Back by popular demand (you know who you are, friends – thank you for inviting back into this writing sphere with your encouragement last month!) – Five Minute Friday. Five minutes on a weekly prompt, no editing, just free-flowing words and stream-of-consciousness. I’ve been part of this community in its early stages, and it’s amazing what it’s become as of late. Curious? Head over to fiveminutefriday.com for more.
I’ve heard that a parent’s role is to be aware. To be alert, to notice, to watch out for impending danger ahead and warn or reroute as necessary. I’ve been told in my own journey of counseling that there have been blindspots in my own heart that I’ve not been aware of – that I’ve missed so much at times because of this lack of *awareness.* So to be aware is to be alert, but more than that, to be awake to life. Both its hard and its beautiful places. My own perspective can become so skewed – I’m trained by profession and calling to be aware of abusive tendencies in clients and to be aware of how my clients’ issues can bring up my own and to be aware of what’s not quite right so that I can help lead and guide and redirect to the best path forward.
But what God’s teaching me, what my counselor and good friends are inviting me into, is to bring my honed powers of awareness to the good and the beautiful. God is here, too, not just in the hard and the difficult and the sad. In fact, I think in today’s current cultural and political and international climate, to be aware of what’s good and beautiful requires *greater* powers of awareness than to notice what’s not right.
I want to be eyes wide opened to the good. I don’t want to miss a thing (thinking of lyrics by my favorite artist of late, Ellie Holcomb).
I’ve been reading through the Bible this year as part of an invitation from my church to a “Journey Through Scripture,” and it’s been so good for my heart and soul. I’ve been reminded that yep, there are parts of the Bible that are difficult to understand and that can feel a bit like hiking through the mud, but then there are other parts of the Bible that are immediately accessible and astonishingly relevant to our current day. Enter the wisdom books of the Old Testament, particularly Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. I’ve found these gems from Proverbs that made for great conversations with my tween-age kids (as I shared with them how convicted I am about how I can easily give in to anger, too):
Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything.
Pride leads to conflict; those who take advice are wise.
A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.
Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city.
Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.
Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back.
Proverbs 13:2, 13:10, 15: 1, 16:32, 29:11 (New Living Translation)
Much, much more I could write on the themes of Proverbs, but Proverbs already gets a lot of the “limelight” in books and sermons and articles.
Ecclesiastes is a different story. Outside of the popular “A Time for Everything” passage (“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die …” 3:1-8), we often don’t know what to do with the book that systematically goes through all of life’s most popular pursuits and concludes, “Everything is meaningless.” It’s a bit jarring, to be honest, leaving me with questions like, “What is the point of anything then?” and “How did this book get included in Scripture?” Yet here it is, inviting me (as all wisdom literature does) to go deeper beyond my discomfort, to trace answers to my questions and accept the uncertainty that some questions will remain unanswered this side of eternity.
And yet, I was struck by how Ecclesiastes also brings balance. For a few years now, I’ve been interested in the popularity of the Enneagram (a 9-type personality theory). I was initially skeptical at a theory that would say all people fit into one of 9 personality types, but as I’ve continued to read about it and discuss it with friends who are much more well versed in it than me, there’s a lot that resonates as I’ve learned it’s much more nuanced than a simple 9-personality-type system. What’s unique about the Enneagram distinct from other personality theories is that the nine types arise from motivations. This means that there’s no easy test to determine what your Enneagram type is (although there are many that will help you sort through what your type could be – I recommend this one by “Your Enneagram Coach” ), and you aren’t supposed to “type” other people because you can’t really know what motivates them either. If you’re into the Enneagram, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re not, rest assured that I’m not going to try to convince you to get on board “the Enneagram train.” I’m simply giving context to what I’m going to suggest – which is how different portions of Ecclesiastes seem to perfectly speak into the excesses (or “vices”) of these nine different Enneagram types. I focused on what speaks to Type Threes, Fours, Fives, Eights, and Sevens, because these are the ones I’ve studied most closely and am most intimately acquainted with (either through my own life or family). [Note: I’m using the labels crafted by Jeff and Beth McCord of “Your Enneagram Coach” as they resonate the most. Click here for their graphic and overview of all nine types.]
For Type Three – “The Admirable Achiever”
Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless – like chasing the wind.
“Better to have one handful with quietness than two handfuls with hard work and chasing the wind.”
I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned. … Some people work wisely with knowledge and skill, then must leave the fruit of their efforts to someone who hasn’t worked for it. This, too, is meaningless, a great tragedy. So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety? Their days of labor are filled with pain and grief; even at night their minds cannot rest. …
Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life – this is indeed a gift from God.
Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless – like chasing the wind.
Proverbs 4:4, 4:6, 2:18-23, 5:18-19, 6:9 (NLT)
For Type Four – “The Introspective Individualist”
Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless, like chasing the wind.
To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life – this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past.
Don’t long for “the good old days.” This is not wise.
Ecclesiastes 6:9, 5:19-20, 6:10 (NLT)
For Type Five – “The Analytical Investigator”
But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out.
Ecclesiastes 12:12 (NLT)
For Type Seven – “The Enthusiastic Optimist”
So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him?
Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies – so the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us. A wise person thinks a lot about death, while a fool thinks only about having a good time.
Finishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride.
Happy is the land … whose leaders feast at the proper time to gain strength for their work, not to get drunk.
Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.”
I never personally observed Lent until college, when I first met Christians from different denominational backgrounds where Lent was part of the rhythm of their Christian life. I was intrigued, and also compelled to try this for myself. So I distinctly remember the year as a student at Wheaton College when I gave up desserts for Lent. As a “sugaraholic,” this was difficult to say the least, and I had terrible headaches the first several days. Yet I also longed for and prepared for Easter in a way I hadn’t before.
Since college, my practice of Lent has been consistently sporadic – often depending on the season of life I was in and where we were worshiping, whether or not the congregation was being led to observe Lent as well. The years I observed Lent most consistently were when my husband was an associate pastor and often wrote the Lenten devotional for the congregation (I definitely felt some extra pressure to follow along!). During those years I blogged about my greater-or-lesser “success” with Lent. I think the post that best describes these reflections is this one: “When you break Lent (and it breaks you).”
Because here’s the thing: I never observed Lent perfectly, and I often made Lent more about my efforts to “keep it” than about preparing my heart during this season of repentance and anticipation of Resurrection Hope we celebrate on Easter. YET God was so faithful to use my failure to keep Lent as part of me learning more deeply the whole point of Lent and Easter: I need Jesus. My best efforts (at Lenten observance or righteous living) fall far short – and in fact, often blind me from my need for Christ’s righteousness on my behalf. Enter the beautiful, convicting words of Galatians 2:19-21 (NIV):
19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
So my encouragement to you, my fellow Lent-observer-aware-of-your-failures-anew: take Tsh Oxenreider’s words to heart. You are loved, not because of how well you are or aren’t observing Lent (or even whether you choose to observe Lent), but because you are HIS Beloved as a child of God. Jesus loved you and gave himself for you. Let us feast upon this beautiful truth even as we walk into the most solemn and Holy Week of the church’s calendar … and remember not only is Easter coming next Sunday, but He is already Risen!
Jill McCormick invited me to be a guest on her podcast Grace in Real Life this fall, and I enjoyed the opportunity to chat with her about topic “Getting Unstuck from Shame” in September ’21. [Link to episode here.] Her description of who her podcast is for resonates with me, both personally and also in how I hope to minister to fellow women, too:
This podcast is for those who want to wholeheartedly pursue Christ. You’re a woman who wants to follow where God leads, to live and love well, to extend grace to yourself and others, but there’s a part of you that’s like how? You want your faith to intersect with your busy and full life, but you aren’t sure what that looks like in real-time. Here at the Grace In Real Life podcast, we talk about how to practically apply grace in real life. Listen in!
-Jill McCormick, Grace in Real Life
In celebration of reaching 100 episodes, she is running a giveaway this weekend, and I’d love for you to have the chance to win! I’ve contributed an autographed copy of Unashamed and a free 45-minute coaching consultation. Head here for all the details – and be sure to enter by Monday, January 31st!
My twin daughters are 11-years-old (how quickly the time passes!) and one of them has recently become interested in reading books on the Holocaust. The protective mom side of me was hesitant at first because … wow … what a horrific era of modern-day world history. I wanted to shield her from that. And certainly, just a disclaimer: I am previewing the books she’s choosing in this genre so as to be able talk about them with her and to ensure she isn’t stumbling into subjects that are too mature for her. And yet. I’m also convicted that I cannot protect either of my daughters from the reality of our broken world, and nor do I want to keep them from learning about periods of history that illustrate this reality very clearly. We live in a broken world desperately in need of a Redeemer who will return one day to make All.Things.New. He came to give new hearts to those who look to Him in faith, and throughout human history, we the redeemed are called to work out our personal redemption from sin in the relationships, families, and communities in which our God places us. On today – Holocaust Remembrance Day – I think part of my redemption includes a purposeful remembrance. In meditating on that and why, I penned the words of this poem. I offer it as an invitation, not a condemnation. An invitation to remember and why we must remember, not just the Holocaust, but all the areas in our world today desperate for the justice we the redeemed are to bring through the power of our risen King Jesus.
An exasperated mom who was tired of hearing the incessant “asks” for more and last-minute Christmas list additions sternly warned her tween-aged kids: “No more asking for anything until after Christmas.” And then she became quite convicted, realizing that what she is trying to teach her children is what her own heart struggles with the most.
I rush, and I rush, and I rush, to get the perfect gift for all the people. The family I love and the teachers who’ve poured so much into our family, and maybe we should get a little something for our mail carrier too? I find that my list grows longer the further into December we get, not only the list of gift items that my kids say they “Really Really REALLY” want this year, but also the list of those I’m buying gifts for, and, if I’m honest, the gifts that I hope to be given, too.
There’s something beautiful about the gift-giving at Christmas. I was talking to my daughters (who, to their credit, have been reigning in their “I wants” since the mini-lecture I gave them) about the best gift that they’ve ever received. One of them piped up, “It’s Jesus, of course!” It is because the world received The Best Gift we could ever have, and The Only Gift we ever needed, and The Gift we could never afford or earn or attain, that we celebrate the season of Christ’s coming through gift-giving.
But when does all the gift-giving, and the accompanying gift-buying, become a thinly veiled excuse for more, more, more that consumes me in the way consumerism always does? In consuming things I become a magnet for all the marketing, the Cyber Monday, and the Black Friday, and the last-minute-free-shipping, and the Kohl’s cash, and all.the.things. I become obsessive about finding the right gift, or the best gift, or the most thoughtful gift, and I can make all the gift-giving all about me.
Advent stops me in my tracks. True Advent, which is a liturgical season set aside in the church calendar specifically to prepare our hearts in anticipation of the celebration of the feast of Christmas, is something that so easily passes me by. But God is gracious, and I found a book that’s helped our family re-focus, because it’s helping me focus on the waiting and the longing that God’s people experienced for centuries between the Garden and the Manger. This anticipation and hope is parallel to us who live after the time of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection, and before He returns to restore all things in glory. It’s the theological concept of “already and not yet” – the looking back and remembering what God’s already done in redemptive history, and the present-day reality that we don’t yet experience the world as fully redeemed. Scripture is woven through the pages of this devotional, called Shadow and Light by Tsh Oxenreider: a short daily reading, a contemplative question, a song to listen to and art to reflect on. God is using this book to remind me to REST. To BE.
And God also used a dear friend’s good question in early December, “What can you take off your plate?” She was addressing a group of us on a Marco Polo … and how it struck me as I was in the very middle of a very busy – and fun! – weekend where I was racing from one event and to-do item to the next. I didn’t have an immediate answer, but it was the kind of question that stayed with me, the Spirit bringing it to mind at various points as I evaluated my days and my lists. I began asking, “What don’t I need to do/buy/attend?”
I don’t know what that answer is for you. It won’t be the same as it is for me, but it’s worth asking.
Instead of chasing the answer to, “What more do I need to do or buy to be ready for Christmas?”, I’m seeking to consider what I don’t need to do or buy so that I can be more peacefully present with the family, friends, and church community I’ll gather with in these next days.
-Heather Nelson / hidden glory / heatherdavisnelson.com
It’s September, and change is in the air. The leaves haven’t yet begun turning, but there is a crisp coolness that invites their transformation in the coming months. School started for my daughters and my newly minted Ph.D. husband who’s now a dean at a seminary. In my counseling practice, summer clients brought their sessions to a close, and there is a new influx of fall clients.
Personally, I find September to be a good time to set new goals for health and spiritual practice. I want to read the Bible daily, journal, eat more healthily, exercise more regularly, and make time to be present with the people I love. There’s something about the pages of a new planner that invite me into a season of new beginnings. (And I love new beginnings. I usually take the opportunity for them a few times a year – January, of course, as well as my birthday, that falls in June, and September, the beginning of the school year.)
And then there are the unexpected transitions. My parents sold their home recently, and, along with my two brothers and their wives, we enjoyed reminiscing over the memories that these four walls held for 27 years of our family history. It’s the only home the grandkids (11!) have ever known for Gigi & Pops. All of us adult kids with our families have spent at least a few months living there when in transition from one home or place to another. There are stories of pranks, heartaches, joy-filled celebrations, family pets, laughter-saturated dinners around the table, tear-drenched heartbreaks, backyard adventures (a mountain biking course that caused more than a few injuries), the infamous front porch swing with Mom’s not-so-subtle interruptions, parties hosted, more than your average number of driveway collisions, and heartfelt prayers through both the joys and sorrows of our family’s life. To say there is an accompanying flood of emotions for each of us would be an understatement. Yet as Ecclesiastes reminds me, there is a time and season for everything. And just as surely as there was a time for making this home our own – when I was just starting high school and my brothers were still in middle and elementary school – this is the time for saying farewell to this home. So there have been many days of boxes (and memories) packed over the last several weeks. There has been the assurance that the memories aren’t sold along with the house – those are always ours to keep – and the happiness in knowing that a new family will get to begin making their own memories in that beloved home.
This fall is also my 20th college reunion, which I find just about impossible to believe. It can seem like only yesterday that I was a recent college graduate. Yet I remember being a senior in college, and some 20th-year-reunion-friends coming by our campus house to walk through and reminisce. We felt like they were so old. Now to think that will be us??
Another milestone recently celebrated is 15 years of marriage. Again, it feels like yesterday that I said “I do” as a 20-something young bride to a 20-something handsome young groom. We knew nothing of the adventure, challenge, and joy that marriage would bring us. We knew God, and that He was faithful, and it is to Him we have clung through the hardest times and the best of this past decade and a half. A quote I love was from a sermon by Reverend John Leonard during our formative few years at Cresheim Valley Church: “When you say ‘I do,’ God says, ‘I will.'” That truth has been an anchor for us through some stormy seasons, both storms without and storms within.
Our beloved twin daughters passed their milestone of 10 last September, and they’re days away from turning 11. Their birthday is always a time of remembering God’s faithfulness and protection, from the anxiety-ridden 10 weeks of bed rest to their premature delivery at 35 weeks and a week-long stay in the Children’s Hospital when they were but days old. To think that they are now strong, healthy, growing girls entering their “tween” years is truly a testament to God’s sustaining faithfulness in their lives and ours. We know we will be clinging to God’s grace in new ways over the next several years! And it is an amazing privilege to be parents of these two creative, smart, funny, strong and tenderhearted girls.
And then I zoom out and think of the transitions our country and world is facing. Covid-19 is spiking again, and we are all weary of fighting this battle. We are all doing our best, the best we know how. Our healthcare system is overwhelmed, and doctors like my brother are overworked and exhausted, yet carrying on in their faithful care of the patients entrusted to them. Troops withdrew from Afghanistan, and before they were fully out, the Taliban took over. It’s heartbreaking, especially considering all of the families who gave beloved sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, and parents to this years-long battle. I think we all have the question, “How long, O Lord?”
And so in this season of transitions, both big and small, welcomed and dreaded, hope-filled and grief-laced, I find myself forced to anchor into the One who is Unchanging. The One who knows there is a time and season for “everything under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 3)- and whose presence is the only unchanging constant through all of life’s transitions.
Fall. I think of apples ripening, bright orange pumpkins on thresholds, the aroma of a pumpkin spice candle (and a latte to match), and back to school. A new rhythm – a new start. But this year? It’s a bit different. My 4th grade twin daughters are returning to school one day a week – the other four will be e-learning. I am grateful for this one day of school. They’ll have a teacher to student ratio of 5:1. That’s pretty amazing! But the other four days? We’re surviving.
I’m trying to focus on the positive – that this comes at the best time for our family, since my husband is working from home on his Ph.D. (anticipated completion date of spring 2021), and I am working part-time at 20 hours/week. I am grateful for one day of in-school instruction, because this will provide some semblance of “normal” for my daughters in terms of school and learning. And yet.
We still don masks for any errand. We are masked at church every Sunday. (And this is necessary – a practical way to care for the vulnerable among us.) I find myself settling into our current state of things as “the new normal.” And I guess that’s good? But I want more.
I want to go back to the days pre-virus, when school was a given and mask-wearing was for hospital surgical suites. When social gathering in groups wasn’t something to which I gave a second thought. When “Zoom” was only for the rare occasions of connecting cross-globally.
So what will I do with all of this? I seek to be grateful and to be satisfied and to make the best of uncertain (unwanted) times. I mourn the days pre-coronavirus that I didn’t realize would be so rare. And I seek to forge ahead in this “new normal.” Not to put my dreams or prayers or hopes on hold. Part of this is why I’m launching an endeavor I’ve been thinking about for a long time – life coaching. I think there are others, like me, who are tired of waiting for the coronavirus to pass before taking hold of dreams and goals in life. Maybe you need a nudge to pursue your dreams – to fulfill who you know you were meant to be. I would love to come alongside you and help you. To help you give words to where you are, to dream about where you want to be, and to assist you in getting there. Interested in learning more? Click here.
Know that I am grateful for you, my readers who continue to follow me – faltering and infrequent though these posts may be. We are in this together, and it gives me great joy to know that maybe my words will help give voice to an experience you have – that we can connect in this way. I’d love to hear from you. What do you miss about pre-coronavirus days? What are you grateful for in these present days?
I attended our church’s Ash Wednesday service with hardly a second thought, going forward to be marked with ashes of repentance to signal the beginning of the 40-day Lenten season ending with Easter Sunday. I never imagined that would be one of the last public worship services I would attend during Lent.
I don’t think any of us would have chosen the fast we are currently practicing. Social distancing, which is a nice way of saying “forced isolation.” No parties or gatherings or dinners out or even in-person Sunday worship services. Is this how I imagined Lent?
In a word, no, never, not at all.
We are all living through a time none of us could have foreseen. We’re balancing working at home with homeschooling without any social outlets. We’ve seen the inside of our four walls much more than ever before, and we have been forced to be limited to in-person social contact within our homes and workplaces (if deemed “essential”). What will it be like when this unchosen fast is broken? What kind of grand dinner parties and back-to-school celebrations will be held? What will it be like to return to worship at our places of worship, side-by-side with the physical manifestation of the Body of Christ? To receive the elements of communion again in the Lord’s Supper? To witness a baptism? To sing with a building full of people?
I think I’m saving my true Easter celebration for then. (Oh, that it were *only* 40 days of this unchosen fast!) I think that will speak of resurrection, of life after death, more than our live-streamed service this Sunday – if I can say that without being sacrilegious. Don’t get me wrong – I am grateful for technology that makes live-streaming Sunday worship possible, and “virtual” small group meetings and friend chats. But I know I’m not alone in saying that virtual is no substitute for in-person.
How will we emerge from this fast together? I hope we will be people who cannot help but cherish our social gatherings more – who stop putting off inviting the friends for dinner and holding the “just because” party. People who will never take a coffee date or lunch meeting for granted. People who will value connection in physical spaces more than we ever did before, when we couldn’t help but take it for granted and assume that “lunch out” and “dinner dates” would always be available.
I hope we are a people who will be more appreciative of those on the frontlines right now. The delivery workers, the grocers, the nurses and doctors and healthcare workers, the teachers (oh, the teachers! let’s all vote for HUGE raises for them!), the USPS deliverers. Let us make this imposed social fast one that yields good fruit in the days when the fasting ends. For it will end one day. Coronavirus will not have the last word. No, it will not, and we will emerge stronger, more connected, more grateful. Resurrection people who cherish life after death in every sense of the word.
I recently had the privilege of joining Danny Yamashiro on “The Good Life Hawaii” radio program for an interview. If you’re interested in hearing it, click here.
It was a wonderful opportunity to speak about Unashamed and to connect with a brother in Christ who has an incredible miracle story of salvation, both physically and spiritually. He is a colleague of my husband’s in their Ph.D. program at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) in Chicago, and we had the delight of meeting him when he passed through town a few months ago.
I hope you will enjoy “meeting” Danny as much as I enjoyed talking with him!