There IS Rest

“Sometimes life feels like you’re running on a treadmill while someone keeps pushing the button to increase the speed faster and faster.” from “The Lies of Busyness: Devotions from Time of Grace”
 
As I read that, I remember that feeling. Even after the girls were grown up and creating homes of their own, it seemed there was never enough time in a day or a week.
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But as I read this quote this morning, a quiet voice nudged my thoughts.
 
“You don’t experience this feeling too often anymore, do you?”
 
It is true.
Quietly, imperceptibly, I am learning that the treadmill continues to go around, but I can choose to step off.
 
Two things have changed that.
 
#1 – Observing Sabbath rest.
First, I chose to do only tasks that weren’t on my list, tasks that felt creative on that day. For instance, baking cut-out cookies and decorating them with my granddaughters was NOT on my “to-do” list, but on a “Make memories with grandma” kind of list.
When that got easier, I began to give myself permission to read for a couple hours. Something fun,something frivolous, something that wasn’t on any list except my own “Books I want to read someday” list, or a recent recommendation from a fellow reader.
Then I was introduced to an on-line friend friend at a retreat in the middle of Nebraska. Shelly Miller’s Sabbath Society is a weekly letter about learning to observe Sabbath through the ups and downs of life in our day.
So I am journeying toward observing Sabbath. Not always perfectly, not always quietly, but recognizing it as a day to invest in people, relationships, and my inner self. It is not a day to catch up on what didn’t get marked off my to-do list or, even more damaging, getting a head start on the list for the coming week.
Rather than dread Sabbath, as it seemed so terribly dull to me as a child, and wasteful as a busy, employed mom, it has become a defining rhythm of my week, and as I discovered this morning, of my life.
It is a gift of God, reaching down, helping me to step off the treadmill.
#2 – Hosting Christmas 2013, knowing that it was very likely the last Christmas we would have to spend with Kenne’s mom. Though I had begun planning early for the 24 hours her immediate family would spend together in our home, I found myself adding things to the list to make it a memorable time for all twenty-two of us.
While the last minute purchases of prizes for a couple games were fun, and the photo booth that my girls helped me put up at nearly the last minute made a back drop for some fun photos, it did not define our time together like laughter, singing, our traditional program, and spending time reflecting on favorite family memories.
But it did help me realize that while lists can help me to focus on what needs to be done, my tendency is to keep extending the list.
Sabbath reminds me that the list needs to have a stopping point. That Christmas’s never-ending list is a marker for realizing my propensity for continually adding to a list.
But what a gift this morning that I am learning, slowly as it may be, that time is not my master. God’s gift of Sabbath, once I embraced it, has helped me be more subject to Him, my Lord and my Master.
So yes, I am learning that God wants me to step off the treadmill, to slow it down, to rest in Him.
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Giving Generously

John Wesley’s Works of Mercy – Individual Practices – Giving Generously to the Needs of Others

“Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.  I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.  For I can do everything through Christ,[a] who gives me strength.”  Philippians 4:11-13

Giving to the needs of others means that we will live in a disciplined manner, limiting the consumerism that surrounds us.

I am reminded of this when I look for an empty hanger in my closet, and see how my clothes are crammed together. Or when my daughters come home and look at the expiration dates on my food condiments. Or move a stack of books to another room, because there is no space on my bookshelves.

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Two things that I am trying to make a regular practice in my life is reducing recreational shopping and appreciating the beauty of clothing, art, furniture, or anything without the need to own it.

Two years ago, a friend challenged herself to spend $50 per month on groceries during January, February and March. While that seemed like a burden to me, I considered my spending habits. I determined not to go into a store unless I knew what I was planning to purchase and hold myself to those items.

What surprised me was that it even impacted the daily task of mail sorting, as all those mail ads went immediately into the round waste file. It also made me aware of the time I dilly-dallied away in a store, hauling my purchases into the house, and finding a place for them.

That practice helped me realize that often I was purchasing an item for its beauty, when I had no use for it, nor a place for it. Having dispersed the households of my parents and Kenne’s parents, we have plenty of “stuff.” Many of these things have sentimental value, but it also helps me realize that our children already have many things to disperse when we move out of the house. My goal is that they will know WHY we had things and how we used them.

By finding ways to simplify our lives, we make room for God to use us as channels of His goods. We are stewards of the wealth that He gives us. He wants us to be like a river, our wealth flowing in and flowing out, not like the Dead Sea, accumulating salty mineral deposits, choking out life.

When we choose to live more simply, with less to care for, we open the opportunity to give more generously.

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Word of the Year 2015 “Decrease”

The challenge for the new year is to choose a word of focus for 2015.

I’ve pondered this for nearly a week now. I looked over some of my goals for the coming year: 1) lose ten pounds 2) do something active after piano lessons 3) get rid of excess: clothing, decor items, craft scraps and supplies 4) begin work on my mom’s photos so we can enjoy them and tell the stories 5) continue to work on reading one book at a time, excepting the Bible and my chosen devotional book.

At first I considered “simplify” but I started last year working at that. It seemed nebulous. And then we were side-tracked by caring for Kenne’s mom through her last months.

“Less” was considered, but it seemed so negative. Which is actually more about my perspective, I guess!

Last night, as I laid down to sleep, I rested my “one word” choice in God’s hand. (One would think I’d learned to do that sooner!)

“Decrease” popped into my mind.

“That works for food in my refrigerator, clothes in my closet, pounds on my body, blood sugar levels. But, but, but…I don’t want my relationship with God to decrease!”

God answered with His word, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30

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So for 2015, “decrease” it is!

I’ll decrease my pride and share some of my struggles, show you my messes, celebrate my successes.

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And I’ve learned that YOU, my friends and readers, will be contributors to whatever gains I make in “decreasing.” (Oxymoron!) Knowing that you are out there helps keep me accountable. Even if I never hear from you. But even more so if I do.

This is a place where we can be real and share our challenges, our strategies, what works, and what doesn’t.

I want more of God in my moments and my mission, and less of so many other things that distract from what He has planned for me. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

So, join in. Choose a word for 2015. I’ll even share mine.

“DECREASE”

The Quiet Center

I first learned about Lent in first grade lunch line.

Growing up in the Midwest on a farm that raised beef cattle, pigs, and chickens, I’d never had a fish stick in my life. So I wasn’t sure what we were being served or why, especially two times in one week—Wednesday AND Friday.

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When I asked my mom, she told me it was in respect for the Catholic students in our school who can’t eat meat on Friday during Lent. End of answer.

Fast forward to seventh grade when my classmates from the Lutheran church were complaining about what they had to “give up” for Lent now that they were in confirmation.

This time, I learned that Lent is over at Easter.

Though I was curious about Lent, I never looked it up, though I kept my ears open if I heard anyone mention Lent. Then our family joined a church that observed Lent. This gave me the opportunity to discover more about this season of the Church year.

I pondered how giving up meat on Fridays or foregoing candy for six weeks would make celebrating Easter more special within my spirit. But I never made a commitment to “give up” anything during Lent.

But this year, as I began to put away the Christmas decorations, I decided to leave the lights and non-living garland up until the weekend before Ash Wednesday. I also determined to limit my television viewing in the evenings so that I could enjoy the soft glow of the lights.

Which led to having more time to read. And pray. And contemplate.

As I packed away the lights and snowmen, a prompting from the Holy Spirit urged me to keep it simple.

Clear.

Expectant.

With room for God to fill.

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So my empty containers remind me that this Lenten journey is a season to make room for God, His Son and the Spirit.

That expectant waiting has begun.

The invitation to “Come and Find the Quiet Center” is extended to you.

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Come and find the quiet center in the crowded life we lead,

find the room for hope to enter, find the frame where we are freed:

clear the chaos and the clutter,  clear our eyes, that we can see

all the things that really matter, be at peace, and simply be.

Silence is a friend who claims us, cools the heat and slows the pace,

God it is who speaks and names us, knows our being, touches base,

making space within our thinking, lifting shades to show the sun,

raising courage when we’re shrinking, finding scope for faith begun.

In the Spirit let us travel, open to each other’s pain,

let our loves and fears unravel, celebrate the space we gain:

there’s a place for deepest dreaming,  there’s a time for heart to care,

in the Spirit’s lively scheming there is always room to spare!

Shirley Erena Murray 
Words © 1992, 2005 Hope Publishing Company

Simplicity – “To Do” lists

I love To Do lists!

If prizes were given for the longest list, some of mine might qualify as gold-medal winners. I compile morning lists, afternoon lists, after work lists, weekly lists, bucket lists, reading lists,  baking lists, grocery lists, appointment lists, work lists, seasonal lists, gift lists, and menu lists.

There is a sense of accomplishment in crossing items off the quickly scratched items. Numbering the items in the order of importance erases the decision of what to do next. The sense of accomplishment builds as tasks are completed. Occasionally a task that I just finished is added to the list for the pleasure of crossing off one more thing.

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Even when I read the Bible, my mind thinks in lists.

Love your enemies, do good, bless, pray, give, be kind and compassionate. (Luke 6:28-36)

I am chosen, called, cleansed, crowned. (Romans 8:29-30).

Wisdom is pure, peace-loving, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good deeds, shows no favoritism, and always sincere. (James 3:17-18)

These are a few examples, but you get the idea.

How do lists benefit my life? As I continue to think about simplicity and making intentional choices, I’ve considered the benefits or distractions of a list. I decided to make two lists. (Surprised?)

Benefits of a list

Focus my attention on what needs to be done

Frees my mind to think my own thoughts, not organize tasks

Feeling of accomplishment

Distractions of a list

“Doing” rather than being

Trying to do more

Irritating interruptions

Lists help me get through busy times. Weddings, graduations, birthdays, tea parties are joyful events that are enjoyed more fully when the details are planned.

This past year, as plans were made to host family Christmas events, I learned something about my lists. Though they helped me account for the details and prepare the gifts, food, activities, and photo opportunities, I kept adding to the list.

While lists can make life better, I am learning that sometimes my lists fool me.

Lists can be an idol, something that controls my life. By focusing on the list, I think that I can do things in my own strength, rather than trusting in Christ’s strength.

Sometimes the list puts the urgent ahead of the important, like time in God’s word, making room in my day for exercise, or playing with my granddaughters.

Centuries ago, a young man had a list which he had all crossed off.  Yet he still felt empty. He was looking for something more.

We know him as “the rich young ruler.”

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When asked by Jesus to keep the commandments, he said that he had done all of that.

Jesus told him to sell all that he had to follow Him.

The young man walked away. Though all the right things were done on the outside, something was missing in his heart.  There was no room for Jesus.

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So I am trying to live some days without a list, learning to listen to the rhythms of my heart, quieting my spirit to hear the voice that whispers in stillness.

There will be times that I will revert to my lists to get the important things accomplished, to visualize the priorities of the day or week, to keep track of the books and people that have made a difference in my life.

But learning to walk by faith, list or not, still needs space and quiet for listening to His voice.

Be Still My Soul

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Silence was a common occurrence when I was a little girl. High on a shelf in the kitchen was the solitary radio.  In the mornings a colorful neighborhood lady recording from a closet-turned-recording-studio reported the local news.  Later in the day, the dial would be turned to Christian radio station broadcast. On good reception days Mom would listen to “The Heaven and Home Hour” and “Back to the Bible Broadcast.”  After delivering the mid-afternoon lunch out to the field where Dad was working, Mom tuned in to “The  Adventures of the Sugar Creek Gang”.  Her dad had bought her most of the series when her mom had died on her twelfth New Year’s Eve.

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Saturday morning children’s programming, Aunt Bee and the Children’s Bible Hour accompanied cleaning up the kitchen after breakfast. If you ever listened to it you can still probably hear the “Tell me a story, tell me a story, tell me a story, Aunt Bee….”.  “Unshackled” produced by Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago would play its heart-wrenching theme while we began supper preparations late Saturday afternoon.

But most of the time, the silence was broken only by my mom’s whistling, snippets of conversation, the swishing agitator of the double tub wringer/washing machine, noises of chickens, pigs, or cattle.

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Have you ever done a noise inventory?  Consider the common everyday sounds for each decade of your life.  Which sounds do you remember? Music, songs, groups, singers? Outdoor sounds? Voices? Recordings?

Was there a time in your life that you heard God’s voice?

I think of the story of Elijah in I Kings 19:11-13 when God speaks not in the wind, not in the earthquake and not in the fire, but in the still calm breeze.

Catharine Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel wrote the words to the great hymn “Be Still, My Soul” sometime in the early 1700’s.  Set to the beautiful tune “Finlandia” it has inspired Christians throughout the centuries.  Eric Liddell, gold medal Olympic runner in 1924 was challenged by this hymn.

While not all the verses are commonly printed in our hymnals, the meaning and comfort in them makes them rich for quiet listening to the voice of God.

Be Still My Soul

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last.

Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise
On earth, believing, to Thy Lord on high;
Acknowledge Him in all thy words and ways,
So shall He view thee with a well pleased eye.
Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.

Simplicity – Intention

How is your journey toward simplicity going?

If you are like me, you feel side-tracked, unfocused, diverted, preoccupied with paper trails.

For me that diversity is what keeps my life interesting.

Diversity can also accelerate distractions, generate fires that require attention, create chaos with me in the center, or compile a “to-do” list that is never completed.

But simplicity is a journey, not a destination.

This week I want you to think about this word: intentional.

Though I love to read, I come to the end of many days and realize that my list crowded out this simple pleasure.

I’ve learned to keep a Bible and a devotional book in a convenient spot (read: bathroom), so I’m not talking about this reading.  Reading books for pleasure or enrichment or learning or to see the world a bit differently.

Since we’ve started this journey, I determined to make a slight adjustment. My “to do” list ends at 8 p.m. (OK, at least I think about changing gears at 8 p.m.)  I also realized that my habit of turning on the television for the evening news or my favorite game show was often the beginning of a long evening of noise and distraction that brought me little joy.

The experiment begins after my game show.

I turn off the television, clean up the kitchen and prepare for the following day. About 8 p.m., I intentionally head to my exercise area and do some type of movement for thirty minutes but no later than 9 p.m. (So if I start right at 8, I can reward myself with extra reading time.)

Then, beverage in hand, I intentionally make a choice between the two things that I love to do: play the piano or read.  When I choose the piano, I determine how many songs I will play. I’ve already learned that a time frame doesn’t work for me here. (And put my hot tea on the counter.)  When I finish those songs, it is reading time.

This allows me about an hour, if I don’t turn on the news channel, to read.

Another habit that detracts from inner ease is starting multiple books. While there are times it may be necessary, my goal is to complete the books I’ve begun and then stick with one at a time.  Since choosing to use time in my schedule for reading, it amazes me how much I can read in sixty minutes.  There may be an exception to this as I may read one book “in hand” and another book digitally so it can easily go with me.  That is still debatable.

This slight adjustment has altered my fragmented inner self. There will be times that evening activities will interfere.  That is OK.  Since the outcome of choosing simplicity is to live more richly and fully, involvement with family, friends and community achieves personal contentment. Since my goal is a richer inner life, my plan is not another “to do” regiment.  It is a guide to help me reach the peace of inner simplicity.

Knowing that I have a deadline for my work, I am more aware of using my time during the day.  I can still get off-course, but it seems that I “self-correct” more frequently throughout the day.

Have you considered what small alteration you could make in your life? Can you intentionally choose to do something differently?

Contemplate an activity that brings you joy.

Determine to find a regular – hopefully daily – time to delight in that activity.

Remind yourself that positive change can be challenging.

Go live your life with intention, with adjustments, with your vision of contentment.

And join with me as we learn to walk by faith.