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Inspired to Inspire #OYTO

Apr

28

Posted by on Apr 28, 2018 | 2 comments

Fat Robin

 

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
~ Thomas Merton

 

I have a love/hate relationship with social media. On one hand, I’m convinced our lives were better without it overall. We had fewer friends, sure, but they were real life flesh and blood humans who would show up in person at your back door with a meal or a paintbrush or a hug depending on your need at the moment. We trudged to the library and navigated a card catalog to research anything and we had to buy magazines to catch up on the newest fashion or home design trends. Our houses had a whole lot more color before all the home décor and DIYer instagrammers showed us over and over again how beautiful stark white could be. (It is a mystery to me how they can photograph the same room a thousand ways and we like it every time.) You knew what adult America was doing at 6pm and 11pm every night, and if anything happened after that, you could read the news in next morning’s paper, delivered right to your front door.

 

Amazing.

 

On the other hand, we never have to be dumb or ignorant for very long. We hear immediately when a Royal goes into labor, gives birth, reveal’s the new little prince’s name. We know the nanosecond a celebrity dies (except for Abe Vigoda who never could make up his mind) as Facebookers or Twitterers race to the internets to offer their public condolences, a thinly veiled ruse to be first in letting you know how well they’re connected, which always strikes me as funny. And it is cool to engage with people you admire, to have an inside glimpse into their behind-the-scenes lives. And sometimes you make a real connection that translates to real life and geography doesn’t really matter.

 

Social media has it’s lovely sides, too. What we see or read can inspire us to go and do likewise.

 

Recently, a real life friend of mine I haven’t seen face to face in forever began posting images of watercolors she painted. Oh…my…her work was beautiful and I would have guessed she was an art major before becoming a full time mama. When I asked if she was taking classes, she admitted she was just trying something new.

 

Well….

 

Slap me naked and hide my clothes–girlfriend just unearthed an incredible gift.

 

And here’s the beauty: Rebekah inspired me to try something new because she tried something new.

 

Right after this, our church hosted a two-night water color class. I signed up immediately. With low expectations, high hopes, and a few butterflies fluttering around my stomach, I walked into class. The first night we were instructed what to paint (a landscape), but the second night we could choose on our own.

 

I knew exactly what I wanted to paint: fat birds, like my friend, Rebekah.

 

While my little creations were far from perfect, I absolutely love both! Watching them come to life and at least resemble what I was going for thrilled me. Starting with a blank page and swirling a paintbrush into a little color you create something from nothing.

Fat Bluebird

 

Painting is magic!

 

I begged Rebekah to send me an original, and I meant it. I would have bought one (I love having my friends’ art on the wall). When she asked for my address I crossed my fingers and yesterday I received her prize: Fat Robin’s pretty cousin! We must’ve drawn inspiration from the same image, and looking at the differences between her painting and mine, I learned a few things. Again, Rebekah is teaching and inspiring me by being herself and doing something she loves!

 

 

Rebekah also sent me a beautiful journal with a strong call to action (thought she’d never see it as anything more than a word of encouragement):

 

Keep trying new things!

 

If that isn’t a challenge for One Year 365 Opportunities, I don’t know what is.

 

Don’t miss the important takeaway: if Rebekah hadn’t tried something new herself, when would I have tried my hand at watercolor? I would’ve missed out on a delight of my heart, a creative opportunity that feeds my soul. By pursuing a new thing, a new passion, my sweet friend inspired me. Sometimes inspiration begets inspiration.

 

This is when I love social media: Rebekah and I haven’t seen each other since I moved from Chattanooga five years ago (I don’t think?) but we’re able to stay connected through Instagram. Her friendship continues to be a blessing.

 

You have no idea who you’re inspiring just by being you. And if someone has inspired you by simply being who they are? Tell them!

 

 

 

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Your Influence Matters

Apr

27

Posted by on Apr 27, 2018 |

 

Green and inexperienced, I was recruited to step into the role of marketing director for a local retirement community. My education combined with a love and natural propensity for those senior than me far outweighed my managerial skillset, and only days after I was hired I found myself in the position of needing to hire a new sales associate. Because I hadn’t interviewed many people at that time – okay, any people –  I read what I could could get my hands on about best interviewing practices and compiled a list of basic questions. Plus, I had been interviewed a dozen or more times, so there was that.

 

Sifting through a competitive pool of applicants, I selected three people to interview. More than anything I was trying to find a good fit for the role and someone with whom I felt comfortable. We would be working closely together.

 

I would go on to hire Mary Jane, over 20 years my senior. Time would soon tell she was an excellent choice–professional, empathetic, and, man, she could close a deal.

 

Over 25 years later, I still remember Mary Jane’s interview, specifically her answer to one question:

 

 

“What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?”

Without hesitation she replied,

*

*

*

Considering I’m writing about a conversation that took place over 25 years ago, it’s interesting to hear how a interview answer impacted me in such profound ways. Do keep reading Your Influence Matters at the Art of Simple today, and be sure to tell me your thoughts or if YOU remember something someone said forever ago that influences you to this day. 

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First Ask Why || Interview With Author Shelly Wildman & Book Giveaway!

Apr

24

Posted by on Apr 24, 2018 |

 

The internet has introduced me to a lot of writing friends, and when they go on to publish a book, I can’t help but stand on the sidelines and cheer. Today, I’m celebrating Shelly Wildman, an internet-turned-real-life friend who has just released a wonderful parenting book: Just Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship.

Shelly and I have a lot in common, starting with our age and including each of us having three children. We’ve learned over the years we share a similar parenting philosophy, and when she told me she was writing a book about parenting, I knew it would be one I’d recommend to others. I was right. It’s good, y’all.

This isn’t a how-to book, but it lays out a framework for (as I phrase it) parenting “hard and on purpose;” in her case, in particular, with the goal of discipling your children in their faith.

Parents of children still living at home will want this book, and it will make a fantastic Mother’s Day gift for anyone in the childrearing trenches. I’m also giving away a copy (comment on Instagram or Facebook). I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read the following interview with Shelly; you’ll understand quickly why I regard her counsel and why I’m bossing you to pick up your own copy.

 

Writing about parenting can be a powder keg—people have pretty strong opinions about raising kids. Why did you choose to write a parenting book?

 

I kind of feel like I didn’t choose to write a parenting book, but that the book chose me. (Sounds like a scene from Harry Potter, doesn’t it?) I fought writing it for a long time because I knew I wasn’t a perfect parent—I had messed up so many times that I didn’t feel qualified to write this book. I still don’t. But the idea kept nagging at me for so long that I finally felt like God might have been pushing me to do it.

 

I believe with all my heart that stronger families will make for a stronger society, which is so important today. And I believe that the strongest families are those that have Christ at their center. But so many parents today have lost their focus or their sense of purpose. They spend their time on meaningless, temporal things, when, really, the most important mission field is right in front of them. I’m hoping to encourage parents to look at the bigger picture, to ask why they are doing what they’re doing, and to think critically about God’s purpose for their kids and for their families.

 

I have three adult daughters now, and my hope is, now that my husband and I have raised them, that they will go out into the world and make a difference. And should they have children someday, that they would also make disciples of their kids. Instilling a Christ-following legacy is important work—I believe it’s THE most important work parents can do—and we’ve got to be intentional about it.

 

What makes your book different from other parenting books?

 

So many parenting books are “how-to” books. They seem to say, “Just follow these ten steps and here’s what you’ll get in the end.” But I don’t believe we can parent by formula. I think we have to look at our unique family and ask why.

 

Why are we doing what we’re doing as a family?

 

Why are we emphasizing these spiritual values? And are there others we should consider?

 

Why are we even here as a family? What’s our purpose for being put together in this unique combination of individuals?

 

Asking why gets to the heart of the matter; it exposes our motivations and desires for our family. Asking why leads to intentionality. And asking why helps give our children a sense of purpose as we lead them.

 

Why do you think some kids, even though they had Christian parents, don’t grow up to follow God? Is there anything Christian parents can do to ensure that their kids will choose to follow Jesus?

 

This is such a difficult question for me to answer because I honestly don’t know why. I know that parents can do all the right things—have time in God’s word together every day, take their kids to church regularly, pray diligently for their kids—and still have kids who struggle. I don’t believe there are any guarantees in Scripture that our kids will choose to follow Jesus into adulthood.

 

But I do believe that Scripture commands us to parent with the end goal in mind: having children who know and love the Lord. We are to be diligent in our calling to present our children to God, and we have to trust Him with the outcome. We have to persevere every day to show our kids that following Jesus is the path to true life, even though some days can be downright hard.

 

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 has been such a guide and encouragement to me as a parent, especially where it says, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life that you and your offspring may live.” We have a choice every day, and it’s our job to show our kids that choosing Christ is the only way to a fulfilling life.

 

What books influenced your husband and you as you raised your three daughters?

 

Honestly? Not very many. So many parenting books seemed to offer a formula—do this; don’t do that—and we weren’t looking for a formula. We knew that every kid is different and that every family has different needs, and most parenting books didn’t take that into account.

 

That said, there were a few that made an impact. Our pastor, Kent Hughes and his wife Barbara, wrote a book called Common Sense Parenting back in the ‘90s that, well, made sense to us. Some of the information is a little outdated today, but overall, it really helped us make good decisions about our parenting. And then there was James Dobson’s The Strong-Willed Child, for the obvious reasons. I think the book that made the most impact, though, was probably Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp. That book made me realize that my goal as a parent isn’t good behavior, but a changed heart. That, to me, was really impactful. If I were still parenting younger kids today, I’d also recommend Paul David Tripp’s Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Will Radically Change Your Family.

 

What was your lowest parenting moment?

You mean besides that time I locked my one month old in the car? (True story!)

 

I think my lowest moments were the times I let my daughters down. When I betrayed their trust by sharing too much with others. Or when I didn’t fulfill a promise I had made. Parents can feel their kids’ disappointment, which hurts so much. But more than that, too many disappointments lead to mistrust or a lack of respect, and I never wanted that to happen.

 

That said, parents are human. We do mess up. We do let our kids down. And those are the times we have to humble ourselves with our kids and apologize, sincerely. We need to let our kids know that we don’t always do things perfectly or say the right things or even parent correctly. But that we need grace and the help of God as much as they do.

 

Who do you hope will read this book and what do you hope they will gain?

I hope parents with kids of all ages will read this book, but especially parents of younger children. I hope grandparents will read this book. And I hope it sparks lots of discussion between husbands and wives, moms groups, or even small groups in churches.

 

My hope is that parents will come away from reading this book with a stronger sense of their purpose as parents and that they might gain a couple of new ideas that they can implement in their own family. I also hope people will read the last chapter very carefully and prayerfully. The last chapter of the book is on letting go, and it’s a concept that I think is becoming lost a little bit today. It’s so hard, but it’s so important, even when your children are young, to start thinking about letting go. We’ve got to be parents who demonstrate faith in God’s sovereign work in the lives of our children.

 

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Aging and Aquamarine

Mar

29

Posted by on Mar 29, 2018 | 2 comments

 

Right now, in this hair’s breadth of a moment, you are both as old as you’ve ever been, and as young as you ever will be again.

 

Interesting thought, isn’t it?

 

It is not unusual for me to think about time, in general, and aging, more specifically this time of year; March is my birthday month.

 

Aging comes naturally, but if your wish is to age gracefully, you’re going to have to be intentional.

 

Aging can be like a riptide, forcing you off course and threatening to pull you under. It can knock you off your feet in a single wave and leave you disoriented and wondering How in the world did I get here?

 

Neither aging nor aging gracefully are destinations; they’re journeys. One is completely left up to chance, the tail wagging the dog, que sera sera; the other is intentional, contemplative living, controlling and planning for a preferred outcome. The latter  also involves accepting what you can’t control and making the best of it.

 

A positive attitude ignites your ability to age gracefully; it enables you to receive all of life as this big, incredible, magnificent gift–all of it. That doesn’t mean you’re immune to hardship or disappointment. It means you’re better able to navigate those seasons when they arrive.

 

When I was a kid, choosing a birthday gift for a friend was always easy: something birthstone-related or Zodiac sign-related. That’s so funny to me now; I don’t think I ever got anything related to either of those for gifts when my own children attended their friends’ birthday parties. My birthstone is aquamarine, and I’ve always loved it; it’s one of my favorite colors to wear, clothing or jewelry. Maybe it’s why I long for and love the ocean so, exquisite aquamarine sea. And though I never bought into Zodiac stuff in terms of practice or belief, I know I’m Aries and it’s associated with fire, and there’s something in that I appreciate.

 

While the four seasons are like my children in that each one is my favorite but for different reasons – I see the signature beauty in each – I find myself thankful to have been born in the spring. Spring is colorful, alive with promise, with hope, with life! Aquamarine finds her way into spring.

 

Spring holds the darkest day in Christendom and the brightest. Jesus, in full surrender and submission, enduring a gruesome spectacle of death, demonstrating an incomprehensible love, and ultimately conquering the grave and bringing reconciliation of man to God through His atoning sacrifice. Spring is beautiful and reminds me of our hope in Christ.

 

I am at the age now where milestone birthdays have lost the meaning they do in our youth. Remember when you couldn’t wait to

  • turn double digits
  • become a teenager
  • get your learner’s permit
  • get your driver’s license
  • vote
  • order a cocktail (or beer or wine…)

I am at the age now where sometimes, dammit, I have to check the last box. I wish that didn’t phase me, but it does. I’m also at the age where my body betrays me, alternately catching fire or my hair changing color or just plain hurting from sitting too long. Seriously–sitting too long can hurt? Who knew?

 

But hear me loud when I tell you this: I am no victim of age. Neither are you.

 

I am at the age of incredible opportunity. 

 

I have lived 17 years longer than my own mother, who didn’t get to see her babies beyond grade school. I’m enjoying the incredible privilege of knowing my children as young adults, of seeing them on the way of becoming who they’ll be.

 

I’ve lived long enough and gained the experience that convinces me Romans 8:28 is true–

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,
for those who are called according to his purpose.
(ESV)

 

I’ve lived long enough to learn that there’s more than one way to the other side of the mountain, and that one day you will make it to the other side. 

 

I’ve lived long enough to understand the difference between “have to” and “get to”–

I get to clean my house because I have a house to clean.

I get to wash our clothes because we have clothes to wear (and a washing machine to do the actual washing).

I get to do yard work because I have a yard.

I get to give money to those in need because I have money to give.

I get to spend time getting to know God through His word, because He’s preserved His word in scripture.

I get to praise and worship the Lord because He has given me life now and forever.

 

Aging gracefully relishes Get-to living. Have-to living puts you under the chains of obligation. Be free, my friend. You get to be free. Let go of those chains.

 

I’m at the age where hindsight is a masterful teacher. Age allows you to see the veil lifting to reveal more and more of the big picture, all the tiny puzzle pieces of your life fitting together into something lovely.

 

I’m at the age where I can tell you it is never too late to:

learn something new

follow your dreams

try something that scares the snot out of you.

I’m at the age where I believe it is always right to:

lead with love

forgive, then forgive again. And again.

be generous

be kind, because everyone is dealing with something beneath the surface.

I am at the age where I want to steward my time well, love the people in my life well, and honor, serve and love Jesus well. In my past I have wasted time, taken friends and family for granted, and resisted God and what He asks of me.

 

An incredible opportunity has come my way that couldn’t have happened before now, unquestionably a God-gift. One year, 365 opportunities, and this one is huge. Tomorrow I turn 55, and 2018 is the year I will write my first book. It took me a long, long while to get to the age when, finally, my life is not my own.

 

Soli Deo gloria.

 

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How You Can Make A Difference on International Women’s Day

Mar

08

Posted by on Mar 8, 2018 | 3 comments

I’m sitting at my kitchen table where the sun is piercing filthy windowpanes, a thing I notice in the morning but forget by noon’s shadow. A ladybug sits on the sill, I’m assuming dead. Our home is a death spiral for pretty bugs dressed in red with black polka dots, and I wonder why that happens at the end of every winter.

It’s International Women’s Day and I wish I could say I knew that on my own, but it’s the internet that tells me so. I’m stung by awareness of my comforts, my plenty, and my relative wealth, and it brings a sort of shame. Those things have cost me nothing, but in some places in this world even lesser things cost everything you have to give.

I’m reminded of a woman I encountered almost nine years ago.

 

 

She was striking to me, uncommonly beautiful, obviously haunting. The sun on her shoulders. Her expression, somber yet intense. Her shoes matched her saree. She carried a bucket, soap, cane, and, most important, her dignity.

In my trip to Kolkata where I met dozens and dozens of people, hers is a face I always remember first. Whatever her age, she had lived a long, and undoubtedly difficult life, and yet she’s endured.

She is not victim. She is an unnamed international woman I celebrate.

She lived in a village where Compassion International had a Child Survival Center, a place where mothers and babies receive goods, education, training, and services that contribute to their survival.

Shortly after my trip with Compassion Bloggers to India, the child I sponsored left the program. Her mother remarried after the death of her father, and they moved to a location where Compassion didn’t have a local presence. Though I wasn’t able to continue helping her family financially, I’ve never stopped praying for Pinki; meeting her carved permanent residence in my heart.

 

I often wonder what she looks like now – nine years older – and how she’s doing…how all the beautiful children served by Compassion are doing in India.

You see, about a year ago Compassion had to shutter its sponsorship program in India; it was heartbreaking for those involved. After decades of ministry, Compassion could no longer send funds into the country due to Indian government restrictions (read more here).

We’ve also sponsored a daughter from the Dominican Republic; this year will be our tenth! She’ll turn 16 in May, and our sponsorship began right after she turned six. It never occurred to me until this moment how long we’ve been blessing one another, and make no mistake: Isaura blesses me with every letter she writes and ever prayer she offers for me and my family.

Compassion currently operates in 25 countries and has touched millions of lives since beginning its work in the ’50s. Everything I learn about Compassion only reinforces its impact and value to our broken world.

Today (regardless of when you read this), in celebration of International Women’s Day, I’m asking you to make a generous contribution to Compassion International. Get your credit card or checkbook out and start here.

 

You can make a one-time gift or change a child’s life – and his/her family’s lives – by committing to a monthly sponsorship. It’s up to you. 

I know our churches need our money, and our communities need our support, but today to celebrate International Women’s Day, I’m asking for global consideration for a gift to our world. I trust Compassion completely, and I’ve witnessed first hand their impact in local communities.

Look at these precious faces I had the incredible honor of meeting almost ten years ago. They’re my inspiration for today’s bold ask, but I bet there are significant women in your life worthy of celebration. I hope you’ll want to make a gift just because you can.

This old world needs those who have financial means to remember those who have financial need. It’s really as simple as that.

 

 

 

 

Thank you.

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