Winter Epiphanies & Favorites

 

 

Winter can be blah after the holidays are over. January and February feel bleak, cold and gray. This winter was unusually warm though, with a few spring-like days sprinkled in almost each week here in Alabama. I do like winter because I enjoy hibernating under a cozy blanket with a cup of coffee. However, on days that felt especially claustrophobic those unexpected days of sunshine were a breath of fresh air. A few other things this season made the winter months more pleasant. I made a list of 7 things I enjoyed or learned these past few months. Maybe you’ll find something on here to check out for yourself or just find encouragement.

 

  1. Glorious in the Mundane podcast by Christy Nockels

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I stumbled upon this back in December and have listened to every. single. episode. Christy has the wonderful ability to communicate her heart to her listeners. Her love for the Lord is undeniable. It’s in every episode. Plus she also interviews guests like Chris Tomlin, Beth Moore, Ellie Holcomb and Matt Redman. She encourages me to live out my faith with vulnerability and humility.

 

2. Write it down

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A friend gave me a sweet pink journal last month. It’s The Simplified Journal  by Emily Ley. The front cover says: “I will hold myself to a standard of Grace not perfection.” I love that quote. Plus it’s an organized journal which for me, helps declutter my brain in each proper section. I don’t know about you, but I can’t internalize things for very long or else things start to go very, very wrong. So writing down thoughts, feelings, or occasions can be a good practice. I even write out prayers sometimes so when I go back and read some of the entries, it is amazing to see how the Lord has worked in specific situations.

 

3. ‘The Crown’ on Netflix

This show is a look into Queen Elizabeth II’s life when she takes the throne upon her father’s untimely death. I love British monarch dramas and this didn’t disappoint. If anything, tune in to see John Lithgow play Winston Churchill. The man should win an Emmy.

 

4. Tavern Style Pot Roast for the win

Campbell’s Tavern Style Pot Roast sauce is going to change your life. I’m being a little dramatic but it is the easiest cooking you’ll ever do and dinner will be amazing. With this, you just plop a roast in the slow cooker and pour this sauce over it and you are done.

 

5. Permission to nap

I recently realized why I prefer summer vacation to the school year. When my five year old, Jesse, has rest/quiet time at home during the day I also give myself time to rest. But in the school year it feels like laziness. Why is that? Learning to be still is hard but I’m understanding that times of rest are necessary too and even productive, just in a different way.

 

6. Flowers make me happy

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I started buying flowers on sale in December to spruce up the dining room table. I do this about once a month as a small treat to myself. Now they usually go up on the mantel and just make me smile. Sometimes little things can make a big impact. It’s something I look forward to buying now. And if you live near an Aldi store, they usually have a small arrangement of flowers super cheap! Have I ever mentioned how much I love Aldi??

 

7. Becoming a planner is a good thing

I am not a natural planner or details oriented. I would rather leave that to someone else and just go with the flow. But that doesn’t always happen and if there is something fun or interesting I’d like to do then a plan of action must be set in motion. Sometimes I need to be the one to make it happen and invite someone else along. I did this recently by attending the Broken + Free tour in Nashville, and asking a friend to go with me. We had a fabulous time!

 

So is there anything you loved or learned over the winter? Every season Emily Freeman hosts all bloggers to join and share their seasonal favorites. I always find something new or interesting from someone else’s perspective, which is why I like linking up to her blog for these special posts.

 

Sometimes we do need to take time to look back, for a mental inventory of things we can be thankful for or encouraged by, even in the hardest of moments or seasons of life. Spring is just around the corner and I’m anticipating it, but I hope not to write off Winter too quickly either. That’s the lesson I want to learn: to find gratitude and beauty in every literal season and seasons of life.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

 

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The Joy Word

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Jesse has this Veggie Tales book about having a thankful heart. It even has a song to go along with it (yes, a song). A few months ago all he wanted to do was press that song button on the book over and over and over. He would ask for the “happy” book, signing “happy” and point to the bookshelf. As much as I dislike the squeaky, cartoon voices in the song, I can’t help but pay close attention to the words: “Because a thankful heart is a happy heart. I’m glad for what I have that’s an easy way to start…”. The Lord knows I need this reminder just as much as Jesse, probably more. In fact I’m sure of it. It dawned on me after hearing the “Happy” song for many, many nights in a row that this is where joy is born. Gratitude for our daily blessings creates a joyful space in our spirit. This joy expands the more we fix our eyes on His gifts to us.

I picked a OneWord365 for this year to explore more and delve into the meaning making it my banner for 2016. My word is Joy. Not only do I want this for myself but for others to grasp too. It’s not as elusive as you think.

In Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts devotional she talks about finding that joy. She recalls the night before Jesus was crucified He had Passover with His disciples. The Bible says He “took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them” (Luke 22:19 NIV). The fact that Jesus knew He was hours away from facing a horrific death and still He gave thanks to the Lord and shared this sacred meal with His followers who would soon desert Him astounds me. There are no words in human language to adequately comprehend the depth of Jesus’ love.

The phrase “he gave thanks” translates to “eucharisteo”. The root word of eucharisteo is “charis” which means, “grace”. If we go deeper than that we find that the Greek word “chara” means, joy! Ann says, “Deep chara joy is found only at the table of the euCHARisteo—the table of thanksgiving” (p.27). She just blew my mind. For months I have been sensing this connection but couldn’t find the words. I don’t have knowledge of Greek either, so that helped.

Joy. It’s uncovered through the art of gratitude. At the back of Voskamp’s devotional she leaves room for you to write out 1,000 gifts. Literally name and count the ways the Lord loves you. This is part of my joy journey – counting His blessings, big and small. I do a few each day. It helps me notice things more, to slow down and be on the lookout for God’s grace all around.

I plan to write a few posts on what joy is and what it looks like for us. I hope you come with me. As the world outside seems to crumble under the heavy weight of godlessness and sorrow lets find a space in our souls to be refreshed. I think the older I get the harder it is to see joy, let alone maintain it. Even in seasons of unrelenting hardship it is possible. Those who choose joy in those moments will be the strongest.

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God has prepared us for this. We were made for joy with Him forevermore. We can start practicing to live in joy today. Maybe it’s hard for you also. I’m preaching to myself just as much as I want this for you too. This is about finding joy in the ordinary, everyday mundane and recovering lost beauty and a worshipful heart.

Gifts that you wouldn’t necessarily think as gifts can be. For me, Jesse’s disabilities are a kind of gift. He still carries a sense of wonder over the ordinary, because his learning of the outside world is just now emerging. I get to see the world through him with fresh eyes. His infectious laughter gets Jason and me every time. We just look at each other and grin thankful we get to be Jesse’s parents. The obstacles of not yet having more children have also been a gift of leaning close to the Lord, trusting Him even when I don’t understand.

Our sense of beauty, innocence and joy was stolen in the Garden of Eden from the very first sin. We need to remember what it looks like and claim His goodness again. I don’t want to live the one life I have with cynicism and joylessness. That is a wasted life.

If “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10 NIV) then we need to know what that means. While you scour the food crusted pots at the sink, while you dig in the dirt planting the tulip bulb to blossom come spring, while you rock your little one to sleep quietly humming a lullaby- joy is there. It’s in the cracks of life, springing up from the ground. It is not a naïve “Pollyanna” attitude, although that term (and movie) does get a bad wrap. It’s a knowing. It is recognizing the source of Life, the Giver of the gifts. Understanding how much we are loved immeasurably through the Greatest Sacrifice in the history of mankind? Let your Joy start there.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

We are family eternally

482140827   There is a ladies Bible study at my church that meets on Thursday mornings. We are going through the book of Colossians right now. I am so excited to be a part of this group again since my last time to participate was before Jesse was born. Four years later it is the same familiar faces I love. Most of the women are seasoned in life, veterans who have been walking with the Lord before I was even born. They have so much wisdom among them, I just sit there soaking it in.

I look around the table at all of us, about a dozen or so, and take in their smiles, laughter, and love for one another. It is a privilege to be a part of this group. I start thinking, “This is my family. These are my sisters. We are a sisterhood of believers.” Have you ever thought about that? The people you will spend eternity with? It hits me that those who have put their faith and hope in Jesus are more family to me than actual blood relatives.

I think about the thousands of Christians who have gone before me, and the thousands now who love Jesus like I do. Some personalities may not jive, there may be vast differences in culture, language, interests, hobbies, and talents, but the one thing that binds us forever is Jesus the Messiah, our Redeemer and Savior to poor, wandering lost sheep. Followers and lovers of Christ all share the same heart. We are beautifully intertwined into His Church, the Body. We get to be included, all of us, grafted in for all eternity.

When we get to heaven we will see in panoramic view the dynamic, colorful, joyful true family that we really belong to. Haitians, Chinese, Russians, Americans, Swedish, French, Kenyans, Indonesians and so much more will grace the gates of heaven, bowing down to the Morning Star who saved us all from certain death.

My relationship with Jesus is the most vulnerable and intimate part of me. Who knows me better than the One who created me? This is where our hearts connect and the Spirit within us testifies when we speak of Jesus with each other. There have been moments when I am expressing my love for Christ, or talking through a specific passage in Scripture, or remembering a sermon we both heard with a sister of faith and I get so excited because we can share our deepest passion: Jesus. She gets it, because she too has experienced the wonderful salvation of the Lord. We are forever unified, because: “There is one body, one Spirit- just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6 ESV).

Brothers and sisters, we are the church in which God is using in 2015. We are the ones who carry out the work and love of Christ “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV). We are His witnesses. We are the hands, the feet, the mouth, the eye, the big toe meant to preach the life-saving, life-giving Gospel to those without hope. I know what the admonitions are to reach the perishing, but do I treat my eternal family members as if they are truly my family?

Acts 2 takes place at Pentecost. After Peter’s sermon to the crowd the Bible records 3,000 were added to the number of believers. The next passage is simply wonderful. It says all the Christians lived in harmony with each other, “with glad and sincere hearts” (2:46 NIV) and worshipped the Lord together. It sounds like heaven to me. I imagine this as a little peek into our eternal home with one another, living in glory with King Jesus. It fills me with eager anticipation.

Our first century brothers and sisters in Christ were not selfish with their time or possessions, and freely gave to anyone who had a need. They studied the Scriptures together, ate dinner in each other’s homes, prayed with one another, loved, served, fellowshipped, and praised our Heavenly Father- side by side. What if we did more of this? Do we do this? I think this kind of community living is harder today given that we are further spread apart geographically, and we each have our own little worlds to live in that demand much of our time, schedules to follow, meetings to attend. But we can strive for it anyway. It has to be intentional. In our local churches, in weekly small groups, in non-denominational Bible studies we can and should pursue Christ together.

As I ponder what exactly joy and grace look like I begin to realize that those things can be experienced in the body of Christ. As family, we can extend grace upon grace to one another and allow the joy of the Lord to take root when we realize we do not have to walk this Christian life alone. It’s hard enough as it is. I may not know you personally, but if you have placed your faith in the One I love then you are a part of me and I am a part of you. I also care for you because you are my brother or sister. We will see each other someday. We may share a meal or sing praises in heaven together.

These are the people we will enjoy heaven with- forever. But that isn’t even the best part. We will not have our flesh in sin to compete with the Spirit who dwells in us. No more misunderstandings or hurt feelings or wrongdoings. The imperfect community experienced on earth that is marred with broken, sinful vessels will one day all be restored to perfect communion. I cannot wait to worship with you, my brothers and sisters, to be alongside Paul, Ezekiel, Ruth, Moses, John the Baptist, Hannah, Stephen, Charles Spurgeon, Elisabeth Elliot, C.S. Lewis, and the myriad of saints that we can call family. Imagine all the interesting conversations we will have! When we are finally home together leaving this world behind, arm in arm, hand in hand, all of us will delight in the presence of Christ together, because we are family eternally.

Grace upon grace,

April