"For God is working in you, giving you the desire and power to do what pleases him." (Philippians 2:13)
2016 was full of adventure. Every day raising little ones makes for an adventure in and of itself, and we are immersed fully in the parenting adventures of all things potty training, sight word reading, temper tantrum managing, ballet and soccer watching, character building, and unconditionally loving two tiny people that make our world go round. We shared other adventures this year, too - an anniversary trip to Mexico, a work trip to Vegas, a trip to the bleachers of Wrigley, and a ten day trip to the Easternmost part of our country to see family, play in the ocean, and eat our fair share of lobster. These adventures made for memories we will cherish for a lifetime, and we are thankful for the chance to see pretty places in our world and take our kids along for the ride.
But I think the biggest adventure of my 2016 was a tiny seed planted at the If:Gathering last February, one that has spiraled and flourished and awakened me to parts of myself I had been neglecting for a long time. For the first time in years, I was quiet enough to hear the Holy Spirit nudging me in new directions that would bring me closer to Him, to His word, and closer to understanding that I was made for a unique and significant purpose in this place. 2016 was a starting point, and God clearly pursued me through people and resources to the very end of the year. He used Kate, who I'm convinced is my soul sister on this earth, who found herself caught in the threads of a similar pursuit, and being two hours apart, we kept each other inspired with similar reads, late night happy hour chats on Facetime, and plans to dig even deeper in 2017. He used IF, and Jennie Allen, and her book, Restless, as relevant and beautiful manuals to challenge me and help me breathe life and action into scripture. He used If:Table, and the six women around it as life vessels to disciple me, and disciple to. He used a group of college girls as evidence of my heart for teaching, hospitality, and deep connection, and ignited great potential for seeing my purpose and passions intertwine in new and beautiful ways. He used Jamie Ivey's podcast in the car as I'd travel from school to school, to motivate me to walk through my days with a greater awareness of the needs around me. He used the BELONG Conference, and a rare weekend away with women of faith I admire in so many ways. God knocks at the door all the time, and stands and waits patiently, longing for us to open it up. And open it up I did in 2016, and he unlocked beautiful doors to a new way of living, serving, mothering, and dreaming about this new year ahead.
I have pages upon pages of "input" from this past year - dogeared pages of books, scribbles in the margins of study booklets, church bulletins with notes stuck in my Bible, and two journals full of the many desires of my heart. Jennie Allen calls them threads - our stories and interests, passions and sufferings, seemingly insignificant little pieces of our life that are blowing around - threads that are meant to bind together and become your unique, God-given contributions to a world in great need. Tim Keller calls them our "raw materials." And the purpose of life's work is to work our raw materials into something excellent for the betterment of our world. I've spent a good portion of this year reflecting on my threads and how they might be used for something good. And while the list-loving, structure-minded, order-seeking woman in me (carefully crafted by God, thank you very much) would some days like a road map of it all carefully laid out just so, I am realizing the power in the process of it all. I keep pursuing, I keep learning, and the Holy Spirit keeps acting.
Because I love the beginning of the year and the space it provides to nurture new goals, outlooks, and dreams, I've spent a lot of time this week pulling together my thoughts from the past year and putting them into some action steps for the year ahead. What started as an overwhelming process has become one of the most validating ways to end this year. It's purpose-driven, prayer-guided, and God-breathed, and it will be interesting to see how it reshapes and unfolds in the coming year. Oh, and it's long!
To start, I uncovered the themes that seemed to emerge from my notes, my underlined verses, and all my other writings from the past year. These are the over-arching, big ideas that came off the page, that everything seemed to fit under. I was expecting there to be many, but soon saw that everything seemed to fit under three main themes. I mapped these three out, then identified 1-3 scripture verses to help me describe them and ensure they were rooted in the Word. Then, I outlined some goals that would allow me to live out these themes in the coming year. The goals vary, some are more abstract than others, but all are things I would like to keep my eyes open to and be more intentional about in 2017.
And lastly, I invested in a planner. I wanted a planner that would help guide me in the right direction, toward living and accomplishing these goals, but also keeping me centered on God as the true maker who controls this life. Knowing I can become a slave to my to-do list, I was drawn to Anchored Press's Weekly Devotional Planner. Each week starts with a short devotional, along with small questions to prayer about and complete each day. I recognized many of the writers as women I love to read and listen to, and loved that the planner included spots for meal plans and prayer requests. I'm looking forward to using this as a tool in the coming year, to live out my goals while keeping it about God's glory instead of my need for control.
Ready for my themes and goals for 2017? Here we go...
Theme 1: Start at Home / "Store Up the Good"
Colossians 2:6-7 / "And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness."
Proverbs 14:1 / "The wise woman builds her house, But the foolish tears it down with her own hands."
Psalm 19:1-4: "The Heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day, they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge."
As I've read and studied God this past year, I have fallen in love with the many ways he reveals himself to us. I love that he sent his son to be born in the lowest of places, and that Jesus lived, walked, and breathed this broken, complicated world just like we do. He knows our struggles because he, too, struggled. I love that God is a story-teller, weaving together birth lines, prophesies, and intricate details that all lead to the greatest story ever written. And most of all, I love that God is a maker, that he loves beautiful things, that he exists in the small, intricate details of our daily lives, and that he wants our hearts and souls to feel satisfied in the beautiful world he created. I feel most in communion with God when I am living in a way that allows me to be present to and create details and beauty around me. This kind of living takes intention, and it has to start at home.
I am and always have been a homebody. And from a young age, I can recall countless memories of striving to cultivate a sense of home in my surroundings. I remember being in middle school, and every October I would get a crisp spiral notebook and make lists of ways to prepare our house for Christmas. I would organize every drawer and closet, hang pretty garlands from all of our bedrooms windows, and count out 24 Christmas books and hide them under Taylor's bed, pulling one out each night to read to him on the days leading up to Christmas. God instilled in me a desire for order, beauty, and tradition. And as I've aged and had my own babies and life has only gotten more hectic and complex, I still feel most fulfilled when I am creating this sense of home for the people in my life - creating and honoring family traditions, encouraging celebrations, teaching my people to cherish the ways and beauty of our God, and learning what we value as a family. Whether it be a new tradition of a family Top Chef night, a hot cocoa bar at Christmastime, or a Christmas tree full of family ornaments, each with a different story, I want a home that "ministers beauty and rest, inspires through small details, stimulates rich, deep conversations, and celebrates together" for not only the people who sleep here, but whomever we're blessed to share our space with.
This kind of homemaking takes intention, design, and order, and I know God has equipped me with threads in many of these areas. I value creating experiences in our home that are both meaningful and intentional, and seek to inspire others to do the same in their lives. I want to create a home where all that is precious about life is preserved, protected, and cultivated, and the daily needs of hearts and souls are satisfied (The Life Giving Home). In this year to come, I want to continue to explore this area of our lives with intention and reflection. I want to foster areas of our lives that will add to this type of home - being intentional about connecting as a family, communicating with each other, unplugging more, and prioritizing things we value like dinner around the table, date nights with Beau, and quiet and slow time at home.
1. A Focus on Self: I can't nurture our home and the people in it without focusing some time for myself, too. Developing a rhythm for workouts and meal planning, bubble baths and peppermint masks, and daily quiet time for books and tea is a big goal this year.
2. Date My Husband: We are committing to one night a week this year, whether it be a dinner out and a sitter, or a bottle of wine at home after the kids go to bed. All too often, we find ourselves in different rooms, doing different things after bedtime, and we are both excited to carve out some intentional time to be together.
3. Clear the Shelf: I will continue to look for ways to declutter our physical space, but also the other "noise" that distracts me and takes me away from my themes. To evaluate my use of social media, and other platforms, opinions, and voices that distract me and "crowd" my life. To free up space in my life to hear God a little more clearly.
4. Prioritize Family Time: Carve out space in our days to be present with them. To play and laugh and listen, to bake banana bread with Cruz and play babies with Mila. To do this screen free, every day, and continue to invest in new and well-loved traditions and celebrations together. I will prioritize space for these things and schedule them just like a dentist appointment. For they are too important.
5. Practice Gratitude: I know all too well that as soon as winter break is over, a new semester will pick up and the demands of balancing home and work will surely set in. There is power in the act of gratefulness, and I want to develop intentional ways of doing this. I enjoy writing my "good things" blog posts, and ordered Val Marie Paper's gratitude journal to record some of my daily gifts that might otherwise go unnoticed.
6. Rhythms that Work: I am learning to embrace my need for a good plan, while also give myself and the people around me grace when the plan falls through. That said, I am interested in exploring our daily rhythms and routines as a family that will help accomplish what needs to be done AND enhance our relationships at the same time. Planning and adhering to daily rhythms - for meals, devotions, cleanup, reading, and spending time together is a big goal of mine in the new year.
7. Practice Stewardship: Last month, our church did a sermon series called "Money Stories" and it provoked so much thought and conversation between Beau and I about the ways our money and our finances is stewarded at home. We are excited to lay it all out in the new year, look for ways we can involve the kids in our giving, and be more intentional about what and where our money goes.
Theme 2: Invest in Others & Belong in Community
Hebrews 10:24-25: "And let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works; not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."
Proverbs 3:27: "Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is your power to act."
At the end of last February's If:Gathering, we were each given a domino and instructed to write one word or phrase of action we were moved to respond to. I wrote the word gather on my domino and felt what I believe was the Holy Spirit nudging me to initiate. Three days later, six women gathered at my house for some soup, some conversation, and connection. We are nearly a year into our If:Table, and these women have filled a space I had long been neglecting.
Since that February If:Table, God has only opened my eyes to the importance of belonging in community, of developing deep, not-superficial relationships with others, and living a life of discipleship, bringing light and love to people in our current places, as well as places that are more uncomfortable. It's so very easy to get caught up in the our little lives, to mechanically go about our days and fill our schedules, paying little attention to the needs around us or the ways Jesus might be calling us to show His face in our current place. This was the heart of his ministry, and most of it didn't exist behind a pulpit, but around the table, sharing stories and asking questions, or in His daily encounters with everyday, broken people just like us.
In Restless, Jennie Allen writes so much about place and what it has to do with our purpose. She says "it's not about our place necessarily, but what we do in our places." If we begin to look to our current places as if God strategically put us there to preach his gospel and be His hands and feet, everything changes.
1. Make our home a serving place. But be a Mary, not a Martha. I want to continue to open up our home to others, to create a place that is a haven for all who enter. That said, I want to strive to be a Mary, when I know I am oftentimes the Martha of the story (Luke 10:38-42). Giving up my need to have everything just so and be okay inviting others into my own imperfections, my own brokenness, is really the only place we can be truly be authentic with one another.
2. Plug into my communities. Whether this be at work, at home, through my blog, in my neighborhood, or in my church, I want to be more in tune with ways to connect and belong. "Why don't we see our jobs, our blogs, our neighborhoods, or even our time in hospitals or infertility clinics like this? Often we applaud exceptional ministry and miss the everyday ministry that nobody sees" (Restless).
3. Be intentional about serving through simple acts. Make room for this every week. A note of encouragement to a friend who is struggling, a meal to a busy neighbor, a Starbucks to a tired teacher... Invest time in strategically loving people. "People - nearly every one of them - are hurting, even if they don't say it. And we hold their cure. We get to give God away, and it is our joy" (Restless).
4. Meet Jesus in the uncomfortable. Begin to dream about expanding my definition of community. Pray, pursue, dream.
5. Initiate Deeper Connections. I have learned this year that God has designed my heart in a way that feels most fulfilled when I am connecting deeply with others. I love when Jennie Allen writes this: "Love is an active process and we are lazy. So initiate. And then, initiate depth. Great conversations come from great questions and honest answers. One of the ways I grow and experience God is over queso and salsa with kindred friends talking about deep things. Pray and find ways to take your friendships to a deeper level" (Restless).
6. Dig in to IF. I have felt so moved by the mission of IF and the tools, resources, and teachings they provide. They reflect so much of what is on my heart right now and their focus on the early church as a model for simple and pure acts of faith in our everyday lives aligns so much with my hopes for 2017. I want to continue to plug into their ministry, and look for ways to share IF with others in the year ahead.
Theme 3: Live on Purpose
Romans 8:28 / And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Ephesians 3:14-21 / I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God's love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that come for God.
John 15:5 / I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me, you can do nothing.
I love the metaphor of Jesus as the vine and we are his branches. That we are a mere extension of Him, heirs to his throne, with power and purpose and possibility that is uniquely crafted just for us. It wasn’t until this year that I started to understand the power of the Holy Spirit in my life. To think that God has equipped me with the same power that allowed Jesus to raise from the dead, the same power he equipped Peter, Paul, John, and Mary with, is both overwhelming and empowering. And most of us, me included, let that power sit in the dark for so many reasons.
My goal in the year to come is to continue to dig in to the ways the Holy Spirit is leading me, and walk with a more confident understanding of my purpose. To identify the things I value, the unique strengths and gifts God has given me, the passions that get me fired up, and ways I could collide the three area to bring light to others in a dark world.
1. Read - 17 Books in 2017. I have identified several books that connect well with my themes and goals and can't wait to share titles and bits of wisdom throughout the year. Right now, I'm lost in The Life Giving Home by Sally and Sarah Clarkson, and just started Loving My Actual Life by Alexandra Kuykendall.
2. Continue to dig in to my gifts. See possible ways God might want to use my gifts for teaching, writing, photography, and planning for his glory in this new year.
3. Create space for Jesus. Take a class, study scripture, and pray more intentionally in the year to come.
My planner invited me to identify a word to serve as my anchor for the year ahead, one word that sums up my hopes, dreams, and themes for 2017. The word I chose is Centered. My prayer for the year ahead is that I can stay centered on what is most important - my home and the people in it, my community and the needs around me, and my God-given purpose, possibilities, and power. I hope to use my blog as an outlet to reflect on these themes and how they change throughout the year ahead, hopefully encouraging others to identify the threads of your life and how God might be using you to bear fruit.
Oh, and I also want to catch up on the kids' Shutterfly books and finish off some of our basement in 2017. :)
There is much adventure ahead. I'm so ready to dig in.
(Pictures by Darcy Dempster Photography)