The Only Safe Place for Your Middling Heart {The Conclusion of our 31 Days - and a GIVEAWAY}

Here we are.  The very last day of this 31 days of October.  Your messages and emails and comments have meant the world to me.  They have been encouraging.

And heart-breaking.

And incredibly encouraging.

And wrenching.

And wildly funny.

I feel like we've gotten to know each other, and I don't want it to end.  A new reader wrote me a private message a few days ago saying, "So, after 31 days, what next?"

The question has haunted me since.  Not in a creepy-Halloween sort of way, but in a sweet, urgent, compelling way.  Though making art is nice  absolutely incredible, and designing jewelry and bags (and someday my own "In the Middle" clothing line) is truly fun for me... is still all about The Message, for this girl.  No, not the translation of the Bible by Eugene Petersen, but the Gospel message.  A few of you have written to me saying that the Gospel means so much more to you, that it applies to you in ways you didn't realize before.

This is what I was created to do.  Thank you for giving me the chance to do it.  When I sit here and pour my heart out through my fingers and into these containers called "words"...I know I am living my purpose.  No art, no business, no mission, no venture of any kind can be allowed to compete with the priorities of local church life  and the Gospel we so faithfully declare and represent together as one body of believers.

The grace of God made me come alive as a six year old little girl who was the only one to answer an altar call in a tiny Presbyterian church.  Then, grace made me come alive again as a stuck-in-the-middle, middle aged woman.  And it continues to be what makes me come alive, every time I stop to consider how complete I am in Christ, and how completely loved.

I wake up, each day, with my hair on fire.  I am burning to see you do - not what you wish you were gifted to do - I want to see you do what you are actually gifted to do.  I want you to know how it is exactly that you bless your world.  Already.

Whether cooking or dancing or singing or working with kids or being a great networker - your people skills or your computer skills or your organizational/administrative skills - whether fine art or the fine art of loving others - you bless the world in certain, specific ways.

Remember:  not how you wish you could bless others, but the way you actually do bless them already.  All the things you do that you take for granted, because they aren't that hard for you to do.  Capitalize on those things, and immerse yourself in them, and go from good to very good.  In the area you are gifted, I want you every week to do one hard thing that grows your gift, one easy thing to practice your gift, and one thing for someone else, in order to give your gift away.  Every day, plan for these things.  Ask yourself, "Where can I create beauty?" and "Who can I love better today?"

I want you to stare straight at who you really are, and respect what you really see.

You are made in His image.  When you liberate who you are, when you decide to daily declare His greatness through your distinctive gifts, when you let yourself do what makes you come alive, we will see Jesus, because we  finally get to see who He is in you.

Most women forget that in order to die to self, there has to be a "self" to begin with.  As Christians, we are so busy being Martha, so busy dying to ourselves, we never take the time to come alive to ourselves as image-bearers.  Dear one, you are meant to reflect the image of God.

Beloved, He is beautiful.

If, in the words of the apostle Paul, "I die daily", then that means I am also resurrected daily.   I experience new life daily, because in Christ, death never has the final say.  There is always resurrection after death.  So let's stop playing the "die to self" card, and start coming alive in Christ, shall we?  Unnecessary martyrdom is so unattractive.

Becoming fully alive isn't the end, and it isn't even the means to the end.  Being fully alive in our gifts is proof of the is confirmation of the new creature.  It verifies the accuracy of our claim to the 'yes and amen' found only in Christ.

The most difficult aspect of mid-life, is reconciling the ideal with the real.  In fighting to keep a vision of our ideal life alive, we end up making a whole lot of bad decisions, and spouses and children and best friends and churches end up being casualties in our hot pursuit of what we wish we could be.

Never let your vision of the greater glory of Christ be obscured by the lesser glory of the law, or your desire for financial success, or your desire for a Godly family, or to be self sufficient, or to "eat cleanly"or any other competing glory.

Having your whole mind renewed and lit from within with the glory of grace can get you up in the morning and give you a reason to take joy.

Every other dream and desire will fail you, no matter how worthy or how noble.   And it is never too late to put Christ absolutely, unquestioningly first in your life.  It is never too late to discover grace.

Grace is the only safe place for your middling heart.

“Belatedly I loved thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new, belatedly I loved thee. 
For see, thou wast within and I was without, and I sought thee out there. 
Unlovely, I rushed heedlessly among the lovely things thou hast made. 
Thou wast with me, but I was not with thee. 
These things kept me far from thee; even though they were not at all unless they were in thee. 
Thou didst call and cry aloud, and didst force open my deafness. 
Thou didst gleam and shine, and didst chase away my blindness. 
Thou didst breathe fragrant odors and I drew in my breath; and now I pant for thee. 
I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst. 
Thou didst touch me, and I burned for thy peace.” 



As a thank you for spending your 31 days with me, I am offering a giveaway, just in time for Christmas!

If you leave a comment you will be entered.  If you Facebook or Pinterest or Tweet this post, please leave another comment and I will enter you again.  If you blog about it, I will enter you yet again.  Just be sure to let me know!  You will receive:

Every print from Sheila Atchley Designs featured in this {31 Days of Celebrating Middle Age}!
Every book featured, in the whole {31 Days} project!
One piece of jewelry, your choice, from my shop!
One free spot in the online class entitled "Let's Play Dress Up" taught by Paige Knudsen!

This giveaway has a value of several hundred dollars...I hope you win!

*Please note:  I am not "sponsored".  No one donates prizes for me to give away.  I am not Pioneer Woman.  (Love her!) My blog is not monetized.  These gifts come from my own pocket.  Why?   Because yes, I am working hard to build an online platform -  I am that consumed with a desire to share Christ through words and art.  Please do share this blog with others, via email or Facebook or Pinterest.  It is my prayer that I honor that trust by being an encouragement to every person you send my direction.

Drawing will be held on Friday, November 8th.  Prizes will be shipped via my studio and Amazon soon thereafter.

Stuck In The Middle With You {My Story}

There was a time when I thought I was above any kind of crisis...much less a "mid-life crisis".

I hadn't yet learned that a mid-life crisis isn't about how old I am.  It has everything to do with how I handle dropping my plates.

A mid-life crisis has far less (almost nothing) to do with age, and far more to do with the fact that so very many, many people are aptly able to keep a whole lot of plates spinning for a whole lot of years...

...but no human being can keep that up indefinitely.  We just so happen to be about 45 or 50 when the breakage begins, because plates have an average life-spin-span of about 20-25 adult years.  Then a plate falls.  And it is a cherished and heirloom plate that ends up crashing, always.  And then the other plates just tend to start falling by themselves when...

...a child fails...
...a child succeeds...then leaves... get "that" diagnosis...
...a parent dies...
...a church splits...
...a dream dies...
...a husband is unfaithful...
...there is an ongoing health issue...
...we discover we no longer love being plate spinners.

The true-truth is that this sort of mess and calamity is no respecter of age or gender or socio-economic status.  I know an eighteen year old who is dealing with crippling regret.  Is this person having a teenage crisis?  I know a seventy-something person who is wildly unhappy.  Are they having a geriatric crisis?

Of course not.  "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards", it says in the book of Job.

And so my plates started hitting the concrete almost the day I turned 40.  Seriously, I turned 40, and the next day I had to buy readers, and the day after that all hell broke loose.

I found myself wanting to fall asleep and in, never-ever...wake up.  I didn't think of ways I could end my life.  I just didn't want to wake up to my life.  I was camped out at what professionals will tell you is the lesser manifestation of suicidal depression.  I didn't feel this way for days...or weeks...or even months.  The months turned into a year, and then it all kept going.  Longer.  Longer still.

Healing began when I heard the Lord say to me, "When you wake up in the morning, I want you to do whatever you want to do.  Do whatever brings you joy."

This was a gut-wrenching challenge, because I was still home educating my youngest.  And he was barely on speaking terms with fractions and percents when he should have been best friends with Algebra II.  I was an epic fail, in my own estimation.  (Nevermind that our youngest had what we now know was bona-fide ADHD with some XYZ thrown in just to make things interesting.  End of story:  he learned Algebra, and graduated with a respectable enough ACT score to get into college, and has done so...three times, by my last count...)

To make a long litany short, I found myself in a place I had never been.  A place where I cried daily and violently.  A place where I didn't want to wake up, which really means I didn't want to live.

I would run a hot bath and crawl into my tub in the wee hours of the morning to weep and pray and hope that my legs would stop wanting to kick and squirm.

I lived with a burning sensation in the pit of my stomach, with no appetite.  I also had inexplicable urges to rock back and forth sometimes (I suppressed them) and developed a weird sensitivity to handling certain fabric - folding my laundry was a misery. the middle of all that...two daughters married in the space of one year (such joy...and stress!), but then my sons turned into quasi-prodigals.  I call them "quasi-prodigals" because my sons would never deny the faith, in fact they still defend and share the Gospel, if you can imagine that.  But they weren't - and aren't - living for Christ at all.

Life.  Became.  Very.  Hard.

And you know what?  There is more.  But I will stop right there.  Because it bothers me to this very day to talk about that dark season.  I would be a fool not to hate it like I would hate any other destroyer.  May even the memories rest in peace.

Suffice it to say, I have overcome overwhelming odds to be sitting here right now, this minute - not to mention laughing and mentoring and grandmothering and speaking and writing and making art and running a creative small business.

So who the heck cares if I say a replacement word occasionally, or that I like country music on days, or that I don't recycle like I should, or check my food for GMO's, or that I eat junk food on Tuesdays?  For heaven's sake, I am here and I am blessed and I know I am fully loved!

You have to pick your battles, honey, and let me pick mine.  I might go back to rabid self improvement later in life, but for now, I am a full-on Sola Gracia Girl.

By.  Grace.  Alone.

I'm juuuust happy to be here.

And happy to wake up, every single day.

It was nothing short of a radical message of grace that could crush my bondage.

Me.  Who never thought I would ever know what slavery felt like.

Ta-Dah'ing In the Middle {31 Days of Celebrating Middle Age}

Ps 92:12 The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God.

Flour - ish: 1. To grow luxuriantly: THRIVE. 2. To fare well: PROSPER 3. To be in one's prime.4. To make bold, sweeping movements.

I think I might pull back at the idea of a truly flourishing God. Somehow, I grew up with the vague idea that God is a Yankee, who stoically makes do with what He has got in this narrow earth, and grudgingly uses the lives of sinful people to accomplish things He could have done better had He done it Himself, alone.

I cannot contain the image of God as one who plants new universes, and they branch out in all directions, twining their way through outer space like squash plants, or like the morning glory in my garden. They keep growing. There is no "first frost" to stop them.

My sensibilities balk at a God who would not allow His people to thriftily collect and store more manna than they needed for that day. Why not store some for tomorrow? Wouldn't that mean He didn't have to make as much for them all the next morning? And those twelve baskets of leftovers, after He fed the five thousand...where did I get away with the idea that God saran-wrapped it all, and trotted around the desert with it, just in case anyone else in the crowd got hungry again? "Here - have a half-eaten fish head...ah, and here's a bit of bread. This should tide you over until we get to Martha's house."

Sin-limited brains slow at the image of a God who poofs New Universes into existence, "just because", or who demands that we, flour-less and hot and grumpy, eat fresh bread every morning, or a God who saves the best wine for last. A flourishing God, whose people can be a flourishing people, if they'd but abide in His house.

And what of those "bold, sweeping movements"? Mymymy, if we didn't stop short of an abundant, bread-and-wine-making God, we screech to a halt at His waving His arms in any sort of dramatic gesture. Our thoughts of God are more....decent. Down-to-earth. Dignified. A "flourish" sounds too much like a "Ta-DA!"

God may very well wish me prosperity and all, but I am sure He would definitely not have me ta-da'ing about. Would He? Sounds a bit childish.

Ps 92:14 They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing...

Something tells me that ta-da'ing my way past middle age, and into old age, has nothing to do with a larger dress size or a red hat. Thank God.

Take Joy in the Middle {31 Days of Celebrating Middle Age}

I want to be a writer of joy. 

I dream of crafting phrases that sit and smile at you, or leap off the page, grab you by the neck, and yank a grin out of you. Forcibly. I see too many blogs that angst. Angst can be exquisite once in awhile, especially when accompanied by the perfect music and evocative photography. Angst is poetic. I plan on angsting here on this blog once in awhile, just because, like a good sneeze, it's then out of my system, and I can go back to laughing. Who wants to live life in a perpetual sneeze?

However poetic it can write, who wants angst, just so she can be an "Ar-teest" ? I contend that, in our sophisticated modern culture, it is joy that has become prosaic. It is easier to write something that makes everyone cry. I've met people who are too torqued up to dance. Too educated to relax and say something silly. Too busy dying to their flesh, to live - seated in heavenly places in Christ.

My husband and I used to tool around the Smokies, some years ago, in Tim's old Geo Tracker - the famous "Barbie Jeep". Oh, how we miss that car!

What? You've never seen a pastor, with a ballcap on his head, a huge grin on his face, driving a red matchbox "jeep", with a teacup poodle in his lap? It was a sight not to be missed. There's no angst in that man - and he has as much to angst over as anyone else.

The car was old, it had a few rust spots, and yeah...if you sat in the back, you got a whiff of exhaust now and then. ::cough:: But we loved that car. You've never seen anything more unpretentious in your life. It was a joyful little car.

If you were to look at that red Tracker, you would not have thought in terms of great hymns of the faith, or heard classical music in your head. But were you to look up! Look out!   If you ever saw, suddenly, the way a breathtaking vista could unfold right before you... would have hummed a few lines of a great old hymn.  Anyone with a poetic soul can be taken to mountaintop experiences, transported by a little prosaic joy. Looking up and out and beyond is the key. So is refusing to pay attention to what angsts you.

One day in the mountains, taking in all that beauty, someone yelled, "I cannot believe you can do this for FREE!"

Yes, there is a God, and He gives us fun things for free. It's just that we have a hard time conceiving of that sort of God. John Piper calls Him the Happy God. I bet you might have missed five fun free things just yesterday - were you too busy poetically angsting? We are too hung up on our own sanctification to cut loose and live like people who are complete in Him. Angst feels more spiritual than a spit-giggle...(you know - when you giggle so effortlessly, you spit all over the guy next to you)

I think laughter is "carbonated holiness".

We are convinced that the cave of Adullam (a low point in the Old Testament King David's life) was more pivotal, more formative in the life of King David than that near-naked dance of his. We feel more spiritual in Gideon's winepress, asking angsting, deeply theological questions, than simply crawling out of the winepress, strapping on our sword, finding our enemy and promptly sticking our tongue out at him. (That always gets the fight going...)

Please overlook me, these days, if you find me wahoo'ing or convulsed in a spit-giggle. I've been through some stuff of my own, hard stuff, and so I just wanna sing victory songs. I want to take joy. I want to write joy. I want to ooze joy. No joy, no strength. Know joy, know strength.

I need to be strong, right now. The middle is hard.  Yet, as a new friend of mine reminded me, the middle is exactly where we hit our stride!  I am ready to hit my stride, here mid-race.  I need to be inspired.  So no sad spiritual songs, no beautifully poetic angst, no hurling myself down, emotionally speaking, just to find out if those angels really will bear me up.

Having done all to stand, I am going to stand...dancing in my spot, armor clinking, helmet bobbing, gospel-shod feet sliding through the gravels in a little moon-walk, sword flourishing ....uh-huh...oh yeah...because I know the end of this thing. I win.

A little prosaic joy = insurance that I will live to fight another day.

Grace in the Middle {31 Days of Celebrating Middle Age}

Your middle is as ordained a season in your life as your beginning was, and as ordained as the day of your end.  God births your beginnings, and He sets the time of your completions.  But He sings over your middle!

"The Lord thy God in your middle is mighty;  He will save, He will rejoice over you with joy;  He will rest in His love, He will joy over you with singing!"  (Zephaniah 3:17)

How can He do that?  How can He sing over our middle?  Has He looked at your middle lately?  Has He noticed mine?  (It's a mess...)

Here's how:  He is confident in His great love for you.  He rests in it.

It reminds me of my teacup poodle Rambo.  Bear with me, I promise this will make sense, maybe.

I've heard some incredible Bible teachers and preachers in my short time on this planet. I've heard them use majestic metaphor and substantive simile. I love the depth that has been illustrated for me, time and again, by solid thinkers in The Faith - some are well-known, some, like my own husband, little-known.

Try as I may, my mind won't work majestically. I sigh and I try, and therein lies the problem.

When I tune into my life as it really is, in all its quotidian acedia (oh, do look the words up - they are delicious to say, but bitter to live) the revelation of grace can come honestly. Like the revelations to be found in puppies and cookies.

It is no secret that I adore my puppy. He is a teacup poodle named Rambo, and he is aptly named.

In fact, my puppy sometimes acts appallingly, and I still smile. I delight in this little dog no matter what.

A few years ago, I examined this anomaly. You see, I was known, back then,  to be ever-working to improve myself, and therefore took unbridled delight in almost nothing. But I took disturbing delight in my poodle...everyone found it disturbing, because his misbehavior had almost no affect on me whatsoever.

I decided this was because I had no fear for this animal's future. God bless all those who believe that puppies have eternal souls: I do not. Therefore, no amount of spoiling on my part will send Rambo's soul to the Lake of Fire. This dog is "eternally secure".

 In a sense, His future is fully known to me: he will live in the lap of luxury and love, and one day die. That will be that (and yes, I will grieve terribly). Nothing in terms of Rambo's ultimate eternal destiny is up in the air. He can't misbehave his way into Canine Judgement. He can't bite hard enough to hurt a toddler.

I am utterly free to delight in my dog.

When I stop to consider these majestic metaphors, I realize: the Lord delights in me! He knows the plans He has for me. He has forever settled my ultimate destiny. (Yes, only because I have trusted Him for my righteousness!)

No amount of "misbehavior" on my part can shake Him from His great love for me, in Christ Jesus. Far from being antinomianism, (and unlike Rambo) this kind of good news actually makes me want to heel - to follow close by my Owner's side forever.

Poodles and antinomianism and eternal security aside (after all, a mind can only take so much splendor) I also sometimes wonder why baking cookies for grown-up kids isn't so much fun anymore.

Used to be, a batch of cookies was a day-maker. Making a couple of sheets of home made chocolate chip cookies had the potential to bring inner healing to four children who, on some days, were fraught with naughtiness and discord.

Ah, but now they are All Grown Up. They are adults, all of them, with jobs and net spendable income. Two of them are married, with babies of their own.  They can buy these treats for themselves, anytime they want. They can work for them.  Cookies from mom don't mean what they used to.  Now, they are just a nice gesture.

As it is with the free Gift of Grace. It is precisely when we think we have matured our way "past" it, that the gift begins to lose its luster. The fun is taken right out of living in it. The truth that used to make our day and heal our hurts, now is something we can earn for ourselves. And we "get blessed" for our efforts.

Well.  Whatever we can earn for ourselves must be pretty common and obtainable. Thus, when God offers grace to us, His grace is reduced (in our minds) to merely The Nice Gesture.

A Nice Gesture is entirely unable to change us.

Hear me - hear me well! Don't rob God (and yourself) of the delight and fragrance that should characterize piping hot, fresh-from-the-heart-of-God, sweet grace. You will never be able to work for it, you cannot obtain it on your own, all ideas of any righteousness of your own are a dangerous illusion.

This is where the metaphor breaks down, as it isn't a dangerous illusion at all for my children to buy their own cookies. See why I sigh? My metaphors aren't majestic enough.

Oh well. It is what it is. Puppies and cookies and grace.

LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me...

Make a Memorial {In the Middle}

So here you are, slap-dab between the former glory and the conclusion.  Here in this middling place, there is none of the momentum that always comes with new beginnings, yet the finish line is nowhere yet in sight.

What do you do?

Girl, you throw a party! 

Not even kidding.

Should we?  Is it worth the trouble it would take to pause while in full tilt, to stop long enough to care about the middle and to memorialize the miracle that we've made it this far?

Dang straight.

Go with me to Joshua chapter 4:

"And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the Lord spoke to Joshua saying, 'Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man, and command them saying, 'Take you out of the middle of the Jordan, out of the place where the priests' feet stood firm, twelve stones, and you shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the place where you shall lodge this night.'

And Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests which bare the ark of the covenant stood:  and they are there to this day."

Here, we see that God makes a big deal out of the middle.  In fact, Joshua was commanded to make two memorials:  one from the middle, and one in the middle. 

We absolutely must celebrate right where we are, and for no dang reason.  We must breathe in the atmosphere of eternity, and look at our weight, our debt, our career, our project, our place here in the middle, and let the peace of God settle over us like a blanket.

To be at peace is not to be passive or unempowered - and it certainly is not to be ashamed!

In every place you find yourself, right here in your middle, you can be at peace.  You can know that it is okay for you to be there.  After all, you are where you're at.

And to acknowledge where you are in the middle of your Jordan, and find joy in that place is to find strength.  And to find strength is to find yourself on the other side of your Jordan before you expected!

To be in denial about the difficulties  inherent to the middle, is to leave behind the very stones necessary to build your memorial.

The quality of your outcome depends on the strength and work you put into your middle.  It is  urgent  that you celebrate your middle.

Bring out the Near-Beer and the bubblegum cigars, and I request the very highest of fives.

Get it, girl!

Your Identity {In the Middle}

Everyone has read the quote by Mother Theresa, "The Lord has not called me to be successful, He has called me to be faithful."

And we nod our head in agreement...until middle age hits full-force, and in some area of our lives, lo and behold! it doesn't all pan out.  Success eludes us.  The outcome is not what we were gunning for.  

Then, we wonder what went wrong, what did we do wrong, and where is God in all this? Dark discouragement threatens our spiritual health, as we examine every aspect of our existence, searching for solutions to this problem - for an explanation for this unexpected turn of events.

After all, if we do our part, isn't God obligated to do His? Underneath all the Christian-speak about trusting in God, isn't life a pretty predictable series of acts of obedience, followed by the goal of midlife good results? Sure, we may encounter temporary set-backs, even a catastrophe here and there, but shouldn't the end result turn out to be the one for which we aim? What is trusting in God for, if not to grant success to us when we are obedient to Him?

To put it succinctly: No.

Trusting in the Lord pleases Him. Pleasing Him is the goal. The goal, ultimately, is simply to hear, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."

It is hard to stare perceived failure in the eye. It can be devastating to look back on years of work, even decades of obedience to God, with little to show for it, to the eyes of watching men.

But I have a word for you, wherever you are. Whether you have been faithful in the ministry, only to see hardship - or worked your heart out for years in your own business, only to see it go under - whether you have been honest and upright in a relationship, only to be mistreated, or circumspect with your finances, only to see hard times; whether you have been obedient to raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, only for them to demand all you had to give, and leave you and your God - whether you have diligently poured out your best years to your local church, only to be betrayed....what if I told you that your obedience-for-the-sake-of-obedience is beautiful in the eyes of the Lord? What if God Himself told you that?

He has already told you, when He told Isaiah. Listen to Isaiah's broken heart:

Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain... (Is. 49:4)

"All this work, for nothing. I've exhausted myself to no avail. Decades of faithfully prophesying the word of the Lord - and no revival. No results."

...yet surely my judgment is with the LORD, and my reward with my God.

Here comes the best part, the healing part ~

And now, saith the LORD that formed me from the womb to be his servant...Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, and my God shall be my strength.

This is my hard-won word for you.  Your outcome is the Lords ("yet surely my judgment is with the Lord...") and you are yet glorious in the eyes of the Lord. 

And thus saith the Lord to you. "Yet." Oh, yet! Not just "yet", but "yet surely." Yet surely as He knows your name, you are beautiful in the eyes of your Father, and He promises to strengthen you.

Life is not a predictable series of acts of obedience followed by sure and timely and perfect results. Sometimes, we do all we know to do, and "Israel is not gathered".

Cry your tears, beloved, and then dry them, because outward success was never to be your goal.

Your goal is to be glorious...honourable...distinguished...important and successful in the eyes of the Lord.

And yet you shall be.

The Friendships of Women {31 Days of Celebrating Middle Age}

I knew a woman who was part of our church years ago (she has been gone for many years now) who used to tell me...all the time..."I don't have any friends in this church."

But what she was really saying was, "I don't consider myself close to certain, specific women."

And what she really meant, truthfully, was, "I want to be on what I consider to be the inside track. I think the pastor's wife needs to make me her BFF."

(she later admitted to this, that is how I know...)

Meanwhile, I knew of at least two other women in our church that had reached out to her, who were quite available for her, who cared a lot about her. This woman's blatant disregard for her friendships made me angry. I asked her, point blank, "Who is __(name)___________ , then, chopped liver??!"

I had a way with words, in those days.

Today, more than a decade later, I might be a little more gentle. I said might.

Because I see today, more clearly than I saw back then, that everyone...everyone...wants to be beloved. They want to be special to someone who they consider special.

Today, I would be gentle...but not permissive. I still do not respect a woman who does not treasure her own beautiful life...her own friends...her own husband...her own children....her own home (whatever its size or, and making the best of four walls makes every home a beautiful place)...

...I do not get along for very long with women who devalue what they have been given, because what they have been given is not what they want. They want what someone else has...maybe what I have or what someone else has - someone else's success, their gifts and talents, their friendships, their whatever.

Celebrate who you are!

Never let who you are not, cancel out the beauty of who you are!

Your friends are the most lovely, your life is the most blessed, your children the most special of all, your home is the sweetest, your work the most meaningful, your church the most precious.

And if your child is a dedicated prodigal, or your job stressful, or your marriage lacking passion, or your friendships not "meeting your needs"....

...that is when it is urgent that you begin to see your own life and your own dear ones as infinitely more beautiful than anyone else's.

Thanksgiving transforms "enough" into a feast. Always.

If you do not consider your own friends to be the very best ones you could ever have, the most lovely, perfect women in the world... if you don't see your husband as the most attractive, your children as the most amazing, your grandchildren as the most beautiful...your mother as the greatest, your father as the most strong and wise...your sister as the most fabulous...

....maybe that's because you don't treat any of your beloveds that way. Maybe they are not worth the effort in your estimation?

Or maybe they don't treat you with celebrity status, so you treat them likewise.

How lacking in grace and creativity. I am sad for you. Only because I see the same tendencies in me, and I sadden my own selfish-self.

I have come to the conclusion that I want to be the first one to celebrate you. Or I want to be the only one of the two of us who celebrates anything...that is okay by me.

I don't always celebrate first (or even at all) but at least I know for sure I would rather beat you to it. I will smoke you, in fact, if you give me half a chance.

Do you see? It's all in how you choose to see and celebrate your one, gorgeous life, and all who are part of it.

You don't have to be accepted into the inner circle of "those" certain women. You don't have to be one of their "beloveds" to BE beloved...the King is your Friend. God has accepted you into His heart...His inner circle...through Christ. He will relate to you as warmly and intimately and affirmingly as you believe Him to be towards you.

He sets your boundaries...those lines have fallen to you in pleasant places, the Bible says. If you cannot see the beauty of your very own life, it is your thinking towards it that is your problem. You don't need someone else's gift, personality, friends, money, or lifestyle.

You need to treasure what you have already been given.

Celebrating who you are frees you to do the same for others. You become free (truly) to celebrate who they are, without hoping they crown you their "BFF" in exchange for the favor. are doing unto others the way you wish they'd do unto you.

Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Local Church {Your Middle Age Relationships}

I love "the Bride" in concept. I am devoted to "the body of Christ" in theory. Its the reality of them both that bites, sometimes. And I should know.  I am here today, in this, the 23rd of our 31 Days of Celebrating Middle Age, with perhaps the stiffest challenge you will hear this month.  Maybe even this year.

Get your bad self into a local church. 

Not an internet church, not quasi-church, where everyone thinks exactly like you do.  No, go find yourself a local church that is organized (yep) and meets in one place regularly.  (Oooooh, if you do this, you are now the one who is thinking outside the box.  What used to be traditional is the new hipster.  You are the new renegade, trust me.  Everyone thinks Starbucks is a cooler way to be the church, and everybody is wrong, just like mass popular opinion usually is.)

Become part of a body of believers.  And if it doesn't bore you from time to time, it doesn't count. 

I'm all into loving my brother, until "my brother" is someone in my church who bugs me. I'm all about grace, until grace must be extended to someone who is so deeply under law they wouldn't know grace if it kissed them on the cheek...

Let's take New Testament Living to the next level - that of actually living it past the point of our pain. Can we take it the extra mile, into loving others all the way past our doctrinal differences, sacrificing the sacred cows of our deepest hurts sustained in church life, dismounting our Holy High Horses?

Whatever made us think that church life was warm and fuzzy? It never has been, and it never will be, not this side of eternity anyhow. In the words of one of the Great Dead Guys, Matthew Henry (I think it was) who said, "We do not yet live amongst just men made perfect...we live amongst 'just men' ", I'm thinking it is time that we get on with the program.

No one is saying "get over it", I'm saying get on with it, in spite of it. If you've left a church - a good church - go back and fix it.  Replant yourself, if you want to flourish.  God's program, His "plan A" is still the local church.

Sure, there is a church universal. She's awesome. She's as terrible as an army with banners. She embodies all that God is about in this hour - which is to demonstrate His Great Goodness to a watching world, through what seems to be uninspired vessels - thereby bringing many sons into glory.

But just as the God who dwells in unapproachable light came down from His greatness, into the womb of a woman....the church universal in all her splendor must become an approachable, human entity. The church universal is expressed and defined by each church local.

In church, this upcoming Sunday, I will tell myself (as I often do, silently), "This is the church. This is what 'church life' looks like." It may or may not be splendid to the naked eye.

That's called "bringing it home". That's called making our theology affect our biography. We all love the church universal. But try "having all things in common" with the universal church. Try imitating the faith of "those over you" in the universal church. (I suppose you could wear Rick Warren's hairstyle, or attempt Joel Osteen's accent, or try to preach like your favorite Christian Superstar...)

But try forgiving the universal church, bearing the burdens of it, and speaking only that which is good to the use of edifying....with and to the ethereal "church universal". How about simply "putting up" with the church universal? It can't be done.

Most of Christianity gets lost in the translation without the church local.

And a group of people have to have more than a creed and a livingroom and their own insecurities in common to actually BE a local church. We may begin with nothing but a creed and a livingroom and our own insecurities, but we don't remain that way...not and be a healthy expression of the local church.

Most of New Testament Christianity cannot be actually lived without the covenant relationships inherent in a healthy local church.

There. I said it.  I so hope you come back!  But even if you don't - if the many readers I have gained in this {31 Day} series all get offended and leave...I have to speak my truth.

Nah, it is the truth.  I hate that term "my truth" - as though truth is subjective, or there is no objective measure for it.

God’s covenant with us is prior to any covenant we make with each other. He chooses us, sets us apart, calls us to holiness, and enjoins us to love one another. But all this must happen in particulars. The commitment to live out the principles of the new covenant takes place with a specific people in a specific place. This results in a local church. Membership matters because particularization matters.

According to Jonathan Leeman (whose ideas I’ve borrowed in the paragraph above), submitting to a local church accomplishes a number of crucial things. Church membership:

1. Identifies us with Christ.
2. Distinguishes us from the world.
3. Guides us into the righteousness of Christ by presenting a standard of personal and corporate righteousness.
4. Acts as a witness to non-Christians.
5. Glorifies God and enables us to enjoy his glory.
6. Identifies us with God’s people.
7. Assists us in living the Christian life through the accountability of brothers and sisters in the faith.
8. Makes us responsible for specific believers.
9. Protects us from the world, the flesh, and the Devil
In other words, “the covenant commitment of the local church makes the invisible new covenant visible. It’s an earthly symbol, sign, or analogy of this wonderful heavenly reality” (The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, 267).
Kevin DeYoung

Messes Worth Making {Your Relationships in Midlife}

One thing I have always taught and believed:  If you can't be totally transparent about your life, don't lead. 

Like, seriously.  Don't even lead a parade. 

Because the truth has a way of coming out, and the thing the world needs to see out of leaders isn't perfection.  The world needs to see its leaders have the ability to administrate the manifold grace of God into every life-situation. 

There are those who believe in miracles, and there are those who depend on them.  There are those who believe in grace, and those who depend on grace.  There are those who believe in grace, and there are those who administrate grace into their own lives first, and then into the lives of others.

By New Testament definition, we call those people who have learned to administrate the Finished Work of Christ - we call them "elders" or "shepherds" or "leaders".  And yes, it all goes back to transparency.  Don't hide your stuff.  Don't mask your issues.  You don't have to air your dirty laundry, but those to whom you relate, both in life and in leadership structure, should be aware when there are significant issues manifesting in your life.

Me?  I just tell everyone what is happening and get it over with.  My deepest struggle?  Someone, somewhere knows all about it, I promise you.  More often than not, many someones know.

We reached a point in mid-life, summer of 2010, when our family relationships lurched wildly from very close and  consistent and mostly sweet, to chaotic and painful and mostly angry. 

The summer of 2010 was when we finally were forced to make it official:  We had prodigals in the parsonage.  (That is also the title of an excellent book , by the way). The Preacher and I had seen hints of it coming, for a couple of years.  We had fought tooth and claw for the spiritual lives of all our children, and the battle for the lives of our sons had come to a dramatic head.

We were devastated.  We were encouraged by our leaders to take a long sabbatical, but that was out of the question...more than anything, it was out of the question because only three things in life brought us any comfort in that season: our two beautiful daughters and answering the call of God on our lives.

We did take that summer to rest, and The Preacher did nothing but preach.  (And any preacher will laugh at that statement..."nothing but preach"...because the preparation of a sermon is almost always a grueling spiritual battle, if you are preaching right.)

And we took care of each other.

Friends, your marriage is the most important earthly relationship, and is the singlemost determining factor of your health and effectiveness in the middle.

We crawled to each others arms, my Preacher and I.  We stayed on the same page, no shame and no blame, and together we let God stop the bleeding and heal our wounds.  Since then, relationship with our sons has become beautiful again - we are managing by the grace of God to stay in sweet connection with them, while not lowering the standard.  They don't live under our roof - they cannot, and be making the choices they are making.  They are grown men anyway, and all grown men should be on their own.  But they come and see us weekly, and there is genuine warmth and affection and beauty to be found...even in this place where we find this strange middle.

Our relationship with our boys sometimes feels strange - it is not what it was before -  yet it has never been estranged.  This is because we applied what we knew of the Gospel to our every day life.  We administrated the grace of God into the situation.  We embrace process without lowering standards.  Grace is more than something we believe in, it has become what we depend on.

But we will always, always bear the scars of that summer of 2010, and the subsequent pain of every day, week, month and year since.  When you love God so passionately, a prodigal is a grief that never quite goes away.  You learn to live with the sadness until the prodigal comes home.

And so we wait.

Because relationship is about the ugly-beautiful.  And it is always a mess worth making.

Your Midlife Relationships {A 31 Day Celebration of All Things Middle}

The doctrine of the Trinity.  God - three distinct persons, one God.  This doctrine of the triune God sets Christianity apart from all the other religions of the world.

And it is the baseline from which we understand our relationships and live in relationship with others.

We "experience" community.  God is community.  We "have" relationships.  God is relationship.  To say "God is relationship" is equal to the Biblical verity that "God is love".  It is to say the same thing.

You cannot be a Christian in your functional beliefs, and not value relationships.  You can be a Christian as a non-functioning a creed, or a system of top-shelf "doctrines",  or as a form of moralism, and be highly individualistic and idealistic.  Yes, you can get away with that.  You can be one of the many who worship God with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him. 

But you simply cannot say that you love God, and not have a rich tapestry of messy-beautiful relationships.  You cannot say that you love God, and yet you are not part of a body of believers who are living out the Gospel, however imperfectly and however painfully.

New Testament  Christianity is null, void, and pointless without relationships.  Messy, beautiful, tedious, painful, imperfect, blessed, inconsistent and consistent relationships...with actual people who have faults and quirks and glaring imperfections.  Love is a moot point without a real person who tries your patience, and of whom you are sometimes tempted to believe the worst instead of the best.

If you live all to yourself and for yourself, however lovely your lifestyle may be, however beautiful your home, however grand is your plan to share your life with others (without ever actually sharing your life with others) you are a useless rock. 

One stone, all by itself, is either useless...or commonly used as a weapon in the hands of the enemy.  But one stone, built with lots of other stones becomes a metaphor for the very temple of God.

What you believe about the Gospel has everything to do with how you engage the hard work of maintaining right relationships with others.

We must be fully identified by the grace of God - His unearned, undeserved favor and blessing, apart from any list of "to do's".  Otherwise, we will get our identity from another person - by watching them too closely, listening to them too literally, and needing them too fundamentally.  And when they can no longer deliver the goods, we all but extinguish the relationship.

This is sad.  Too many people say they are believers, but in reality  most  of their significant relationships are either dead or on life support.  I want you to think about each one of yours...more than anything else in this world, it is important to be honest.  Gut-level truth only, here.

Your significant relationships:  How many are flourishing?  How many are dead?  How many are on life support?  How many are going along to get along?

Thank God for Christ Jesus!  In Him there is no condemnation, just the opportunity to participate in newness of life. 

It is precisely in middle age that the wear and tear on significant relationships shows up.  No one is exempt, no one is immune, no one has a perfect track record in this area.  Regret is in the very atmosphere of this world. 

Only through the Finished Work of the Cross can you breathe in the atmosphere of eternity, where there is  always  time, where it is always a good time to say "I'm sorry", where we have been given the job ("ministry"...remember, ministry is work) of reconciliation, and where there is endless grace to help in our time of need. nothing...matures us like having right relationships, and nothing brings us running to the throne of grace for help faster than maintaining right relationships.

Relationships.  A mess worth making.

31 Days of Midlife Celebration {...resources for your life's work...}

Work. We all have to do it.  Even ministry is called "the work of the ministry". 

Each of us is intimately acquainted with whatever our work is, whether preacher or plumber or home maker. A Christian can exhibit a genuine love for his or her work, because Christianity is incredibly down-to-earth...incarnational...and has involved a healthy day's work since the garden of Eden.

"It is not only prayer that gives God glory, but work. Smiting an anvil, sawing a beam, white washing a wall, driving horses, sweeping, scouring, everything gives God some glory if, being in His grace you do it. God is so great that all things give Him glory if you mean that they should."  (from the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins - one of my favorite poets in the whole history of ever...)

Look at your fingertips.  They are proof that you were uniquely placed exactly where you are, to make the impact that only you can make, and to say the words that only you can say.  There is no other you, and this life is your one shot at learning the art of losing yourself in bringing God praise. 

In heaven, no one will have to think twice about glory.  Here...only here in this you have the unique opportunity to glorify God in spite of all hindrance.  And to make overcoming obstacles fun.

Where is it you feel His delight?  What are you doing when you just know...the Father is smiling?  The biggest hindrance to you finding your life's work is separating your work from your faith. 

Or, let me put it this way:  only by immersion in the doctrines of grace can you find what it is that makes you come alive, and then be able to fully and freely give yourself to it.

The seed of money is service, and in the words of the inimitable Bob Dylan, "You've got to serve somebody..." 

I have found my life's work in serving others by making.  Just making.  It began as home making. I will never regret those years I invested in that career. 

Typical of most mid-lifers, I am making a career change.  Most 40-somethings do.  I made the change carefully, and only after months of prayer, seeking wise counsel, and examining my own heart and gifts and calling.  Now, in my middle years with this quasi-empty nest of mine, "making" is finding expression in art and design. 

An aside:  I truly feel that our culture does not honor its makers nearly enough.  Whatever you had for breakfast today?  Someone, somewhere made it.  Find the best makers you can afford, and then honor them well.  If you are among the makers of this culture, if you are someone who produces {versus one who consumes or somehow markets a product or idea someone else has made};  if you are someone who creates for a living, whether with food, or paints and canvas, or fabric and thread, or words and ideas - know you are among an elite group -  and honor the gift God has given you, by honoring yourself  and what you make.  Not everyone can do what you do.

My Preacher is a powerful example:  no one can preach the Gospel quite like he preaches it, because there is no other Tim Atchley.  I will tell you with healthy pride that he receives a decent middle-class income for the work of the ministry.  I will also tell you that the exchange of energy (all money is, is an exchange of life's energy) is unequal.  I am not saying he isn't paid enough.  We are well taken care of.  What I am saying is you can't put a price tag on what he does for a living. 

We have to have builders and plumbers, but what they do has zero impact on a human being's eternity, unless they share the Gospel clearly, with accuracy, and with their words, a.k.a. "preaching the Gospel".

How is it we can pay plumbers for saving our homes from a watery destruction and be fine with it....but balk at paying our preachers who work with our intangible but eternal spirits?

Here are just a few resources to help you and inspire you to find and function in your life's work:

Max Lucado's Cure for the Common Life  If you haven't read this book, get it, get it, get it.  If you have read this book already, read it again.

48 Days to the Work You Love  by Dan Miller

In conclusion, I want to admonish you to find your strengths - your true, actual strengths.  In my experience, the biggest hindrance to women finding their strengths, is that they insist on laying claim to what they wish they were gifted to do, and not what they are actually gifted to do.  And they work and work and work in that area, and wonder why no one seeks them out to serve in what they wish their gift was.

You can work on your weaknesses if you want.  But I'd rather see you forget about them and play to your strengths.  On a scale of one to ten, research has proven that you can only bring a weakness (some area where you might score a 4 or 5 out of 10) up to a level of  a 5 or a 6.  What can I say?  A weakness is a weakness.  You can make a weakness better, but rarely will you turn a weakness into a true strength and gifting.  If we all could do that, we would not need others in our lives.  But God has created us with strengths and weaknesses to gently force us to consider others as better than ourselves, and to call on others when we need them.

So you work for years to bring your 4 up to a 6.  You are slightly better than average at speaking or singing or administration or computer skill.
Problem is, no one crosses the street for a 5, or a 6, or even a 7.  So everyone misses out on the true you, the real you, your actual gifts you were meant to give to the world.

If you choose an area where you are already gifted - an area where you already operate at a 6 or 7 - and with effort and training you bring the expression of your gift up to an 8 out of 10...then people will start crossing the street for that.  You are sought out to serve in the area of your true gift.  When you hit a 9 or 10, you can easily make a comfortable living out of simply playing to your strengths.

31 Days of Celebrating Midlife {Your Work Matters}

You were designed for love and intimacy.  And you were designed for meaningful work.
What are you doing to grow in these areas of your "one wild and precious life"?  No matter what your age is today, you are becoming, and I don't just mean you are beautiful.  (You are...)

(as of this writing, this piece is available as an original, and as a print here)

What I mean is, "it doth not yet appear what we shall be..." (I John 3:2)

I speak Scripture like some people speak country music, I know.  That is who I am, and I will let you deal with that however you need to deal with that.  It will never change, I can tell you for certain.  I eat, sleep, and breathe the word of God.  I sort of live by it like I live by (small quantities of) bread.

I want to support you in your becoming...that's all.  Anything I can do, within reason, I want you to feel valued and precious, even if you are changing and growing, and have no idea what to do with your middle-time of life.

Just for today, let's live by this alone:

Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no the grave.  (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

In a way, we are all in the middle.  Every single one of us lives in this "time between times", after God created this universe, and before we return to the dust from which we were made. 

This is it.  Life has no do-over.  Whatever your hand finds to do today, be fully present to it.  Even if it isn't quite your life's work...if it isn't quite "your crack" it with all your heart anyhow, and I promise you will still find joy in it.

In the the middle-time...we are all still becoming. 

Your Work {31 Days of Celebrating Middle Things}

(Click over the image to see the details...this piece is available as a 16x20, beautifully framed original - contact me if you are interested.)

I discovered my passion for art and design after age 40.  That passion was there all along, though.  Becoming an artist wasn't some odd, mid-life reinvention of myself.  It wasn't a choice I made to offset  midlife boredom.  It wasn't a career move, that is for sure.  It was part of a healing process for me, certainly, but really it was more a...becoming.  A becoming who I already was.

I have found my life's work.  And my hair is on fire, to help you find yours.

Please pardon the smell.  Burning hair - fueled by Pantene hairspray.  So sorry.

A hard post to write, this one is.  Because every single person visiting me today comes from a wildly different background.  I have had surgeons read my blog, home makers, business owners, pastor's wives, artists, and the occasional weirdo.  Some of you have already found your life's work, and you know it.

But, if you will allow me to say it, there is always more.

More to see, more to experience, more than you've known up to this point, more than you've imagined.

More work.  Harder work.

And so worth it.

No matter what season of life you are in, you must tenaciously cultivate a "more mentality".  Because you weren't put on this earth to survive, you were strategically placed right where you are to thrive.  Without a "more mentality" we tend to make flabby decisions.  We split the difference with our most attainable dream, not even quite dreaming it fully.

We sell ourselves so short.

I want you to really think about what you are doing right now, and discern:  do you love it?  Is it your life's work, your vocation, your craft, your calling, your crack?

If your answer is "yes" then I don't care what it is - be it home maker, home educating mom (been there, done that, got four T-shirts and 4 graduation caps), nurse, missionary, or multi-level marketer - if you have found your proverbial sweet spot, you are in the right spot.

Now, earnestly desire yet MORE.

If you look deep within, and see that what you are doing doesn't yet feel, "Dude, this isn't my crack."...then I encourage you -  not to quit -  but to begin a long, slow process of ...

...becoming.  You are still becoming.  But you will never become until you are honest with yourself and the world and come right out and say, "This isn't it.  But I won't stop until I find what I was put on earth to do."

Soul-Care Resources

Every feeling you feel began as a thought.  I am never just hit by a feeling, out of nowhere.  I am hit by a thought out of nowhere.

Right then, when I am hit by that thought -  and this is scientific fact, happening in the amygdala - as soon as the awareness of a thought is there, that thought needs to be evaluated as to whether or not it is true or beneficial.  If that thought is negative or toxic in any way...

Let that poisonous thing go.  If it doesn't line up with the character of Christ - any anxious, jealous, suspicious, greedy, self gratifying thought - have another thought.

If all your thinking has led you to a place you don't like...

...have. another. thought.

This is the academic version of "take out the emotional trash".  If you haven't read the work of  Dr. Caroline Leaf , run (don't walk) to your nearest Amazon dot com, and buy this book:

Who Switched Off My Brain

It is only the best book on soul-care in the whole history of ever.  Not even kidding.  And you don't have to sift through a bunch of New Age hocus pocus - Dr. Leaf's premise is solidly Judeo-Christian.  Here's a quote:

"An illness is deemed "psychosomatic"  (or a "syndrome" or even "inflammation") "when doctors can't find a physiological cause for it, sometimes dismissing it as "all in the mind."  While their diagnosis is right, their reasoning is wrong.  Thoughts do cause illness and should thus be studied and controlled.  If they are powerful enough to make us sick, they are powerful enough o make us healthy as well."  (emphasis and aside are mine)

If you feel you need intensive training, after you have read the book, I also highly recommend Dr. Leaf's 21 Day Brain Detox Program  It is very spiritual, very comprehensive, and very inexpensive.

Feel free to send the difference of whatever you used to spend on counseling and therapy to Harvest Church.  Seriously, make the check out to Harvest Church.  I believe in these resources that much.  I fully expect to save you money, if you have been seeing a therapist.  So donate the difference.  I won't see a penny of it, and neither will my Preacher.  It will probably help further fund his upcoming trip to Haiti, in fact.  You will be sowing into the Kingdom of God, plus you will get a tax deduction.

Some things are just a win/win.

Mid-Life Coping Skills {31 Days of Celebrating Middle Age}

                                         (prints and cards of the above art are available here )

First of all, many thanks to my Detroit friend Louise Trombley for the idea-seed for this particular post...

Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast.   (Isaiah 26:20)

We've been talking about how intensely practical this thing called "Soul Care" really is.  I want to share with you just one of the many new coping skills I have learned in the last 5 years - one that has comforted and ultimately protected me.  I am so grateful to Louise for linking a Scripture to this concept for me.

In times of excruciating emotional pain (please believe me...I have been there) I have learned to do...nothing.  Not even pray.  I happen to believe that I live my life in the presence of God, and that He hears my groanings when they cannot be uttered.

I.  Do.  Nothing.  I send no four-alarm emails, I don't rally friends to prayer, I don't call my best girlfriend, I don't even talk to my husband.  I "enter into my chambers and shut my door and hide myself" until the strong emotions, like a tornado churning through the landscape of my soul, pass over me. 

In the above Isaiah scripture, "indignation" can really be any excruciatingly intense emotion.  It could be anger or despair or hopelessness or offense. The good news is, it will be "overpast" soon...that death angel has to pass over, because I am covered by the blood of Christ.

To call a friend, or friends - to plaster my negative emotions on (God forbid) Facebook - to sound the alarm and call a prayer meeting would be to make it all about my emotion du' jour (the feeling of the moment).  It would be to tweak the emotions of every person who cares about me - over a feeling that will soon be 'overpast'.

Bear with me, I know this goes against the feminine grain.  I am not talking about an unhealthy independence.  I am not saying we don't need the support of others in our life.  I am simply saying that you need to "hide yourself" when you are under the influence.

You know what I mean.

Once I've "sobered up", when the "indignation be overpast",   then I send that email.  I call that friend.  I mention the issue to the awesome girlfriend with whom I meet weekly for prayer.  I sit down and talk to my Preacher about it. 

But only when I am in control of my emotions, not my emotions controlling me.

Paul David Tripp, in his incredible book Lost in the Middle puts it this way:

"In moments of deep personal disappointment...we often let our hurt set the agenda for us.  And when we do, we inevitable live to regret those decisions and the legacy they leave behind.  This too, is a danger of the midlife struggle.  In moments of disappointment and disorientation, in the grief of regret and the sadness at the death of our dreams, we are very vulnerable to making decisions that will add further trouble to the trouble we are already experiencing."

I believe with all my heart that it goes back to simply hiding yourself away until those strong emotions pass over you.

I pray you take this as the tool in your midlife toolbox it is meant to be.  Hopefully it won't be the most used tool in the toolbox...just the one tool that will make all the difference in the world at the right time.

Soul Care in Mid Life {31 Days of Celebrating Middle Age}

Every crisis in mid-life (and in any season of life) is brought on not by what has happened to us, but by what we think about what has happened to us. 

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

We middle-agers are old pros at defying this Biblical wisdom.  We guard our diets, we carefully monitor our carbs, we guard our 401K's, and we guard our "family time".

But life is found in none of those things.  In fact, a heart that is sick will adversely affect every single other area of our living...because out of your heart flows the direction of your life.  It is time to stop cleaning up the outside of the cup, like the good religious legalists we tend to be in mid-life. 

Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.  (Matthew 23)

All transformation of the God-sort, happens from the inside out, never from the outside in. 

Soul-care is the work of a lifetime.  It is daily, and it is prosaic and pragmatic and intensely practical.  Soul-care is not mystical.  It is less about spending hours and hours "with God" (though that is good, if you have that kind of time) and more about taking out the spiritual and emotional trash every. single. day.

Sometimes, on a heavy-cleaning day, you will have to take out the emotional trash many times in one day.  But everyone has to take out the trash at least once, every day.

Repeat after me:  this is good.  This is normal.

Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox. (Proverbs 14:4)

If there is no trash, you aren't living life, you aren't making progress.  If you haven't been taking out the trash...well, your soul is a mess, I promise you.

Hey, I am in no position to judge.  I'm stuck in the middle with you. 

Let's clean it up.  Together.

Hey, Soul Sister! {Let's Talk About Our Middle-Aged Souls}

                                            (Prints and cards of this can be purchased here )

In his book, Mid-Life Course Correction , which I highly highly recommend, and in fact if you are  going to be in any "In the Middle" class that I teach, will be mandatory reading... this highly recommended book (did I already say that?) Gordon MacDonald talks about the time when he was counseling a man who was in a full blown mid-life crisis.  He suggested to him to "designate a 45 day period during which you will dabble in studying the architecture of your whole life in order to set it on an entirely new course..."

Obviously, MacDonald was not telling this man to quit his job, or to become someone he wasn't, or divorce his wife, buy some sheep and chickens and "reinvent himself" in some dramatic way.  No, the most profound course corrections are the shifts in attitude

Always, always act from a fresh, new, optimistic, Christ-centered attitudeNever make decisions when you are feeling discontent or at loose ends or depressed.  Actually, I cannot emphasize that enough.  Address the inner first, always.  The outer will follow.

It never works in reverse.

That's all we are doing, here.  We are taking 31 days to find a fresh, new outlook on this all-important middle-time of life.  After all, your middle entirely determines your end.  The choices you make here in your middle determine your outcome in a more profound way than even the choices you made when you began.

The Bible says nothing in particular about middle age, because the Bible tells us everything we need to know about middle age.  We truly need not consult any other oracle.  We aren't looking for text about middle age, we are looking for a context for middle age. 

Scripture gives us rich context.

"Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion:  for lo, I come, and I will dwell in your middle, saith the Lord." 
(Zechariah 2:10, quoted with only slight poetic license.  Look it up for yourself...)

31 Days of Celebrating Middle Age {Dress That Body}

Can I get an Amen?

The Message says it this way: 

"Her clothes are well-made and elegant, and she always faces tomorrow with a smile."

Being a preacher's wife - and of a small church - I know all about being frugal.  In fact, I would risk saying I can probably afford expensive clothes less than many people I know.

But I am worth more than the sale rack at Wal-Mart, and so are you.  You can get "well-made and elegant" from a thrift store for less than the Wal-Mart sale racks, you just have to know what to look for and how to look for it.

This has been something that has always meant a great deal to me, having been a fashionista all my life.  The amazing grace is, is that God has always seemed to provide for me, in this area.  And The Preacher loves it when I dress up, he loves my style, and wants me to look as good as I can for the budget we have.

The tiny budget we have.

If this is a sore spot with you, first I encourage you to take it to the Lord.  Ask Him why you can't seem to get into wearing pretty things.  It could be because of many root issues, all the way from childhood trauma, to current weight issues, to money issues, to a struggle with gender identity.  Just know this, dear one - it is normal and natural and healthy to want to look beautiful.  Seek healing and restoration in this area of your life, but seek it slowly.  It will come.

Next I encourage you to seek out a fashionista friend.  Find a woman who really knows how to dress for her body type, because chances are, she can tell you how to dress for yours!

If you are blessed enough to find a friend with that kind of time, ask her to come play in your closet with you - your own personal "What Not To Wear" session.  Toss what has not been working for you.

Go it.

Here's my version of "silk and purple":

Sorry for the fuzzy iphone picture and my crazy "mood/inspiration wall" to the left, but Fit 3 jeans from Target are my life.  My world.  My best friends.

Okay, so I exaggerate.  But I do have 3 pair, gotten half price this past early-summer, and they are all I wear.  I own them in dark skinnies, long skinnies (the upturned cuff at the bottom is all the rage right now), and boot leg faded.  I got rid of pretty much every other pair of jeans I owned...ask my daughter Hannah.  She got them all.

Put them with a white T-shirt and some cute flats and a great belt, and you are done, girlfriend.

Silk and purple - a little bit country, a little bit rock n' roll.  Like me.

If you need more inspiration, join Jeanne Oliver's creative community and check out Paige Knudsen's class entitled "Let's Play Dress Up".  Joining the creative community is free.  Paige's class is just $10!

31 Days {...of celebrating middle age...I know, right? It's weird.}

S - Stretch and Strengthen
W - Water
A - Aerobic
P - Portion Control

Your middle aged body needs way less food than it used to.  As in way, way less.  As in, "actually exactly go by those illustrated portion control posters" less - and yes, I will be sharing that with you later in this post. 

But more than any picture that tells you never to eat a piece of skinless chicken bigger than a deck of cards, I want to ask you to get in touch with your feelings.

Not the feelings that make you cry and drink red wine and eat chocolate.  (Though swearing, red wine, and chocolate make me a nicer person.  The way I see it, I am serving my Preacher when I indulge in all three from time to time - now and then, all at the same time.  It's the most unselfish thing I can do for him.)

I am taking about your feelings of hunger and fullness, or hunger and satiation.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made, and given a chance, your body knows when it is hungry, and it knows when it is just satisfied.  That point when you are no longer starving, but not stuffed.


Sometimes, I promise, that is only three bites.

But it's three bites of whatever-the-heck you want, no calorie counting, no worrying about fat grams or carbs or gluten.  Just listening deeply to your own body.  (Obviously I am not talking to those with diagnosed allergies to gluten - that is another topic and another blog besides mine, as I am not allergic to anything but legalists.  Ahem.)

You might think that, when you take "the law" off even your physical body, that your body will react violently by demanding...well, red wine and chocolate...24/7.

You might crave those things - so have some.  Honestly, if you are normal at all, eventually you will want spinach.  And almonds.  And grilled chicken.  And fruit.  Call it the "grace diet", call it what you will, all I know is that it works, and it is backed by sound nutritional science.  (Read the work of Debra Waterhouse here  and here  and here)

No laws.  Not even for food.  Actually, that's Biblical - as in, New Covenant Biblical.  Within reason, using the common sense God gave us, we can bless our food - "sanctifying it with thanksgiving" - and partake of anything we wish.

Now, just so you have a place to start, here is that poster that tells you all those interesting portion sizes:

I have unnaturally small hands (not even lying) so this can be a problem for me.

The only law you need live under, is the perfect law of liberty.  You can do all things in Christ, including enjoy food again, be healthy, know when you are hungry and know when you are satisfied, and watch those portions.