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To Linger in Thankfulness

IMG_7834watching backyard animals from the window

I’ve never been good at writing thank you notes. I blame it on my mom, because she didn’t make me write them (love you, momma!). And my kids will blame it on me, because I don’t make them either.

In theory, though, I like the idea of thank you notes. My kids receive thoughtful presents or the gift of time from a relative, enjoy it and then, moving at the speed of life, they forget and move onto the next thing. In truth, I’m just like them with the daily gifts of life. I am guilty of living moment to moment, worry to worry, just keeping my head above the water until the next wave of worry comes along. I easily miss the amazing gifts that arrive with each new day.

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pajama clad girl with her leopard balloon riding her bike in the evening

I’m not good at thank you notes, even if I write them I usually fail to send them. Seriously, I still have sealed thank you notes from our wedding a decade and half ago. Even keeping a thankful list usually falls by the wayside after three days. Lately though, art has become a way to linger in thankfulness a little longer.

These past few weeks I’ve been grabbing my sketchbook to capture moments and then I revisit those sketches later with fresh paper and paint. It’s been a way to slow down, to mark the mundane that is really not mundane at all.  The moments are really endless, but my hand can only catch about one a day or every two days.

IMG_7825the simple pleasure of a swing and a breeze

These moments include:

My oldest child in her cat-eye green sunglasses and favorite owl shirt, beautiful in her spirit, poised between childhood and becoming adult.

My nine-year-old son as he exclaims every day, “You’re the best mommy in the whole world”.  (How amazing that someone truly thinks of me that way.)

All four children working together on a Lego movie.

The five of us reading Edward Eager’s books out loud together.

Every day of the fifteenth year of my marriage.

My five-year-old marveling at every bit of life.

Marveling at life, that’s what I’m doing when I take the the time to sketch a moment of our life. I’m looking at life with the heart of a five-year-old, awe-struck and thankful.

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IMG_7838walking with my son during a beautiful sunset last year

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If I Had My Life to Live Over

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Last night my husband and I spent an hour getting ready for our time with the kids of brainstorming a family mission statement. We used this helpful free tool to poke and prod our thoughts about what makes our family tick and what we’d like to change for the new year. As I read through some bits of inspiration, I found this piece by Erma Bombeck. Even though I’m only thirteen years into motherhood, I can still identify with her regrets and the values she wished she’d chosen to govern her day to day choices.  I face these same choices every day.

“If I had my life to live over,” written by Erma Bombeck near the end of her life, details the values Bombeck wished had guided her daily decisions.

If I had my life to live over, I would have talked less and listened more.

I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.

I would have eaten the popcorn in the ‘good’ living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace.

I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.

I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.

I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage.

I would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried about grass stains.

I would have cried and laughed less while watching television – and more while watching life.

I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband.

I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for the day.

I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn’t show soil or was guaranteed to last a lifetime.

Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I’d have cherished every moment and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.

When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now go get washed up for dinner.”

There would have been more “I love you’s”.. More “I’m sorrys” …

But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute… look at it and really see it … live it…and never give it back.

 

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I’m on a Spy Mission for Advent

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This December I’m on a hunt for truth and beauty. Not the bendable truths and digitalized beauty of the world today, but truth seen through the filter of God’s word and beauty that reveals a hint of God’s everlasting glory.  A friend recently said, “I want to learn to see.  In art and in life, I want to look for God moving through the background.”

I’ve lived on a particular kind of beauty and truth these last many years, often wrapped in a cloak of painful situations.  Certainly God’s love has been revealed throughout that time and in that revelation there has been beauty, but my soul desperately needs to notice some other aspects. These have more to do with sunsets dipped in apricots hues and the pure, ringing laughter of a four-year old, both reflections of God’s truth and beauty.

Not only do I want to seek them out, I want to share them as well; with my children, with you, and many people I know who sit in an all too familiar darkness.  The darkness we see is not darkness to God and He calls us to be be windows of His light, so others can see a glimpse of His glory.

Here’s a beautiful poem crafted with the truth that our Savior left his throne and came down to a smelly, sweaty stable for you and for me.

 

Mary’s Song
by Luci Shaw

Blue Homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen into my arms. (Rest…
you who have had so far to come.)
Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled a universe.  He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.

His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world. Charmed by doves’s voices,
the whisper of straw, he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes,
he is curtailed who overflowed all skies,
all years. Older than eternity, now
he is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught
that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended,
I must see him torn.

 

(I’m thankful to the friend that brought me to Luci Shaw’s poetry this summer.  This poem came from a book called “Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation”, a great read for this month.)

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What’s a Story without the Hard Parts? (Re-post)

(This a re-post from last year.)

(spoiler alert: major plot points of Jane Eyre are revealed in this post)

I re-read books.

I love to re-read books.

There are some books that have been such intimate friends over the years that I can pull one off of the shelf, open it to any page, and be transported to the world of my favorite character, the colors and details as vivid as a movie playing on a screen.

Sometimes I read selfishly, savoring the first half of the book, the build, the love story when the love is still new and unblemished, when the characters are still true to themselves and each other, and then I stop.

I stop before time travel moves from excitement to terrifying for Henry and Clare in the Time Traveler’s Wife. I click off my book light before Jane Eyre leaves Mr. Rochester and spends months in pain instead of newfound joy.

And then I flip to the end. I have the right to do it, I’ve already read the book a dozen times, suffered with her, I’ve earned the right to skip if I want to.

But the end is never as exhilarating if I skip the hard parts.

The first time I walked with Jane toward Mr. Rochester when they finally meet again-well, there weren’t any words for that moment. Together we’d chosen starvation over sin and then faced the temptation to forsake our hearts altogether for a life and marriage without love. I might smile and nod happily when I skip those parts and turn to the last chapter, but take away the hard parts and where’s the story that stole my heart to begin with?

I’ve begun to see my own story in the same way. What is my story without this middle part?

I spend a lot of time running away from pain, either present pain, or past pain, anxious to get to “the good part”. But when I look back at my story of 34 years, which parts do I skip? The past that I once wished to leave closed, present chapters included, are all intricately connected. Events, moments of impact that once (and sometimes still) cause me to cry out, “Why?”, don’t make any sense as individual stories.

When I look back now those collection of moments resemble the Extreme Dot to Dot that my 11-year-old finished last week. 636 dizzying dots that eventually revealed a complete picture. I don’t know the number of days of my life so I don’t know how many dots are left to connect, but enough to know that God’s plan has been purposeful, not one extraneous dot in this book. Each moment has brought me a little more faith, trust, love, and hope, sometimes while the pain is fresh, sometimes later.

“You cannot amuptate your history from your destiny..my past is something Jesus takes hold of and makes into a destiny.  That’s called redemption.”

Beth Moore

While reading someone else’s painful story this week, I felt challenged to be a steward of my story, instead of running from it.  As I read Mary Beth Chapman’s book about the accidental death of her 5-year-old daughter, she spoke of God making her and her whole family a steward of their story. What an amazing response to the pain allowed into their life (deeper pain than I’ve ever experienced). And they have done just that, through their lives, through their books, through their music, through their ministry. They didn’t hide, they opened their story to the world, their whole story.

Stories, both real and fictional, don’t make sense without the hard parts.

What story has God made you a steward of?

 

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Grown-up and Still Growing

I’m usually in the middle of a sentence when it happens.

My ten-year-old and I are discussing a math lesson gone bad.

“You know when you’re this frustrated, you can’t process the assignment anymore, you need to find a way out of the frustration first-”

Her face is red, her tears fresh.

I open my mouth to continue.  I close it.

When did I last demonstrate a healthy way to deal with frustration? I should really tuck that away and think about that later, I tell myself.

Here’s another recent scenario:

“Your biggest challenge in the next few years will be to find out who God made you to be.  You, Mookie.  Instead of worrying about what other people think, or trying to please and impress the kids around you.”

“I know,” she answers, with an understanding groan that confirms this is a regular struggle for her.

I open my mouth to continue.  I close it.

Don’t I still deal with that all the time? Didn’t I recently get to know a new community and  feel the urge to prove myself and say the right things to show I’m a person who has something to offer? I daily choose between moving toward the person God made me to or losing myself to comparison.

A third scenario:

“You’re beautiful just the way you are.”

“I just wish I were different that I am,” my daughter answers honestly.

I open my mouth to continue,  I close it.

How do I view myself every time I look in the mirror? Do I see beauty or flaws?

When I try to teach a lesson

Usually when I’m attempting to teach my children life lessons, I interrupt myself, thinking, “Hey, that’s a good point, I should really work on that myself.” It can be disheartening because I think a Mama should dole out the principles both in word and by example.

So what’s a Mama to do?

I feel like a mama caterpillar trying to teach a baby caterpillar how to turn into a butterfly while I’m still in a chrysalis, still in the midst of being transformed. How do I teach about transformation when I’m still in the middle of it? Do I stop instructing because I’m still learning and making mistakes? Or does the knowledge that I still need growth even as an adult, lead me toward grace toward myself and my kids?

As I think about it, that’s exactly what God offers in the Bible.  “No one should sin….but when he does sin, Jesus will be there to understand, comfort, forgive, and again, instruct.” Forgive and instruct, forgive and instruct, it’s a cycle that lasts an entire life, for each of us, no matter how many gray hairs we’ve acquired.

 

 

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The Risk of Failure on the Heart

I hold my fingers above the computers keys, wondering, will I have anything to say, or should I just read someone else’s book, or blog, or play.

I flip the pages of my sketchbook and remove my mechanical pencil, pause, and wonder, will the pencil marks amount to anything really good or original?

I watch the film, mentally moving the camera to a different angle and adjust the order of the storyline, as the movie plays on, I wonder-what if I put my own hand to theater only to find my work has no truth or beauty.

Would my heart be safer without dreams?

What about a world without dreams, I wonder? No dreams, only duty. No longing for anything greater than myself, just the reality of the hard and fast world in reach of my fingertips.

To dream means to hope and to hope means to risk.

As I enter a season of taking my dreams and unfurling them into the daylight, the door to my heart tries to close hard against the risk. To keep the dream a dream, nothing more.

What am I risking?

Failure.

When I type the word it’s bathed in red light, it’s reaching out to me as vivid and invasive as a 3D, high-def movie.

This nauseous pit of fear lodged somewhere between my stomach and my heart has been with me ever since I said yes to test-driving one of my dreams.  Well, the “yes” was exhilarating.  The need to vomit came about 30 minutes later.

As the day approaches, I take out my fear and I look at it again and I send a searchlight out for my dream and it’s still there, pulsing.

I think of the parable in the Bible when the character buries his talents in the ground until his master returned, thinking himself safe and wise. Imagining my dreams inside of the cool, dark earth instead of the burning light of day sounds very tempting.

Which leads me back to my original question.  Would a world without dreams be safer?

But this time a second question shoves it’s way in.

Am I called to lead a safe life?

Is a safe life an abundant life?

A world without dreams may be safe, it might protect me from rejection and heart pain.

But as I imagine this dreamless world further, I imagine a life without invention. Without beauty. Without poetry. Or stories. Without the grace that arrives when dreams die and are resurrected into a new hope that couldn’t have been born without pain.

A world without worship because a safe heart has no need to worship.

It’s a daily choice to keep walking toward the risk instead of toward the hole in the earth ready to swallow my hope as if doing me a favor.

It’s good to be both awake and dreaming.

I feel alive.

“You must once and for all give up being worried about successes or failures.  Don’t let that concern you.  It’s your duty to go on working steadily day by day, quite quietly, to be prepared for mistakes, which are inevitable, for failures…”

Anton Chekhov, quoted by the character David in L’engle’s Certain Women

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Searching for Normal

I drive past the overstuffed parking lots, trees tied to car roofs, and christmas lights blinking in the store windows.

Already? I ask myself, gripping the wheel tighter.

Is it time to shift the house into Christmas decorations? I’m still looking for a normal, kind-of-tidy house.

Is it time to pick an Advent devotional for the evenings? I’m still looking for normal, unhurried evenings.

Is it time to set aside some of our regular homeschool studies and pencil in special “Christmas time” unit studies and read-alouds? I’m still looking for normal school, when the basics all fit comfortably into our day.

Is it really time to make Christmas cookies every week? I’m still trying to get a routine of meals, and a break from extra sweets.

Is it really time to think about presents, service projects, and teacher gifts? I’m still looking a few free moments when I don’t feel tired.

I’m still searching for normal, I think to myself.

But what is normal? Have I ever had it? Does it mean balanced? No, I figured out many years ago that a life of momma-hood and homeschooling doesn’t equal balanced anything.

But I do remember a certain rhythm.

Rhythm, that’s what I’m looking for. A rhythm to our days.

Just as this lifestyle doesn’t invite balance, I know the rhythm of a season is temporary as well.  Children move to new grades, birthdays bring new parenting challenges, new babies call for a break in rhythm and some improvisation.

But we usually find a comfortable rhythm for a period of months, and we haven’t found that for a long time now.  Summer always throws me with its lack of routine, then our new homeschool year arrived with friction, and our first solid week of homeschool (that finished with hope) ended a few days before my Dad died.  Weeks of grieving and planning a memorial, a few choppy weeks of school, and now it’s Christmas? Did we even have Fall?

Usually Christmas arrives as a change of rhythm from our normal routine.

I don’t have a normal to set aside to make room for all that arrives with the month of December.

The seven years of taking care of my Dad certainly felt like a constant break in anything routine, new challenges always presenting themselves.  But looking back, I can see that visiting Dad every week, and meeting with nurses had it’s own rhythm of staccato beats. Maybe some rhythms can’t be recognized in the present moment, but only when the beat is lost.

Should I keep looking for our rhythm, and keep my hope tied to it?

Or is my hope better tied to something that doesn’t ever change?  Something I might remember if I can make the shift to Christmas?

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There is No Green Room at Hutchmoot

*please forgive all of the botched paraphrased quotes, I did my best to catch the essence.

After Hutchmoot 2012: Day 3

If New York is the place where everyone is really an actor, and just a waiter “on the side”, then Nashville is the town where every other person is a graphic designer, but what they really want to do is play music professionally.  By this I mean that it’s a city of ambition.

One would think that if one attended a conference with musicians, songwriters, and authors, in Nashville, it would be one big schmooze fest of making contacts and getting oneself noticed.  (I’ll admit, I wouldn’t have minded getting noticed.)

When I came here I introduced myself by my professional name, but by day two I found myself introducing myself as Matt.  I realized I was not making business contacts, I was making friends.  When N.D Wilson introduces himself here he introduces himself as Nate, Andrew is AP and, Pete (the Moot Master) is just Pete.”  These are the words of one Rabbit on the last day of Hutchmoot and they’re a great introduction to the atmosphere of this gathering.

“There is no backstage, we’re all out here together,” declared Andrew Peterson and his description was not just a pretense of humility.  All of the musicians and writers were standing around in the general hubbub and there was no special table for Charlie Peacock or Steve Talyor, director of the recent film Blue Like Jazz.  Is this possible in Nashville, where every artist has a clause for the kind of drink or furniture he wants in the green room?  There is no green room at Hutchmoot.

In the same way that Jesus knelt down to wash the dust and grime for His weary disciples’ feet, I saw the leaders of Hutchmoot serving the guests.

I want some water,” I said to my husband, getting ready to look for a cup of refreshment. Pete, who is not just a Head Rabbit but also the author of two outstanding books, apparated from somewhere to the space beside me and asked, “You need water?”  How had he gotten there and why was he concerned for my needs out of the other 180 attendees?  I tried to reassure him that, yes, I did indeed need water, but that, no, I did not need him to retrieve the beverage for me.  He pointed me toward three locations where fresh water was available, then apparated to the bathroom to refill the toilet paper.

Didn’t these leaders find their self-worth in the artistry of their books, songs, and films? Weren’t we supposed to lift them up and remember that we humbly come with nothing but hearts to learn from their wisdom of the ages?

In session after session I received this heart-probing message,”Go use your skills, but don’t define your worth by what you do.”

In the theater session, a profession that begs for praise and adulation, Stephen Trafton reminded the room, “Your worth and identity come from God and will never come from anything you make or create.”

And in Phil Vischer’s testimony of broken dreams he quoted C.S. Lewis, “He who has God plus many things has no more than he who has God alone.”

The capital “R” rabbits were also quick to share their weaknesses.

In my first session, one of the pastors confessed readily that he struggles with the longing to boost up his vanity at every Hutchmoot as the other staff have books and cd’s to show on the tables but he doesn’t. “I don’t mean I used to struggle with this, I mean this morning, about 4 hours ago, I struggled with it.”

One musician shared openly about the many dark places of his depression, and  all around I heard men and women release their breath as they realized they didn’t have to hide the mess in their lives to be accepted or prove their artistic significance in order to start using their gifts.

This is a new kind of community, or maybe, a very old one.

 

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The Life and Death of Dreams

 “So, do you feel ready to go write your play now?” my husband asked me on the last morning of Hutchmoot.

“No,” I answered.  “I’m not going to write any play for a week, a month, 3 months, could be a year.”

I went to Hutchmoot to crack my dreams wide open.  At a Gathering held within the walls of stories, I would learn how to tell mine.  I’ve been dreaming of how to tells stories for years now, while living out the dark and the light of my own.

Then Phil Vischer ruined everything.

As he talked of Big Ideas and Jellyfish, I realized that my dreams had a whole lot to do with adding to my worth, and the outcome (which had to be Excellent by my standards) of any artisitic endeavors were too important to me.  In the past few months I’ve even tried to step out before the last painful chapters in one thread of my life and begin to mold the events into a genre I can hand to others.  I can’t experience God in my story when I’m trying to write it.

I left Hutchmoot with my dreams cracked open, but what I found inside surprised me.  I need to give these to God, I thought to myself, and wait to see if He hands them back.

A time of dream fasting began.

After Hutchmoot: Day 1

8:30am: I rise from my bed with noble intentions.  Death to my dreams.

9:30am: At the breakfast table I look around for familiar faces.  I don’t see a budding filmmaker, a man in a spacesuit, a Broadway actor who knows his theology, or a red-haired beauty who surrounded me with familiar ink-laden friends a few a days ago.

My mother, who’s in town because she graciously watched all four of our kids, has just given the children their 5th and 6th donut in 3 days.  I can hear my 7-year-old sugar-loaded son from the kitchen. He’s playing ping-pong in his room, only he’s the ball and the wall is his paddle.

My husband just left for the week.

I will serve them selflessly, I remind myself, I will put the Mooters out of my head.

10:30am: We’re back from the airport, Nana is gone, and I’m the only adult in the house.  Responsibility stares at me from every pile of laundry and dirty dish.  Good thing I’m setting aside that dream thing.  How very practical.

10:45am:  I Google a few books from the conference.

11:00am: I get out my watercolors.  That’s not dreaming, it’s just a little sketching with color.

11:05am: The 3-year-old has dumped out the water and brushes all over the floor.  Her own watercolor project lasts 1.5 minutes.

11:30am: Although sketching ended abruptly, I’ve now forgotten that I planned to take even one week off from planning out my dreams.  I think of putting up a board on my bathroom wall (the only available space) for me and my husband to post ideas as we get them, an idea also via Mr. Vischer (not the bathroom wall part).

I’ve already composed the first one in my head, “Could I adapt XXXXXX book into a play?

11:35am: I’m pulled from my pondering because, by the sounds from the bedroom, three older siblings will soon hurt their 3-year old sister if she knocks down their LEGO village one more time.  And these young people seem to think they need something to eat.

I calculate about ten minutes before final impact, so I pick up my copy of Me, Myself, and Bob. I remember the section in his talk on our ‘Groundhog Day lives’ and how God is working through each moment of each mundane act of each day.

This death to my dreams thing is beginning to hurt.

12:00pm: Because there is not a chef at my house to prepare Smoked Pork Loin smothered in Fruit Compote (which led to loud moans of pleasure with each bite just a few days ago), we have macaroni and cheese.

The kids are making a not so pretty transition from Grandma time to Momma’s back in charge.  Momma’s transition isn’t so pretty either.

I’m becoming a deranged picture from one of those flap books that has pages of foreheads and eyes on the top, with different noses in the middle, and different mouths at the bottom.  The goal is to mix up the pictures to find the craziest combination of features. I have Rabbit ears and eyes on the top, a momma nose and cheekbones, and I’m not sure yet about the last flap.

The next five hours:  A blur of normal activity, with some snotty kleenexes added in for good measure (theirs, not mine).

8pm:  I’m putting my 3-year-old down to bed but I’m really thinking about writing this post.

“No, mommy, sing to me down here,” she pulls me from the edge of her toddler bed to a leaning position inches from her face.  The lights are off, but she has a nightlight in her hand so we can see each other’s eyes in the dim green glow of a Toy Story alien since she’s holding it close to my forehead.

She holds her hand on my cheek while I sing her most popular request:

“I love you Lord and I lift my voice

to worship you, O my Soul, rejoice

Take Joy my King, in what you hear

let it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear.”

9:52pm: Silence settles into the house.  Another idea appears in a small square on the bathroom wall.

Dreams don’t die in one day.

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What’s A Story Without the Hard Parts?

(spoiler alert: major plot points of Jane Eyre are revealed in this post)

I re-read books.

I love to re-read books.

There are some books that have been such intimate friends over the years that I can pull one off of the shelf, open it to any page, and be transported to the world of my favorite character, the colors and details as vivid as a movie playing on a screen.

Sometimes I read selfishly, savoring the first half of the book, the build, the love story when the love is still new and unblemished, when the characters are still true to themselves and each other, and then I stop.

I stop before time travel moves from excitement to terrifying for Henry and Clare in the Time Traveler’s Wife. I click off my book light before Jane Eyre leaves Mr. Rochester and spends months in pain instead of newfound joy.

And then I flip to the end. I have the right to do it, I’ve already read the book a dozen times, suffered with her, I’ve earned the right to skip if I want to.

But the end is never as exhilarating if I skip the hard parts.

The first time I walked with Jane toward Mr. Rochester when they finally meet again-well, there weren’t any words for that moment. Together we’d chosen starvation over sin and then faced the temptation to forsake our hearts altogether for a life and marriage without love. I might smile and nod happily when I skip those parts and turn to the last chapter, but take away the hard parts and where’s the story that stole my heart to begin with?

I’ve begun to see my own story in the same way. What is my story without this middle part?

I spend a lot of time running away from pain, either present pain, or past pain, anxious to get to “the good part”. But when I look back at my story of 34 years, which parts do I skip? The past that I once wished to leave closed, present chapters included, are all intricately connected. Events, moments of impact that once (and sometimes still) cause me to cry out, “Why?”, don’t make any sense as individual stories.

When I look back now those collection of moments resemble the Extreme Dot to Dot that my 11-year-old finished last week. 636 dizzying dots that eventually revealed a complete picture. I don’t know the number of days of my life so I don’t know how many dots are left to connect, but enough to know that God’s plan has been purposeful, not one extraneous dot in this book. Each moment has brought me a little more faith, trust, love, and hope, sometimes while the pain is fresh, sometimes later.

“You cannot amuptate your history from your destiny..my past is something Jesus takes hold of and makes into a destiny.  That’s called redemption.”

Beth Moore

While reading someone else’s painful story this week, I felt challenged to be a steward of my story, instead of running from it.  As I read Mary Beth Chapman’s book about the accidental death of her 5-year-old daughter, she spoke of God making her and her whole family a steward of their story. What an amazing response to the pain allowed into their life (deeper pain than I’ve ever experienced). And they have done just that, through their lives, through their books, through their music, through their ministry. They didn’t hide, they opened their story to the world, their whole story.

Stories, both real and fictional, don’t make sense without the hard parts.

What story has God made you a steward of?

 

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