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

God’s Timing and God’s Goodness

We know that God’s Word is a lamp unto our feet. We know that God directs our steps when we acknowledge His sovereignty in our lives. We know that God’s timing is always right.

Yet sometimes God only gives enough light for the next right step. For us, the next right step is moving… and moving next month. I only had to be still and wait on the Lord. It’s causing me all sorts of emotions. I’m so excited about this next step and the opportunities it will make available to us. My heart is rejoicing over the closeness to town and how it fits the stage of life we are in right now with four teenagers. It never ceases to amaze me how God orchestrates the right place at the right time.

And yet, I will miss my front door view and my back door view and the wide open spaces. I will miss the sunrises (the few I’ve seen) 😉 and the sunsets. I will miss the burst of green in the spring, the summer storms, the explosion of leaves in the fall, and even the winter sledding. And so every morning and every evening, and almost every moment in between, I look out my windows and soak in the view and give thanks for this home that we’ve been blessed with for the last 12 years. I’m trying to hold it all close to my heart and stay present in the moment and not start missing it before I’m even gone. I’m trying to remind myself that my God knows me and loves me personally, and He will continue to show himself real to me through His creation, even if it looks different. There will still be love notes from God. He knows the promises from His word that I cling to. He knows how He created me, what I love, what I need, what I enjoy. He knows the desires He has placed in my heart and I can delight in Him and trust Him with great anticipation, because He is always good. He also knows that sometimes I need to be made uncomfortable to move forward in growth.

So He filled my sky with a double rainbow tonight, and I stood outside and tried not to cry again. And I remember that God keeps His promises. He goes before me and behind me and with me and around me. He loves to spoil His children with good things and I take His hand and take the next step.

I will have to find a new monthly spot—a place to stop, take notice and remember that God never changes, but life always does. Maybe it will be an alley, a random spot in town, or simply my front door view, but it will always be something to draw me closer to God, to remind me that He is good, He is God and I can trust Him. And in everything, I will give thanks.

“He brought me forth also into a large place; He delivered me, because he delighted in me.” Psalm 18:19

#hopewriterlife #Hope #JesusOnlyJesus #justwrite #amwriting #chasingoutthedark #theministryofpayingattention #theministryofordinaryplaces #writeyourheartout #onceamonthspot #juliesmonthlyspot #frontdoorview #rainbow #Godspromises #backdoorview #change #mynextrightthing

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

God is good, all the time

I already shared this on my social media, but wanted it here on my blog as well.

God’s goodness doesn’t fit in Instagram squares and facebook paragraphs. God’s good works cannot be contained in all the books in all the world. God’s goodness is deeper than the ocean and higher than the mountains.

And if the outcome of last Wednesday night’s experience had been any different—God would still be God and God would still be good. His name is still to be praised.

Nothing changes the trauma we experienced, or the feelings and emotions we are still processing through. Each one of us feeling it a little bit different. No right or wrong way to process and grieve and give thanks, in all things give thanks.

On Wednesday night, I was waiting in the car parked on the busy city street where I always wait for my girls after youth group, scrolling facebook memories, sending one memory text of a few years ago to my son, and re-sharing the following verse:

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength:” ‭‭

Isaiah‬ ‭26:3-4‬

Not 15 minutes later, I lived in that perfect peace, the peace that passes all understanding, and leaned on His everlasting strength. Yes, the timeline is blurry, the events are foggy, but I heard someone shout my daughter’s name. I looked up and saw a vehicle stopped in the road and then I heard my baby girl screaming. I moved so fast and so slow, and I ran over to her, on the side of the road, obvious facial abrasions, sitting all curled up and rocking. My eyes looked up and around, and I dashed back into the middle of the road and gathered her Bible, her homework, her glasses spread across the pavement as I was shouting the church address to the man making the 911 call, and then I was back by my girl’s side.

Her first words to me were, “But mom, what about track season?” And I laughed and cried and felt more of God’s perfect peace, even as I was sure there must be a broken elbow, a messed up knee, a dislocated hip—something out of alignment.

The first responders showed up so quickly, they did their jobs and I am so thankful. I answered questions, they put her on the stretcher and immobilized her. It was just a precaution, but it doesn’t make it any less scary and traumatizing.

I see the faces of her youth group friends, her sisters, some parents, our youth pastor, the EMT’s, the police, the young driver, and the helpers—there are always helpers. Jesus is always there.

The ambulance ride, the entrance to the ER, all the medical staff, the chaplain (who couldn’t hold a candle to my Jesus or the pastors I have known in my lifetime). Long story short, she had cat scans and X-rays and then we sat together and waited for results. They checked her vitals again—and then just like that, they were removing her neck brace and telling her she was being discharged, all the tests came back fine. No injuries, no abnormalities, no concussion, no broken bones. Just some bumps and scrapes. And we were home before midnight… not that we got much sleep that first night.

To be honest, the emotions and bruises and struggles were harder on days 5-6 than they were on days 2-3. We are still a little tender. She tried running—it hurts and she feels slow. Taking stairs is slightly awkward and the healing skin feels tight. I feel like I could still sob with relief and scream in grief, if only someone would pinch me. She and I are both perpetually tired.

But God is good and my sweet girl is healing and we give thanks for miracles and for God’s protection. We will take one day at a time. Sisterly love seemed to flow a bit more for a few days, but they will still fight and take each other for granted. But also, they will hug a little bit more and crack silly jokes. And we will remember that God is good.

#HopeWriterLife #trauma #accidents #Godisgood #allthetime #peace #healing

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

What sparks inspiration …

Do you know what sparks inspiration for my writing? Word prompts. Photos. Deadlines. Rhythms.

When life is ideal and I’m focused and not procrastinating, I write with a pen in my journal in the morning, and I pull out my keyboard and type before I go to bed. Rhythms help me write. When @HopeWriters has an Instagram writing challenge, I pull out my iPad and keyboard and try to find inspiration, even if it’s right before I fall into bed (deadlines).

The fall season was very dry for me in writing… and I realized that I had not taken the time to stop, take notice of my #onceamonthspot, and to wax eloquent on the Artist’s paintbrush sometime in the middle of every month. So I took notice this month (3 times in fact) but it wasn’t until I was given a word prompt that I was “inspired.”

My front door view (#juliesmonthlyspot) sparks a whirlwind of emotion for me these days. It’s grounding for me to look out and see the tall strong pine tree, never swaying, always there anchoring my photo. The sky is sometimes a radiant blue, some days a shallow gray, some days a rainbow of sunsets colors, often filled with fluffy clouds, and always a reminder that my God is never-changing and at the same time He delights in giving me a variety of good gifts.

The trees change with the seasons and show me the beauty of new life in spring, the depth of color in the summer, the goodness of letting things go in the fall, and the crispness of hibernation in the winter. It reminds me that my life is seasonal and each season has its gifts to notice and appreciate. The season of teenagers is so hard and so delightful. The season of working almost full-time means less time baking for the fun of it. The season of processing past hurts and digging deep for the fruit of a healthier self. The season of giving myself grace. The season of sitting in the Psalms.

I don’t know how much longer I will have this front door view, and more this year than in years past, I look out the window and wonder if this is the last January sky I will see from this perspective. I wonder, and then I rest in the confidence I have in Jesus, in a God who gives good gifts and delights in abundant life. And I know the next season and the next front door view will have its own delights and beauty.

And there is a spark of anticipation in me.

#hopewriterlife #spark #justwrite #amwriting #chasingoutthedark #theministryofpayingattention

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

Rest in Hope

If I don’t write about it, does that mean it didn’t happen? Or does it just mean that I didn’t take the time to process it and learn from it. I received a forced rest last week. The dreaded rest nobody wants, the one where you are holed up in a room all by yourself for a week or so. The one where (if you’re like me) you fret about work and home and everybody that “NEEDS” you. But when you are sick there isn’t much you can do about it, but try to rest.

I’m having a hard time pulling myself out of the slump the last 10 days put me in. It wasn’t a refreshing rest. It wasn’t soul-filling, body-healing, mind-renewing. Well, I suppose there was some body-healing or I’d still be in the sick room.

But this object at rest is having a hard time getting moving again. The brain is slow to connect the dots and return to what needs to be done. There is a place for grace and there is a place for a kick in the pants. And perhaps, I need to give myself a little more grace this week. So as I often do when my brain and body are weak, I stumble my way to the Psalms again and again. And I find His promises in David’s example in Psalm 16.

“I will bless the Lord, who has given me counsel, even at night when my thoughts trouble me. I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.”

“Therefore, my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices, my flesh also shall rest in hope.”

Rest in hope.

Rest and hope all tied up in the presence of Jesus. When school goes virtual. When you get sick. When the friendship goes sour. When thoughts overwhelm. When you experience great loss. When you lose your job. When your child is a prodigal. Whatever your circumstance, whatever is causing your thoughts to trouble you, whatever you have no control over, take it to the Lord. Sit in the presence of Jesus. Put your confidence in Him.

Be still and rest.

#hopewriterlife #bestill #Rest #chasingoutthedark #Psalms

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