Slaying the Worry Dragon: The Weapon of Choice is Simplicity

Worry is my sin.  That sin I so long to rid myself of, yet find myself battling daily.  I can justify it, yet there is no justification.  I can condemn myself, yet there is no condemnation.  Like Paul of scripture, I ask myself, I ask God, “Why do I do the things I do not want to do?”  It is the nature of our lives.  We all have that sin-the one that becomes our daily struggle.

As I seek to slay the worry dragon I have come to realize simplicity is the key.  For those of us to whom much has been given, much is expected.  Yet along with the much, are things, mindsets that cause us to stumble in our faith.  With good upbringing, strong family ties, come expectations.  We are pushed and we drive ourselves to exceed the financial status of our parents, to exceed the educational levels of our family ancestors, to go beyond, do better.  We call it the American Dream.  Yet, all of that places our mind, our focus upon achievements and things.  Maybe it is my age, maybe it is wisdom gained with age, but whatever the cause, I find myself desiring to do less, be less.  I’d like to return to the days of my forefathers.  Days of gardening, hands stained by dirt, body aching and tired at night.  Days of family gatherings crowded into small, quaint homes. Days of giving beyond means and ensuring family and neighbors have plenty.  The simpler life.  Not an easier life, but a less complicated life.  A life in which things could not take hold, because things were not aplenty.

My scripture reading this morning was in Matthew.  The Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount.  If one read only those passages, one would understand who Christ is and how as Christians we are to live.  It becomes clear the weapon for worry is simplicity.  In the midst of the abundance around me, the busyness, the striving, the rush to carry out good deeds in the “spirit of Christmas giving”, God speaks to me yet again through the women I hold dear at Christian Women’s Job Corps.  Women who live a simple life, yet lives complicated by messy families, consequences of poor choices, health issues…

They can not undo their past.  None of us can.  Many of them born into pasts they could not control, inheriting trouble they never asked for/deserved.  Most hurt as children, used as adolescents, and exposed as adults.  Difference circumstances, different hurts, different lives, yet one thing in common.  Each making the decision, finding the resolve to choose to do something different.  Each choosing Christian Women’s Job Corps.  Each seeking to learn about Christ, put Him first.  Each finding joy in walking away from the complicated towards the simple.

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One has walked away from all she owns/had: home, belongings, man.  She has faithfully come soaking up the teachings of the pastors during morning devotion, the words of scripture during Bible study, the life skills taught by women whose lives have been easier than hers.  She has rejoiced weekly in the smallest of victories.  She has taken every word taught and believed it.  She has professed and proclaimed scripture in the midst of battle, believing it would drive Satan out.  She has accepted help with graciousness and humility.  She has found a new home, new friends, new life.  Things, accomplishments, are of consequence.  She has no bed, yet shares with all how well she is sleeping.  She has humble means, yet can’t wait to share. She has seen God provide.  She does not worry for her future.  She trusts.  She trusts Him, the Great Provider, the Healer, the Lord of Lords.

I am humbled when in her presence.  And as I sit in my abundance, clinging to my worry, I am convicted by her life and His words in Matthew.  The words come alive through her story.  Simplicity.  It is in the being, the service done in “the secret place”, the honesty, the letting go, the living life together.  Simplicity slays the worry dragon.  Her days are filled with trouble, enough trouble to fill a lifetime.  She takes each day as it comes, too many troubles to worry about tomorrow.  “Sufficient for the day it its own trouble.”  Matthew 6:34 NIV  She lives the scripture.  I long to live the scripture yet my demons are a complicated life, full of too much.  The too much brings the worry, the striving, the lack of faith.  God brings her into my life, not that I may serve, but that we both might be served.  We love one another, we teach one another.  I share my abundance, she teaches me out of her lack-lack of things, lack of knowledge.  We experience Him.  We experience true worship.  We find each other.  We find ourselves.  In that place, He finds us, we hear Him and know His presence.

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The Center of Our Home-Where Things Change

The center of our new home is literally my great room coffee table.  Our home is a very open concept, so you walk in the front door to a large entry from which you just flow right into the dining room, great room and kitchen.  I LOVE IT.  And literally in the middle sits my coffee table.

Advent has been a part of my family Christmas off and on for most of my life.  As a pastor my dad loved to include the advent candle as part of our worship.  Some years we did the same at home, others not.  With my own children we have attempted some form of Advent each year.  When they were young it was about the Advent Calendar.  My mother-in-law purchased a wonderful nativity scene advent calendar from World Crafts years ago.  My children loved trying to figure out which pieces to put in the pockets so the story unfolded correctly.  We also used the Advent box purchased through Family Life, where the children open a new gift box each year.  As they grew it sometimes amounted to nothing more than reading the daily scripture.  Then, last year I came upon Ann Voskamp’s, “The Greatest Gift”.  We purchased an Advent Wreath and candles.  We are using the same this year and have added to it our “Gather Round” from Barbara Rainey’s Ever Thine Home and the “post-it” notes provided on Ann Voskamp’s website.  (Each morning after reading the “post it ” reminder, we place it on the Gather Round Wreath.)

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It is here our hearts are stirred.  It is here our minds are cleared.  It is here the quiet settles in and His truth permeates the stillness.  The center of my home is where things change.  Each morning the “post it” cards prompt us to new thoughts, transforming thoughts and action.  Action following love, the love He imparts through grace.  Each evening our spirits are quieted as we stop to relinquish the day, prepare for rest.  Life may get messy in between.  We will fall short of His glory.  We may even lose sight of Christmas, but this place, this centering spot, brings us back.

If Advent has not been a part of your Christmas, head over to Holly Gerth’s site (see the button over on the side).  Today is a round up of Advent Resources.  You are sure to find something.  You won’t regret adding this to your traditions.  And remember, if you miss a night, life goes on, don’t give in, just pick back up.

A House That Breathes

If you have been following my blog, you know we built a home this past summer.  The process was exciting, fun, fulfilling.  It came at just the right time.  I was coming out of a two year process of some real life changes.  The kind of life changes that come with living past the age of 40.  Coming to terms with who I was, no longer trying to do.  Coming to terms with a family relationship I couldn’t fix, that would never change.  Healing.  Healing the empty places I had allowed to grow trying to be for others, for society, for family.  Coming to terms with my spiritual self, understanding who God is in new ways, ways only made possible by the hurts, the struggles, the disappointments, the losses of this life.  Celebrating.  Celebrating surviving young motherhood.  Celebrating the young women my daughters are becoming.  Celebrating making it past 20 years with my best friend and husband.  Celebrating friendships, the authentic ones.  The friendships of women who bare their souls, are strong enough to cry, to admit weakness, to ask for help.  Celebrating being that friend to a few, the special ones.  Celebrating family, embracing family.  In the midst of it all I learned to breathe.

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It may sound trite, but it’s not an easy thing to do.  And yet, breath is the very sustenance of life.  We rush through life taking shallow breaths, breathing in quickly, exhaling too quickly.  We rush.  We find ourselves holding our breaths in an attempt to hold our anger, our sorrow, our excitement.  It requires yoga class or meditation therapy or a doctor to remind us to breathe-really breathe.

I have learned to breathe and as we set out to build I wanted to create a home that would breathe.  We purged.  Being an organizer, that wasn’t terribly difficult, but it still required thought, discipline and action.  I kept only what we loved and used.  I set out to paint the home in an array of neutrals-shades of white.  I set out for there to be open spaces, empty spaces.  Week before last I had my first “gathering” of those outside the family.  As the guests arrived, more than one commented on the house.  There were the usual compliments, but the greatest of them all were these words, “I love it.  I walk in and I take a deep breath and feel myself relaxing.  There is space.  There is calm.”  Not just once did I hear these words, but three times. Satisfaction.  The years of struggle.  The years of battling my “demons” within, were all worth it.  In those moments I knew I was living, living the life of abundance, peace, contentment.  I was breathing.  My home was breathing.

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Possibility is not in the stuff.  It is not in the structure of the home.  It is not in the activity.  It is not in doing.  Possibility is in the stillness, the knowing, the being.  My life is lived in shades of white.  My calendar is filled with white space.  Not by chance, but by choice, by discipline, by intention.  My walls are filled with white space.  Not by chance, but by choice.  My thoughts are focused on what is most important.  My eyes rest on art and pieces of furniture most important.  And in the in-between, in the shades of white, I can breathe.  I can sit and listen.  I can hear the still small voice of God speak clearly regarding who I need to be, who He is.  My home rests, it breathes.  It holds room for life, for guests to enter, to take a breath and rest.

I challenge you to create a home that breathes.  As you enter the holidays and think towards the year ahead, what can you eliminate?  What areas cause you stress?  What rushes you each day?  Find your shades of white, breathe and live.

A few of the rooms I used as inspiration:

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Joy Unspeakable

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She walked in eight weeks ago.  Quiet, unassuming.  Her face bore the lines of pain, a life lived hard, yet showed little emotion. Her presence peaked our interest.  This woman, clearly broken, yet seemingly strong.  Faithfully, each week she appeared.  The first one to enter.  The first one to open her notebook.  The one to quietly spread the Bible before her, highlighter held in gnarled hand.  Others spoke, others shared.  She remained quiet.

Today, she shared.  It was one of the most spiritual, most moving, most worshipful moments I have experienced in years. This woman I had come to know.  This woman I had prayed for, hoped for.  In a moment, in a room filled with her new friends and strangers she chose to let her voice be heard.  With dignity she began.  In tears and brokenness she finished.  A woman isolated, living without purpose.  A woman sitting, waiting.  She’d been told about this program, a Christian program.  She came. What makes a woman who has lived for years in isolation, without friendships, without hope, walk into a building full of strangers to attend weekly classes with other strangers?  Would I?  Today, I saw the depth of her loneliness.  Today, I saw the fullness of her joy.

My heart is full.  I stand amazed at the God I serve.  He moves in the darkest shadows, the quiet moments.  His Spirit moves in the heart of a woman alone, isolated.  She does not leave her home for church or to visit friends.  But in a moment, she gathers the strength to drive across town to enter a strange place and begin again.  I am humbled that my God would grant me the opportunity to be there in that strange place with my friend, waiting, hoping, praying.  I saw God move.  I was reminded again God’s glory is revealed when we come to Him in our brokenness.  Our hearts shatter and as the pieces fall, He fills us with His Spirit.  The tears drop and He catches them.  His love is unveiled and in the deepest of sorrow we feel and know unspeakable joy.

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Don’t Fit In

I don’t usually post on the weekends, but as I sit quietly in my “special place”, quiet house, sun glistening off the water and a cup of coffee, I caught up on some blog reading.  I felt compelled to share this post, not because you need it, because I need it.  As a woman I want friendships, I want my place to belong.  But God has been teaching me, showing me, that is not the desire of His heart for me.  I don’t want to fit in.  I don’t want to be a part of “the group”.  I want to embrace.  I want to embrace the place God has created for me and I want every woman He brings to that place to be touched and I want to be open to being touched. There is no need for group.  There is only need for relationships and love.

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Are You Going to Do More Than Survive the Holidays? PLAN

I was asked to speak recently at a church women’s event, one of my favorite things to do.  With the holidays upon us, I was asked to speak on surviving the holidays.  For most of us that is exactly how it feels-like we are just surviving.  Much of life used to be that way for me as a strove to find success in my career, sought to have the cleanest house and most organized pantry. Life was often nothing more than moving from task to task, falling into bed exhausted, praying for a little respite to come my way.

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God’s plan for our lives holds so much  more than that.  There are no promises of pain free, sorrow-less days, but there is the promise of transformation, healing, strength, hope and joy.   We are reminded life is lived in the ordinary moments of our days as we love others.

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There is a way to develop habits and lifestyle which lead to more than just surviving the days, the holidays.  I’ve not perfected it for myself, but it gives me a guide, an accountability tool to use.  As we plan our days, determine our “to do” list, we need to filter everything through the PLAN.

P:  Purpose/Priorities

L:  Limits/Letting Go

A:  Acknowledge/Assign

N:  Nurture

Purpose and Priorities.  Too often we move through life allowing others to determine our choices and actions.  We say “yes” in order to please, gain a sense of accomplishment, fit in with a group, to avoid guilt, and the list goes on.  We give no thought to our purpose and priorities.

As I have sought to simplify my life and live a more organized life that reflects who I am as a Christian woman I have come to realize I must spend time here-in this place of determining priorities.  Scripture tells me I am to place Christ first, which means daily I must spend time with Him, study Him, seek Him.  Then I must care for those He has entrusted to me, my family.  I then consider the gifts and talents He has given me and consider ways to use those gifts to serve others, whether it is through paid employment or volunteer work.  When you set these priorities and limit your “yes” to only those things you have talents and gifts for, it really isn’t hard to determine priorities.  (The next step will be critical, so come back Monday.)  Interestingly, for those of us who call ourselves, believers, the priorities are pretty much the same.  He has a clear road map in the Bible.  The only real variance is the latter, using our specific gifts and talents.

To live according to our purpose and priorities, we must allow God to transform us.  Transformation begins with the renewing or our minds, thus the scripture reading, bible study, prayer and corporate fellowship.  Scripture also tells us the heart is the wellspring of life.  While we want to think through our decisions carefully, often those “best yes” decisions are the ones made with our whole being.  The one that just “feels” right as it aligns with our minds.  Those decisions you can smile at, settle into like a warm blanket on a cold winter night.  The one that when carried out gives deep satisfaction, peace and joy.

I have come to ask myself this very important question as I try to make that final determination between “want to” and priority. Will doing this “thing” affect someone’s body, mind or spirit.  If not, if it only affects me or has no real relational value, then I don’t do it.  It simply isn’t part of how God has designed us.  Now lest you think that means you can quit cleaning toilets, exercising or all that other mundane, not so much fun stuff, stop and think.  As a wife and mother (or husband and father) the care of my home impacts my family’s mind, body and spirit.  A clean, well managed home provides them a place of shelter in which to find safety, rest, health.  It is a place meant to refresh and prepare them to go out and carry out their purpose and priorities.  Exercise helps me maintain or regain strength.  It offers an opportunity to release stress and ensure my cardiovascular system is staying healthy.  I can then serve better, care for others better.  I can inspire or encourage those around me to do the same for themselves.

Get it?  Setting our purpose and priorities is about perspective.  To have the right perspective you have to stop and give it thought, look in scripture for guidance and seek His counsel that your mind may be transformed and your life may spring up from within your heart.  That is the place of peace and joy.  That is the place that even when tragedy or mishaps occur you can carry on.

What are your purposes and priorities this holiday?  Have you given it any thought?  Mine are:

  1. Create a home environment in which friends and family find peace.
  2. Keep our schedule open enough we have time to fellowship one on one, with family and close friends.
  3. Establish times to serve as a family, remembering Christ came to love, to serve and to save.

Set your “P” today.  Don’t rush into the holiday one more day.  Step back, get some perspective and decide your purpose.

Enough- Do We Just Keep Saying It or Do We Mean It?

I promise you at least a dozen times this weekend I heard someone say, “Enough”, “I’m tired of this”, “Are you kidding me, still?”. I said it myself.  “Enough” of this not getting the chores done.  “Enough” of these busy weekends.  “Enough” of the complaining. We all thought it as election day came and went.  “Enough.”

As I struggled with my own “enough” I had to admit that those things I most often say “enough” over, are the things I am hesitant to confront or change.  They are those things I feel compelled to do because the world offers them up as ‘important’, ‘necessary’, ‘obligatory’.  They are those things I fear will cause me social harm if not done.  They are those things I assume everyone else is doing, juggling with success.  But I must tell you, the more I sit and listen.  The more I find myself seeking to be a hearer and not a just a doer, the more I realize that very few people are meeting success with overbooked, overfilled, over stimulated lives.  In fact, it seems most of us are saying, “Enough.”

I decided to be deliberate.  I wrote down those things I felt were my “enough” items.  I prayed over them during the course of the weekend.  I was reminded most of what I had had “enough” of, was worldly.  We run, racing from one event to another. We fill our kids’ schedules to overflowing afraid they won’t make the team, or be “in” with the right group if we don’t keep up. We choose athletic practices over Sunday evening bible study or Wednesday discipleship.  We choose extra curricular activities, social events over dinner around the table with family.  We guilt ourselves into being at every church event lest those church ladies begin to gossip and judge our spirituality.  We run.  We race.  We grow weary.

God took me back to a scripture so well know.  Romans 12:3.  “Be not conformed.”  How easily we read the words.  Many of us can quote them as easily as we quote John 3:16.  But do we live them?  I don’t.  In those moments of “enough” I realize I vital the scripture is.

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God calls me to live differently.  My life, my calendar should not look like everyone else’s.  It should not resemble the calendar of one who does not serve the risen God.  My life should look different.  My calendar should look different.  His pattern leads to refreshment, peace, joy in the midst of trials.  His path leads to victory as I release the hurts and fears to Him.  I have to make a choice to renew my mind.  I can’t keep racing.  I can’t just keep going.  I have a decision to make.  In that moment of “enough” if I am to live transformed, I must stop and ask myself, “Is this necessary?  Is this the best for me, for my kids, for our family?”  I don’t have to just say, “Enough” and carry on.  I need to stop.  I need to let my “Enough” be a sincere word, an end to the crazy running, striving, seeking affirmation.  “Enough” should drive me to my quiet place, the sitting in stillness asking for Him to speak, give me scripture, guidance.  “Enough” should drive me to live transformed, to quit living conformed.

I challenge you today.  If you have uttered the word “enough” in recent days.  Go back.  What is it you have had “enough” of?Dare to let the “enough” drive you to deliberateness of thought, action.  Dare to stand out from the crowd.  Dare to live as you, as I, as we His church have been called to live-transformed.  Quit being conformed.  Enough is enough.

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