Everything is Hard Until it’s Easy

Each of our four sons played soccer their kindergarten year, and my husband was purposefully their first coach. He always taught them one important lesson in that first season: everything is hard until it’s easy. In other words, practice, practice, practice. This admonition to work at what does not necessarily come naturally (until it is no longer work) extends beyond the realm of sports, however.

When first married, it did not take long for us to realize that there were certain skills that my new husband was better at than me, and vice-versa. In the matter of spiritual practices it became quickly apparent that I was stronger in the area of prayer while he was more disciplined in his Bible reading.

Fast forward 26 years and I have to say that while he has grown in prayer, it has been a constant start and stop struggle for me to become a more consistent Bible reader. I finally realize that it is because I have not practiced the above mantra of keeping at it during the hard times. My problem is that I continually give up too quickly. But, I am learning something from one of our boys.

Our third son is an avid soccer player. One summer he spent an afternoon in the back yard practicing juggling a soccer ball in the air with his foot. When he started, he could only juggle the ball one or two times before it would hit the ground. Several minutes of effort later, he had increased his juggling to 3, 4, and then 6 times without it falling. But, as several more moments of effort went by, frustration began to set in. He was no longer seeing progress, and often fell back to only 2 or 3 juggles before losing control.

Here came the gentle reminder: “Everything is hard before it’s easy.” Over and over again, the ball was picked up, and the count would begin anew. Tears were shed. Tears of disappointment at his slow progress. Tears of anger as the ball was kicked savagely against the fence in frustration. All day long, and into the days and weeks ahead, he labored to improve his score; bouncing, and bouncing that ball on that foot, over and over and over again, ad naseum.

Gradually, his efforts were rewarded with incremental progress. Currently, his foot juggling record is at the impressive number of 20. The amount of effort required today to achieve this feat is minimal. The tears and sweat and agonizing periods of practice are but a faint memory. What once was hard, has now become easy.

So it is with spiritual disciplines as well. I realize now that in order to become more practiced in being a consistent Bible reader, I must have the same tenacity about it that my son did with his soccer juggling. When a habit becomes hard to maintain, rather than giving up, I must push through and do it with vigor and determination to stick with it rather than surrendering to complacency.

I encourage you to join me by choosing a spiritual discipline that you want to get better at (such as daily bible reading, or prayer) and begin to practice it today. But, don’t give up when it is hard to continue. Pick it up, and begin again. Remember, everything is hard until it’s easy.

 

Parents Are Children Too

Parenting continues to teach me new things about God and my relationship with him.

When one of our sons are absent from us for an extended period, I crave to hear from him, to know how he is doing, to be made privy to his thoughts and actions. I wish to connect to him in any way to bridge our physical distance.

My yearning to hear from my child increases the longer the silence extends. I hunger to hear the intimate details about his life. I wonder how he is doing, where he is going, and with whom? How thrilled I am when he confides in me. I dream with him for the future as I am privileged to learn about his inner thoughts, hopes, and desires. I grieve with him as I learn of his disappointments and heartaches. Good or bad, as a parent, I desire to be a constant presence in my children’s lives.

And, then, I realize…my Heavenly Father desires the same connection with me. How saddened he must be when time goes by without a prayerful word from me, his child. How he must long for me to share my intimate thoughts, hopes, dreams, and desires with him. My disappointments, heartaches, and tears do not go by unnoticed, or uncared for, by God.

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle.You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8

Just as I long to hear from my own children, God desires connection and communication from his children as well.

Teach me to be more consistent in my communication with you, Father.

 

 

 

 

 

Be a Locavore

We were in Stephenville, TX for a child’s soccer game. Rather than drive an hour home for lunch, we used the AroundMe app to find a place to eat. Big O’s Simply Delicious Deli popped up, with great reviews.

The owner greeted us with a thick European accent. Upon asking, we learned he came to Texas from France, by way of Ireland.

What brought him to the Lone Star State, I wondered? “Love!” was the immediate reply. Aww!

As we inquired about the menu, he allowed me to sample each of his homemade sandwich spreads and sauces, then insisted I taste each of the soups. The line behind me lengthened, but the proprietor refused to rush me. He reveled in having acquired a new patron, and preened a little like a male peacock over his food wares. As he handed me several condiment containers of soup to sample he said, “This is the only place in town to offer you shots of soup.” 🙂

We were more than pleased with our individual lunch choices. My husband enjoyed his gyro, my soup hit the spot, and our son’s BLT was thick and flavorful. This has typically become our experience when we have skipped over the known chain restaurants to search out the local options.

Our next visit resulted in our youngest child declaring the owner to be the the best chef he knows. He enjoyed interviewing the culinary artist on how he learned to cook so well, specifically because the basmati rice was delicious despite his self-proclaimed dislike for rice.

Each time we forgo the usual franchise options to seek out local food establishments, not only is the food often delicious, but we frequently make a connection with a fellow food enthusiast or a lasting memory. So much more enjoyable than just stopping to fill our food fuel tank. I encourage you to discover your own local establishments. You’ll likely enjoy the flavor, as well as the flair!

 

Fill Your Pitcher

Do you ever feel pulled in so many different directions at once that you fear that you are about to snap under the strain?

Or, do you feel like a pitcher that is constantly being poured out of in order to fill others’ cups?

In the book Gifts from the Sea, the author, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, describes woman this way and warns against pouring out of yourself to the point of running dry. She states:

“Eternally; woman spills herself away in driblets to the thirsty, seldom being allowed the time, the quiet, the peace, to let the pitcher fill up to the brim”

When I consider how I pour out of myself into the lives of others (spouse, children, friends, church family, etc.) it emphasizes to me the importance of refilling the proverbial pitcher. Yet, with so many cisterns in the world from which to draw, how can we choose from which well to fill ourselves?

I believe there are a few scriptures that can answer that question for us. As we consider how, and with what, to fill ourselves, notice Romans 15:13 that states how, as we trust in God, he will fill us with joy and peace, and we will overflow with hope.

Could you use more hope, peace, and joy in your life? I know that I could. I must learn to trust God…and get ready for the flood.

My prayer for you, and me, is the same as Paul in Ephesians 3:16-19.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

In both of these passages, the imagery is one of being filled to fullness or overflowing. These are not measured out doses to be drained away before replenishing. He will fill us up completely, full to the point of overflowing. How much better equipped we will be to pour out into the lives of others when we are full of what he provides.

The answer then, is to run to God’s reservoirs!

“But those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14

 

 

 

 

Trust

How would you answer the question, “How do you grow your faith?”

Considering the answer to this question in a group discussion recently, one answer was to spend more time with God, both in prayer and his word. Through the course of the discussion, the subject of trust was raised. There was an emphasis on the idea that the more time you spend with someone, the more you trust them. Immediately, my mind jumped to the difference in trusting people and trusting God.

“Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.” (Psalm 36:5)

God is ALWAYS trustworthy. People, not so much.

Try spending more time with God.

 

 

Moan, Groan, Gripe and Complain

Whenever someone begins to become a little whiny in my husband’s family, my mother-in-law has been known to say in jest, “Moan, Groan, Gripe, and Complain!” It is always said very lightheartedly, accompanied by a smile, and received with the good humor with which it is conveyed. But, despite the moment of levity, there is a gentle reminder.

The warning to refrain from complaining is not new. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul warns the readers  to avoid some of the mistakes from Israel’s past. In verse 10, he states, “And do not grumble, as some of them did–and were killed by the destroying angel.” He includes this admonishment, according to verse six, with other examples “to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.”

Complaining can become such an easy habit to slip into. However, to become a grumbler is to set our heart on evil things rather than fill it with good. As the mouth speaks what the heart is full of, I am adopting this phrase to encourage my own family members to not be people who moan, groan, gripe, and complain. 🙂

April Showers Bring May Flowers

May is often a hectic month with graduations, end of school events, Memorial Day weekend, and volatile, stormy weather. With a child who has a late May birthday, the culmination of these events nearly always interferes with party plans. Traditionally, intricate plotting and rescheduling is required (and one year, a full out cancellation after 3 reschedules).

This year, as I sent out rescheduled plans due to a severe thunderstorm forecast, I couldn’t help but reflect on how much the old adage “April showers bring May flowers” rarely seems to be true in our lives. The last several years, May has been full of tornadoes and life transitions. We have moved in May twice in the last 2 years. “May flowers, my foot,” I thought to myself as I reflected on how weather was once again interfering in birthday celebration plans.

Then, I remembered the child that the celebration is for. I remembered that he was due mid-June. But, 11 years ago, I woke up at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning, Memorial Day weekend, to discover my water had broken. The baby was coming three weeks early! I hadn’t even finished packing my hospital bag. Waddling to the car, I listed items for my husband to grab. “And, the baby name book” I instructed over my shoulder. “You haven’t picked out a name?” our sitter exclaimed, incredulously. “I thought we had more time!” I wailed as I stepped outside.

Having chosen not to find out the sex of the baby before delivery, we discussed options en route and settled on a girl’s name as we parked in the hospital lot. Around noon, a lady from church peeked in our hospital room to check on our progress. “Do you still have that baby name book?” I asked.

“Do you still need it?” she answered with surprise. Unable to speak, I nodded vigorously. Realizing the moment was imminent, she handed the Bible name book to my husband and stepped out of the room. As the doctor coached my final pushes, my husband frantically flipped through the pages, throwing out suggestions that I kept declining with vigorous shakes of my head. “Are you sure you don’t like this name?” he asked, revisiting a name we had previously dismissed merely because a son had a close friend with that moniker. “What does it mean?” I panted. “Gift of God,” he replied. I nodded in affirmation. We decided on a middle name (from a grandfather who died before my husband was born) and one final push later the doctor announced, “It’s A Boy!!”

In hindsight, I have realized that God was indeed giving us a gift. For three autumns in a row, we experienced the joy of a new pregnancy. Yet, the first two of those pregnancies both ended in miscarriage. So, the arrival of this May baby was like a field of flowers after a few years of “April showers”. Which means that whatever inconveniences and frustrations we have in trying to celebrate this gift of God in our lives (from life upheavals to bad weather to scheduling conflicts) he is worth the effort in the end. And, he is a reminder that God really does send flowers after rain.

 

To Love a Child

“You will learn more about yourself through parenting than probably any other endeavor.” These wise words were spoken to me by my mother when I had just one, young, son. Nearly twenty years, and three additional boys, has certainly revealed things about myself that have thrilled my soul, as well as some not as pleasant. But, in my continued effort to fill my heart with good things, I find the following quote to hit the nail on the head:

Parenting is a journey–an inner journey, an outer journey and a journey of the heart. Parenting brings us to unimagined heights and unparalleled lows. It has the potential to transform our souls, heal our wounds and lift our hearts. But it also has the power to reduce us to tears, time and time again. Parenting can bring out the very worst in our behavior, even when our intentions are stellar. Every wart we thought we had hidden will somehow be exposed in the process of parenting. No experience has the potency to touch us, challenge us, or transform us like the process of loving a child. Parenting offers us lessons in how to grow and to strive and to seek. If we choose to open our hearts to the possibility of transformation, our children will teach us how to love, how to forgive and how to be full expressions of our deepest selves, if only we let them. Their love has the potential to crack open the hardest parts of our hearts, just as our love has the potential to carry them through their lives knowing they are cherished. Under the Chinaberry Tree: Books and Inspirations for Mindful Parenting, xiv.

I believe that parenting is one method of peeling back layers of ourselves that might otherwise remain unseen. But, it also wondrously highlights God’s unconditional, unchanging love for us. Knowledge of how he cherishes us does have the potential to carry us through all the ups and downs of this life. His love, so vast, so profound, reaches out and surrounds us like a comforting blanket.

Yet, within that same embrace, we have such a safe place for our “warts” to be revealed. Being in his presence is like holding up a life sized mirror showing our complete selves, all of our glorious beauty along with our imperfections. Just like we love our own sweet, precious sometimes rotten children despite any flawed behavior, he loves us completely, wholly.

However, the image of our reflection ultimately ought to begin to reflect less of our selves and more of our Savior. As he wraps us up in his loving embrace, he reaches into our darkest places, if we let him. He alone has the ability to replace those dark recesses with his brilliant glory (2 Cor. 3:18.) Parenting is certainly teaching me more about myself than I would have ever dared to ask. But, it is also teaching me more about my heavenly parent. I am more appreciative of being unconditionally loved as his child, warts and all, now that I have learned what it is to love a child, warts and all, unconditionally.

Open our Eyes

Today, a woman in our congregation gave me some eggs from her backyard chickens. This is like a gift of gold. She commented that, “They are good eggs and we have been blessed with more than we can use. Gotta be some perks for being the preacher’s wife.” Amen to that! 🙂

As I put the eggs away, I sifted through the mail and opened a thick envelope from a church member in another state. Enclosed were several photographs of one of my boys involved in some activities at a youth event from years ago. A note was included with this statement, “Enjoy looking back at [name of church] memories with your family.” It was signed, “We love you.”

I record this here as a reminder that God encourages us through his people, and sometimes when we least expect it but need it most. It prompts me to have the attitude of the song, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord…I want to see you.” I pray for eyes open to see God.

Is it all Meaningless?

Recently, I have been cycling through a personal “everything is meaningless” slump. During an upswing day, I had an epiphany in Sunday morning Bible class. We were studying the book of Ecclesiastes. Not exactly what some might consider to be good, uplifting subject matter. 🙂 However, as we discussed what it means in chapter 3 that “there is a time for everything,” it hit me. I need to swap the lenses through which I am currently viewing life for the lenses of the fictional character of Phil Connors.

In the 1993 film Groundhog Day Bill Murray plays the part of weatherman Phil. In a strange twist of cinema magic, Phil ends up getting caught in an endless cycle of repeating the same day over and over and over again. Cue certain days in my own life.

The monotony begins to get to Phil, and he attempts to control and coerce the day into his desired outcome. His multiple attempts never fully result in success, and eventually the futility of it all gets to him, causing him to become more and more creative in his attempts to permanently end his agony.

It is only after he realizes his inability to alter his painful reality that his attitude and viewpoint shifts. In contrast to putting thought and effort into his desire for personal fulfillment, Phil begins to notice those around him. He starts to see the opportunities available in the day. Eventually, he moves away from focusing on himself and how to achieve happiness through selfish motives.

Instead, he begins to notice the ways in which he can assist others; helping older ladies with their vehicle, taking notice of and caring for a homeless man, etc. Once he changes his focus from himself to others he begins to pursue creative ways to add beauty and joy to the day. He learns another language, to play the piano, and in the process he lets go of his frustration and unhappiness. In their place he finds friendship and contentment. Only then is the spell broken and is Phil able to move on to the next day with all the hopes and uncertainties of the unknown.

A message in Ecclesiastes is very similar: rather than striving solely for our own selfish contentment we ought to take notice of those around us and do good where we can. And, we ought to enjoy our lives along the way.

If you have never had an experience that leaves you viewing each and every day as monotonous…repetitive…boringly the same…like ticking off the boxes of a calendar,…without purpose or meaning, then you have likely not lived long enough, or God Bless You! 🙂 Either way, I encourage you to read the book of Ecclesiastes if you have not.

For those of us who have or do struggle to find purpose in the monotonous or seeming futility of our days here on this earth, may we follow the example of Phil Connors. I resolve now to stop striving just for my own contentment, to stop being so self-centered, and to open my eyes to how I can befriend or serve those around me. I want to begin to notice the beauty in each day, and to create it myself if it does not exist.

In chapter three of Ecclesiastes, the author outlines that there is a time for everything on earth and in this life. In verse 12 he concludes, “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.” Here’s to looking for ways to be happy and to do good in this life!