Breathing In When You’re Running out of Breath

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She holds the marshmallow too close to the blue flame and it ignites.  Then she blows with one puff of her cheeks and giggles at the sight of her charred and blackened puff of sugar on a stick.

I tease her that she burns them on purpose and she confesses as much: “I like them crispy.”

We’ve huddled around the tiny Sterno burner set in the middle of our kitchen table with long forks poked through marshmallows to roast them and make S’mores, a favorite treat.

On a night when we have time, when we miraculously aren’t scarfing down dinner and rushing into the car for an evening of dance and church and the like, we enjoy roasting marshmallows over the flame.

Not living on a campground, however, we use the Sterno instead.

When we’ve each charred our marshmallow and smashed it down on the milk chocolate with the two graham crackers, I smother the flame with the lid, blocking the fire from the necessary oxygen for burning and thriving.

And it dies.

Just sputters right out, so simply, so quickly, so inevitably… suffocation through lack of breath.

How breathless I’ve been, I think as the flame fades.

The running, the pace, the schedule.

The remembering: appointments, pick-up times, forms, and camps, and stuff–lots and lots of stuff every time we load into the van to head out the door..

And I try not to forget the words I’ve stuck to my fridge:  Love is patient.

Or forget that people matter most and how to love and give to them and make them the priority.

I’m remembering that, too.

It’s beauty day in and day out, watching these children grow, loving on them, learning from them.  This is the blessing that makes me pause and whisper thanks to God.

It’s beauty to minister, beauty to serve, beauty to love others with God’s love and to give generously to them just as He has given generous heaps of mercy and grace to me.

Beauty takes sacrifice, though, it takes giving and giving and giving, and sometimes we have intense seasons of pouring out, those times when we’re on-the-go or fulfilling need.

Maybe it’s caregiving.

Maybe it’s those first weeks with a newborn.

Maybe it’s just a week of summer day camp!

In these seasons, I remember that running breathless too long suffocates, cutting off the oxygen I need to survive.

I can do it.  But I can’t do it long and I can’t do it forever.

And also this:  Fueling our flames with our own resources, running our own self-provided fuel, means we will run out eventually.

We’ll suffocate and burn out just like that flame I snuffed after we roasted marshmallows.

So we need a greater source.

The prophet Zechariah teaches me this truth.  He has a vision—-“a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left” (Zechariah 4:1-6).

Zechariah didn’t understand at first what it all meant, and an angel has to explain:

“This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty (Zechariah 4:6).

The olive trees gave the oil to a bowl that poured out to the seven lamps.

So the lamps themselves weren’t the source.  They depended on something greater and purer.

So do we.  We need this Holy Spirit fuel, the fire He brings, the light that lasts.

 

 

This is the grace we need on days when we’re running tired and on weeks when we’re giving and giving and in seasons when we’re breathless.

You and I don’t have to be enough on our own.

We don’t have to keep ourselves going, keep up the pace, keep things together.

We aren’t the source and the world doesn’t depend on us or rest all heavy and cumbersome on our wimpy shoulders.

We seek the oil of His Spirit poured into us.

He is our Strength, our fuel that keeps on going and doesn’t run dry or sputter out or suffocate and die.

Not by my might (I’m so weak and helpless really).

Not by power (I tire easily and can’t keep all this together).

But by His Spirit.

Oh yes, Lord, fill us anew with Your Spirit.

Originally posted September 20, 2013

Sabbath in the Busy Season

My husband shoos me away from the kitchen.

A teething baby had me up and down most of the night, so my husband tells me to go get some rest.

In a bit….

When I finish….

I still have stuff on my to-do list…..and then maybe….psalm 116

The problem is the to-do list keeps growing because I have eyes that see mess and clutter and projects everywhere I look.  I’m trying to clean while my kids are home and we all know how that goes.

He says it simple: You’ll always have things on your to-do list.

That’s life-changing wisdom that bounces around in my head all this week and settles in my heart as I prepare for the holiday rush of an overstuffed calendar.

This busy life, this busy season and yet still I try to live a lie: that at some point I’ll finish the list, the busyness on the calendar will end, and then I can rest because every single project and chore is done, done, done.

And since that never happens, rest never happens.

I learn from Priscilla Shirer’s book, Breathe, that the word for Sabbath (Shabbat) means:  “to come to an end, to cease, to stop, to pause” (Priscilla Shirer, p. 42)

Sometimes that pausing and ceasing and stopping is a choice that you have to make.  I don’t have to finish what I’m doing.  I just need to press pause and rest anyway.

Leviticus 23:32 says:

“It will be a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you must practice self-denial

Self-denial.

That’s what Sabbath requires.

But not the kind we law-loving humans tend to push down on each other’s shoulders.

We make self-denial about do’s and don’ts.  We make regulations.  We make rules.  This is what Sabbath should look like.  This is what rest has to look like.  This is what you can do.  This is what you can’t do.

We wring the joy right out of the Sabbath with our Pharisaical attempts to make holier what God has already made holy.

Not, it’s this: Rest is self-denial.

It denies that compulsion to work and work and do and do.  It declines to base our identity on performance and accomplishment and forces us to rest in His love for us.

Adrenaline is my addiction.  The rush and stress of it all pushes me along and when it’s removed, I’m a nervous, jittery, restless soul not sure of what to do or how to be.

Sabbath is the rehab my soul needs.

Sabbath sets me into the rhythm of rest and re-sets my life on the foundation of grace instead of the shaky ground of works and law and self.

In my 12-month journey of pursuing the presence of Christ, I’ve spent this month Practicing Sabbath Keeping and I’ve met Him here in this holy space.

Just like Moses did on that sacred mountain:

“The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days.  And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud” (Ex. 24:16, ESV).

God called to Moses on the seventh day….

That glory lingered in preparation for six days, but on the seventh day, God’s voice boomed out of that cloud and called Moses close for intimacy and revelation.

In Breathe, Priscilla Shirer writes again:

“I’m praying that the Lord brings all of the glory held in the arms of the ‘seventh day’ to you and me. I’m asking, of course, that we’ll see His presence and sense His favor in our every activity, every day of the week.  But in those spaces and margins–those ‘seventh day’ borders–that our ‘no’s’ create, may we hear the voice of God and experience nearness of fellowship with Him like never before.

The holiday season presses in and threatens to overwhelm us with expectations and perfection and activity.

But isn’t Christ what we want in the midst of it all?  Don’t we want His glory more than tinsel and lights and His voice more than presents with ribbons and bows?

And if I want Christ more than this, more than it all, then I begin right here.  I deny self.  I press pause on the to-do list.  I cease the activity.

I find room to breathe.

And I ask Him to show me His glory here in the seventh-day spaces I create in my life.  That’s His invitation to invade my life with His presence.

To read more about this 12-month journey of pursuing the presence of Christ, you can follow the links below!  Won’t you join me this month as I Practice Sabbath-Keeping’?

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2014 Heather King

Just This and No More

My older girls picked up their knitting needles this week.

They have big plans of what they can make with one ball of yarn and two thick needles: Hats with pom poms to match stripey scarves for every family member and friend.

For now, I tell them: Keep it simple.  Practice the steps, row after row.  No need for fancy patterns or agendas.  Just stitch after stitch until they are even and right.026

We’ve corrected our fair share of lost stitches, tangled yarn and strangely elaborate knots.  Mostly, though, we’re fighting against extra.

I started my oldest girl out with 15 little loops and within 3 rows, she’d nearly doubled the length of her project.  I counted them out—27 stitches now. We counted out 5 stitches for my next daughter and she immediately increased that to 10.

How do they do this?

It’s not purposeful, of course.  Just an inadvertent grabbing of yarn in the wrong place, slipping on two loops where there should be only one, until finally their project has doubled in size.  And if I let them continue unhindered, it’d triple and more.

So I pull out the row and  start them again.

This is how you grab just one loop at a time.  This is how you count your stitches after each row.

But it’s just so easy with momentary distractions and the way we pick up speed to do this, too.

God starts me out with 15 simple loops of yarn.  He establishes the rhythm and the pattern, and He measures out the resources so I’ll have enough for all I need.

I focus at first and watch each stitch carefully.

Then I begin to rush and think about other things.  People ask me questions.  I look away instead of on my project.

Somehow I’ve slipped on extra stitches.  God asked me to do 15.  Just 15.  So simple.  He gave me enough.

But now I have 30 and I’m frantically working, trying to keep up with it all.  I’m running out of resources and fretting over how I’ll ever be sufficient for all this need.

When I finally hand over the tangled mess to this patient and gracious God, He takes me back, eliminates the excess and starts me over again.  Just 15 stitches, Heather.  I only asked You to do these.  No more.  Nothing extra.  And I’ve given You all You need, more than enough, for this alone.

It’s busyness, of course, that rushes us into grabbing more.  We say “Yes” when He wants us to say “No.”  We feel pressured into volunteering and there’s the pride that convinces us that we can save the day and make it successful.

Usually, it’s all good things: Bible studies, meetings, committees, volunteering and relationships.  Then we find ourselves doubling up those stitches again, and when we read those words of Jesus, they don’t even make sense.  How could He promise us this when we feel so worn?

 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV)

There’s another way, though, that those stitches slip right on and we don’t even know it. It’s not busyness; it’s expectations.  We tell ourselves what a Good Mom, a Good Wife, a Godly Woman and a True Friend does.

We’ve condemned ourselves right there, always trying to measure up to some perfect standard, tossing on stitches until we just collapse in failure and then we feel it: I’m a failure and a mess. I can’t keep up with it all, even these 15 stitches.  Not like “her,” so perfect and together.

But God didn’t ask us to be perfect.  He doesn’t impose impossible standards or withhold grace.

In the Message, the same verses in Matthew say:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly(Matthew 11:28-30 MSG).

It takes purposeful determination to protect the few stitches God’s entrusted to us, to fall into those unforced rhythms of grace rather than frantic rushing and condemnation.  No slipping on extra loops of string, not with busyness and commitments or expectations and burdensome requirements.

Protect what He’s asked You to do and do it well, with all Your heart and mind, knowing that He’s given you all you need for just this much and no more.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

I Failed Napping

Part guilt, part pride.  That’s the odd tangled mess of emotions I feel about rest.

Yes, guilt.  Napping is difficult for me; sometimes impossible.  All those years of new motherhood when the wise older women are telling you, “Rest when the baby is resting….” and you understand their gray hairs mean wisdom, but your body just doesn’t DO that, doesn’t nap and feel better for it.

Mostly I toss and turn.  I count to 100 and then back from 100 and then up to 100 again, fighting hard for sleep because I’m fatigued and maybe even tired, but I’m failing so often.

And even if I can kind of sleep, it’s not deep and restful.  It’s semi-conscious and mostly I just lie there thinking of how I’m wasting that time in that bed.  When I finally give up all frustrated and still tired, I’m a groggy mess.

Napping frustrates me rather than refreshes.

My husband teases me about never watching TV or movies.  “You don’t watch; you just listen,” he says.

It’s true.  I like to listen to the dialogue while cleaning up the kitchen, packing the lunches, folding the laundry, sweeping the kitchen floor, dusting the furniture, signing homework slips and agenda books.  Or maybe I am done with my chores, so I busy my hands with knitting or sewing projects or the crossword puzzle.

But sitting totally still, just watching the television…that’s not rest; that stirs up restlessness in me.

I read the verses, how Scripture tells me to rest, and all this time I thought I just failed at this.

Could this be sin?  Could I struggle with this so much that I’m a hopeless case of incessant busyness?  A certifiable Martha who can’t possibly be Mary at the feet of Jesus?

Oh, the guilt.

But there’s the pride, too.  This secret truth:  how it feels good to confess to a “weakness” that’s really all about my strength.

I’m a doer.  I like to be busy.  I get things done. I don’t need rest like others do because I have this superhuman ability, this super-mom power to do and do and do.  I have a strong work ethic and I’m not lazy or unproductive.

That’s never what I say; it’s never that blatantly boastful.  But I know they pride is there.  I live with that arrogant inner dialogue every day.

Oh, but this week there is freedom and I keep coming back to this again and again.  Daily I return because I don’t want to wrestle this Guilt/Pride monster any longer.

In her book Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God, Margaret Feinberg writes:

“But rest isn’t a purely passive activity.  Rest invites us to participate in restorative activities….Sometimes what’s most restful and restorative to you might involve activity…Sometimes what feels like rest to you may feel like work to someone else (and vice versa)…

Some people experience rest and rejuvenation through physical exercise,  others prefer a creative outlet like painting, sculpting or finding a project on Pinterest.  Still others experience rest through spending time at the rifle range, reading an entertaining book, working on a car, enjoying a comedy, or cooking a new recipe”  (p. 72).

Rest doesn’t have to mean napping.  It doesn’t have to mean Hallmark movie watching, a day on the sofa or a morning spent late in the bed.

It can.  If that’s how God hand-crafted your heart and mind, then that’s how He asks you to rest.

But finally I see how all these years of feeling like I never rest just meant I rested through creating or growing.

….Baking the bread and the cookies and huddling around the kitchen table with three daughters and a new recipe.

….Pulling out the sewing machine on Mother’s Day and spending hours pinning and running the fabric through the machine and then hand-stitching the corners.020

….Pressing the trowel down deep in the dirt, pushing away the soil with fingers and sinking the herbs deep down, and then fingering the buds on the miniature roses, on the echinacea, counting the un-ripe strawberries and giving up because of the abundance.

….Walking a mile and breathing in the air, hearing for the first time that day the sound of the birds and smelling the mown grass and the roses in bloom.

….Finishing that book, filling in the crossword puzzle, reading the Bible un-rushed without a to-do list to beckon.

This is how my Shepherd leads me, knowing and loving this non-napping sheep as He does: “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” (Psalm 23:2-3 NIV).

And yes, that’s doing, but it’s resting.  It’s deep soul rest for me, the kind where I see beauty, and I create and know God as Creator, and I take time long enough to catch the slightest hint of His glory as He passes by.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

How Was Your Day?

“How was your day?”

It’s my husband’s first question to me at the end of his work day every single evening.

This answer used to be easier.  How was my day?  Mostly that depended on work.  How much I accomplished, how difficult the tasks were, how successful I was, how many goals I’d met, and how well I juggled Mom-life with the job.

But now he asks, and I stumble and stutter.  How to answer a question that’s always been objective and quantifiable?

What makes a day good now?  Do I share my excitement over a new homemade bread recipe or the smell of the from-scratch spaghetti sauce bubbling away in the crock-pot?  Does vacuuming count as an accomplishment (it is, after all, on my to-do list)?  Do grocery store savings and coupon clipping validate me as a home manager?  Should I count the number of socks I matched and folded?

And beyond that, beyond all the tasks and tedium, how was my day relationally?  How many squabbles did I break up between my daughters?  How many lessons did I teach, conversations did I have, kisses did I bestow, Barbies did I undress and dress?

And even beyond that, if I close my day without any measurable way to evaluate my productivity at all, could the day still be “good?”

If I’ve listened to a hurting friend spill out all the ugly and the pain on the phone or if I’ve collapsed at the kitchen table with tea and my Bible and lingered there out of desperate dehydration and an aching hunger for His presence….does this mean today I have failed?

This slide into a works-based life tricks and deceives.  I don’t feel the gradual move from grace to law, don’t sense that I’ve shifted from relational priorities to measurable productivity.

But then someone asks about me, about my day, and I hear my own words and I know it for what it is:  My value has become dependent on the items crossed off my to-do list.

It’s the pitfall for working moms, the trap for single women in the workforce, and the snare of stay-at-home moms whose identity becomes tangled up with their children and the cleanliness of their home.

We all fall in the pit some time.stumblingintograce

In her book, Stumbling Into Grace, Lisa Harper reminds us that God “cares far more about the posture of our hearts than our productivity.  Even “good” things can become the enemy of God’s best for us” (p. 114).

It’s not that busyness itself is sin.  Sometimes busyness is just life with a job, a ministry, a husband, or kids.  Chances are you’re busy.  Chances are you get tired sometimes.

When Jesus commissioned the disciples for activity, they traveled for weeks of uncomfortable, on-foot missionary service to towns where they weren’t always well-received (Luke 9).  They weren’t overloading themselves with busyness; they were serving in obedience, following Jesus’ specific instructions about the journey.

Yet, they were tired.

When they returned home, “Jesus took them away, off by themselves, near the town called Bethsaida” (Luke 9:10, MSG). He knew they needed time away, alone time with Jesus.

Our need is the same.

But it begins here.  Not what did I accomplish, do, or achieve?  My good day begins with simply this: Did I do what God wanted me to do today?

The Lord promised, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28), but if we just keep throwing on the same burdensome loads, we’ll never feel truly rested.  That’s the weighed-down fatigue we choose when we do and do and do rather than obeying Him whether He’s sending us out or asking us to rest.

Oswald Chambers wrote:

An active Christian worker too often lives to be seen by others, while it is the innermost, personal area that reveals the power of a person’s life.

We must get rid of the plague of the spirit of this religious age in which we live.  In our Lord’s life there was none of the pressure and the rushing of tremendous activity that we regard so highly today, and a disciple is to be like His Master.  The central point of the kingdom of Jesus Christ is a personal relationship with Him, not public usefulness to others

God alone can determine the value of our day, the need for productivity at times or the requirement of rest in other seasons.

If He has told you to rest, are you resting?  If He has asked you to work, are you working?

Others might glance at your calendar and think, “She’s too busy” or “She’s such a slacker.”  But it’s not up to them.

It’s up to Him.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

Garden Devotions–It’s Crowded In Here

Originally published April 27, 2012

My daughters and I reached a compromise.

I announced that I didn’t want to grow a vegetable garden this year.  It was too much work for too little result.  It didn’t save money.  It started out fun in April and ended up a horrible, rotten, ugly chore by the middle of July.  Various ravenous insects destroyed and devoured my plants.

Their response was unanimous.  “But Ma—awm.  We like to grow our own food.”

So we narrowed down the lists of vegetables we would grow and planted a container garden on our deck.

We filled large wooden crates with garden soil, vegetable food and the tiny plants of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers we had chosen.  Then we dropped the carrot seeds into the dirt, following exact directions on how far down to push them and how far apart they needed to be spaced.

After a while my daughters disappeared to work on their own project. They held out the result to me with pride.  It was a small planter with dirt in it.

“We planted radishes,” they announced, “all by ourselves.”

I shrugged.  The radish seeds were leftovers from last year.  It seemed unlikely they’d grow.  Yet, the girls faithfully watered that pot for days and surprisingly they were rewarded by the first hints of green.

A day later, the pot was crowded by infant radishes.  The girls must have dumped 20 seeds all into the same tiny space in the miniature pot.

It was going to be really crowded in there.

Unfortunately, even though it is hard and a little sad, we now have to make some tough choices.  If all the radish plants remain in that pot, none of them will grow correctly.  Some of them have to come on out of there.

Sometimes our lives are just as crowded as that tiny radish pot.  Every single seedling may have potential for beauty, growth, and produce, but nothing can grow when they are all shoved into the small space of one simple life and the restriction of 24-hour days.

Even though it’s hard and a little sad, there are times when some things have got to go so that other areas of your life can grow to their full potential.

It’s not always a mystery when choosing what to toss.

When Jesus walked into the temple and saw the vendors hocking their wares–doves for sacrifices and loans for people needing money for their offering–He responded immediately.  It didn’t take a second’s thought for Jesus to overturn their tables and chase the mercenaries out of the holy space of the temple courtyard.

He threw out sin, contaminated worship, and the profanation of the holy.

As soon as Jesus cleared the place, the blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them” (Matthew 21:14).

The only reason they could seek healing in the temple, the only reason there was room for the blind and lame to worship, was because Jesus had thrown out the tainted and unholy.

The Message emphasizes this when it says, “Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in.”

Until Jesus cleaned house, there hadn’t even been room in the temple for those who needed God the most.

Will we allow Jesus to overturn the tables in our heart where sin and the unholy have set up shop?  Will we clear out the trash and the disgusting, so that we have room to come to Jesus—and to bring others along who need Him the most?

Of course, it’s not always so easy to tell what has to go in our lives.  We have a million choices of how to invest our time, energy, talents, and money, and all of them could be good.  We could lead hundreds of crusades against a world of evil.

But if we crowd out our lives with too much that is good, nothing will grow as it should.

Jesus Himself exhibited the kind of focus we need, to hone in on our purpose and refuse to be distracted by every demand and need.

During His ministry, mobs of people sought out Jesus for healing, and He frequently healed those who sought out His help.

But He didn’t heal everyone.

In fact, when the crowds grew too large and people sought Him out for healing alone, He moved onto another town or escaped the masses to pray alone on a mountain or by the sea.

Healing was fine.  Miracles were part of His ministry.  But it was not His main purpose for coming and He never wanted that to be the focus of His presence.  Instead, He had come to “seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10) and “to save the world” (John 3:17).

Maybe it’s time for you to pull out some of the extra radishes from your pot.  The first ones to go are easy—yank out the sprouts of sin, the unholy habits and the remnants of the flesh life.

Then prayerfully ask God to help you focus.  What seedlings should you tend and invest in until you harvest their potential?  What seedlings need to be set aside so that other areas of your life can grow?

 

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

“Always Expect the Unexpected,” Christmas and December

Originally posted on December 14, 2011

My schedule is a delicate balance.

There’s a shopping day.  A scrub the bathrooms and the floors day.  Laundry days (one doesn’t cut it!).  Make bread day.  Ballet day.  Volunteer day.  Eat lunch with the kids at school day. Writing day.  Bible Study prep day.  Prayer meeting day.  Homework day and library day.

It’s an intricate design that took effort and some trial and error to develop, but by October it all settled into a perfect rhythm.

Then December arrived and stomped all over my perfectly balanced schedule like a giant through a flower bed.

Suddenly, my calendar has arrows swapping events in my week, items written in ink now crossed out and rewritten on different days and at different times.20931038_s

Oh yeah, can you fit in a class party?  And a holiday concert?  Could you make gifts for teachers and stop by the Christmas get-together?  Mom, what are we doing for my birthday?  Can we have an extra cantata practice?

Onto the calendar it goes.  I’ve begun color-coding the items. Red is for the really super important things that I absolutely cannot forget, but am certain I’m going to miss.  I add dark circles around those also.  And some stars and exclamation marks.  You can’t go wrong with stars.

Now my calendar has become illegible.  So, I switch to the daily agenda plus master to-do list that spans the next two weeks.

Add in the meal plan for family dinners up through Christmas and the shopping list that I had to restart the day after I just went to the grocery store and the planning is complete.

How euphoric it would be to keep the schedule in balance at all times!  For the expected activities to happen on the assigned days.

No doing laundry on shopping day.  No extra trip to the store when it is supposed to be writing day.  No third trip to the school on a day I’ve scheduled for cleaning house.

It would all be so expected.  So perfectly planned.  So in control.

That’s the problem, though, isn’t it?  I have a certain capacity for juggling and as long as I’m tossing around the same few balls, I’m a fairly competent performer.

But when God tosses an unexpected ball into my rhythm and routine, I’m liable to drop them all on the ground.

To a certain extent, I need to practice the “no” and guard the schedule.  Keep it simple.  Don’t try to do too much.  Don’t over-commit.

At other times, though, the schedule just is what it is.  The lesson isn’t about eliminating activity.  It’s about allowing God to shuffle our expectations and disrupt our plans so that we remember how much we need Him.

It’s His reminder that we can’t always package up our days with decorated wrapping paper and a shiny bow, oh so neat and perfect.  Life is messy at times.  Chaotic in some moments.  Fairly unexpected so many days.

The one constant is Him and even He has a way of surprising us. I think somehow it’s appropriate that December is the month when my calendar is left in tatters and all my perfect plans are shattered.  It’s a reminder that God has a way of shaking us up, mystifying us, and going far beyond our imagination.

Like the fact that the Savior of us all, the long-awaited Messiah, entered this world as a baby.

In Nativity scenes, we usually see the pristine image of well-groomed stable animals, fresh hay, perfect baby wrapped in bright white cloth.  Mary is already back to her pre-pregnancy weight and looking like she didn’t just labor and give birth.

But God chose to come to this earth the messy way.  It was childbirth.  It was pain.  It was blood.  It wasn’t even in the sterile white setting of a hospital, but all smelly and oppressive like the barn it was.

A newborn, a little Child came to save the world.

The Light of the World entered in darkness, while nocturnal shepherds were keeping the night-watch over their sheep.

The King of kings arrived in a stable.

The Eternal God, the Word who in the beginning was “with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning”—lay in a manger with baby dimples and the red skin of a newborn (John 1:1).

Have you settled into a routine and rut with God?  Have you figured Him all out?  Have you gotten comfortable with what you can do and with what you believe He can do?  Have you scheduled Him and assigned Him portions of your life?

Don’t be too sure!

Just when we figure everything out and fit everything in, God often will interrupt and amaze, befudddle and change your direction.

As Paul writes: “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.  Glory to God in the church! Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus! Glory down all the generations! Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes” (Ephesians 3:20-21, MSG)

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Thanksgiving Devotions: Secret Messages, Whispered Thanks

I wanted to write.
She wanted to paint together.
I sat down to answer emails.
She wanted to do puzzles together.
I vacuumed and washed and folded.
She dragged the Play-Doh bucket from the playroom so we could make pizza Play-Doh…together.

Writing projects, church projects, house projects, studying, filling out forms, answering emails, drafting letters, returning phone calls…I had my agenda.

And she had hers, as she handed me a game she couldn’t play on her own and asked for help.  Maybe we could do it together?

Somehow I managed to perform periodic cleaning sweeps through the house in between requests for “together” this or that.  We ate lunch at the school with her older sisters together (of course) and took a trip to the library after school with everyone.

Bedtime arrived and I kissed them all sweetly and patted their heads, read the book(s), prayed the prayer and tucked them into beds.  Then I flopped down into the chair, glad that somehow the house had ended the day clean-ish so I could work on other projects now in my “free time.”

One brief moment of peace passed before I heard the sounds of fighting, ending in screams and tears.

Following that, the post-fight therapy with daughters began, about whether they are loved as much as their sisters, and how come she gets away with this and didn’t I hear the mean things she said?1corinthians1-4

That’s when my tears began.  Because even the time that’s supposed to be free really isn’t when you’re a mom.  Sometimes the whole idea of achieving balance seems like dreaming the impossible dream.  When you’re truly responsible for other people, little people whom you love completely and utterly, you’ll be emptied out over and over again.  Where’s the balance in that?

The truth is life isn’t about balance at all.  It’s about putting people first.

I can’t say that I’m ending this day feeling very accomplished or on top of things, but then usually the most important things in life can’t be crossed off a to-do list.

Yet, as we sat there having lunch at the school, my three-year-old climbed up in my lap and curled up tight.  Her breathing slowed and drew in deeper and deeper until her head flopped forward into the crook of my arm.

I scooped her up, carried her to the car and then into the house after the drive.  If it’s possible for a tiny girl to coo, she did when I settled onto the sofa with her in my arms.

Then I whispered into her ear what I’ve said to my children hundreds of times since their birth: “I love you and I’m so thankful to God that He let me be Your mom.  You are God’s great gift to me.”

Sometimes I’m telling that to wiggly daughters who have zoomed by me in their dash from the kitchen to the bedroom.  I’ve reached out my hand, pulled them close and told them the secret message again and again.

Other times, I’m whispering it to sobbing girls, upset, angry, hurt or feeling unloved.

“I’m thankful to God for you.”

We all have people who need to hear those words from us: Teachers, friends, moms, sisters, dads, children, mentors, caregivers, coworkers, husbands….

Paul teaches us this in his letters to the churches.  He writes with encouragement and challenges, correction, doctrine, and personal testimony, but also with thanks for the very people reading these words.

To the Corinthians he wrote: “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:4).

To the church at Thessalonica, he said: “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess 1:2-3).

So often, we skim through the beginning and end of Paul’s letters, rushing through the personal notes so we can dig into meaty questions of doctrine and theology.

But people mattered to Paul. That’s clear when you actually read his thoughtful recounting of the service, ministry, teaching, faithfulness, and generosity of individual people and the church as a whole.

Even when he was tired out from ministry and abandoning his own plans or agenda in order to jot off a letter to a beloved church in need, Paul always took the time to say, “I thank God for you.”

During this week of Thanksgiving, don’t just post a Facebook status thanking God for your husband and kids.  Don’t be satisfied with saying just one word of gratitude before you pass the turkey and mashed potatoes.

Tell others how thankful you are for them here and now.  That’s more important than anything else on your agenda for the day.

Who needs to hear you say, “I’m thankful for you” today?

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Weekend Rerun: Marthas Anonymous

Originally posted on October 26, 2011

Fourteen years in women’s small groups and I’ve never once heard someone confess to being a Mary rather than a Martha.

We sit around the table at what might as well be Marthas Anonymous and confess, “Hi, I’m Heather, and I’ve been a Martha now for as long as I can remember.  I’m always busy, can’t seem to sit still and don’t enjoy resting.  I don’t watch TV without something to do at the same time and feel best when following a to-do list.”

I’ve heard the same confessions for years.  What I’ve never heard is, “Hi, I’m Jane and I’m a Mary.  I have no trouble at all dropping whatever I’m doing just to hang out with Jesus.  I’m totally fine if others are working in the kitchen while I sit at His feet.  Priorities for me are never a problem–Christ always comes first.”

That’d be the day!

And while we confess to being Marthas as if we recognize it’s a problem, at the same time, there’s a little bit of pride there.  Pride at being productive and busy.  Pride at being the one to take care of others.  Pride at the fact that people can depend on us to get things done and that we’re necessary to others.

That’s what the busy life does for us—feeds our self-esteem and reminds us that we’re important.

Yet, while we always pick on Martha as she grumbled to Jesus that her sister, Mary, wasn’t helping enough in the kitchen, it’s not Martha’s activity that was the problem. Someone did in fact need to feed Jesus and the disciples lunch and some Ramen noodles or boxed macaroni and cheese wouldn’t really cut it when feeding a crowd of at least 13 traveling evangelists.

Busyness in the kitchen wasn’t necessarily Martha’s issue and it isn’t always ours either.  It’s fine to dream wistfully of hour-long quiet times, but reality doesn’t always allow for that.

Someone has to do your job.  Someone has to mop your floors, do the dishes, make the phone calls, cook the dinner, fold the laundry, play with the kids, read the bedtime stories, and direct the homework.

No, the problem isn’t always a matter of what we’re doing.  It’s a matter of the heart.

For Martha, the first stumble came when she complained about someone else’s lack of activity.

Oh, how often we take it upon ourselves to judge the choices of another, making us angry accusers and our target the burdened recipient of our disapproval.

Imagine if Mary had hopped up at Martha’s griping and headed begrudgingly into the kitchen.  She wouldn’t be serving dinner because God had instructed her to do so.  She would have been serving out of arm-twisted obligation rather than answering a divine call.

There’s no blessing, no peace, and no rest when we serve outside of God’s will.

Jesus asked, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30, MSG).

When we walk in step with Christ, trodding only where He is leading, we can feel the true rest of dependence on Him and the freedom from performance and accomplishment.

Martha’s next problem was thinking that it was all or nothing.  You either work in the kitchen or you listen to Jesus.  You can’t do both.

Surely, though, she could have been listening to Jesus while she stirred the soup at the stove.  We also can bring Jesus into the moments of our day.  Pausing for five minutes to breathe deeply and utter a prayer of need.  Singing praise to Him while we drive and meditating on Scripture as we wash dishes.

In the same way, even when we don’t have time for Jesus, we make time.  No one is too busy for God.  We choose to make His presence our priority, even if it means shutting off the TV, not answering the phone, taking a “Mommy time-out” for 15 minutes, reading the Bible during our lunch break, or delegating tasks to others.

Life crowds out time with God.  It always does.  We must be vigilant to demand those moments with Jesus. They will not happen by accident.

In Stumbling Into Grace, Lisa Harper wrote, “He teaches us . .  to slow down and recuperate after giving our all for the sake of the gospel.  To find a balance between going out and doing and being still and knowing” (p. 119).

Are you a tired Martha? Accept the rest that Christ offers you in His presence.  Return there as often as possible, taking a minute when you need it and an hour when you can. Don’t expect to be energized for eternity.  He gives you enough for today, for just this moment, and we bring that renewal back into all of our activity.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

A Message for Monday

My resolution for today:

To breathe in and breathe out, deep taking in of peace and pushing out of contentment.  No catching my breath in anxiety, hyperventilating stress, and rushing to the point of breathless exhaustion.

Just breathe.  Move through the day without giving into the push, push, push of “faster, more, do, accomplish, check off the list, get it done.”  Walk as I vacuum, walk as I put away the clothes.  Make that phone call without simultaneously folding underwear and t-shirts.

And spend time with Jesus for relationship not for task-completion.

The temptation is there, of course.  It’s the curse of Monday.  All of the spillover from last week, the messages to read through and answer after taking a Sabbath from all of that “connection” over the weekend, and the new tasks ahead clamor at me for attention.

What was that email I needed to send?
Wasn’t there someone I needed to call?
What did my kids need for school today?
Was I behind on my reading, my commitments?
Didn’t I need to print this for the week and pack that for tonight and fill out that form and mail back that letter?

It’s a million tiny things nipping at the heels of my Jesus-focused life, yipping and yapping until I turn my attention from Him.matt11

And then when I do sit down to rest at His feet, dear Father, oh my Father, I am so thankful to be in Your presence ….

Still I fail.  Still I pop up every few minutes for the ding of the laundry and the starting of the meal in the Crock-Pot (must give it 6 to 8 hours to cook!), and the reminder of something else needing to be done.

My time with Him becomes stilted, becomes stale, becomes necessary without being the fresh oxygen in my soul I need for very survival and beyond that, the abundant life He promises.  Necessary only because it’s an assignment, like homework for school.

It’s more like: Read the assigned Bible reading.  Check.  Read the passage in the study for this week’s group discussion.  Check.  Complete the other Bible study . . . while interrupted and racing against the clock:

Must…..finish…..so…..I…..can….check….this….off…..my…..list….and……do…..other…..things.

I wonder if He’d prefer if I just skipped it all rather than flop down at this kitchen table half-hearted and thinking about 50 things clearly more important than He is to me in that moment.

This isn’t relationship.  This is business.


In his book, Prayer, Richard J. Foster wrote:

“Today the heart of God is an open wound of love.  He aches over our distance and preoccupation.  He mourns that we do not draw near to him.  He grieves that we have forgotten him.  He weeps over our obsession with muchness and manyness.  He longs for our presence…

We do not need to be shy.  He invites us into the living room of his heart, where we can put on old slippers and share freely.  he invites us into the kitchen of his friendship, where chatter and batter mix in good fun.  He invites us into the dining room of his strength, where we can feast to our heart’s delight….” (p. 1)

Maybe that’s my problem.  I’ve been barely acknowledging His presence at times at my kitchen table.  Perhaps I should take up His invitation to hang out in His kitchen.  To eat in His presence and share in good company and the intimacy of friendship, not on my terms, but at His offering.

In a similar way, Joni Eareckson Tada writes:

 “God always uses such intimate language when He relates to us.  He paints warm images of sheltering us under His wings, holding us in the palm of His hand, or drawing us close to His breast.  He’s so personal with us, why shouldn’t we be with Him?” (Diamonds in the Dust, p. 288).

At the Last Supper, the apostle John leaned against Jesus, drew in close and rested against the Savior, even while realizing that Jesus was about to be betrayed (John 13:25).

Why be more like Peter, who in shame and frustration, perhaps even anger at the destruction of his plans and agenda, certainly in fear…”followed him (Jesus) at a distance” (Matthew 26:58) after Christ’s arrest.

Sure, I’m always following, I’m a faithful kind of girl, trailing after God always.  But sometimes I’m just stepping into the imprint of His footsteps rather than walking by His side, following out of obedience only, mostly out of distracted busyness and duty.

Today I resolve to breathe in and breathe out, to linger here at the table with Jesus and lean into His presence.  No rushing up from the meal to pursue my own agenda.  No skimming through the page of Scripture to get to the end of the assigned reading.

Leaning into Jesus.  Breathing in and breathing out.  Then walking side by side with Him into my day, not tripping along behind: holding His hand and chatting along the journey.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, was released in November 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King