skates

2017 also held hurts and loss:  My beloved Papa died on Valentine’s Day last year. And yet another dream I held for myself came to naught when I had to close the Women of Vision/women’s stewardship group I’d previously launched.

But 2018 is still wide-open, unclaimed territory, and I relish that. Looking toward the new year, I’ve set a few goals for myself–ones that are specific and targeted (although some are more measurable than others). I didn’t list everything that is a priority that I’m already doing, that’s already part of my normal rhythm, such as exercise, reading good books, or carving out time to be with friends. I tried to list what I might need to be reminded to keep at the forefront. Check it out…

balloons on train track

2018 GOALS:  

  1. Continue on the journey of being faithfully frugal. Remember that book I read that inspired me so?  I’m captivated by the idea of living intentionally this way. One way we’re implementing this in January is by cancelling Netflix. Well, for a month, anyway…I’d like to do away with it for longer, but we’ll start with a month. Our subscription price increases by $1 per month in 2018, so we’ll save about $11 monthly by refraining from being Netflix consumers. And it cost $11 to ship the final 2 quilt tops I sewed for 2017, so that savings is meaningful.
  2. Use my middle-of-the-day down time for quiet times with Jesus on weekdays. I struggle to get up early to start the day with the Lord, and not just because I’m a night person. I sometimes feel more sad in the mornings than at any other time of day, and for a while I found myself feeling some kind of barrier in connecting with the Lord in the morning that I don’t feel at other times. I’d been having my quiet times at night, but for the last week or so of school before Christmas, I used our after-lunch down time (when the boys usually listen to an audio book) to get alone with the Lord. And those times were truly rich. I plan to continue this new practice.

shoes and flowers

3.  Write + submit, submit, submit! Notice my goal is not “get published.” I have little control over that–although by not submitting anything ever, I’m guaranteed not to get anything published. I have a few irons in the fire–meaning I’ve submitted several pieces I’m awaiting a response for–and I know most of those submissions will be rejected. That’s just how it goes. Getting a story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul this year has spurred me on, and I want to continue attempting to put my work out there. Plus, if I get paying gigs this way, I’d like to use at least a portion of that money for extra giving, which absolutely motivates me.

4.  Raise $300 in 2018 (apart from our regular giving) to give to gospel-centered needs. At the end of December, I used some of the money from a recent thredUP cash-out–from selling excess hand-me-down clothing beyond what I needed for the second time–for a mom in need. Not sure yet where I’ll find $300, but that’s the reason it’s a goal, right?

5.  Continue teaching the boys from a spirit of trusting that the work is accomplished NOT by my might or power but by God’s Spirit. Zephaniah 4:6 pierced my heart recently, and I’ve sort of paraphrased the verse here. If I attempt teaching my sons as though it all depends on my best efforts and my good planning and my hard work, I’ll be frustrated and despondent when the fruit I see doesn’t reflect the labor I put in. But if I teach them trusting God’s Spirit to be at work in them, causing the knowledge to take root and develop over time, I can relax–and enjoy the process (and my children) more, not depending on my children’s academic growth to fund my sense of accomplishment.

6.  Continue parenting  with the trust that Christ is the source of my unshakable peace–not good days or nice circumstances. You probably noticed the idolatry I mentioned above (being tempted to draw a sense of validation from my children’s school success since I am their primary teacher), and there’s more to address within goal #6, too. Most days simply don’t flow smoothly from Point A to Point B, and if I depend on circumstances feeling peaceful in order to find the good in my life, I’ll end up disappointed and angry. In this world, we will have trouble; but in Him, I can take heart, because He is my peace.

allison in front of azaleas

7.  Create more Wear It Well Wednesday blog posts. See? Another targeted, specific, doable goal. Look for more of these posts coming soon!

What are your new goals for 2018? I’m also contemplating learning to play the ukulele this year–we have one that Mike’s brother gave to our boys. But I didn’t list it as a goal because I’m just not sure yet. We’ll see! There’s a whole year to fill, so maybe I’ll go for it after all!

Just Get Started

When I spent the summer in New York after my sophomore year of college, my friends and I would often end our days by popping into a bodega for something to drink on our way to jump on the subway and travel home. I always bought some flavor of Snapple, since I’d given up carbonated drinks around Christmas time over a year prior. Each Snapple beverage–whether strawberry kiwi or peach iced tea–always cost $1. And it always landed in my hands swathed in a small brown paper sack with a straw included. I never once thought of declining the paper bag and paper-wrapped disposable straw. That’s just how the cashier at the shop handed it to me after I paid, so I just took it–unthinkingly, without question.

two boys on a dock

Now, all these years later, I know I would politely refuse the extra wrapping, the unnecessary pieces. I can easily drink from a Snapple bottle without the straw, and I wasn’t buying liquor that needed to be concealed in a bag. It’s easy to say, “That’s okay–I don’t need the bag or straw.”  As Maya Angelou said, “When we know better, we do better.”

So here’s where I’ve come to “know better” lately:  in understanding myself. At the beginning of 2017, I set my word of the year to be “heal,” and the Lord has certainly ministered to me in many ways this year where I’ve needed healing–particularly in the arena of hope. Not hope for my eternity or hope that He’s in control and working circumstances out for His glory and for my best, but hope for the day to day. Hope for the here and now. That’s still very much in process, though, and I expect more work to be done in growing in hope throughout the coming year.

girl at train

But a recent area where God has done some healing is in understanding myself, particularly about what causes me to procrastinate. I’ve never considered myself a procrastinator. But there are certainly chores or jobs or the like that I put off–and that I sometimes delay over and over and over.

Why? Here’s what I notice…I postpone doing what makes me feel overwhelmed. I don’t tend to delay tasks that seem tedious or uninspiring; I get down to business on that kind of work and appreciate the sense of accomplishment when I finish it. This could be because I’m a “low challenge” person–as in, I like challenges when I feel fairly sure I can achieve them.

game challenge

But work that causes me to feel overwhelmed can set me back on my heels, and I might tend to push it aside–whether it’s creating lessons and projects for a new art unit for home school or praying about a heavy, burdensome need. In recognizing this, though, there is healing. Armed with that knowledge, I am better suited to talk to myself about JUST GETTING STARTED–because getting started helps me to see the task as do-able after all. I may feel overwhelmed, but if I will just get started, I will already be moving in the right direction.

I was feeling a Big Sad on Friday and felt somewhat overwhelmed about, well, the whole day in general. But I had really wanted to bake bread for a couple women in our neighborhood as Christmas gifts, sharing with them about Jesus, the Bread of Life (and using up yeast in my freezer, too). So I decided to press on, and I got to work on that bread. By that evening, I had 2 loaves wrapped and ready for delivery, and both women were appreciative.

Sometimes we need to rest, to be still. Other times, I’m so thankful for when I just get started. Because getting started can lead to beautiful results and to getting finished, too.

The Best From the Land

This past weekend, I had the house to myself:  Mike and both boys went camping at the much-anticipated Scout Jamboree. Normally, I attend these camp-outs, too, but Mike just returned Friday morning from being away most of the week at a conference. I needed to rest, to be refreshed, and, truly, I desperately needed to spend intentional time abiding  with Jesus. I elected to skip the camp-out.

open sign

I set a priority of spending lavish time with God on Saturday and meditated on this verse:  Psalm 103:5, “…who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

In this psalm, shepherd-turned-king David is actually addressing his own soul. “Hey soul?” he seems to say. “You seek to satisfy your good desires with wrong things or with pseudo good things (this movie, that TV show, another chapter from that interesting book, now how about a podcast?). But my Lord satisfies your desires with good things. And when you’re satisfied with what is from Him, your strength is renewed.” [Movies, books, podcasts, TV shows aren’t necessarily bad things. I’m speaking about how I often turn to what I think or hope will fill up the cracks in my heart because it provides distraction or entertainment or just feels like “me” time. They may be ‘good things’ but cannot fill my empty cup.]

Psalm 103:5 reminded me of Isaiah 1:19…If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land…” 

open door to field

If we satisfy our hunger with what truly brings peace and rest, we will feast–we’ll be nourished, strengthened, renewed. Here’s a little story I wrote almost 2 decades ago based on that hope. Perhaps these words will remind you of the good that God has for you.

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The lush, green grass looked too good to resist; I slipped off my shoes and left them by a fence post. Picking up my basket, I skipped and danced toward the majestic apple tree in the middle of my field. I expected an abundant supply of fruit today, a basket full of the ripe red fruit that the tree offered. The tree’s bounty invited me, lured me; I always stood in awe of its grandeur and provision.

Every day, I brought my empty basket to this tree. Every day, I ventured to it in order to fill my basket with the fruit that I needed. As I ate my fill over and over, I came to desire these apples more and more. I needed them, yes—I needed their nourishment, the  sustenance that they provided. Yet, more than that, I had acquired a taste for them. I had grown to crave them, to long for their sweet, satisfying taste. Over time, I came to want nothing else; no other fruit in any surrounding field tasted as good as my apples.

jar of strawberry drink

In the past, I thought that other fruit might be what I wanted, might be exactly the taste that I craved. So, leaving the safe boundaries of my own thriving field, I slipped through the fence to sample the fruit of another field. Nervous yet excited about this new jaunt, I stole out of my pasture at twilight. In the waning light, I cut myself on the barbed wire—on my hands, my back, my calves. The barbs snagged my hair. When I reached the tree in the nearby field, I was bleeding and scared. All light had faded; stars were invisible in the cloudy sky. This field was not like mine:  It was dry, dusty; its fruit tree yielded sickly, poor fruit. The fruit hanging from the tree was too green to eat, so I picked up a piece from the ground. Feeling around for rotten spots on it, I found none and bit into it. It tasted sour, and, looking more closely, I found worm-eaten holes in the fruit. I dropped it in disgust and began to run back toward the fence. In my haste, I received more scratches from the barbs. Crying and panting, I vowed never to leave my beautiful pasture again.

front door

Since that time, my happiness in my own field has grown and grown. Every day, I pick my apples—just enough for that day’s need. There are always more the next morning; my tree provides fresh fruit each day. And every day I enjoy my field:  I run, turn cartwheels, take naps in the sun, pick great bunches of flowers. Yesterday, I had a picnic. My contentment finds its home in my own field. As I consider the feast that awaits me each day, I munch a juicy red apply and wiggle my toes in the grass.

Psalm 16:5-6…LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. 
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.

 

Of Walls, Interviews, and Freedom

Last week I finished reading a book I’ve had on my “need to read” list for months:  Forty Autumns:  A Family’s Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall. Absorbing these words about the history of the Iron Curtain and the Cold War and how Communism came to Eastern Europe was eye-opening. The lengths that people went to in order to escape being controlled by the State–digging a tunnel under the Wall; building a hot air balloon to float over to the West zone–humbled me. Having grown up with freedom, I can only imagine that hunger, that drive, to find liberty.

man on suitcase

This story also reminded me of a young woman I knew when Mike and I lived in New Zealand. Antje–originally from Germany–and I first met as I talked with students at the University of Auckland, where she was a graduate student studying film. We discussed matters of faith, belief, God…and she indicated that she was an atheist. We had a thoughtful, polite conversation, although we agreed on very little regarding our beliefs. Antje shared about her German heritage and about her grandparents who had lived in East Germany, where they had run a small flower shop.

Then Antje asked if I would be her subject for an interview she needed to produce for one of her classes. The assignment was to film an interview and then write up the transcript. I happily agreed, unsure exactly what she hoped to cover in the interview.

But I gamely went into it, and Antje asked many questions about what I did as a missionary–what I told people about the Bible; why I chose to come to New Zealand to talk with people about faith; how I raised funds to support my mission work. She’d really done her research on Cru (the organization with which my husband and I work), and she asked significant questions. We concluded the interview; she took some extra footage of me with a few other students. She thanked me graciously, and we said good-bye.

kiwi

Then she called me a few days later to explain that something had gone wrong with the video; Antje asked if I’d be willing to give it another try. I agreed, and for this interview, I invited her and her project partner over to the little flat my husband and I shared. I offered to make tea, then realized we were out of milk. (Apparently some people like milk in their tea. I am NOT one of them.) I shooed Mike out the door to go buy milk for our guests and then got set up for the interview.

Antje asked some of the same questions as before, along with a few original ones, too. One of which was along the lines of whether I, in my ministry, am “selling heaven.” If, by raising funds as a missionary to spend my time interacting with college students about the topics of Jesus and how to have a relationship with God, I am selling heaven…

statue

The question caught me off guard, but I did my best to explain that my answer to that question was “no.” People who donate financially so that Mike and I can do what we do as missionaries do so because their lives have been so transformed by knowing Jesus that they want to give others the opportunity to know Him, too. But we don’t “buy heaven” for ourselves by giving money to support mission work, I stressed. Or by doing mission work, either.

We wrapped up the interview, and Antje and her classmate, Kat, complimented me on my lack of “uhms” and “uhs.” It would make it easier to transcribe, they said. Antje and I didn’t have any follow-up conversations after that interview. She had no interest in looking into the claims of Christ, so we both moved on.

But I thought about her grandparents behind the Iron Curtain, about others living in fear under Communism, about their desires for freedom…and I pondered, too, that one of the ways in which those of us who know Jesus have been transformed is that we’ve been brought into freedom. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” we read in Galatians 5:1. Not a political freedom, not freedom of speech or even freedom of religion. But a lasting, never-ending freedom. A freedom that one of the students I knew in Romania, who grew up under Communism and witnessed the revolution in that country in 1989, expressed this way:  “Freedom to choose to do what is right–that is real freedom.”

girl in the sky

Freedom from the penalty and punishment of sin; freedom to rest in the Father’s love without striving and straining to make ourselves lovable; and, yes, the freedom to choose to do what is right–this is the freedom for which Christ has set His people free.