How to capture the Light

BenjaminStarSometimes, when the lighting is just right, I can’t help but grab my camera. And when Benjamin plugged in the tree top star to test it, I knew I wanted to freeze the beautiful image on film.

Seconds later he pulled the light bulb and its cord away from the star and began swinging them from left to right.

Can you keep your body really still and swing the light in a full circle, I asked… all the while snapping pictures.

BenjaminLight1

BenjaminLight2Miraculously the camera-shy boy obliged, and we all ooohed and aaaahed when we saw the results. By leaving the camera’s shutter open a bit longer and staying still, we captured the path of the light.

Staying open.

Staying still.

There’s something to that.

“… the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.” — 1 John 2:8

Knowing who you are and whom you serve

Mama and Marketta

With a name like Marketta, you’re bound to have nicknames. That is, unless you have a mama like mine.

Growing up there were countless people who tried to shorten my name but each person was corrected – firmly – by Mama. She named me Marketta, she’d say, and that’s exactly what she wanted me to be called.

At times it was a little frustrating, and even a tad embarrassing when I was a teenager, but on this one point Mama was unmovable. I had no choice but to go along with it.

Somewhere along the way, I guess I succumbed to the brainwashing because I started to get irritated when people said my name was too difficult to pronounce or when they’d ask if I had a nickname that was easier to remember.

“You can call me Marketta,” I’d hear myself say firmly. And then I started to get it, how this really wasn’t a battle over nicknames. I got a glimpse of what Mama had been trying to teach me: Not to budge on who I am.

Life has a way of knocking us down and trying to slap labels on our foreheads. If we listen to some people, we can start to believe we’re failures or we’re lazy – that we’re not contributing anything of meaning and that we’re not worth remembering, no matter how short our names are.

It’s one of the biggest lies in the universe, this idea that we’re defined by what naysayers think of us or by what they want to call us. Still, sometimes I fall for it. That is, until I remember who I am and whom I serve.

I believe in a God who literally filled the depths of the oceans and placed each star precisely in the sky, a God whose power and compassion I can’t even begin to describe. And in my mind, it’s that awe-inspiring God who says we’re loved, forgiven and cherished. I can’t help but give his opinion a little more weight than what the average person thinks.

He says we’re worth remembering. In fact, we’re worth it all.

He even says it firmly. And I believe him.

Sisters: Marketta, Jaquita and Kathy

Church is something that happens — anywhere God is invited

For me, church is not just a building or even a group of people who worship and serve together – it’s something that happens.

As a kid I went to a rustic church camp tucked away in the hills of Arkansas. When my youth group first started going there, the cabins didn’t have air conditioning and you needed to wear rubber-soled flip flops in the shower to avoid a slight shock.

The centerpiece of the camp was the chapel and it had only a dirt floor and a tin roof. No walls. No frills. One night, it started to storm. Rain came down in sheets and slammed into the tin roof, making it almost impossible to hear anything else. Within minutes of the start of service water ran down the aisles and formed puddles among the uncomfortable pews.

But just when it seemed worthless to stay and try to listen, a man stood to sing the old Southern hymn “When the Roll is Called up Yonder.” It was as if he had swallowed a microphone. His deep voice carried from the front of that soaked little chapel all the way to the back, and as the words from the song washed over the congregation, things began to change. Teenagers started standing and thanking God for the changes they had seen in their lives, for the times he had helped them through rough spots and for the love he shared with them.  Gratitude and grace entered the room and there, amid the mud and the rain, church happened –creating a moment that God might want to be part of, something sacred, powerful and unforgettable.

I’ve been back many times to that little chapel that now has a cement floor and a new roof. I’ve spent time in the opulence and beauty of the Vatican. I’ve had thoughtful conversations with groups of friends, and I’ve stood alone in my modest kitchen with just the buzzing of the refrigerator. In all of those places I’ve had extraordinary moments when I’ve felt close to God and faith has come alive for me.

Hopefully I’ll have many more moments like that, wherever God would like to meet me.

Confessions of a youngish adult who likes twangy Gospel music

In many ways I am a modern woman.

I work outside the home, and my husband stays home with the boys. I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. I have an iPad.

And yet I, Marketta Gregory, listen to Southern Gospel music. Think old-fashioned hymns. Think fiddles and piano players who wear cowboy boots. That is the music of my childhood, the kind I grew up singing every Sunday and Wednesday. The kind you usually associate with people 20 years older than me.

I just can’t help myself, and now that I’ve found “Southern Gospel radio” and “traditional country hymns” on Pandora, my boys have to listen to twangy songs the whole time I’m doing dishes. I think I’ve caught the teenager cringing but the 4-year-old will sometimes sing with me: Like a tree planted by the water, we shall not be moved…

It may be different than what they’re used to, but it helps me work with a more joyful, peaceful attitude and that’s something everyone in the house appreciates.

Oklahoma City bombing leaves indelible mark

Some events in life are so substantial that they leave a big hash mark on our personal timelines. They make it clear that there was a time “before” and a time “after.”

For most of us, those events are things like a high school graduation, marriage, the birth of child – or a tragedy, like the death of someone dear to us or an unimaginable event like the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City.

If you could see my timeline, the bombing hash mark would be in bold, a clear division between feeling secure and understanding that terrible things really can happen, even to good people.

Who would have imagined that Oklahoma would be a target for terrorism? My home state isn’t huge or heavily populated, unless you count the cattle. We don’t have enough electoral votes to bother anyone. And we’re pretty well mannered. We still hold the door open for each other and pull over to the side of the road when a funeral procession passes to show our respect.

But 17 years ago today, we learned that we, too, are vulnerable. At 9:01 a.m., life was normal. By 9:03 a.m., my world had forever changed.

Since then, I’ve seen the Twin Towers fall. I’ve watched earthquakes shake entire countries, and I’ve witnessed a powerful tsunami, miners pulled from rubble and students running from gunmen.

Sometimes I’d like to rub my eyes and start over – go back to the time before my April 19th hash mark. But then I remember the strength and the goodness I have seen in others who have chosen to be brave and compassionate in the most difficult of times.

Rescue workers flooded Oklahoma and worked around the clock, giving us all they possibly could. Restaurants delivered free food to the site. Families and college students scoured their closets for raincoats, blankets and flashlights – and anything else the rescuers needed.

And I’ll never forget the First United Methodist Church, which sits next door to the Murrah property. The church, which had been used as a makeshift morgue in the hours after the bombing, hung signs where its beautiful stained glass windows had once been: “Our God reigns & we will remain.”

Vulnerable, yes. Defeated, no.

Bible is ‘all about friendships’

I know it’s hard to be the younger one, the one who watches from the doorway as older kids leave for friends’ houses. That’s why it struck such a chord with me when Benjamin said he wanted to go somewhere that I couldn’t see him.

He wanted to leave the house without Mom and Dad. He wanted to be big. At 4, his options are limited.

Then, it struck me: He could play on our front porch while I sat mere feet away in the living room. He could have the sense of playing just out of reach, and I could know he was safe.

He raced around gathering up the supplies he would need to entertain himself. A write-on wipe-off board. A Bible. An imagination that somehow always finds its way back to Star Wars or Justice League heroes.

Within minutes he poked his head back inside the door.

“I’m reading chapter one,” he said, carrying his Bible. “It tells all about friendships… and relationships.”

I started to explain how chapter one is about creation, but I stopped myself just in time for the reality of what he had said to sink in.

He’s a bigger, wiser boy, than I thought.

A gracious Q&A with Ann Voskamp

For those who missed the chance to chat with Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts, I’ve copied (and slightly adapted) the conversation we had on the Simply Faithful Facebook page and provided it for you here. Ann is truly a gift. May you enjoy getting to know her better and may you cherish her wisdom…

  • Simply Faithful Welcome Ann! We are so excited that you are here with us. If it’s OK, we’ll let you say a few words and then we’ll dive in to the questions.

Ann Voskamp Thank you for grace and the warm welcome!

  • Linda Gordon How did you come to know the many references you used in your book? I was totally amazed at how many different sources you knew and quoted.

Ann Voskamp Ahh… the wonder of listening to all the authors and words that have come before! I read a lot… and I think when you begin to answer God’s call — He also providentially has you cross paths with all the words and thoughts you need for the work?

And I remember writing that bibliography — many hours!

Linda Gordon so did you find the quotes as you were writing the book or were there ones you knew and wanted to be sure to include?

Ann Voskamp Yes, Linda — some I found as I read, during the writing process — only God moments. And others had been tucked in a file — as they resonated with the life God was leading me into…. Good questions!

Amy Kushnir Ann – I just stumbled upon this thread riding home from spring break in Texas – that answer about how God has you cross paths with all the work and thoughts you need for the work – profound! Just hit me like a ton of bricks! thank you!

Ann Voskamp Hi Tanya! Warm wave! Yes, the style …

The book is written in its own idiosyncratic language—prose meeting poetry, a strange kind of language.

Throughout Scripture, when a person came into the presence of God, the only language they had to stammer out anything was a different language than their vernacular. The only way to communicate their encounter with God was often through lyrical language.

I didn’t think a book written in that “prosetical” God-encounter language would ever find a real home out in the world.

But God had other plans —

And maybe that is exactly what we’re all hungry for—a powerful, personal encounter with God in a language all of its own?

Simply Faithful How did your editors respond? Were they supportive?

Tanya Shaw Herrold I agree. That connection to our perfect Maker is needed among us today just as in earlier times!

Ann Voskamp Well, Zondervan and Waterbrook both bid for the book, based on the first three chapters, so they knew what the style and voice was at the outset. Zondervan wanted something fresh and “outside of the box” — and were very encouraging to do exactly what God called. They told me to write just vertically, for an audience of One. And I did.

  •  Ann Beaudoin Meyer Hi Ann. I can imagine that sharing your personal life experiences through this book was a challenge. Even greater difficulty must be speaking to large crowds and the medias about such a personal, intimate topic. How do you think you have grown as your book continues to impact so many people?

Ann Voskamp Ah, Ann… such a thoughtful question. I think the Lord has asked me to live the truth/message of the book again now, in deeper ways. Can I trust Him? Is all grace? Will I turn blessings into burdens?

I think the journey has kept me very small and quiet and hushed under His wing. He’s used it to draw me closer to Him — relying only on Him.

When I am weak — He is strong.

Simply Faithful I loved your blog post about wearing rainbow socks and standing on his promises. I may borrow that idea!

Ann Voskamp Highly recommended, Marketta.

Ann Beaudoin Meyer I think that is the key, really appreciating those blessings. We turn them into burdens all too often!

  • Linda Gordon How long ago did you write the book? How did you meet your farmer?

Ann Voskamp Linda, it took me about 13 months to write the book? And I met the Farmer in his mama’s Good News Bible Club!

Linda Gordon That is good news! Was it love at first sight or a work in progress?

Ann Voskamp Ah, we were young… 14. We had our first date at 16. And were married when I was 20. Grace upon grace… Christ braiding us together in Him.

  •  Simply Faithful How did you get involved with Compassion International and what draws you to that organization?

Ann Voskamp We’ve always been child sponsors, since we were married…. and had several children sponsored through Compassion for many years. I became an advocate for Compassion about 3 years ago? And then Compassion invited me to live blog a trip to Guatemala in Sept. 2009 and Ecuador November, 2011, and see firsthand their work. That sealed it! My heart is forever with His children in need! The proceeds from One Thousand Gifts now has returned to the Guatemala City Dump to build an educational center — thanks be to God alone.

Ann Beaudoin Meyer Do you have plans to return to Guatemala?

Simply Faithful Lida Merrill will want to hear more about that! She has done a lot of missionary work in Guatemala with people who have disabilities.

Courtney Joseph Oh I love this!

  •  Lida Merrill Hi Ann, Thank you for your time this evening. Have your older children read your book?

Ann Voskamp Good evening, Lida…. My oldest, yes, he has — he’s nearly 17.

Lida Merrill What impression did it have on him?

Simply Faithful Is he the one who threw toast?

Ann Voskamp Before the manuscript was submitted, the children whose stories were told, graciously gave their permission, so he had read some of the chapters before. And Caleb was very generously positive. He came to me last week and said I really need to begin another book… Humbling grace.

Ann Voskamp Ah yes — the toast scene. Yes.

Linda Gordon How did keeping a gratitude journal work for him?

Ann Voskamp We have a family gratitude journal that together we work on and we keep sharing each day at the table our thanks — it’s become part of who we are… our new default!

Ann Voskamp Warm wave, Lucinda!

I’m not sure I even now think of it in terms of a gift for words?

I think I just wait over a keyboard and He gives the gift?

Lucinda Mellinger Anderson Your descriptions paint the picture so well i feel like I’m right there with you!

Ann Voskamp Thank you for grace, Lucinda… So kind.

  •  Lida Merrill Are you planning a return trip to Guatemala?

Ann Voskamp Yes! Us as a whole family! We will all return to Guatemala, Lord willing, next January? To celebrate what God has done with the Educational Center!  http://www.aholyexperience.com/?p=8753

Ann Beaudoin Meyer How exciting! What part of Guatemala?

Ann Voskamp ‎(The above link is about Guatemala and how it came to be that One Thousand Gifts is going back there, to BE the gift! I am blessed, I can bless — this is happiness!

Ann Voskamp We will return, Lord willing, to Guatemala City….

Ann Beaudoin Meyer thanks for the link.

Lida Merrill Yes, thank you.

Ann Voskamp I preach out loud to myself.  I count blessings out loud. I memorize Scripture and meditate on Truth. We read Scripture together after every meal, 3 times a day.Here is a bit of where we are memorizing — wonderful resource!

http://scripturetyper.com/Group/View/5d4f33dc33/

Simply Faithful Who selects the scriptures? I love all of your ideas but I know they take preparation, too…

Ann Voskamp Last year, our little country chapel, our faith community were memorizing Colossians together — so we invited blog readers to join us.

Ann Voskamp This year, our faith community is memorizing Sermon on the Mount together — so we made up the resources to share online also. Our son, Joshua, (14) makes up all the downloadable resources from the blog… the monthly Joy Dare, the free printables, the Sermon on the Mount booklet… We love working together! A wonderful way to bond!

Simply Faithful He does fantastic work. They are all gorgeous. A true gift! (Will you thank him for us?)

Ann Voskamp I will thank him for you all. Imagine a 14 year old smiling shyly.

Courtney Joseph I love how your son is able to serve along side of you!

  •  Cathy Spellman Roberts Do you use journaling as a technique as you teach your kids in other areas as well?

Ann Voskamp Yes! Just today I handed out new journals. One of the boys (9) wrote a new title on his journal: “My Life.” Perfect!

  • Cathy Spellman Roberts How do you continually try to keep the negative thoughts out. I know I try to start my day when I’m driving by concentrating on my gifts and listening to what God has in store for me for the day, and I try in the middle of the day at work or with my kids to clear the clutter, but I have a hard time keeping it out.

Ann Voskamp I understand, Cathy… You are not alone. I am with you. Singing hymns for me helps. As does quietly preaching Scripture back to myself — a way to take captive every thought.

Ann Voskamp http://www.aholyexperience.com/?p=9031

Cathy Spellman Roberts Thanks. Music is very healing — and soothing — indeed.

  • Ann Beaudoin Meyer I appreciated your honesty in the book, as well as your blog, about your struggles with parenting. I know I have this vision to be the “perfect” mom. After I yell at one of my kids it hits me in the gut. Good reminder to have a little grace with ourselves!

Simply Faithful I like that you sometimes have dirty dishes in your sink.

Ann Voskamp I do! And dirty laundry in front of the washing machine.  And some parenting days leave me in tears and hanging my head in deep grief over my own sinfulness. My mama said that grace is like a boomerang — if you offer grace to a boomerang to others — you receive the grace. You give yourself the grace on the bad days — knowing Christ’s love covers our sins. Right there with you, beautiful women….

Linda Gordon The part about the glass jar and cutting was so hard. Were you suicidal or trying to cut out the bad parts of your life?

Lida Merrill Your line about “hurry empties souls” struck a deep cord with me in regards to parenting. I think the hurrying I did when my children were little emptied their souls. Thank you God for always refilling them, but it is something I am very aware of with my grandchildren.

Ann Voskamp Beautiful, Lida — I preach it to myself out loud often “There are no emergencies. God is in control… no emergencies. Abandon the fears and abide in the Father.”

Ann Voskamp Yes, Linda, so hard. No, not suicidal… just looking in all the wrong places to relieve pain… escape from my own skin? Hard to think I was there once — but I really, really was. Only God.

  •  Lucinda Mellinger Anderson Ann, Thanks for your idea of singing hymns,etc as I struggle writing.. any suggestions on how to journal?

Ann Voskamp Well — I leave a gratitude journal out permanently on my counter. That helps. And I have journals all through the house  … for specific helps, if you search the journal category at the blog, I wrote a multi-week series a few years ago on how to journal in various, creative ways and readers sent in their ideas and photos of their journals and it was very inspiring!

Ann Voskamp If you scroll back through these, there are so many ideas from so many wonderful women!

http://www.aholyexperience.com/category/journaling/

Lucinda Mellinger Anderson Thanks, I’ll check it out.

  • Lucinda Mellinger Anderson Ann, We are visiting our grandchildren,5 of them in Chicago and the job of getting ready for bed with a special movie after causes me to be grateful for all the noise, fun and hugs we get all to infrequent!! Thanks for sharing.

Ann Voskamp I am smiling, Lucinda! How wonderful! Much joy in Him to you all so beautifully there in Chicago! Blessed evening, Lucinda! It was a privilege…

  •  Simply Faithful Ann, we are so thankful for your time and for your many gifts.

Ann Voskamp Truly, it’s been a humbling grace. Thank you for yours.

Thank you for looking for Christ in the pages.

God go with you…

Eucharisteo, friends!

Ann Voskamp You’ve all radiated and exuded His joy tonight. Thank you!

Simply Faithful Blessings, Ann!

Lida Merrill Thank you for blessing us with your words.

Cathy Spellman Roberts Thank you Ann for your kind words and your time.

Ann Beaudoin Meyer Thank you for your time. I am sure that God will continue to bless use and use your words for the rest of us.

Courtney Joseph Oh bummer I’m late! So glad it’s all saved here to read!

With God’s help, we are ‘enough’

We all know that life is full of highs and lows, of gleeful rides to the top of the Ferris wheel followed by the slow and rocky descent to the ground. That’s where I found myself last week – in the slow and rocky part.

I was spent. I was tired from working outside the home and exhausted from dealing with family budgets and laundry and Legos. It seemed everyone, from my boss to the family Pomeranian needed something from me. Colt, who is usually a Daddy’s boy, cried every time I left the room. Benjamin begged me to play with his super hero guys, read a third story and make another treasure map. Jessie needed help with a Valentine’s Day card, and Brian and I were arguing over every little thing.

Everyone felt neglected, and no one was getting what he wanted.

“I can’t please anyone,” I half mumbled, half prayed. “I can’t make anyone happy. There’s just not enough of me.”

There is plenty of me, a quiet, loving voice told me. I am enough.

I hadn’t really been expecting guidance. I only wanted a listener, and even as I let those words hang there, in my heart I wanted to complain more, to argue and make my case that too much was being asked of me. But I couldn’t.

If I claim to believe in an all-powerful God, then don’t I have to believe he is all powerful?

It’s so simple, yet I need to be reminded to live that concept out – reminded to trust that, even on the slow and rocky parts, I’m not on the Ferris wheel alone.