New Year, New Blog!

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2015-fireworksFriends, I continue to be so grateful that you follow and read this little blog of mine.  I have been conspicuously missing-in-action during the past few months and I have so much to tell you!

A year ago I experienced a major life change when, after 11 years of working from home, I accepted a new position that comes with a 45 minute commute.  I still work for Gaither Music Company, but rather than working remotely I am working in the office. So 2014 was a huge year of change for my whole family.  With that change came so much growth!

I was worried that my close relationship with Scott and the kids might suffer, since our daily time together would be shorter and more divided. But the reality is, we have never been happier. We’re working as a team, perhaps as never before, to make life happen and I feel so blessed!

We also began doing some marriage mentoring last year.  It wasn’t something we planned on doing, but it has been a tremendously rewarding experience that has stoked a fire in us.  We are finding ourselves burdened and, at the same time, excited for every chance we get to help couples through tough times and help them relate to one another in a more healthy, joyful way.

These circumstances, along with some sweet affirmations, prompted my husband, Scott, and me to launch a new blog!  On January 1st we posted our first blog at imperfectlyeverafter.com and we launched an accompanying Facebook page and Twitter account!

I invite you to follow us over there if you’d like.  We are very excited to launch this blog focused on stories and encouragement for couples (and for those want to prepare for the “right one” someday).

I will keep this blog here, with the kind of stories and thoughts I have always shared, but for blog posts focused specifically on relationships, marriage and family I invite you to follow our new blog at imperfectlyeverafter.com!

Hope to see you there!  And thanks again for being part of my world!

Emily

When We Get Lost in the Fog

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The warning on the weather app the night before called for dense fog during morning commute hours.

When I woke, another app notified me that my dear friend’s sweet father had passed away unexpectedly. The morning’s tangible heaviness outside seemed to symbolize the fog her grief-stricken family must be feeling.

The journey sure gets disorienting when fog settles in.

That roundabout I take every morning wasn’t quite so easy to navigate when I could only see a few feet in front of me.

It took me a few minutes to realize the car was headed in the wrong direction. The navigation app on my phone couldn’t help because I was out of the network’s reach. Country roads lined with beautiful cornfields suddenly became a cloudy labyrinth I could not navigate alone.

I whispered a little prayer, turned north, and hoped something would look familiar soon. Each unfamiliar intersection reminded me how close I am to getting lost every day. Just a couple wrong turns and suddenly I have no idea where I’m going.

As I drove, each thought of my friend’s grief reminded me how any day has the potential to bring news that makes us feel disoriented.  Job loss, death, a new diagnosis, bad financial news, a wayward child…any of us could wake up tomorrow to a disorienting fog if we aren’t already there.

When the proverbial fog makes us feel lost, there are a few things we can count on every time:

  1. When the world looks all hazy, there is always beauty to be found. Allow yourself to embrace the mystery, even just for a moment, without trying to solve it.
  2. Enjoy the “now.” Seeing a mile down the road is highly over-rated. His Presence is here and now. Not off somewhere else.
  3. Dependence is not always a bad thing. We all need guidance…hands to hold…prayers going up on our behalf. This fog could actually make our relationships richer and more honest when we ask for help.
  4. The sun’s brilliance eventually burns off even the heaviest fog. The spiritual parallels here are many. The sun is stronger than the fog.
  5. Here’s the most important one. Even when we don’t know where we are or what is going on around us… HE DOES. He sees. He knows everything.

Here is our Shepherd’s promise to all us wandering, scattered sheep who aren’t seeing clearly:

Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day.  (Ezekiel 34:11-13 NKJV)

Anyone else ever get lost in the fog? How do you navigate through it? Or are you there now?  Talk to me.

Prayer for Monday

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IMG_3457As Monday overwhelms me with all my inadequacy, reminding me where all I fall short — I lean heavy into Your Sovereignty.

When I’ve done my best and it wasn’t quite good enough, I remember that I might never feel “enough” because I’m broken.

YOU, however, are not broken.

You are completely whole. And . . . You have made known everything I need to be whole.

You aren’t holding any cards behind your back that would help me gain access to your heart. Thank You for that.

The way You freely share Yourself with Your creation is reason enough to worship You constantly. Along with so many of your otherworldly attributes.

After more than 4 decades of following You, I’m just barely beginning to get a keyhole peek at just how good YOU are, and how very much I need Your thoughts instead of the ones my fumbling mind generates.

Give me Your mind and Your vision for this day, and the days that follow.

Remind me that Your opinion is the only one that really matters in the end.

YOU are the source of my joy and Your wisdom is what I need to navigate this day.

What more could a soul need on a Monday?

The answer is NOTHING. My soul needs nothing more than it needs YOU.

Amen.  And thank You for coffee.  That was such a great idea.

Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground. (Psalm 143:10)

 

Standing Up To Live

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“How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live.”

Henry David Thoreau

This Thoreau quote perfectly describes where I have been for a couple years now – standing up to live.  When I turned 44 last year my sister wrote the sweetest note in a birthday card. Among other encouragements, she observed that I had “truly blossomed” during the previous year.  I know what she means. I had stopped looking at everything through my “writer’s lens” and stopped trying to do 100 things at once and just tried to live fully inside each moment.  I had started trying to look people (especially my family) in the eye when they speak. I multi-tasked less. I got my hands dirty in the garden more, played more games, did more puzzles, tried new recipes and projects (thank you, Pinterest) and reconnected with my pmountaintopriorities.

Now, a year after my sister’s sweet observation, life has brought a number of changes and a great deal more busyness. And a 45 minute commute each morning and afternoon. What a challenge it is to keep fighting that multi-tasking monster inside that tries to “do” (five things at once) and “be” at the same time!

Below are three of the specific ways I continue try to stand up and live…

1. Waste less time trying to meet others’ expectations.  Being overly concerned with ‘what people think’ is a train of thought that has led my soul straight out of the present and into the lonely wilderness time and time again.  At this stage of my life, I understand with fresh clarity how wasteful it is to squander my energy and abilities on trying to keep everybody in the world appeased. Of the hundreds and hundreds of people I know, they don’t all get a piece of me. The Lord needs all of me to accomplish the purposes He has for me. Period.

2. Waste less energy fretting about the future.  This really comes down to trust. Do I believe my days are ordered by a loving Savior, or do I not?  I can make plans all day long to try and ward off emergencies and figure everything out…but why would I squander the precious time I have today trying to control what hasn’t yet come?  YES, make wise decisions. YES, embrace delayed gratification when appropriate. YES, continue to sharpen the God-given gifts that will help us live a fulfilling, well-spent life. But NO to getting so obsessed with the future that we are robbed of the simple joy of breathing in and out today, knowing we are in Good Hands for all eternity.

3. Seek Christ continually. The things He wants to say to me are life-changing. Why would I not keep both ears tuned to his every wish??  It is truly mind-boggling what I miss when my head is swimming with my own tentative, needy, self-focused thoughts. His thoughts are not our thoughts. They are WAY better. I want to hear more of them!

The rewards are significant. At long last I have started to feel the quiet underpinning of confidence that comes when the mind, body and soul are all headed the same direction. I’m on time more often. My relationships are more healthy.  I have stopped making excuses for myself when I mess up.  (For the most part, anyway. I mean, we are just broken human beings with so many demands on our bodies, minds and souls.) planting seeds

In “standing up to live” I have not been as focused on “sitting down to write” as often as I have in the past. And, for now, I’m okay with it. So much about my journey I can’t fully put into words at the moment. I guess you could say I’m like a human teapot… brewing up some strong stuff that isn’t quite ready to pour out. (The song “I’m a Little Teapot” is suddenly swimming around in my head, which is awesome.)

Friends, even if for a few minutes at a time, try to tune out all of the messages from the little voices that sit on your shoulders and whisper all that crazy stuff into your being. Just focus on living – really LIVING – inside this one powerful moment. Listen for His voice… stand up…and live the life that has been specifically cut out for you (whether or not you get a humorous or validating Facebook status out of it). You will not be sorry.

Loyalty.

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white tigerLoyalty is like the elusive white tiger. There are rare sightings; and it is incredibly beautiful as long as it doesn’t leave you for dead.

There is a reason why loyalty is near extinction — it is so incredibly risky!  Having faith in people just doesn’t always work out, if we’re honest. Loyalty  – to our leaders, spouses, families, communities and friends –  is hard because people do disappointing things. The loyal know this, yet choose not to use others’ humanity (or our own) as an excuse to be less faithful.

To some, loyalty is confused with selling out. But selling out is selfish. Loyalty requires constantly surrendering our personal agendas for the sake of long-term relationship…choosing love over lesser things. That is anything but selfish.

Loyalty is, in truth, an act of buying in. Buying in to the eternal; doing as we would like others to do unto us, rather than as they actually do.

Loyalty means making the courageous decision to risk disappointment and loss in order to be the rare person who can be counted on not to undermine, take advantage of, or betray our friends, leaders, families, churches or employers.

The loyal are not weak-willed minions who allow ourselves to be deceived or taken advantage of. We are gritty believers in a bigger picture… a world where love wins, even if we take a personal hit. That, friends, is not for the faint of heart.

One thing though. Loyalty absolutely doesn’t mean helping someone do evil or accepting abuse. Sin works in no one’s best interest. Telling the truth for the sake of love and walking in that truth, even if it means walking away, is the only right action you can take when someone’s influence is harmfully toxic.

Loyalty is most certainly not about believing in people. It is about relentlessly loving the people who have been put into our lives by a loving, wise, powerful God.

I’m challenged by these words of King David in Psalm 47:2-4, reminding me that loyalty to Him is expressed in how well I love the people He has strategically placed in my life.

“For the Lord Most High is awesome;
He is a great King over all the earth.
He will subdue the peoples under us,
And the nations under our feet.
He will choose our inheritance for us…”

Psalm 47:2-4

I am finally starting to trust that leaving my inheritance in His Omniscient hands is far less risky than grabbing it with my own grubby paws.

 

Transformation… And Strawberry Shortcake.

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I’m not sure how exactly to catch you up on the past few months, except with the word TRANSFORMATION.  I once promised myself I would always work from home and never again go back to office life. But somehow my heart was transformed.

My husband, who was ordained as a minister 20 years ago,  did not feel the time was right to pursue ministry until recently. His heart (and mine) was transformed.

Earlier this year, within a 24-hour window of time, we were asked to take in a Russian student who needed a place to stay for a few months. Our home has been transformed into a more beautiful and more multicultural place. When she goes home in a few days, a little part of our hearts will go with her to Russia.

Our community of friends, too, is experiencing transformation. Mentors and friends have changed jobs and locations. Those who are left have had to dig deep and let our hearts adjust. Our kids’ friends have graduated and are exploring new adventures, leaving gaps that couldn’t possibly be filled. And I don’t mind telling you that I have ugly cried more in 2014 than I did in the entire previous five years.

I could go on and on, but trust me. We are being renewed day by day.  And don’t get me started on the changes yet to come. Our son will be a senior in high school this next school year and our daughter will be a freshman, so the transformations are just beginning!

In times like these, I find myself going to familiar favorite things as a reprieve. Favorite songs, favorite movies, the sweet little backyard garden my husband helped me set up, and some standard go-to recipes that make me feel at home inside this rapidly changing life.

Imagine how grateful I was Sunday night to get a call from a dear, faithful friend (who still lives right down the road where she has lived for over a decade, miraculously!) letting me know she had picked so many strawberries that day, she couldn’t use them all.  (Is there even such a thing as too many strawberries?) Shortly thereafter, I whipped up my favorite homemade Strawberry Shortcake recipe and transformed that cooler full of strawberries, still warm from the strawberry patch, into a treat that reminded my husband and me of simpler days.

Several friends asked me for the recipe after I “instagrammed” the creation, so here goes below if you feel like celebrating some simple old fashioned things in our rapidly changing world!

STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKEStrawberry Shorcake

Remove hulls from strawberries and wash them thoroughly. Cut them into bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle with sugar or honey and add just enough water to create a delicious syrup around the strawberries.

Preheat oven to 450 F

Mix together:
2 cups baking mix (Bisquick or homemade mix using the recipe below)
3/4 cup half-n-half
2 tablespoons sugar

When the ingredients are all mixed together, form the mixture into a soft dough ball.
If it is too sticky to handle, blend in more baking mix until you can roll it into a ball.  Place the dough on a surface floured with more baking mix, then pat it to about 3/4 inches and cut into circles using a biscuit cutter (I used a Pampered Chef cutter that puts little decorative divets into the edges but that’s just for looks).  Bake the shortcakes at 450 for approximately 10 minutes or until lightly golden.

Cut the biscuits horizontally after they’ve cooled slightly and layer strawberries and whipped cream on the bottom half, then add the top of the biscuit and add more berries and whipped cream on top as shown in the photo.  Enjoy!

HOMEMADE BAKING MIX
I always keep this stuff on hand in an airtight container and use it to make anything “normal people” make with store bought Bisquick.

Ingredients:

6 cups flour
2 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons baking powder
1 cup shortening

Mix dry ingredients to then cut in shortening until well blended and “sandy” in appearance.

Shelf life is 6 months in an airtight container!

“Sailboat” – A Song for the Lonely (Sung by my Son)

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Back in the day, moms carried around a wallet filled with their kids’ pictures.  But it’s a new day.  I’m passing around a YouTube link. This kid – my kid – has been discouraged for years by teachers and school administrators because he doesn’t learn in a way that the school recognizes as ideal. He has also been blessed by some incredible cheerleaders and advocates, for whom we are incredibly grateful.

If you know anything about my family’s story, you know that our journey has been filled with opportunities to move past labels or “what people think” so the world can begin to understand that gifts come in all kinds of packages,  intelligence can’t always be measured by letters of the alphabet, and potential is not decided by skeptics.

Certainly, we all have felt just like a sailboat many times.  You can tell from his voice that this kid knows that feeling, too.  But I hope and pray he feels the wind blowing him exactly where he needs to be as he pursues his dreams, today and always.

Enjoy Jackson’s cover of Ben Rector‘s song, “Sailboat.”