The One Necessary Thing


We live in an age of distraction.  Pop ups, tickers, instant messaging, live videos, and “dings” on our smart phones demand our attention, or at least we feel it to be so.  It is easy to lose focus when our heads are spinning in multiple directions.  I find myself getting sucked into the Internet vortex and the only way I know out is to put the phone down.  Easier said than done.  Why?  Well, I read the news on my phone, pay bills on my phone, scroll Instagram because well, it’s fun, and check my Twitter feed on what people are saying about politics, religion, social issues, culture, and such.  And then I get into my head thinking about what I think about X,Y, and Z.

You see, I haven’t written much in this space lately because I’ve been doing more thinking, reading, and praying rather than blogging.  This summer I have had the opportunity to write in other spaces, but I have left this blog to rest until I have something to share that would be of some benefit or encouragement to my readers.  I’ve blogged for eight years, and learned much- still learning!  My heart with writing and teaching is to inspire others to cultivate life in Christ in their spaces as parents, citizens, entrepreneurs, teachers, and leaders.  I see all of us as artists, making creative contributions on God’s canvas.  We hold the brush, He guides our hands.  But, it is hard to focus on the canvas with all the background noise of social media and the tyranny of the urgent.

Here is a mental exercise for you.

Ask yourself this question:  What am I most passionate about?  Maybe it is a business, education, family, ministry, a social cause, or something else.  What is your time and energy devoted to?

If you’re like me you may find yourself passionate about many things.  For me, it is my family, but it is also ministry and education.  And often these things are intertwined.  So much talk lately is about platforms as if we need to have one thing to say or be excited about.  For some this may be so, but not for all.

Multiple Platforms, But One Necessary Thing

Whatever your passions are, consider how to live on one necessary thing.  I call it the Matthew 6:33 principle: “But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  Jesus challenged Martha in her home with this principle when he told her that she was “anxious and troubled about many things” because she was distracted with much serving.  Mary, her sister, sat at Jesus’ feet listening to His teaching, which Jesus called “the one necessary thing” and the “good portion.”

I don’t think Jesus was saying that serving is bad, or doing a lot of different things is bad.  It is that in the serving, working, busyness of life we are to choose the one necessary thing of God’s Kingdom and righteousness.  So, we ask ourselves, “How am I seeking God’s Kingdom and righteousness as a wife?  As a mom?  As a teacher?  As an entrepreneur?  As a friend?  As a minister?  As_________?”

It is not that Mary was doing nothing, she was doing everything that mattered.  Are we doing everything that matters whether we have one platform or three or four?  We need not feel guilty about what is demanded of us at work or at home- it is a balancing act, isn’t it?  If our hearts are set on Christ- earnestly seeking Him, meditating on His Word, praying His Word, working unto Him- then no matter where we find ourselves we can rest knowing that we are doing the One Necessary Thing that when all is said and done will be what will last and what matters most.

20/20 Spiritual Vision

2 Corinthians 4-18 imageI have been thinking about heaven lately.  I think about what my grandparents must be experiencing right now and I wonder if I would recognize them or if it would take me a minute.  Recently, I came across a paradox in Scripture where Paul tells the church at Corinth to “focus on what is unseen.” I have astigmatism, so to focus on what I can see is often a challenge let alone what is unseen.  Paul is onto something, though.  Focusing on what I see usually leaves me feeling a tad depressed.  Take for instance the news.  Okay, enough said.  How about something a little more heartwarming like children or puppies.  I have some of both.  My children and their father are the loves of my life, and I can’t imagine my life without them in it.  But when I focus on them, like really focus on them, I feel this incredible responsibility and even the hardship of marriage and motherhood.  I watch my kids grow up before my very eyes and have romantic chats with hubby about retirement and the AARP.  And our dog thinks he is a person.  I just don’t know how anyone who goes outside to do his business could believe that.

But then I read Paul and get a reality check.  This is all so temporary.  The difficulties at work, home, in relationships, and in speaking what we believe to those who have yet to believe with afflictions and perplexity will have an earthly end.  Our preoccupation with ourselves will be through.  I have also been thinking about how we will not be self-conscious in heaven.  Our whole selves- our true selves- will be completely overtaken by the glory of God, and we won’t be thinking “What does she think of me?” “How do I look?” “I wish I didn’t say that in that way.” “Do I fit here?” There will be no regrets or anxieties in heaven.  We will be present with Christ- PRESENT.  Able to simply be.  To rest.  To worship Him without distraction, joining in the resounding praises of the angels and the redeemed. Anything this side of heaven, any suffering, persecution, or affliction is light and momentary compared to the “incomparable eternal weight of glory.”  To consider that the greatest pain of one of God’s precious saints (I am thinking specifically of the martyrs) is minuscule in light of the reward of heaven begs our attention.  When we focus on that- the unseen- we will see our life clearer, and eternity far greater.

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Habits Worth Keeping

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Now that summer is in full swing, our schedules are a bit more relaxed with slower days and routines that feel less- well, routine like.  We are bookending the summer with visits to extended family and many pool days in between.  As I began thinking about how we will spend this summer I considered several things that I want to do away with and many things that I want to keep in our “off season.”  We spent most of last summer unpacking boxes and getting acquainted with our new town, so now that we are a little more settled in I feel like this is our first official summer in Gallatin.

Speaking of Gallatin, we are really enjoying life here- the people, our church, the access to scenic nature spots, and the convenience of Nashville are wins for us- thankful for God leading us to this incredible community!  I guess the only thing to say now is “Go Preds!”

So back to summer.  While there are things we are pulling away from like music lessons, gymnastics, formal academics, and a predictable routine, we are not completely abandoning our habits at the expense of needing a break.  Because character cultivation does not take summers off.  In planning what we will do for the next two months or so, I asked not “What will we do?”, but “Who will we be?” come August.  This may seem like “overachiever” talk, but really it’s not.  It has more to do with being intentional with the things that matter and less to do with trying to do it all.  In this way, we can truly let go of all the non-essentials- all those things that can wait- and continue with the essentials maybe with a popsicle in hand.  🙂

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Habits Worth Keeping

1. Chores– When we had spring break, one of my daughters complained about having to do her chores saying, “Mom, it’s spring break.  We don’t have to do any chores.”  Haha!  She is hilarious.  But really.  There are so many opinions on chores and age-appropriateness.  I don’t know if there is a best way, but this is my way: If they can do it themselves, then they will do it themselves.  I have one chore for each girl every day in addition to their daily chores like making beds, putting clothes away, brushing teeth, clearing the kitchen table, keeping rooms tidy, etc.  All this stuff must continue through the summer or I will be overwhelmed in mess and unruly kids, and they will forget what it means to be responsible come the fall.  And I will forget what it means to be sane! 😉

2.  Bible lessons and Scripture memory– We’ll continue memorizing Scripture weekly and reading through different Bible stories.  We are about to begin Foundations for Kids: A 260-day Bible Reading Plan for Kids, which Travis and I are excited about.  Right now we are reading through different story Bibles/devotionals with each kid before bed, which is working right now for that one-on-one heart-to-heart time, but we are about to bring them all together again for a more family devotion/discipleship time.

3.  Music Practice– We are taking a break from sports and music lessons this summer, but we are still practicing piano.  Analise is learning the ukulele and Kara the guitar as well, which adds a little extra spice to the Fleming household.  All we need is to get Judson on drums and we can start a band!

4.  Reading– Each of the kids (even 2-yr. old Judman) are participating in our local library’s summer reading challenge.  For every 15 minutes they spend either being read to or reading themselves, they get to color in their reading sheet and after so many hours they receive prizes.  I have one reader, one emerging reader, and one non-reader.  We make a library trip once a week, which is a habit we’ll continue through the summer for sure.

5.  Math/logic/reasoning– We play a lot of games, including board games and some card games.  It is all fun and no real “work,” but it feels good knowing that we are exercising our minds and learning how to be good sports when we win or lose.  The girls have a couple of math workbooks we will take out on occasion, but we won’t work through them every day as we do during the school year.

6.  Character buildingCharlotte Mason has a motto that the girls and I say often which is, “I am, I can, I ought, I will.”  In essence, it is:

I am . . . a child of God, a gift to my parents and my country. I’m a person of great value because God made me.

I can . . . do all things through Christ who strengthens me. God has made me able to do everything required of me.

I ought . . . to do my duty to obey God, to submit to my parents and everyone in authority over me, to be of service to others, and to keep myself healthy with proper food and rest so my body is ready to serve.

I will . . . resolve to keep a watch over my thoughts and choose what’s right even if it’s not what I want.

One of the points Miss Mason made was that a strong-willed child is really not strong at all, but truly is weak in will.  He has yet to master his emotions or control his impulses.  We talk a lot about self-control, the fruit of the Spirit, and how Christ enables us to love others because He has shown us what love is.  Character building is continuous, not just for children, but for all of us.  There are individual lessons and character issues that my kids are learning for themselves, and we’re working on/praying through together.  The Lord is teaching me so much through my kids and through being a mom.  For one thing, I am more deeply aware of my inherent need for daily grace- that abundant grace that our Father so freely gives, and of my dependence upon Him for wisdom, guidance, and strength.

I think we need to take a summer off, and we are already finding rest in these early weeks.  But, there are some habits worth keeping even while we rest.  We will have our lazy days, later nights, movie watching, goofing off times, but we will try not to go completely off the rail where we don’t know which end is up come August.  Habits help us.  They inform our decisions and form our character.  This is true in every season- even in, especially in summer.

 

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Keep Summer Simple

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This is the last week of school for us, and we are gearing up for summer!  I think I am just as excited as the girls are.  We’ll continue reading and doing what Kara likes to call “fun math,” but we are slowing the pace quite a bit.  We plan to hit the pool on Friday to celebrate the end of a great year.  And it was a great year considering that we have been adjusting to a new town, new friends, new skills- new everything!

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I’ve been thinking about what I want us to do this summer, and really more about what I don’t want to do this summer.  Two things I do not want to do are spend a lot of money or expend a lot of energy.  Yes, kids require a lot of energy (mine especially), but I am able to tolerate the moderate, acceptable amount required- nothing beyond that, though.  Because, moms need a summer too.  Can I get an “Amen?!” IMG_6931 (1)

Here is how I plan to keep summer simple for us:

  1. Don’t overschedule the week with a lot of excursions.
  2. Plan lazy days.
  3. Grill out and spend time with friends.
  4. Play games- cards, board games, throw a ball.
  5. Read aloud- cool off with a popsicle and a good book.

Speaking of popsicles.  One of my favorite things about summer is the food of summer.  The farmer’s markets are open, produce is fresh, and the smell of chicken, brats, steak, or hamburgers on a hot grill, well it just makes my mouth water thinking about it all.  One of my favorite sides to make and eat is guacamole.  Travis is a chips and salsa/guac man, so this is always a win with him.  Here is my simple, yet scrumptions guac recipe:

Simple Guacamole

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5-6 ripe avocados (more to feed a crowd)
2-3 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 red onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic
1-2 TBSP cilantro chopped
1 lime
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Mash avocados to desired consistency.  I prefer my guac more on the chunky side, so I chop ripe avocados and mash slightly.
  2. Toss avocados in a bowl with the chopped tomatoes, onion, garlic, and cilantro.  Squeeze a lime into the bowl and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Eat and enjoy!

Anyone else in summer mode, or is it just me?  What does a simple summer look like for you?  I think it depends on the personality of a family and what pastimes or traditions they may hold, like reunions, celebrations, interests like camping, boating, fishing, mission trips, church camps, vacations, etc.  For some, a simple summer is one that is scheduled to keep the kids busy, or full with lots of travel to stay completely out of the normal, while for others a simple summer is less structured with a lot of down time. Whatever it looks like for you and your family, make summer to be what fits your family best, and make time to build relationships with family, neighbors, and friends.  And eat a popsicle or two. 🙂

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Finding Freedom and Confidence at Home

Proverbs 14

There was a poor earthworm minding his own squirmy self, exposed on a cement sidewalk- an easy catch for curious little hands.  He slinked and slithered from one hand to another, dropped two or three times, and then picked up by another set of hands until he was finally released into a grassy, dark hole at the corner of our driveway.  A dandelion was then plucked from the earth, and an excited cry of, “Look, Mommy!” from my son reminded me that it is a discipline to celebrate simple wonders.  It takes no great effort for a two-year-old to be fully present, admiring God’s creation, breathless at passing clouds, nesting birds, and spiders.  But for a distracted mama with a calendar and a clock, such pleasures (minus the spiders) are left in the peripheral margins as “nice”, “but we must move on now.”

Will gravity fail if we pause to celebrate simple wonders?  We had another birthday this weekend, and the baby I brought home from the hospital on Mother’s Day of 2010 is now seven.  I used to dance with her in her nursery when she was only months old, before she could even crawl, and we would spin, giggle, and I would sing, kissing her forehead endlessly.  I don’t know what I got done on those days, and I am sure there were a couple loads of laundry to wash or fold- I forget.  But I will always remember dancing with my baby daughter.  I still dance with her and her sister and brother, but they make up the dance moves now.

Who needs another organized activity when there is a garden hose?  Now it is warm enough to run barefoot and get wet.  And anytime is the perfect time to take up the ukulele.  My artist child finds unique ways at self-expression.  Alongside her musical pursuits she has decided to be a “book writer,” and she has begun a short collection of stories titled, “The Cat and the Mouse.”  These two furry characters get in all sorts of mischief like eating “candy pancakes” and chasing wild bats out of their house.  I type the words my daughter tells me, and she draws the pictures.  She has even bound one of her stories using cardboard and masking tape.

 

The temptation is to control every moment- steering the people in our lives to fit our plans.  We have good intentions, wanting what is best, or what we think is best.  Our knowledge is finite, limited in understanding, whereas God’s judgments are unsearchable.  Stepping back, relaxing our demands and expectations allows us to live freely, and moldable to God’s perfect intentions- to the one who works all things together for good for his children.  Because even we ourselves are in process, incomplete, and like little children are growing into maturity.  I love how God is not formulaic, but is consistently creative, shaping families to expand His kingdom in unique ways.  I think the best way for us to come into our own as individuals and as families in the Kingdom of God is to turn down the noise of social media and lift up God’s Word, prayerfully seeking how we are to shepherd our homes and live out the gospel in our particular context.  Are we easily influenced?  Do we doubt and question our methods and practices?  What voices are we listening too?  How much time do we devote to social media feeds, blogs, and podcasts?  How much time do we devote to meditating on God’s Word and to prayer.  What is informing our decisions in how we lead our lives?

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis has the demon Screwtape teaching his nephew Wormwood how to keep a Christian wandering away from his faith:

You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room.

Or keep him up late at night staring at a phone.

If we are going to lead countercultural homes, we are to lead countercultural lives, and be sure that we will be unpopular with few “likes” or “retweets,” anonymous and in the shadows.  But God is in the shadows, away from the clattering noise of the self-important people who are everywhere, especially in the Christian subculture.  We can lead quiet lives, simple lives, following God’s will for ourselves, listening to His voice, ignoring all the noise and opinions.  What really matters after all?

“In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.” Proverbs 14:26

 

A Mother’s Heart and Sowing Peace

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There is something about this time of the year that no matter where I find myself in life the days resemble a freight train, all fast, big, and loud.  While in school there were deadlines, papers, end of the year presentations, recitals, and programs.  In my career there was much of the same except I was on the other side of the desk as a classroom teacher.  Now as a mom of littles, there is homeschooling, church activities, performances, with birthdays, appointments, diaper changes, dirty laundry, and basic house maintenance to manage.  The train keeps moving, and will move move faster, bigger, and louder as my kids get older and life gets even fuller.

I find it easy to allow my days to dictate my demeanor.  If everything feels easy breezy, then my tone, attitude, and words are gentle and soft.  I act less hurried when I feel at ease in my soul.  But when I begin to feel overwhelmed, outnumbered (as I am), and depleted, especially at the end of a school year, I tend to be short-tempered, impatient, and unmotivated.  And then I wonder where the peace went from my home.

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It is often said that the mother sets the tone for her home.  I think this is so, because I am living it.  The days go by and even if the kids are moody, irritable, or misbehaving in some way, how I respond to the situation I am dealt on any given day sets the temperature for how the day will end.  I’ve heard somewhere recently that the mother is in a way like a thermostat, gauging and changing the temperature in her home.  I was reminded of this even this morning when I read in James that “a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18).  If we want peace in our homes, even in the midst of busyness, disciplinary issues, sickness, and personal life issues- when things don’t always feel peaceful, we must sow peace.  We set the thermostat.

But how do we do this?  I think it comes down to the heart of the mother.  Sometimes managing the home seems like both a blessing and a burden.  There are days when I say, “Wow, God, you did this!  Thank you for my wonderful husband and children!”  Then there are days when I say, “Can someone else be wife and mom today?”  I have to step back and evaluate what is going on in my heart.  Because in order to sow peace, I must be at peace.

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How to Find Peace

  1.  Daily Spiritual Filling.  God’s Word and prayer are essential in the life of the believer, and are as much in the life of the Christian mother.  Ephesians 2:14 reminds us that Christ, ” He himself is our peace.”  The hymn, “The Solid Rock” comes to mind as well that “when all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.”
  2. Rest.  We never seem to get enough sleep, but we need as much as we can muster.  A nap, or a break in the afternoon with a good book, a cup of tea, a favorite podcast or a phone call with a friend may help to provide rest in the middle of a hectic day.  Even 15 minutes is better than none.  As a teacher I cherished that “planning period” when it was quiet and I could actually think, send an email, or finish grading papers.  A natural break in the day is beneficial for all of us- moms are no exception!
  3. Fun.  I think sometimes us moms play the martyr where we try to plan experiences for our kids, but forget ourselves.  Just like the play dates, excursions, movie nights, and such that we calendar and organize for our kids, moms can plan fun for themselves too!  Travis and I enjoy our date nights, and I try and meet up with a girlfriend once or twice a month as well.  It doesn’t have to be a big deal or a terrible expense.  A personal hobby like crafting, writing, running, or hiking can also be renewing in the daily grind of managing a home.

How to Sow Peace

  1.  Rely on the God of Peace.  Paul wrote, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”  Peace comes in the practicing.  And the practicing is charged by the wisdom and work of the Spirit.  When we rely on the God of peace in our stress, He comes in and fills our souls with His goodness and is a refuge for us.
  2. Change the temperature.  Begin reading a fun picture book to a fussy toddler, play some favorite music, go outside, play a game, or get everyone busy with something that will occupy their time and energy so mom can get dinner made, make a phone call, or have a few moments of quiet.  I used to resort to yelling (I still struggle with this), but I found that all I did was contribute to the noise instead of change the thermostat.  I think I yell most when I feel out of control, but that always backfires on me because I lose control of my temper and the situation.  So, moms have more say in the atmosphere of our homes than we may realize, we just have to acknowledge our place and find creative solutions to sow peace in those volatile moments.
  3. Make heart connections.  One of my favorite times of the day is when I tuck the kids into bed and spend about 5 minutes reading and talking together.  When the lights are off, I pray over them and get to hear their little hearts.  Judson (2 yrs.) and I have little games we play like “Mr. Wormy” or we sing silly songs I make up as well as songs he requests like “My God is so Great” or “Down in my Heart.”  He usually says “Night Mommy” as I walk out of the room- he’s the only one who does that.  It’s sweet.  One of my girls shares her fears about getting shots, or why she doesn’t want to do gymnastics anymore because she is afraid of pullovers.  And I listen and tell her she is brave and being scared is normal.  We giggle about silly stuff too and then pray and I tuck her in leaving with the door cracked halfway open- not closed, because that is her way.  My other daughter and I have talks about events coming up, the details, what to wear, who will be there, and what is on the agenda for tomorrow.  She is a planner and wants to be prepared.  I pray with her and then tuck her in leaving the door almost shut because she likes it dark and quiet.  I am not sure just yet because we are early in this gig, but I trust that if anything peace is being sown in their hearts in knowing that they have a mommy who loves them uniquely and equally who wants to hear their hearts without interruption or judgment.  I pray to continually cultivate these connections in the years to come as they approach adolescence when the talks will become more complex in nature.

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Regardless of how fast this season seems or what circumstances we may find ourselves in, peace is possible.  It may not feel this way with the deadlines, meetings, programs, exams, and projects, but busyness does not have to steal our joy.  We can be filled with God’s peace and sow His peace as we rely on Him in the midst of the battle.  He is able to deliver and sustain us if we only surrender ourselves to His Spirit.  We won’t do this perfectly, and He knows this about us- His grace is sufficient for us- but it’s in turning to Him time and again, day after day, that we will one day look back at a harvest of righteousness that was sown in peace as only God can give.

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Survival of the Not so Fittest

The blog has collected a little dust in recent days, well, mostly because of this:

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Jud and the beans was an intentional act on my part to produce something as earth shattering as dinner.  He wants to help.  And by help I mean stick a fork in the toaster, empty out the utensil drawer, and unroll a box of parchment paper.  So I made him a little set up- the good ole bean transfer trick- out of one bowl and into another with gun in hand.  Notice the random slice of bacon on the counter.  That is a snack he must be saving for later.  On the menu for this particular evening was breakfast for dinner, because it is easy and everyone is pleased.  And my #2 goal at dinnertime is to minimize the whining to a whisper.  My #1 goal is to get everyone fed and the kids to bed by 8:00.  5:00-8:00 is a sprint around the Fleming household, but we eventually get there.

 
Look at these wackadoos.  The Gallatin Public Library just doesn’t know what to do with us…

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Some days it does feel like we are just surviving- getting through one obstacle, challenge, or stressor only to meet another.  And this is not restricted to motherhood- this is a fact of life!  It is easy to feel burdened down and weary.  I am thankful that God does not call the perfect to Himself, but that He calls the broken.  Psalm 46:1 declares, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” 

GOD– We start here with the one who made the earth, moon, stars, and galaxies beyond comprehension.

GOD IS– He is not GOD “was” or GOD “maybe” but GOD IS.  Holy Week reminds us of this powerful truth…the grave is still empty.

GOD IS OUR REFUGE AND STRENGTH– The maker of the universe reaches down to us as our holy shelter and source for power, which was made possible through Christ.

GOD IS OUR REFUGE AND STRENGTH, A VERY PRESENT HELP IN TROUBLE– Not only is God here, but He cares for our every need.  He is intimately acquainted with all our ways.

The Psalm continues in riveting poetic imagery of earthquakes and tsunamis with a confident assurance that we will not fear.  Why?  Because “the Lord of Hosts is with us.”

“God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns” (Verse 5).

Moms, do you sense God in your midst?  Are there days when it feels like the earth is about to give way?  Do you wake up some mornings with a sigh uneager to face the day?  God will help you.  Not only that He wants to, but only he CAN.  We think that method, system, plan, or gadget will do it for us, but the true help we need is only found in Him.  Because when God is in you, you are immovable.  You are powerful, because the God of Jacob is your fortress.  The enemy’s lies will come, just know they will and discern them from the truth.  Want to know what is true?  Seek God in His Word and believe His Word.  And face the stress, challenges, and obstacles knowing God is in your midst.  You can do this.  You were called to this- cultivating life in your homes.  God is not a formula, and He doesn’t make one particular type of mom or parenting style.  Just trust Him as He leads you to do what is best- His best- for your families and ultimately, for His glory.  We are not merely surviving (though it often feels like it).  We are just planting seeds.  God, in His timing, will make them grow.

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