Settling in, Paying attention, Giving thanks

It’s 8pm on move-in day and I am exhausted. There are boxes everywhere, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude toward all the wonderful people that helped us throughout the day… We own a lot of stuff. So I take a moment and step outside. I look around at these new surroundings and everywhere I turn I see houses. A far cry from the wide open spaces we just left behind. And then I look up and thank God for the little love note He sends me in a window of blue sky peeking through the forest of trees. Wide open spaces of a different kind.

It’s 7:15am and I am late for work. I may live 5 minutes closer, but it’s only day 2 and I still can’t find the right shoes, or the snacks to pack in my lunch, or which drawer we put the silverware in. I rinse my coffee cup (I can always find one of those) and look out my kitchen window, and there is my first wildlife sighting in the new home. And I stop and just grin big at the deer. I will never get tired of the deer. “Won’t HE do it!”

It’s 4pm on a Sunday afternoon, and we are just returning from a long walk around the neighborhood, getting to know the area. As we come around our front/side yard (we live on a corner and I can’t figure out what’s front, side, or back), I notice ivy everywhere, and a splash of Queen Anne’s lace. And once again I am in awe of God’s creation, the way He meets me where I’m at, and how He connects my growing up memories of flowers and my love of ivy (first married kitchen theme) with present day.

It’s 5pm and in between the sounds of the evening traffic, I suddenly hear church bells ringing. And I smile. Year two of marriage found us living practically in the backyard of an Orthodox Church. I remember those bells. And once again, I am almost in the backyard of a local church, and the 5 o’clock bells are just one of the many blessings I’m counting in this new, unfamiliar place. And as these bells play familiar hymns, I thank Jesus for the gift of music.

It’s 6:30am, I am settling into routines. I take my coffee to the front room to enjoy with some morning Psalms, and the window view shows a soft misty fog and another deer sighting…. This time a doe and her fawn.

It’s 1pm and as I’m gathering pizza ingredients and prepping for Sunday lunch with friends, I look out the window again (I love the windows) and spot a chipmunk finishing his Sunday brunch. Various shells, seeds, and nuts scattered all over the stone steps, remnants of the way my God cares for the little creatures, too.

It’s 8:30pm Labor Day weekend and we settle around the Solo Stove on our new patio and light the fire, enjoy the view, and of course, roast marshmallows, and I smile and give thanks for the little things. The things that are different and the things that stay the same. The way that life is what we make of it and we can choose to focus on the blessings because they are abundant and overflowing and when I focus on the good stuff, when I shout His praises, when I pay attention to the ways He is present in every moment and area of my life, I just can’t believe how much my God loves me.

And how personal He is. Trains rumbling by in the background, sunrises and moonrises through the trees instead of over the mountain, wind chimes, shops in walking distance, the ever present squirrels and chipmunks, the list goes on and on and I give thanks.

#hopewriterlife #Hope #JesusOnlyJesus #justwrite #amwriting #chasingoutthedark #1000gifts #theministryofpayingattention #theministryofordinaryplaces #writeyourheartout #change #skyappreciationpost #startwithhello

Change and Gratitude

It’s been over four years since I chose my #onceamonthspot as an act of faith because the property we live on went up for sale. Four and a half years later and it still hasn’t sold, but other things have changed and God opened doors and we are moving. So this right here is the last photo of this #frontdoorview

I have never taken this gift for granted. 12 years of wide open spaces, country living, beautiful sunrises and sunsets. 12 years of youth events, small group parties, winter sledding out my front door. Walks to the bus stop and mailbox. Sunday afternoon pizza parties, long hikes, and always changing scenery. Deer, bear, turkey, eagle, coyote, porcupine, the persistent possum, bluebirds, yellow finches, robins.

Sometimes we can’t see the light through the heavy dark clouds, and sometimes God parts them and you see glimpses of the truth that He is always working. The contrast of light and dark, of green trees and dead tree trunks, even the grass takes its turn being brown and green. When I look back through my #juliesmonthlyspot photos, I am reminded again of God’s goodness, God’s gifts, abundant life and continuous provision.

And I treasure our last family bonfire—a needed gift after a rough week of packing, and fighting over future bedrooms, of struggling with the coming changes. We enjoyed a long evening outside, keeping the large fire from spreading to the dry grass, watching the stars come out one by one, enjoying the moonrise… and eating hot dogs and s’mores prepared over the fire. And having my daughter capture us all in the glow of the flames.

And I give thanks for “the last Sunday supper” at this place with good friends that are family, of laughter, jokes, and the weekly walk to the reservoir. And long talks and photos of my favorite scenery.

We will make new memories and find new treasures from God, because life will still be abundant even when it looks different. His promises are ever-faithful, His love is never-ending, and He gives joy unspeakable as we wait with Hope.

So here’s to continuing #theministryofordinaryplaces in a new place, of #trustinggodsplan #ministryofpayingattention with @shannanwrites and remembering #itssimplytuesday with @emilypfreeman

#hopewriterlife #Hope #JesusOnlyJesus #justwrite #amwriting #chasingoutthedark #writeyourheartout #change

10 Things that are saving my life

In no particular order, here are 10 things that are saving my life right now.

1. apple slices and peanut butter. This needs no explanation. It’s the perfect snack and it’s healthier than Reese’s peanut butter cups. And it’s easy to eat at my desk at work.

2. afternoon or evening walks: I live for warmth and sun (I hear Florida calling me). I know fresh air and exercise is good for my physical and mental health. Some weeks I get 5 walks in and other weeks I have to fight to make myself take just one.

3. counseling, therapy, whatever you want to call it. Talking through situations with someone who knows how to ask the right questions, gives good advice, pushes me out of my comfort zone with suggestions, and encourages me when I think I’m losing my mind has been so helpful.

4. Psalms. It is always my go-to when I open my Bible. David’s example of prayer and processing through his struggles has been life giving to me. And no matter how bad it gets, he always circles around until he comes back to proclaiming the goodness of God. I pray I can always do the same.

5. Nature: flowers, trees, skies, and clouds. Sunsets, birds, rivers, and all of God’s creation is so full of beauty, so full of color and variety. Our Creator created us to enjoy all that He has given us, to live life abundantly, and that includes green grass, yellow daffodils, bluebirds, rainbow tulips, white clouds, etc.

6. Hope: Hope that this is not the end of the story. Hope that hurt I have experienced can be redeemed, hope that God is working all things for His glory and for my good. Hope for deeper relationships, better community, iron sharpening iron friendships. Hope that I can be a better human, be more like Christ, full of compassion, courage. Hope that some day I’ll make time to write consistently, to live out the gifts God has given me.

7. My kids. Yes, my kids are saving my life right now. They make me laugh, they make me cry, they make me think, and they make me so proud. Each one of them is amazing in their own way. They can be so sweet and so annoying. I think as they get older and I realize my time with them is so short, I panic that I haven’t done enough, I’ve made too many parenting mistakes, I’ve pushed too hard and not hard enough. but I do know that I am doing my best and I love them so much it hurts, but also I can’t wait to see what they will do as they grow up and move out and begin the next phases of their lives. I’m so thankful for my kids!

8. my morning cup of coffee, almost always made by the best husband. Some may call it an addiction, I prefer a ritual, tradition, a morning liturgy.

9. Writing in my local coffee shop. I don’t get to do it often enough. My schedule and budget do not permit, but when I do get the opportunity, it rejuvenates me. It gets me away from the to-do lists and undone, and gives me a new perspective. It reminds me how much I love writing, how much I need writing, how beneficial writing is for my soul and my mind. The coffee is great too!

10. anticipation… looking forward to upcoming activities gives me joy, helps me to survive the daily crazy of life right now. We are just over one month from the end of middle school forever, so I’m looking forward to 8th grade celebration day. I’ve also already preordered my fresh Georgia peaches from @thepeachtruck and I can’t wait to enjoy those in addition to my local fresh fruits and veggies from farmer’s market. Summer trips planned to visit our families are also on the anticipation list. Travel stresses me out and sometimes relationships (even those that share our genes) can be challenging, but they are still important. And making memories is worth the effort.

I’m a slow processor and life is extremely busy. @emilypfreeman shared what’s saving her life right now on her podcast over two weeks ago and I’ve finally gotten mine down on paper.

What is saving YOUR life right now?

#HopeWriterLife #1000gifts #bestkidsever #myhusbandrocks #writeyourheartout #amwriting #JesusOnlyJesus #Hope #writeitgirl #mynextrightthing

Parenting & Cheering my Teenagers

Once upon a time, I was a mom of 4 children under 5… and I never thought I was going to survive. I was mad at God, irritated with my husband, discontent in my two-bedroom trailer. I was a stay-at-home mom, but I was not present. I had a gracious friend that said, “Julie, you need help. You need to talk to someone.” And eventually I listened. I sought counseling, a sounding board, wisdom from someone who knew how to ask the right questions and point me to the truths of God’s Word and how it applied to my life.

And I survived parenting babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers. And then came primary age and they could do things for themselves and God provided a larger home and we started coasting through life again. Middle school showed up and that was a whole new challenge because the funny, crazy, ridiculous stories you shared when they were babies couldn’t be shared as they transitioned through middle school and into high school. The decisions they start to make hit differently and you can’t share their stories in the same way. Parenting pre-teens and teenagers can be lonely. So when I share the successes, the accomplishments, the highlights (only with permission of course), we can all know that there are a host of good days and bad days that don’t ever get shared.

I am currently parenting 4 teenagers (with the help of their awesome dad, of course). And I have said to multiple people over the last few weeks, “Once again, I am not sure I am going to survive this stage of life.” It may seem overly dramatic, but I’m not young anymore and the schedule of a teenager is very full, and a lot of those activities happen at night and my eyes don’t like driving at night or in the rain… and especially not both. I’m tired. I slept through my alarm this morning. And I still need energy for the hard conversations when the opportunities present themselves. I still need to remember to make the phone calls for the doctor’s appointments and complete the paperwork for the school sports and pay the bills for the church retreats. And sometimes I get selfish and I get tired of sitting around waiting for their activities to be over.

(Lord, I’d love a really affordable housing option, right in town, please???). Just praying for miracles in today’s housing market…

But I would not change it for the world. These kids are awesome and they are smart and talented and work hard and are amazing. So here are some highlights from last weekend.

Indoor Track Meets: have you ever been to a track meet? Event after event after event and your kid runs two… You show up on time just in case things are moving smoothly. You wait an hour for her event and you watch her run, for 8.82 seconds. And you cheer because she took first place in the middle school 55m dash!!! And then you sit around (or stand around as the case may be) for another 3 hours until finally it’s time for the 200m. And you watch her run for approx 30 seconds, which is awesome! And you’re so proud of her and so tired. So I’m bragging on my baby girl for how she’s tackled running and I’m praying now for a mild spring because outdoor track meets aren’t as warm as indoor while you’re waiting.

High School Town Art Shows: I am so proud of my artist. She has submitted work in two local art competitions. That takes bravery. In the first show she won a “silver key” award for a mixed media portrait. Because of current life, there was no award ceremony. The second show was “Our Town” and had a showing with the award ceremony. It was thrilling to see her art professionally framed and hanging on the wall of our local community center.

I absolutely love supporting my kids in the arts, sports, and skills they excel at. I love cheering them on and seeing them live fully into who God created them to be. I am thankful for the opportunities they have. I am thankful for the challenges and the tears and the “growth opportunities.” I am thankful for the lessons God teaches me through parenting. I am thankful for my kids, not perfect, but awesome just the same.

#BestKidsEver #1000gifts #gratitude #running #track #artshows #parentingteenagers

Renew Gratitude

His mercies are new every morning.

And His gifts are abundant with every sunset.

I used to hate autumn because I was so busy dreading that coming winter. But I have discovered that autumn is actually my favorite when I take the time to enjoy it, when I live in the present instead of worrying about the coming dark, cold, dreary winter. And lately I’ve noticed how much I enjoy the glorious beauty of a winter sunset, even though I long for more daylight. When I focus on the moment and just enjoy the glorious sky as it changes minute by minute, often glowing more radiant just before the sun sets, my heart and soul is renewed.

Paying attention is renewing. When I pay attention, it renews gratitude in my heart. My perspective shifts and I focus on what has me grounded right here, right now. I see what God is gifting me in the little things and the big things.

I am thankful for…
the morning cup of coffee and the man who makes it for me.
My girls who keep me up past my bedtime.
the beauty of the sky and the Creator who paints it different each night.
chocolate.
the Psalms.
My dishwasher.
Pay raises
Pillows and blankets
Tea
Sisters
Counseling
Writing

What are you paying attention to today? What renews you? What are you thankful for?

#hopewriterlife #bestill #renew #chasingoutthedark #Psalms #theministryofpayingattention #gratitude #1000gifts

Keep Seeking Beauty —the work of His Hands

Never stop seeking beauty…

I’ve had a hard time finding words these days. Mostly because I have not made time or space for the words to come. Partly because the troubles of the world weigh heavy on my mind. And also because I have decisions I don’t want to make, open wounds, parenting teenager struggles, and overwhelming work. Not really the seeds for great writing when you’re in the middle of the mess.

It’s easier to avoid what needs to be done, to stay in the hard and uncomfortable because it is KNOWN. But sometimes you need to step forward in faith, to walk into the unknown, to know and remember that Jesus always goes before you. You will finally move forward when the pain of staying in the mess is greater than the pain of moving forward. I write those words, but I’m still not sure I’m there yet.

“Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”

Tony Robbins

So I sit in Psalms and Proverbs. I lament with David, but remember that God is always good, always just, always faithful.

“My spirit is weak within me, my heart is overcome with dismay. I remember the days of old. I meditate on all you have done. I reflect on the work of your hands.”

“Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me on level ground.”

I read the wisdom of Solomon and pray for integrity, a teachable heart, a righteous mind, a soft answer, and wise words. Some days I feel so far from who I want to be as a wife, a parent, a friend, a part of the family of God. I have a hard time finding the level ground. I have a hard time finding the beauty. I have a hard time seeing the change and growth in my life. But I also know that God goes with me on the journey. He goes before me. He surrounds me. He walks beside me. I know that I am a work in progress. I know that I have not arrived. I know that I make mistakes. But that does not stop me from celebrating the right choices, the small victories. I come to Jesus with a broken and contrite heart.

And I keep looking for the beauty.

#HopeWriterLife #amwriting #writeyourheartout #chasingoutthedark #lookingforlovely #1000gifts #seekbeauty #theministryofpayingattention

Vent your Joys, not your Problems

Psalm 113:1-3  

Hallelujah! Give praise, servants of the Lord; praise the name of the Lord. Let the name of the Lord be blessed forever. From the rising of the sun to its setting let the name of the Lord be praised.

I’ve been struggling with being a complainer lately. I also feel that I’ve been surrounded by complainers lately. It is so easy to vent and whine all about the problems and everything that is seemingly going “wrong” in life. And we feed off each other. When one person complains to us, it makes it easier for us to complain about our problems right back. And while there is a time and a place to bear one another’s burdens, I also believe that we would benefit by rejoicing with those who rejoice and continue to give praise to the name of the Lord… because He has done great things for us.

I’ll go first. He has given us great things. I have a job that I love, even if it’s sometimes overwhelming and I sometimes have to deal with cranky people (hello, supply chain issues). I have four wonderful children that are not perfect, but they are mine and that makes them the #bestkidsever. My husband works hard, loves me, serves others, follows Jesus, leads well. #myhusbandrocks

I’m bragging on God because He never fails to meet my needs. I have a roof over my head, we are in no danger of going hungry, (even if the teenagers in my house there there is nothing good to eat) and I have clothes for every occasion. I have a church family that loves Jesus, loves people, and is doing the work of God’s Kingdom here on earth. I have a friend who is not local, but our drive to work is the same time as mine and our almost daily conversations are just another way God spoils me. They’ve  been a lifeline and remind me of the faithfulness of God.

He showers us with sunrises and sunsets, changing of seasons and wild life. He give the gift of thunderstorms and rainbows. So far, this summer I’ve seen the rolling hills of Western New York, the mountains of West Virginia, the Potomac River, zoo animals, a little strip of Amish country, and the flatlands of Ohio. And always, I am thankful when I come back home to the mountain God has blessed me with, with a view of our little city.

He speaks to me through His Word, music, nature, other people’s victory stories. He pursues me when I’m wandering from Him. He shows me He cares about me through bird songs, crickets and peepers, the wind rustling through the trees.

Bless the Lord and forget not all His benefits.

If He had only rescued me from sin and given me life eternal in His presence it would have been enough. But daily He surprises me and overwhelms me with good gifts and spiritual blessings.

How can you vent your joys today? How has God met your needs today? How can you praise the name of Jesus? Let’s encourage one another with good news!

#HopeWriterLife #1000gifts #CountYourBlessings #ChasingOutTheDark #EncourageOneAnother #JesusOnlyJesus #writeyourheartout

Processing and Praising Jesus

I am a slow processor. Sometimes I overthink things, sometimes I avoid thinking on all the things, sometimes I’m just procrastinating. But one can only procrastinate for so long before the words just need to come out.

I’ve been reminded time and time again this week (and last week) that my God is a personal God, a personable God, and a Sovereign God. Salvation does not lead us to need to do more, but it is an opportunity for God to shower us with even more gifts. My relationship with God is not based on anything I do right, or wrong. It is based on His faithfulness, His righteousness, His goodness and mercy.

And while my life sure has not been perfect this week (hello, parenting teenagers… hello, selfishness… hello, over-scheduling… hello, anxiety), time and time again, Jesus shows up and shows off. It started with these random flowers in the middle of a pile of dead weeds in my yard, blooming way in advance of any of my purposefully planted daffodils, and completely different. Showing off in their tiny size and stunning, two-color display, just smiling at me. I don’t know where they came from, but they sure put a smile on my face and reminded me of my Creator, who loves me and gives me good gifts—He created all things and holds them together, even in a seemingly random way in my backyard.

When I look back on my week, I see the gifts in abundance and I am reminded of the importance of remembering and giving thanks. I’m thankful for a walk with a friend, for a view of the city, for trees in bloom in the valley, for a perfectly timed sunset, wild turkeys up close and personal, for homemade iced coffee drinks, for endless supply of books (libraries are a wonderful thing), for hugs from my kids, good conversations, hard conversations, loving correction from my other half, homemade pizza, fellowship with the body of Christ, the opportunity to pray on behalf of others’ needs, Jesus—always Jesus.

My friend encouraged me to “Stop and smell the flowers,” so I picked up a $4 bouquet at the grocery store. One of the great podcasts (#HumanHope with @loswhit) I listen to reminded me to “Lower the volume of life,” so I’ve chosen silence while driving more often these last few days.

And when I make space, and read God’s Word, and pay attention to the gifts around me, I give thanks. I give thanks for the the way God is gracious. And faithful. And holy. And just. And full of loving kindness. He gives His children many good things, we just need to keep our eyes open to see them.

So when I’m overwhelmed by my sin and by the sin of the world around me, I run to Jesus and I rest in His forgiveness. I look for the ways He shows up. I count my blessings. I repent. I accept His grace. And I shout His praises to those around me.

Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name.

Psalm 119:132

#HopeWriterLife #SoulStruggle #amwriting #writeyourheartout #justwrite #JesusOnlyJesus #1000gifts #ChasingOutTheDark #TheMinistryofPayingAttention

Jesus Makes All Things Possible

Do you know what is possible with God? Stubborn people can be saved. Relationships can be restored. Healings happen. Blessings come in abundance. All things.

Psalm 103 reminds us that Jesus forgives my sins, heals my diseases, redeems my life from destruction, crowns me with loving kindness and tender mercies, satisfies my mouth with good things, renews my strength, executes righteousness and judgment for the oppressed.

Sometimes I just need to write that list out and personalize it for myself. Perhaps you need the reminder, too. Writing it with actual pen and paper settles it into our hearts and minds in real way. Writing out Scripture, writing out prayers is something that I’ve gotten away from in the busyness of this season. But I’ve been reminded.

Because that’s what God does. He lovingly, tenderly shelters us as a mother. He teaches us the same lesson over and over (Hello, Israelites and disciples). He shows up and shows off and shows me that He loves me personally. He created me intentionally. And He has a plan for my life (and it’s better than my plan).

This weekend was full of a variety of situations that didn’t fall under “my plan.” I didn’t respond well in most of those. I may have had a minor breakdown. If I’m being honest the whole past year has been quite the drift from my plan. But God is not surprised. And He uses all these things for His glory and for the good of those who love Him.

So as I look at this photo I snapped Sunday morning, with the intention of writing that day, I’m reminded that God brings beauty in the starkness of winter. The sun still shines. The sky is brilliant blue. The shadows and highlights display His creativity. That tall pine tree stands tall and firm. Even dead trees have an odd stark beauty about them.

I’m reminded that He gives me words when I take the time to sit still and listen and write. He gives me sunrises and sunsets. He gives me laughter with my kids and the hard conversations. He forgives my impatience and helps me seek forgiveness of others. He gave me a place of employment that talked me through my oven connections (I think I even learned something about flare union adapters and NPT threads). He gives me delicious take-out options on the days I live in my car. He provides neighbors willing to help and give me tea. Phone calls with friends, dark chocolate, coffee. Good books to read. Hot showers. Chiropractic care. Rest. And all of this is over and above the gift that is all I need.

Jesus. He makes all things possible. What do you need to ask God to show you today? What has God done for you that you need to acknowledge and give thanks for?

#HopeWriterLife #FiveMinuteFriday (on Tuesday) #fmfparty #writingprompt #writingcommunity #possible #JesusOnlyJesus #juliesmonthlyspot #onceamonthspot #frontdoorview

Take a walk and look for Jesus

I took a walk this evening. Same walk I took almost 5 months ago, when I tripped over a wrinkle in the sidewalk and bit the dust and broke my hand. It was dusk, probably not the wisest, but I put my phone away. I wore my actual sneakers. And I paid attention to the rise and fall of the sidewalk.

It’s good for me to walk again. Winter and busyness and life stress has not been kind to my eating or exercise habits. I needed to know that I can walk and it’s good for me. My hand has not returned to full strength. It still hurts when I cut too many veggies, write too many words, carry too many groceries, stir dinner soups for too long. And sometimes I’m afraid it will never be what it once was.

Sometimes, it’s the simple processing of hard moments, life-altering events, the “getting back on the bike” moments. Other times, it takes a bit more. Like when I think that exactly one year ago, I was having coffee with a friend, we talked about the virus buzz, we talked about church and Jesus, we talked about teenagers and parenting, we talked about friendship. I’m pretty sure that we did not talk about online church or wearing masks or virtual school. I miss coffee in actual coffee shops with friends.

And one year later, I think of all the things I miss, how desperate I feel to return back to life as it once was, and it’s easy to focus on the things lost, the events cancelled, the schooling struggles, the grief. But I’m thankful for the things I’ve learned and I know that God has given us much more than was taken away.

I don’t want to forget the gift of endless family dinners with teenagers, family hikes, whole weekends in pajamas, technology to keep us connected, summer outside gatherings, library curbside service, processing hard junk, being more aware of social injustice, studying Lamentations, focusing on the attributes of God, flexibility of virtual school, 4-H zoom opportunities, ordering take out, still going to work every day in a safe environment, taking the time to read more.

I’m thankful for the things I learned while my hand was broken and for seeing God’s faithfulness in the way He provides. I’m thankful for hope, because that is what this year most needs. I’m thankful for Jesus because as I lean on Him and rest in Him, I learn His goodness, His faithfulness, His sovereignty.

I stop on my walk (full stop) to take pictures of the twilight hour. I come back to the car and wait some more and write with heart full of gratitude that He is with me, He gives me words, He never leaves me or forsakes me, He is always reminding me of his everlasting love.

As you reflect on the last year, because we will all reflect in some way, look for ways to give God glory, look for all the things we can be thankful for, look for the helpers, look for the blessings. What are you thankful for as you look back on the last year? Where do you see Jesus?

HopeWriterLife #amwriting #faithwriter #writeyourheartout #writeitgirl #JesusOnlyJesus #alwaysJesus #brokenbones #takeawalk #givethanks #1000gifts #gratitude #hardeucharisteo