Thursday, February 25, 2016


"You need to take care of yourself."

For me, this is an expression fraught with tension.

On the one hand, the need to "take care of myself" can be abused to justify indulging my sin nature or neglecting my responsibilities to my family, my church, and my community. It can be used as a tool to emotionally bully others, or to excuse wrong behavior.

"No room in the budget for a weekly manicure? Well, I'll just use the credit card. After all, it's important for me to take care of myself!"

"Patty is mad because I dumped all the work of chaperoning the school field trip on her? Well, she can just deal with it. I had too many things on my schedule that day, and I was beginning to get stressed out. It's unreasonable for Patty to be angry at me simply because I bailed at the last minute:  I needed to take care of myself!"

On the other hand, I think it is surprisingly easy - particularly for moms, and extra-particularly for moms of young children - to neglect taking care of yourself to the point that you become unable to serve those around you effectively or joyfully. I have on occasion worked myself sick, too busy taking care of others to "take care of myself," until I crashed and ended up laid out in bed. I have even used Scripture to justify this kind of self-neglect:  doesn't the Bible tell us to "die to self"?

Add to this tension a propensity to over analyze EVERYTHING, and you can see why "you need to take care of yourself" is an expression that causes me significant internal conflict!

Some things are obvious necessities, and they clearly fall under the "take care of yourself" umbrella:  I need to eat. I need to clothe myself. I need to rest.

But what do I need to eat? And how much? Do I truly need comfortable, new, well-fitting clothing, or can my needs be adequately met by a few items from Goodwill? Rest is tricky - what is "rest" to one person may not be "rest" to another! An afternoon nap, working out at the gym, quiet time to read or write, dinner out with friends - all of these can be forms of rest. Where is the line between using these forms of rest to "take care of myself" - and - using them to indulge myself or as a means to manipulate others?

I am at a much freer, saner place on this issue today than in the past - acknowledging that I need to take of myself causes much less mental stress, and I have outgrown the good-Christians-neglect-themselves way of thinking. Yes, I need to take care of myself. The difficulty is:  What do I truly need to take care of myself?

I think this is a struggle many of us face, and that we will continue to face all our lives.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
- Psalm 19:14

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
- Matthew 12:36-37

If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all! 
- every mother on the planet

Acceptable words. Careless words. Justifying words. Condemning words. Nice words. All of them words for which I will be required to give an account to The Word.

Words are scary things, even for someone who has been told "concision is not your strong point," for someone who writes and blogs and speaks SO MANY WORDS.

Sometimes, when I resolve to keep silent, I experience "a burning fire shut up in my bones." Like Jeremiah, I grow weary of holding the words in, and find that I cannot.

Other times, like Job, I am compelled to lay my hand over my mouth, to say no more.

Whether compelled to speak or to stay silent, I tremble, because Scripture teaches me that God takes words very seriously, both those spoken and those unspoken. All of them.

Psalm 19, which concludes with David's prayer for acceptable words, begins with a meditation on the glory of God. From there, David moves into a meditation on the goodness and perfection of God's Law. Next, David asks God to keep him from sin. Finally, David prays that God will guard his thoughts and his words and make them acceptable.

Do I earnestly desire for my thoughts and words to be acceptable to God? Do I want my words to be a testimony to the security that is mine in Christ, rather than a record condemning an unregenerate, unrepentant heart? How can I more consistently speak and write words that are true, God-honoring, and life-giving?

Like David, I must begin at the feet of God, worshiping his glory and majesty and goodness. Like David, I must feed regularly on the sweet honey of God's Law. Like David, I must ask God to expose my sin, and I must rely on Christ to cover my sin and sanctify me.

Then, like David, I can pray that my thoughts and my words be acceptable to God - pray with confidence that God will hear and answer.

Thursday, February 18, 2016


I posted a review HERE last month of Tim Challies's latest book, Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity. Today, I want to share a few of my observations after over a month of implementing Tim's approach to organization and productivity.

First observation:  Life as a mom has seasons. (No, this revelation did not come from Tim Challies, but it relates.) When you are the mother of two or three or six or seven small people, life is best described as managed chaos. Some days, you manage better than others. Some days, chaos captures the flag.

Based on my own experience as the mother of seven awesome people, there is never a day when your kids are little you that you go to bed feeling like you are finally on top of everything. In fact, I think much of the point of motherhood is to teach us moms that we don't have to be on top of everything.

Motherhood - especially when your children are very young - is kind of like Special Forces Boot Camp for understanding, applying, and resting in God's grace. It is walking daily on a knife edge between heaven (believing the truth that God has life's chaos under control) and hell (believing the lie that I have life under control). No productivity manual is going to change that, although it might help you take a break occasionally from growing mold cultures for science lab in your refrigerator.

Life as a mom has seasons. I now have adult and young adult children. There is much less chaos in my house. Even on the craziest day, I don't have to deal with someone eating (and then throwing up) the cat food or finger-painting with poop on the bathroom floor that I just mopped for the first time in over a month, Thanks to those early years with my then-little Awesomes, I also seem to have less chaos in my heart. (See above paragraph.) At this season of life, I find Tim Challies's guide to increased productivity a great help to staying on top of routine chores like dusting bookshelves, defrosting tonight's dinner, and meeting newspaper submission deadlines.

Life as a mom has seasons. Seasons change.

A second observation:  I love that Tim challenges readers to begin each day by praying for God's guidance and direction concerning the day's tasks and productivity goals. What this means for me practically is:  When my To Do list is interrupted by an email or phone call from a distressed friend, or when I can't complete Item #1 on my Household Tasks list because someone else dropped a ball, or when I simply run out of day before every item is checked off, I no longer feel like I have failed in the productivity department. Beginning the day with prayer for God's oversight and guidance enables me to trust more and more that God will make sure I do exactly what needs to be done (although maybe not what's on my list), exactly when it needs to be done. So my day didn't go like I planned it? God had better plans!

A third observation:  I am hard at work on my third fiction manuscript, and, for the first time in my life, I am devoting significant time to my writing, consistently and guilt free! Before, writing was my dessert, something I was free to enjoy only after I'd eaten my vegetables (laundry caught up, floors mopped, etc.). This meant I never had time to write consistently, and even when I did sneak off to write for an hour or two, I felt guilty because undone broccoli-&-cauliflower chores were hanging over my head. Now, "Write:  1000 Words/Manuscript" is consistently on my To Do list. When I sit down to write, I am no longer guilty of shirking my duty - I am embracing it, even if there is dirty laundry in the clothes hamper!

A fourth observation:  I have rediscovered Free Time. Last Saturday, I had nothing on my calendar, no errands to do in town or piano recitals. Household chores were checked off. I'd met my writing goals for the week. Almost an entire afternoon stretched ahead of me with no pressing demands. Something was clearly not right.

I turned to Helen. "What am I forgetting?" I asked.

"Ummmm, nothing?" she answered.

For the first time in I-can't-remember-when, I did not feel pressured to Do The Next Thing. I was free to simply do whatever I wanted - read a book, take a nap, write a little more, go for a walk back on the farm - guilt free. Totally blew my mind.

Final observation, and then I really have to tackle email:  A month after my initial review, is Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity a book I would still recommend to others? Absolutely. Thank you, Tim Challies!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


"Why are you getting up so early? Do you and the kids have something on the calendar this morning?" Steve doesn't ask me this every Saturday and Sunday morning, but it is definitely a recurring question.

So early?! The clock on the dresser glowed 7:20. That's over an hour and a half past my usual get-out-of-bed time. I wasn't getting up early:  I had slept in and was getting up late!

Steve is more of a night owl. He likes to read at night, or work a crossword puzzle. If I try to read a book after 8:00, I usually end up snoring on the couch. I turn into Zombie Woman around 9:30 p.m., complete with glazed eyes and gaping mouth. Don't ask me to answer difficult questions or expect me to remember anything you tell me after 10:00.

I am more of a morning person. Most mornings, I'm awake and ready to start my day before six o'clock, my mind buzzing with a catalog of what needs to be done and what to tackle first. While Steve catches zzzzz's, I fix breakfast for the school kids, start the laundry, and check email.

If Steve goes to bed early - well, early for him, normal for me - he flips and flops restlessly for an hour or two before he falls asleep. If I linger in the bed late in the morning - well, late for me, normal for him - I do the same thing, tossing and turning until I simply can't stand to be horizontal any longer.

We both wake up periodically throughout the night to roll over (these old hips and shoulders hurt if you lie too long in one position), to make a trip to the bathroom (or two or three), to investigate a noise or let the cat in (how is it we used to sleep soundly through all these bumps and squeaks?).

I mentioned in a previous post the mid-morning wakefulness characteristic of this new season of my life.  When the kids were little and I was always exhausted, sleeplessness was a curse. However, now that I am not constantly worn thin as tracing paper, wee-morning wakefulness is a blessing:  it affords me time to pray, uninterrupted, in the stillness and quiet that blankets the house at two or three o'clock in the morning.


Last Friday morning I woke up at 4:30. Wide awake. I'd already had my night-watch prayer session, a couple of hours earlier. I looked at the clock and groaned. I would need to start my day in just over an hour, and I was tired and needed more sleep. Why was I suddenly so awake?!

I tossed and turned for several minutes, trying to power down the gray matter and slip back into sleep. I burrowed deeper under the warm blankets and did my Lamaze breathing.

Still wide awake.

I flopped over and scowled at the clock. "God!," I complained, "it's only 4:30, and I have to get up in an hour, and I'm tired, and You KNOW I need more sleep!"

Still wide awake. I got to thinking, as I lay there glaring at the blue display on the clock:

Yes, GOD KNOWS exactly how tired I am - and - GOD KNOWS exactly what I need - and - GOD ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS DOES exactly what is best for me.

I laughed, lying there in the 4:30-something darkness. I wasn't wide awake by chance, for no reason. God is sovereign over achy joints and bumps in the night and limited bladder capacity and startling dreams and whatever else might possibly have awakened me that morning.

I laughed at my own silliness. "Oh," I prayed, "You are telling me, Father, that I need to wake up and listen to you, talk to you, right now." I prayed for God to forgive me for my petulance, for insisting that I knew better than He did exactly what I needed at 4:30 Friday morning.

Why - when God interrupts my sleep, or my schedule for today, or my plan for my life - why, after all these years of God's unfailing faithfulness and goodness to me, WHY am I STILL so quick to respond with, "But God!, I need more sleep/for my day to go smoothly/to not have to deal with this problem!"?

I know better.

I know better. I want to meet God - at 4:30 Friday morning, or on a doctor's exam table last week, or struggling to meet a deadline this afternoon, or stuck on the shoulder of the highway tomorrow evening - where ever and how ever He "interrupts" me, sticks His finger in the pudding of my life and stirs my silly plans - I want to meet Him then and there with a smile, with joy, because HE IS SO GOOD and HE LOVES ME SO MUCH.


Even at 4:30 in the morning.

Saturday, February 13, 2016


When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. - Exodus 34:29

I received a Facebook invitation this past week to an event in Dyersburg. When I clicked over to learn details of the event, I was excited to see that Lisa Smartt will be the guest speaker. Whether I can be there or not, I know that everyone who can attend will be blessed!

I got to thinking: What is it about Lisa that makes her special? Why do I light up when I think about other people getting to meet her and hear her speak?

Answer:  Lisa Smartt radiates the Gospel.

No, she doesn't go around quoting Bible verses all the time. She doesn't drop trendy motivational catch phrases or lines from this week's #1 Contemporary Christian Pop Single. Rather - and I know this is going to sound weird - Lisa radiates the Gospel from her face, sort of like Moses reflecting the shekinah glory of God when he came down off Mt. Sinai. With a simple smile, Lisa communicates the love, compassion, and mercy that is ours in Christ.

I was thinking this week about how grateful I am for Lisa, and for God's allowing our paths to cross, and for the blessing she has been in my own life. And then I thought: what an extraordinary testimony to God's goodness, that thinking of Lisa immediately brings to mind the beauty of Christ and his love demonstrated toward us in the Gospel.

When I think of Lisa, I cannot not think of the Gospel.

 I want to be that kind of person, that kind of blessing to others. But how?

Then, while I was mulling all this over, I read the above passage in Exodus (I love how God has me read a particular passage of Scripture on a particular morning!):  "...Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God."

Do I want to radiate God's glory and goodness to the people around me? Do I truly want to bless and encourage others? Then let me begin by spending time in the presence of God.

Thank you, Lisa, for showing me the beauty of Christ. Thank you for coming "down from the mountain" and encouraging me - with a smile or a kind word - to know him better, to love him more, and to share his loveliness with others.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


It was the time of year when men's thoughts turn to war...

Apparently, the end of winter is a great time to plan and organize a military campaign. In the last gray, weary days of winter - when it seems the cold and snow will never pass - it's nice to have something exciting to look forward to come spring, isn't it?! Or maybe, after being cooped up through the cold winter months, men just need to get out and kill one another for a little bit, you know, to let off some steam.

A friend commented Sunday that February is his least favorite month, because while the novelty of winter weather has worn off, spring still seems far away. My friend said perhaps that's why God made February the shortest month - God knew we couldn't hold out any longer!

I don't want to go to war. I'd rather start prepping the garden for spring planting or mulch my little trees.

Reuben cooked up a special Ghost Pepper sauce over Christmas break that we are going to try out this spring on the fruit trees. I figure one of two things will happen:  either the hot sauce will discourage the deer from gnawing the bark off the young trees - or - we will learn that deer actually like a little heat with their plum and cherry saplings.

Maybe we'll actually have some fruit to harvest this year. I just hope the plums and peaches and apples don't taste like hot peppers!

Today's snow caught me completely off guard. (Thankfully, Steve picked up milk and bread at the grocery store yesterday.) I woke up this morning with a list as long as my arm of errands to run in town. When the sun came up, those plans were clearly nixed. Nope, forget about driving to the post office, grocery store, etc. Helen and I are barricaded in the house today.

I was happy Saturday, when it was 60 degrees outside, to think that wintry weather was past. I am happy today that snow compels me to spend an entire day at home.

Helen is studying French vocabulary and working on memorizing the first movement of a 37-page sonata. (The girl's got mad piano skillz.)

I'm reading ahead in Helen's American Literature and geography, checking a few chores off my house-cleaning list, and working on a couple of writing assignments.

It was the time of year when...'s thoughts turned to a blazing fire in the fireplace, a cup of hot tea, and a volume of Henry David Thoreau.

Thursday, February 4, 2016


I am using a new read-through-the-Bible daily reading schedule this year. It amazes me how mixing up the order in which I read the various books of the Bible makes familiar passages fresh and exciting.

In early January, I read Genesis and John together:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light... - Genesis 1:1-3

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men... - John 1:1-4

Next, I read Job and James together:

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil...And the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job...a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?"...And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life." - Job 1:1,8; 2:6

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." - James 1:2-4

Morning after morning, the juxtaposition of Old and Testament passages absolutely takes my breath away.

Using my former reading schedule (Genesis to Malachi/Matthew to Revelation), I was amazed at how frequently the schedule would have me reading a passage of Scripture at the very moment I needed to hear what that passage had to say.

How could God know I needed to read one particular collection of verses, on one particular cold gray Tuesday in January, and then get me to those verses at exactly the right moment, despite the fact that I was behind on my daily Bible reading? God is so wonderful!

Would I have the same experience - God speaking with such precision and timeliness into the circumstances of my life and to the condition of my heart - would that happen with this new reading schedule?

I woke up today feeling like I had an overweight St. Bernard dog sitting on my chest. I felt defeated before I even threw back the blankets and put my feet on the floor. In the week and a half since I tumbled down the back steps and injured my arm, I have fallen hopelessly behind on my Need-To-Do list. My Want-To-Do list has completely disappeared under a mountain of undone household chores, writing assignments, and miscellaneous errands.

I lay in bed this morning, waiting for the alarm to beep!, smothering under the weight of so much that needed to be done. I struggled to breathe deeply and stay calm. And I prayed.

God, please help me to remember that my joy, worth, security, peace, hope, and delight are not grounded in what I do or don't do, but only in You. Father, you created me and you sustain me. Jesus redeemed me and sanctifies me. Your Holy Spirit intercedes for me and is always nearer than breath. Everything about you, God - the Trinity! - desires good things for me and you are working in every circumstance of my life to accomplish those good things.

Father, please show me what you want me to do today, and help me to do those things. Help me not to be distracted by and discouraged about those things I must leave undone. Help me to receive what you give me today with gratitude, and keep me from worrying about tomorrow.

Somewhat less panicked, I got out of bed, got dressed, fed the college man breakfast and saw him out the door. Turning to face the day, I thought, "I am pretty far ahead on my Scripture reading schedule. Maybe I'll just skip that until later so that I can get started on my list of chores before the others in the house wake up."

It seemed terribly hypocritical of me to wake up praying for God to help me get through the day, only to skip spending time with God in his Word because I was too busy.

I poured a cup of coffee and sat down at the kitchen counter with my Bible and my reading plan. This morning - Thursday, February 4th - I read the passages listed for Saturday, February 20th:  Exodus 16-18 and Matthew 10. It is not unusual for me to fall behind on my Bible reading, but being ahead is an oddity.

Behind, ahead...I guess God knew exactly where I needed to be reading, because this morning I read:

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not."...[and] whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack...morning by morning they gathered it... - Exodus 16:4,18, 21 (Emphasis added.)

And I also read:

"Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves...When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour." - Matthew 10:16a, 19 (Emphasis added.)

I was struck how, in both passages, God told his people:  1) Do today/at this moment what I have given you to do today/at this moment; and 2) Do not worry about tomorrow or about what comes next.

It was as if God met me at the kitchen counter and said, "You asked me to take care of you today. You asked me to help you today. Now are you going to trust me to take care of you or not?!"

Morning after morning, I sit down to read God's Word, and morning after morning, He takes my breath away.

Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see:
All I have needed thy hand hath provided - 
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
- John Milton

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Today's weather forecast for NW Tennessee:  "Variable clouds and windy with strong thunderstorms. Damaging winds, large hail, and possibly a tornado with some storms." (

Right now, as I look out the kitchen window, I see a misty, moisty, gray kind of early February day. Without the magic of the internet, I'd have no thought of thunderstorms and possible tornadoes.

As a child...

I grew up in a beautiful 100+-year-old farmhouse over on Yellowhammer Lane. We didn't have the internet because the internet hadn't been invented yet. We didn't have TV, either. Yes, TV had been invented; but when our old cabinet TV quit working, Dad hauled it out to his workshop and let us kids "fix" it, and that was the end of that. We didn't have cellphones. Cellphones were imaginary tools in the minds of scriptwriters for StarTrek and James Bond films.

So, when we woke up on a misty, moisty, gray kind of morning, we didn't worry about sinister weather reports that forecasted hail and tornadoes. Instead, Dad fed and milked the cow. Mom fried bacon and eggs and started the laundry. We kids got dressed for school or, if it was the weekend or summer break, we tackled chores or sneaked back to bed with a library book.

And if the sky grew dark as Mordor and the wind picked up, if lightning sizzled and crashed nearby and rain pelted the roof like bullets, then...

...we didn't log onto, or turn on the TV, or check our cellphones...

Instead, when the weather grew particularly hurly-burly, Mom would say, "Let's go sit on the porch and watch the storm!"

Sitting on the porch swing with Mom, our skin prickling and the hair on our arms standing up, the wind whipping the trees in the yard into a dervish, covering our ears and counting the seconds between FLASH! and CRASH!, damp from the rain that blasted around the edge of the roof...

...watching the storm, not the storm report...

I don't know if I have ever felt more alive than I did sitting on the porch swing as a child, wide-eyed and hair on end, watching the storm. It was terrifying, electrifying, invigorating, magical.

Yes, there were times when Mom and Dad, on some mysterious cue, rushed us all to the basement. But even when we gallomped hurriedly down the stairs into the cool mustiness of down below - Dad carried a kerosene lantern to light our steps, when the power went out - even then, I don't remember feeling afraid, only a thrill of great excitement and anticipation and keen waiting.

William Cowper, in one of my very favorite hymns, writes these words:  "God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform; he plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm."

Is that what we were looking for, waiting for, as we sat wet and charged with excitement on the front porch swing or huddled with baited breath in the damp shadows of the basement? Was the spine-tingling thrill that drew us outside into the blasting storm, was it the something - the Someone - behind the storm?