Clearing the Clutter to Make Room for Something Better

The holidays have passed. The kids are back to school. The Christmas décor is sagging, reflecting the hurried pace of the last few weeks. Sigh. Time to pack them away for next year.

It’s ironic that in the rush of the preparation for the big day (Christmas), the peace of Christ can seem illusive and slightly out of reach – lost in the crowded malls, long lines, overcrowded schedules and unrealistic expectations. The voice of God that should be preeminent this time of year can too often seem distant – drowned and muffled by the voices telling me to “go”, “do”, “eat” and “spend”.

The week after Christmas is one of my favorite weeks of the year because the pace of life slows down dramatically.

This year in particular, our family made a conscious decision to hit “pause” to create space to rest, reflect, refresh and enjoy relationships.

No schedule. No commitments. I didn’t cook. Didn’t do laundry. Didn’t clean our house. I bought a ham, a palette of Cup of Noodles, made sure we had cereal, juice and milk and called it good. (In case you’re wondering about vegetables, there are a small handful of freeze-dried peas and carrots in every cup of noodles.)

Don’t judge me. It was only one week.

As the pace of life slowed and our scheduled enjoyed some much needed breathing room, I began to realize how easy it is to substitute activity for relationship. Spending a lot of time with someone doesn’t guarantee that you’ll truly see them, intently listen to them and authentically connect with them.

Could the same can be true regarding our relationship with God? Can we become so consumed with our Christian activity that we overlook the necessity of pausing long enough to hear His voice? Stopping to appreciate the nuanced beauty of His creation? Lingering to enjoy His presence?

We can go to church, serve in ministry and even read the Bible, yet still fail to see Jesus, hear His voice and connect with Him intimately. Time with God isn’t a box we check off every day. It should be a delight, not an obligation. Yet, when our schedules scream it can easily be reduced to a task in a long line of duties and expectations.

In a culture that values how fast we run, how much we do, how full our schedules are, Jesus, during His ministry on earth, modeled something quite different for us. He exemplified an unhurried life that valued and delighted in spending time alone with His Father. The book of Luke gives us a glimpse into how Jesus handled the delicate tension between the demands of His schedule and His relationship with His Heavenly Father:

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:15-16

Jesus was unquestionably a busy man whose time was in great demand. He also possessed God’s perfect love and intense compassion for people, feeling the weight of every need, every heart break and every loss. Yet, He wasn’t driven to meet every need and demand.

Jesus’ schedule wasn’t dictated by the circumstances surrounding Him. He made time alone with his Father His first priority and that is what fueled the rest of His decisions and charted the course of His day.

The clutter of activity and over-commitment wearies our soul but doesn’t take us very far. 

Jesus knew this.

Jesus knew that He couldn’t meet every need and make everybody happy.

Jesus knew that true worth and value are found in intimate relationships, not in big crowds, productivity and packed schedules.

He knew that clarity for his life could only be found through spending time in the presence of God.

jesus-knew-that-clarity-and-rest-are-only-found-when-we-create-space-for-the-presence-of-god

Jesus knew that clarity and rest are only found when we create space for the presence of God. 

Jesus knew that to hear the voice of God, you had to clear away the noise and clutter.

And Jesus knew that it’s in the silence, in the space, where God begins to transform us. 

This year, let’s make a commitment to pull away, create space, be present and listen to God who’s desperately longing to speak to us.

How I Almost Ruined Thanksgiving Dinner

 

I love Thanksgiving! It’s the one day of the year where family and friends gather and share an abundant meal, eat to our heart’s content and give thanks for all that God has done and continues to do in our lives.

It truly is the best kickoff to the most wonderful time of year. It’s a day to reflect on God’s goodness, to enjoy the special relationships in our lives and celebrate God’s continued faithfulness. It’s a day to watch football games and parades, and a day to cook and create a wonderful meal for those whom I love the most.

While I’m no Pioneer Woman, I enjoy investing a lot of thought and time into preparing Thanksgiving dinner. Gathering my favorite recipes, compiling the grocery list, shopping and cooking usually begin several days before Thanksgiving.

Last year, was no exception. Jessica, my youngest, and I got up early and began the preparations. We recorded Macy’s parade to watch later in the day because my boys were adamant that a football game – not a parade – should be watched live.

Several hours later as the smell of turkey wafted in the air, Jessie and I sat down to enjoy the parade while Gregg and the boys headed to the beach for a quick surf session. Before engrossing myself in the holiday floats, high school bands and the Radio City Rockettes, I thought I had better check on the turkey and baste it one more time.

However as I attempted to open the oven door, it wouldn’t open. The door was stuck, trapping my turkey inside!

On Thanksgiving!

Really?!

You have GOT. TO. BE. KIDDING ME!

Why couldn’t this have happened while I was reheating Bagel Bites like on any other night? This is Thanksgiving! The Super Bowl of all meals!

Seriously, the door was only opening about six inches.

Somehow, the latch at the base of the oven door had broken, jamming the door and preventing it from opening. We tried EVERYTHING! Pounding it. Prying it. Shaking it. Kicking it. Skyping in family members for advice.

Nothing worked.

So there my turkey sat, in my oven, fully cooked, with no way of escape.

My Thanksgiving dinner was on the verge of disaster and as my attempts to liberate my turkey proved futile, the excitement of family gathering together around our table shifted to worry, anxiety and visions of eating at Zippy’s.

After about 45 minutes, we decided to break the oven door, bending and prying it open about 12 inches – just enough space for Gregg to spear the turkey with two roasting forks and squeeze the bird through the opening and onto the platter. Crisis averted (as long as it’s fully cooked).

Ironically, throughout the week I had been meditating on Paul’s encouragement to the Philippians,

dont-worry-about-anything-instead-pray-about-everything-tell-god-what-you-need-and-thank-him-for-all-he-has-done-7-then-you-will-experience-gods-peace-which-exceeds-anything-we

Ouch! My joy and peace can be sooo circumstantial. How quickly I can allow something as silly as an oven door not opening to steal my peace and take my focus off of the important things. Opening the door to worry, I let can little distractions begin to consume my thoughts. First world problems, right?

Paul’s source of joy as he wrote this letter to the Philippians was in the midst of really difficult circumstances. He was in prison with no resolution in sight. Yet here he is telling them to not worry, pray and be thankful – as a man who had been beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, starving. OK, I’m now thoroughly convicted.

Paul could challenge them in this way because he had experienced God’s presence. He had a relationship with Jesus; he had seen people healed and delivered. He had confidence in a good God and knew that He was faithful (Psalm 100).

Paul wasn’t advocating positive thinking, or a “glass half-full” perspective. His confidence was rooted in a deep assurance that God is in control – regardless of his present circumstances. Paul encouraged the Philippian people that they didn’t have to live in fear, worry or anxiety anymore because the One True God, Jesus, is in control of everything and intimately concerned with every detail of their lives – even a turkey trapped in an oven.

You can approach God and know that He is intimately involved in your life. Even when troubles and difficulties arise, He will be with you to lead you through them. My hope is that I will grow in my ability to pray, give thanks and notice the shards of hope in the difficult places and unlikely circumstances. I want to be able to respond as Paul did…

Pray about everything…

I once heard it said this way: worry assumes that we are in control; prayer asks God to be in control. The causes and opportunities for our worry will never go away. While our natural reaction may be to control our circumstances or fix our problems, God asks us to surrender them to Him.

Tell God what you need…

There are legitimate needs and causes to worry. The benefit of talking to God about them is that while we do, we discover that the God who is everywhere and in control of everything, becomes real to us in ways that we wouldn’t experience otherwise. In our cries to him, we feel his comfort. In our pain and anxiety, we feel his presence and we get to know him and discover his character.

Thank him for all he has done…

Thank him for all the little amazing miracles He does every day all around you.

Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. Philippians 4:6-7 NLT

We liberated our turkey, (and it was delicious by the way) but broke our oven in the process. I almost ruined thanksgiving – not because I wrecked the turkey, but I almost allowed the pressure and stress of creating the perfect Thanksgiving meal to usurp the true intention of the day – a day of thanks for God’s abundant blessing in the midst of life’s imperfection.

As we enter the most wonderful time of year and begin to journey through the holiday season, my prayer is that you would remember these words from Paul and take time to thank God for the simple things around you – even an oven door that opens.

 

 

Why My Son is So Mad at Pinocchio

For years, my son was mad at Pinocchio.

(Yes, I’m referring to the fictional wooden puppet characterized in the classic children’s novel and animated Disney movie.)

You couldn’t even utter Pinocchio’s name in our house without eliciting harsh words and opening up tender wounds from Brandon. He was visibly hurt – deeply.

You’re probably wondering, “What heinous act could Pinocchio possibly have committed to produce SIX years of hurt and hostility in the heart of my child?”

During a trip to Disneyland when my son was three, Pinocchio took Brandon’s beloved blankie. No, he didn’t steal it. There was nothing malicious about it. Pinocchio simply admired it, borrowed it to cuddle with for a few seconds and gently returned it.

To Brandon, however, Pinocchio broke the cardinal toddler rule: Never ever EVER touch the blankie of a three-year-old! This was a direct infringement on his personal space and property and Brandon was resolute in his determination NOT to let it go.

It was quite a problem. For years, this is how our conversations would go…

“Brandon, why won’t you forgive Pinocchio?” 

“He took my blankie.” 

“Pinocchio didn’t really take your blankie. He was just showing you how much he loved it.”

“I don’t like him and I don’t forgive him.”

Finally, while on a trip to Disney World many years later, Brandon decided it was about time to end his six-year feud with the wooden puppet and extend forgiveness to Pinocchio. He’d let his anger stew long enough and needed to let it go, move on and enjoy our time at Disney World.

With nervous determination, he entered the park.

Believe it or not, amidst the thousands of people at the Magic Kingdom, amidst all of the characters to meet, Pinocchio was at the park entrance greeting eager Disney goers. After waiting patiently in line, Brandon explained to Pinocchio how upset he had been and how the whole blankie incident had really affected him.

Pinocchio seemed unaware of his offense while Brandon was talking to him, but graciously, he played along. After a few seconds together, Brandon and Pinocchio hugged, amends were made and off we went to enjoy a wonderful day at the park.

Why is forgiveness so hard sometimes? Why do we seem to find more pleasure in holding onto the offense than letting go of it?

A funny thing about our anger is sometimes it doesn’t even hurt the other person. In fact there are times, as in our case with Pinocchio, the person didn’t even know they hurt us!

But we’re the ones who suffer. Stomping around for days (perhaps years), clenching our jaw when a person’s name is mentioned, hosting imaginary conversations in our heads, hoping for the chance to “give them a piece of our mind”, secretly wanting them to fail, as we wait around for an apology that may never even come.

For a while, it may feel good to hold onto the anger, to nurse the grudge. But slowly, unexpectedly, unforgiveness will kill us, rotting us from the inside out like a cancer choking life from our bodies.

Years ago, I remember an incident when a close friend really hurt me. As time passed, I really thought I had forgiven her, but every time her name came up, I felt anger and frustration rise. Every time I talked about the incident to my husband, I would start to tear up. I had a hard time watching her succeed – secretly wanting her to keep all of her pregnancy weight on.

Clearly, I still had work to do on my heart.

The apostle Paul knew the danger unforgiveness had in a person’s heart and in a community. His instruction to the Ephesian church was strong,

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4_31-32

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32

Paul didn’t talk about anger management or manipulating our behavior; he said, get rid of it – all of it. Just like you get rid of your trash and get rid of the rotting food in your refrigerator, get rid of your bitterness, rage and anger.

I’d like to think that by taking the trash out of my house once, I would never have to do it again. The reality is that I have to continually do the work of removing spoiled food and smelly garbage from my home.

Daily.

Forgiveness requires us to bring our hurt before God, to confront the pain in our heart, to deal with our emotions and to choose to not hold someone’s past over them.

Today.

And again tomorrow.

And again the next day.

As long as it takes until the weight is lifted.

Dear friend, this is the work of forgiveness. It’s not a one and done prayer; it’s a daily work of tending your heart. And when you do this work, you’re able to breathe a little deeper, rest a little better and walk a whole lot lighter.

Forgive so you can be free again. Forgive so you can feel clean again. Forgive so you can have your life back. It’s so worth it.