This morning as we left the house for school, I was determined to make it in record time.  Due to the recent flooding in our area, our morning commute had increased dramatically.  I’ve had the Waze app on my phone for some time now, but have only been using it for trips into downtown Houston, (because attempting to drive into that without help is downright scary).

When I typed in the address of the school, Waze reassured me it could lead us there in 35 minutes.  (The day before, it took us an hour and a half).  The kids and I laughed.

“Do you think it will work, Mom?”

“If this works, it will be a miracle from Jesus.”, I said.

So off we went.

If you’ve ever used Waze, you soon learn that it requires an incredible amount of trust.  It will send you in the opposite direction, down dark alley ways, through someone’s backyard, and then ask you at the drop of a hat to turn around and retrace your tracks.  But any user of the app will tell you, “you’ve got to just trust the wisdom of Waze”.

See, the app keeps track of traffic, accidents, inoperable lights…all of it.  Plus, it knows how fast you and other Waze users are moving.  So, in an instant, it knows when changes occur.  Immediately, it calculates when changing your route all together is time-efficient. And sometimes, it sends you in the opposite direction to have you arrive at your final destination faster.

This morning, Waze led us through small winding streets, on the Hwy headed south (when ultimately we wanted to go north), and zig-zagging neighborhoods I didn’t even know existed.

As we turned off one little street onto the next, we suddenly saw it: yard after yard filled with rolled up carpet, dismantled wood flooring, piles of sheetrock, and couches stacked upon one another.  Kids were waiting in their front yards for the school bus next to piles of destroyed belongings.

It took us by surprise.

The car fell silent.

All the air was sucked into our lungs by our gasps.

Eventually, someone broke the quiet.

“I wish we could do something.”

Suddenly, our commuting challenges of the past few days didn’t matter.  The unacknowledged rains of last night (the ones we slept through), now seemed cruel and  senseless.

“Kids, if it hadn’t been for Waze, I wouldn’t have even known this was back here.”

“Maybe Jesus is in Waze, Mom.”

Maybe.  I don’t think He is literally living in the phone app.  However, I think Jesus absolutely used Waze this morning to guide us down a path of humility, compassion, and gratitude…the ways of Jesus.

As we continued to follow the directions offered by my phone, we saw house after house, family after family in need.  We discussed plans to come back after school, maybe toting pizzas, or cleaning supplies, or just prayers and consolation.  The kids were no longer arguing about who ate the last breakfast bar or debating whose fault it was that we left 10 minutes late that morning.  Our hearts had been shifted.  Our perspective had been flipped.  My words came back to me: “If this works, it will be a miracle from Jesus.”

Jesus, in all His ways, miraculously turns our selfish hearts outwards towards others.Tweet: Jesus, in all His ways, miraculously turns our selfish hearts outwards towards others. #WAZEofJesus  The Holy Spirit guides us down paths previously unseen.Tweet: The Holy Spirit guides us down paths previously unseen. #WAZEofJesus

But if we don’t trust Him, in all His seemingly awkward and backwards-pointing directions, we just might miss the opportunity for a dramatic change of heart.  We might miss the hurting and the broken.  We might miss a whole world of opportunity to serve as the Church.

When we don’t trust His promptings, we find ourselves taking our route back into our own tight-gripped hands, only to be frustratingly locked in a spiritual stand still.Tweet: We find ourselves taking our route into our own tight-gripped hands,only to be frustratingly locked in spiritual stand still #theWAZEofJesus

Think of Noah.  Think of Jonah.  Think of Lot.  Think of Jesus!  “Go towards the cross…”, even when Jesus asked the Father for a different way.

Lately, I’ve been feeling the prompting of the Holy Spirit to act in specific ways–to head in a specific direction.  But I’ve been putting action off, straight-up ignoring His voice, and allowing myself to be distracted by the selfish conveniences of life.  Today’s little adventure to school not only filled our car with compassion, launching us into a plan for service, but it also helped fix my eyes on Jesus…His voice, His direction, and His ways.

(And we got to school in 35 minutes.)

“Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths” (Psalm 25:4).Tweet:

 

hiatus: a pause or a gap in a sequence, series, or process.

As this new year begins, I’m going on hiatus.

It’s not unusual during this time of year, to pause and reflect on the goals and resolutions we’ve set before us.  Many of us have made a routine of reestablishing priorities and healthy habits.  We’ve set aside time to make lists and action plans.

This break, however, takes pausing to a whole new level.  A hiatus takes a full leave of absence.  One disappears from the face of the planet while on hiatus, and the intention to plan forward to future goals isn’t necessarily reason for the departure.  In fact, by definition, a hiatus takes pause in the midst of something happening…It potentially stops something: a plan or a process.  Rather than planning for something, I’m taking a hiatus to pause something.

Social media gurus and bloggers would tell me that now is the worst time ever to hit the pause button on blogging.  I’ve received good traffic due to an article recently published in the winter issue of a magazine.  Recent speaking engagements and worship leading have brought interested ears to read and hear more.  Retreats are on the calendar and they will likely generate more online followers.  I’m waiting and hoping that a publishing company, one which has been passing my book around the office, will come to this site, be interested, and ultimately decide to pick me up as an author.

While on hiatus, visitors to the blog will see nothing new.  They will potentially stop following.  They will eventually forget about the blog’s existence.  Their interest will not be sustained.  (This plan is opposed to every Michael Hyatt article ever written.)

Now is a horrible time to take a hiatus.

Well…it’s horrible only if media traffic, publicity, and strategic online plans control my fate.

I have fallen victim to the lies that elevate these methods and strategies above God’s sovereignty.  In and of themselves, these aren’t bad things.  God has and will continue to use them for His purposes.  But, when all hope is set in them, it’s time to take control out of human hands, and back into the Father’s.  He has told me to let go, yet my fists clench a little tighter.  My trust in His provision and plan for me has been rocky at best, so this is not an easy leave.

Therefore, I am forcing a self-imposed hiatus.  If God has plans for me, He will have to work…not my computer screen, the words on the tips of my fingers, or masterful networking.  Quippy analogies and post series’ schedules won’t be able to contribute to His purpose.

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”

Proverbs 19:21

I will take myself out, so that He can be credited with anything and everything that happens, whether following my desires or not.

Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”  I need to pause, create a gap, so that He can establish my next steps.  See, I have been busy creating my own dance moves…and apparently, they are only spinning me in circles.

He is greater.  Greater than the number of followers, retweets, or shares.  This is a terrifying act of trust.

In the time spent away from the blog, I will be praying, meditating on His word, and loving my family and home.  I will focus on all that has already been given to me–all the ways that He has already been faithful.  I will spend time praying for friends and family.  I will put dreams and goals for 2016 into Jesus’ hands, freeing mine up for service.  And all of this will remind me that God’s main concern is not my success or how He will use me…but rather His chief resolution is for my heart.  He wants my affection above all else.

And when I hear Him say, “return”,  I will.

I appreciate the encouragement and kind words many of you have shared regarding my writing and music.  I look forward to returning with a renewed heart and mind, excited to magnify the Lord with you.

 “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!” 

Psalm 34:3

Ahhh…I’ve got the first day back to school under my belt.  (Technically, half a day, but I’m counting every minute of it.)  And lucky me, my husband was out of town for all the craziness.  Lucky YOU…because as I finally sit down after yesterday’s long and monumental hours, I’ve no adult with whom to process except those of you on the other side of my computer screen.

After the kids were dropped off with all their school supplies (and I ran the trips back to the car for miscellaneous things left behind), I had quite a productive morning.  I cleaned up the house a bit and then set to work putting crock-pot meals together.

The beginning of the school year makes me leap into hibernation mode–not necessarily that I desire to sleep all the time, though those days do come every once in awhile.  It’s more that when school starts, I act like I will be trapped in a cave for the next 9 months of the year.  I prepare and gather as if winter were about to hit hard and cover the streets with snow until spring.  (I remind you, I live in Houston, TX.)

After yesterday morning, my freezer looks as if it’s been stocked my an Alaskan Bushman.  I’ve got fillets of salmon, beef stew, marinated chicken, pounds of pork tenderloin, roasts, even sausage, all Ziplock-bagged and Sharpie labeled.  If only I could get into pickling and making my own jam, we’d be completely set.  The snow ain’t comin’… but the blizzard of life is fixin’ to hit. (Again, I’m Texan.)

Two years ago, we took our kids out of the school system and embarked on our year of “Family Rehab”.  We had been caught in a snowstorm of flurried chaos and busyness, giving the best of our days to others and losing sight of our children’s hearts in the black-out condition of our calendars.  We were tired.  Burned out.  Undone.  Rehab was a necessary and defining decision for our family.  It didn’t go quite as we had planned, but that’s usually how God works.  We had no idea what would ultimately bring about our healing.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:9-11).

Now here we are two years later, figuratively gathering wood and counting our jars of pickled herring.  I find myself asking, “Has anything changed?”  “Did we rehabilitate?”  “Have we relapsed?”

When we started Family Rehab, we intended to pull away, hunker down, get healthy, and push the reset button.  We built our cabin and boarded up the doors for a bit.  We lit some candles, grabbed some blankets, held each other tight, and tried to hear the faintest sound of falling snow outside the frosted windows as we shivered inside.  We desperately trained our ears to hear the Spirit.  We twitched from our selfishness-withdrawl.  We hadn’t been discipled in how to properly cope with the American rat-race–relying on His truths and directed thankfulness.   We were not prepared either for the craziness that is marriage, family, ministry, etc. and we needed to learn the art of being still, listening to His voice.  During that year, we didn’t stumble across a trendy new way of organizing school papers, or spend time researching the best meal plans for busy families.

The healing for our addiction was found in storing up truth, then resting in the still, whispered, and very powerful presence of God.

As I mentally review, I think I can safely determine that we are, and have been, transitioning out of recovery into long-term sobriety.  We’ve learned the necessity of gathering spiritual fuel and provisions.  We’ve walked with mentors and guides who have taught us valuable lessons for the harsh environment we all live in.  We are still in our “Life After Rehab” season, putting His truths to the test and practicing the slowness of mind and spirit needed to daily and deeply commune with Him.  This beginning of the school year marks our 1-yr chip of sobriety, so to speak.  It hasn’t been a prefect year, by any means, but we continue to learn in fuller ways what it means to sit still in the presence of the Lord.  And honestly, He’s done way more in the past year than we ever did in all our years before Rehab.

“You can do more in my waiting, than in my doing I could do.”

– To Those Who Wait by Bethany Dillion

This year, with snow showers in the distance and busy thunder rolling, I find myself eager to sit still in the presence of God, snuggling under protective blankets of His Word, my stocked and loaded freezer sitting in anticipation.

So, here’s to slow-cooked cream of mushroom and chicken!  “Cheers!”, to a warm cup of cocoa in the middle of the blizzard, listening to the sound of wind’s howl.  “Woo-hoo!”,  to walking with children down a snowy path until their eyelashes droop with icy dust.  “Amen!”, to heavy quilts of His truth!  And a prayer to remaining sober-minded, full of gratitude, brimming with joy for all that He has done, in the midst of impending winter.

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).

I’ve been struggling with what to write lately.  My time has been taken by back-to-school shopping and the mad rush to complete those procrastinated summer projects.  We also took some vacation time recently and I actually let my brain truly relax.  Which was great!  But ever since we’ve returned home, it’s been like restarting an old chain saw…it’s taking some time to get the ol’ ticker revved up again.

This morning, I opened my Bible to Psalm 106.  It is a plea for the people of God to give thanks.  It recounts the history of the Israelites’ lack of thanks, rebellion, and captivity.  One deed leading to the next.  First they forgot all that God had done for them, rescuing them from the land of Egypt, only to whine and complain in the desert.  Their lack of gratitude caused them to rebel and seek the comfort and thrills of other gods.  “They provoked the Lord to anger with their deeds”, and “the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people” (verse 29 and 40).  God left them to their ways, which not only enslaved their hearts to sin, but handed them over to their enemies.  They came full circle, once again captives.

Thankfully, the Psalm continues: “Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry.  For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.  He caused them to be pitied by all those who held them captive” (44-46).

Apparently, it was good news to the people to be pitied.  I don’t know about you, but I hate  it when people feel sorry for me.  Why is that?

I think its because in my own self-idolatry, I expect myself to be better, stronger, and more resilient.  To be pitied means it’s obvious to others that I’m doing a horrible job of managing life’s circumstances.  And very simply, I don’t like looking less-than, weak, and short-winded.  The Israelites must have found pity to be a refreshing balm in the midst of their captivity.  In the midst of my idolatry, pity only pours salt on the wounds of my ineptness.  Perhaps God has to get us to the depths of enslavement in order for us to find the pity of others a source of release and to free us from our self-worship.

I look at this cycle of behavior: thanklessness, idolatry, captivity, and pity and see why the Psalmist ends with a plea to God for his people.

“Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.  Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting!  And let all the people say, “Amen!” Praise the Lord!” (47-48 emphasis added).

It’s an appeal for a return to gratitude!  The trouble experienced by the people of God stems from a lack of thanksgiving.

Over our vacation, I reread 1,000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  Honestly, I skimmed…reminded myself about thankfulness, but didn’t let the foundational importance of gratitude sink in.

Later, I was reclining on an outdoor lawn chair stargazing with my husband after the kids went to bed.  The sky was full dusted with flickering flashes of light against vast cobalt.  As we placed bets on the identity and location of Saturn and Mars, Scorpius and Ursa Minor, only my husband saw multiple shooting stars.  Multiple.  This had been a theme during our week: Paul getting a glimpse of stars in motion, Angie always looking in the opposite direction.  The score for number of falling stars caught by Paul: 6 (or something crazy like that)…

Angie: NONE

I was starting to take it personally.  I was drawing massive conclusions and analogies about my life, nothing more than complex intellectual whining.  After he spotted yet another, I said something ridiculous like, “You’ve got to be kidding me!  See, that’s just like my life, everyone else gets all the good stuff and it’s just never my turn.

And just then, across horizontal arachnid in a shimmering arc over the ringed planet a meteor shot hot.  Through the blazing red supergiant Antares it flashed wild.  I screamed a half-laugh.

Then, my wonderful and brutally honest husband said, “It’s like God just told you to shut up.”

I provoked the God of the universe to say, “Shut up”.

And the cycle continues.  Yes, I forced His hand and He told me to shut up with my whining self-loathing idolatrous talk and told me to praise His holy name.  I, like the Israelites, had forgotten to consider His wondrous works.  I wasn’t remembering the abundance of His steadfast love.  I was looking in the opposite direction of the Father.  How soon I forgot His goodness and birthed a wanton craving in the wilderness.

I forgot gratitude.

Now it sinks in, large rock full of weight and mass, plummeting through gaseous layers of soul atmosphere.  It burns blue white as it invades the contours of my heart.  Illuminating the dark places, igniting flame against the bitterness and discontent.  Gratitude reaches the pit of my stomach in a heavy heap.  My body stops dead in the stream of self-loathing consciousness, bowed over at the waist from the knot of indebtedness in my bowels.  And as I had forced His hand, He replies by forcing my head in reverence to His holiness and I exhale a single praise while seated in that plastic chair…”wow…”.

I plead for all of us, as the Psalmist does.  May our hearts return to gratitude–to thankfulness.  Lest we seek satisfaction somewhere else.  Lest we rebel against the steadfast love of God.  Lest we provoke God Almighty.  Lest we return to a land of slavery, only to be pitied by those who hold us captive.  May we daily, in every moment, slow to the pace of thanks.  Let all the people say, “Amen.”  Praise the Lord!

Life is hard. Marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Work is hard.  I’m not the first blogger to write this.  I’m actually one of many, many “mommy bloggers” to add her own twist on the hardships of daily living.

I’d like to say that I’ve got a unique perspective, but honestly, I am still trying to figure out what the heck to do with the days, hours, minutes, and seconds I’ve been dealt.  Aren’t we all?  In my searching, there is one place I seem to always land, one little treasure I always find at the end of my daily hunts.

And here it is:

Beauty…good…purpose (whatever you want to call it) usually is unearthed with some digging.  When life gives you lemons, you don’t just get lemonade.  There is an important squeezing process necessary to get to that final glass of goodness.  A caterpillar doesn’t just become a butterfly, it goes through months of isolation and slow transformation.  A tulip doesn’t just appear from the ground, its bulb requires a 2-inch depth hole to be dug.

I am not saying that beauty is only obtained by work, or that good is created by our own efforts.  Nor can you expect good things to just sprout from an untilled ground.  Within the lemon exists the tartness, the acidity, the edge of sweet to produce quality lemonade.  The caterpillar contains all the necessary DNA, food storage, and stamina to make the journey from chrysalis to transformation.  The gardener is provided earth, sun, and seasons by which the tulip blooms from the ground.  God provides all and does all when it comes to good in this world.  Psalm 16:2 says, “I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.'”  But what makes one glass of lemonade stand out from the rest?  One species of butterfly outlast its competitors?  One garden flourish, while it’s neighbor bears sparse buds?  How do we thrive, not merely survive?

Here are two ingredients when it comes to finding beauty and goodness in the mundane.  I know them in theory, but in them I don’t have a whole lot of experience.

Practice and Joy.

What makes one life seem full of sweetness and beauty?  What makes one marriage seem to outlast even the hardest seasons?  What makes a family flourish and bear enviable fruit?

Practice and Joy.

Happily thriving in life is not acquired by simply hard work.  At face value, it may appear that commitment and determination are the key.  However, one can strive, labor, and (in principal) take all the right action at all the right times and still not experience beauty or see God’s goodness in the hard things of life.  It has to be practiced.  It has to be done in joy.

My 5-year-old son likes to practice things that for most would be begrudging work.  He likes to get a shovel and perfect digging a hole.  He likes to practice manual labor by rearranging landscaping stones.  About a month ago, he even practiced squeezing lemons.  He went through about 5 of them. Using a handheld metal lemon squeezer, he extracted every last drop of juice from the small fruits until the muscles of his hands and forearms were sore.  As he practices, he enjoys it.  His fatigue only made him feel strong.  Had I asked him to dig a trench, remove large rocks, or squeeze half a dozen lemons for me, as an act of obedience, he would have thrown a strike for unfair labor requirements.  But, with a heart of discovery, a desire to grow, and a spirit of joy, these tasks became beautiful experiences.

When’s the last time you played in the dirt?  When’s the last time you did hard manual labor, just for fun?  When’s the last time you happily reviewed 3rd grade multiplication tables or allowed yourself to excitedly play an extra 5 minutes with your little one before bed?  When’s the last time you looked at the full kitchen sink and were excited to play with the bubbles?  When’s the last time you entered a difficult conversation with your spouse or co-worker with a spirit of joy, a desire to grow, and a heart of discovery?

Life is hard. Marriage is hard. Parenthood is hard. Work is hard.  It is hard to find reasons to be thankful or to have joy.  Sleuthing for beauty in difficult terrain is complicated and can be ominous.  But it takes practice and joy.  The best lemonade is usually mixed by the hands that have squeezed the lemons time and time again, out of excitement to uncover the perfected secret ratio of sugar to juice.  The hardiest butterfly species has successfully adapted over a long period of time for the chance to fly free from its captive cocoon.  The fullest garden has most likely been planted and tended by the oldest and wisest gardener who has years of experience with a hoe and pruning sheers, who enjoys the outdoors and studying weather patterns.

Practice only becomes another task, another chore, another hole to dig, if it were not for joy.  In our task-driven society, even the art of conversation, the peacefulness of a nap, and the sweetness of story-time is lost in the ticking of the clock.  Children grow up only blooming partial and undeveloped emotional fruits.  Marriages lack luster and vibrancy.  The daily dance of life is experienced as merely the daily grind.

I hunt for beauty everyday…because I have realized that I can’t survive without it.  While I am currently confident of it’s existence, I am still learning to allow joy to be a part of the pursuit.  I’m not good at this.  I take life and all its bits way too seriously.  I am beginning to understand that it’s taking me years of practice just to smile while on the hunt.  Uncovering God’s goodness amidst the brokenness of this world is only half of the experience.  The trekking of sandy shore with shovel in hand and metal detector in the other is the fun I’ve been missing!  I will risk miserably failing at times to have the chance of uncovering such priceless treasure.  Finding beauty from the ashes, the living among the dead, the lemonade in the lemons…there is joy to be had in the searching.  It’s hard, sweaty work–no doubt.  But, I don’t ever want the application of Romans 8:28 (“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”) to continue to be something I have to do.  It is a privileged opportunity to walk alongside God seeing life through the eyes of the One who crafted each and every treasure.  I get to squeeze the lemons…all of them…with joy.

Oh, to be this:

“Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
‘Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.’
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gate”

Proverbs 31:25-31