Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book Review and Giveaway! :: The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge by Tony Dungy & Nathan Whitaker

Are you feeling a little blue? Post-Christmas malaise settling in? Are you thinking that there will be no more gifts for a year and you're a bummed about that?

Well, then I've got great news!

The fine folks at Tyndale House Publishers will be giving one of my blog readers a copy of Tony Dungy's latest book, The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge.

**If you don't know who Tony Dungy is then you are obviously not a football fan. And that's OK. But you should definitely click on the link above and check him out. He's a Super Bowl winning coach with a passion for God.**

The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge focuses on seven themes: Core, Family, Friends, Potential, Mission, Influence, and Faith. The devotions rotate through each of the seven themes and each devotion stands on its own.

Each day's reading begins with a passage of Scripture. Not just the reference, but the entire verse or verses, already printed on the page. I love that!

The devotion that follows ties to the verse and the theme for the day, usually with a story from either family or athletic life. Each day concludes with an Uncommon Key - a brief take away or action point based on the day's reading.

I found the devotions to be straightforward and easy to read. The devotional is geared toward men (and I think that's great!) but I found the readings to be quite applicable to me as a mom as well.

While I like the book, I like the purpose behind the book even more. Coach Dungy is challenging men - and women - to live Uncommon lives and the key to beginning that process is to spend time with God. EVERY DAY.

Check out this video from Coach Dungy as he describes the One Year Uncommon Life DAILY challenge. It's only two minutes long and well worth it.

To enter to win your free copy, just leave a comment (include your first name and last initial). I'd love to know if you're a football fan and would keep the book for yourself, or who you plan to give it to if you win! The contest is open through Friday, January 6th.

My regular blogging schedule will resume on Monday, January 2nd. I hope you've had a blessed holiday season!

The super fine print: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

Joy - In Suffering

It's something we struggle with—this whole concept of suffering. We have an ingrained worldview that suggests suffering is only “fair” if it's deserved. When we know our desire is to serve God and we are still clobbered by life, we wrestle with “why me” and “this isn't fair” thoughts.
These are the time when I have often found the lives of Paul and Peter to be a source of comfort. These men served God and on a regular basis took a beating for it.

But never, before this year, have I ever realized that there's someone else who we know—know it from the very mouth of an angel—was favored by God and from the moment of that proclamation—suffered.


Think about her for a moment. A young virgin with life cruising along as planned. Getting ready to marry a great guy. Then an angel shows up and says “God thinks you're awesome and He's going to give you a remarkable gift. You get to be the mother of the Christ.”

What the angel didn't say? "Oh, by the way, you'll live the rest of your life under a cloud of scandal. And you'll have to flee the country in a few months. When He grows up, He'll traipse all over the country doing miracles. And people will talk. Oh yes, they will talk.

But none of that will compare to what's coming. There will be a day when you will watch Him beaten to a bloody pulp, groan under the weight of a cross, hang from that cross, and eventually, breathe what everyone will believe is His last breath."

We don't know how much Mary understood. We know that from day one, she'd been pondering everything. The angels, the shepherds, the star, the wise men. We know she'd been warned, when He was only a few days old, that a sword would pierce her soul. You can bet she never forgot those words.

We know from the very beginning of His public ministry that she knew He could perform miracles.

But we don't know how she coped. Did she live all of His thirty-three years wondering when it would happen? Was she ever able to look at Him—tiny baby nestled against her, chubby toddler wrestling with His brothers, gangly teen helping Joseph craft a table—and enjoy being His mom without wondering how it would all end?

Did she know that the end would be the beginning?

When she watched Him hanging there, even if she knew He would return in three days, would it have mattered? Would it have lessened the agony? Would if have prevented the tears?

I don't think so. You won't find this spelled out in Scripture, but my mother's heart tells me that on the day He died, no one hurt the way she did.

Knowing the rest of the story, we can say it was worth it. Mary undoubtedly would agree.

But in the moment, Mary suffered.

I wish the Bible gave a us picture of the reunion. The joy on Mary's face when she saw her resurrected son, her resurrected Savior. I'm sure her tears dripped onto His nail-scarred hands. Surely He held her close. Thanked her for being a great mom. Assured her that it had all been part of God's plan.

Can you see it?

He'd like to do that for us as well.

When life is hard. When the loneliness is overwhelming. When the pain won't go away. When it's all over. When nothing will ever be the same.

He is.

He knows.

His sacrifice makes Joy possible. Continuous Joy. Even in suffering. Not because we think pain is fun. But because we know there's a purpose. There's a plan.

There's a future.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4 (ESV)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Joy - Bigger than our whole world

As I've been mulling over the idea of how big God is and the miracle it is that He became flesh, I've also been thinking about how often God does things in ways that are both unexpected and incomprehensible.

I'm wondering how often I don't see God's hand because what's happening doesn't make sense to me.

I'm wondering how much Joy I miss out on because instead of resting in His plan, I'm arguing with Him about His methods or pointing out to Him that what He's doing doesn't seem like a good idea.

I could go on and on about it, but Christmas is ten days away and my guess is you don't have time for me to go on and on!

So instead I thought I'd leave you with one of my favorite passages from The Last Battle.

I love The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. (Please don't ask how many times I've read them - the answer is, "I have no idea and if we don't quit talking about it I'm going to have to start reading them again!")

At this point in the story, the characters have been fighting all around a small stable and are now inside.

Ponder this, and find the Joy!

"It seems, then," said Tirian, smiling himself, "that the Stable seen from within and the Stable seen from without are two different places."

"Yes," said the Lord Digory. "Its inside is bigger than its outside."

"Yes," said Queen Lucy. "In our world too, a Stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world."
C.S. Lewis ~ The Last Battle

Monday, December 12, 2011

Unlimited Joy

As my daughter opened birthday gifts several months ago, a sheet of paper fluttered on the edge of my sight. All I registered was that there were at least twelve steps and for a fleeting moment, I questioned my sister's sanity. What was she thinking? Why would she give Emma a gift that would be so complicated to use? I was confused because I know that Jennifer is a thoughtful gift giver and would never give Emma something that would only frustrate her.

Before I could investigate the instruction sheet further, Hetti the Hippo exploded into our living room. Squeals of delight pierced the air as the pop up tent filled the entire open space. Within seconds, the six foot long hippo was filled with laughing children.

And then it hit me. The instructions weren't for getting the tent open.

They were for cramming it back into the box.

Ten months later, that crazy hippo is still living large in Emma's room. Even when we moved, we didn't bother trying to fold her up. (That instruction sheet is long gone!)

I was thinking about this the other day as I tried—and failed—to get my mind around the idea of God becoming man. Of the Word made flesh.

Of infinity squeezed into infancy.

I can't comprehend how He did it.

It was way more complicated than getting dear ol' Hetti back in her box.

No engineer, no physicist, no biologist, no chemist, no mathematician—no human could have ever figured it out.

It was a God-sized job.

It required a God-sized idea.

But who could have imagined that a six pound baby boy could contain—could be—a God-sized miracle.

For thirty-three years, Jesus squished Himself into humanity.

And after He accomplished what He came to do, He exploded from His box.

Two thousand years later, He's still living large in the heavens.

He was. He is. He always will be.

So as we focus on the babe in a manger, let's be sure we don't try to cram God into a box. He's not that kind of God.

He's the kind of God who limited Himself so that we could be filled with unlimited Joy.

Psalm 92:4-5 ~ For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the work of your hands I sing for joy. How great are your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep. (ESV)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Joy - In the Moment

I'm a wife, mother, and writer. I'm a daughter, sister, and friend. I'm a reader, knitter, and scrapbooker. I'm a cook, maid, and seamstress. I'm an engineer, manager, and bookkeeper.

With all that stuff going on, you'd think I'd be fulfilled.

Nope. Not even close. More often than not, I feel anxious. Desperate. Inadequate.

My task-oriented nature struggles to stay in the moment. To focus my energy on one thing, without mentally scrambling to determine the most efficient way to check off something else at the same time.

But by refusing to do one thing at a time, I'm not doing any one thing well.

And I'm robbing myself of so much joy.

Jim Elliot is quoted as saying, “Wherever you are, be all there.” I love that. I want that to characterize my life. I think it's another key to rediscovering joy.

Because something tells me that when Jesus took on humanity, He was an “all there” kind of guy. Would you care to guess what makes me think that?

Jesus spent nine months in a womb.


Have you ever thought of the challenge that must have been? To go from omnipresence to embryo. To grow inside a body You created.

But He did it. He was all there. All God. All man. All at the same time. All miraculously contained inside Mary's swelling body. The Word that spoke the world into existence limited Himself to baby babble. The hands that carved out oceans and piled high mountains were content to bang on a pot with a wooden spoon.

Wherever He was, He was all there.

And because He became Immanuel, God with us, we have Joy. True Joy. Not fleeting happiness. Not momentary pleasure.

Eternal Joy.

So as I stand in football field length store lines or sit in gridlocked mall traffic, instead of chafing at the limitations, I'm trying to practice being all there.

I'm not always successful, but when I am, I'm discovering there's so much Joy to be found in every moment.

So what about you? Do you feel up to a Christmas challenge?

This weekend, join me. Wherever you are, be all there. Wrapping presents? Be all there. At a party? Be all there. At a Christmas program when you still have Christmas baking, shopping, cleaning, and wrapping to do? Be all there.

I think you'll find Joy there.

And when you do, please come back and tell us about it!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Rediscover Joy

I used to love this time of year.

Before I grew up.

Before I discovered that buying Christmas presents on a budget is hard work.
Before I longed to be in two places at once.
Before I spent hours cleaning, preparing, shopping, wrapping.
Before I realized that all those decorations would have to be taken down in a few weeks . . . by me.
Before I had somewhere to be fifteen out of twenty-five nights.

Before Christmas became synonymous with exhaustion.

Because before . . . I would fly through the door and run to the tree. Had mom wrapped more while I was at school? Was there another gift for me?
Before . . . I would rearrange the gifts, shaking, weighing, trying to guess. Never peeking, because the anticipation was almost as much fun as whatever delight lay hidden beneath the wrapping.
Before . . . I would huddle with my sister as we planned Christmas morning. When would we get up? Would she promise to wake me if she woke up first?
Before . . . I would go to sleep listening to the twenty-four hours of Christmas music (that started on Christmas Eve instead of the day after Thanksgiving).
Before . . . the day was filled with gifts—given & received, family, food, fun.

Before . . . Christmas was synonymous with joy.

This year, I'm making an effort to re-discover the joy. My calendar isn't quite as crowded as it has been in year's past, and I'm relieved. My to-do list—well, it's insane. But I'm focusing on doing the things that need to be done and leaving off the stuff that can wait.

I've cranked up the music, downloaded a new album (Michael Bublé!), bought a few presents, and decorated the tree. At night, I'm taking a few moments to sit in the flickering light of candles and remember . . . remember what it was like . . . before the first Christmas.

Before . . . the sounds of angels in perpetual worship.
Before . . . perfect harmony with God the Father and God the Spirit.
Before . . . peace, joy, comfort.
Before . . . honor, reverence.
Before . . . glory.

But then He came.

To the sound of cattle, sheep, and donkeys
To a people in continual tension with their Roman rulers and religious leaders.
To cold, wet, hunger, pain.
To anger, gossip, slander, humiliation, misunderstanding.

To exhaustion.

To death.

As a child, I knew the real meaning of Christmas. I knew there was a baby. I knew we exchanged gifts to commemorate the Ultimate gift. But my young mind was full of Sear's Wish Books and shiny packages.

I didn't dwell on the miracle.

But for my slightly more grown up mind, I think the secret to rediscovering the joy is to rediscover the miracle.

Christmas was always about the gifts. It still is. But the Gift that brings joy these days isn't one that sits under the tree wrapped in shiny paper.

It's the One that lay in a feeding trough wrapped in rags.

Immanuel – God with us. Isaiah 7:9 ~ Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (ESV)

Join me this month as we rediscover the joy of the season.


The winner of last week's giveaway is....Vicki! Congratulations! Email me at with your contact information and the fine folks at Baker will mail My Favorite Bible to you! Thanks to everyone who participated!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Guest Blogs and Giveaways!

So, it's Tuesday.

Not Monday.

I could tell you that I planned it this way and just skip over the fact that I enjoyed, spent, wasted most of the day yesterday as I searched through box after box for the missing Wii games.

(Which were eventually found right where I left them eight months ago. Since, apparently, while the movers unpacked a trash can and put the trash in a box, they did not feel inclined to unpack that drawer and instead, moved it and all of it's contents in place. But I digress.)

And, just so you know, watching James squeal with delight and fall to the floor whenever his Mii got knocked down in Wii Boxing - made it all worthwhile.

But now it's Tuesday. And the timing couldn't be better because this week is all about guest blogs and giveaways!

First, the guest blogs. It is my privilege and delight to be guest blogging twice this week on the blogs of two of my favorite people, Vonda Skelton and Edie Melson. I told you about them earlier this month and I am still gobsmacked that they are brave enough to turn me loose on their readers.

Today, I'm over at The Christian Writer's Den, the newly revamped blog of Vonda Skelton. Please come by and say hello. The post is written for writers, but if you use your imagination (and don't tell me you don't have one just because you aren't a writer), I think you'll find a little application for your own life.

Thursday - and please don't panic about this - but Thursday is DECEMBER 1st. (Breathe. There's plenty of time. Okay, I feel better now.) And since it's the first Thursday of the month, it's time for my monthly review over at Edie Melson's The Write Conversation. I'll be talking about the holidays, family dysfunction dynamics, and birth order and how we can put this crazy time of year to good use in our novels. (Or, how we can discover new and exciting ways to torture our characters, but the other way sounds kinder (or is it more kind), doesn't it?)

And this week, is my very first blog giveaway. I'm insanely excited about this because Christmas makes me smile. And I just like to smile. Smiling's my favorite!

The very nice people over at Baker Publishing offered to give one of my readers a My Favorite Bible. Free. No strings attached. I'm sure there's a little in your life (or perhaps, the parent of a little) who would love this. It would make a fantastic gift or, if your home is inhabited, occupied, overtaken by tiny people, a lovely addition to your bookshelf.

Here's the blurb...

With the vibrant illustrations and engaging text in this Bible storybook, you can enjoy sharing the best-loved stories of the Bible with the children in your life and encourage a life-long love for the Word of God. My Favorite Bible is a book of exciting Bible stories and activity pages that guide children through the foundational truths of Scripture.

Each story is fully illustrated and includes a simple narrative full of things kids love: repetition, rhythm, and energy, along with a key biblical theme, a key Bible verse, and discussion questions to help adults introduce children to the Bible.

The colorful illustrations will capture the imaginations of children ages 4–8, and the stories will help adults to pass along the most important truth in life—the Gospel. Families will cherish this time as they read, listen, learn, and love, growing closer to one another even as they grow closer to God.

So, here's how you enter. Leave me a comment (here, not on Facebook, and you have to leave a name because I can't give a book to "anonymous"!) between now and Friday, December 2, and tell me which Bible story is your favorite. (And if your answer is "Jesus" or "God" I'm going to know your account has been hacked by a five-year-old who wants this book!)

Over the weekend, I will choose a comment at random and will announce the winner here on Monday! Then the lovely folks at Baker will put your very own copy of My Favorite Bible in the mail. So easy. Why are you still reading? Start commenting people!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

This is a test . . . this is only a test . . . but does God grade on the curve?

I was a straight-A student in high school.

I wouldn't go so far as to say I enjoyed tests, but I was good at them. They were a source of pride. Proof that I had learned the material.

And then I went to college. The first year or so went smoothly. But then my engineering professors changed the rules on me. Tests were no longer about proving what I had learned.

They were designed to discover the holes in my knowledge. To highlight weaknesses in logic and understanding.

They worked.

Thank goodness they graded on a curve. I remember being thrilled with a 37. (It was an A).

At the time, it drove me crazy. If they were going to curve the scores anyway, why didn't they give exams we had a chance of passing? I didn't see the value of an exam designed to point out how much I didn't know.

I get it now.

God gives the same kind of tests. Tests that aren't designed for us to get all cocky about how great we are doing. These tests show us our weak points. Not to condemn us. But to give us an opportunity to discover a whole new level of His grace.

Today, I'm taking a test. I'm not getting an A.

I thought, after spending the past several weeks focused on renewing my mind and living a lifestyle of gratitude, that the past week of family illness and insanity was the test. If it was, it was the high school version.

The college level exam started yesterday when I went from feeling spunky, eagerly anticipating a day of food, family, and fun, followed by a weekend at my parents, to feeling achy and miserable. This test blindsided me because it hit me in my weakest spot. My "compliant, pleaser, perfectionist" spot.

I have strep. And I'm contagious. So I'm sitting at home while my family is at my grandmother's house. My parents had to change their plans. We aren't going to their house at all. And my three-year-old was devastated.

I don't like to disappoint people.

Am I really supposed to be thankful for strep? For having to tell my three-year-old that we are not going to Papa and Nana's house after all? For my mom having to pack up all the food and goodies she had planned for us and bring them here? For my husband to have to travel with three kids, alone, to Granny's?

I could handle it if it was just me. I'll feel much better tomorrow. It's the part about disrupting everyone else. Being the cause of disappointment. That's the part that's eating at me. I expend a lot of energy avoiding that very thing.

Don't misunderstand. My parents aren't blaming me for having strep. My husband has handled bathtime, bedtime, and breakfast without complaint. My three-year-old, well, he seems to be okay with the idea of Papa and Nana coming here instead of us going there.

And I'm trying to feel thankful. Not so much for the strep, but for the God who loves me too much to let me get away with thinking I've arrived. For graciously pointing out the places where I still want to be in control. For highlighting the holes in my logic. And for giving me an opportunity to see more of Him.

I'm definitely feeling thankful for the family and friends who love me and who will be bringing me food. (I'm also ridiculously thankful for antibiotics).

And I'm thankful that I know there's a reason for the change in plans. I may never know what the reason was, but I'm choosing to rest in the knowledge that God loves me. Loves my son. Loves my parents. And none of this was random.

I don't think God grades on the curve.

I believe God grades with grace.

May His name be praised.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith - that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen! Ephesians 3:14-21 (ESV)


#53. A husband who isn't afraid of dirty diapers
#54. The way sweet tea slides down a sore throat
#55. Homemade mochas
#56. NCIS marathons
#57. Flexible family
#58  Knowing I am loved and missed
#59  Turkey, mashed potatoes, & gravy

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thankfulness in the middle of a no good, very bad day

We spent all of October focused on renewing our minds. Then we've spent the past several weeks considering thankfulness.

Have you noticed how crucial a thankful heart is to renewing your mind?

I have. I'm living it. Right now.

I'm having the kind of day that has, on occasion, turned me into a grouchy, short-tempered mama. And by "on occasion" I mean "usually."

I woke up this morning and called the pediatrician for what turned out to be a double ear infection and a perforated ear drum. I felt the sarcastic voice of condemnation that talks to me at moments like this. The one that says, "Way to go, mom of the year. Bet you feel bad about letting him cry at 2:30 this morning, don't ya?"

But instead of allowing that jerk to get the better of me, I chose to be thankful for the nudge that sent me to the doctor. And for the pediatrician who is a good friend and assured me that this is not a reflection of my mothering prowess. And for the antibiotics that will speed relief to my little man.

We left the doctor and went to check on our house. The house we still own. The one we moved out of eight months ago. The one that doesn't seem to want to belong to anyone else.

Sometimes the financial and mental drag of this house is depressing. But today, I remembered all the things that led to us buying our new home, the great things about our old home, and the God who owns both.

I chose to be thankful for His provision instead of griping about His timing.

Then Drew started fussing. And James started begging for something to drink. Already on shaky mom of the year ground, I realized I had walked out of the house for a morning full of appointments and errands with no sippy cup. So we hit McDonalds and ordered a Sprite for him and unsweetened tea for me.

They gave me sweet tea.

Okay. This one wasn't that hard to be thankful for. I drank it with a smile on our way to the final stop of the morning.

Now, I know this will come as a shock, as you're all thinking I am the most "with it" mom ever, but I had managed to run out of baby wipes. I have three in diapers. Running out of wipes is not acceptable. And a quick glance this morning had revealed another problem.

I was almost out of diapers.

In all three sizes.

You know it's bad when the twenty-something year old girls checking you out Wal-mart start looking at each other, and then at you, with wide-eyed, sympathetic glances. The cashier finally stated the obvious, "You've got your hands full."

Ya think?

I purchased Size 2, Size 5, Size 5 Overnight, Size 4T-5T Pullups, and the biggest box of wipes they sell. I almost passed out when they gave me the total.

As I walked to the car, that sarcastic voice started again. "This is some life you've got here." And you know what? For the first time, the voice was right.

This is some life.

It's not the life I expected. It's not always the life I want. But it's the life God has given me. I can stay ticked off about the drama, or I can be thankful for the gifts of grace He pours all over me.

I came home and spent an hour outside with James. We chased falling leaves, hunted for acorns, and soaked up some sun.

Then he told me he didn't want to wear diapers anymore.

One more thing to be thankful for!

(I hope I can remember this in about an hour when I'm washing wet Spiderman undies . . . )


Are you counting? I am!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Book Review: Rooms by James L. Rubart

One of the things I am most thankful for is that my husband is a reader. I come from a family of readers and I'm not sure what I would do if I couldn't share my love of books with him.

I'm always on the hunt for authors Brian will enjoy, but he reads with a critical eye. Not critical in a mean way. Critical in the sense that he spots inconsistent plots, flat characters, and overdone description.

He usually finishes the books he starts, but when I ask him, "How'd you like it?" it's rare for me to get a rave review. He's particularly tough on the author when the storyline becomes too far-fetched for his tastes.

(In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that I have rarely run across a storyline too far-fetched for my tastes. Just saying.)

So when I read Rooms by Jim Rubart a few months ago, I couldn't decide whether or not to pass it along to Brian. Because there's this little issue of an "out there" storyline . . .

It's hard to write a review of Rooms without giving away the whole thing. I make a concerted effort not to include spoilers in my reviews because half the fun of reading a book is the incremental discovery that comes as the author weaves details into drama.

But you can pick up this much from the back cover . . . Micah is a young software executive who seems to have everything. Except his faith, which he set aside as he pursued his career. All that changes when he discovers a house has been constructed for him in Cannon Beach, a place full of bitter memories and far removed from his fast-paced lifestyle.

Micah intends to enlist the services of a real estate agent at once, but the mansion on Cannon Beach is no ordinary mansion. It feels like home, like it was designed just for him.

And then new rooms appear. Some rooms are too frightening to enter. Some too pleasurable to leave.

What follows is the journey into a heart of man. And the extraordinary measures God takes to draw us back to Him.

Rooms falls into the "speculative fiction" genre. In other words, it's not bound to reality. Think It's a Wonderful Life meets The Shack. Weird things happen. But if you're willing to go along for the ride, you'll find your own rooms that require deep thoughts and long searches of the soul.

I liked it.

So did Brian.

Let me know if you do, too!

Monday, November 14, 2011

You have to look if you want to see

I wasn't expecting a God-moment as I drove to get my hair cut last week. The kids were in the back of the van, and for once, I wasn't running late. It was just a normal day. I was doing normal things.

And then it happened.

But I almost missed it. The splash of color in my peripheral vision enticed me to glance up and to the left as I crested a hill. Spread before me like a tapestry was a glimpse of splendor. Trees arrayed in riotous colors, showing off for their Creator. And they called me to worship right along with them.

I rarely travel that stretch and when I do, I'm almost always in a hurry. Probably on my cell phone. Or maybe singing along with the kids to a Veggie Tales CD.

I had never noticed that for a few brief moments as you travel Haywood Road, there's a view worth savoring.

It's been there all along. But I hadn't seen it.

The same is true of the gifts God has graced us with. And it's one of the reasons taking the time to write them down can be life changing.

They've been there all along.

But you have to look if you want to see.

I'm home with sick littles today and my list reflects this.

27. The slower pace of sick days
28. Healthy children whose sniffles are nuisances but not life threatening
29. Tylenol and Motrin
30. Emma saying, "I wanna snuggle"

What's on your list today? I'd love to hear about the gifts you see in your life!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Book Review: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

I think the truest test of the power of a book is whether or not it lingers in your mind long after you've turned the last page. And if, in the lingering, it inspires you to change.

Based on that definition, One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp is a powder keg in hardback.

I was a little skeptical at first. I mean, keeping a gratitude journal is almost passé. Oprah did it years ago. And we all know we should be thankful.

But Ann's take on thankfulness is unlike any I've heard before.

And her list of 1000 gifts is no mere "I'm thankful for my kids" compilation. It's a journey into seeing each experience through the eyes of grace. Or as the book cover declares, "A dare to live fully, right where you are."

Beginning in the second chapter, she introduces us to the concept of eucharisteo - it's a Greek word that's translated "he gave thanks" and has in its roots the Greek words "charis" and "chara" - grace and joy. From there, she takes us on a poetic journey into how grace, thanksgiving, and joy are intertwined and always available to us.

As a word lover, I found her poetic prose lush and descriptive. But I will confess that there were times when the poetry somewhat clouded the message. When I needed to go back, slow down, re-read, and ponder. Because this is no light read. There are deep questions raised. How do we give thanks for suffering? How do we trust God in the face of pain and loss?

Depending on your theology, you may not agree with all of her conclusions. But you would do well to ask the questions yourself.

For her, the deep questions all began when someone challenged her to make a list - 1000 gifts - and the list changed her life.

Because "the counting of all blessings is ultimately summed up in One. All gratitude is ultimately gratitude for Christ, all remembering a remembrance of Him. For in Him all things were created, are sustained, have their being. Thus Christ is all there is to give thanks for; Christ is all there is to remember. To know how we can count on God, we count graces, but ultimately there is really only One." (p. 155)

That's what makes this listing of gifts unlike any other. Because each one points to the One.

I went out and bought a plain, blue leather journal from Wal-mart. It's huge. It's big enough to capture far more than 1000 gifts. I have this mental picture of a grandchild someday thumbing through it and asking me if I remember what prompted me to write "18. The perfect shoes on clearance."

I probably won't remember by then. But I pray the journal is worn, faded, and full of reminders of the love-notes my Abba sends me every day.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Oblivious to the Obvious

I love my Tervis tumbler.

It happened so fast, all I could do was pick up the pieces.


You wouldn't think an 8-month-old had hands that move at the speed of light. But mine does. I walked by the counter, and before I could say, gasp, yell “NO!” he had grabbed the rim of my Tervis tumbler and sent it crashing to the kitchen floor.

Tervis tumblers are supposed to be indestructible. They have a lifetime guarantee, but I'm afraid the company is going to lose money on me. My 3-year-old cracked my first tumbler on the store floor before we had plunked down the plastic to pay for it.

Now, my cup (which survived), lid (which did not), and six ounces of coffee mocked me from the hardwood floor, while another few ounces ran in caramel streams down the kitchen cabinets.

I was unhappy, annoyed. OK. Fine. I was ticked.

Not at Drew. He was just doing his best impression of an eight-month-old.

But I was ticked. The way I get ticked when my day goes off on an unpleasant tangent. In "Lynn's Math" unplanned = unpleasant. Given that I have three children, you can imagine how often I struggle with unpleasant events.

I put Drew in his high chair and walked stomped to the paper towel holder.

And then it happened.

I remembered.

I remembered all those blog posts from October about renewing my mind.

I remembered all the planned blog posts for November about gratitude.

I remembered that pretty new journal where I'd begun to record things—big and little things—that I'm thankful for.


It's hard to stay ticked when you're trying to be thankful.

It's hard to be in a bad mood when you choose to think about things that are true and lovely and excellent.

Which made me wonder . . . how many times am I in a bad mood for no reason other than that I choose to be? Being upset over spilled coffee may seem trivial. But how often do the trivial things throw my day into a tailspin that I never recover from?

I thought about this as I cleaned the floors and cabinets, made another cup of coffee, and added a new entry to my list of gifts God has given me.

#6 – Hardwood floors that are easy to clean up.

I've decided that nothing is too obvious to go on my list.

Because sometimes it's the obvious to which I'm most oblivious.


I'd like to challenge you to think about making your own list. My list is growing and I'll be sharing random entries in blog posts this month. I was inspired to start my list after reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp and I'll be talking about her book on Thursday. I hope you'll stop back by!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday ~ Forever Thankful

I plan to spend November sharing a random assortment of things I am thankful for. Today, I want to tell you a little story.

Once upon a time, there was a girl whose parents insisted she go to bed at a reasonable hour, even though she wasn't sleepy. So she would dream up elaborate stories to occupy her time. As a general rule, she was the heroine of the tales. There was a long stretch where she was a famous teenage spy. Then several years where she was a cancer curing doctor. And of course, a ridiculous number of stories where she wound up married to a wealthy man and had servants and jetted around the world to attend opening night at the opera.

The girl never told anyone these stories because she thought there was something wrong with her. She tried to stop herself but sooner or later, another story would emerge.

Then one day, the girl (who was now quite grown up) wondered what would happen if she tried to write the story down. How hard could it be? The story in her head would make a great book. The kind of book she would like to read.

So she did.

But she didn't tell anyone. Except her very own Prince Charming who didn't think she was crazy and encouraged her to finish the tale. When she typed "The End" she realized she had a choice. Keep the secret, or share it.

The girl was afraid. Afraid people would laugh. Afraid people would think she was crazy. After all, Prince Charming was biased so she couldn't assume others would share his opinion.

The girl chose to share. First with her sister. Then her parents. Then a few friends. And to her relief, they didn't just like it. They loved it.

So she took a class.

Then signed up for a writers conference.

And that's when things got really interesting. Because two people who did not know her at all emailed her and said, "Hey, you're a writer. We're writers. Come hang out with us."

The girl was afraid. What if they didn't like her? Or worse, what if they didn't like her writing? (Which is not the same thing, but feels like it is). The girl didn't think of herself as a writer, but she wanted to. So she went to meet the writers.

And the rest . . . well, the rest is unfolding right before your eyes. Edie Melson (@EdieMelson) and Vonda Skelton (@VondaSkelton) welcomed the girl into their circle of writers. They encouraged, instructed, and critiqued. They introduced the girl to other writers. And they continue to remind her that successful writers write and some of them get published. And while she may be a little wierd, there's nothing wrong with her that isn't wrong with them, too.

You may be wondering why I chose to tell that story today and what it has to do with thankfulness.

Today, as I do every first Thursday of the month, I have a guest post on Edie's blog, The Write Conversation. Later this month, I'll have a guest post on Vonda's blog, The Christian Writer's Den. These women have chosen to be encouragers and cheerleaders to a bunch of newbie (and not so newbie) writers. They are some of the busiest women I know, but they make time because they don't want to see new writers make any of the mistakes they made early in their careers.

Not every new writer manages to fall in with people who only want the best for them.

But this girl did.

And I will forever be thankful.


Monday, October 31, 2011

31 Days :: Day 31 ~ Are you ready for some action?

As we wrap up our 31 day journey, I want to leave you with the words of my favorite disciple.

I Peter 1:13 ~ 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. (ESV)

What the ESV translates as "preparing your minds for action" is translated "gird up the loins of your mind" in quite a few other translations. They both mean the same thing, but I have to tell you, I rather like the imagery of "girding up the loins of your mind." In Biblical times people wore long robes and "girding up your loins" meant to tuck garments up and away from the legs so you'd be free to work, serve, run, or fight.

As we move forward into Thanksgiving and Christmas and a New Year, let's prepare our minds for whatever action God has for us. As we exercise daily renewing, our minds won't be so quick to wander off into hopelessness, won't be consumed by fear, won't be overwhelmed by a to-do list that never ends.

Instead, we will choose to remember, choose to renew, choose to be still and know, and choose to set our hope on the plentiful grace that is ours - now and for all eternity.


When I started this series a month ago, I was worried that I might run out of topics. To my surprise, I have a list of verses and themes that I didn't have time to touch. So this topic may reappear from time to time in various "Mindful Mondays" posts. After all, renewing isn't just a 31 day's the journey of a lifetime.

If you've enjoyed this series, I hope you'll continue to follow along as I switch gears and resume my regular blogging schedule. I'll be focusing on giving thanks in November. Please join me!

Grace and peace,

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011

31 Days :: Day 29 ~ Does it do any good?

Mark 12:29-31 ~ Jesus answered, The most important is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these. (ESV)

Have you ever heard this said about anyone? "He's so heavenly minded he's no earthly good."

Yeah. Me neither.

For most of us, that saying would be better reversed . . . She's so earthly minded she's no heavenly good.


Renewing our minds is not just an exercise in logic or reasoning or discipline. A mind that is truly renewed will start giving you some radical assignments.
  • Maybe you should go on that short-term mission trip.
  • Maybe you should help out at the homeless shelter.
  • Maybe you should give more of that money (that you now realize isn't actually yours) to further God's Kingdom.
  • Maybe you should ask your - friend, parent, sibling, spouse, coworker - for forgiveness.
  • Maybe you should invite your neighbors over for dinner and get to know them.
As we discussed several weeks ago, this isn't about adding to your to-do list. This is about re-purposing your to-do list.

On the heels of telling us to love God with everything we have, Jesus follows with "and love your neighbor as yourself" and tells us there are no commandments greater.

If I can look across the cul-de-sac and not be moved by the faces I see - faces of people who need Jesus - then I'm not fulfilling this most important command.

Only a mind, continually renewed, will be able to look past the yapping dogs, crowing roosters, too high grass, and annoyingly parked cars, and see a soul beloved of God. A soul Jesus died for. A soul the Holy Spirit may, right now, be softening to the Truth that you have. And you have it ready because you've been dwelling on it. And when the Holy Spirit opens the door, you can walk right through it.

As we move forward, we have lots of head knowledge. Maybe you've learned something new this month. Maybe you've been reminded of things you used to know but had forgotten.

My prayer is that as I (and you!) focus on daily renewing my mind, that it will spill out. That I will splash grace everywhere I go. That I'll see what God is up to and that I'll be a willing participant in His plan.

Please, Abba, may it do some good.

Friday, October 28, 2011

31 Days :: Day 28 ~ Does it matter?

Mark 12:30 ~ And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (ESV)

We've come to our final weekend of focusing on renewing. It's been a fun journey for me. I hope it has been for you as well.

As we wrap up our time on this topic, let's take a look at what Jesus had to say about our minds.

The religious rulers of that time had taken the laws provided in the Old Testament and expanded upon them. Their "Do and Don't" list was around 600 items long!

In a few brief words, Jesus took their list and annihilated it. He reminded them of ancient commands found in Deuteronomy and said, "Listen, it's easy. Love the Lord your God with all you've got." (Lynn's paraphrase!)

I checked...the word for mind here includes your intellect, imagination, and intent. So we know what we're talking about.

Or do we?

How on earth do you love God with your mind? Love Him with your heart and soul? Check. We get that. Most of us can play that song on the piano. Love Him with your strength? Well, it's a little less obvious, but at an intuitive level, we grasp the idea of loving fiercely and with everything that is in us.

But love God with your mind? Minds - brains - intellect - not usually something you think of as loving.

The love commanded here is agape. The kind of love only fully exhibited by God. The kind of love we are called to as believers. The kind of love we are incapable of expressing without the power of the Holy Spirit.

And I found this definition in Strong's . . . true agapáō ("loving") is always defined by God – a "discriminating affection which involves choice and selection". Another definition I found says that it denotes the love of reason.

Loving God is a choice you make with your mind.

I can't love God with all of my mind if my framework is skewed.

I can't love God with all of my mind if I'm deceived about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.

I can't love God with all of my mind if I've forgotten who I am, how much it cost to redeem me, and why I'm still here.

When they asked Jesus for the most important commandment, He said love the Lord your God . . . with all your mind.

Renewing matters.

You can read past entries in the 31 Days of Renewing series here.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

31 Days :: Day 27 ~ Does your imagination need a reality check?

Isaiah 26:3 ~ You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (ESV)

Yesterday we unpacked some tough stuff.

It won't be much easier today.


Please understand that there is nothing I've written about in the past month that I feel I have a handle on. And that includes - maybe I should say that is especially true - of today's subject.

As I pulled this verse apart, looking at the Hebrew meanings of each word, I found another word that I thought I knew the meaning of.


Seems straightforward enough, right? After all, that's what we've been studying all month. But the Hebrew word that is translated here as mind has a very interesting definition. Strong's concordance gives the short definition as "intent" but then further defines the word as . . .
frame, thing framed, imagination, mind, work
I spent a while confused about this, trying to get from frame to imagination. But then an idea started to form. Hebrew scholars might scoff, but this is what I came up with.

All of us have a framework we think from. A world view. Our thoughts and imagination are built on this frame.

And in most cases, our frame is skewed.

Here's an example...those of us who lived in the United States tend to assume that we have been blessed by God. We are thankful we live where we live, with freedoms, opportunities, clean air, clean water, warm houses, and an ample food supply. We might not say it out loud, but we think these things reveal that God has blessed us. That we are, somehow, favored.

But Christians who have ministered to believers in some of the poorest parts of the world have reported that those believers feel sorry for us. They have nothing. They live in poverty. They live in filth. They suffer daily pain that we wouldn't tolerate for more than five minutes before we'd popped some Tylenol.

Yet their lives are characterized by joy and they pity us. Why? Because we have so much stuff our minds and hearts are too cluttered to revel in the miracle of Christ in us.

They have nothing. But they have Jesus. And He is everything.

Can you say that? Honestly? Maybe you're like me. I believe it.

But I don't live it.

And it made me wonder...

What if the truth is that in the spiritual realm, they are the favored ones?

With less distraction, less stuff, do their frames square more with God? Maybe.

I know that within my twisted framework, my imagination runs wild and I think others have more, are happier, are healthier, are blessed more than I am. And then I sulk because God isn't giving me what I want.

And I wonder why I have no peace.

There is no hope for skewed frames and unruly imaginations, other than to surrender them to God. In our materialistic and me-centered society, daily renewing of our minds is crucial to bringing our view of the world and our place in it in line with God's.

How's your frame today?

Got an imagination that needs a reality check?

Yeah. Me, too.

Isaiah 26:3 ~ You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (ESV)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

31 Days :: Day 26 ~ Do you long for peace?

Isaiah 26:3 ~ You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (ESV)

Today, we are diving into the Old Testament for a look at one of my favorite verses. And one that makes a tantalizing promise . . . one I sometimes feel is virtually unattainable.

Perfect peace.

Shalom, a name of God (Hebrew characters). &qu...The Hebrew for "Shalom" (thanks Wikipedia!)Can you even imagine what a life characterized by perfect peace would look like? Does every part of your being long for such an ideal? Mine does.

And it should. Because we were made for perfect peace. Adam and Eve experienced it in the garden and there is a longing, deep within our souls, for what was lost.

The Hebrew word we  translate as "peace" is "shalom." It looks like this - שָׁלֹ֑ום - and it turns out that in the literal Hebrew, the word "perfect" does not appear in this verse. It actually says "שָׁלֹ֑ום שָׁלֹ֑ום" or "shalom, shalom." I'm no more a Hebrew scholar than I am a Greek scholar, but according to the commentaries I read, when a word is doubled it is done so for emphasis and to denote the certainty of the word.

Peace upon peace. Double peace. Absolute peace. Oh, yeah. That's what I want.

I think...

The ESV Study Bible says that shalom...
"had a much richer connotation than the English word does since in conveyed not merely the absence of conflict but also the notion of positive blessing, especially in terms of a right relationship with God, and also, as a result, the idea that "all is well" in one's life. This may be manifested most clearly amid persecution and tribulation."
Insert screeching tire sounds here!

Wait just a minute. Shalom is manifested most clearly amid persecution and tribulation? That's not what I think of when I think of peace.

Which brings us back to our minds. As we've been studying, we need to constantly be in the process of renewing our minds. One way to do that is to think about truth. To focus on the Truth even what is true in our lives stinks.

We believe the Bible is true and this verse promises "perfect peace" to the one who can keep his mind "stayed" on God.

Sounds like a lot of hard work, doesn't it?

I thought so, until I looked up the word for "stayed". Guess what it means in Hebrew?
To lean, lay, rest
Resting, leaning - those things don't require more work.

They require surrender.

The mind resting in full surrender on God - His truth, His will, His love, His plan - will know that all is well in their world, despite tribulation and suffering.

I don't know about you, but this is a lot for me to get my mind around. Let's talk about it more tomorrow.


Today's post made me think of the hymn Like a River Glorious by Frances Ridley Havergal. I've included Verse 3 and the chorus for you to ponder.

Verse 3

Ev'ry joy or trial
Falleth from above,
Traced upon our dial

By the Sun of Love;
We may trust Him fully
All for us to do
They who trust Him wholly
Find Him wholly true.


Stayed upon Jehovah,
Hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised,
Perfect peace and rest.
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

31 Days :: Day 25 ~ Is there anything worthy of praise?

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. ~ Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

We've spent the past several weeks taking this verse apart, almost word for word. Have you noticed how the ideas build on each other? If you don't know what's true, then how will you know what's honorable? If you aren't thinking of things that are pure, will you notice the things that are excellent?

While we've taken the time to focus on each word, I don't think Paul ever intended for this to be an exhaustive list. He pointed out the biggies, and then threw in a catch all . . . if there's anything worthy of praise, think about that stuff, too. (Lynn's paraphrase!)

I don't think he wanted to constrain our thinking. I think he wanted to encourage us to open our minds to all that is wonderful and good in this world.

We don't need help seeing the bad stuff.

But somehow, especially in our comfortable American culture, we struggle to see the good.
Our minds are so busy, so hectic, so anxious - so oblivious.

There is a whole world of wonder out there. Children see it. They ooh and aah over spider webs, flowers, rocks, dirt, and chipmunks.

But grownups are too busy for that nonsense.

The Greek for "anything worthy of praise" is "Epainos" and it means "approbation, commendation, praise" and carries the idea of "applause." It can be used to describe praise of men to God, praise of men to men, praise of God to men (think about that for a minute and try not to get goosebumps) and is used to describe things that deserve to be praised.

Could he have left it any more wide-open?

Cheer for your favorite team. Clap after your favorite little person's recital. Go crazy when your tiny martial artist earns a new belt.

Marvel at the intricate network of purple-blue veins running beneath the clear skin of a newborn. Relish the softness of your favorite blanket. Inhale the French roast or the Earl Grey.

Open your mind.

Pay attention.

And as you start to think about all the things that are worthy of praise, don't be surprised when your thoughts turn to praising the One who is Worthy.

Monday, October 24, 2011

31 Days :: Day 24 ~ Need a little tweaking?

If there is any excellence . . . think about these things. Phil. 4:8 (ESV)

The Greek word for excellence is "arete" and it is most often defined as "virtuous thoughts feelings, actions; moral excellence and purity."

My first reaction, when I hear "excellence" is to think of the best of something. The people and things that have achieved the highest levels of success.

And while that is true, there is another definition. One I found far more interesting.

It turns out the the word "arete" could also be used to describe anything in nature that was fulfilling its purpose. A field ripe with grain was excellent. A tree heavy with fruit was excellent. A tool doing its job was excellent.

As I pondered this definition, I realized I need to tweak my idea of excellence.

Ephesians 2:10 tells us that "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (ESV)

If you are fulfilling God's purposes for your life, then you are living in excellence.

You'll note I didn't say if you are "successful" or "famous" or "rich" or "popular."

It seems to me that the vast majority of people who are fulfilling the call God has on their lives are doing so in virtual obscurity.

Do you remember the photos from yesterday's post? That red leaf was probably blooming on the trees in my backyard when we moved here several months ago. It spent it's lifetime shading my home. Maybe it was one of the chorus that waved and sang to me as I found my way to my ugly chair again and again. Then, the chlorophyll faded, the leaf turned loose from the branch, and it floated to rest, nestled against the ferns under my kitchen window, where it once again drew my heart to praise the Creator for His marvelous works.

That leaf is excellent.

The fragile flower didn't question it's location when it was time to grow and bloom. It didn't point out that growing up in the crack of my driveway was a surefire way to a shortened existence. It didn't argue that if it had only landed a few feet away it probably would have been allowed to live a much longer life. No. It grew. It fulfilled its purpose. And, as the leaf, called out to me, "Lynn, I'm doing my part? Are you doing yours?"

The flower is excellent.

How about you? Have you fallen into the trap of thinking that you aren't living a life of excellence because you aren't meeting the world's definition of 'success'?

Spend some time today thinking about true excellence . . . and be renewed.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

31 Days :: Day 23 ~ What do they represent?

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

On this beautiful Sunday, take a moment to look at these photos as you reflect on the words of Philippians 4:8.

What do you think they represent? I think they could be considered lovely, maybe pure, or even honorable.

But for me, they represent excellence.

I'll explain tomorrow.

Grace and peace to each of you.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

31 Days :: Day 22 ~ Need a break?

Yesterday, I gave you a challenge to make an effort this weekend to focus on the things that are commendable in the people who populate your world.

So I thought we'd take a little break today. I've collected a handful of some of my favorite "thinking" quotes that I've run across as I've researched this topic.

They are both thought provoking and disturbing. The last one in particular.


Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it. ~ Henry Ford

Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours. ~ John Locke

A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking. ~ Jerry Seinfeld

The secret of living a life of excellence is merely a matter of thinking thoughts of excellence. Really, it's a matter of programming our minds with the kind of information that will set us free. ~ Charles R. Swindoll

Clear thinking requires courage rather than intelligence. ~ Thomas Szasz

She that fails to command her thoughts will soon lose command of her actions. ~ Unknown

Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting. ~ Edmund Burke

Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. ~ Unknown

Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. ~ John F. Kennedy

What luck for rulers, that men do not think. ~ Adolph Hitler

We're spending the month of October focused on renewing our minds. You can find a list of previous posts here.