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Monthly Archives: November 2013

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How Timber Changes Everything {Thanksgiving 2012 Revisited}

I find myself thinking a lot about last year. Especially lately. Trying to remember or imagine exactly what we would have been doing at this point in our time overseas. We were almost halfway done with our 365-day adventure. About four weeks away from a trip home to Ohio for Christmas. And visiting our dear friends in Vienna for an American celebration of a holiday Germans don’t do.

In honor of that awesome memory we made 365 day ago, I’d like to re-visit this post with you. It’s one of my all-time favorites. Because it reminds me of what I am deeply, beyond-words grateful will all my every ounce of who I am. I hope you’ll find that deep-beyond-words gratefulness in it too.

Also, Happy Thanksgiving, my friends!!

 

We meet our friend at Starbucks in Vienna. She studies there in that amazing city just hours west of Budapest and worlds away from my Amish-land home. We drink cappuccinos and tea and hot cocoa under the Starbucks lady in green. Then we walk.

She takes us to St. Stephens Cathedral. We admire its Gothic beauty and tall towers surrounded by scaffolding. And merchants looking for tourists who’ll pay to make memories from a horse-drawn carriage ride. We take pictures of one side. Then another. And again. My mouth gapes open when we step inside.

It’s so tall. So beautiful.

We walk some more through the city. Make our way to the famous Manner waffle cookie store. Then towards Hofburg. I don’t know much about Hofburg, but I know it houses the Spanish Riding School. And the Imperial Treasury.

I’m not a big museum-goer, but this I want to see. It holds crowns and regalia and treasures of kings. Stuff royalty used back in the day. Hundreds of years ago.

We say goodbye to our friend and then head inside. Picking up an audioguide, we decide it might deepen our appreciation for the treasure we find inside the treasury.

We come upon the first case of royal fortune. A king’s crown and his sceptor. Legend says it’s made out of a unicorn’s horn. I have my doubts. But its intrigue proves hard to withstand. I mean, truly, we behold real royal treasure with our very own eyes. So we gaze and we stare and we try to capture its beauty even though we can’t use a flash and the lights are so dim.

We move through the exhibits. Many of them pull me, and I find myself loving this museum as much as the Georges Pompidou in Paris. Not at all the same. But equally enamoring.

We move past kings’ mantels and royal keys. Some more crowns and a robe. We walk into another room and find a beautiful cross displayed behind glass. Covered in jewels, it catches my eye like the first crown we saw. So I turn on the audioguide and have a listen.

The voice draws my eyes to the less prominent wood laying next to the beautifully adorned cross. It’s shaped like one, too, but it holds no jewels. Just a plain little piece of wood with a hole at the top. It’s encased in metal, but that’s it. Nothing like the big bejeweled one standing up next to it.

It’s a piece of the cross of Jesus Christ, the British-accented man in the device tells me. It had been soaked in His blood as He hung on the wooden cross, the whole from which this small piece came. And my eyes are stayed. I cannot make myself look away from the wood. Can’t force them from the piece of timber that just might know the blood that took my sin-stained self and made me new. The blood of Jesus Christ.

To think the very King Who conquered all that matters may have bled on this lumber that lay right in front of me, well, I cannot fathom.

My family moves on. They find more treasures nearby. I know I should go, too. But I cannot pull myself away from this case. I can think of nothing but the blood that tore me from death and darkness and hate and Satan himself. That very blood might just have stained the wood upon which my eyes now fall. And I cannot peel them away.

I just keep taking pictures. Keep trying to capture the banging beats in my chest cavity with the click of my finger. Trying to grasp the meaning of the blood stains of God.

It’s Thanksgiving Day. We’ll be eating turkey soon with our American friends who’ve made home in this beautiful city called Wien. Eating turkey and talking thanks. We’ll be thinking of home and familiar and all things grateful. And Thanksgiving Day traditions will ride strong.

And tomorrow will be Black Friday at home in the U.S. And crazy will begin. And people will fight at Wal-Mart over an i-Pad 4. And life will continue as it always does.

But I will be different.

Because how can I know the blood of Jesus and not be changed forever? How can I contemplate the wood that bore my Savior’s broken body, that soaked up His very blood, and not be transformed from the very depths of my soul? How can my heart not be remodeled into a thankful that soaks every fiber of my being?

I look for the blood stains on that petrified wood. But I can’t see them. They’re all soaked in. If it actually is what the British man says it is. I wonder. And my heart still beats fast.

Because, whether that piece of wood felt the drips of Jesus’ blood or not, I know what has. My own soul.

How To Study the Bible and Help Your Kids Find Real Life {Free Printable}

(This post contains an affiliate link.)

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The school day starts really early in Germany. Last year when we lived there, we went through seasons when it was almost still dark as the school bell rang.

So we had to leave home at like 7am to get the girls to school on time. Like ready to go. Out the door. Coats, hats, scarves and mittens on. Breakfast eaten, teeth brushed, shoes on enough to walk down the apartment building stairs without tripping. By seven o’clock in.the.morning.

That was a challenge. Also, aside from this early morning deal, every day held unique difficulties of its own.

Because we lived in the land of foreign, and so much of life was uncomfortable for us that year. We were foreigners in the land where morning bus commutes involved personal-space violations that would send most Americans running for open, breathable air. Also, my mono-lingual kids went to school where only German was spoken.

It was hard.

There was nary a morning when we didn’t have uncomfortable staring us down as we got out of bed and ready for the day. We cried a lot. Especially in the morning.

But God used those unsettled everyday mornings to point us to Himself. We found ourselves, as a family, needing to hear from Him regularly. Just to make it through the day. Consequently, we found ourselves in God’s Word together before 7am every day before heading into the day.

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I was finally the Christian I always thought I was supposed to be but somehow never really became because I’m not a morning person and studying the Bible at o-dark-thirty was something I could do at o-mid-morning-thirty and why was I doing it anyway if it was only just to say I did it? I mean, God doesn’t give out stars for reading the Bible early in the morning. At least I don’t think He does.

But last year in Germany, every morning, before getting ready, the four of us would read the day’s selection from the kids’ version of Jesus Calling. It would start with a piece of something from the Bible and go through a sort of challenge for the day. Help us understand what that particular passage meant.

It was almost uncanny how often the day’s reading applied to our very situation.

But we left Germany last June, and our comfortable returned and the mornings got a lot less scary and our very real and obvious need to hear from the God of Life kind of slipped into the background.

Because there is never a time when we don’t desperately need His input, His life, His Word speaking into our every moment. But sometimes that need gets covered up by the comfortable we find ourselves in. Last year’s vacation from comfortable just made us more aware of it.

Still, here we are inside November, six months in to our new life after a year abroad. And while the settling in is nice, there are pieces of our life over there that I am unwilling to part with.

Like afternoon coffee.

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And helping my kids realize how desperately they need God’s Word every.single.day.

So last week we went back to our German-living ways. (Yes, as a matter of fact I do still enjoy afternoon coffee. Every day. But I’m not talking about that.) After the Mann left for work, the girls and I got out our Bibles before getting dressed and brushing our hair and putting on our deodorant. And we all read something different from the Word that is God’s life spoken straight to His people.

I let them choose what they would read, but I asked them about it when they were done. I quickly realized, however, that sometimes it’s difficult for them to figure out how God might want them to use that truth today.

Like when my almost twelve-year-old decided to do a survey of the Bible’s shortest books and started with Obadiah and Haggai. (For which I owe her props for figuring out a way to push the boundaries even in this.)

So we argued calmly discussed how it’s my job to teach her how to look to God’s Word for how to do life. I assured her I was not out to torture her but that I actually want to see her love God and His Word with all that she is because I believe His is the only real way to live.

Then I replayed that conversation in my brain for a few hours. Somewhere in the middle of that replay, God gave me an idea.

Remember the verse in 2 Timothy 3 that talks about Scripture and why God gave it to us?

The whole Bible was given to us by inspiration from God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives; it straightens us out and helps us do what is right. It is God’s way of making us well prepared at every point, fully equipped to do good to everyone. (vv16,17 TLB)

Well, I used it to come up with some questions that might help. It’s a little printable that, if she ever decides to use something I created, will lead her through each part of God’s purpose for any portion of His Word.

Because I want my kids to know why it matters that God included Haggai and Obadiah and Jude and every other everything that’s in the Bible.

Because what if God wants to use my kids to change the world? I want to do everything I can to help them listen for the Holy Spirit and recognize His voice. I want to teach them to pursue God’s truth and live it and know it in their every day.

I want to point them to God’s Word for how to do life today. And this is the best way I can figure how to do it.

I’m pretty sure He does want to use my kids to change the world. And I believe with all my heart He wants to use your kids too. That’s why I’m sharing this tool with you. I hope you’ll show it to your kids. I hope you’ll tell your friends about it. I hope you’ll even use it for yourself if you want to.

Because all that stuff about God’s Word changing our kids’ life? Well, it’s true for me and you too.

Anyway — I am so, so excited about this, and I really hope you find it helpful because finding life inside God’s Word is something I am super passionate about. And I desperately want that for my kids. And for your kids. And for you.

**You can click these words, and you will find the Lets Study the Bible Today Printable which you will then be able to download or print. Happy Bible studying!!

I really want to have a discussion about this in the comments today. But, in all honesty, I’m kind of afraid. Because I am fully aware that a question like How do you point your kids to God’s Word in the every day? could easily lead to comparing or shaming or seeing other parents as maybe better than each other. But I want to ask it anyway. And in asking I hope each one of us can find encouragement here in this place. Because, really, aren’t we all just trying to point to Jesus anyway?

 

When You’re Afraid of Your Dreams

Last year in Germany, God pulled me through a season of ripping off chains I didn’t even know I wore. Chains that looked like fear and anxious and opposite of peace.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

He used abrasives sometimes. Like morning bus rides full of Germans and afternoon bus rides with people I did not understand.

Other times, He gently peeled away the layers of my afraid. Like when I’d walk into the butcher shop and she would greet me with happy words and smiles and helpful hands. Always helpful serving hands. Even though I couldn’t understand most of her words, the Metzgerei’s friendliness helped peel away pieces of anxiety chains so I could know what real life means.

The kind Jesus promised I could have if I’d trust Him and fear God alone.

So a few weeks ago in church, when we studied the story of Barak and how afraid he was of doing what God asked, I really didn’t think I had many fears left.

Until the end of the service when it was time to name my fear.

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It was a fill-in-the-blank deal. We each had a piece of paper that read just like this: “I fear ____________________” And we were supposed to write down what we were afraid might happen if we do what God asks.

I sat in my church seat and asked God if I still had fears I needed to hand over to Him.

Then He gave me an answer in the form of a thought, and I knew what I needed to write on that line.

I fear screwing up my kids if I go all-in with my writing.

I have long dreamed of being a writer and a speaker, writing a best-seller someday, speaking to groups about real life in Jesus Christ. But until recently it has only been that. A dream.

And now suddenly it seems I am faced with the realization that the dream was actually put there by God. And it’s what He wants for me.

And all the what-ifs of those dreams becoming reality are starting to surface.

I already knew that following Jesus meant giving up my life, trusting Him with every ounce of everything I have. So I thought I was denying myself by offering Him my dreams. Because I know He called me to be a wife and a mom first. And in my head I haven’t been able to reconcile the two.

How could I be both really well at the same time?

What I had not considered was the truth that following Jesus means offering Him both. My dreams and my family.

I’m not the one who decides. He is.

I’m not saying God wants me to deny my family. But I believe He is calling me to trust Him with the time issues that will be required of me if I go all-in with pursuing this dream.

I have long struggled with the idea of doing ministry so hard I ignore my kids and my family. Or I make them hate God for calling me to it.

But until that morning sitting in church, I had not considered that trusting God with my dreams, denying myself, might just mean He helps me keep it in balance. He doesn’t let me turn my writing or my dream into an idol that steals time from my family.

I had not considered that by denying my full-on chasing of the dream for fear of making it an idol, I was making my family an idol all its own.

I hadn’t even thought about the fact that by not going all-in as I pursue this dream to make Jesus known, I have been disobeying Him and trusting my own understanding of how I think it’s going to work.

What about you? Is there a dream God has given you that you’ve been scared to chase? Is there a passion you have that you’ve long ignored because you thought it would be selfish to pursue it?

Do you think you could trust God to figure out the details?

 

**I’m thinking of doing a Wednesday series here about dream-chasing. Do you like that idea? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

 

What I Forgot (It’s Not About Me)

To become a Christian means to lose our lives.  — David Platt, Follow Me

I have been a Christian since I was five years old. That night in January, 1977, when my dad answered my questions about all the changes I noticed in Him. All the talk about Jesus.

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That night I decided I wanted it too. I knew I’d done stuff that kept me separated from God. And I didn’t want to go to hell. I wanted to be saved and go to heaven someday when I die.

My dad helped me pray and ask Jesus to forgive me. Ask Him to please take over my life and be my Lord.

Then we called me born again and we told all our friends and we partied with the angels about my new forever life.

I have been one of God’s children ever since.

There have been seasons where you wouldn’t have known. Like those last years in high school when I wanted popularity and the reputation for fun more than I wanted the real life Jesus offered.

It lasted into college too. That first little while when I loved my independence and wasn’t sure how to handle it all. So I took it and ran with all sorts of fun before I realized it really wasn’t.

That’s when follow me. Deny yourself came into play.

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I have long been attracted to the life Jesus offers — the more and better kind than I can ever imagine. But I am realizing that I tend to forget the part where He called me to give up everything.

Deny yourself.

I forgot about the part where Jesus told me to give up my own life.

Like when I know God has called me to write and make Him famous in this little sphere of influence He has let me enjoy. But I fill my hours with other stuff and have little left when I finally sit down to write.

Or I have some extra cash in my wallet so I stop for a coffee. Then I grab some lunch while I’m out. And before I know it, I’ve spent $20 in a matter of three hours. All on myself. For the third time this week.

And then there’s the Goodwill treasure hunting. Because who doesn’t want to spend $3.89 on a still-looks-like-new Gap sweater? Am I right?

And the twitter vacuum. And facebook.

And before I know it, I have to go pick up my kids from school and all my work time is over for the day.

I forgot about denying myself. I forgot it’s not about me.

I forgot that when Jesus took over, my part was to give up. Give up my what-I-want. Surrender my just-let-me-leave-one-more-comment-on-this-hilarious-post-about-what-my-friend’s-three-year-old-dreamt-last-night.

Give it up and trust the alive and perfect Spirit of Jesus Who lives inside me to give me the real life I actually want.

It doesn’t mean I don’t have fun. Or that I shouldn’t treat myself to some time off. It means I let Him have my minutes. I look for what God wants and give up what I think I want. I quit living for me and actually live to do what He has called me to do.

It means when I hear His wisdom tell me it’s time to get off facebook and get going with what He wants me to do, I heed His advice, sit down at that computer. and. actually. write.

So today right here, I am committing again. Denying myself. I will follow Jesus.

Because I know what He offers is way better than what I can dream up.

Maybe you forgot too.

Maybe He hasn’t called you to write. I don’t know what He’s called you to.

But I do know this — your life is not about you. Not if you’ve ever asked Jesus to be the Lord of your life. Not if you’ve ever trusted Him for real life, more and better than you’ve ever dreamed.

Let’s talk about it in the comments. How extreme do you think Jesus wants us to get when it comes to denying ourselves?

 

**Linking up today with my friend Michelle at MichelleDeRusha.com where lots of bloggers discuss what God’s been teaching them lately.

When God Uses Ugly Stories To Help Make Our Own More Awesome

I’ve always kind of avoided the story of Samson in the Bible.

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Because I don’t really get it. When he killed that lion and then ate honey from inside its carcass. Eeew. And the riddle and the foxes with burning tails and the whole trusting Delilah with his secret even after she clearly betrayed him over and over and over and over. Duh!

But Pastor Nick and Pastor Bob preached through Samson’s story yesterday, so I had to get over my stuff and listen for God’s purpose. Also, I had to write about it last week for devotions. So there’s that.

I picture Samson as a really tall man with huge hair. He’s chained up and wearing a diaper-like cloth for pants. (Thank you, Sunday school teachers of long ago and your awesome flannel boards, for helping me with that image.)

I also picture grapes. Lots of them. And the sexy Delilah holding him on her lap as she strokes his big huge hair and whispers deceit and other bad things into his ear. (No idea where the grapes fit in, by the way, but they’re in the picture in my head, so I’m just gonna’ go with it.)

As I studied and wrote last week, I asked God my questions about Samson and his story. What’s the deal with this sinner? Couldn’t you have made it a better story? Why’d You include him if he screwed up so badly?

God answered by showing me Samson’s story as it relates to Himself.

Even inside Samson’s all-about-me attitude, God got done what He purposed to do. Kill the Philistines.

Even though Samson lived his whole life in honor of himself, it was never a question of whether or not God would accomplish what He had purposed to do.

The only question at hand was whether or not Samson would live in light of God’s mercy or in spite of it. The truth about Samson is that, even with all that strength, he was always at God’s mercy. God’s purpose was never in question.

The thing that floors me about Samson, about all the leaders God chose throughout the whole book of Judges, is that God used him, used them anyway. Period.

Samson’s self-centered living didn’t mess up God’s plans to kill off the Philistines. His stupid mistrust of all those women did not thwart God’s plans.

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God did it anyway.

But Samson’s life could have been so much more awesome if he had just stopped fighting God’s purpose before those last few moments of his life.

Samson lived his entire life fighting the mercy of  God Who only wanted him to know more and better life than he could have ever imagined.

Samson lived his every day smack dab in the middle of regret. Because, until that final day in that house with the pillars, Samson lived with himself at the center of all he did.

I guess I don’t like this story because I want it’s just not nice. I want it to be easier. I think I would like all of God’s people to be pretty and pure and all cleaned-up when God uses them for His purpose. I want their exemplary lives to illustrate what I want to look like. I would really prefer God to made them nice before He fulfills His purposes through them.

Because I want that for me. I want God to clean me up before He uses me to make Him famous. So everyone can see how awesome I am, and I can shine all pretty when they look at me on that stage, in that picture of Today’s Awesome Christian Women You Want to be Just Like.

Truth is, I am so much more like Samson than I care to admit. I want it to be all about me.

But here is the truth I heard yesterday. The one I want to live today. And tomorrow. And in five years when God is still accomplishing His purposes, whether I’m all cracked and weathered or shiny and pretty with cute new clothes.

God will get His stuff done, whether I am on board or not. If I choose to surrender to His mercy, that is awesome! My life will be full of all that He promised. But even if I don’t, God will get done what He wants to get done.

Like Samson standing there between those huge pillars those last few moments of his life, I can look back and see regret. Or I can surrender now. Realizing how utterly at God’s mercy I am. Alive in the full life Jesus came so I could live.

What do you think about ugly stories like this one? Do you like them?

Linking up with my friend Michelle today, where all kinds of people think through the living that God has challenged them to this week.
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What I’m Learning About Making Art

I wake up new. Every morning. Even though sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.

I will make art today. I wouldn’t have called it art last month. But Emily’s words are getting to me. What if this living, this dream-chasing life is actually a work of art created for the glory of Creator God?

I will love my kids and kiss my Mann and drink coffee with my friend. I will smile at the Panera girl who takes my plate with the dirty napkin and the chocolate pastry crumbs. I will go to my knees and hand the morning to God, the day.

I ask Him to show me today’s art assignment. Help me pick up the right paintbrush. The one that will make the art of my day. My life. I remind Him I’m no painter.

Truth is, I can draw a pretty awesome happy face. But that’s where it ends. I had a painting teacher in high school tell me the colors I’d chosen for my final assignment were hideous. So. There’s that.

My friend Pamela tells me I can paint. But, then again, she’s never seen the consequences of a paintbrush in my hand. Or the colors I’ve chosen for any given painting.

So I will make art with another kind of paintbrush.

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With words and photos and smiles and prayers, I will offer the art that is my life. My breathing. My studying. My writing. My kid-hugging and laundry-sorting and dinner-making.

Sometimes I don’t want to call myself a writer. Because I’m scared of people knowing. But I want to write because I am a writer. It’s the art I was created to create. I am learning to embrace this beautiful dream.

I study Scripture and write about it. I look for Jesus in today. Watch for His art so I can love life more. Find the life He promised He’d give me. Then I offer my words, trusting He finds joy in the art of it all.

Today’s assignment has me planning some Advent season devotions for our church. Figuring out how to lead people into 28 days of celebrating Jesus. It doesn’t feel much like art at the moment.

But as I study and plan and brainstorm and type, I get all happy excited for what I am doing. My heart comes alive as I read about Christmas and dream about families who will read these plans and celebrate Jesus together.

And, really, isn’t that what real art does? It makes our fingers move faster. Our eyes keep the focus as they can’t pull away from the beauty of it all.

So today I make art, and I join in with Emily at Chatting at the Sky as she helps me understand more and more what that means. (I’m linking up there. You should really check it out. Because there are all kinds of amazing artists linking up too.)

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