On Being Relevant

photo by Beth Kanter

It has been a year since I first heard about the Relevant conference. It was one of those events that you read about and your heart leaps, the kind of thing that just feels like a fit. I wanted to go. These were my kind of people. I waited eagerly for the information to be released on the 2011 dates, thinking perhaps by then my writing endeavors would be such that I could justify the expense of traveling from Texas to Pennsylvania.

My heart leap turned to a heart thud when the dates came out. The first day was our daughter's tenth birthday. After a moment of disappointment I let go and lived on. I really didn't think much about it after that. I understood it was not for me. Sometimes God makes things simple.

One day in September, a week or so after the fire, I was driving around town, doing errands and answering my children's questions about the changes in our community. In the midst of talking about the fire relief efforts, the word relevant came into my mind.

I thought of the conference, and the blogging friends who I knew were going, and almost immediately those faces were replaced by the faces of friends here who have lost so much. Again confirmation.


The word echoed in my brain.

Relevant means "pertaining to the matter at hand."  And I ask myself, what is the matter at hand in my life?

I love this, love that God knew long ago that where I was going to be relevant in late October 2011 was at home with my birthday girl.

At home where I could still go to our Homeschool Distribution Center. Where I could talk with friends who are fire survivors and continue to find ways to replace the books they lost, and just listen.

At home to pray with my husband as he makes important decisions.

At home to see my youngest ride a bike without training wheels for the first time....

... and be on the receiving end of this victory hug....

Being relevant means being present to the need for now. It means paying attention to where I am.

And living in the right-now means I don't make rules about the future. Maybe some day I will go to a blogging conference. Maybe not. If I am going to live a relevant life, I have to be open to what is most needful at that moment, when it comes.

Alas, I am not only not able to see into the future, but also am woefully inept at making decisions for right now, so I really only one have one option: to seek God constantly. To dwell in His presence.

Only by living in His will can I ever be truly relevant.

Family Traditions ~ Birthday Face

One year, shortly after we moved to the farm, I made breakfast in bed for Farmer Boy on his birthday, and presented the food laid out on the plate like a face.  Ever since then the "face breakfast" has been a cherished birthday tradition.

On today's menu - turkey bacon, fresh blueberry muffins and a strawberry

Today is The Princess' 10th birthday.  Ten is a big deal to her. She has announced that she is no longer little, now that she is double digits. It is not a happy announcement for her.

She grieved in the week leading up to today, and in the minutes leading up to 11:00am this morning, the time of her birth.

But the face made her happy, very happy. 

I missed getting a picture up her little cup of tea, all dainty and proper with lumps of sugar on the side. She was especially tickled with the flower and candles.  Turns out there are a few perks to age.

Oh how I love this girl!

Happy birthday Sweetheart. Your mama loves you!

Enjoying This Moment

I pull into the parking lot at our local park. The van doors slide open and three yellow-shirted children tumble out to wait for white spray on arms and faces. Then one by one they shout I-love-yous and run down the path, heading for friends and their homeschool PE class.

I get back into the van. The time is mine. It is a light feeling. It feels... good... strange.

We have always homeschooled, so for the past fourteen and a half years I have had a child with me at almost all times. Each time one grew almost old enough to head off to a class like this, another one was born. There are almost five years between each of our living children.

This is the first time all three have regularly been away from me at the same time.

As I work the round of errands, I realize something odd is happening. I am flying through stores, crossing to-do's off my list left and right. I am going to have enough time to sit in the coffee shop and drink a half-priced frozen coffee and write! This is so easy!

Then it hits me. I am enjoying this. Enjoying not being with my family.

And immediately I miss them. My babies... growing up! I feel how fast the time is flying. Wasn't this just yesterday?

But no, it was fourteen years ago, and that chubby baby is now taller than I am.

What is it about humans? Greedy... we want what we don't have. The other day I told my son how much I would have loved to have had his amazing curls. My husband said "Not if you'd had them." He was right of course.

I don't want to live in the grass-is-always-greener trap. Nor the grass-was-greener-when trap. I want to live in this moment. I want to love this moment.

So when I am with my children I want to be with them, not thinking about what to make for dinner or how I'm going I find time to write. And when I am not with them I want to be fully immersed in what I am doing, thankful for the time to do things alone for a while. Enjoying each for what it is.

Just thankful for now, for this moment.

Experiencing the Fullness of Joy ~ Psalm 16

Of all the authors in the bible, David is my go-to guy when I am feeling down.  David had a remarkable way of pouring out his sorrow to the Lord eloquently.  He wasn’t afraid to be real.

What appeals to me about David’s writings is that no matter how miserable he was, no matter how hopeless and desperate it all seemed, he always ended up praising God. David knew where he stood with the Lord. Read more.

We're talking about the fruits of the spirit at Do Not Depart. To download this study go here.

When Emotions Overtake, Grace is Essential

Our family is blessed with a wide range of personalities. Sometimes I think we would make a great cartoon.

We have weepily emotional people, very quiet people, passionate people, can-do people, volatile people, whiny people, oh we have it all. The difference in our personalities is the axis upon which much of our relational growth turns in the little universe that is our home.

How do quiet people deal with those given to loud outburst? How do logical people handle emotional reactivity? How do deep-feeling people process apparent insensitivity?

Not always well, I'm afraid.

As I try to help our children (and myself!) learn to live with others, I've noted several recurrent themes.

First and foremost, God created each of us the way we are for a purpose. Yes, of course we are sinners, and not all of our behaviors are aligned with God's will for our lives. But there is a reason some are quiet and others loud, some logical and others emotional. We talk a lot here about the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

At the same time, we were created to love, and love means I think about other people first, and myself second. It means I work on learning self-control so that I can be free to serve instead of wrapped up in my own "stuff" or a prisoner to my personality.

My heart's desire is to see others with God' eyes, as beloved children. It is not always easy, what with His kids being sinners and all. And I don't do a great job all the time remembering that He has eyes for me too.

One of my children is a very emotional person. In so many ways I can relate to this child's struggles. I too am, at heart, deeply emotional.

One of the things that frustrates me about myself is that I can be logical, I can plan what the "right" way to respond to a situation would be, but in the moment I find that sometimes I react differently.

For example, when the fire started and I knew we had to evacuate, my mind went blank. I had no clue what to take. When my children get hurt I stay very calm and rational, so I would have thought that I would be clear-headed in this scenario. But I wasn't.

Fast forward 6 weeks. We are safe, our farm is safe, thousands are homeless including many of my friends. I have so much to be thankful for. I fuss at my children for silly complaints, reminding them that their friends have lost everything.

Then my laptop dies. Dies a horrible, forever, "it's a brick" death. And it hadn't been backed up since the morning of the fire. Guess who complains? Granted it was silent in-my-head complaining, mostly sorrow over hundreds of lost photos, but it was complaining nonetheless.

After a few minutes of silent woe, I grasped my hypocrisy and selfishness. I was so ashamed.

It's so very true:

For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.
~ Romans 7:15 ~

There are so many aspects of my life in which this is the case. I go through seasons of waking in the night in the midst of drowning anxiety about "not practicing what I would like to do." I become deeply frustrated with the emotions that well up and seem to obscure the truth of who I am in Christ.

Yet in the midst of negative thoughts about myself and should-haves and could-haves, two verses relentlessly squeeze their way into my consciousness:

It was for freedom that Christ set us free...
~ Galatians 5:1a ~
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
~ Romans 8:1 ~

Quite simply, when I am worried and anxious about my own "performance" not only am I not clinging to grace, I am also forgetting to focus my eyes on Him and others, instead of myself.

So if you have met me in real life you know... I can be moody. I forget important things, to my chagrin. I don't do the things I want to do and it grieves me.

I am a sinner saved by grace, and that grace means I am also dancing. I am dancing in the heavenlies, while still here on earth, because no mood can eliminate the truth that I have been set free!

photo by adam piggott

Abiding in Crisis (via Do Not Depart)

Sunday afternoon. We had kissed my husband goodbye after church as he headed off on a trip. Feeling in need of a lift, I told the kids we’d swing by the store for pizza and ice cream, and watch a movie that night.

Our van loaded down with frozen groceries, we headed up piney Highway 21, the road that made me fall in love with our area when we were looking to move from the city. At a stop light, we noticed a large column of smoke.

“Mama, is that near our house?”

“Oh no, no, that is west of us. We live that way,” and I pointed ahead to the right.

We drove on and the road began to curve to the left. How could I have forgotten this part of the road?

We continued to curve, until straight ahead of us, right between the pines towering on left and right, a ferocious column of smoke billowed high in the air. The road was taking us straight toward the fire...

A few weeks ago I wrote a little about our experience during the fire at Do Not Depart. And silly me, I neglected to tell you friends here about it. Won't you come over and read for a spell?...

photo by Patti Brown

New Normal - Life After the Wildfire

We are living a new reality here. In the four weeks since I last posted (can it have been that long?), almost every spare moment has been consumed with fire relief for our friends. There is no one here that has remained unaffected by the fire that has scarred our rural area.

The final count on the Bastrop Complex Fire was 34,000+ acres and 1554 homes lost.

Our new normal keeps changing, which I realize means it isn't really normal. I'm not sure what is at this point.

In the first week of the fire this was normal....

Disaster teams were everywhere

News trucks filled our little town

Lists of the addresses of destroyed homes were posted on windows

Families put out bags and boxes of clothes, and other supplies, on their front yards, for thousands evacuated because of the fires

Local businesses (in this case Best Buy) gave away thousands of free particulate respirators

The federal government set up shop

Gratitude overflowed

And now, five weeks since it started, this is our normal...

Fires planes and helicopters fly over daily

The wooden posts of the guardrails have burned away

This sign still has not been replaced

Just another collage of burned tress, burned vehicles, burned houses

What now looks like a cemetery, with headstones behind the wrought iron fence, was actually a house in August

Trucks filled with metal salvaged from homes fill the roads. This is probably almost all that this family saved from the rubble.

Signs everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. Yesterday I saw a sign advertising signs.

First firefighters from around the country, now construction workers. These are from Lousiana.

All that is left of a day care and a forest

Our almost daily drive to and from town steadily beats the rhythm of loss. Our home is a mile up the highway past the perimeter. Town is a few miles past the other side. Driving through destruction twice a day has a subtle cumulative effect on the emotions.

The forest changes every day. Trees are disappearing. Cut down. Cut up. Hauled away.

Like many of those whose homes were not lost, I feel guarded against any emotion other than gratitude and cheerfulness.  Yet the truth is that the pain is persistent, it is deep. I grieve alongside my beautiful friends. I grieve for our community. Oh so much, so very much beauty and hope has shone, continues to shine, through it all. SO much love, such grace and mercy in the midst, truly.  But it is also true that we mourn.

In my family? New normal is this:

List the Princess put on our refrigerator two days ago

Not in small part due to the fact that we had a new fire close to us this week.  It was a break out from the big fire, that started one month to the day later.  Here is how it looked from my back yard:

That roof is one of our sheds. The fire was 3 or 4 miles away.

Every time I hear an airplane I am on my feet and opening the door to smell the air, no matter the time.

And remember this picture of my precious Little Warrior taken back in March?

He no longer owns that armor. His warrior heart was convinced that there was another little boy who needed it. Shortly after we returned from evacuating, he dumped his entire armor, including sword, on the kitchen floor and announced, "I want to give this away. I want to give it to someone who lost their house in the fire." "Why buddy?" "Because they need a way to protect themself."

I wondered who we would give it to, until last week as I was talking to my sweet friend G. "We discovered that K (age 7) is sleeping with a stick under his pillow. He won't talk about the fire, refuses to go see the house." I asked her if he had armor. "He did, but he lost it in the fire."

Now Little Warrior's buddy is armed again.

What I want, maybe we all want it, I don't know, but what I want is to end here with some conclusion, some upbeat message. The happy ending. I don't have one yet, because really, there is no conclusion for any of us until the very end, the real end. THE happy ending is not on this side of heaven, is it?

While we walk out this journey on earth, there is ever so much beauty to be found. Yet we occasionally find ourselves in the midst of something so big and painful that we don't quite know how to get our bearings.  The only way I can find is to look for the lighthouse in the storm, steadily blinking "Here I am. Here I am."

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
Psalm 27:1
Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
Psalm 119:105
Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world..."
John 8:12

Not that it's terribly different from always, but in a nutshell, if you are wondering how I am doing, I am muddling through. I am so sad sometimes, but mostly I am simply doing the work I see right in front of me. I am loving my friends as best I can... finding books for them, beds for them, houses, blankets, you know, just loving them.  You could say that these are sprinkles I guess.  Really it's just loving.

It all melts away in the face of that doesn't it? All the things I thought were important, all the goals and aspirations and that long to-do list, it's all like dust in the wind in the face of just loving. I wish I were better at it.

This is long. Most of my computer time is devoted to the Homeschool Relief effort, and I am so grateful to be part of it and have that to focus energy into. But it has meant that this blog has sat quiet. So I am squeezing much more than the blogging experts would advise into one post. I know you understand.

Ah friends, it is a blessing not to know what is coming. And it is a joy to look back and see that in amazing ways you have been being prepared for it.

So we walk on. We love and we hope and we lean into the Almighty's arms together.  Our never-can-be-burned-down home.
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