Thursday, May 25, 2017

the discipline of missing out

In my youth, and particularly as a teenager, I worked overtime at one job more than any other.  

No, it wasn't the one in the shoe department at Belk 
or the one as a day camp counselor over the summer 
or the countless babysitting gigs.  

The job I put the most blood, sweat, and tears into was the job of not. missing. out. on. anything.  

As an extrovert with closet insecurities, I felt a burning need to always be ‘in the know’ - to maintain my acceptance by peers, increase my influence over others,  and preserve my privilege of inclusion.  Sometimes it truly felt like a full-time job {and we didn’t even have cell phones or texting back then!}.  I spent a lot of time on my Victorian style phone with creamy coil connecting the vintage-looking receiver to its gold plastic base.  I wanted to be a part of
all the conversations and
all the parties and
all the sleepovers and
all the road trips
and I feared missing anything because maybe I wouldn’t know about the next thing 
or the next thing 
and eventually I wouldn’t just be missing out, I would BE out.  
On my own.  No longer a part of the ‘in’ crowd. 

This morning as I sat alone fully embracing the fact that there were many things I was voluntarily missing out on in order to reap the benefits of solitude, I got a text from one of my college girls.  Anna is working at a camp in Texas over the summer and she has been struggling with spending a month in a new place away from everyone she knows.  She has a heart for God so she knows there is a bigger picture.  I think she was just wishing she could see it.  She wrote to tell me she had been so encouraged by something from one of my books she just read.  I went back to read the section she referred to and I had a lightbulb moment.

The piece Anna was referencing was about Moses and how even {or especially} the unglamorous seasons of his life when he found himself alone, an outsider, far from ‘in the know’, were preparing him for something greater.  I realized there may be some advantage to the discipline of missing out.  

It is solitude on steroids.  

It is voluntarily choosing to remove yourself from the people who know and accept you to do something else, on your own.  When I was in college that prospect might have terrified me.  Anna is much more spiritually mature than I was at her age. 

I can’t be sure, but I’m wondering if there is a slight fear of missing out in her heart.  I’m wondering if she feels lonely and her mind wanders to others who are off on fun vacations with their friends or back home relaxing with their families.  Those thoughts could create a longing, a desire to escape, for anyone.  There is an allure to the easier, bustling, more familiar path all your friends are taking and an aversion to the unknown, quiet one you take alone with fallen tree limbs to step over and hidden rocks that could cause you to trip and face plant.  

When we remove ourselves from what is familiar and comfortable there can be a painful transition period, but on the other side is something worth all the heartache.  On the other side is a clarity of vision for who we are and who God is.  That could never be obtained when so much of our energy and attention is taken up by not missing out.  When we are constantly in the presence of friends and family we begin to adopt an identity defined by them and we lose the essence of our identity defined by God.

All our efforts to not miss out on what is happening in the temporary world around us actually cause us to miss out on what God wants to do with the eternal world within us.  So I’m praying Anna through the transition, knowing God’s reward for her is on the other side - the IN-side {not the IN crowd} will be rich.  I’m proud of her for being brave enough to go to a place where she is unknown by others so that she might be more fully known in the presence of her Creator.

From where I sit I can see the vegetable garden in my back yard.  Just yesterday hard and heavy rains pelted those tender runner beans that had just begun to stretch towards the sky.  It’s not easy to stand there on your own and endure that kind of discomfort, but today they stand taller and their purple blossoms have been revealed.  God knew standing alone in the hard and heavy rains were exactly what they needed in this season of their growth.  Very soon they will produce the harvest they were created to produce - and so will we.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

a spacious place

I always loved the idea of meditation.  I was just too busy to actually try it.

How ridiculous.  It was in my busiest moments that I needed the slow, still awareness most.

I have finally matured enough to realize the world will not stop spinning if I do.
I have finally released pride and control enough to regularly step away from my doing and into my being.

I wish someone had told me years ago about the big, wide world waiting there.  If you think you are 'missing out' by carving time out of your day to sit and breathe and listen, let me kindly correct you.  There is nothing more important than going underground - under skin and bone and years worth of masks - to find the tender, fragile soul crafted in a divine image.  It will take your breath away...and then give it right back - deeper and fuller.

Every day I press through the arguments and excuses in my head and get to the deep place, because every day the enemy is waiting to steal my awareness of the sacred.  He brushes past disguised as common sense, practicality, deductive reasoning - slipping notes into my pockets.  Not love notes. Fear notes.

Second guessing
Prideful problem-solving

But I've learned his ways.  The awareness has taught me well.  I recognize the handwriting.  He may set my heart racing and my mind reeling temporarily but I know to run - hard and fast - back to the quiet space where I can hear the Truth Teller.

Lay it all down.  See it in his light.
Lay myself down.  Feel the light.  The lightness.  The freedom.

I push away what should have been or could have been and look only at what IS.  Right here, right now.

Prayer must lead us beyond mind, words, and ideas 
to a more spacious place where God has a chance to get in.

How many times have I let my mind, words, and ideas crowd the space inside of me?  No room for truth.  No room for love and grace and the perfect peace found in releasing the full knowing to Him.

Don't run from the spacious place, friends.  Release your grip, lay your open palms on your lap, close your eyes, breath deep, deeper, deeper still until you find yourself there...home.  Really.  Go do that.  Everything else can wait.

For more encouragement in the practice of spiritual disciplines 
you can find Elizabeth's new book - begin. HERE.

Monday, April 17, 2017

if you failed at lent this year

It's the week after Easter.

Can I just be completely honest for a moment?  

If you could fail at Lent, I did.  I didn't sacrifice chocolate or coffee.  I didn't commit to a Lenten reading plan.  I actually missed church three of the six weeks {that's 50% for those who are slow at math like me}.  I didn't even mention the word 'lent' to my children one single time.  See.  I told you.  If there were a Lent grading system I would get an 'F'.

Good news.  There is no Lent grading system.  Whew!  

But there was a moment last week, as I scrolled through social media perusing everyone's displays of Lent-like behavior, that I considered I should do something.  I should squeeze in a last minute fast or stay up late and plan a 5 day intensive Lent activity schedule for my family.  The thought was fleeting and I quickly grading system.

Sometimes I am so quick to forget this crucial aspect of Easter.  Jesus died for us while we were still sinners...before we completed an impressive fast or demonstrated our commitment to consistently read scripture.  It doesn't mean those things are not important.  {FYI I just published an entire book about spiritual disciplines}  It just means, if you didn't do those things - release the guilt.  If you did do those things - release the pride.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way I wanted to share some words I wrote in my journal a couple of years ago.  At that time I found myself in need of a social media fast.  I want you to know I'm back in this place again.  Maybe you are too.

For days, and sometimes weeks, at a time I do some variation of what I outline below.  Once I'm feeling like my phone knows it's place, I let it out on a short leash.  If it's still pushing me around I keep it in its box of tight parameters for a while longer.

Just because Lent is over doesn't mean we can't still engage some of the spiritual disciplines that are often reserved for that particular time of year.  I'm getting the nudge for now.  If you are too, let's be Lent losers together and see what we can gain on the other side.


The horses are galloping outside.

I hear their heavy hooves landing soft on the pasture outside the window.  I can't see them, only the single broken line of light laid across the pond.  A little farther I can make out the black silhouettes of trees barely visible.  The sky teases with a rich shade of midnight blue that is several hours too late.  Every day the world moves from blackness to deep color in those early hours.  The blanket of dawn is cozy and full of promise.  My life is too and I feel undeserving of such an offering.  

I've been inspired in countless ways lately to
write beautifully,
act beautifully,
live beautifully,
in response to the beauty I find everywhere.

Sometimes I want nothing else.  Other times I get stuck in ugly.
My ugly words,
ugly intentions,
ugly thoughts
stick to me like mud and I need a good showering off.

I know to capture a beautiful life there is no time to waste on ugly.  And I know the greatest source of ugly for me disguises itself well.
Gorgeously decorated kitchens,
perfectly prepared meals,
smiling, happy children,
gleaming homes...

What seems like a delightful diversion is really a giant roadblock in the middle of my journey towards true beauty.  If I want to live in beauty instead of just visiting it on occasion, the Pandora's box I hold can't have a hold any longer.

With the horses drawing closer outside the window, I draw a hard line for myself because the soft one in the sand had been too easy to cross, to cover up.

My phone can't have free reign anymore.
Something so small offering me a world so big.
Something so familiar carrying me farther away from myself.
Something so full of possibility standing impenetrable between me and where I really want to go.

So here's my hard line.  I will put my phone in its place.  And here's what I have to say about that.
I am the boss of the screen.  The screen is not the boss of me.
It can't tell me how to feel or what to think.
It can't plant seeds of jealousy or harvest weeds of regret.
It can't offer up an impossible standard for which I reach.
It can't steal real life moments with my family and friends in exchange for artificial ones.

A fast from social media is needed and this is what it looks like.
I may post my own stuff, but I will not peek at others.
I will share only what I consider life-giving on Facebook and Instagram.
I will exercise self-control by not scrolling or searching for anything on a screen.
Email will stay contained in its designated time slots instead of creeping into every corner of my day.

How much more would sprout up inside of me if I got outside of there.  Sometimes we need to be reminded that we have something to offer to the world and it's being stifled by all the time we spend looking obsessively for what others are offering.  I love the potential of social media.  But I also know the dangers.  Some weeks our souls need some breathing room that can only be found in a complete turning away.

I look up from the paper to see that the sun has officially brought the day.  Out beyond the green buds of the mulberry tree there are countless things to see and do.  I bet wherever you are today there is a window framing possibility for you too.  If something is keeping you from throwing open the door and running out wild and free, maybe it's time to put your something in its place too.

Here are some prompts to get you moving in that direction:
How is your current relationship with social media?  Is it life-giving or life-draining?  Is it inspiring your best or conspiring for your worst?  
What might you be missing out on in the real world in exchange for an artificial one?  
If any of this resonates with you, maybe consider fasting from social media.  The duration and parameters are between you and God but make sure you write them out and stick to them.  You’re the boss of the screen, not the other way around.

Happy Week-After-Easter y'all!  xoxo

Thursday, March 30, 2017

stop trying to do it all

I don't know how you do it all!

My friend meant it as a compliment.  We were quickly passing off kids to each other, shuttling them in different directions, so I simply smiled and waved and then laughed to myself as she backed down my driveway.

I didn't have time to tell her how high the dishes were piled in my sink,
or that I went out in public in my bedroom shoes and obnoxious blue socks last week and didn't notice it until I was standing in line at Chick-fil-a,
or that - not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES - over the past month I got out of the shower and realized as I was blow drying my {very greasy} hair that I had forgotten to actually wash it,
or that I wasn't sure if my kids had brushed their teeth a single time in recent days.

Over the past couple of months my everyday friends have had a front row seat to the launch of my new book and the birth of my new publishing company.  I love being able to share these things with them on park benches and in driveways as I do everyday life stuff alongside kingdom work stuff.  Both are of equal importance.  

Yes, life has been full and busy, but even those closest to me don't completely understand how this whole thing has gone down.  

Writing a book is no joke.  Starting a business is not for the faint of heart.  Doing both at the same time may border on crazy, but it was my thing to do and my time to do it.  

But I don't do it all.
Not even close.
You shouldn't either.

I didn't force any of this, I was led here.
I didn't just add more things to an already full plate, I had to completely clear it first.
I didn't try to keep on pleasing every person around me, I opted for the approval of God over the approval of man {ugh...that's a hard one!}.

These decisions do not allow us to get everything done, but, instead, to get some things done well.  In my opinion, that is the better thing.

In the final stages of book editing your brain turns to mush.  The words on the page begin to blur and you're not sure where to put the commas or if you even spelled 'were' correctly.  Something about it just doesn't look right.  You may or may not eat peanut M&M's for breakfast because it is the closest thing to the computer and you can't break yourself away long enough to check the fridge or pantry for a healthier option.  

It's honestly a miracle the whole thing turns out as well as it does.  

In those days you have to hunker down and just finish {not the easiest thing to do, particularly when you are writing a book about beginning!}.  There will always be something more to say but I've learned the very important lesson that 
a book is your chance to say something, not everything.

Likewise, your life is your chance to do something, not everything.

You may not be an author but we all have words to offer.  You don't have to say everything,
thoughtfully say something.

You may not be an artist, but we all have beauty to share.  You don't have to share everything,
creatively share something.

You may not be a student, but we all have something to learn.  You don't have to learn everything,
commit to a deeper understanding of something.

Every time I step into something great I have to step away from something good.  
I have learned that if I begin with God, prioritize family, and then offer my best to the flock I have been entrusted to tend, great things happen.  Not everyone approves.  Some are disappointed.  Others just think I've lost my mind.  But, more and more, I'm getting okay with that.

The voice of Nehemiah comes back to me again and again - 

Nehemiah's great work was rebuilding the walls of the city of Jerusalem - the holy city, a place for God's people to live together.  God had given Nehemiah a passion and purpose which led to his project - his important work.  Nehemiah had a singular focus.  He was going to complete that wall whatever it took.  Over and over again we see others approach Nehemiah with needs apart from the wall work.  He would not come down.  He would not be distracted.  He would not be so prideful as to think he could do everything, so he stayed laser focused on his something.

As a wife and homeschooling mama, there are very few responsibilities I can maintain apart from my home life.  I must choose wisely.  I can not abandon the most important work to see to all the other dozens of needs surrounding me.  There will always be an endless list of problems to solve and people to fix in the world around us.  In my pride {disguised as compassion} I once tried to meet all the needs, all the time.  I could never keep up.  I was always letting someone down - mainly myself.  God has taught me a better way.  Here's the secret.  Are you ready?

Begin with him.

Don't just lay down your life - lay it out.  Spread every bit of it on the ground at his feet.  In humility, lift your gaze up and wait for him to show you what to do with it.  Which committees should you resign from?  Which clubs should you quit?  Which responsibilities should you delegate to someone else?  And then, when you've cleared out all the unnecessary pieces, you can look at what remains and ask - what would you have me do with this, Lord?  
My role as a wife.  
My responsibilities as a mother.  
My passions and purpose you have been stirring inside of me for years.
What would you have me do with them?

Once we know, we get to work.  And we do not come down until the work is done.

The world loves to send us this false feel-good message that we can 
Do everything! 
Be everything! 
And doing and being everything IS everything!
But, friends, that is a dead end street.  It leads to nothing.
If you've found yourself in that place, don't worry.  God is in the business of making something out of nothing.  He's been doing it since the beginning of time.

So what do you say?  
If you're tired of trying to do everything, or
you've found yourself in a big heaping pile of nothing,
maybe we can all take a step in a new direction and get to work on our something.

Monday, March 20, 2017

what kind of boat are you?

When I was in high school I once used all of my hard-earned babysitting money to buy an entire volume of books that took you through the Bible - Genesis to Revelation.  I was a dorky responsible kid and believed I had some major responsibilities when it came to my faith in God. 

I never made it past the second book.  

I would always get busy or distracted.  Too much time would pass so I would decide to start all over again.  That seemed like the responsible thing to do...the first time, and second.  By the third time I felt like a complete failure but I could practically recite the book of Genesis after having re-read it so many times.  

I carried a tremendous burden when it came to being disciplined in my faith.  Even though I knew my salvation was a gift of grace, I thought spiritual disciplines were necessary to earn God's favor.  I wanted to be a favorite.  Who doesn’t?  So I sped forward through life like a motorboat trying to get ahead by my own hard work and perseverance.  I burned that motor out so many times.

After years of doing the 'right' things, I went off to college and decided it was high time I got rid of the heavy load I had been carrying.  For heaven’s sake, the Bible says it is for freedom that we have been set free!  I needed freedom from the guilt and burden I carried for years!  I suddenly turned into a raft just floating along wherever the waters carried me.  Unfortunately, the waters carried me into some pretty stagnant places.

It wasn't until much later in life that I learned disciplines of faith are not really anything like a motorboat or a raft.

I moved from the east coast to the west to attend graduate school.  It was a season of darkness and clambering back towards the light.  During that season I participated in my first real bible study.  The study was led by a woman named Mary and, interestingly, our curriculum was a book by Dr. Larry Crabb entitled – The Pressure’s Off.  Hmmmm.  A life without pressure?  Sounded impossible, and yet appealing.

It was the first of several studies with Mary and the more time I spent with her, the more I observed something.  Mary practiced spiritual disciplines in a way I had never seen them practiced before.  It was as if she constantly held her hands cupped open waiting for God to pour something into them.  I saw the overflow of what she received in the radiant way she loved God and loved others.  For Mary, spending time in prayer or bible study or any other discipline was like a gift she couldn't wait to unwrap.

It was not something she felt she needed to earn.  It was something she gratefully received.  It was not a burden she avoided.  It was an invitation she accepted.  It wasn't something she tried to cram into the corners of her life.  It was a consistent way of life.

In Mary I began to see the practice of spiritual disciplines more like a sailboat.  God sends the winds of His Holy Spirit and we set the sail to receive it.  We position ourselves to be moved and used by God - everyday, all the time.

Our goal isn't to earn.  Our goal is to receive.

In my race to the finish line I was always focused on where I was going.  God has been teaching me that sometimes life is less about where we are headed tomorrow and more about what we are building today.  He has also reminded me, he draws the blueprints for that building.

If we really are trying to build something in our lives it may be helpful to have some tools and a little preparation, but there is something of far greater importance.  More than any tools we accumulate or techniques we hone,  there is one simple step that must be taken.

We must choose to begin.

Sometimes more information leads to less transformation and what we really need is to just take what we've got and get started.

Several years ago I begin taking bites of different spiritual disciplines - prayer, study, solitude, silence, frugality.  As I tasted them and experienced the nourishment they offered to my soul, I wanted more.  I think you will too.  But I don't want you to get ahead of yourself.  I want you to take bites too.  I want you to savor what God has for you.  I want you to simply begin.

I have written a new book because I want to take your hand and lead you there.  I know beginnings can be scary and overwhelming.  I know sometimes it's easier to stay where we are.  But my world has been widened and my souls has been strengthened with every step I have taken in this direction, so I've come back for you.  I want you to join me along the paths of spiritual disciplines that lead to the heart of God.  At some point we will both head off in different directions but for now, let's begin together.

This is your invitation.

Remember, you are a sailboat.

All that is required is for you to push out from shore, set your sail, and wait for the winds of the Spirit to move you.  I promise they will.  

How would that change our hearts and minds?
How would that change the way we interact with our family and friends?
How would that change the impact we have on our community?
How would that move us away from the temporary things of this world to the eternal, enduring things of God?

begin. will give you the basics of spiritual disciplines and then get you quickly on your way to actually practicing them.  Following a few non-bossy suggestions, you will be provided with 40 days worth of readings to help you tend to your soul - that inner life that so often goes unnoticed and neglected, and yet is the most important part of you.