Tired of striving and pushing? How to find rest…

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I quickly learned that only the early get seats at Social Media Marketing World, and the rest line the walls until the fire marshal gets nervous. So, I sat in my seat on the left side of the aisle seven minutes before Park Howell was set to take the stage and show us how to tell better stories.

I was typing out a story of own on my phone when a woman put her bags down and sat in the chair in front of me. Before I could finish and hit send, she had turned to face me and introduce herself.

She started with her name and followed up with where she worked and what she did there. Then came the talk of all the awards they had won recently.

About three minutes in, she asked my name and what I do for a living. I dug for a business card.

Spiritual lessons from soccer — and pregnancy

Apparently, I get a little agitated and unpredictable when I’m pregnant.

With my first pregnancy, I remember plotting for two hours how I might sneak into the back yard and use our chainsaw to cut down a limb that had been bothering me. Thankfully, even in my hormone-drunken stupor, a tiny voice told me that my husband would not be pleased to return home from work and find me perched on a ladder holding a dangerous tool.

The second time around, I had no cravings for destructive machinery, only Heath bars. I did, however, have to force myself to avoid becoming one of those parents who fights at the soccer games of 11-year-olds.

To be fair, I didn’t really want to hurt the dads who were telling the players on their team to foul so hard that they knocked our players over. I just wanted to startle them by tipping their folding chairs back until the dads landed on the ground. Then, I imagined I’d look down at them, wag my finger over my bulging belly and tell them that they should be ashamed of themselves – that is, until I heard that tiny voice of reason again. So, instead, I waddled over to the playground with my toddler, my swollen ankles and my thoughts.

We first put Jessie in soccer a couple of years ago as a way for him to have an outlet for all of that boy energy. Now, in this age bracket, the stakes are higher: The coach talks strategy; the team practices more than just kicking the ball down the field; and the fans sometimes get mouthy when their team is losing. We’ve gotten lessons on what it takes to be a man (or woman) of God on and off the playing field.

The topic comes up a lot at our house, especially now that we’ve added a third son. We talk about doing the right thing, even in tough situations. About standing up for people who need a little help. About being honest and asking for forgiveness. About sticking out your hand and pulling up your opponent when he has fallen – whether you’re winning or losing.

Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t knock those chairs over after all.

 

Sometimes the storm forces the calm

On the day our two oldest sons were being dedicated, a wind storm knocked out power at our church. Suddenly, instead of electric guitars and drums, there was almost silence in a room of about 400 people.

Someone thought to bring out a couple of camping lanterns and put them near the pulpit while our pastor stalled for a few minutes, waiting for the power to come back on and our service to return to normal.

Still, nothing. So, he did something a little unusual for a Sunday morning: He asked if people would like to stand and share how God had blessed them.

There, in the darkness, they began to rise from their pews. One was thankful for help with finances. One was glad that God is helping her family make tough decisions. And several told how God had helped them through illnesses.

As each one of them spoke, it felt like the room got smaller, more intimate. By the time my little family went to the front, it seemed the world had stopped and given me a moment dipped in gratitude and grace.

By flashlight, the pastor read the words of the dedication ceremony. And it was perfect, especially for someone like me — someone who too often allows the noise of everyday life to drown out the whispers of God.

Apparently I’m not alone, though. Many of the people who come to see Sue Staropoli are looking for ways to lead a quieter, more prayerful and balanced life.

“We’re so activity focused,” said Staropoli, a spiritual advisor in Penfield, NY, who teaches classes on contentment and taking better care of ourselves.  “We under value the little things.”

Like an act of kindness. Like a crimson leaf falling. Like the sound of a sleeping baby breathing in and breathing out.

We can take note of those things, she said. We can train ourselves to slow down. We can change our lives a moment at a time.

I’m ready.

When it’s the parent who needs the prayer

A few weekends ago, I had a rough night of prayer – the kind that has you awake at 3 a.m. straightening rooms and hanging up laundry just because you’re too unsettled to sit still.

For about a week I’d been having dreams where I was arguing with my 13-year-old son. In my dreams, Jessie was angry and challenging me and I was grasping for control. I was lecturing and clamping down on every wrong thing he did. I was all truth and very little mercy.

And I was driving him away. His precious heart was hardening.

Even when I was awake, I wrestled with those dreams and the truth that they might hold. Finally, those thoughts came to a peak one Saturday night. I don’t know what triggered it, but I found myself in tears, crying out to God for help.

Instead of praying for Jessie to have wisdom; for Jessie’s heart to heal from being separated from his biological parents; for Jessie to have courage and strength and joy… I prayed for myself to become the mother that Jessie needs.

That night, everything was on the table with God. If I needed to lay-off on the nagging, I’d do it. If I needed to give Jessie a little more space to make his own mistakes, I’d do it. Whatever it took for Jessie to know – really know – that he was loved unconditionally, I’d do it.

In the next few days, I started noticing more chances to reach out to Jessie, to snag a little fun time together. Things I wanted to teach him began to come up naturally in conversation. No lectures needed. And I was reminded that prayer does change things, especially me.

I love how author and pastor Bill Hybels puts it in his introduction to “Too Busy Not to Pray” ($15, InterVarsity Press). If we all prayed regularly, he writes:

“I believe hearts would soften. Habits would shift. Faith would expand. Love for the poor would increase. Positive, purposeful legacies would be built. And a ravenous hunger would rumble through us all to get usable….”

Now, that’s the power of prayer.

 

A chance to learn more about Ann Voskamp

Join me at 7:30 p.m. EST March 16 for a live chat with Ann Voskamp on the Simply Faithful page on Facebook. She has graciously agreed to answer questions from readers and share more about her life of faith. I know you’ll enjoy your time with her.

For 30 weeks Ann Voskamp’s book has earned a place on the New York Times bestseller list – and her neighbors don’t have a clue. People at her church found out only because the pastor shared his congratulations the first week.

And now the mail lady knows because her niece told her about a book she was reading called One Thousand Gifts. The mail lady happened to recognize the name of the author as the woman on her route who rarely leaves her farm in southwestern Ontario. The woman whose life is intentionally the same as it has always been, except for the occasional interview with a reporter and a mention on national TV by Kathie Lee Gifford, who tells the “Today” audience that the book is life changing.

“I never thought anyone would read it,” said Voskamp, adding that she and her husband hoped her story of writing down 1,000 things she was grateful for would at least sell enough copies to earn the advance from the publisher. It did. Before the book was even released.

Now 337,000 copies are in print, and it recently won an Award of Merit from Christianity Today. A free One Thousand Gifts app helps people track their gifts on their mobile devices, and Voskamp’s blog – aholyexperience.com – is no longer a private way for the shy woman to process her thoughts and find quiet time with God. She suddenly has an audience.

Most of that audience adores Voskamp, her wisdom and her poetic writing. And they appreciate the glimpses into her life: her struggles with depression and anxiety after the accidental death of her sister; her joy of chasing a harvest moon; her learning to take the hands of God and to trust.

“In some ways, writing is my personal handicap” because I need it to process my experiences, said Voskamp. “Some people can live through experiences once and learn from them. I have to live them twice in order to unpack and unfold the lessons.”

That’s why the mother of six continues to write what she is thankful for, to slow down, to see God’s gifts. “Counting gifts makes me realize who I can count on.”

It also reminds her of lessons she learns and then forgets – something she calls soul amnesia. “My default is not Pollyanna,” Voskamp said. “My default is perfectionism. I see all the mistakes, all the holes.” But gratitude, grace and joy point her to a different way of life, one that is content and in communion with God. “I often think God needs my hands to work but what he needs is for my knees to bend in prayer.”

So, she practices. She finds time to write on the fringes of the day. She prays at set times and between gathering the eggs from the hen house and homeschooling the kids, between the 45-minute drive to the library and writing assignments.

“When you establish time for prayer, you establish who is the priority,” said Voskamp, who attends a non-denominational church and travels for Compassion International, where she contributes to a blog for the ministry that helps children living in poverty.

On one of those trips, she met a pastor who brought clean drinking water to children living at a dump in Guatemala City, and he had dreams of building a recreation and educational center with computer labs, an English academy and a music studio. That pastor can now break ground on the project, thanks to royalties from One Thousand Gifts.

One Thousand Gifts, a book about thanksgiving now becomes a story of thanks-living,” Voskamp writes in her blog.

And there it is. The woman who gets anxious about travel and about being in the spotlight, the woman who never mentions her success to her neighbors, is quietly changing the world. One gift at a time.

How to create scripture cards

I fell in love with the idea of scripture cards when I first saw them at http://www.pinkroomponderings.blogspot.com/. Thankfully Angie, also known as BritChickNY, graciously agreed to write a guest blog here at Simply Faithful so we could learn more about the cards and about creativity. May you be inspired…

Hello all you creative souls out there! Yes! You! (Oh, you don’t think you are creative? Hm….you might be surprised) Think about it. What does being creative mean? Well, to be honest I believe that many of us think that it means we make a living creating something that someone else wants. It means that nobody can do “this” better than we can. It’s having someone compliment us on our handiwork. I beg to differ. To believe that, denies us the joy and freedom of expressing ourselves in a way that He intended to glorify Him and not us, and to use His gifts regardless of the stamp of approval from others or even ourselves.
Anybody who knows me will tell you that I always have projects on the front (and back!) burners. Just gotta be “doing.” Always on the look out for ideas. And completely inspired by what I see other artists/quilters/sewers/knitters works in progress. Here’s a little project that I did back in 2010. Rolodex Scripture cards. Go-ahead, Google that one! Whoa. Little works of art, touchy feely and so accessible. All jumbled together and taking up so little space and yet the possibilities are endless. And so….I participated in a scripture card swap. These are the cards I received.

Look, His word, in lovely bite size pieces, decorated and embellished and ready to encourage the recipient. And I am encouraged! Creatively and Faithfully! They all fit so nicely in a rolodex on my desk. Daily reminders.

Each person took the time to search the Word, thinking all the time about the others in the swap. Spending time putting papers together, gathering the trims and embellishments. All of us using the same “template,” but look how individual they are.

And these cards lend themselves to other “themes.” How about “thankful for” cards with your children? Perhaps a family photo album with special thoughts or memories of that person, or a shower gift for a newlywed or new mom with scriptural encouragement. The possibilities are endless but they do not have to be complicated. We ARE all creative, sometimes we just need some inspiration (and a little nudge) from each other. Please visit or contact me at http://www.pinkroomponderings.blogspot.com/
I would love to hear from you and look forward to see Him work in your creative world.
Angie (aka BritChickNY)
Pinkroomponderings.blogspot.com

Coffee can holds community prayer requests

In downtown Bloomfield, NY, just a stone’s throw away from the post office, sits a bench with an old coffee can on it. On the outside of the can is written an offer that many can’t refuse – it’s a place for people to put their prayer requests.

One person asked for help with an addiction. Others needed strength and one, an old biker, was just thankful for a place to rest.

“It’s sort of mysterious,” said Nancy Gullo, who started the garden with what she described as a couple of rocks. “I don’t see them leaving their requests. I check the jar and I’ll think, ‘I wonder when that happened.’”

Most visitors probably don’t know her either, unless they recognize her house. But she likes it that way. Simple. Private.

She gets about 10 prayer requests a summer and the occasional surprise, like finding that someone has added a teddy bear to the bench and wind chimes to a branch.

When she read in an earlier column that I was looking for prayer requests, she suggested the ones she has collected in her coffee can. “I guess I would ask for continued prayers for the folks in Bloomfield and for those that attend my garden,” she writes. I added her concerns – and a prayer of thanks for the coffee can – to my personal prayer list.

I also heard from someone who prays for people she reads about in the news, a man who prays for each emergency vehicle that races past and a woman who is concerned about a rash of fires at vacant homes in Kendall, NY.

A member of St. Margaret Mary Church in Irondequoit, NY, shared a beautiful prayer about her parish consolidating with four others in town. In it, the focus is on what each parish is bringing with it to strengthen the larger body.  And another woman urged us to remember those who have been hit by pancreatic cancer and asked for prayer for two of her friends who have recently learned that their children have leukemia.

Then I opened a card with a written prayer that wishes love, joy, peace, simple beauty, inner silence and hope.

Amen. Amen. Amen.

The trials and tribulations of getting to church on time

It’s true that pride comes before a fall because I was pretty smug about having my entire family take showers on Saturday night and pick out their church clothes for the next morning. This was going to be the week, the week that we got to church on time.

Usually my goal is arriving before the nice, organized family with 10 kids, but I’d been dreaming of going beyond that, of actually being seated before the songs started. So, I was taking action, that is until our 2-year-old yelled, “No pants! No pants!”

“You absolutely have to wear pants to church,” I explained as I wrestled to slip the right leg on before he kicked off the left. Then, our 10-year-old walked into the room wearing a striped polo that was on backward and baggy camouflage pants that I’m pretty sure he had played in for two days.

“Is this OK?” he asked. I suggested different pants, perhaps solid-colored ones, but I did not say a word about the fact that his shirt was facing the wrong direction. And when he came back wearing slacks with one leg tucked into a white tube sock, I still said nothing. Time was slipping away from me – and so was his bare-bottomed little brother.

Somehow my husband and I dressed, let the fluffy dog out and got the boys in the car, only to discover we didn’t have diapers with us and that we hadn’t fed our family. Fifteen minutes and one fast-food stop later, we arrived at church. Late.

Our oldest son, who had switched his shirt around by this time, headed to children’s church, but the youngest screamed when we got within five feet of the nursery. The three of us settled into a pew near the back just in time for a prayer and just in time for the little guy to say, “Mommy poopa pants.” Loudly. More than once. I was never so glad to hear an amen.

Maybe it was grace, but the rest of the service went smoothly, and we laughed all the way to the car. “Jesus cool,” we heard from the toddler in the car seat.

Success, after all.

P.S. I actually wrote this article a couple of years ago. Since then, we’ve added one more son and I don’t remember ever making it to church on time.

Frog ‘accident’ reminds us to laugh, move on

I don’t know if it’s the closeness of the Arkansas River or a perfect mix of vegetation, but for some reason frogs always gathered in my parents’ driveway. Every evening, about the time the floodlight kicked on, we’d hear them by the garage. Big ones with bellies that barely cleared the grass when they hopped. Tiny ones that jumped from rock to rock on the gravel.

So, it was no surprise that the night my boyfriend came to meet my parents a few frogs were there to greet us. Even though we were both in our 20s, he was nervous – that is until he saw the frogs. “Can I catch one?” he asked, smiling like he was 8. “Sure,” I said, “But watch out. They’ll pee on you.”

I don’t think I had finished the sentence before he started chasing the frog that looked like the teenager of the family. Charlie would take a step toward it and the frog would jump out of his way. “You’ve got to get beside it so you can put a hand in front,” I advised.

A few seconds later, Charlie had his frog. He gingerly held it in his hands and then cradled it to his chest so he could get a better look at it. And that’s when it happened. Pee soaked his hands and the front of his meet-the-father shirt.

We had no choice but to go inside. When my dad rose to greet him, he offered his hand to Charlie, who apologized and said he’d need to wash up first. When he returned from the restroom, he sat in my parents’ living room and laughed and talked like nothing had happened.

For reasons that had nothing to do with frogs, our relationship didn’t last long. Still, I’ve come to respect how he handled the situation. Too often I try to be perfect and poised. I beat myself up for not keeping my New Year’s resolutions, for the stack of laundry in the basement and for hundreds of other ways I don’t have my life together.

Maybe it’s time I, too, said a quick apology, washed my hands and moved on. Maybe it’s time I accepted a little grace. And I could just throw that dirty shirt in with the rest.