Susannah Baker

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The God Who Changes Everything

On December 12, 2017, Posted by , in Encouragement, With No Comments

A few weeks ago, I sat with a dear friend who is walking through a deep and dark night of the soul.  I listened and we cried and prayed together for a long time.

We prayed God would meet her in her need; we prayed God would meet the needs of her family and friends around her; and we prayed God would be the lifter of her head and show her the way for every step she is to take in the days and weeks ahead.  And when we were done, and she was gone, I felt a definite and certain sense of peace, but I also felt a twinge of conviction and regret.

I was convicted because I realized that while I had prayed for many, many things for my friend, all good things, I had never once asked God in faith to heal the sickness in her body and soul irrevocably, once and for all.  I had asked God to help her through her sickness; I asked God to help her in her sickness, but I never asked for full and complete healing right there, in that moment, as we prayed together.

And I was convicted because I believe in a God who heals.  Dramatically.  Instantaneously.  Miraculously.  But I think, deep down, I don’t believe He heals like that when it’s just me who is praying.

I saw my mom later that day and shared my heart with her about my time with my friend.  I shared my conviction and regret about not asking the Lord for full and complete healing for my friend and about my hesitancy to ask God for such a big thing like that because deep down I believed He didn’t answer requests like that from people like me.  He answers them for other people, more radical people, stronger people, more godly people, but not little old normal people like me.

And she just looked at me out of a heart full of wisdom, out of a heart who has prayed and fasted and believed and stood strong more than any other person I know, out of a heart whose prayers for people through the years has availeth much, said, “But Susannah, God has answered your prayers for healing for people.”

And one by one, she listed the situations over the years she knows I have struggled and wrestled and prayed through, the situations and people’s lives she knows I have begged and pleaded and asked God for healing for again…and again…and again…and she said, “I know that maybe God hasn’t healed the way you wanted Him to, and maybe you haven’t seen the miraculous, instantaneous results like you asked Him for, but God has chosen to heal, step-by-step, season-by-season, one day at a time.”

And as she talked, she reminded me that most of the time, that is how we see God choose to heal the hearts around us.  Most of the time, He usually doesn’t heal in a flash or in an instant, although He certainly can.  And when God does choose to heal that way, it is awesome and incredible and exciting and faith-building.

Bu most of the time, it’s step-by-step, moment-by-moment, situation-by-situation, season-by-season, one day at a time.  And He does it that way to keep our hearts completely dependent on Him.  She reminded me of how, in her own life, the circumstances that have been the hardest have been the most successful at keeping her completely dependent upon and close to God.

She reminded me that “God knows when to heal in an instant, and He knows when to heal slowly, over time, in the journey, so that our hearts become changed as we fall more deeply in love with Him.  But God always heals in response to our prayers; it just looks different sometimes than we think it will or want it to.”

And her words changed everything.  They reminded me that it’s not always a result of a lack of faith that God hasn’t healed in an instant every time I have prayed, but it’s a result of His sovereign, steady, unchanging will that knows what healing needs to look like in each and every person’s heart.

And thankfully, it’s not up to me to decide that.  It’s up to Him.

A few days ago, I was listening to a song called “Rest in You” by the band Sons and Daughters.  The whole song is beautiful, but there is one line that absolutely stopped me in my tracks and has been running through my head every since: “You cannot change, but You change everything.”

God cannot change, but He changes everything.  This has become the anthem of my head and heart.  We worship and serve a God who cannot change, who has not changed since before the beginning when He created heaven and earth.  He is a healer, has always been a healer, and always will be a healer for those who come to Him to ask for healing.  He is good, has always been good, and always will be good, and work all things for our good, no matter what seasons in our life ebb and flow.

And while He does not change in His character or goodness or ability to heal, He changes everything.  He just does.  Because that’s who He is.  He changes sorrow to joy; He changes sickness to health; He changes death to life; He changes dirty to clean; He changes hopelessness to hope; He changes anxiety to peace; He changes pointlessness to purpose; and one day, He will change all those who love and long for the Lord Jesus in an instant, to redemptive glory through His unchanging love and grace.

Sometimes He changes things in a moment, but most times, He changes things step-by-step, choice-by-choice, day-by-day, season-by-season.  He changes us from the inside out, with hearts made new by His Word, and with wills infused with His courage and the companionship of His Holy Spirit.

If you, like me, have held back on asking God for full and complete healing for a certain friend or a certain circumstance, and if you, like me, have had a hard time believing that God will answer your prayers because of a lack of faith or a lack of greatness or a lack of knowing how to ask, be en-couraged.  Meaning, just like me with my mom, have courage poured into you.  To keep on praying.  To keep on asking.  To see that our God is a God who heals because it is who He is, and He is unchanging.

Like me, you just might need to shift your perspective on how He heals.  And remember anew that when you pray to a God who is unchanging in His desire and ability to heal, He changes everything.  One step at a time.

Creating a Masterpiece in the Empty Places

On December 5, 2017, Posted by , in Encouragement, With 2 Comments

‘Tis the season…’tis the season for Christmas shopping, getting your kids ready for Christmas recitals and Christmas programs, addressing Christmas cards, attending Christmas parties and events…and for going out of town.  For Jason and me anyway.  November is the month that holds both my birthday and our anniversary, so almost every year for the past sixteen years, we slip away either to a retreat in Houston or nearby San Antonio, and every few years, we actually hop on a plane.

This year we decided to hop on a plane and spend a long weekend in New York, only made possible by the amazingness of Mia, Nana, and Cara, my mom, Jason’s mom, and Jason’s sister.  We booked our trip back in the early part of September (I think it was a knee jerk reaction to recovering from Hurricane Harvey and wanting to get the heck of out town), only to realize our trip was the weekend of our daughter’s ballet performance in the Nutcracker and of her full hair and make up dress rehearsal for her musical theater performance.  Yikes.  Translate all-hands-on-deck-thank-you-Lord-for-family.

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Once everyone’s bags were packed and Lizzie’s two performance bags were ready (what in the world was I thinking saying “Yes!” to both performances when I signed her up for those in September?!?) and we were on the plane, I began to exhale.

I know this sounds crazy, but I love to go to New York with Jason because when I am there, I can exhale.  Because when we are there together, we walk and talk.  And eat.  We walk and talk.  And sip coffee.  We walk and talk.  And wander through museums.  We walk and talk.  And see shows and wander through shops and think and talk about things greater and bigger than ourselves, things we don’t have time or space to do when we are at home.

So yesterday, we walked and talked a full mile up the east side of Central Park bundled in our coats, breathing in cold air, savoring views of the reds and golds of the trees, and stepped into The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Once inside, we stood under Byzantine arches, beheld a faded but tender statue of Mary holding Jesus, and stood in front of the famous French Christmas creche.   But our favorite thing we saw was the exhibit, “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer.”  Containing 133 of his drawings, all done in red chalk on white paper, and three of his marble statues, the exhibit gave a unique glimpse into the creative process behind the creator.

We lingered long over drawings detailing arms, legs, the contortion and twisting of muscles in shoulders, backs, and even feet.  Many of the sketches were practice rounds for figures he painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or statues he carved for Pope Julius II’s’ tomb.  His sketches seemed to be living, fluid, full of movement, and I was almost prepared for them to leap to life off of the paper, even five hundred years after they were drawn.

I was struck by many things that spoke through his sketches, but two things seemed to speak the loudest.  One was how much he practiced.  Michelangelo is known for his masterpieces, but the majority of his time was spent preparing for his masterpieces – drawing after drawing, stroke after stroke, round after round of try and try again.

As someone who works to create as well, this was encouraging.  While my creative ability is nowhere near the celebrated genius (obviously), I understand a little bit of the strain and stress of the creative process.  My tendency is to think that artistic giants did not have to try; they just drew or carved or composed or wrote and in one fell swoop – boom! – masterpieces came out.

But more and more, I am seeing that is hardly if ever the case.  Even the best of the best have to spend many, many hours devoted to practice and cross outs and try agains before the finished product is ready or even ready to be attempted.

I needed that reminder as I attempt to start the first chapter of a book…for the fiftieth time.  I have draft after draft of failed beginnings, and page after page of books that will never be finished or studies that will never reach an end.

But the second thing that spoke loudly to me was a comment made by one of the commentators on the audio guide Jason and I were listening to.  She said, “If you look closely at Michelangelo’s drawings and sketches, his point is made as much by what he leaves out as by what he accents and fills in.”

Meaning this – as you stare at the cross hatching and swift, sure strokes that came from his chalk to create the anatomy of a leg, or a man’s biceps and broad shoulders, his anatomy comes to life not only by the strokes he choose to make on the paper but also by the areas he choose to leave blank.

And I was arrested by that comment.

Because in a season of life as a creator of the lives and schedules and rhythms and school routines of four young children, as a sometimes writer and blogger and teacher, as a friend, and daughter, and wife, as an advocate of ministries I love and people I want to help, the pictures I am drawing on a daily basis are made effective by what I choose to leave off of the paper as much as by what I choose to put on.

That was a relief to hear.  Because I can only put so much on the paper.  I only have time and room for so many marks.

And sometimes, my drawings speak the loudest by what I am leaving off of our schedules, off of our plates, off of our routines, by what I am putting on.

This time of year has the potential to be so special – there are opportunities to create family memories and family traditions and spend extra time together during the school break that the normal school year does not afford.

But there is only so much space or room allotted on the paper.  And while I want to draw some things this Christmas season, I cannot draw all things.  And the things I leave off have the potential to make the overall drawing more beautiful, not less.  The key is figuring out which spaces to leave blank.  Because when it comes right down to it, that is the difference between a master artist and a mediocre one…a master artist not only knows what strokes to put on the paper but knows what strokes to leave off.

So this week, the first week of Advent, the first week of the Christmas season, think long and hard about the strokes you will make to fill the paper of the next four weeks before Christmas.

Maybe it means some parties go unattended, certain gifts aren’t bought or wrapped, meals aren’t prepared perfectly, or homes aren’t picked up regularly.  But it does mean your space and my space is filled well, and to those who are watching closely and to whom it matters most, what they will see is…a masterpiece.

Seeds to Sow

On November 20, 2017, Posted by , in Encouragement, With 5 Comments

What’s the true litmus test of our faith, the indicator of what we are really like on the inside instead of what we pretend to be?

I found out in a hurry recently.

I walked up to an event recently, and someone I was not expecting to be there was there.  And I made something on my face that looked like a grimace.  A grimace that I was not expecting to make but that just came out.  A grimace that a good friend caught and just got quiet about.  A grimace that exposed what I really thought instead of what I tell others I think on a daily basis.

Ouch.

The friend who caught my grimace is more than just a friend – she is a mentor and someone who walks ahead of me in the faith.  So in one way it was good that she caught my look, and in another way, it was not so good.

It was not so good because it was embarrassing.  It was embarrassing to be caught doing something I never should have done.

But more than being bad, it was good.  It was good to caught in behavior that I should have never done.  Because then I could be held accountable to change.

My friend and I had a long talk the next morning.  We talked long about how hard it is to love this person, a person that has legitimately done wrong and created hurt – hurt feelings and a hurt heart.  We talked about how when I see this person, what automatically comes up in my heart is akin to bitter acid, acid that I can choose to act on, like I did with my grimace and refusal to engage with this person for the rest of the evening, or acid that I can choose to douse with the forgiveness and grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Forgiveness I am commanded to give and grace I am commanded to extend.  Not because Jesus is a sadistic master, commanding us to engage in activities that will hurt us, but because He is the kindest of masters, commanding us to engage in activities that will heal us, dissipate the bitterness, and unlock us from the prisons of pain and anger and justifying bad behavior we lock ourselves in sometimes for years, decades, or even whole seasons of our life.

My friend ended our conversation by praying over me, asking for God to do in me what I could never do in myself, and texted me this verse from Hosea the following morning (you know it’s a friend who loves Jesus and is ahead of you in the faith when she sends you a verse from Hosea):

“Sow for yourselves righteousness;
    reap steadfast love;
    break up your fallow ground,
for it is the time to seek the Lord,
    that He may come and rain righteousness upon you.”  Hosea 10:12

As I thought on that verse and how it applied to my specific situation, I began to see that I wake up each and every morning with two huge bags of seed slung around my waist: one bag contains seeds of righteousness – seeds of righteousness given to me from the Spirit of God with fruit inside like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.  And the other bag contains seeds of unrighteousness available to me through my flesh and demonic forces of evil with fruit inside like bitter jealousy, selfish ambition, outbursts of anger, disputes, factions, idolatry, coveting, immorality, greed, and arrogance.  And every day, all day, with every word I speak, with every action I perform, I reach into one of those two bags and sow a handful of seeds.

And most of the time, I find I am sowing seeds unaware.  Unaware of what bag I am reaching into, unaware of what kind of seed is leaving my lips or my hands, until someone like my friend…or my husband…or my child…catches me in the act.  And the weeds that have grown because of my seed-sowing all of a sudden become evident, and people that I love the most in life walk away hurt.  Rebuffed.  Saddened.  Bruised.

The true litmus test out of which bag of seed we are sowing most consistently is not how we talk to and treat our friends and the people in our lives who like us the most.  The true litmus test is how we talk to, meet, greet, and welcome the people in our lives who like us the least.  The people who slight us.  The friends who hurt us.  The enemies who hate us.  It is when you see them, cross paths with her, sit down unexpectedly across a table with him, whoever he may be, that will tell you which bag of seed your hand and your heart automatically goes.  And it will tell you what kind of field you are going to one day reap.

So stop right now, and think.  Think about the last time you saw someone you like the least.  Into what bag of seed did your hand automatically go?  And is there anything you need to repent of?  Any field of weeds you need to pull up through letting the Word of God do its good and deadly work in you?  Any acidic bitterness of unforgiveness you need to repent of and release?

By doing so, you will begin, perhaps for the very first time in a long time, to reach into the bag of righteous seed hung around your waist and sow seeds that will yield a field of fruit, a garden of beauty, or an orchard of trees, instead of a field of useless weeds and cursed thorns.

You won’t always feel like reaching into the bag of seed of righteousness.  Trust me.  I seldom do.  But feelings have a tendency to follow faith, faith that when we fling seeds of hope, and grace, and love, despite hurt, or wounded pride, or despair, we will eventually reap…love.

Happy Thanksgiving this week!  And happy sowing!  Know how thankful I am for each of you who take the time to journey with me each week through all of my imperfections into the fields of God’s covering love and grace.

 

 

 

Cleaning Up the Mess Within

On November 13, 2017, Posted by , in Encouragement, With 3 Comments

Several weeks ago, I wrote about needing God to clean up the many messes I make (click here to read), and it seemed to strike a chord in many people from the responses I received through texts, emails, and even in passing.

It was refreshing, really, to know that I wasn’t alone and that other people struggle with making messes and needing God to clean them up as much as I do.

And it was telling.  It was telling to the degree that although so many of us live such pretty, spotless lives from the outside looking in, we all feel so messy from the inside looking out.

We live in pretty neighborhoods and drive down pretty streets on our way to work or school.  We shop from pretty grocery stores stocked full of pretty foods and sit down at pretty tables laden with pretty linens, pretty dishes, served to pretty people.  We buy and wear pretty clothes and have ample margin and leisure time to do pretty things or take pretty vacations with our friends or family.

And I’m not saying that any of this is right or wrong – I’m just making an observation about the circumstances and surroundings of many of our lives on a daily basis.

So here’s my question: why, then, if things around me are always so pretty on the outside, do I not feel more pretty on the inside?  Why, then, are there seasons that I wake up every morning keenly aware of the feelings of dread and disgrace from the full-blown messiness within that I know no amount of performance, perfection, or repentance can remedy?  A messiness that comes from my responses, reactions, and attempts at managing and hustling through the events of my day, trying to keep them looking “pretty,” while feeling frayed, frazzled, and failing from the inside out?

I think it’s because no matter how hard we try to look “pretty” on the outside, we are keenly aware of the broken, tired, spent, messes we are on the inside, no matter how controlled our outside circumstances might be.   Especially this time of year.  The time of year that represents the holiday time of year.  The time of year when “pretty” is supposed to edge out “messiness” on a perpetual basis and define every gift that you give, every event that you attend, every piece of clothing that you wear, and every card that you send.

About a week ago, on a day that I woke up with a heavy sense of dread and an awareness of my inability to maintain prettiness throughout the day ahead with all that was on my plate, I opened up my Bible to Psalm 119 and read this: “Take away the disgrace I dread, for Your laws are good.  How I long for Your precepts!  In Your righteousness, preserve my life” (Psalm 119:39-40).  

And then I read this in the devotional book by Tim Keller entitled The Songs of Jesus: “Christians know that the old self struggles constantly with a sense of the disgrace it dreads (v. 39), a feeling we aren’t good enough.  That is a true intuition!  But your moral efforts won’t address it.  Only in Christ is the disgrace removed and a whole new identity given (Romans 8:1; Hebrews 10:22).  Every day is a battle – will you operate out of your old self or your new self?” (Timothy Keller, The Songs of Jesus, November 5th).

I cannot describe to you the relief I felt when I read both the psalmist’s admission and Keller’s words.  It was a feeling of, “What?!  You too?!  You too struggle constantly with a sense of dread over the disgrace and failure you know you are on the inside?  You mean, this is a human problem, and not a Susannah Baker problem?”

It was a feeling of knowing and deeply realizing I was not alone.  My condition was not abnormal.  And rather than pushing me into isolation, my sense of dread could push me into community, a community who is longing, just as I am, for dread to be erased and messiness to be cleaned up, no matter how frayed and fragile we feel.

I spent time peering further into the verses, looking for the remedy and the antidote to my disgrace, the medicine to heal my dread.  And this is what I found: the Hebrew word for “laws” in verse 39 is mishpat, a word that actually means “justice” or “verdict.”  So the literal reading of verse 39 is this: “Take away the disgrace I dread, for Your verdict is good.”

The medicinal power God’s Word applied to my heart that morning, and many mornings since then, is that no matter what I feel, no matter the disgrace I dread, God’s verdict over me is good.  

Because according to my track record, I deserve disgrace.  According to my long list of failures as a wife who is irritable, sharp-toned, and demanding, as a mom who never has enough patience, or empathy, and has to apologize daily for letting exacting perfection get in the way of presence and peace, as a daughter and sister who still slips into patterns of self-pity and wounded withdrawal, patterns of self-protection left over from junior high days, and as a friend who struggles with remaining present to everyday needs and concerns instead of numbing and proving myself through work, I deserve to feel dread.  Dread of the verdict over me that has every right to be – FAILURE.  Broken.  Sinful.  Not enough.

But, according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I get grace.

Grace.

The verdict over me is grace.  And because of that grace, I get healing for my wounds of fear and self-protection.  Balm for my irritability and ungratefulness.  Patience for my impatience.  Second chances for my repeated stumblings.  And restorative thankfulness and significance as the adopted daughter of God instead of the disgrace I dread.

How do I know this?  It’s all wrapped up in the verdict of God found in the Word of God, a Word I have access to on a moment-by-moment basis.  It is His Word that heals me and cleans up my messes on a morning-by-morning basis.  It is His Word that lifts my face out of the failures I have made, out of the frayedness I feel, and reminds me it is God who gets to have the last say in making me whole, not my messes.

I can choose to listen to the dread.  A dread I deserve and a disgrace that every human being shares right along with me.  Or I can choose to listen to the Word of God that proclaims, every day, my healing, covers all of my wounds, and fixes all of my failures, making me and those around me better than new.

So the real question is not, “Why do I feel disgrace?  So ugly on the inside when everything is pretty on the outside?”  The real question is, “To what verdict am I going to listen?  To which voice am I going to respond?  The voice of dread?  The feelings of inherent shame?  Or the redefining, grace-giving, mercy delivering, failure-covering voice of God?”

So if you see me this week, at the pretty grocery store, or on a pretty street, or in conversation at a pretty table, let us remind one another: “No matter the mess you and I feel within, God’s verdict over us is grace, our mess ups are covered, and His Word testifies to His faithful, covenantal love no matter what we have done.  Be at rest, O my soul.”

When You Need God to Clean Up Your Mess

On October 24, 2017, Posted by , in Encouragement, With 3 Comments

Last week, my friend, Christine Scott, leaned over to me before Biblestudy began and said, “Hey – every time I pray for you, I keep hearing God say, ‘I got your messy.’  I don’t know if that means anything to you, but that’s what I keep hearing and praying.  God’s got your mess and messiness in life, whatever that may be.”

“Who, moi?!” was my first internal response.  Thanks, but no messes to clean up here at the moment.  Doing pretty well for the first time in weeks, to be honest.  I GOT THIS.

Beware of EVER thinking that.  Because it wasn’t just a few hours later that the mess hit the fan.

Mess created from running too fast, going too hard, thinking, “I got this,” while inconsiderately leaving other people in the dust.

The first day after my “messy” was exposed, I was too embarrassed to even talk about it to God.  I was hiding underneath the labels of “Terrible Parent,” “Terrible Friend,” “Terrible Everything” that I had stuck on myself and assumed God agreed with.

But after a few days of hiding underneath the mess and avoiding intimacy with God, I decided to invite Him into the mess.  And instead of a lecture or a talking-to about my overall failures as a human being, what I found was…grace.  God not only had my mess, He was down on all-fours cleaning up the mess on my behalf.

I love FB Meyer’s quote from Love to the Uttermost that says, “Again, He stoops from the throne, and girds Himself with a towel, and in all lowliness, endeavors to remove from thee and me the stain which His love dare not pass over.  He never loses the print of the nail; He never forgets Calvary and the blood; He never spends one hour without stopping to do the most menial work of cleansing filthy souls.  And it is because of this humility He sits on the Throne and wields the scepter over hearts and world.”

I don’t know what your mess looks like today.  It might be a stack of dishes in the sink that have overflowed onto the counter.  Or it might be a house full of kids who need you to deal with their messes of every second of the day.  It might be a marriage that looks more like a train wreck than the picture of peaceful bliss.  Or it might be a ruined friendship or a ruined day or a ruined life that feels frayed around the edges or unraveling at the seams.

But whatever your mess is, not only does God got your mess, God’s got you.  That’s what real grace is for.  It’s for real sinner, not respectable sinners.  It’s for real messes, not just overflowing piles.  So hear God say over you today, “I got this.  I got you.  I got your messy.  That’s what Calvary was for.  And that’s what grace is for.  For each and every mess.  For each and every day.  For each and every life.”

David says it best when in Psalm 32 he writes, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long…I acknowledged by sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord; and You forgave the guilt of my sin.  Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found.  Surely in a flood of great waters they shall not reach him.  You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance” (Psalm 32:3, 5-6).  

Confess your mess, receive God’s grace, and hear His songs of deliverance.  Because of Jesus, He’s already got your mess covered, every single time.

True Treasure

On September 18, 2017, Posted by , in Encouragement, Hurricane Harvey, With 10 Comments

By outside measures, Brooke and Randy Keeney look like deceptively ordinary people.

They have four kids and live in a quiet neighborhood on the West side of Houston. Randy works for an oil and natural gas company and Brooke is a stay-at-home mom who homeschools her kids on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

But when the flood waters rose and their home went under, Brooke and Randy Keeney showed just how extraordinary they really are.  I can’t even write that sentence without crying.  Because if you look at the picture at the top of the blog, while standing in their water-logged living room, every square inch of their house soaking wet, Randy holds in his hands a picture of a verse that says, “And He shall be the stability of your times” (Isaiah 33:6) and Brooke holds a plaque that says, “Choose Joy.”

And for all the world and their submerged neighborhood to see, they have walked out that verse with quiet humility and patient trust in the Lord.

They walked it out as they waded onto their street with three kayaks and a paddle boat and for three straight days, salvaged all that they could from their home.

They walked it out as they consistently spoke kindly and respectfully to one another in the tenseness of ripping out flooring and sheet rock and deciding what possessions to keep and what to throw away.

They walked it out as neither one of them uttered a word of complaint or self-pity or despair in the two days I was with them in the moldy dampness of their home.

In fact, the words I heard them speak most often were, “Thank you.  Thank you for being here.  Thank you for helping us.”

That, my friends, is extraordinary.  Because let me tell you something: speaking kindly to your spouse when every single square inch of your floor, your carpet, and your sheet rock is being pulled out from the aftermath of a storm, speaking kindly to your spouse when every article of clothing, every damp book, every single piece of furniture, scrap of paper, photo book, and memory that represents your lives is in black trash bags all around you to either be taken to the curb, taken to the car, or floated over to a neighbor’s dry house for storage is not normal.  It requires supernatural intervention.

And the radical dependence that Randy and Brooke showed on that supernatural grace that was not born in the moments of a flood or water filling their house.  It was born in the months and days and moments preceding the flood, when quietly, persistently, consistently, they chose to make the fear of the Lord the stability of their days and the bedrock of their home.  So when the hurricane hit and the flood waters rose, although their floors crumbled, their faith did not simply because their foundation was securely attached to the only floor that cannot fail – the saving, faithful character of Jesus Christ.

The Saturday before the hurricane, Brooke and I met for lunch and ate chips, salsa, and fajita grilled chicken (the best kind of lunch) while catching up and sharing stories about our summer.  Brooke shared how disappointed she was at the beginning of the summer that their family was not going anywhere on a vacation.  They chose to stay home and brave the summer heat in Houston to focus on establishing rhythm and routine with their four children and in their own lives before the school year started.

Spending a whole summer in Houston is not an easy feat, out-of-state and out-of-country friends.  It requires lots of Sonic ice, air conditioning, and two showers a day to simply clean off all the sweat. And Houston heat means you are either inside or in a pool.  Outside on the concrete is simply not an option.  There is no telling your kids, “Go outside and play.  You are driving me crazy.”  They are either inside with you or outside in a pool in a bathing suit with you.  And inside with you can feel really cramped really quickly.

But Brooke used her summer to…are you ready for this…pray.  

She used her summer months to attach herself securely to God in the daily rhythm of prayer for herself, her husband, her children, her community, and her world.  Prayer was the essence of her summer. and she spent that Saturday lunch testifying to me how much prayer had not only changed her life but the entire climate of her home.  She was so thankful those months had been spent not in packing and unpacking and vacationing…but in praying…to prepare for the school year ahead.

Or a hurricane.

Little did Brooke (or anyone) know that the hours she had spent in prayer were laying up a treasure for her that could not be taken.  A treasure she would need to draw on and from in the coming months as her family was displaced and her world turned upside down.  She had day in and day out faithfully chosen “the one thing that was necessary…and could not be taken from her” (Luke 10:42).  And she chose well.

David Platt says this about prayer: “Prayer won’t just change your prayer life; prayer will change your life.”  And Brooke’s choice is living proof of that statement.  

We all have so many choices to make on a day in and day out basis.  And we all have so many things we could do with our resources and our time.  Good things.  But when it comes down to it, like Jesus told Martha in Luke 10:42, only one thing is really necessary.  And like Brooke, the time that you and I choose to spend at Jesus’ feet, connecting to Him through prayer, praise, repentance, supplication, and surrender, is the only time that will bear lasting, eternal fruit in our lives and in the lives of those around us, and prepare us for the seasons and storms ahead in ways that scratching things off of our to-do lists and responding to emails and taking vacations never can do.

Today, this week, this season, choose the one thing.  Put all your other things down; they can wait.  I promise.  And like Brooke, choose the one that cannot be taken from you, even when the flood waters rise.

Brooke and Randy Keeney are not perfect people.  But they are praying people.  Extraordinary people.   Because they have made their treasure God rather than their comfort, or the things in their house, or the things of this world.

The rest of the verse Randy is holding in the picture says this: “And He shall be the stability of your times, a wealth of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is his treasure” (Isaiah 33:6).

That pretty much sums up the lives of Randy and Brooke.  Underneath the water-logged pieces of wood in their home was not despair or grief or a torn foundation; underneath was a secure foundation of salvation, wisdom, knowledge, and the fear of the Lord.  And that, my friends, is the ultimate treasure.  It just took a hurricane and a summer of prayer to pull up the floorboards and see what really was beneath.

The Search for Joy

On August 21, 2017, Posted by , in Encouragement, With 4 Comments

Summer is a time to take journeys.  Some journeys involve heading to the beach, lake, mountains, neighborhood pool, or even your own backyard.  My journey involved searching for joy.

It’s a journey I’ve been on ever since I was a little girl, as young as five years old.  To help me overcome shyness and a walk down the aisle as a flower girl in a family friend’s wedding with a smile on my face instead of my usual, somber look, my grandmother gave me a framed verse that says, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).  And while I wanted to do what the words said and walk through life with a big smile on my face (which is what I thought the verse meant), sometimes smiling is easier said than done.  Especially when you are a non-smiler like me.  I tend to live in my head, tend to think and ponder and pull back rather than press in.  And the journey for joy has been rather elusive at times, no matter how hard I’ve tried to find it and wear its evidence on my face.

But a friend challenged me to joy this summer – challenged me to let it be the mark of my life and ministry rather than the worn-out facade I so often wear.  So I went on a journey looking for joy, this time looking harder than ever before.

And I didn’t find it in a smile or in the determination to be the talkative one at a dinner party or gathering of friends.  I found it, surprisingly, in suffering.

And what I mean is this – joy isn’t found by ignoring suffering or turning a blind eye to suffering.  Joy is found by acknowledging suffering – acknowledging the daily burdens we bear or the person who is hard to love, embracing the realities of the difficult circumstances or seasons we are in, and choosing to walk through the suffering with the nearness of God on one hand and the practice of gratitude on the other.  (See the excellent book Joyful Journey: Listening to Immanuel for helpful ways to do this.)

And that discovery was a hard one.  It took looking honestly at myself and my weaknesses and the well-meaning criticism from my friend while also being true to myself and the person God made me to be.

Because try as I might, I can’t make myself flip a switch and turn into the life of the party.  I can’t wave a wand and make myself not feel the seemingly small and insignificant nuances of relationships and circumstances around me.  I feel everything.  It’s how God made me.  But I can choose to feel and allow the nearness and therefore the goodness of God to overpower the feelings of shame, despair, fear, or anger that so often threaten to rise up and overwhelm my soul.  I can choose to press in to the faithful, covenantal, unchanging love of the Lord (Exodus 34:6-7) and allow it to help me press in to others rather than withdraw.

And in that journey through the suffering, rather than stuffing or ignoring the suffering, joy unfolds.

It’s like this – I have another friend who, when he was young, saw his dad become angry over something and punch a hole in his bedroom wall.  When his mom saw the hole, instead of dealing with her husband’s anger and addressing the issue or fixing the hole, she simply moved a picture on the wall on top of the hole to cover it up and wa-la – the problem was fixed.  But not the anger.  Or the hole it had left.  Either in the wall or in my friend’s heart.

And for a long time, I thought the journey for joy was like that – ignore the hole, ignore the anger and the shame, rage, despair, and fear that caused the hole, move a picture on top of it, put a smile on over it, and poof!  You have joy.  I thought for years that my inability to have joy came from my inability to ignore the hole.  But what God has been showing me is that joy actually comes through acknowledging the hole and paying the price to fix it.  The joy comes in the journey.

The last few days of our family journey to the mountains of Idaho this summer (and yes, Idaho has mountains and not just potatoes, much to most Texans’ surprise), Jason and I went on a four day, three night camp out.  It was my idea of a dream vacation – no showers, no makeup to put on, no hair to fix, hard uphill ascension on a trail with a pack on my back, and gorgeous views along the way.  I was talking to our wonderful guide, Sara, about what it is about me that makes a trip like this enjoyable – because, let’s face it, I’ve come to accept the fact that four days in the Idaho wilderness isn’t most women’s idea of a dream vacation. 

Sara said, “These trips aren’t for everyone.  They are for people who don’t mind some suffering and hardship along the way in the wilderness to see the views on the top.”

Her statement seemed to sum up my search for joy.  Joy isn’t in spite of suffering, nor is it in the absence of suffering.  Joy is for those who are willing to suffer and endure hardship along the way, embracing the challenges and treasuring the outcome and views along the way.  And you don’t have to like camping trips to experience what Sara said.  Your trip in the wilderness and your views of the top could very well be in your own living room with members of your very own family.  Or in your very own school.  Or workplace.

So don’t get stuck in the hole (which tends to be my problem) or move a picture on top of the hole to simply cover it up.  Press into the hole by pressing into the Only One who can fix it and whose nearness is always our good (Psalm 73:28).  And while sorrow may endure for the night, joy comes in the morning, and along the way, every single time.

Thank you for your patience with me the last few months while I took a break from blogging and focused instead on writing a new Bible study on prayer.  I had hoped to have it out to you at the beginning of the summer, but the editing process took longer than expected.  It will be ready (Lord willing) at the start of the new year and is a tool I am really excited to share.  But this fall, after a much needed rest this summer, I am back to blogging and very thankful for the joy in the journey through comes each of you.  Gratefully, Susannah

Learning to Listen

On April 3, 2017, Posted by , in Encouragement, Motherhood, With 7 Comments

Softball season is upon us.  Two of our girls are playing in a league this year, and, by happenstance, both girls’ teams are called Fury.  Same team name, same uniforms.  It makes for some pretty cute pictures.

Dinner seems to be pushed back later and later as the light lingers longer and Jason stays out in the yard giving bp to the girls or drilling them on grounders.  I have to say, with four girls, so many of the practical life lessons or duties fall upon me to do.  For the most part, girls just aren’t going to go their dads for lessons in fixing their hair, picking out clothes, recovering from hurt girl feelings, or taking them to the ladies’ room in a public setting (a new accomplishment for Mia Grace in our house this week).  So softball is one area where daddy is fully in charge in our house, and I am loving it.  It gives the girls good time to learn how to listen to their daddy’s voice.  “Stay low…eye on the ball…move towards the ball…swing hard…hands in front…use both hands…listen to your coaches.”

One of the many things that makes softball so much fun this year is that Lillian gets to play on the same team with her cousin, Katie.  This year is the first year that the kids begin to pitch instead of the coaches, and Katie is our team’s pitcher.  Bless her.  Most of the weight of the game rests on her ten-year-old ability to pitch, and for a laid-back soul like Katie, that pressure is something to which she is adjusting.

Katie is known in our extended family as “The Teletubby.”  If you don’t know what a Teletubby is, or need a memory jog, here is a reminder:

Katie typically lives in what we all affectionately call “Katie’s World,” and her answers to questions are usually monosyllabic sounds, not words.  Her favorite animal is the unicorn, and one of my favorite memories of Katie is when, for the first grade book fair, she came in full unicorn costume from head to toe.

So seeing her in this new role as a serious, focused, softball pitcher is something to which we are all adjusting.  My husband finally had to tell his sister, Katie’s mom, to zip her yapper and stop yelling instructions to Katie from the bleachers: “Keep your shoulders squared!”  “Get the ball out of the dirt!” “Keep your hand flat!”  “Focus!”  I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard after watching Cara watch Katie pitch.

Last weekend’s game started off well for Katie, but she wasn’t feeling great and was struggling with one of those deep-Houston-allergy-induced-chest-coughs that we all have around this time of year. By about the fourth inning, our lead was slowly being eaten away by Katie’s balls ending up in the dirt or way above the catcher’s head.

That’s when my brother-in-law, Katie’s dad, called a time out and walked out to the pitcher’s mound.  He stood there for a few minutes, toe-to-toe with Katie and spoke quietly in her ear.  Then he walked off, and the inning resumed.  And Katie struck out three batters right in a row, throwing all perfect pitches.

What was the change?  Was it a new vitamin or supplement he slipped her?  No.  Was it a change of uniform or new piece of equipment he had her put on?  No.  Was it any sort of disciplinary action he administered?  No again.  The change came from hearing her father’s voice and the wisdom that went along with it and obeying his instructions.

Her father’s voice steadied her nerves and reminded her of what she needed to do.  Her father’s voice was calm and comforting and provided much needed peace.  And her father’s voice was infused with wisdom.

My brother-in-law played in the Major Leagues for over fifteen years and knows the game of baseball as well as anyone.  He has watched pitchers struggle in the little leagues, the minor leagues, the major leagues, and even during the World Series.  He has encouraged teammates who are now in the hall of fame, and he now coaches high school and little league teams to encourage younger players.

As I sat there and watched, I realized I could learn a powerful lesson from Katie.  Life is full of stressful moments.  Every day I throw all sorts of pitches from the pitcher’s mound to my kids, my spouse, my friends, even acquaintances. A few are in the strike zone, but most are either hitting the dirt in a sharp word I’ve said or going way over the catcher’s head in moments of weariness and exhaustion.  Going through the exercises of daily life at the speed with which life happens around here with four young children in the last eight weeks before school is out leaves me little time to really stop and think about how to improve my game.  Most days, my feet hit the floor and I am throwing pitches as fast as I can just to keep everybody moving in the same direction, preferably sane, clothed, fed, and with as few tears as possible (a huge feat in a household with five women, six including the cat).

But like Katie, I not only have a good father, I have a wise father, who often calls time outs on my behalf from the dug out and ascends the pitcher’s mound.  And it is there, in those quiet places, that He counsels me, encourages me, advises and instructs me, if only I have the heart to listen.  My Father’s Voice steadies my frayed nerves when life is happening ninety to nothing.  My Father’s Voice corrects my stance and steadies my heart when my emotions are out of control.  My Father’s Voice cleanses me of my guilt and gives me second chances after my decisions hit the dirt or are so far out of the strike zone I think I should be pulled out of the game.

And like Katie, I have a decision to make.  I can let my Father’s Voice redirect the decisions I make in finishing out the game of the day, or I can try to keep playing in my own strength and skill set, with the balls hitting the dirt.

Today, like Katie, listen to your Father.  He is more skilled than the best baseball player that has ever played the game.  He is wiser than the most seasoned coach.  He is more magnificent than the greatest hall of famer…and it is your heart that He loves to coach, counsel, advise, and come alongside.  Day by day, moment by moment, hour by hour, you have access to the greatest Father a daughter could ever have.  So tune your ears to His Voice, follow the instructions He so wisely gives, and finish your game.

Yesterday, the girls had another softball game, and Katie held our team’s one run lead in the last inning.  She pitched like I had never seen her pitch before.  And when she struck out the last batter, and the game was won, guess where she ran?  Straight into her father’s arms.  Like Katie, do the same with your Father today; His arms and His Voice are waiting.

 

I wanted to let you all know that I will not be blogging as often during this season of spring, softball, and end of school. I am in the process of writing a new study for women that I am really excited to share with you all this summer. My goal is to have it ready to go by the beginning of June, so please be on the lookout for that & in the meantime, I would appreciate your prayers for the time and creative energy I will need in order to listen to the Lord and put on paper what He is speaking to my heart.  

Gratefully,

Susannah 

What I Learned From Unpacking Boxes

On March 13, 2017, Posted by , in Encouragement, With 4 Comments

So…we moved.

I kept thinking I would blog through the two week process of packing, unpacking, and eating meals on paper plates standing up in a part of the kitchen without boxes or packing paper in it…but I was wrong.

Moving kicked my tail.  I don’t think I’ve been that tired since we brought Mia Grace home from China.

But I learned a few lessons from unpacking boxes, and I thought it would be fun to share a few of them.

#1 – Friends are indispensable.  And I mean indispensable.

A few months ago when we finally nailed down our moving date and settled on the week of February 20th, AFTER, mind you, calls had been made to the moving company and all the details were in place and the contract signed, at that point, my mom called and said, “Sweetie, you know that’s the week I am going to visit my friend, Dottie, in Savannah.”  Well, now, isn’t that nice for you.  And just to pour vinegar in the wound, she then extended her stay with Dottie from staying one week to staying two.  Mom literally came back to Houston the day, I mean the day, I unpacked my last box.

I have to admit, I was a little panicky on the inside when she told me about Savannah: who would watch Mia Grace when the moving truck showed up at my house?  How would I pick up my girls from school?  Who would bring us homemade banana bread for breakfast, bright flowers for the new spot in the kitchen, and a pot of soup to eat for lunch and dinner?  Because, as much as I am throwing my mom under the bus here, you have to understand one thing: my mom is AMAZING.  If there is a need, she’s on it.  If I’m dying inside and about to lose it on the outside, mom steps in and gives me a break.  As my husband likes to say, “Susan is a gamer.”  Her answer is “Yes” before the question has time to hang in the air.  So, to be honest and fair, I was glad mom was in Savannah for the move.  She needed a break and has unpacked enough of her own moving boxes the past five years, so Savannah was the perfect place for her to be while my whole house was in the back of a truck.

But the answer to my inner panic ended up being: my friends.  My friends showed up with lattes in hand and box cutters in the other.  Corey and Jenny unpacked my kitchen while I was at our Mickey Way house getting the last of our things out.  Melissa showed up with caffeine right at the point I needed it and then brought us dinner the next day.  My sister-in-laws (who are some of my best friends – they are all amazing) brought us a full-on lunch spread, complete with a box of La Croix (thank you, Cara), let my girls come over and play on a perpetual basis and made us brownies in our oven to disguise the musty odor smell in our new house and put bright flowers in the new spot in my kitchen (thank you, Haley), took Mia Grace for the entire day we moved (God bless you, Robin), and took the girls to lunch and the park to play over the weekend so Jason and I could unpack the TEN BOXES OF STUFF FROM HIS CLOSET (thank you, Ana).

Jenny took Mia Grace for the day after we moved and fed her Chick-fil-a and let her swim naked in her pool so I could unpack the girls’ rooms and find their softball socks.

Kimberly brought us one of her delicious homemade dinners, and the morning the movers showed up, at the exact moment I realized I had forgotten to set aside breakfast food and we had NO-THING to eat that morning, Kristen texted me and said, “I was about to order some breakfast tacos and muffins.  Can I bring you some as well?”  Seriously?  And she also let me borrow her hat since my hair was going on day five of not being washed and was becoming an air pollution problem.  Lindsay brought me chocolate and carbohydrates at intervals throughout the move (because when you move, chocolate, carbohydrates, and caffeine become your three major food groups), and Tiffany, Kristen, and Corey all took my three big girls on our home school days and did every last drop of school work with them.

I.  Was.  Amazed.  Amazed.  God met each and every one of our needs before I knew I had them through my friends.  “This is My commandment,” Jesus said, “that you love one another, just as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14).  My friends lived out these words of Jesus for me up close and personal, and through them, I learned more of what being a friend really looks like on a practical, real, day in and day out basis.  I am someone prone to romanticizing life in general.  In my head, laying one’s life down for my friends looks like dying a martyr’s death and taking a bullet for them the next time we are all in a war zone together.  But practically and realistically, laying one’s life down looked like loving on my toddler or home-schooling my kids.  It looked like chicken tortilla soup on my stove and homemade brownies in my oven.  Bullets may or may not come one day, but opportunities to really and truly be a friend abound.  My friends taught me that.

#2 – Moving is a great time to clean out all your husband’s man piles.

What, you may ask, is a man pile?  Here is a picture of one, one that did not come from my husband’s side of the bathroom but from a friend’s husband’s side of the bathroom, simply to prove that man piles are universal and not only problematic in the Baker household:

A man pile is a pile of man stuff stashed in the cracks and crevices of a closet, under a bed, in a bedside drawer, lining the walls of a man’s study, or caking the sides of every cabinet underneath the bathroom sink.  Man piles are found in places and contain things you had no idea existed until a team of movers shows up at your house to clear everything out of the way and packs up ten boxes of man pile stuff from a bedroom closet meant to hold two boxes.  Stuff like bags of Christmas stocking gifts from five years ago, including fly swatters, false teeth, and ten pair of wool dress socks with the tags still attached.  Stuff like random toothpicks and knives and shoe polish kits and dental flossers and razors and hotel samples they get for free and feel the need to save for decades at a time.  Stuff like pens and pads of paper and crafts your kids have given them since their first day of preschool that they didn’t know what to do with and so stashed in man piles in their closets and bedside drawers.  Stuff like shoe horns and collar stays and cuff links mixed in with boxes of matches, cuticle creams, and empty shot gun shells.

I am overjoyed to tell you that for the moment, the Baker house is a man-pile-free-zone.  I got clear plastic bins and labeled everything Jason could possibly want to put in them – I even have one that says, “Belt Buckle Polish Rags.”  I am happy to report that we now have only three in our possession instead of thirty, and I am hopeful that with the clear plastic bin system, we can begin to cut down on our man piles, at least for a month or two.

#3 – IKEA makes a great place for a date night.

Once you clear out all your man piles and have a sense of what is needed to maintain order in your new space, when your husband calls you and says, “Let’s get a babysitter so we can go to dinner and talk face to face without boxes,” you say, “Sounds incredible, but after dinner, can we go to IKEA?”, it makes for an ideal post-moving date night.  Where else can you have great conversation with the man-pile-maker you love and then go purchase the ideal metal shelf for just $29.99, a shower curtain liner, and a gigantic pretzel all in one place?

#4 – Do not leave your toddler unattended in an empty house with a stool and running water they can reach while having a conversation with movers. While moving the stool to “wash their hands,” they will end up taking a full-on bath in the sink and have to remain in wet clothes for the duration of your two hour stay at the house.

#4 – God is not packed in a box. 

Let’s be honest here – moving is stressful.  There are so many details to remember and things to worry about.  And while I felt like I was trusting God on the outside, on the inside, whenever I had a quiet moment, my heart would race and my thoughts would turn at a rate of a mile a minute.  I had to purposefully tell my body as well as my inward thoughts to slow down and trust the Lord.

At times, it felt as if I had packed God in a box and would pull Him out again whenever I had a moment to slow down and pull Him out from all the paper.  It was tempting, even, to relegate Him to a box and to put communion with Him on hold until my earthly treasure was situated, organized, and ready to go.

And then I read this four days into our move: “If our greatest treasure – communion with the living God – is safe, of what can we be afraid?  Yet we are afraid of so many things.  So our fears can serve an important purpose – they show us where we have really located our heart’s treasure.  Follow the pathway of the fear back into your heart to discover the things you love more than God” (Timothy Keller, The Songs of Jesus, February 19th).

And I’ve been unpacking that paragraph ever since.

When my heart starts to race, and my thoughts start to churn at 3am, I try to trace my anxiety back to what I am treasuring more than God.  During the day, when I begin to be overcome by weariness or even a slight depression about all that still remains on my task list, and the perfection that is always an illusion but never quite in reach, I try to trace my fear back to its source…and realize how it pales in comparison to trusting my true treasure, the living God.

Moving has been an exercise in trust.  And God has proved faithful.  He has proved over and over again He is trustworthy.  And I have great news: communion with Him was not in a box stashed away somewhere where it took me days, weeks, or even months to find.  He was not accidentally thrown away in mounds of paper, and He was not jostled or broken or dropped in the back of a truck or damaged by human hands.  He was ever and always fully, immediately, and completely accessible – in all of His beauty and glory – at all times.  In every stressful second.  In every weary moment.  And I became aware, perhaps for the very first time, how much thanks I owed the Lord that He allowed me to have access to the greatest treasure I have ever known – communion with Him – through the person of Jesus Christ at every moment of every day.

Moving is not for the faint of heart; but it is a good exercise in strengthening our heart.  It helps us hold onto our greatest treasure in realizing how every other treasure pales in comparison to ceaseless communion with Christ.

#5 – And last, but not least, a house is not a house unless it has a few animal heads in it.

When Jason and I discussed what furniture to take to our temporary house and what to put into storage, all our conversation centered around the words minimal and survival.  We were taking only what was necessary to survive for a year and putting the rest into storage.  So you can imagine my surprise when I walked into the living room of our temporary house, and saw, on the floor, taking up almost the entire square footage of the breakfast room/living room/family room area, one mounted deer head, one antelope, and three mounted deer skulls complete with antlers.  I’m sorry, but how do five mounted animal heads fall into the category of minimalist, essential, or necessary for life and survival?  I am so thankful my friend Jenny was standing there with me when we opened the door and saw all of the antlers grazing on the floor.  My frustration quickly evaporated into hysterics, and we soon were laughing so hard we were wiping tears off of our cheeks thinking about where all of these animal heads were going to fit in our small, garage-less house.

So meet Andrew the Antelope.  He keeps watch over our living room/dining room/school room area:

And here is Ralph, who gazes serenely over the beds of Lillian, Lizzie, and Caroline, much to Lizzie’s consternation:

And here are Deer Skull #1 and Deer Skull #3, both over a chair in the room dubbed “the study”:

And Deer Skull #3 has made his home on our outdoor porch.  He is the only one who didn’t make the indoor cut (thank You, Lord):

As one friend, Rachel Hollister, so wisely said it: “I secretly love and despise moving all at the same time.  It seems overwhelming, but it is so worth the purging.”  While our move was hectic and tiring and overwhelming, it was also a template on which I saw the grace of God drawn out through the hands of my friends and the stability of God’s Presence and His Word readily available and never lost, discarded, or hiding in a box.  And while I don’t want to move again for a while, I am thankful for the lessons unpacking a few boxes taught me.  Prayerfully, they are helpful to you, too.

Don’t forget to connect with me on Facebook this week for more encouragement on unpacking boxes and the grace of God.

And as you get ready to make the final push from spring into summer, consider making Waiting on the Lord part of your journey and take the time to grow, journey, and walk with the Lord no matter what season of life you are in.

 

Cleaning Out and Moving On

On February 20, 2017, Posted by , in Encouragement, With 3 Comments

The moment I’ve dreaded for so long is finally here, and it actually feels…really good.  Packers show up at my house this morning at 8am, and it feels really good to have sorted through every square inch of my house and put it into one of four categories – temporary housing, storage, give away, or throw away.

For weeks now, I’ve worn a brown apron tied around my waits that has “Susannah’s Kitchen” monogrammed on the front.  This apron is great for the simple reason that it has…pockets.  In my pockets I keep three different colors of electrical tape and a black sharpie marker ready to label and categorize all things at all times.  The OCD in me loves every moment of this.

I had no idea my husband had ten different kinds of hair gel stashed in his bathroom drawers, nor did I know I had a collection of round brushes underneath my bathroom sink that went as far back as the 1980’s.  Gross.

I had no idea my six-year-old, Caroline, was a hoarder, and kept every deer antler, shot gun shell, and sea shell under God’s green earth behind the door in her closet, or that my eight-year-old, Lizzie, is a fiercer cleaner-outer than I am.  She took one look at the note her best friend wrote her and the at the sticker book she just stuck the last sticker on and said, “I don’t need those, mom.  Throw them away.”  Music to my ears.

But in all seriousness, cleaning out with those four categories in mind has helped me tremendously.  It’s a method I want to tuck away in my brain for future cleaning out sessions, even when we are not moving.

#1 – Temporary Housing – will we really need to use/have/own/play with this item in the temporary house we are moving into for the next 8-12 months?  (Because, as my wise and dear friend Kathy McDaniel told me many years ago, “Every house we ever live in, even the brand-new-beautiful-ones, are all temporary housing.  They are all tear-downs in the big scheme of things.”)  And if it isn’t, if I don’t have room or need for it NOW, in the present tense, give serious consideration to giving it or throwing it away.

#2 – Storage – simply put: do I actually want to pay someone to store this item for me for the next 12 months?  Is it really that valuable of an item to me?  If not, it’s time to give it away or throw it away.

#3 – Give Away.  So much in our homes is excess or extraneous.  Find a friend or family member who could use it, or have a good place on hand, like the Faith Center here in Houston, or the C.H.A.R.M. prison ministry half-way house, to take your still-in-good-condition, gently used items.

#4 – Throw Away.  No one wants my daughter’s stretched out leggings or third round hand-me-down Disney princess underwear.  It’s Time.  To Throw Them.  Away.

And living with less, not more, always frees me to focus and live more fully present to the people and in the places where God has me.

So since spring is just around the corner, or, if you live in Houston like me, and winter and spring have completely bypassed you this year and it’s already 86 degree-humid-summer-like-weather, go ahead and put a spring/summer cleaning on your calendar.  Don your deep-pocketed apron with colored tape and sharpies, and start to live more by having less.  There won’t be one ounce of you that regrets the less, even if it means you only have two deer antlers on your shelf instead of ten.  Just ask Caroline.