My Word for 2017: CLEAR

 

Ok, I have a word for 2017. (Yes, it's mid-March... this one took a while to land.) My adopted theme for this year is CLEAR. 

clear
[kleer]
free from darkness, obscurity, or cloudiness; light. 

Scripted by Madi, Sunshine Ink Co

Scripted by Madi, Sunshine Ink Co

I passionately love the thought of clarity, actually. Don't we all? God's heard my pleas for years now - prayers for a clear journey, for an obvious calling, for a an audible voice giving clear instructions. A clear way forward is the dream and yet I've made some peace with the foggy path, one foot in front of the other and each step an act of trust. But oh, how good is life when things are clear? When the fog clears and the sun is let loose, or when my winter-pummelled windows get a good spring cleaning and there's light through our home... it's heaven. 

I have a pretty good sense of smell, though my eyes need a strong prescription to function well. My family laughs at me because my nose is so sensitive... But here's the thing: I can SMELL the new season of growth and fruit and harvest, though I cannot yet quite see it clearly. The endless winter is releasing its grip to spring, and this mama is ready. God is doing something new, as He always is. I smell wide open fields of harvest, exploding with life. Where our journey has maybe felt more like a like narrow, covered path, there is clearing ahead. We've been plowing and God has been pruning. 

I'm committed to clear what I can in this season. Make way. Clear the distractions and pain that weigh me down personally... I know this is a time for clearing the muck and weeds and overgrown ick. What's easy to ignore in the winter needs to be cleared for spring. I'm prepared to lose some of this winter baggage in anticipation of what lies ahead. I'm focused on clearing the way for others in this season. And I'm committed to write and communicate to bring clarity. It's time. We're ready. 

Hebrews 12:1-2 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses who by faith have testified to the truth of God’s absolute faithfulness, stripping off every unnecessary weight and the sin which so easily and cleverly entangles us, let us run with endurance and active persistence the race that is set before us, looking away from all that will distract us and focusing our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Perfecter of faith the first incentive for our belief and the One who brings our faith to maturity, who for the joy of accomplishing the goal set before Him endured the cross, disregarding the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God revealing His deity, His authority, and the completion of His work. 

Worth It.

A few years ago I got sick. Like really, weirdly, ugly-ill. I was thirtysomething and had always been healthy until then... I hadn't ever broken a bone or dealt with more than a flu. And then, BOOM - I found myself flat on my back in the hospital unable to breathe without help, my body ridiculously swollen and my heart racing for no apparent reason. I was a sweaty mess. 

After MRIs, CT scans, X-rays, and way too many tests including a lung biopsy, I was released with a diagnosis (pulmonary sarcoidosis, a sneaky little auto-immune disease that has since quietened down in my system). I was sent home to recover and spent over a month out of commission, in hospital and then on my back at home. 

The worst and best part of that whole deal was the fact that I felt useless. I couldn't contribute at home or at work. My husband and kids and parents and sisters and friends and colleagues held down the fort and picked up the slack. I was a responsibility addict suddenly dependant on everyone else, grateful yet sooo embarrassed. The ache of feeling like a burden was heavier than any physical pain. Until then I had been going hard, carrying commitment and duty like a champ. In fact I had ignored the symptoms of illness that had been creeping up for months because I was sure I didn't have time to slow down. 

And here's what I learned when life knocked me flat: The world kept spinning without me. My sticky fingers were forcefully dislodged from trying to control all-the-things, and everyone did just fine without me. They all loved and cared for me, whether I was getting things done or not. I knew the Spirit, my Comforter, was close - even if I had absolutely nothing to offer in service. It was an experience that radically changed my perspective. I do life, sabbath, boundaries and relationships in a different way because of it. 

If I'm honest, I need to remember and meditate on that revelation often. Like a lot, a lot... Now, years later. I need to be reminded that my worthiness is detached from my usefulness. I am not what I do. Jesus thought I was worth it before I did a thing to prove it. Gosh. The same is so true for you - it's too much, isn't it?

Recently the most stunning book, Worth Living, arrived in my mailbox from Ellen Graf-Martin and Ellen's Picks. Mary DeMuth addresses the shameful lies we believe about ourselves and pours God-truth all over each one of them like healing balm. Compassionate and challenging, replacing shame with hope. Seriously, it's good. Each chapter was a gift to me. The lies are familiar to all of us - I do not deserve love, I am what I produce, I should be ashamed of my weakness, and more. My mornings for the past few weeks of summer have included coffee and sunshine and this book, a reminder that the King is wild for us. 

A quote that Mary shares in the book that I've written out for myself, because wow...

I am now utterly convinced that on judgement day, the Lord Jesus is going to ask each one of us one question, and only one question: Did you believe that I loved you, that I desired you, that I waited for you day after day, that I longed to hear the sound of your voice?  - Brennan Manning

I am part of Ellen's Picks

Ordinary Glory

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I love a good story. The journey, the struggle, the triumph. I'll contentedly skim through hundreds of bland pages and a long-winded preamble to get to the good stuff. It's the catch of breath and the quickened pulse as potential is finally realized, paths intersect, and victory is achieved. Success, resolution, love requited. I'm a sucker for the underdog who eventually scores - aren't we all? I'll wade through the fog and the fight, but my eyes are on the finale. I want to go there

When I get to know you, I'll probably quickly start sniffing for your personal storyline. Where are you from? Who are your people? What did you once believe and how as that changed? Where are you going? I want to know what I'm cheering you towards

My eyes are usually fixed in the horizon. I'm looking for signs of where God is leading us. I'm fumbling through plans for the future. I want to know the next big thing, the best new idea. I'm anxious for our next season - when this busyness is finally over, when my kid is through school, when I feel more capable in that area. I lean forward by default. Overcome, move on, build. Next.

I've just made my way through Emily Freeman's book Simply Tuesday, and it's echoing between my mind and heart. It's a call to breathe, to get small, to find contentment in the incredibly ordinary and easily-hurried-through Tuesday. The everyday. I haven't underlined a book so heavily in years and Emily's words keep speaking to me. I'm challenged and intrigued. I'm lingering here, and that's new. The craving for significance, influence, growth, more, can trick me so easily into overlooking the glory that's right here.  The holy ground that is today, in the home that's ours now. 

Jesus came down. He turns toward. He makes his face to shine upon. He shows compassion. He sits with. His with-ness is so important that every time we say his name, we declare it - Immanuel, God with us. - Emily P. Freeman, Simply Tuesday 
I am part of Ellen's Picks

Remind them who they are.

Sometimes we have to remind our kids who they are.  

Children test boundaries like it's their job - and it is. They push buttons and make selfish decisions until they learn better. It's how we humans mature.

Just a thought when it comes to parenting - I've learned that it helps to remind our kids (and myself) exactly who we are when behaviour is out-of-line. We are all a work in process, and so we have to remind each other of who we were created to be and intend to be. There's stuff that's unique to my little tribe that would look different for yours, but as families we are growing together and belong to each other. 

An example - We happen to be a family of "church rats" and we're proud of it. I'm a pastor's kid raising a couple pastor's kids and our children are as involved in church life as Rod and I are. I'm hyper aware of the pressure and the privilege attached to the role. It's part of our DNA. It's a unique kind of life with unique sacrifices, and I think we all kind of love that about it (including our teenagers - thank God). When I noticed one of my kids hanging in the church foyer with some friends rather than in the service on the weekend, I reminded him (privately) how we Doells do. We are the kind of people who engage at church. We lead by example. When we show up we are all in. That's us.  My kid listened to my little pep talk and nodded and hustled back into the service. He knows who he is.  What is ridiculous to others is our normal. 

My hope is that our kids will feel pride in belonging to our family, easy or not, and that as they grow they'll continue to develop the character that it takes to live this life we've all been called to. 

Our family looks for ways to serve.  

Our family is faithful and committed. 

We keep our word.  

And the list goes on. We'll just keep telling ourselves over and over until we get it.   

Your child is not his or her bad behaviour. He isn't bad or selfish. She may make wrong choices, but that's because she is working out who she really is. As a parent, we have the responsibility and privilege of reminding our children. 

And let me remind you - you're doing great work. You really are. 

 

The best thing.

A young friend asked me recently how she should move toward the call of God in her life. I think she was actually asking about how to get from here to THERE, from serving behind the scenes to serving on the platform. I listened and nodded as she spilled out her hopes over coffee, and then gave her the most simple advice. Because I believe it's the best thing we can do to move "ahead" I'll tell anyone who asks: Keep showing up.

Faithfulness gets noticed because it's scarce. Consistency matters because it's rare. And forget how it attracts others - What it does for your heart and character is the best kind of strength conditioning for the soul. Just keep showing up.

Another friend once told me that he was wasting the best years of his life. He was in his twenties and frustrated, serving in a ministry position that wasn't quite his dream. I think I laughed at him back then, which was probably a little rude. Truthfully I don't know how it feels to be a young, driven man with big goals - I've been encouraged and even pushed into most roles I've taken on, rather than chasing them down. But I reacted to his words because I knew that those years he was spending serving another man's vision were exactly where he was supposed to be. There's investment and growth in the waiting, if we we don't let our shortsighted vision distract us. (He has walked it out, by the way, and his life has been marked by the blessing of God.)

We all travel through desert patches - the uncertain seasons where our reality doesn't look much like our dream. The years where we fumble towards finding our lane are tricky. People get lost out there. And that's probably why I think it makes all the difference to decide ahead of time that you'll keep turning up. Commit beforehand. 

Keep showing up. Just decide that faithful is who you are. You can choose to wear faithfulness like clothing - put it on and adopt it as your signature piece. 

Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
    bind them round your neck,
    write them on the tablet of your heart.
Then you will win favour and a good name
    in the sight of God and man.
Proverbs 3:3-4

Find your lane. It's not even a little bit easy but it is the adventure you're designed for. Your lane is the place where your passions are firing while you're helping someone else, by the way. It will carry you through hard places, and it's not a final destination. 

Do the things that don't get celebrated. Find something that needs to be done, someone who needs attention, and go for it. Pour yourself into that, and hope that nobody else notices. God's so much better at rewarding and elevating than any human is. Make it your business to serve in secret.

And here's what we all really need to know: Nothing is wasted in God's sight. Ask someone who's wise and has a few years on you and they'll likely tell you that the hard stuff is the best stuff. It's where we develop steel in our spine and grow compassion. If you feel like you're out in the sticks doing your best and not getting anywhere, count it all joy. Seriously. You're probably right where you should be. Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a craft. In that place of waiting, putting one foot in front of the other, keeping your heart right and your eyes on God, you're mastering what ministry truly is. Just keep showing up.

 

Watch where you wander.

The words you say to yourself in silence will eventually have a voice. The daily processing, the repeated mumbled frustrations and also the disciplined meditations. Your inside voice echoes out here.

We can hear your private thoughts and trace the roads you've let your mind travel by following the words that come out of your mouth. We aren't that complicated, us humans. I hear through you.

You talk sideways about your leader and I hear the insecurity that's loud in your thoughts. You're full of answers but ask few questions and I hear your need for approval. You go quiet when I attempt to share some dirt, and there's conviction in your silence. 

When our kids were young and silly they would hide their face with their hands and believe they were invisible. I think we adults attempt something similar with our calculated words... The heart leaks though. The offence and ego that you nurse privately creep into the words you share. As does the grace that follows the wrangling of repentance and sacrifice of worship. 

Watch where you wander.

And so, a challenge from David to steer us right today:

May the words that come out of my mouth and the musings of my heart
    meet with Your gracious approval,
    O Eternal, my Rock,
    O Eternal, my Redeemer.

Psalm 19:14 The Voice

 

 

Just say it.

There will always be someone who can say it better than you can.

Someone more polished, more attractive, more confident.

Someone with more experience, more influence. 

Someone who can sing it clearer.

There's always a good reason to shut up, sit back and stay small because there's always someone else. And meanwhile the world waits for the thing you were born to say. 

Perhaps it's time we say it. Do the thing, write the words, dance the dance, fight the fight. Build it, move it, ask it, make it. Perfection is a lie, and shinier isn't always better.  There's such beauty in the boldness of wobbly-kneed, heart pounding, dry throat movement.  

If the Spirit moves you, friend, may you be moved indeed. 

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20 Years & A Love Letter

I knew I was going to marry you right at the very beginning. My heart jumped right in there, and the rest of me followed as it does. Heart before head. But we're decades in now, baby, and time has proven it was a solid decision. You're the best part of me.

October 1, 1994

October 1, 1994

I've shared your name for twenty years. How we've grown together, and the places we've journeyed through. Days of pure joy and days of bitter, heart-bruising pain and so many days that looked exactly like the one before. One foot in front of the other, marching on. I'm so grateful you've been beside me. 

That first October 1st, when we met at the front of the church and I wore white and your face was white - remember that? You were so tall and handsome in your tux, looking as though you might just fall over. Remember how you reached for my hand in prayer but my eyes were closed so I left you hanging - and we laughed about it over and over again? (I probably laughed more than you did. Sorry.) 

We had no idea then how these years would unfurl and how often we go back to revisit that first love - the commitment that we declared in front of a sanctuary packed with all of our people and the entire church family. And then some. All those people - but I was only looking at you.

You've been faithful, loyal, strong. And I have leaned on you, hard. Thank you for holding me like the steadiest of anchors. You help me find my footing when I feel lost, and you push me when I fall behind. I have never once doubted you, and I know what a gift that is. You just always believe in me. When I try to hide, you come looking for me. You cheer me on and tell me the truth and keep me standing straight. 

And oh, those children of ours and how you love them. They bring you so much joy - I know it, because it's a craziness we share. The devotion you have to Madi and Miller makes my heart hurt. They are blessed humans because they have you for a dad.

I see you and the sacrifices you make and how you surrender, to serve us. I know how you shove your pride and that strong will of yours aside to serve God's House. I see it, and I see Jesus in you. And I honour you, husband of mine.

Let's plan on another 20, shall we? Let's do it again.


Quiet

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It's been quiet over here, I know. 

There are seasons when there's more than enough words out there - everyone with an opinion. My head can become such a noisy place. This summer felt like a good time to be still, calm my soul, and practice listening. There's freedom in not needing to be heard.

So I read stacks of books. 

I bought a Fitbit, which lured me outside for long daily walks. Our feisty family dog pulled me along and barked at everyone we passed. Meanwhile I repeatedly asked God to talk to me. As the kilometres added up, I pressed in, pressed on. My feet kept moving while my head hushed.  

There were early mornings and really early evenings. (Don't judge, guys.)

I didn't write a thing. 

September is fading now and this autumn season means that I've been quiet for very different reasons, perhaps. Doell family life looks like a full calendar and rushed dinners and evenings scheduled with meetings. It's intense, and it's all stuff we wouldn't trade. So I offer up prayer in my car-sanctuary and delight in a Friday sabbath with time for slow-cooking. I even write a little.

And I enjoy the afterglow of a quiet, slow summer. 

Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. Matthew 6:6 The Message

Changing My Mind

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I posted this picture on Instagram this morning - A few scribbles from Phillipians 4:8 that inspired me and might be nice for someone else to look at. 

It's pretty, right? Nice words, some sunshine through the window and those peonies that make me inhale deeply. We've just begun a series at church on renewing our minds, addressing thoughts and purposefully changing how our brain is wired. The things we think about matter because they shape us. 

So I read my bible quietly, posted that glowy little picture, finished my coffee and left the house feeling like a boss. 

And then Monday hit.

And I really love my life and my job, but some days it flies at me hard. Two conversations and maybe a couple emails in, and my buttons were all pushed. It didn't take much really. I sat at my desk feeling small, insecure, overwhelmed. And my thoughts in that moment weren't honourable or right or pure or lovely. It is ridiculous, actually, how quickly I swung toward anger, hopelessness and the nagging tug of stress. 

There isn't an Instagram filter to doll up that kind of ugly. 

 

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At some point, staring at my computer screen, I realized how far I'd wandered in a few short hours. The Holy Spirit's good like that. I grabbed a bible, cracked it open to Phillippians, read it again. Yanked my mind back to where I want it to be. 

I'm so human. Embarrassingly fragile. Easily distracted. (My intentions are great, though.) On my own I'd have quit a long time ago. Thank GOD I'm not on my own, though. I'm posting this one because maybe one or two of you need to read this scripture through one more time, as I did. And do. And will again. And may the God of peace walk with you, as I desperately (obviously!) need him with me. 

Philippians 4:8-9 Finally, brothers and sisters, fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy. Keep to the script: whatever you learned and received and heard and saw in me—do it—and the God of peace will walk with you. 

PS. Those words I wrote out this morning - I'm keeping them close. Taped up next to the kitchen sink, where I rehearsed them while washing and drying tonight's dishes.

The Good Life

I have mad love for the Church. She's my home, my family and my forever-future. This week it was joy to witness my dear Relate Church host a women's conference. We flung those doors open and welcomed women from every variety of walk and background. The platform was graced by many wise, engaging friends making much of Jesus. I was overwhelmed by the words sung, spoken and proclaimed. There was confetti and chocolate and tears. Hundreds of photos were Insta-posted, quotes tweeted, notes scribbled. It was the best of times. 

Can I tell you my highlight, though? For me it was easily all about the church family surrendering schedules and preferences to serve. The ones in the back room wooing nap-deprived toddlers and those lugging garbage to the dumpster. The silly-late nights and dark-early mornings and the whispered prayers and the smiling parking lot host running toward me with an umbrella. The friends boldly bringing guests and the teen boys in bow ties serving lunch. 

I love The Church. I adore my church. She's imperfect, indeed, but she's jammed with good. 

No one promised the good life would be easy. 

The promised land, milk & honey sweet, it's for those who seek. Its wide open spaces welcome the traveller, those who journey, the life-invested. 

It's for the brave ones who show up today. And again tomorrow. 

They press on, despite fear. 

They're marked by commitment. 

Faithfulness defines them, loyalty their fragrance. 

A legacy people clothed in borrowed strength, His armour. 

They step aside to accommodate and serve without entitlement. 

They boldly hope, and sing with abandon. 

They're a refuge for the mourning, healing for the weak. 

They embrace, include, exhort. 

They're alert for the Voice, the Heartbeat, the Compass. 

They're steady. They are there. They are us and we

My people are the wild ones who keep turning up, keep trusting and keep serving as though it just might make a difference. Because we've had a taste of the good life. And it's worth showing up for.   

All that junk

It's almost dinnertime and I'm singing under my breath while stirring the pasta sauce. The kitchen’s all mine for a few minutes before family descends, and my head is jammed full of the day. 

I’ve got a line from The Black Eyes Peas on the brain...

What you gonna do with all that junk

All that junk inside your trunk

Yeah, that song. I’m pretty sure will.i.am was singing about a booty and I’m on a different page entirely, but the lyric pops into my head often. I’m processing a load of heart junk that’s followed me home.  

"It's all about the heart."

My mom says it often. She preaches it, and she lives it. Her eyes smile a little as she says it, and I may laugh as I repeat it back to her, because we’ve been here a hundred times. We've found a recurring theme in life: It’s always about the heart. There’s nothing new under the sun.

That person who said the words that stung.

The teacher who doesn’t really get my kid.

The co-worker with their own agenda.

The people who unfollowed, unfriended, ignored.

The small success that makes me want to wave my Me flag. Wildly. 

The disappointment that weighs heavy.

Sometimes it’s about the thing, whatever it may be. But always it’s about the heart.

My prayer today is that you and I both have the guts to grip tightly what’s good and then dump the thoughts and cares that cause us to shrink, dull and crack. Seriously though, is there anything more beautiful than a fresh, light heart? It requires maintenance and God knows it’s tough slogging sometimes, but I just know it’s worth it. Life’s a test and a trust and nothing matters more than that heart of yours.

Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23

 

 

Resisting beauty fatigue

It's almost sunrise and my neck is craned, eyes lifted. I'm hungry for beauty on a Monday morning. I crave light, the good stuff. My first cup of coffee still too hot to sip, I wander to the front porch in my search. Step onto the March-cold planks of wood like it's a dare, listening and waiting. 

I'm pretty sure I've been dealing with beauty fatigue lately. An overdose of the window-shopping, Pinterest-binging, glossy magazine kind of perfect. Air-brushed and powder-coated, staged and stylized. It distracts me, then leaves me wanting. Similar to the the ugh that takes over when I've overindulged in sweets, beauty fatigue bogs me down. If everything's lovely, then nothing is really lovely. I feel it like sludge in my system and on this Monday morning my soul craves more.

Ann Voskamp writes that trust is the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow, built with planks of thanks and I know it's true. I'm on a hunt to find and study the beauty that's real and cling to it as one week gives way and another begins its unfurling. 

  • My man with his grease-coloured hands, fixing the brakes on my car
  • The manchild who's discovered John Denver and strums Country Road on his guitar in the early morning
  • Just-checking-in texts on my phone from a loyal friend
  • Sunshine freesias smelling like hope on the kitchen counter

The list goes on and it's solid and steady under my feet.