Dear Woman of Grace

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Dear Woman of Grace,

We were so young, you remember.  We made decisions we had no business making, which in turn involved people who never deserved to get involved. My head was in a cloud of confusion and delusion and I made a series of poor, poor choices.  It was the first time in my 22 years that I recognized the domino effect that one poor decision could have on not just one life, but multiple lives.

The walls I had constructed with such recklessness came tumbling down around me and I felt overwhelmed at the rubble.  I wanted to crawl into a dark place and never come out.  You see, I had always been the example, the leader.  I had maintained my mask of perfection for many years.  Maybe no-one else bought it, but I did.  When I saw the rubble surrounding me, it wasn’t just my life that was a wreck… it was my identity.

And your loved one got hurt.  An innocent bystander was wounded by the chain of events that I initiated.  The guilt and embarrassment took my breath away.

Then there was the baby that was on the way.  In the midst of such chaos, God blessed Jimmie and me with a pregnancy that we so desperately desired.  With the news came immense joy.  Joy clouded by the guilt of a series of poor decisions that hurt and disappointed many.

It was hard to look you in the eye.  When our paths crossed, I avoided you.  I had no words  that adequately described my regret.  Then came the moment I will never forget.

We practically bumped into each other and when I looked up and saw your face, sobs emerged.  Intelligible sobs.  The words may have not been clear, but the meaning of my sobs was evident.

I’m sorry.

And you, woman of grace, you swept this young woman into your arms and forgave.  You poured out your grace on me in a way that so closely resembled the grace of God, I knew it to be a supernatural event.  My heavy sobs melted away into your loving embrace as you firmly said,

It’s okay.

I knew you meant it.  You told me to move forward and to take care of that baby growing inside me and that’s what I did.

Do you understand what you did for me 10 years ago?  Your forgiveness set me free.  That was a pivotal moment in my life.  Had you not responded to me with the love and grace of God, I could have been set upon a path marked by failure.  Instead, you forgave and set me free to advance in my ministry and calling.

My dark days were illuminated with forgiveness and hope.  Hope that you offered by the grace of God.

I have never forgotten what you did for me.  Your demonstration of forgiveness has shaped the way I respond to those around me.  It has kept me humble.  It is a constant reminder of the grace that our Savior shows to us all.  When I look at my beautiful family, I am reminded of your advice to move forward and take care of my family.

You could have told the world how our decisions impacted your family.  You could have made us your enemy.  You could have shamed us, shunned us and undermined our every step.  Instead, you have been a support and encouragement every step of our journey.  Our story will remain secret to most, but I want to broadcast to the world the impact you made on my life in a brief, 5-minute conversation.  You are a woman of grace and I honor you.

With gratitude and love,

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Moving Forward in 2014

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Last week I shared with you what worked best for me in 2013.  I want to be a person who learns from my mistakes and is encouraged by my progress.  I also want to prayerfully consider my plans and goals, and make sure they are in alignment with the word of God and his plans for my life.  I was amazed at how quickly these goals for the year came to me.  True self-reflection often points us in the right direction.

If you haven’t set goals for 2014, don’t feel like it’s too late.  January 1st is a great time to begin working toward changes, but really there is no better day than today.  Jimmie and I used this guide from The Art of Simple as a launching point.

So, here they are!  My goals for 2014:

Personal Goals:

Develop in the following areas:

1. Be present.  Whoever I am with deserves my full attention, whether it is my family, a friend, someone at my job, or God himself.  I want to eliminate distractions and focus on whoever I am with.   I want to be conscious of the beauty and blessings that surround me, whether in nature or in the life God has blessed me with.

2. Be intentional.  I don’t want to simply hope for the changes I know need to come about in my life or in the work I do.  I want to plan better, set goals, and be accountable for my progress.

3. Be joyful.  I need to smile and play more, especially at home.  A daily gratitude journal will help me focus on the gifts that God gives me each and every day.

4.  Relax.  My stress levels have been enormously high.  I need to set realistic expectations for myself.  I need to focus on my priority list and nothing else.  I need to take time to decompress.  I may need a massage from time to time to relieve the tension I carry.

Learning Goals:

1.  Read at least two books per month.  One should be spiritually edifying.  Use Goodreads app to keep track.

2.  Complete at least four Kay Arthur Bible Studies.

3.  Learn to use my camera in manual mode.

Physical Goals:

1.  Maintain a paleo lifestyle the majority of the time.

2.  Slowly introduce running into my lifestyle.

Marriage/Family Goals:

1.  Take time to relax.

2.  Go out on occasional dates.

3.  Have family devotion time at least two nights per week.

4.  Take a family vacation.

Accountability:

To stay accountable in accomplishing my goals, I will:

1.  Use my weekly calendar to schedule study times and devotion times.

2.  Schedule a monthly check-in with Jimmie to go over our progress.

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These do not include my goals for Gathering.  Thankfully, we have frequent leadership, team, and launch meetings in which we set goals and keep one another accountable.  It is also my goal to devote my time and energy to each item on my priority list.  These are just a few things that stood out to me as needs in my life.

What about you?  Do you have any resolutions?  Any goals for 2014?  Do you have any thoughts or advice for me in reaching my goals?  I would love your feedback.

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What I Gather About 2013

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This year on January 1st I sat down with my husband and spent several hours discussing the ups and downs of 2013 and setting goals for 2014.  After a long break from blogging, I thought this would be a good time to share some things that worked for me in 2013.  Soon I will also share some goals I have for the coming year.

Health:

1.  The Paleo diet.  Nothing in my 32 years of existence has brought about more positive changes in my body than our radical change in eating habits.  I’m reluctant to call it a “diet” because we have become so accustomed to eating this way that it feels very natural.  I have more energy, have lost nearly 30 pounds, sleep better, feel alert and don’t have any digestive issues.  Several weeks of eating cruddy, sugar-laden food at Christmastime left me feeling bloated, tired, foggy and depressed.  This Paleo lifestyle is here to stay.

2.  The Whole 30.  Thirty days of saying no all sugar and processed food did wonders for my sugar addiction.  I was amazed at how little I craved foods I have always craved after even a week of adhering to the Whole 30 plan.  I highly recommend The Whole 30 for anyone who needs to reset their nutritional habits or kick their sugar addiction.

3.  Food.  Who am I kidding?  Food always works for me!  There were some clear winners, though, in 2013…. foods that I rediscovered or helped me meet my goals or made the Paleo lifestyle a breeze.  My favorites?  Brussels sprouts, eggs, dates, Lara bars, bacon, prosciutto, greens (especially kale, spinach, and beet greens), chicken sausages, pistachios, sweet peppers and organic ground beef.  Yum.

Books:

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1.  Bread and Wine  by Shauna Niequist.  I can’t recommend this book enough.  It inspired me to open my home and my heart to friends, neighbors and even strangers.

2.  Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.  I am a huge Kingsolver fan and this book didn’t disappoint.

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3.  Prototype by Jonathan Martin.  I closed this book feeling more beloved by God.  My eyes were opened to the way God sees and loves me.

4.  The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  This was such a fun book, full of whimsy and mystery.  I couldn’t put it down.  Thankfully I read it on vacation and was able to read all hours of the day and night to finish it!

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5. Saturday by Ian McEwan.  This book was beautiful and descriptive and made me want to become a novelist.

Personally:

1.  Transparency.  It has been a challenge blogging about some of my biggest struggles and insecurities, but I have found it to be extremely therapeutic.  I find myself working through my feelings as I write them out for the world to see.  Thank you to all of you Rachael Gathers readers, for your e-mails, comments, phone calls and shares.  You let me know that I am not alone and I draw so much courage and encouragement from your stories.

2.  Letting go.  This has been a  year that forced me to recognize that not everyone is going to like me, approve of me, or support me.  I will admit this has been a hard lesson to learn, but it is an essential lesson for us all.  I have found great peace and comfort in the love and acceptance I find in Jesus Christ and am trying not to care so much what everyone else thinks.  

Spiritually:

1.  Reading through the Bible in a year.  I didn’t quite finish on time, but I am almost done!  While this doesn’t take the place of Bible study, it was really good for me to be disciplined about reading the Bible nearly every day.  The app I used on my iPhone was extremely helpful in this regard.

2.  Creating a list of priorities.  This may have brought about the biggest change for me this year.  I didn’t see a drastic change in my behavior immediately, but rather a change in my thinking.  I began to think about what is important in my life based on time spent in prayer and study.  This has allowed me to evaluate many aspects of my life and begin to say no more often.

On the Blog:

Being flexible.  I am a very goal-oriented person, so I have felt a huge amount of frustration at not being able to plan posts better.  With my family, job, planting a church, and various other commitments, I have had to come to terms with blogging when I am able.  I try not to pay attention to stats and just enjoy posting when I can.  Mostly I enjoy the comments and feedback from all of you!

With that said, here are my ten most popular posts from 2013:

1.  Gathering Ideas for a Shabby Chic Bedroom

2.  A Gathering of Recipes for Crowds

3.  Gathering for a Shabby Chic Baby Shower

4.  A Gathering of Goodwill Finds:  Kitchen and Dining Edition

5.  I Gather a Letter of Love (Happy Birthday, Jimmie!)

6.  A Gathering of Goodwill Finds:  Dress Edition

7.  A Gathering of Bible Study Methods

8. Gathering Delight

9.  What I Gather About Chelsea

10.  What I Gather About Women of Valor

Many of these were popular thanks to Pinterest.  Thanks to those of you who pin my blog posts!

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There is a look back at some of the things that worked best for me in 2013.  I can’t wait to share with you some of my goals for 2014!

What about you?  What did you learn in 2013?  Was there anything that really worked well for you?  I would love to hear about it!

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Emmanuel, God With Us

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I have been listening to a song on repeat over the last couple of weeks. It is called I Shall Not Want by Audrey Assad.  It is beautiful and profound and you can watch the video here.  Here are the lyrics I can’t seem to get out of my head:

“From the love of my own comfort
From the fear of having nothing
From a life of worldly passions
Deliver me O God

From the need to be understood
From the need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me O God
Deliver me O God

And I shall not want, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want

From the fear of serving others
From the fear of death or trial
From the fear of humility
Deliver me O God
Deliver me O God”

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Jesus has been dealing with my heart for several years about Christmas and the way we celebrate.  When I came across this blog post by Jen Hatmaker a couple of years ago, I both rejoiced and wept, thrilled that someone put into words what I felt in the depths of my spirit.

I am weary of the culture of more.  I am weary of the culture of excess.  I am weary of materialism and greed and un-gratefulness.  I am weary of mile long Christmas lists and unappreciative children.  My heart grieves at the excess all around me compared to the desperate needs of my own brothers and sisters who know me by name in Cuba.  I am saddened by the overabundance of holiday parties and food when the orphan I sponsored in Uganda died, most likely of hunger.  My heart is heavy and yet I know there is a better way.

My heart is whispering this prayer to my Savior…… I shall not want.

When I find myself scouring Pinterest for ideas to make my house more beautiful and my tree even more festive,

I shall not want.

When I try to give my children a memorable Christmas by purchasing toys instead of celebrating the blessed birth,

I shall not want.

When I pack my schedule full of activities and parties, trying to capture our society’s definition of a successful holiday,

I shall not want.

You see, in the 23rd Psalm, the first verse goes hand in hand.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.

When I allow him to be my shepherd and guide, what could my heart possibly desire?  Emmanuel has come.  God is with us and we already have all that we need.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.  For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

This is what it is all about.  I will rejoice and be glad that the new morning has dawned.  In my moments of sorrow, Emmanuel, God with us.  In my moments of loneliness, Emmanuel, God with us.  In my moments of greed, Emmanuel, God with us.  God is here and he alone is what I need.

As the song so beautifully says, “When I taste your goodness, I shall not want.”

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What I DO want this holiday season?

I want a home full of daily scripture readings leading up to the celebration of the blessed birth.

I want moments of meditation with the family, sensing the sacredness of the celebration.

I want to bless others the way I have been blessed in abundance.

I want to give and serve and love.

I want to cry and feel peace flood my soul when we sing about the Silent Night.

I want to gather together and sing out the praises of Jesus, God himself wrapped in flesh.

I want to sit and partake of the bread and the wine in remembrance of Emmanuel, God With Us.

And so I pray.

When I taste your goodness, I shall not want all of the things.  I shall want you and you alone.

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What are you doing this year to keep the celebration sacred?  I would love your feedback!

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Missed any posts?  Here are the most recent:

What I Gather About Whole 30

Dear Dad, Letter 4 (on cancer and trust)

What I Gather About Priorities

You can also follow Rachael Gathers via e-mail HERE!

What I Gather About Whole 30

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If you had asked me a year ago if I would ever drastically change my eating habits, I would have laughed.  I probably would have laughed the way I do now when people ask me if I plan to start exercising.

I love food.  I savor every bite of quality food.  Restaurants are my happy place, especially if we are talking Indian restaurants, authentic Italian, or hole-in-the-wall heavens.  If you ever find me sitting at Mediterrano Cafe during a weekday lunch buffet, you will find a glowing Rachael.  Don’t even get me started on desserts and chocolate.

But when my husband came home with news of pre-diabetes and a warning to lose belly weight, I knew something had to change.  Just because I was never overweight did not mean I didn’t have a problem with food…. more specifically, an addiction to sugar.

So we began Our Wheat-Free, Almost Paleo Diet.  Our friends joined in with us and the results were immediately noticeable.  As we progressed in the changes in our eating habits, I began researching The Whole 30 program.  It looked like something that would be beneficial to our families, especially right before the holidays, so we jumped on board and are now on day 24.

I don’t like to focus on weight, but to give you an idea of the transformation, I will tell you that I have lost 25 pounds since July (13 since we started Whole 30), Jimmie has lost about 30 pounds, and even Ava has lost 10.  I find myself with a substantial increase of energy that typically lasts throughout my entire day.  I have noticed a difference in mental clarity… I don’t feel like I am ever walking around in a fog anymore.  I also think I have fought off illnesses in a shorter time frame than typical of this time of year.  Jimmie is also completely off of his medicine for diabetes.  The crazy thing?  I don';t miss the foods I used to eat.  Occasionally I will have an emotional desire to eat ice cream or pizza, but physically I am satisfied with the foods we are eating.  And the recipes are GOOD!

I never want to push a lifestyle onto anyone.  If you want more information about the Whole 30, see the link above.  I am frequently asked, however, about why we are doing it.  More than that, I am asked…

What do you EAT??

So I want to give you our actual meal plans from our first four weeks.  I have provided links where available.  Anything with an * next to it refers to a recipe from the NomNom Paleo app for iPad.  I highly recommend this app, whether you are a Paleo enthusiast or not.  Every single one of her recipes has been fantastic.  We aren’t so scheduled with our breakfasts, either, so first I will give you some ideas for healthy, Whole 30 approved breakfasts.

Breakfasts:

Bacon and eggs

Lara Bars (apple pie, cherry pie, or cashew cookie)

Coffee with Paleo creamer

Egg muffins

Deviled eggs*

Hardboiled eggs

Avocado baked eggs

Egg and veggie scramble

Coconut balls

Sweet potato and chorizo hash

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Week 1:

Lunch 1: Tuna salad salad, nuts and sliced peppers

Dinner 1: Garbage stir fry*

Lunch 2:  Tuna salad salad, deviled eggs

Dinner 2:  Mahi Mahi, sweet potato fries, salad

Lunch 3: Pastrami and pepper roll-ups, guacamole and pepper slices, fruit

Dinner 3: Bacon burger with sautéed onion, mushroom and green pepper, salad

Lunch 4: Chicken salad salad, Paleo trail mix*

Dinner 4: Beef and tomato stew*

Lunch 5: Leftover stew

Dinner 5: Cobb salad (hb eggs, grilled chicken, bacon, avocado, cucumber, tomato)

Lunch 6: Pastrami and pepper roll-up, cucumber salad, trail mix

Dinner 6: Asian meatballs*, mashed cauliflower*, salad

Lunch 7: Leftover meatballs

Dinner 7: Grilled chicken, roasted broccoli

Week 2:

Lunch 1: Crab BLT salad*

Dinner 1: Chocolate chili, sliced avocados

Lunch 2:  Leftover chili

Dinner 2: Pork burgers on greens*, sweet potato fries, roasted zucchini

Lunch 3: Spicy tuna cakes*

Dinner 3: Grilled chicken, salad

Lunch 4: Pastrami and pepper wrap

Dinner 4:  Pork roast* tacos

Lunch 5: Leftover pork, cucumber salad

Dinner 5:  Broiled salmon, roasted broccoli, sautéed greens

Lunch 6: Bacon and guacamole “sandwiches*”, slices peppers, fruit

Dinner 6: Frittata muffins, sweet potato hash, bacon

Lunch 7: Leftover frittata muffins

Dinner 7: ?

Week 3:

Lunch 1: BLT egg salad

Dinner 1: Garbage stir-fry*

Lunch 2: Spicy tuna cakes*, sliced peppers

Dinner 2: Chicken sausage skillet meal

Lunch 3: Leftover chicken sausage skillet, trail mix

Dinner 3:  Shredded chicken taco salad

Lunch 4: Pastrami and pepper wrap

Dinner 4: Spicy Tunisian shrimp*, roasted broccoli

Lunch 5: Bacon-wrapped chicken tenders, sliced avocado

Dinner 5: Chipotle chicken soup, sliced avocado

Lunch 6: Leftover soup

Dinner 6: Pork chops, roasted zucchini, roasted mushrooms

Lunch 7: Brunch, bacon and fried eggs

Dinner 7: QDoba,( meat, lettuce, guacamole)

Week 4:

Lunch 1: (Brunch) Chicken sausage and peppers, fried egg

Dinner 1: Crispy smashed chicken with salsa*, bacon topped Brussel sprouts*

Lunch 2: Leftover chicken, cucumber salad

Dinner 2: Big O Burgers*, cabbage steaks

Lunch 3: Cobb salad

Dinner 3: Chipotle chicken soup, salad

Lunch 4: Pastrami wraps, tomato salad

Dinner 4:  Crock pot Italian beef over spaghetti squash

Lunch 5: Leftover Italian beef

Dinner 5:  Chocolate chili, sliced avocados

Lunch 6: Leftover chili

Dinner 6: Tilapia, baked sweet potatoes, salad

Lunch 7: Prosciutto muffins

Dinner 7: ?

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Whew!  If you are counting, that is 28 days.  We haven’t decided on our last two yet.  This is just a glimpse into how we eat.  We have eaten at QDoba a couple of times, but otherwise haven’t eaten out at all.  For snacks, we eat nuts, fruit (I especially like dates), veggie slices, fried eggs, or avocados.  We are also able to drink coffee and tea, as long as there are no added sweeteners.

What do you think?  Could you ever do this?  Have you ever tried The Whole 30?  I would love to hear your thoughts.  If you have any questions about recipes or about my experience, please contact me or ask in the comment section!

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Missed any posts?  Here are the latest:

Dear Dad, Letter 4

What I Gather About Priorities

A Gathering of Vacation Reads

You can also FOLLOW ME HERE

 

Dear Dad, Letter 4 (on cancer and trust)

(I debated whether or not to share this publicly.  Obviously I landed on doing it.  I want to be an open book and always hope that my transparency will encourage someone else.)

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Dear Dad,

Yesterday was one of those days when I would have given just about anything to have you with me again.

I have heard some words over the past few days that are still a bit surreal.

Suspicious.

Skin cancer.

Biopsy.

I’m pretty sure I inherited my rational brain from you.  Most days logic rules in my life.  Even so, here is how my brain was working during a lapse of sanity:

skin cancer = cancer = 9 year (often horrifying) battle with cancer = death at a sadly young age

Add to that Google searches which tell me those who develop non-melanoma skin cancers have a 50% greater risk of developing other non-skin related cancers.  In addition, if the person diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer is young (say, 32), the risk of developing other types of cancers jumps even higher.

Thank you, Google.

I recognize that all of this worry was premature considering I won’t know the results of the biopsy until Wednesday and it could be nothing.  And yet, I worried.

I don’t fear death.  You taught me there is nothing to fear.  I do worry about the implications of cancer to a 32-year-old mother of two who also happens to be immersed in a church plant and missions work in Cuba. So day one I was perfectly fine and on day two, I flipped.  On day two, I needed my dad.

I needed you to talk to me rationally and be my pastor.  I needed you to lay your hands on me and pray for a miracle.

Thankfully you taught me some valuable lessons while you were still here, and I have even learned some on my own since you left.  I knew I couldn’t live in a state of panic for five days, and reached out to God for help.  Help came in an unexpected way.

See, I have this friend.  You would love her.  She is spiritual and wise and selfless and caring.  She persisted in making sure I was okay, and eventually I let her know I wasn’t.  She told me I had permission to worry.  I told her she was setting the bar too low for me.  She responded that there is no bar for me until Wednesday and that I could react however I wanted until then.

It was in that moment that I realized just how wrong she was.  (Don’t feel bad, spiritual, wise, selfless, caring friend.  We are all wrong sometimes.)  I had a moment of clarity and responded with this:

“I have a bar.  I need to be trusting in God.  I don’t get a free pass because something scary is on the horizon.  What kind of follower would that make me?  I know God allows lament and questioning… for a period.  But I also know he demands trust.”

What kind of trust do I possess when I trust God only during times of health, wealth, prosperity, joy and plenty?  Isn’t it in times of sickness, struggle, poverty, famine, lament and sorrow when my trust is truly tested?

I felt better after that conversation.  I felt even better after my church gathered around me and prayed to God on my behalf for health, healing and a good report.

What really made all the difference was my conversation with Jesus last night.

I don’t have you, Dad.  But we both know I have something even better.  I have the Holy Spirit on the inside that is my Comforter.  I serve a gentle Savior who speaks peace to storms and who bore stripes for my healing.  I don’t have you, but you introduced me to Him.  For nine long years, you modeled unshakable trust in Him and I choose to follow in your footsteps.

My prayer and hope is that this is nothing and that it leads to nothing.  I know that I don’t get a free pass on suffering while on this earth and that my days are numbered only what God permits.  I also choose to have faith and trust that my future is not determined by genetics (as your son Michael so graciously pointed out yesterday) but that a righteous woman’s steps are ordered by the Lord.

I woke up this morning with a peace that passes all understanding.  I will walk in that peace and trust until Wednesday and beyond, wherever this road may take me.

Thank you for teaching me by example.

Your girl,

Rachael

Want to read more letters to my dad?  

Dear Dad, Letter 3

Dear Dad, Letter 2

Dear Dad, Letter 1

 

What I Gather About Priorities

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I was having one of those months.  Even though my calendar told me there was enough time to fulfill my commitments, my body and spirit were telling me otherwise.

All good things.

When I can help, I want to help.  It’s hard for me to come up with excuses to get out of doing things that matter.  It is in my nature to jump in and give my all, especially when it is for a good cause.

And yet…

My spirit wasn’t at rest.  I was feeling unsettled, foggy, tense.  My muscles were aching, my temper was short and I felt resentment creeping up in me.

My heart was crying out to God for an answer, for help, for a life boat.

(Enter the still, small voice of a gentle Savior)

So I sat down and made a priority list.  I have never done this in my life.  I have had a vague internal list of priorities in my head, but never anything concrete… never anything I could point to and say “No.  I can’t do that.  See?  It’s not on my list.”

I kept my list to ten items.  Of course, these ten items have sub-categories, so really my list is a lot longer than ten, but setting the limit at ten things made me feel sane again.  What made my list?  Here they are:

1. My relationship with God

2. My Marriage

3. My Family

4. Serving Others

5. Gathering

6. Missions

7. Myself

8. My Blog

9. Young Lives

10. Work

Let me make it really clear… ALL OF THESE THINGS ARE REALLY IMPORTANT TO ME.  The things that aren’t so important to me didn’t make the list (unless they are a sub-category).  This list is a work in progress, and I am asking God for help in any edits I make.  During this process I have learned a few things.

1.  My current lifestyle doesn’t match up to my priorities list.  My relationship with God may be number one on my list, but there are days when God gets only the leftovers of my time and energy, if He gets anything at all.  I may say that my family is more important than my church, but when I go days without spending quality time with my kids because of church commitments, something is wrong.  This current list may not reflect where I am currently am, but it gives me a guideline to follow for where I want to end up.

2.  Numbering my priorities gives me power.  Mostly, it gives me power to say no.  If something isn’t on my list, unless it is really important, I’m not investing my time into it.  Of course, my priority list must be in alignment with scripture and how I feel God leading me.  If I make my blog number one on my list and say no to other things, I need God to hit me over the head with something.  My priorities must align with His.

3.  A priority list helps me get organized.  Even though I was busy all the time before I made my list, I didn’t really understand just how much I was committed to.  Putting it on paper was my wake-up call to get my life organized.  I made some changes on my calendar, made a decision to eliminate some distractions, and got busy.

I’m really thankful God led me to take a step back and examine my life.  I never want to get so busy that I can’t rest in His presence.  I never want to be doing so many  good things that I forget why I’m doing them.  I never want to have a mile long to-do list and in turn see the most important things suffer.  My prayer is for God to help me keep my priorities in check and always be in alignment with His purpose for me.

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What about you?  Do you have a priority list?  Do you have a hard time saying no?  Do you see that your priorities are not in alignment with the Word of God?  What steps have you or can you take to get your priorities in check?  I would love your feedback!

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Missed any posts?  Here are the most recent:

A Gathering of Vacation Reads

We Are Gathering

Dear Dad, Letter 3

 

A Gathering of Vacation Reads

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I have taken a couple of weeks off from blogging due to a vacation.  I will be back to my normal blogging routine soon, but first I wanted to share with you the books I read while on our trip.

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My idea of a perfect vacation is reading and relaxation.  We recently returned from a 10 day trip to Florida with my mom and stepdad.  We spent the first part of our trip at a resort in Orlando and the second half at a private cabin on the beach on Captiva Island.

disney
(Proof that we did in fact take the girls to Magic Kingdom)

We did the Magic Kingdom deal one day (and my girls LOVED it), but mostly we relaxed.  The beach where we stayed was beautiful and isolated and therefore perfect.  I am able to relax most with the sounds of the ocean and a book in hand.  I know many of you love book recommendations as much as I do, so I want to share with you what I read on my trip.  I took five novels and only got through three, but they were all excellent in their own way.


I really can’t recommend The Night Circus enough.  I don’t usually delve into novels that dip into fantasy and magic, but Jimmie bought this for me for Christmas and I had heard good things about it.  I couldn’t put it down.  The story is unlike anything I have ever read, taking fantastical twists and turns along the way.  It stretches the imagination.  I have heard rumors of a Night Circus movie.  Time will tell if the movie can live up to the beauty of this epic novel.


This was a book I picked up on a whim at Barnes and Noble. I frequently don’t read the inside cover or back of a book, instead relying on the reviews of trusted newspapers. So I had absolutely no idea what The Fault in Our Stars was about when I started it.  It is basically the story of a teenage cancer patient.  Don’t let that description deter you from trying this book out.  It’s not the kind of book I typically enjoy, but this was charming and honest.  It has sad moments intertwined with great humor.  The main character reminded me a bit of a Juno-type character.  I loved every page.


Several bloggers I follow recommended The Shoemaker’s Wife.  It didn’t disappoint.  It is a sweeping novel, telling the story of several memorable characters and crossing continents.  This is my kind of book.  The main character inspired me to work harder and be more generous.  I did feel like the end was stretched out a little longer than I would have liked, but if you like beautiful, romantic, Italian love stories, this book is for you.

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Books I took but didn’t get to?    The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht and the classic Dune by Frank Herbert.  I don’t ever read science fiction, but Jimmie assures me the Dune series is amazing.

What about you?  What have you been reading?  Have you read any of the books I read on vacation?  I rely heavily on book recommendations, and would love your feedback!

Missed you all.  You will be hearing more from me soon.

sig Missed any posts? Here are the most recent:

We Are Gathering

Dear Dad, Letter 3

A Gathering of Gallery Walls

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We Are Gathering

wearegathering

We open our homes and we open our hearts.

Come in to my messy house and into my messy life.  You are welcome.

We serve lots of food on big platters or right out of the slow cookers.  We fill our plates and nourish one another with more than just food.  We find a seat wherever one is available or make our own place right on the floor.

I know about your job, you know about mine.  We often know the needs to pray for without being asked or told.  We make our struggles and our humanity known.  You bear my burdens, I bear yours.

We gather before dawn, music soft and lights low.  We pray in the quietness of early morning, watching the sun rise together, before the world is awake.  Scripture pierces the darkness between us, breaking down barriers, both challenging us and equipping us for the day ahead.

We ask each other’s children the questions that matter to them.  We listen intently to the answers and watch their faces light up.  We listen as they struggle through the scripture reading, watch them receive the offerings with joy and overlook the noise they sometimes make.  We love them all.  It takes a village, after all, and everything is worth it when we see them raise their hands to the One we all love or sing out a song of praise.

We discipline them, teach them kingdom principles, mediate arguments.  We pour the Word of God into their little hearts and minds.  We teach them songs to help them remember the important things.  We ask them a million questions and reward them in a million ways when we see that what matters is sinking in.  We love them all.

We open our Bibles and expose our ideas about what we read.  We look at one another while we speak, ready to grow from the insight offered.  You challenge me, I challenge you.  We call each other out for making excuses or diluting what that Word actually says.  His words matter most and we don’t let each other forget it.

We cook meals for one other in times of joy and grief.  We plant trees of remembrance together.  We cry when one hurts, delight when one has joy.  We celebrate victories and raises and babies.  We hold those babies as if they are our own, speaking silent prayers of blessing over them.

We meet the needs when we see one struggling.  We write a check or buy the groceries or babysit the kids.  We cook the dinner or make the encouraging phone call or send the scripture via text.  We show up on the doorstep, ready to intercede on behalf of one another.

We pass the wine and the bread and do it all in remembrance of the One who paid it all for us.  We close our eyes in repentance.  We see the tears fall sometimes and we don’t judge.  We understand the love of a Savior and are moved equally in varying ways.  We are thankful, all of us together.

We raise our hands and sing out the praises of the One who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.  We clap and move and the kids join in and we are a new body of believers, worshiping their Maker as one.  We  tell each other of the goodness of the Lord with gladness.

We listen intently to our elders and honor them always.

We pass out food to the hungry.  We dig our hands into the earth, planting seeds in the ground and planting the seed in our community.  We embrace teenage moms as if they were our little sisters, and fight over who gets to hold their babies.  We give until it hurts to take care of the orphans, the homeless, the church planters and the ones reaching out to make disciples.

We have our struggles and our selfish moments and our glaring shortcomings.  We have a long way to go. We are not perfect and we proclaim that loudly and without hesitation.  But we are part of His body, and we understand how significant that is.  We understand the honor of serving alongside one another and through it all, we love.  We love past the failures and through the trials.  We love old and young, meek and bold, quiet and loud.  We love the only way we know how, allowing the God of love to flow through us, transforming us all the while.

We are gathering and we are Gathering.

sig Missed any posts? Here are the most recent:
Dear Dad, Letter 3

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Dear Dad, Letter 3

Dad

Dear Dad,

I wondered how October would feel when it came around this year.

Your absence is always felt on the 5th.  I spent the day wondering what we would have done to celebrate your birthday.  You were not a man of celebrations.  I can’t seem to recall even one birthday celebration for you.  I’m sure we had them, but perhaps your lack of enthusiasm keeps anything from standing out in my mind.  So what would have been your 71st birthday passed and was fairly uneventful.

Sunday marks 16 years you have been gone.  A few years back I began wondering what this landmark would feel like.  This year, Dad, is the year that marks you being gone for half of my life.  I am 32.  You have been gone 16 years.

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I learned not to be afraid of death.  I learned that lesson at a young age and you were my teacher.  I can’t recall whose funeral it was, but I vividly remember you making me touch the dead body.  I wasn’t resistant, just curious.  When I felt the cold, unnatural skin, you explained that the soul had left the body, and that the soul is the essence of a human.  What was left was a shell, nothing more.

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“What’s the worst they can do?  KILL ME?”

I heard this line so many times during your sermons and lessons.  It was often in reference to passages about persecution.  Even as a young girl, I could come up with things worse than being killed.  But I knew what you meant.  You didn’t fear death and your fearlessness made you a hero to me, strong and courageous.

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Do you remember the day I came into the ICU alone?  You had suffered beyond comprehension.  Every organ seemed to be failing after the bone marrow transplant.  Mom was spent.  The future was unclear.  Prayers were rising up as a continual vapor on your behalf, but the suffering seemed never-ending.  It was rare for me to have a moment alone with you.

Do you remember what I said?

I spoke truth from my heart.  The words came easily.

“It’s okay, Dad.  You can go.  I will be okay.”

I wasn’t afraid of death.  I was only afraid of my life after your death.

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People have called me morbid.  As a student of sociology, I took classes like sociology of death and dying.  I can talk openly about my own mortality.

I recognize on a daily basis that my future is unknown.  I could live into my 90’s like your dad.  I could die of cancer at 55 like you did.  My life could end Thursday on my commute to work.  My life is a vapor.  Your death taught me that.

I don’t see this as a problem.  I see this as a gift, Dad.  A gift you gave to me until you breathed your last breath.

In recognizing that my every breath is numbered, I choose every day to live.

When you came to the end of your life, you had lived more than most live in a lifetime.  You loved well, had a beautiful family, a successful career, traveled the world and were adventurous.  Most importantly, you spent your life for the Kingdom of God.  You built a church, poured yourself into making disciples, loved and studied the Word of God, prayed without ceasing, and knew the Savior.

You knew Him all the way to your final breath.  You trusted Him with your future until the moment He called you home.

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“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes….” (James 4:13-14)

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I’m not afraid of death, but I am afraid of not living.  When I come to the end, I want to breathe my last breath having spent myself tirelessly and completely for Kingdom purposes.  I want to know my Savior personally.  I want the Word to live and breathe through me.  I want to be like you, Dad.

So this month I celebrate your birth and life, mourn your death, and celebrate your resurrection into eternal life.

And through it all, I miss you.

Love,

Rachael

Dear Dad, Letter 2

Dear Dad, Letter 1

 

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