At the beginning of the year, I identified three themes that would help me grow in this new year. I spent the first two months of this year making a few changes on the home front, realizing that I can't be my best unless I'm establishing some firm foundations for our family to feel connected and thrive today and in our future days. Beau and I committed to weekly date nights as a way to prioritize our relationship and grow closer by doing fun and meaningful things together. We revisited our monthly budget and identified ways to involve the kids in our giving, spending, and saving each month. I added in some consistent routines like daily quiet time in order to emphasize what we value, as well as rethink some of our most distracted parts of the day. These small changes have provided a more intentional rhythm to our days, brought us closer together, and allowed us more time to focus on some important things we value but don't always do the best job creating space for. And although not every week goes as planned (we missed date night last week and Cruz failed to meet his reading goal for the month of February, woops), it's given us some clear paths to being more centered as a family.
As we enter March, I wanted to share some reflections on another theme of mine - this idea of living on purpose. Last year, I became awake to the role of the Holy Spirit and its power in my life. Coming to terms with the fact that I have the same power in me that was able to raise Jesus from the dead, my eyes were opened to the overwhelming potential of that call. I began asking God to help me follow the Holy Spirit in my life and to recognize moments when I am called to open my eyes and act. And I believe the Holy Spirit did convict me to use what I'm equipped with and act in a few important ways last year. I began an If:Table with six other women I now consider some of my best friends. I signed up for a spiritual gifts class at church with Beau. I grew in my relationship with Kate, whom God was calling and stretching in similar ways. And I opened up our home and our life to 15 college girls who have challenged me to see a completely new purpose of investing right where God has planted me. And through each new experience, I felt God continue to stir my heart in ways that are hard to describe other than to say I just feel awake.
Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you."
I loved the theme of this year's If:Gathering so much - their call to reconsider the power of the early church in Acts. As a society, we have neglected the small, but powerful ways we can draw nearer to Jesus and each other. We try to go big, when we need to think small. This quote from Jennie Allen stuck out to me so much: "I believe you can read your Bible and mark it up and it can change your soul. I believe women, with women, on living room floors with their Bibles can change the world. That's IF." While I was taking steps toward my relationship with Jesus and my relationship with others, I was missing the life-breathing power of God's word in my life. I had a lot of God's word - weaved in sermons on Sundays, in my daily devotionals, in podcasts from Jamie Ivey, yet, I was missing out on an opportunity to interact with God through my own questions, interpretations, and experiences. And as it turns out, I wasn't the only one feeling this nudge.
There's nothing like a good If:Gathering to stir up all the things and spur one another on. Just a few days later, my friend Katie invited a couple of us to begin the process of reading and studying the entire Bible in a year. At first a little hesitant towards this endeavor, mostly wondering how this would impact my goal to read 17 books in 2017, I knew if I was going to tackle this I'd be in a better place digging in with my community. I said yes and a week later, much like our process of starting If:Table, four of us found a new home in a quiet booth at Panera at 6:00 on a Thursday morning.
While I know this practice of reading the Bible in a year is not a new one and certainly practiced by many year after year, I can only share what is working for us. We are choosing to follow the online reading plan from Biblica. There is a free app that follows the reading plan and also includes the daily scripture, although I choose to read from my Journal the Word Bible so I can highlight, underline, and write lots of notes in the margins. The daily reading plan includes an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, and a Psalm or a Proverb. I have found that it typically takes between 15-30 minutes to do my day's reading. And of course, what has made this endeavor the most meaningful has been our weekly 6 am breakfast chats at Panera. We each bring our Bibles, as well as something we want to throw out as a question, a takeaway, or an application to share and discuss with each other. What I love about the process is that it is inductive - instead of starting with a general theme like a devotional or a sermon might have, we are starting with the little that we bring to the table. One small observation, a question, a line that stood out to us as powerful, or a connection we made to a song, a sermon, or another conversation with someone...this becomes our starting point. We are all different and I am amazed each week at what I learn from the things God breathes in their hearts as they dig in to the same passages I read. We ask big questions, argue sometimes, laugh, cry, and pray, and every week I leave a little more awake to the Holy Spirit bringing the pages to life in the world around me. Or as Annie Downs put it so well in her last podcast, I'm working my spiritual muscles!
We're nearly done with Genesis and Matthew and I am just loving what God is drawing out of these chapters. He's showed off his almighty power and authority through Noah and the great flood, revealed His faithfulness and provision through Abraham, Sarah, and baby Isaac, and given me a true picture of reconciliation through the face of Esau. Through the story of Jacob literally wrestling with God, later named Israel which means, struggles with God, He reminded me that it's okay to struggle with His plan, to question and doubt and fear, and that the more we go to Him in this struggle, the more He shows up. But most of all, God keeps whispering to me to wake up.
"In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
'You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people's heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.'
But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear."
So many of Jesus' early teachings seem to revolve around this idea of being awake. If not, we wither up quickly (Matthew 13:6), scatter (Matthew 12:30), and become like seeds spread among thorns. When we read of Jesus being tempted for forty days in Matthew 4, we discussed how He was able to fight the devil off. I loved when Natalie pointed out that every time the devil tempted Him, Jesus used God's word to fight him off. We can learn from this! We need God's word in order to wake up, to heal, to be strong against temptation, and to love others well.
Lastly, a line in Matthew 10:8 has resonated with me so much the last few weeks, for its simplicity and power:
"Freely you have received; freely give."
It's remarkable what I'm able to see when I open God's word and ask His spirit to lead me throughout my day. Yesterday was one of those days. My day was filled with interactions with others and so many small moments that would otherwise go unnoticed took on a different kind of meaning. Tears welled up in my eyes as I watched a junior high student with a learning disability ask one of my college students if he could take a picture with him. It was his last day in their classroom and this simple act revealed just the kind of impact this college kid had on him. In another student exit conference, I felt so much joy in sharing a very encouraging evaluation with one of my rock stars. Her face lit up and she said she never really thought of herself as a leader until this experience. An hour after, I prayed for God's guidance as I had a different conversation with a student who struggled to find success in the classroom. I felt God's presence as we worked together to discuss an action plan for him to feel supported. I had fun participating in two hours of micro-teaching lessons from first year teaching majors, and was reminded of the power of words, whether it was through a simple text message, a prayer for a friend walking through a divorce, and a thank you to Mila's teacher who we just adore. All day, I kept Matthew 10:8 as my spirit food, feeling free to give the best I had to others in my orbit.
Then He said to his disciples: 'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'
God is present in all the details of this life, and He uses the Holy Spirit to activate us through His word. In a recent podcast with Rebekah Lyons, she said this: "God does not deny a heart that's expectant. The more we come to him with our yearning, our honest, even if it's full of fear and doubt, he meets us there. And He shows up in ways we might not have seen if we just avoided it all together." Keep expecting, keep pursuing, be ready to see His face, and feel called to get to work.