89. Plain, Mundane, and Common

My inbox is filling up with Christmas ideas:

The emotions are mixed on this folks, because I’m just not there…

Perhaps I could put our three trees in this corner?corner of living room

And hang the gigantic glitter snowflakes right here in the middle of these new windows where all cars passing by can see them?

New insulation surround new living room windows

Maybe we could decorate the ladder with pretty white lights?

Alas, instead of putting up Christmas trees, we are putting up pink fluffy stuff in the walls; instead of squirting cans of snow on the tree, we are squirting cans of foam around cracks and holes; instead of plugging in gigantic glittery snowflakes we are adding electrical outlets to the walls — every six feet, of course, to meet code…

Our twenty foot living room wall has gone from shivering, bare studs


to a warm blanket of pink


to a coordinating crazy quilt coverlet of pink and green.


You’ll also notice two of the four new outlets — for future gigantic glittery snowflakes, no doubt. (Actually my taste runs more to stars than flakes, but that’s another post…)

No glitter this year — just the plain, the mundane, and the common stuff of ordinary life.

Like one simple candle in the window instead of strings of lights; like quiet time spent reading Isaiah instead of Pinterest; like consciously focusing thought on the Savior in the ordinary manger, not Christmas wrappings and trappings; like looking very hard to find the UNordinary in the mundane happenings of everyday.

Snow clouds and blue sky

The God who came as a poor common man instead of the expected king turned the world upside down in part because of his humble origins, in part because he turned the common into uncommon: Water into wine, sin into forgiveness, dark into light, the cross — a horrible symbol of death — into the ultimate symbol of life.

I’m memorizing Isaiah 53:1-7 for the Christmas worship at our church. Every day I say it a dozen times or more, so I can know it. Say it with no mistakes. And at least once a day it moves me to tears of gratitude and remorse for what one common uncommon man-God did for me. For you.  

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him; nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering… but he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all…

the people who walked in darkness...May you we take time for quiet reflection in the midst of this busy season. May you we find the blessings in that mundane uneventful day, and may you we find the uncommon light of the Savior in the dark of December.

85. Dithering

We spend a lot of time dithering…

siding boards

Trying to figure out every angle before we start, so we won’t be surprised.

It never works, and we just end up with a work stoppage.

Yesterday, after a morning of spectacular dithering, I wondered to myself why we don’t discuss these problems on the way back and forth from house to house. We’ve got plenty of time; the drive is at least an hour, and that’s if all the cars and drivers are behaving. (And the cat; when the cat misbehaves we end up with a conversation stoppage…).

But then I realized that we don’t discuss these problems because they are Unforeseen. Unexpected. Unknowns.

While we were dithering
about the project
before we started,
we never thought THAT
would happen,
even though
we thought
that we had thought
of Everything
causes dithering again.

Painting of Apple Hill Cottage, ca.1973

When the cottage first became ours, it was rather like a new romance. Oh, we wandered around thinking of possibilities — how grand it would be if we could put in hardwood floors here; and maybe we could raise the roof there; and perhaps if we enclosed this part of the back porch it would make a lovely guest bedroom…
The basic plan was to bring the cottage back to the way it looked originally (as close as we could get it, at least…) That wasn’t dithering; it was dreaming, and wondering, and expanding possibilities.

But the honeymoon is over now because we have spent almost every spare moment working on this cottage. Nothing can surprise us now, and some of the charm has been lost in the reality of sweat, blood, finances, time, arguments discussions, and just plain exhaustion. It’s an old house; suddenly we have to move to plan B because the furnace blew up. Or suddenly we have to leave Plan A to fix the roof because it is leaking. Or suddenly we have to change Plan A because the new siding isn’t quite the same as the old siding… Can we just be done already and get on with life?

No? Then, let’s at least stop dithering and get on with the plan. (Uh, was that Plan A or Plan B?)

The troubles come when glitches occur in the actual plan. Sort of like life? Glitches abound. And are we going to dither; or are we ready to accept the problem, embrace the setback, and make the delay part of the plan?
peeling paint
And here is where Jesus can help. If we are trying to live life according to His plan, well then, it’s His plan — it’s not our plan. We just like to think it’s our plan and that we are in charge. And when we get too uppity about it, God will remind us. Most of the time He reminds us gently, and that’s when we are to say, “Oh, yes. God, it is yours, not mine. Forgive me for trying to take over.”

Lawn chairs in fall

Sometimes it’s a big thing; sometimes we just see through the glass darkly and we fight and kick and struggle for weeks, months, years… until the glass clears and we finally get it — the fight belongs to Him, not us. He made us and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. (Psalm 100:3) 

We dither because we are sheep. I know, it’s not a pleasant comparison, but there it is. Picture sheep running around the gated pasture bleating in confusion. Going nowhere and running in those circles cause befuddlement, bewilderment, agitation, and demoralization. Don’t ask me how I know this… (Read Luke 15 to be reminded. I need to be reminded of this often…)

But we have a good shepherd to lead us — one who never gives up on us no matter how far we wander;

mist in the hills

one who loves each one of us not because we are good, bad, black, or white, but simply because we are his;

one who constantly cares for us if we would just allow it.
the heavens

Note to self: Dithering is believing that your own plans might be better than God’s amazing plans! Embrace the delays and know that you are being taught something important.

Note to God: “Yes, God, it is truly yours, not mine. Forgive me for trying to take over.”



75. Listen, your stuff is talking

This is part 7 of several posts discussing Richard Foster‘s chapter on Simplicity in Celebration of Discipline.

This past week a group from our church spent four days in Manasquan, Mantoloking, and Lavalette, three towns on the Jersey Shore that were affected by Hurricane Sandy. Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. FosterOn Saturday evening we went to the coffee-house type worship at the church. The speaker was Jen, part of the praise team, who spoke passionately on the Simplicity chapter in Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline.  I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe that our Maker puts things in our lives for us to learn and be amazed by them. So, I was amazed. Two other women in our group had also participated in the Celebration of Discipline book study this spring. We all looked at each other and smiled. Yes, this talk was for us.

One by one, she spoke about the practical guidelines Foster puts forth, which, if we follow them, will lead us to a life of honest simplicity. The key words here are If we follow them

Foster’s eighth guideline for practical simplicity is this: Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech.

Jen read this one, looked at the audience and said humorously, “I’ve got this one nailed.”

I laughed along with the audience. Not because I had this one nailed, but because I know how she felt to finally come upon one of Foster’s instructions that allows you to think, “Yes! Got it!”

So what are Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech?

Let your yes be yes

In Matthew 5:33-37 he says : “And don’t say anything you don’t mean…Just say yes and no. When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.” (paraphrased in The Message by Eugene Peterson.) That is — No excuses, no whining, no explaining, no fancy talk, no elaboration, no maybes, no swearing… Yes, I’ll be glad to. No, I’m sorry, I can’t.

In past posts “stuff” has dealt mostly with physical stuff, perhaps because that is usually what we think of when the ubiquitous word stuff rolls off our tongue or across our keyboard. But today, let’s think of stuff  as the baggage we carry around every day, those black garbage bags that color our thoughts and our speech. Bitterness, anger, jealousy, envy — all those ugly words weigh us down and come out in our talk.

eat your words

It used to be called Diarrhea of the Mouth; now it’s called TMI. It is very difficult to claim Not Guilty on this one. Ever just want to fill the silence with talking and then realize that you are saying nothing of importance? Ever interrupt someone just to get in your two cents? Ever say something and then think, Why did I say that? Ever say, Well, don’t tell anyone this, but… Ever talk just to feel important? Ever speak of someone unkindly?

Yes, to all the above. It’s not pretty to admit.
if you can't be kind

We’ve all been in conversations when suddenly the talk takes a turn for the worse. Words spill out, awkwardness ensues, someone leans down to tie a shoe… Perhaps you were the listener? Perhaps you were the talker?

We’ve also all been in conversations when the other person stops listening. Their eyes glaze over, body language changes, they lean down to tie a shoe… And we are likely to think them rude, when we should be wondering if it could be our talk.

Listening is an art, yes, but so is speaking. And maybe we should all just shut up? My Mom always used to say,

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.”

I used to hate it when she said that. Behind her back, I would mouth the words and roll my eyes. But today, I’m here to say, You were right, Mom. (Are you listening?)

Those  words that spill out from our stuff? They can only get us in trouble. With our friends, with our families, with our spouses, with our bosses, with Jesus. So, Zip your lips, Think before you speak, Put a sock in it, Bite your tongue, Pray for patience, Leave the room. Whatever you have to do to keep your speech honest and upright and pleasing, just do it. For the person you’re with, and for Jesus.Don't let your words be swords

Do I have this one nailed? No, but I’m trying. And when I can’t do it myself, I can call on the one who was nailed to the cross for me.