For good and for bad, I’m an ambitious person. I come from the mindset: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And I will make a way. As a positive, I’m not easily deterred from my dreams and will really go for it if I want something. But over the years, God has also poked holes in my self-driven viewpoint when things haven’t gone as planned and I haven’t been able to will my way out of my problems. And if I’m honest, I’ve said hurtful things in our marriage that have stemmed from an over-inflated view of the self.
Sabbath is the gift that allows us to stop and rest from the self.
Back in December, we found out that we would be given the opportunity to take a 30 day Sabbatical this summer (our ministry allows for this every 7 years). Little did we know that this would come on the heels of a Spring wrought with uncertainty regarding our future and calling in ministry. We came into Sabbatical weary from the stress of decision-making, not to mention the ambiguity and unknowns. We knew we needed a time to unplug from ministry and routine. We needed refreshment and healing and to stop striving and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10).
I’ve come to see our experience of Sabbatical as an extended version of the Sabbath command of our Father that comes around each and every week to shrink our view of self and enlarge our view of God. Not just intellectually, but in a relational-trust kind of way. To say, “I can rest because You are God and I am not.” Sabbath is that gift that allows us to rest from the self. To rest from our plotting and calculating and betting and strategizing and to trust that God is Sovereign and that He’s good.
But how could we really rest when our future seemed so uncertain? We didn’t even know if our employer would stay the same or if we’d need to pursue completely different options for our neighboring vision. What a bummer to not be able to completely enjoy our sabbatical because of all the ambiguity looming overhead.
Such is the war of Sabbath every week.
How can we stop in the midst of all the loose ends? How can we rest without guilt?
Whatever the unanswered questions and unfinished details and people and projects that wave (sometimes scream) for our attention, we can stop. We can rest. Whether be it the face of the hurts of life or just the monotony of the daily grind, sabbath lets us stop to be the frail, vulnerable people that we are and live anew in the Creator-creature relationship. Mark Buchanan masterfully describes this in The Rest of God:
“That is a good definition of Sabbath: Imitating God so that we stop trying to be God. Sabbath-keeping involves a recognition of our own weakness and smallness, that we are made from dust,that we hold our treasure in clay jars, and that without proper care we break. This is not true of God. He neither sleeps nor slumbers. He runs no risk of breakdown, burnout, exhaustion, injury. God doesn’t need Sabbath or sabbatical. He doesn’t pine for vacation. He doesn’t require a good night’s sleep to clear his head or steady his hand. He doesn’t run ragged or run amok, pushing himself beyond his limits, patching himself together between bursts of striving and binges of workaholism. God is not waiting for the weekend. But not us…. we try to outwit and outrun our limits. We think we’re the exception, the one for whom busyness will translate into fruitfulness… So God, knowing both our need and our folly, took the lead. He set the example. Like a parent who coaxes a cranky toddler to lie down for an afternoon nap by lying down beside her, God woos us into rest by resting. ‘For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.’ God commands that we imitate him in order to discover again that we’re not him, and that we need him. Sabbath is a return to Eden.” -Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath
As I meditated on these thoughts, it hit me that God had perfectly timed our Sabbatical with our transition into a new season of ministry. Not just to rejuvenate us- although that, too. But to say, “You can rest from your worry and your striving because it’s not up to you. I am in control and I love you. I’ve got you.”
And not merely to stop, but to revel in the stopping.
To stop in an indulgent kind of way where we literally glory in the relief that comes in knowing we are not God.
What does this look like… practically?
“Sabbath is the holy time where we feast, play, dance, have sex, sing, pray, laugh, tell stories, read, paint, walk, and watch creation in its fullness. Few people are willing to enter the Sabbath and sanctify it, to make it holy, because a full day of delight and joy is more than most people can bear in a lifetime, let alone a week.” -Dan Allender, Sabbath
What comes to mind, is the brilliant movie, What About Bob, when Dr. Leo Marvin prescribes for Bob to “take a vacation from his problems.”
It’s kind of like that… except more like taking a vacation from being God.
Thank God that every week, we can take a day- despite unfinished business and answered questions- to rest without guilt and indulge in the delight that comes from knowing that God is God and we are not.
Now, go take a vacation from being God.
Have you ever felt like you wanted or needed to make a change, but the path of unknowns seemed too daunting, too unknown, too scary? What scares you the most? I have found myself wondering at times, what if people are disappointed in me along the way? What if things don’t go the way I hope and everything I’ve known falls apart? What if I jump off this cliff and God doesn’t catch me in the process?
I stood in the back of our Cru weekly meeting as the band played the song Oceans (Where Feet May Fail). Hot tears streamed down my cheeks. “Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders… You’ve never failed me and you won’t stop now.”
Let me back up. In March, my husband and I decided that it was time to make a change, to leave all of what we’ve known for 17 years working with college students and begin a neighboring ministry. And it was scary. Very, very scary. When I went into ministry in the first place, I was 21 years old and single. It was a step of faith for sure, but there weren’t 4 little mouths to feed if people didn’t “get” the vision. No bills to pay. Just me and God. The stakes felt higher now.
On Good Friday (which I now refer to not-so-fondly as “Black Friday”), I awoke in the middle of the night with a paralyzing fear. Waves of condemnation came over me. “What are we doing?! We’ve left our job with nothing officially worked out; our kids are going to starve. What are we even good at? We should just leave ministry altogether- there’s no future for us.” This lasted into “Holy Saturday”- which I’ve also renamed “Inconsolable Saturday,” the day that harkens back to when grief and despair swept in with unrestraint, all hope was lost and the darkness had seemingly prevailed. It was a day of the grave and no one knew Sunday was coming. It was a literal picture of what I felt all weekend. I heard whispers in the dark that our future was in that tomb.
Though the intensity of Black Friday subsided, the stress of all the unknowns continued. I remember pulling my car out of the driveway and heading toward the airport for a Mom’s Conference for a few days during it all and feeling like a puddle (hard to explain how you could literally feel like a puddle) or like a pile of yarn all unspun. Despite tearful goodbyes from my kids and a sentimental hug from husband, this depleted puddle of a mom almost peeled my tires and could not get out fast enough. Lord, help.
On my flight, I listened to a sermon that primed the pump of my heart. In it, our pastor referenced Psalm 77:19: “Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen.” I thought about this passage the next day as we were given a free afternoon and I jetted to the pool. And not just any pool- the pool at Animal Kingdom Lodge, a place of God’s gracious provision in the past. We weren’t staying there, but we would all be eating dinner at Boma, their lavish African buffet restaurant.
I turned to Psalm 77 & 78 and read more of the psalmist’s words:
“Then I said, ‘I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.’ I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and mediate on your mighty deeds.”
And he goes on to recount these wonders. Despite the peoples’ unbelief, God was faithful.
“They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them… He divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap. In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a fiery light. He split rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep. He made streams come out of the rock and caused waters to flow down like rivers. Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert. They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God, saying, ‘Can God spread a table in the wilderness? He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed. Can he also give bread or provide meat for his people?‘” (vv 11, 13-20)
Here God is splitting rocks in the wilderness to give them water and yet “they did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power” (v 22). They were still afraid they’d starve.
“Yet he commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven, and he rained down on them manna to eat and gave them the grain of heaven. Man ate the bread of angels; he sent them food in abundance… He rained meat on them like dust, winged birds like sand of the seas; he let them fall in the midst of their camp, all around their dwellings. And they ate and were filled, for he gave them what they craved. But before they had satisfied their craving, while the food was still in their mouths, the anger of God rose against them, and he killed the strongest of them and laid low the young men of Israel. In spite of all this, they still sinned; despite his wonders, they did not believe” (vv 23-32).
The irony was painful. Here I was, sitting at the pool at Animal Kingdom Lodge about to head to an absurdly bountiful buffet and GORGE MYSELF with lamb stew and slow roasted pork ribs and South African curried lobster and smoked salmon and spice-crusted beef sirloin and curried soups and fresh fruit and papaya salad and plantain crips and Kenyan coffee tarts and bread pudding and….
And…. I’m worried I’m going to starve.
I had seen God’s faithful provision over the years, his mighty deeds and lavish commitment to me. I had seen him spread a table in the wilderness. And here I was, the food still in my mouth (insert picture of me with my fat pants on going back for thirds and fourths of coconut rice and zebra domes)… and I still didn’t believe. I was terrified the grace would run out and I’d have to fend for myself going forward.
So, I began to journal. I wrote out every instance of God’s faithfulness I could remember- big and small- since childhood. I confessed my doubts and fears and praised God for the times He had split open rocks for drink and rained down bread from heaven. I was amazed; God’s generosity and kindness and faithfulness had not only shown up in those few times that had easily come to mind over the years, but were like voices that had sung throughout my whole life. I asked Him to help me believe that He would take care of us moving forward. That He would confirm our calling and provide a way to do it.
Three months later, I can say that He has done both of those things.
Lord, atune my ears to hear the chorus of your faithfulness and believe your goodness, even when I hear whispers from the tomb. Though feet may fail and fear surrounds me,
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now.
This week, we started a new annual tradition in our neighborhood: The Good Neighbor Award. It was inspired by a desire to express our appreciation to someone who has served on our HOA board for the last several years, but is moving across town. It was only appropriate that before he heads out, we take the opportunity to honor his hard work.
Since I wasn’t able to find much out there in this realm, I created a template for anyone out there who would like to start this in their neighborhood.
Next year, I want to post to our Neighborhood Facebook Group with some advance notice (before the spring HOA mtg) and give people the opportunity to nominate others for the award and then vote. I think this takes away the feeling of “politics” that can be associated with something like this and hopefully puts it back in the hands of the neighborhood.
I’m also including what I read about the recipient of the award to cast a better picture of specifically how we thanked him. In addition, we gave him a gift card to Home Depot.
How have you honored those in your ‘hood who’ve served publicly and/or behind the scenes?
This post could also be titled: “Bringing the Real Woman to the Table: Christian Hospitality in the Age of Pinterest.”
Very simple. It’s an invitation for conversation and a widening of one’s skill sets in your safest space: your home. It’s creating a place for growth and conversation in the context for perhaps one of the most underestimated means of God’s grace… Hospitality. And it can look different based on your passions and on your audience… whether friends, neighbors, or currently for me- college women.
For me, it’s looked like a once a month on Friday’s, I invite some college girls from Cru (our ministry at Mizzou) to come to our home for 2 things: a lifeskill and some Biblical content. Sometimes it’s a big group, sometimes it’s small. But it’s always quite intimate and a good time.
Some topics for Life Skills include (insert your own!):
Some topics for Biblical Content:
When I first posted a picture on social media of our initial Table Talk (see above with the girls in our kitchen), my phone exploded from women across the country- and even abroad. It was mainly moms in ministry eager to do the same, but feeling like they didn’t know where to start. It seemed to be striking a nerve in many young women that wanted- maybe needed- specific direction… and maybe even permission to love people in this way.
The following is a result of many conversations compiled into the following 10 tips/principles for those who want to try their own version of Table Talk.
We all have a vision of what the phantom woman/wife/mom is. Whatever it is, it’s a myth and doesn’t exist.
In an age of Pinterest, the standards can feel so high- societal pressures to be a certain sort of crafty, have some Joanna Gaines swag on our walls or even just a clean house (is that even possible?!)… sometimes it’s all just too much. And because I don’t feel like I can be that Phantom host or any kind of expert on things (let’s be honest, I’m just surviving life at times), I just avoid. Because having people in my home will expose that I really don’t have it altogether after all.
2. Bring your best and worst; Bring the real you.
This means embracing your giftings & talents as well as your limitations. It means not dogging on yourself and talking excessively about what a hot mess you are (guilty!) but it also means letting it go when you didn’t have time to wipe down your counters thoroughly or get your bathroom as clean as you would like. It means that you don’t have to be all things to all people, but that you are freed up to be the REAL you. The good, bad & ugly and you’re inviting people into your world to see the highlights and the lowlights.
3. Put yourself out there. Any time we initiate with any group of people, it’s risky business. I always remind myself that God brings who He wants to each time, so if it’s a smaller group, great- even better sometimes! The results are up to God and will vary, but just keep doing it.
4. You don’t have to be an expert. The idea isn’t to come across like you’ve got it all together. Some of the lifeskills are areas that are new to me, like cake decorating and gardening. The idea is more to get their feet wet and learn something new in a fun way. Same with the Biblical content portion- they aren’t topics I’ve now mastered; they’re areas I’m growing in and providing a place for discussion along the way.
5. Be resourceful. Along the lines of embracing limitations, don’t feel like you have to cover every subject or lifeskill alone. Who are the people around you and what skills do they have to offer that you think you & others would benefit from? A couple months ago, I brought in a neighbor to facilitate/ teach on finances. She shared from her own experiences (both good & bad) with money, some Biblical principles and even pulled up her Mint app on our apple TV so the students could see how she actually budgeted. It was awesome!
6. Value the “ordinary things” as “important things.” I say this a lot, but it’s because it’s true. When we only make time and space to talk about what we consider spiritual things, we subconsciously communicate that maybe those other “real life” things just aren’t as important to God.
When women open up their most sacred space and offer help to other women in basic life skills- whether it be how to do laundry, avoid debt, or how to sew a button- we communicate that God cares about all areas of our life. That there is no sacred/ secular divide. That be it gardening or diapers or their future or current workplace or their ability to ask good questions or flirting or how to use a meat thermometer- that these are all important to God. That the little things really aren’t so little; they’re sacred and worthy of time and attention.
7. Get your guests involved. During your lifeskill portion of the time you’re together, I suggest giving your guests something to do. If you’re cooking, let them chop. If you’re gardening, let them plant or weed. People like to have something to do, especially if they are new to a group & don’t know the other guests well.
8. Focus on things that you’re interested in. What are your hobbies/ interests/ passions? And if you don’t know what they are, start exploring and bring in some other people who are interesting and that you’d be excited to learn from.
9. Keep it simple. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself that you overwhelm yourself. This might fit better under #5, but there have been times when I’ve asked for help with some of the snacks. Christmastime was so crazy and I knew that my capacity would be slim for a Christmas Tea themed Table Talk, so I reached out to some empty nester friends and (heaven forbid!) asked for help. One friend made a couple of beautiful cakes and the other made tons of cookies- it was GLORIOUS and so, so appreciated.
10. It doesn’t have to be perfect. As we’ve added more kids, it’s become harder and harder to un-smudge all my appliances and get all those tiny fingerprints off the windows and wipe down this or that. And you know, it’s a good thing because as a wise woman once said, I’ve had to truly “let it go.” And more than that, embrace that it’s the spirit of a home that people will remember and the sense that they were loved and welcomed, not how clean my countertops were.
May we reject the phantom host and may our tables create sacred space for us to embrace our strengths and limitations, so we can grow and develop and thrive.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD— and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. Isaiah 11: 1-3
What is the Jesse Tree?
“The Jesse Tree is a way of telling the story of God’s plan from the beginning of time to redeem His people by sending a Savior. It follows the lineage of Christ’s family and key people in the Old Testament that God uses to tell His story from Creation through Christ’s birth. It is a countdown daily to Christmas with the telling of a story, and an ornament that acts as a symbol and visual reminder of the story.” – Jacki Rucksdashel, The Jesse Tree Project.
An Ornament Exchange:
A little over a month ago, my friend Andrea (one of the women in our church small group) said she had a project for the 7 of us called: the Jesse Tree. It would involve each of us making several sets of ornaments and then doing an exchange. At the end of it all, we would come away with a beautiful set of ornaments and a Christmas advent tradition for our families for years to come.
I never could’ve predicted how special this would end up being. On so many levels.
I admit I was overwhelmed at first, but I was compelled by the vision, so we did it. Here’s a pic of the Joseph coats I made with my girls. Granted, they were mainly just playing with the clay, but they loved being involved.
We had 2 weeks to get our sets to Andrea and then we’d all meet up for a girls night for the exchange. Andrea organized them all for us in beautiful boxes and included a small photo album with the Scripture readings for each day and pictures of our families so we could pray for each other.
Haley’s Story: One family touched by the Jesse Tree
Right before we met up for the exchange, I was walking into church and saw my neighbor Haley, who I was pretty sure was not currently a church-goer. I was so excited to see her (and her husband), I messaged her right away. She explained that over the past month, God had been truly changing their lives. She also wanted to know if we were in a small group and if so, could they join. Um, yes.
My only sadness was that we had just finished all of our ornaments and were about to do our exchange. Little did I know, God had something special for Haley.
After posting a pic of our girls night where we did the exchange, I clicked on #jessetree to see what other people out there had done. That’s when I saw a Jesse Tree giveaway! How perfect would it be to give these to their family?! Fast forward, out of 553 entries, she picked me!!!!!!!
It’s hard to put into words how special it was to present these to Haley. We have developed a huge heart to show Christ’s love and light in our neighborhood and have been sowing those seeds for almost five years. To see a family come to Christ, have instant community and be given a set of (gorgeous) ornaments that explain the story of Jesus throughout the pages of Scripture… I am in awe. I thought God was late to the party. I questioned His timing in bringing Haley to our group. But through this whole process, God reminded me that He is far more kind than I am and He is able to demonstrate His goodness in ways that are far outside of my box.
The Most Kid-Friendly Advent Devotional:
After talking with Jacki Rucksdashel (founder of the Jesse Tree project) on the phone, she decided to include a devotional for our family as well. Let me tell you, it is AMAZING. She wrote this devotional because she had trouble finding super kid friendly devotionals. It reminds me a lot of the Jesus Story Book Bible and every story points to Jesus.
Here’s what each day includes (as stated on her website):
It is geared toward kids ages 3-8. Our kids are 6, 4, 3 and 1 and are LOVING it. We typically read the story out of her devotional and then stream the YouVersion Kids Bible app through our phones onto the TV and re-watch it.
How YOU Can Participate in the Jesse Tree:
Coming from someone who has the best of intentions but poor follow through, you will not regret the investment of time you put into this. It will get the Bible story deeper into you and your kids and also help you focus on the true hero of Christmas.
“How we view God determines how we parent our children.”
Seven years ago, I read Grace Based Parenting by Dr. Tim Kimmel. We were pregnant with our first child and it pretty much framed my whole context for parenting. It might sound dramatic, but really- not a day goes by that I don’t still think about these things. If you are looking for a super practical book on do’s & don’ts for disciplining your children, this is not your book. But if you are looking for a bigger parenting vision that will shape those everyday decisions, this is it.
The premise of the book is that God primarily parents us out of grace. Truth and discipline come in the context of His greater story of love toward His children.
He talks about 7 types of Parenting: Fear-Based, Evangelical Behavior-Modification, Image-Control, High Control, Herd-Mentality. Duct-Tape and Life-Support/ 911 Parenting. If you can’t relate to at least one of these, we probably can’t be friends because I’m several of these.
He also talks about a child’s three greatest needs: security (met through love), significance (met through purpose) and strength (met through hope) and 4 necessary freedoms for our children: The freedom to be different, vulnerable, candid and to make mistakes. This is SUCH GOOD STUFF!
If that doesn’t convince you, here are some of my favorite quotes:
“The real test of a parenting model is how well equipped the children are to move into adulthood as vital members of the human race. Notice I didn’t say ‘as vital members of the Christian community.’ We need to have kids that can be sent off to the most hostile universities, toil in the greediest work environments, and raise their families in the most hedonistic communities and yet not be the least bit intimidated by their surroundings. Furthermore, they need to be engaged in the lives of people in their culture, gracefully representing Christ’s love…”
“God left our families in communities to serve as porch lights, if you will, for the lost people around us.”
“How we view God determines how we parent our children.”
“Sometimes God deliberately puts things in our children’s lives that make them feel extremely fragile- and He doesn’t take them away.”
“Jesus makes people feel comfortable even when He catches them without their makeup. When circumstances scrub off the layers of their self-confidence, and their shortcomings wash away the foundation of their self-righteousness, Jesus isn’t appalled by the blemishes He finds underneath.”
Other topics for discussion:
I recommend getting the book & reading it with friends. We really benefitted from sitting with our peers who were in our similar stage of life and sharing openly about our struggles as well as our hopes and dreams for our children. I’m attaching my questions & I hope they’re helpful to you. Enjoy!
It’s been a quiet day on social media for a lot of my fellow evangelical, Christian friends. I’m hearing from tons of my friends who are liberal (or maybe lean that way) and from many of my minority friends. I hear despair and fear and grief and one person who said to another, “Just let me be sad.”
… But as for my friends who identify as Conservatives: overall silence. Perhaps some are silent Trump supporters. But there’s another type of conservative out there who is quietly scrolling through Facebook, whose heart is heavy and is grieving. Who is deeply disturbed and outright horrified over what they’ve seen with Donald Trump…. Me. And I can’t be the only one.
I’m quiet because I don’t want people drawing conclusions about me and my values from a post… though I know this is something I can neither control nor avoid. I still fear being misunderstood and misrepresented because the truth is I’m not liberal.
But today, I speak. Today, I am sympathetic to the posts of my liberal friends. Because today, I grieve.
Maybe you can relate. I have convictions to be a voice for the voiceless, the widowed and oppressed, to protect life and religious freedom. AND as a follower of Christ, I also reject racism, sexual lust and perversion, bigotry, bullying, abuse and sexism. I’m not saying that Trump supporters stand for those things- the ones I know don’t and I don’t like when people demonize people on either political party. But because of the specific comments made about minorities and many of the overtones that were associated with Trump’s campaign, maybe you can relate when you hear me say that my heart broke this morning I stood with my four young daughters, all 6 and under, all staring at the television.
Sure, there are some specific issues where I’m relieved to know my voice will be heard. But what about so many whose voices have not been heard today? Who are legitimately afraid?
For all of us who are grieving today, there is One who sees and hears our cries… He is good and has no evil in Him. He is trustworthy. And when we’re afraid or disappointed, mistreated, unheard and overall despaired, we can make our cries heard without fear of being judged or attacked or bullied.
He is the True Champion of women… and men, too. He’s the Champion of children and babies… and of the poor and marginalized. And of those with disabilities… that is to say, me.
I posted this picture exactly three years ago yesterday and thought it was appropriate. Whatever your beliefs about the Pope, I hope we can agree that this picture is a moving depiction of what Jesus Christ does for us. He never casts us out- far from it. Instead, He reaches out to each one of us- in all our self-loathing and all our self-loving- warts & all. He invites us to a permanent place at His table, as His own.
So, I come with my heavy heart to the great and true Champion, Jesus Christ. In Him I put my hope. Maybe you can relate.