Monday, November 23, 2009

What will I do with all this free time?

Since I am no longer doing laundry on Sundays, Sunday would loom like a vast abyss of nothingness. I would wake up in the morning, walk downstairs and grab my coffee as the brief desire to throw in a load of laundry washed over me. I resolutely resisted the temptation and closed the laundry room door before heading to church.

Sunday afternoon arrived with greater temptation. There is a part of me that really wants to fold laundry as I watch football with my husband. It seems like a win win to me. My husband gets to watch football, I get that satisfied feeling that comes from loads of clean folded laundry and of not wasting my afternoon.

I know there is more to life than the satisfaction that comes from baskets of clean laundry, so I have been praying and asking God to show me what to do with my Sunday afternoons. One key spiritual concept that I have experienced many times is the principal of replacement. If God removes something from my life (like laundry) it is because He has something better for me. "Something better than football and laundry on Sunday afternoons?" you might ask. I know it is hard to believe but I have found that I often hold onto and value things that are so much less than what God has for me. If God wants me to give up laundry on Sundays, it is because God has something better for me.

Another thing I have learned is that if God takes something away I need to make sure that I wait for the replacement from God and that I do not make my own cheap substitute. While this is hard to do, I have learned that the benefits of waiting for God's best are so great and the cost of not waiting on God's timing and provision is so expensive.

The story in Exodus about the people of Israel and the Golden Calf illustrate this principal clearly. Exodus 32 starts with this sentence, "When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him."(NIV)

A quick look at this situation shows how quickly we forget God's hand and presence in our lives and latch on to an easy substitute rather than waiting for God's blessing. A little more than a month before creating the golden calf, the Israelites were awed by the thunder and lightening on Mt Sinai when God spoke the Ten Commandments and the covenant to Moses. God told Moses, "Tell the Israelites this : You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from Heaven; Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold." When Moses told the people all the Lord's words and laws, they responded in one voice "Everything the Lord has said we will do."

However after forty days, the Israelites got tired of waiting for God's plan and provision so they asked Aaron to make them "gods." As they were devising a plan for the golden calf, God was giving Moses his plan for the tabernacle. A place of communion and connection. The tabernacle was a place where the Israelites could show their gratitude to God through thanks offering and through guilt and sin offerings have a right relationship with God. God had a beautiful complete plan, they had a cheap imitation.

God had replaced their slavery in Egypt with freedom. God desired to have communion and connection to his people, yet in their impatience they decided they could do a better job of taking care of themselves by making their own god. They forgot the miraculous rescue from the Egyptians, being spared from the plagues that ravaged the Egypt, the Red Sea becoming dry land, the daily provision of manna, the battles already won. All of these things had happened in an extremely short time (less than six months by my estimate.) How could they forget? They forgot because they did not remember.

Rather than being just a convenient day to do laundry, I now see the Sunday as a day to remember. A day to remember all that God has done for me; how he has provided for me, protected me, blessed me and brought me through hard times. Dueteronomy 5:1 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. God knew that we needed to remember His power and deliverance in our lives so we could trust Him in big and little things in order to keep from idolatry.

In the midst of football and Legos, Sundays have become days of remembering. Sunday is now a day that is set apart to acknowledge God's presence, protection, provision, and blessing in our lives. I've been reading God Moments: Recognizing and Remembering God's Presence in Your Life by Alan D. Wright and it has encouraged me and provided a framework as I try to remember all that God has done for me.

Over the past several Sundays, our family has written down ways that God has blessed us, protected us, provided for us and been with us in times of adversity. Looking at the lists o
f God's blessing with contributions from my boys and my husband encourages me and helps me remember so that I do not forget. One of the greatest gifts that has come from this is that I am reminded of God's blessings by my children and husband. This experience provides a satisfaction that is way better than piles of folded laundry.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

No Laundry on Sundays!

This past Sunday afternoon, the boys were playing, Tom was watching football and it seemed like the perfect time to do some laundry. I figured I could throw in a load and then watch football with Tom as I folded the dry clothes. While I was standing in the laundry room transferring the wet clothes to the dryer, God brought to mind several scriptures from Exodus regarding the sabbath, one day of the week that the Isrealites were to rest and worship God.

In Exodus 35:2, God commanded the Israelites, "For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it must be put to death." Wow! Death seems an overly serious consequence for doing a load of laundry.

God was serious about the Sabbath. Numbers 15 tells the story of a man who was put to death for gathering wood on the Sabbath. In the Old Testement, death was a consequence for other things such as killing another man, kidnapping or enslaving another person, cursing or attacking your parents, having sex with an animal, adultery, incest, homosexual behavior or sacrificing your children to another God. Why did God have the same punishment for working on the Sabbath as these other things?

This is a challenging question, yet I think there is a pretty simple answer. God designed us and created us in His image. Just as my car came with instructions for its care so that it will have a long life, no breakdowns and work most efficiently, God has given us instructions to maintain the optimal performance to accomplish the purpose He designed us for.

Throughout the pages of my car's instruction manual are many bright yellow warning boxes, some are for safety issues and others are for maintenance. For instance, next to the instructions for using the rear view and side view mirrors were warnings that adjusting the mirrors while driving can result in serious injury or death. Similar warnings of death and serious injury were throughout the manual. The manual also recommended a maintenance schedule, a certain grade of gasoline and timing belt replacement around 90,000 miles. Just as my car manufacturer knows how to create optimal performance for my vehicle, God knows taking a regular break (a sabbath) results in our most effective performance. In fact Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." God created the Sabbath to bless us, not to just be a law or a requirement.

God designed us to reach our maximum potential by taking a regular break from work so that we can focus on Him. Last week, The Wall Street Journal had an article titled, "If You Need To Work Better, Maybe Try Working Less." According to the article, "new research suggests some have reached the point where a paradoxical truth applies: To get more done, we need to stop working so much." The article described a four year study implemented at Boston Consulting Group where employees were required to take a block of "predictable time off" during which there was no contact with work, including Blackberries. After initially resisting the time off, the study participants soon found that they communicated better, forged closer relationships, and they did better job at planning ahead and streamlining work, which in some cases resulted in improved client service.

The bottom line for me and my laundry is that I am going to take a break from doing laundry on Sundays. I hope that by setting this boundary the rest of my week will be more effective, I will do a better job planning ahead, and somehow I will even have better relationships with my family (maybe because I will be playing with them rather than folding laundry.) I am going to trust that God will bless my time the other six days of the week if I follow his instructions and take a break from laundry on Sundays.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with all the work that you have do, why don't you try your own experiment of taking a Sabbath and setting apart a time to not work and rest, then see what happens. God promises us if we "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things (that we worry about) will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:33)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What I Did This Summer

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Can you believe that the summer is over and the kids have gone back to school? My summer has flown by. I had a wonderful summer however it started out as a black abyss of nothingness. In March, I felt like God had told me not to make any new commitments. I could continue my existing commitments but not take on anything new. Most of the activities that my boys and I participate in start with the school year in the Fall and end when the school year ends. March is the registration time for summer activities and it is also the time that leaders of the Fall activities starting looking for commitments the next school year.
No new commitments! I knew this had to be God because I like to be busy. I get bored easily and I love the structure that activities provide to my day. Summer days can be long, dragging from the early morning sunrise to the late sunset. In the summer, I relish the break that camps and other planned activities give me. Planning road trips when the boys aren't in camp is one of my favorite summer activities. In the past couple of summers the boys and I have been to Washington, DC, Atlanta, Chattanooga, Ohio, Michigan, New York, Boston and Charleston. We really like to travel!
I began this summer of no trips, no camps and nothing to look forward to with a bit of trepidation and a poor attitude. I was concerned that God wanted me to make no commitments because something big was going to happen like moving or a family member becoming very ill. I worried that the reason God didn't want me making any plans was because I just wouldn't be able to follow through on them.
My bad attitude came out something like this, "God, I am doing what you want by not making any commitments but I am not happy." I even started keeping a list in my calendar of all the things that I had given up. In addition to not preregistering the boys for any camps or planning any road trips, I listed things like leading a Bible study at church, helping out with Boy Scouts, volunteering at the school library and being a Sunday School storyteller.
Now that the summer is over and school has started, I can look back on my summer with a sense of amazement at how God orchestrated a wonderful summer. He wanted me not to make any plans because He had plans for my summer that were better than anything I could imagine. During the past three months, God miraculously brought friend after friend to our doorstep. So that you can grasp the magnitude of God's plan for my summer, the following five paragraphs are a list of what we did during our "unplanned" summer. Please note that there is shameless name dropping, so if you start getting overwhelmed by all of our visitors, feel free to skip to the last two paragraphs at the end.
The summer visits started the week that school got out. Our first visit was from my sister Joan who lives in CA. I was able to spend time with my sweet sister and transport her to the mountains to go to a conference with my mom. At the last minute, my other sister Christy decided to drive up from Atlanta to see Joan, so while Joan was in the conference, Christy and I had a great time hanging out at the food court of the Asheville Mall.
Our summer continued with my husband Tom's birthday and Hillary's 19th birthday and a visit from my sister in law Cathy. The week before the fourth July, Cathy and family came down from MI to celebrate Cathy and Hillary's birthdays and the holiday. Because we didn't have any camps that week, the boys were able to spend a lot of quality time with her and the cousins. On July 3rd, my high school friend Kimberly and her family visited us from Ohio. On July 5th, we were blessed to spend time celebrating my Dad's 65th birthday with my sister Christy and her family and my brother Will and his fiance.
The next week, Tom said "Let's go to the beach for a couple of days" and because we had no plans, we were free to go. The week of my birthday, July 17th, my friend Dawn took off work and arranged for the two of us to have some girl time together. I had a wonderful family birthday with my parents, Tom's parents, Hillary and her finance, Drew who just happened to be on leave from the Navy at that time. Our flexibility allowed us to be able spend other time with Hillary and Drew during the brief month that he was home.
On Sunday of the next week, my friend Betts who lives in Charleston visited our church and I was able to hug her and see her youngest daughter in my Sunday school class. The next week, my friend Sarah who lives in Weaverville came to spend Saturday night with us and went to church with us on Sunday. We were able to stay up late and have some girl time. As a birthday present, my friend Cathy treated me to a church leadership conference that was the following weekend. While we were at the conference, my friend Loren who lives about two hours away called to see if she could come over the next day since she was attending a writers conference that was ten minutes from my house! We had a wonderful visit, though by this time my husband was growing a little tired of all the visitors!
The next weekend was tax free shopping weekend and as I was pulling off the highway to go to the mall my cell phone rang and it was my friend Julie. She told me she was at the ZMax dragway, 1/4 of a mile from where I was at that minute. Her husband works for a race crew and his boss had asked her two days before if she wanted to fly down on his private plane to attend the race. I went over to see her and then she came over to eat dinner with us. We had met at Camp Miniwanca in MI 18 years before and have hung out together all over the country since then but she had never before been to my house.
We celebrated my Christopher's ninth birthday the next weekend. It was a fun celebration ice skating with his friends. The week afterward, we were invited to the beach to stay at my friend Jane's parent's house. My friend Susan kept us company on the long drive to North Myrtle, the boys and I had a great time playing in the waves and digging in the sand with Jane's family and to top off our beach adventure, our souvenir pet hermit crab is still alive! For the last week of summer, Tom took Christopher to hit some golf balls and realized that a golf camp had just started. Tom was able to sign Chris up for the camp and the following week, school started.
Summer is over but I still feel that I shouldn't make any new commitments. While it is a struggle, God has been faithful in encouraging me on this path. A couple of weeks ago, my friend Alison called to see if I could go out for a girls night out. Alison is expecting baby number eight in several months, so getting out of the house is a very, very rare occurrence. As I was getting ready to see Alison, I realized if I had committed to play tennis, I would have been scheduled to play the night we went out. That night as I related to Alison the wonder of my summer, I was reminded of the verse from Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
During the course of this summer, I have been awed and humbled by God's desire to bless me. Why would the God of this universe care how I spent my summer? Yet the Bible says that He numbers the hairs of our head (Luke 12:7.) He really cares about the details and wants to be involved in our lives. The events and things that I gave up at the beginning of the summer pale in comparison to the blessings that God has showered on me. He knew the plans that He had for me and He knew that with my limited organizational skills, I could have never coordinated my summer so perfectly. For each of you reading this, I know that God has wonderful plans for your life. Trust that He cares about all the details of your life, knows what's best for you and just as He was working things out for my summer, He is working things out for your good, as well.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Quick Update on my Book Proposal

On Labor Day, I felt like God had told me to follow up on the proposal that I gave to the Editor at Lifeway. So after a fun day with my family and in-laws, I sat down at the computer to write the follow up e-mail. The next morning at 10:00 am, I received a follow up e-mail from the editor at Lifeway regarding my book proposal. It basically said that he still had my work and planned to review it but that he had many deadlines and that he would review it and get to it in the not too distant future. He encouraged me in the ministry of writing but warned me that they get hundreds of proposed books a year and at most a couple of slots to fill. I was thrilled to have such a quick response.

That night, there was another e-mail from the editor in my in box. It started, "I was in need of some refreshment and decided to read your work..." The editor said that "Penny, you are a talented writer and you communicate well." He continued his note that they are not actively looking for new writers and are in a situation of having to choose selectively from several well know writers. However, he continued, "I really like your treatment of Hezekiah. He is a character who really makes you grapple with questions like why do we so often turn from God after He does something really major in our lives. I do believe you've done a good job." He also included some technical advice on helping readers apply the study and some other advice on teaching in my church and in a wider setting. I was so encouraged by his quick and encouraging response. The day before I received his note, I had been in a time of questioning what I was doing with my life. This e-mail was a wonderful confirmation that God has a plan and will work to carry out His purpose, I just have to be willing to do what God has called me to do.

For those of you reading this blog, thanks so much for your prayers and encouragement. I hope that this encourages you to be faithful to all that God has called you to do whether it is writing, homemaking, working outside of the home, and parenting. Romans 8:28 encourages us that God works in all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. As you go about your day, whether you are cooking, or cleaning, taking care of kids or in meetings, look to see God working for your good. He is. He loves you and wants to bless YOU.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Let Me See His Face.

I am excited to share with you a miracle that happened to me several of days ago. In 2007, I started writing a bible study on King Hezekiah and later, I was able to lead the study at my church. I've recently felt like it was time to start exploring having it published. I’ve been reading books about publishing, studying publishing websites and praying about what to do next. When my friend Cathy asked me to go to “Deeper Still,” a Beth Moore and Kay Arthur conference, I thought that it would be a good opportunity to learn from two ladies who had both published many Bible studies.

The morning of the conference, I debated with myself whether or not I should bring a copy of my book proposal. “What business did I have bringing a book proposal to a Bible conference? This wasn’t a writer’s conference- it was 11,000 women who had come to hear God’s Word.” Yet after praying I still felt I should bring my proposal, so I carried my conference materials and book proposal into the arena thinking, “Maybe we would sit by someone who I was supposed to give it to.” I couldn’t figure out why I felt that I should bring it- but I didn’t want to miss out on God’s blessing if there was someone for me to give it to.

The first speaker of the day was Priscilla Shrirer. She mentioned that her editor was a “gem within a gem.” I thought to myself, “Hmm - I should probably write down his name”- but I wasn’t taking notes and figured if I was supposed to remember his name I would. The second speaker of the day was Beth Moore and she also mentioned what a blessing her editor was and that he was in the arena which was very unusual for him. This time I wrote down his name and started wondering if I should give him my book proposal and I how I could find him.

After Beth finished speaking, we had a 30 minute bathroom break and I sat there for a few minutes praying about my book proposal. I finally worked up the nerve to leave my seat and make my way on to the floor of the arena. There were hundreds of people sitting on the floor and milling around. I walked around the stage and headed toward the area where I thought the Life Way staff would be standing. There were reserved seats all around me and I felt as if everyone was watching me. I finally reached the section of the arena where the all Life Way staffers were standing and a menacing row of Show Pros, who looked like former pro wrestlers, were lined up to keep groupies away from the celebrities. I stopped before I got to them and I turned around to head back to my seat. I decided that I would just mail him my book proposal.

“God,” I prayed, “I walked all the way down here across the arena floor but I can’t walk up to all of these people and ask all of them if they know Dale McCleskey. I have reached the limit of what I can do. I am sorry that I can’t do any more.” Once I was in my seat I continued praying, “God, I did all I could. I brought the proposal, I went down on the arena floor, but I am just not bold enough to start talking with all those people. I am sorry for my weakness. If you want me to give him my proposal, please show me his face. If you show me his face, I will find him and give him my proposal”

I finished praying and the final Question and Answer session started. All three speakers were up on stage. They were talking about things like marriage, children and families. In the middle of the discussion, Beth Moore said, “We’ve talked a lot about our editor Dale McCleskey. Dale, come on out so that everyone can see you.” Dale’s face was on all four sides of the Jumbotron, 24 feet high and 32 feet wide and on each of the 200 flat screen TVs in the arena. “Okay God, I said, “I’ll give him my book proposal.”

At the end of the Q&A session, my friend Cathy and I walked around the arena concourse and down the arena steps until we were directly over the tunnel that Dale was standing in. I leaned over the balcony and asked the two Lifeway girls below if Dale McCleskey was there and handed them my book proposal. They handed the proposal to Dale and he came out to speak with me. Though the music was loud, I explained to him that I was a writer and that this was a book proposal for a Bible study on Hezekiah. I had prayed that if I was supposed to give it to him I would see his face, when I saw his face on the Jumbotron I knew that I was supposed to give my book proposal to him. I asked him to pray about it and he said that he would.

As we left the arena- I was in awe. My means and abilities are so limited, yet God’s ways and means are unlimited. In a room of 11,000 people, God took the time to answer my prayer and showed me one person’s face on a Jumbotron.