Heaven around my ears // Christmas will be different this year

Jingle bells are ringing, Target is stocking Charlie Brown Christmas trees, and this year--Christmas will be different. 

 

While I'm making my plans, deciding what to buy and for whom, and how high to ring up the credit card bill, I'll consider how things would look if Jesus was visiting this year. Would I be scurrying in the kitchen like Martha, prepping pies and frustrated that nobody is helping? Would I let the pies burn while I soaked up the presence of the Holy in my living room? Would I follow Jesus to the hospitals and low-income health centers to heal the sick, or go with him to the home of prostitutes and tax collectors for dinner? Would I trade glitz and glamor and beauty for humble service, the way he gave up the throne of heaven for a dirty animal feeding trough?

 

There's one thing that won't be different: my kids and I do Operation Christmas Child every year. This is the first year they'll be old enough to really understand what we're doing, but I look forward to packing shoeboxes for children in third-world countries every year, anyways. I walk the aisles at Walmart and sob for the women who can't buy their children the basics. And I sob that I get to buy somebody's little one undershirts and toys and pencils. I give money, because money's important, but something about physically packing boxes for children just pulls heaven down around my ears and I love it

 

Advent activities, wreathes on the front door, light trails--those are great, and if they happen this year, that'll be so fun (maybe). But they probably won't happen, and unlike other years, that'll be ok. This year is going to be different. This year I've got my eyes on heaven. 

 

Is my worth in an impeccably decorated home? In lavish & expensive gifts, and the envy of a culture that thinks I'm doing Christmas really, really well? Is my hope in a thousand likes on Instagram? Will I feel I've let down the whole world when my pies burn--will my heart cave in and my holiday ruin? 

Or, are my feet on the rock? Can I follow the Spirit's leading, no matter what those around me think? Can I find the joy of the Lord even when my loved ones disappoint or frustrate me--as they will surely do at Christmas? Joy is my birthright as a Christian. It is a sure promise. In the midst of the desert, the presence of Christ transforms my barren thorns into mighty trees, with roots that sink deep. His nearness turns dead briers into flowering plants--stunning displays of beauty that spring up unrestrainedly. 

 

This is my call this Christmas--joy. Will I make room in my heart and home for it? Will I seek it out, fight for it till it roots down deep in my heart, and springs up wildly? This year, Christmas will be different. This year, there will be joy.  

 

If you've lost a loved one, or are walking through a time of illness or depression, much of this is not for you. You are fighting for joy this season, and that's ok. It's ok to be weary, and to shelter from the storm. My heart for you is that you experience God's power this season in your great weakness--that He wipes away your mourning and gives you His great joy in its stead. If you haven't yet found the kind of peace and joy we're talking about here, maybe you've never encountered Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior. I don't know who you are, and what you've done, but I know he loves you. He paid the ultimate price so that you could be free of guilt and shame--and he wants to spend eternity with you. He stands at the door of your heart and knocks--will you let him in? 

10 Spiritual Things That Are Changing my Life Right Now

1. Fasting.  
Jesus said when we fast, not if. I've grown up in the church, but almost never heard fasting spoken of--but it's been changing my life. This book is a great primer. This sermon is really great too. I'll leave you with this thought: The anticipation is worse than the actually fasting. 

2. I found myself last week carrying a lot of peoples' burdens. And then I realized: they don't need me; they need God.

3. The Amplified bible. Read Psalm 23 in it. It is blowing up my brain. 

4. Charles Spurgeon's Psalms commentary is available as an app. It's like having this giant, searchable collection of incredible authors' thoughts on the bible. Download it and check out Psalm 91 in it. And thank me later. 

5. Praying in tongues.
WHOA. I know, I know--I TOTALLY WENT THERE. I grew up in bible churches, and had almost no experience (except one or two negative ones) with tongues until college. People whose lives were full of integrity, that rang with the authentic authority and knowledge of scripture, had it, and--I wanted it, too. But I never got it, and I forgot about it, until a year or two ago, when I asked for it again--and I got it. It surprised me, and I didn't really know what to do with it. It wasn't this intense experience, it was just a language I could start and stop talking in at will. Then, I read Chasing the Dragon.

Jackie Pullinger, a missionary to one of the darkest corners of the world, started praying in tongues in private, fifteen minutes a day--she set her watch. And she started seeing miracles. Crazy, crazy miracles. So, I started praying in tongues regularly, and while I haven't seen anyone around me walk away from heroin without withdrawal symptoms, I do experience a strength and rest and peace in parenting, in particular, that I never had before, and have begun to see opportunities open up around me to share the gospel and my testimony of freedom. Things are changing, ya'll. Having had many pastors from DTS, this book was really helpful me understand the super straightforward biblical foundation for the gifts of the spirit.

6. This Love. I just have it on repeat, day after day. 

7. Matthew Henry commentary--totally free on Bible Gateway. I've been in John a lot lately, and sometimes Jesus just blows my mind, you know? He walks up to a man who has been sick for THIRTY EIGHT YEARS and asks, "Do you want to be well?" Is that even a question? Here's a taste on the Matthew Henry commentary on John 5: "Observe, When Christ came up to Jerusalem he visited not the palaces, but the hospitals, which is an instance of his humility, and condescension, and tender compassion, and an indication of his great design in coming into the world, which was to seek and save the sick and wounded."

8. Revolution in World Missions. Did you know hundreds and thousands are finding Jesus in India right now? Did you know there are still 500,000 villages in India THAT HAVE NEVER EVEN HEARD THE GOSPEL? We support several missionaries from the US in different parts of the world, but as soon as we get our credit cards paid off (THIS IS THE YEAR), this is where I want my money going. I keep looking at the bike in my garage--I think it's going to India soon. 

9. I have to be this kind of person, you guys. I have to. (Sign up for my weekly email, The Good Stuff, to download the quote above as a wallpaper or printable). 

10. Freedom prayer. It's a prayer ministry, often hosted in churches. How often is our prayer just talking to God? How often do we listen for His response? Or, listen for Him to start the conversation--especially on hard topics? I've found significant freedom in two areas in my life within the last year, and I've experienced that freedom both times via the Freedom Prayer ministry at a church in San Antonio. Like, major, mind-blowing life changes. If you take me to coffee, I'll spill the details. If you can find a freedom prayer ministry in your area--GO. 

SO. I've just told you a lot about me, which means--be my friend or I'll have to kill you*. You can find more about me here. Are we email buddies? We need to be. You can do that here

*That sounds harsh. Let's pretend I said: "gently side hug you." 

Miscarriage--one year later

miscarriage

If you haven’t experienced a miscarriage personally, someone you love has, and it’s brutal in a very quiet, hidden way. I wrote about it last year--this September marks one year later. 

God help us--we don’t have a box or a context for miscarriage.

Words that ordinarily flow freely to explain my thoughts and feelings fail me here, in the face of grief. And in the face of shame, or guilt, or depression, or anger, because sometimes I feel those things. And sometimes, I don’t feel anything, really. I don’t feel bad. And then sometimes I feel bad because I don’t feel bad.

Grief is the worst. It is exhausting, and numbing, and confusing, and it's a hurt you can't quite twist away from. Brownies don't make it better. Baths don't fix it. Compulsively ordering new things off of Amazon doesn't delay it. Sleep doesn't make it go away. It's just--there. When it happened, part of me was eager to get on with life. If I got on with life quickly enough, maybe I could bypass the hurt. One year later, and it hurts more than it did a year ago. I have always known I'm a delayed processor, but I have cried more lately--one year later--than I did during our actual miscarriage, and I'm exhausted.

Emotions wear me out.

 

A few weeks ago, I started looking online for prayers to pray when you have experienced miscarriage. I found almost nothing. But my first post about miscarriage continues to get more visitors than anything else on my site, which makes me just bawl. And it makes me want to send every sweet visitor some brownies and start an awkward conversation about what she lost. And what I lost. And about how much loss this old world has faced. And about heaven.

 

Can we talk about heaven for a minute?

Because that's what's really on my heart. Why don't we talk about heaven more? Scour the bible for hints, ask the Holy Spirit to show us glimpses? It's what Jesus clung to, what enabled him to endure the cross. The hope of us meeting him and heaven. The joy of the feast he knew was coming.

An angel told an old man, a long time ago, that there is no more crying there, in heaven. That Jesus himself will wipe every tear from every eye. My child is happy. She is never overtired, or anxious, or cold, or alone, or sick, or hurting in any way at all. Jesus has wiped her tears, and she is free--utterly, perfectly, happily--free.

But the rest of us? Those of us whose every physical atom is glued tightly to this earth, whose arms ache to hold the child our bodies grew, but we never met--what about us?

 

In Psalm 91, the Hebrew word that gets translated into "shall abide" is a word that means, "he shall pass the night." We will pass the night with the Almighty; surely the Almighty shall pass the night with us.

I created 11 printable prayer cards for you.

You can print them out on cardstock, cut them out, hole punch them, and put them on a ring, if you'd like. They are so simple. They are what I pray, want to pray, sometimes am afraid to pray. They are bold--demanding--because really what I am in all things, at all times, is a small child desperate for my Father's intervention. And because I just sit at the throne of grace. I just hang out there, you guys. That's my spot. I'm not leaving. If you're looking for me, that's where you'll find me. At His feet. Hiding in the secret place.

If you just want the prayers, go here (and repin so others can find them, too). 
If you want the printable prayer cards--those are for my email friends. To become one, sign up below, and an download link will be sent to you after your confirm your subscription--make sure you check your spam folder for it

 


 

6 Absolutely Awesome Books to Read Aloud to Young Toddlers

There's a difference between books parents love and books toddlers love, if you know what I mean. We've read a lot of books over the last five years, and after having three toddlers hanging around here, I've seen these six books sift to the top--tried and true and so well loved I can recite all six in my sleep :). 

1. Where's Spot? 
We roar when we get to the lion, and we make monkeys sounds at the monkey. And so many opportunities to say "no!" Toddler book win. 

6 best books to read aloud to young toddlers

2.  Spot Loves His Mommy
All three of my toddlers have loved these great Spot board books! 

6 best books to read aloud to young toddlers

3. Are you a cow? 
I die. I love Boynton books. So do my kids, especially as toddlers! And SO many opportunities for them to yell "NO!" 

6 best books to read aloud to young toddlers

4. Moo, Baa, La La La! 
All four of us recite this randomly together. Without the book. 

6 best books to read aloud to young toddlers

5. Where is Baby's Belly Button? 
We look for baby's eyes, and then our eyes. Baby's belly button, and then our belly buttons. Sweet and short and precious! 

6 best books to read aloud to young toddlers

6. Goodnight Moon
I'm honestly amazed that this one holds my children's attention, but it does, every time! A classic read aloud for young children for a reason. 

6 best books to read aloud to young toddlers

There you have it--our six favorite read alouds for toddlers! Enjoy, and let me know YOUR favorites! 

*Affiliate links used; that means, at no cost to you, I get a teeny tiny percentage of the sale if you buy through one of the links above. Thanks for helping me justify the time I spend writing online! 

What I'm Into (August 2016)

Totally cliche, but in the words of my friend's GrandBetty, "Meggan, where'd August go?" Linking up with Leigh for the first time! 

Changes

There's a lot of shifting going on for us right now. Not changes like having babies or moving or switching jobs, just shifts. Subtle things that will have big impacts when they're added together in another year. How is that for vague?! I'll share a few:

One of the most remarkable things about being a Christian (I've been one for almost 24 years!) is never running out of new things to learn about Jesus. I'm in a new season now and it is terrifying and exciting and I am starting over at the absolute bottom again. I think I will be very different when it's over. In a good way. Nothing but free, from here on out! 

Eating

By Sunday night I felt so nasty I knew it was time to get back to the basics, so I'm back on the no grains, no added sugar, and (this one's new) no dairy train. I want to feel better, ya know?

Kit bars (in this flavor) are some of the few bars that don't have any of the bad stuff I'm trying to avoid, and they're delicious and SO HELPFUL in helping me stick to my diet. Zoe's Kitchen has become one of my favorite restaurants (I've started craving the beef kabobs on salad...YUM), and they sell their dressing to take home. I'm sure it would be a cinch to make up myself, but...CONVENIENCE I LOVE YOU! 

My mom shared the veggie snack pack trick with me: keeping small containers of different veggies (mini tomatoes, bell pepper, snap peas, jicama, cauliflower, and on!) in the fridge to grab whenever I'm in a hurry. I use them and a Kit bar for breakfast, or add it to some kind of protein when I don't have time to whip up a salad. The first two days of clean eating are always the hardest for me--the food I want to eat makes me hurt, and the food that makes me feel good doesn't taste good to me. By day three or four, however, I start to crave and really love my salads and snack packs. 

Change of Schedule

A schedule change! You can see more here. I had a breakdown (or five) in August, and have been LOVING the solution we figured out to help me find time to work AND homeschool AND not lose my mind. We think things need to be level and chill and perfect all the time--but seasons are a part of nature, and breakdowns bring creative solutions to new problems. I think I'm pro breakdown sometimes :). 

Tea

Not every day, but once a week or so, I've started having tea in the afternoon with Eliannah. We both love it. It's a sweet time to connect with my blossoming middle child, and--NO BOYS ALLOWED! 

Read and reading

I re-read Gaudy Night the other day, which is saying something, because I rarely re-read books. BUT THIS ONE IS WORTH IT. 

After listening to Anne so persuasively argue for Seabiscuit and Rebecca, those two are on my nightstand. I grabbed the Night Circus at the library, too, and will start that soon! 

On the interwebs 

One of the subtle changes I've mentioned earlier is that I've started writing a novel. Cue nausea and inane laughing. It's really hard, you guys. So, to procrastinate, I've been REALLY enjoying New Hampshire Public Radio's 10 Minute Writer's Workshop--my favorite thus far is Salman Rushdie.

Tolkien on writing. ((“…I certainly hope to leave behind me the whole thing [LOTR] revised and in final form, for the world to throw into the waste-paper basket.  All books come there in the end, in this world, anyway”))

The Lazy Genius Collective = my new favorite blog. "Genius about the things that matter and lazy about the things that don't." 

David turns two on Monday

 

How was YOUR August? What have you been into?