I'm an ordinary woman living an extraordinary life by learning to recognize the God-sized moments in my day to day world. I'm the wife of a pastor, a mother to four amazing creations, and a friend. I hope you'll consider me yours...
Something hugely frightening happened to me recently.
I shrunk my sweatshirt.
My sweatshirt. The one that changed my life. The one my husband gave me for Christmas that I had hardly taken off for three months. The one I loved and the one that loved me unconditionally in return.
I had plans to only take it to the dry cleaner for the rest of my life. But, I didn't pay attention and it ended up in the wash. And then the dryer. And then it shrunk. And I came the closest I have ever come to a panic attack.
I discovered it late at night, right before bed, and Eric came running to answer the shrieks of pain from the laundry room.
He then followed me to our room as I yelled, "No, no, no, no, no, no!" while I tore off my pajamas and put the sweatshirt on. The sleeves were short. The bottom hem didn't come to where it was supposed to. The whole thing was off, wrong, ruined.
My husband watched from the bed as I mourned. It was a slow process, this coming to terms with losing one of your best friends. All five stages of grief played out in the microcosm of my closet.
And when I was finished, he told me to come lay my head on his chest.
I did, utterly spent.
And that's when he pulled out his phone and showed me that my new sweatshirt would be arriving in less than 48 hours. A carbon copy of the one that would now fit my dachshund BEFORE its date with the dryer of death. My new best friend.
We won't talk about how long my husband let me lament before he shared what he had just done (evidently I'm very entertaining when I'm upset), but let's take a moment to reflect on what he did do.
He gave me grace.
I had misused and mistreated his first gift. And he offered me another, brand new and perfect, without a word of shame or reproach.
He paid the price. Twice.
So very much like my Jesus.
The One who came after me after I walked away.
The One who bought back what was already His.
The One who loves to see me wearing His ring, His clothes, His name. So much so that when I mess up, He offers me a brand new start, with nothing but love in His eyes.
I received something for Christmas this past year that I've always wanted. In fact, I've spent my whole life searching for it, but could never quite find it.
The perfect sweatshirt.
And now I have it, thanks to my husband. It's the perfect weight...light, but still warm. It's the perfect color...the cozy gray that says "go ahead and stay home all day, you deserve it." And it has the perfect sentiment written across it in large, black, block letters.
It says, "I LIKE TO PARTY. AND BY PARTY, I MEAN READ BOOKS."
Oh yes. I told you it was perfect for me. It's everything I've ever wanted in a sweatshirt. That's why it's the first thing I put on when I get home from work. Every single day. I have become the sweatshirt person. But, I don't judge myself. It's too perfect to permit judging. I only regret I didn't own it sooner.
But, how did this man know me so well? How did he know just what would make my introverted heart so exquisitely happy?
Well, besides the secret Pinterest board entitled "Things I'd Like To Own" that I created just for him, he probably knew because I read. I read a lot. It's the way I learn best, and it's the way I relax the best.
So, it makes sense that it's also the avenue that has taught me quite a bit about love. When I read people's stories, either in works of fiction or non-fiction, it's what I'm always looking for. The love story. The relationship that redeemed the past and made things new. The heart connection that turned everything around.
And I know I'm not alone. Our culture celebrates love stories, and I think it's because deep down, we're all searching for a love story.
Whether we realize it or not, every heart yearns to hear the thread of narrative that echoes the truths of the greatest love story ever told. The story that stretched from a far-away realm to our world, right here in all of it's ordinariness. The story of an epic battle between good and evil. The story of a man who came searching for His bride, to redeem her and make her his.
The story of Heaven, looking to make its home in us.
Author's Note: As our culture celebrates love this week, I pray you will enjoy this collection of my favorite quotes from fiction that echo the happy ending we've all been offered. And if you're looking for a sentiment to pen into a Valentine's card, you can't go wrong with any of these. You just might also want to make sure the card is attached to the perfect sweatshirt, if you want it to be a holiday long remembered.
"Was he willing to blend into the life of another human being for the rest of his days, and have hers blend into his? That, of course, was the Bible’s bottom line on marriage: one flesh. Not separate entities, not two autonomous beings merely coming together at dinnertime or brushing past one another in the hallway, holding on to their singleness, guarding against invasion. One flesh!" - Jan Karon, A Light in the Window
“Oh, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person: having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them out. Just as they are—chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away." - Dinah Mariah Craik, A Life for a Life, 1826–1887”
"Love, in its truest form, is not the thing of starry-eyed or star-crossed lovers, it is far more organic, requiring nurturing and time to fully bloom, and, as such, seen best not in its callow youth but in its wrinkled maturity. Like all living things, love, too, struggles against hardship, and in the process sheds its fatuous skin to expose one composed of more than just a storm of emotion–one of loyalty and divine friendship. Agape. And though it may be temporarily blinded by adversity, it never gives in or up, holding tight to lofty ideals that transcend this earth and time–while its counterfeit simply concludes it was mistaken and quickly runs off to find the next real thing.” - Richard Paul Evans, The Letter
“I come here with no expectations, only to profess, now that I am at liberty to do so, that my heart is and always will be yours.” - Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
"My love isn't a weapon, it's a lifeline, reach out and take hold, and don't let go!” - Francine Rivers, Redeeming Love
"I lived with visions for my company,
Instead of men and women, years ago,
And found them gentle mates, nor thought to know
A sweeter music than they played to me.
But soon their trailing purple was not free
Of this world's dust, — their lutes did silent grow,
And I myself grew faint and blind below
Their vanishing eyes. Then THOU didst come ... to be,
Belovèd, what they seemed. Their shining fronts,
Their songs, their splendours, (better, yet the same,
As river-water hallowed into fonts)
Met in thee, and from out thee overcame
My soul with satisfaction of all wants —
Because God's gifts put man's best dreams to shame."
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese, 26
For the past couple of years, my husband and I have made it a priority to get a way during the month of December to spend some time together. It's a hectic, crazy time of the year to try to carve out a couple of days, but we are discovering it's actually a wonderful time to do it.
Because disconnecting from the noise at the end of the year makes it easier to start fresh in a new year. We've had some late night talks, a romantic one by a fire and a humorous one by a space heater, where we've emptied our souls of the clutter and kindled some new dreams. We've asked each other uncomfortable questions, laughed together, and prayed together. And somehow, on the other side, we were ready. Ready to plow into a new season, confident we're playing on the same team.
It's been a blessing to see the fruit of this simple act in my marriage, but I was even more surprised to discover that for the last couple of years, the same thing has been happening in my relationship with my God. Somehow in the turning of the calendar page from one year to the next, He speaks. And I have learned to treasure standing under the spigot of words that flows from His mouth. Just as Mary "stored up all these things and pondered them in her heart," I want to take each word that comes from the Father and tuck them away in the storehouse of my soul, to take them out again and turn them over and over until they become more than words, but seeds. Seeds for new things.
Because the Lord loves new things. He loves to take the tired and worn out, the cracked and broken, or even just the familiar and comfortable...and breathe life into them, turning them inside out, and calling forth a new work from an old vessel.
And so my prayer is that I will not cling to the lifeless shell of last season's seed, but allow Him to bury within me a new one.
And then for Him to do it again.
"See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland." - Isaiah 43:19
Author's Note: If you are looking for some resources for the new year to deepen your time under the spigot of His voice, I would recommend these. I have provided links for where they may be purchased online. Have a blessed and fruit bearing 2015!
"Road Signs" Bible Study, an 8 week DVD course that is written/produced by my friend Paige Allen (she was a guest speaker here for us last year). Our ladies' lifegroup just completed this study, and it was a big blessing for many women. The link will take you to the order page. You can toggle to choose one book or one DVD/book. (If money is tight for you, you can purchase just a book and borrow a DVD from me!)
If this an area of needed growth, please don't delay in pressing in. Whenever my time with the Lord grows a little distant, I find that being aggressive and, often, finding a new resource, will bring fresh life and clarity to my ability to hear from Him. Don't let your love grow cold! Invest in it.
Author's Note: This is last of a four part Advent devotional series for families here at Treasure the Ordinary.May you be blessed as each of you find ways to prepare your hearts for the celebration of our King's birth. Merry Christmas!
Week 4 Advent Devotional - "Protection"
Opening Question: What trip have we taken as a family that you enjoyed that most?
During our time together today, we are going to look a trip Jesus took with his parents when He was just a baby. Mary and Joseph didn't have a car seat, or even a car, but they packed up their tiny baby and traveled over 300 miles for a very important reason.
READ: Matthew 2:1-12 “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magifrom the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egyptand said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee,and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene."
[NOTE: for very young children who may not be ready for a discussion about Herod's killing of children, parents may wish to not read the bold print aloud.]
Herod wanted to kill Jesus because he was afraid of another king taking his place. He didn't realize that Jesus was not coming to sit on the throne in Jerusalem, but to save us from sin. So, he wanted attack Jesus because he did not understand who Jesus was and what he was doing. Herod did not feel secure and safe as a king, so he was jealous of anyone else who might be a better king than he was.
A lot of times when people hurt us our hurt our feelings, it's because they don't feel good about themselves.
ASK: [younger children] When someone hurts our feelings, how can we pray for them? (that they would understand they are important to God.)
ASK: [older children] Have you ever hurt someone or hurt their feelings because you didn't feel good about YOU? How can you make sure this does not become a pattern in your life?
God protected Jesus from Herod by sending Him to Egypt. This was the very place God's people had been slaves hundreds of years before, until God called Moses to lead them out!
ASK: Why do you think God would send Jesus THERE? (Younger children should be helped to arrive at the conclusion that no one would think to look for Him there, but older children can be helped to find the deeper truth that God was making a statement that Jesus had come to lead us all out of the slavery of sin.)
If God had not protected His son as a baby, Jesus would not have been able to die for us on the cross. God could see the whole, big picture, and He knew just what to do. When God protected Jesus, He protected US, too!
Closing Question: What things does God want YOU to do in the future? How is He protecting you even now so that you can do those things?
Author's Note: This is part three of a four part Advent devotional series for families here at Treasure the Ordinary.May you be blessed as each of you find ways to prepare your hearts for the celebration of our King's birth. Merry Christmas!
Week 3 Advent Devotional - "Provision"
Opening Question (Option 1): If you had a thousand dollars to spend on a present for someone, who would you buy for and what would you buy them?
Opening Story (Option 2): Parents, take a few minutes to tell each child about the day they were born. Where was it? What was happening that day? How did you feel when you got to see them for the first time?
During our time together today, we are going to look at the place where Jesus was born. If one of us was going to plan where Jesus would be born, we would have probably picked Jerusalem because it was the capital city and the most important city in Israel. But, that's not the city God chose. Let's read a Scripture from the Old Testament that talks about what city God chose instead.
READ:“But you, Bethlehem, David’s country, the runt of the litter—From you will come the leader who will shepherd-rule Israel." - Micah 5:2 (The Message Bible)
ASK: [younger children] What does it mean to be the "runt of the litter"? So what kind of city was Bethlehem?
ASK: [older children] What message do you think God was sending when he chose a small, insignificant city like Bethlehem for Jesus to be born in?
ASK: When have YOU felt small and not important?
The enemy loves for us to feel too small for anyone to notice us. He especially loves to tell us that we are too small for God to care about us. But, that is not true. Even the city that Jesus was born in is sending a message, that He came for all of us because He loves all of us, right down to the tiniest of us.
He also knows every one of our needs, the big ones, and the tiny ones. He saw Joseph and Mary every moment that they were traveling to Bethlehem, and He was already preparing a place for Jesus to be born. It may have been just a dirty stable to some people, but to God, it was a safe place, away from the people who wanted to hurt baby Jesus (we're going to talk about that next week!), and it was exactly what Joseph and Mary needed.
ASK: What is something you need right now in your life that we need to pray about? It can be a physical need, or something your heart needs. Close with prayer over your children. Parents, this is a great opportunity to emphasize to your children that God sees each of them individually and knows every bit of their hear needs. But, He still likes to hear our voices when we talk to Him. And He also likes to speak to us in return. Make sure you lead your kids in a time of listening as well as praying. You may want to play a worship song at this time and encourage your children to write down what they hear God saying to them (younger children can draw a picture of what God is saying) so they learn to treasure His voice.
Author's Note: This is part two of a four part Advent devotional series for families here at Treasure the Ordinary.May you be blessed as each of you find ways to prepare your hearts for the celebration of our King's birth. Merry Christmas!
Week 2 Advent Devotional - "Security"
Opening Question: What is something you don't like to do alone? (Parents, with younger children, you can go first to set the tone. Example: folding sheets, going to the dentist, etc.)
ASK [younger children]: What are some of the names we studied last week that Jesus is called? (Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace)
ASK [older children]: Has the Lord done anything else in your heart regarding names/labels after we talked about it last week?
During our time together today, we are going to look at one more name Jesus is called. It was prophesied in the Old Testament in the book of Isaiah, chapter 7. It's mentioned again in the book of Matthew after Jesus was born.
took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin
will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him
Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” – Matthew 1:22-23
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, it meant that He had left His Father's home in Heaven and come to live with us here on earth. He chose to put on a body like ours and come live here with people so that He could show us how to become God's children.
After He died, He went back to Heaven to stay with God there. But, He really didn't leave us, because He sent someone to stay with us here until He comes back to get us.
ASK: Who did He send to stay here with us? (the Holy Spirit)
[Older children can read John 15 with you at this point in the discussion. Help them make the connection that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, who lives within us 24/7.]
ASK: If God is Emmanuel, and His spirit is with us at all times, are we ever truly alone? Why do we FEEL alone sometimes? (we forget He's there, we don't stop to listen to His voice, we have trouble seeing/understanding what He's doing, etc.)
No matter what we feel, the promise of God is that Jesus is "God with us." This means He was with us years ago when we were born, He's with us right now, and He will be waiting for us in our tomorrow.
ASK: [younger children] How can we remember God's promise that He's always with us? [Consider having each child make a poster to hang close to their bed that shows God is with them, even when they feel like they are alone.]
ASK: [older children] Which one of these means the most to you right now? That God was in your past, that He's in your present, or that He will be in your future?
Close with prayer over your children. Parents, this is a great opportunity to talk to your children about the fact that God will always be with them, and that you are also available to them when they need to talk or when they feel alone. Let them know that is why God puts people in families, so that they are not lonely. (Ps. 68:6)
Author's Note: As a mother of four children, spread out in ages by 7 years from the oldest to the youngest, I have often felt that family devotionals either speak to my younger children or speak to my older children. It's sometimes difficult to engineer a discussion that involves them all. So, this Christmas, I would like to provide my readers with an Advent resource that can potentially spark dialogue with all the people in your house, no matter what their age!
To that end, I will be posting a family devotional, one for each week of Advent, throughout the month of December. May you be blessed as each of you find ways to prepare your hearts for the celebration of our King's birth. Merry Christmas!
Week 1 Advent Devotional - "Identity"
Opening Question: What is your favorite nickname you’ve
ever been given?
Begin by showing your younger children the two sections of the Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament.
ASK [younger children]: Which part of the Bible do we find stories about Jesus? (New Testament)
ASK [older children]: Which part of the Bible is your favorite to read, the Old Testament, or the New Testament? Why?
It's true that the stories of Jesus are found in the New Testament, but the Old Testament talks about Him, too! It may not use the name Jesus, but it does mention other names that Jesus goes by. Just like you have a nickname (refer to your child's name here), Jesus has other names. And when they are mentioned, we know God is talking about His son, Jesus. See if you can find His names in this Scripture from the Old Testament.
READ:“For to us a child is born, to us a son is
given, and the government will be on his shoulders.And he will be calledWonderful Counselor, Mighty
God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.Of the greatness of
his government and peace there will be no end.He will
reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”Isaiah 9:6-7
WRITE: Let the children write the names of Jesus down on a piece of paper as they find them in the Scripture. They may enjoy decorating it. When you're finished with the devotional, hang this in a place they will see it throughout the week.
ASK [younger children]: Were these good nicknames for Jesus? How is He these things?
ASK [older children]: Which of these names of Jesus is meaning the most to
you in your life right now and why?
* If you have younger children, this could be a good place to pray out loud as a family, giving thanks for the way Jesus is these things in your lives. Older children can continue on with the following discussion.
When people give nicknames, it's often meant to tease or poke fun. When God gives nicknames, it's to build people up. He changed Abram ("Father") to Abraham ("Father of Many"). He changed Jacob ("Deceiver") to Israel ("Prince of God"). He changed Simon ("Reed") to Peter ("Rock.")
ASK: Is there a label you've been given by the world that makes you feel small? It might be a nickname, but it might also just be an attitude that you feel other people associate with you (i.e. lazy, nerdy, etc.).
READ: "Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it." - Revelation 2:17
There will be a day when God will let you know your name that He has for only YOU! You may not know exactly what the name is right now, but you can get to know His heart for you and what He thinks about you. Let's pray and ask Him to speak to us tonight about what He calls each of us. Let's allow that to take precedence in our hearts over anything the world or other people might try to label us.
Close with prayer over your children. Parents, this is a great opportunity to bless your children with words of life!
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