Tag Archives: quiet time

Vintage Christmas – Matters of the Heart – Part 1 – Capacity

This past weekend, I was privileged to speak at a women’s holiday event in Kingsport, Tennessee. 150 women gathered to bring in a vintage Christmas together. Photo Credit: ISBC Women’s Ministry, Facebook

The food was delicious, the company was old friend-comfortable, and the memories wrapped around us like a Tennessee quilt.

The Festival of Tables was amazing – designed by the women hostessing. Just a few of the table toppers shown below:

[Today’s blog and the next two – Part 2 and Part 3] are taken from the talk I gave that evening on “Vintage Christmas – Matters of the Heart”. The following are excerpts of the talk because some who couldn’t come wanted me to post. Though written for Christian women, there is much to apply to any of our lives.]

“Vintage” can mean something very different to each one of us, depending on our ages and life experiences.

Vintage…one day our grandchildren and great-grands will look way back to our Christmases and call them vintage. They will look back on us as the women of old in their lives – the grandmothers (and great-grandmothers) of their faith.

What do we see when we look back? What will they see when they look back?

When I look back to my growing up years, it’s my Mom and women like her who come to mind. Godly women – tirelessly serving their families, church and community and pointing us to Jesus.

In thinking about Vintage Christmases and matters of the heart, God has placed three character traits on my mind. Three qualities we probably saw in our Godly grandmothers and great-aunts.

Strong and steely traits that we can develop across a lifetime walking with God. These traits are all matters of the heart. We see them in the life and character of Jesus. As we wrestle with them in each season of our lives, we can hope to carry them forward to future generations.

The first is capacity defined as the maximum that something can contain or produce.

In every season of our lives, we have those moments or days of coming to the end of ourselves. We feel like we just can’t do one more thing. We are DONE. When I talk about capacity, it’s not about adding more stuff to lives that are over-packed or over-scheduled lives. God doesn’t call us to be Energizer Bunnies…until we burn out, or dry up, or give in to the busy.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Capacity isn’t just about getting a lot done. Nor is it, on the flip side, about shaking up those of us in seasons of life that have been downsized –  intentionally or unintentionally. Unless God is speaking into that…which He sure did with me.

Building capacity means to look to God to order our days and to watch for Him to show up in our schedules and “chance” encounters.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve come through both a cancer diagnosis and a couple of cardiac emergencies that could have taken my life. Having half a lung removed diminished my physical capacity for awhile. Then moving into retirement diminished my other capacities even further. I felt old. In our previous work circles and in our church, whatever purpose or identity I had before seemed to fade with time and age. It wasn’t pretty.

Maybe you have experienced this sort of thing, whatever your age is. A situation where you have passion or desire to be a part of something but the doors seem to all be closed. When it seemed there was no way forward, I just settled into a slowed-down, lesser life.

In the middle of all this, the Lord in His great kindness, pretty much asked me, out right, “Is that it? You’re done?” I sure didn’t want to be done. With age and what seemed to be dwindling opportunity, life had become small for me.

Or did I do it to myself? Was I looking to people for opportunities to serve…or to God?

Now those of you with heavy academic loads, small children or big responsibilities in your work may not even be able to imagine this…but think with me a minute. Is our capacity such that God could show up and do as He wills in us…or are we pretty much maxed-out or turned-in?

Does God have our hearts? Or is our capacity dulled because He is more a tenant in our hearts rather than the Lord?

Is there space in our hearts He would fill if we didn’t already have them packed with other stuff?

Now, we all have responsibilities in life. For some, papers have to be written, babies must be fed, and payrolls managed…fill in the blank in your thoughts of where you have to show up every day…

What happens when we show up with our eyes on Jesus and the possibility of what He might do in and through us?

That realization from the Lord that “if I wasn’t done, then what?” started a spiritual journey for me… Last December, as part of a New Year’s resolution, and in response to our pastor’s challenge, I determined to make God’s voice the first voice of my every day. I’m a morning person, so quiet times before dawn may come easier for me than for some. Still for God’s to be the first voice does require me NOT to pick up the cell phone, or sit down at my computer, or turn on the TV news. In my season of life, there are no children to feed or to get schooled, so you with children have different challenges of making God’s voice first.

Whatever our challenges, it doesn’t change our great need of hearing Him speak truth and love into our hearts. Early. Every day.

When God did get first voice, He began helping me to clear out the clutter in my heart which changed the contents of my conversations and my calendar…Bit by bit, God added space to my life. Space to hear Him speak and to “interrupt” the rhythms of my day.

The discovery that I seemingly had more time wasn’t magic…it was God.

The visual below is so perfect of Christ flooding our heart with His love and all the good things God has for us, and in turn our hearts are cleansed, cleared of all the junk that distances us from Him, and then the contents of our hearts pour into others. Jesus talked to the religious leaders of his day about this very thing: “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”Photo Credit: HolyTrinityPTC

Another way to look at this is related to what we hold in our lives as treasure. Jesus taught us that “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Photo Credit: Heather C. King

You can guide your heart with your treasure. Wherever you put your treasure or whomever you make your treasure, your heart will follow. Your treasure leads your heart.

This was so helpful for me because I had stored up quite a bit of self-absorbed treasure in recent years – my own significance being one part of that. Even wanting to be useful to God somehow had become an idol. That sort of thing just happens when we take our eyes off Him and onto ourselves. Right?

Days turned to weeks of God being the first voice each day in my life. I started doing life more in present tense with Him, listening for His voice through the day. Like a real conversation. Sometimes it would be a prayer; sometimes a complaint; just being in His presence. The barriers keeping life small seemed to start coming down. Such that, even when life was small, I was becoming more content. We keep our eyes on God, and He guides…sounds too simple, I know…but it has given the most mundane day or situation a sense of the divine.

The prophet Isaiah captures this so well when he says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it”. [Isaiah 30:21] Of course, we may not hear God speak audibly, but He will lead us just that clearly as we tune our hearts to His voice. We’ve all experienced that. To walk daily like this builds capacity…

Photo Credit: Francis of Assisi, Brainy Quote

We start by doing what’s necessary…this is sometimes where we stop…short.  If…we keep our hearts on the Lord, the necessary can open up to being a part of something only possible with God in it…and then…the impossible.

 If we are faithful to make a capacity for Jesus…He will fill that capacity with Himself.  “Make of yourself a capacity and I will make myself a torrent!” – Catherine of Siena

Photo Credit: Heartlight, Quotemeal

[Part 2 on Caring and Part 3 on Constancy]

Routines, Rituals, & Rhythms of Life – 10 Disciplines that Can Help Us Reclaim Our Life for Good

2015 March Blog on Routines  Spring flowers 007 - use this one (2)

When our children were small, we set routines in place that carried us for long years of relative sanity. We set routines for two reasons – 1) to give them a sense of order and loving boundaries, and 2) to provide a consistent infrastructure in our own lives as their parents. We all knew what the rules were, and what we, the Mills, were about as a family.

If we don’t set up routines in our lives, then our time and energy can be taken captive by the whim of others. By our own brain-in-neutral “me-time”. Or, in my case, just an inescapable drive to do too much, such that if I’m not careful, I accomplish little well. It’s lifelong learning here for me…

In talking about routines, it’s not those of snacking late and falling asleep every night in front of the t.v. Those happen with little effort on our part. It is setting routines in place that reflect God-inspired values…the kinds of routines that will take us right through our elder years; routines that our children will remember and may want for themselves…because those routines mattered; they were good and life-affirming…they are still – no matter the times and culture in which we find ourselves.

The 10 disciplines listed below speak to routines in the rhythm of life. There are rituals that can be set in place to help us be more successful in turning disciplines into a lifestyle. This list is not meant to be prescriptive as much as it is to be descriptive of what we want for our lives. We fail at them regularly, but we aim at these goals daily.

1) Quiet Time in the morning – A friend of ours grew up with a dad who had the philosophy: “Bible before breakfast”. Setting a routine of prayer, Bible reading, and journaling in place can transform our personal lives and our families (even where there are small ones – this is the most challenging time to set this routine; if it’s before the babies come, it’s easier to maintain). It requires getting up early and going to bed early enough to get up early, but it is so worth it. So important for every other part of our daily life.

2) Live life in an orderly way. “A place for everything and everything in its place” is a wisdom statement whose origin is ascribed to several including Benjamin Franklin. As a piler (if my projects are put away, it’s as if they don’t exist), this is a life-long battle, but I work at it everyday. Especially the common areas of our home, the dishes, and the laundry. This could also relate to our email folders, but I won’t even go there on this one.

3) Tithe and avoid debt. Being generous toward God and toward others makes for a truly satisfying life. Living within our means and being thrifty help us develop the margin wherein we can exercise generosity. We have never had big salaries or huge debt, so we don’t know the temptation or struggle, respectively, of either of those. We have seen this principle of giving at work in our lives and that of others more generous than us. It is life-infusing, for sure.

4) Worship God. You can see there is no order to this list of 10. Worshipping God as a lifestyle can permeate all the other routines of life. This is not just about attending church; it’s really worshipping God, corporately with the church, as well as completely alone. Keeping a Sabbath makes for a huge jumpstart in a lifestyle of worship – setting aside a day of rest, as He has instructed us, and then using that day to reflect on Him. Amazing grace comes out of that. Then as we make remembering God a rhythm of life, all that happens to us and to those around us is set in the reality of a good and loving God.

5) Honoring Communications: This can be a prickly subject as our current technology has really not helped with communication as much as we think. We almost communicate, at best. When our children were growing up, we visited more, talked around the dinner table, and had guests in often. It can be a stretch for our introvert family members, but genuine, wholly engaged communication yields great gains for everyone involved. So…given where we are today: Answer those texts. Make phone calls when a situation is time- or message-sensitive. Write cards especially for those older, harder hearing, and far away. Deal with business communication in a timely manner. Exercise courtesy. Treat others in good faith. ‘Nuff said. I fail here regularly, but it’s always on my radar.

6) Work with your hands…whether it’s in the garden, or working in the kitchen, playing an instrument, or making things. When our children were young, they would sometimes complain of being bored. We would always tell them, “Go do something.” That seemed a simple instruction, but it seemed to help them rally, sort of “snap out of it”. I don’t understand boredom, really; there is so much out there to learn and do. I admire friends and family of ours who tackle challenging skillsets, figure things out, and create something of beauty or usefulness. Working with our hands makes a big difference in our lives. I know this experientially whether the science supports it or not.

7) Take time to be kind. Slowing down is really a requirement to being kind – to hold a door for someone, or make a meal for a new mom, or show care for someone instead of going straight to the business at hand. Time is a limited resource. Guard it…don’t squander it. Or redeem it – slowing down may not always be an option, but we can definitely restructure how we use our time. Have regular bedtimes and morning wake-up times. Healthier lives give us the fuel for both using our time better and showing kindness to those around us.

8) Honor your parents. I have had the great blessing of generous and wise mom and mom-in-law. They loved both Dave and me with open hands, encouraging us to watch out for both sides of our families. We gain so much in those relationships. We have a friend who talked to his elderly father every single day. He read the Bible to him over the phone when his eyesight got too bad to read it himself. His father has gone on to be with the Lord, but what a blessing that was for him, for them. Are you setting up routines in your life that serve those who loved you most?

9) Pray instead of worry or fret. You know what I’m talking about here. At night, I have a discipline of going back over the day with the Lord, placing people and situations in His hands. Then I can sleep. I try to do the same on waking, training my thoughts to God rather than stressing about the day ahead.

10) Be good stewards of your mind, body, and relationships. This is where all the healthy living stuff might come in. So much more than that though is the intentionality of being a good steward of your over-all life. For instance, life-long learning must be part of our routine or we really go into “slow”. Still another friend of ours has a routine of 45 minutes of reading a day (beyond his quiet time and reading at work), just for the purpose of learning. Regarding relationships, we can intentionally build routines that connect us with people. Breakfast clubs. Community Bible studies. Weekly prayer groups. Volunteer teams. Regular dates with friends (including our spouses or roommates and family). Just like our bodies and minds, our relationships require tending, and we will reap a harvest in how we steward them.

A few years ago, Jen Hatmaker wrote a book entitled 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. It was a great help for me to examine the excesses in life that keep us from establishing life-giving routines. There are many helps for us out there, but her book came at a time when I was searching for more balance, more space, in life…it’s available to us as we determine to build in routines and rituals through the rhythms of life.

Blog - Routines - 7 by Jen Hatmaker

Routines will happen. Just be intentional on making the ones you truly want to happen. Do something. Do the next thing. Do the right thing. Serve somebody.

7: An experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker

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