Embrace Simplicity

Embrace Simplicity

The air conditioning hummed in our comfortable minivan as we travelled down a small, dusty road in Mexico.  Each of us in our small group had wanted to get off of the beaten path of tourist trinkets, resort areas and the mediocre Tex-Mex often served there.

My eyes were fastened on the lush scenery we were quickly passing by, mile after mile of damp jungle and tropical rainforest.  Our guide, an elderly gentleman named Miguel with kind eyes and a broad grasp of English, talked as we drove.

The tour of the Mayan ruins was behind us.  Now, we were heading toward a sleepy little village where the modern-day descendants of the Mayans lived.  Miguel began to explain how the Mayans had not only survived but flourished within the dense jungle for many hundreds of years.  But what he shared next caught my attention, tearing my eyes away from the many shades of green flashing by.

“Three seeds,” Miguel began, holding up 3 tanned, slim fingers.  “That was all the Mayan people needed.  They would dig a hole, and place in a corn seed, a bean seed and a squash seed.  The corn would grow up sturdy and tall, providing the bean a pole to grow up on.  The squash would grow out, providing shade and protection for the tender roots just below the ground.  The three plants worked together in harmony to repel natural pests and keep the ground fertile because they each gave off different nutrients that benefitted the other.  The Mayans gained 17 of the 20 amino acids the body needs to function well from those three plants.  The rest they augmented with fruit, nuts and game from the forest.  But that was all they really needed: three seeds.”

The van finally turned into a residential area with tiny homes on either side.  Many were colorful, painted in vibrant turquoise, emerald green and cobalt blue with murals of blooming flowers and smiling people adorning them.  But several were falling down upon themselves, clearly forlorn and neglected.

Miguel continued, “You will notice several abandoned homes in this neighborhood.  Electricity changed everything here.  Before, the people in this village didn’t need to work.  They planted their gardens using the 3 seeds method in their backyard.  They spent time tending to their garden, crafting and spending time together as a community.  Families were very close and [spend] much time together.”

Miguel paused, gathering his thoughts. His features changed ever so slightly then, a heaviness creeping in that hadn’t been there moments before.  “Electricity has been both a good and a bad thing for the people.  Obviously it brought convenience.  But it also brought TV.  Suddenly the boys and girls learned about Cheetos and restaurants.  They heard about all different kinds of food.  They wanted cell phones.  They didn’t want to wear the traditional embroidered clothes anymore or eat the squash and the beans and the corn; they wanted jeans and t-shirts so they could look like the people on the TV.  So now the parents have to go into town to get a job.  The children grow up and they leave so they can go work hard to make money to buy stuff.”

He looked at us with a small, sad half-smile.  “I don’t know that the electricity was worth it.”

I sat in silence in my comfy artificial environment, stunned.  The deeper truth behind Miguel’s words hit me at my core.  The people had been happy, self-sufficient.  They had family they loved and a community where their lives had been welcomed and celebrated.  Ancestors, long since passed, were remembered and honored.  They were healthy and well fed.  Their lives had meaning, dignity.  And they left it for Cheetos and blue jeans simply because someone told them their lives weren’t enough.  Just like Adam and Eve in the garden.  Just like me.

Please know I am not saying Cheetos or blue jeans are bad things.  I happily lick my orange encrusted fingers whenever I go through a bag, and blue jeans are my go-to most days!

What I am pointing out is how tricky the enemy is.  We can have everything we need before us–a home, family, enough food, our needs met–and still feel like we’re missing out on something because the deceiver of our souls is constantly whispering, “It is not enough.  You are not enough.  You need more…”

Now, what the “more” is varies from person to person.  For some, it’s money or possessions.  Until they have a certain number or a certain quantity of stuff, they don’t feel secure.  For others, it’s appearance.  If they don’t look a certain way, wear a certain size, or lift a certain weight at the gym, they see themselves as lacking.  There are many, many more ways this world tells us we are not enough, as I’m sure you and I could attest to.

At the end of the day, Jesus makes it very clear our security doesn’t lie in what we have or even what we do–all the things we tend to worry about.  He tells us quite plainly, “This is why I tell you to never be worried about your life, for all that you need will be provided, such as food, water, clothing—everything your body needs. Isn’t there more to your life than a meal? Isn’t your body more than clothing?  So then, forsake your worries! Why would you say, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?  For that is what the unbelievers chase after. Doesn’t your heavenly Father already know the things your bodies require?  So above all, constantly chase after the realm of God’s kingdom and the righteousness that proceeds from him. Then all these less important things will be given to you abundantly.  Refuse to worry about tomorrow, but deal with each challenge that comes your way, one day at a time.  Tomorrow will take care of itself” (Matthew 6:25, 31-34 TPT).  I am challenged and reminded of my “three seeds,” the essentials in my life that most matter: God, family, friends.  I am challenged to give my best effort at work and at home to honor God, not line my pocket or make myself seem important.  To take care of myself not so I can look a certain way but because my body is God’s temple, worthy of being cared for.

Most of all, I am challenged to keep my relationship with God front and center.  He alone will chase away the worry and remind me I am indeed enough. He whispers confidently into my ear that I am more than a conqueror because he has me, he loves me well (Romans 8:37). How about you?

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT  What are your three things?  What most matters to you in this world?  How are you investing your time, talent and treasure in relation to those three thing?  This week, look for ways to celebrate what really matters in your life, ways you can embrace simplicity.  And make time to remember and thank God that you are, indeed, enough!

PRAYER  Papa, how worldly my thoughts can be sometimes.  I get so caught up in the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth and forget what truly matters.  Would you help me to put first things first today, to focus in on what you would focus in on in my life.  I count my blessings before you and thank you for each one.  Amen.  

BARBARA LOWNSBURY is an author, entrepreneur, and single mother of three.  She serves as the Executive Director for The Dented Fender ministry.  Follow Barb and The Dented Fender community on Facebook and Instagram.

LIKE WHAT YOU READ?  Buy Barbara’s book by clicking HERE

Asking God the Right Questions

Asking God the Right Questions

By MARLA WALDRON

Scripture: Luke 1:26-56

Focus Passage
But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  (Luke 1:29)

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with theHoly Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:39-42)

Learning from Mary
Mary the mother of Jesus is often depicted as serene, meek, mild, and  is often commended for her exemplary discipleship, her willingness to say yes to God. However, Mary’s story tells us that we may expect our encounters with the Holy to include feeling perplexed. It also reminds us that we should take “time to ponder”, and that real engagement with God can include asking some questions. Of all the questions to consider, some questions are more fruitful than others. We sometimes ask “why” questions of God; why me, why this situation. But, those questions, although natural, are less helpful and often bring us to a dead end. There are other questions though, which tend to open possibilities and new avenues for understanding, exploration, or action. Notice that Mary does not ask “why me?” She asks, “How can this be?”

 Take a moment to ponder
Think about the questions you most often have for God. Do you have any questions you are asking right now? If you have “why” questions, could you change them to “where,” “what,” “how,” or “to what end” questions? What are some fruitful, open questions you could ask the Holy One?

“Mary’s story tells us that our lives with God may mean a journey toward clarification. After all the pondering and questioning, Mary visited her cousin, Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Mary shared their experiences, listened to each other, and they helped each other toward greater awareness, courage, and joy. When the Holy comes to us in the small, and the ordinary, we might need help to see it and to have faith in it. Mary and Elizabeth were spiritual community for each other,” says author Becky Bosarge.

Take a moment to consider
How is spiritual community different from other types of community? What kinds of conversations create spiritual community? Do you have a place or people with whom you can share your sacred moments and have them affirmed and even clarified, as Mary and Elizabeth did with each other?

Pray for clarity
Ever-Coming One, guide me into fruitful, life-giving questions:

  • Where do you want to use me and my talents God?
  • What does God want me to do? Say? Spend my time; money on?
  • What good have I learned from this experience?
  • What unrealistic expectations have I had and how can I better manage?
  • How do you want me to share the light of Christ with others? Share my story? Share your love? Conduct myself in professional situations, relationships, spiritually?
  • What do I need to do to boost my courage to seek future opportunities to share the gospel with others?

For Further Thought
Set some time aside this week and write down your answers to some of these questions.  Prayerfully ponder them before the Lord.  I’d love to hear how it goes so please post on our FACEBOOK page!

Prayer
Lord, always you are good.  Help me to see you in new ways, and to look at you differently.  Teach me the lessons you are striving to instill within in.  Thank you that you take every circumstance and work it around for my good when I’m looking to you.  Would you allow me to see with fresh eyes all that you are in and around me.  I love you Papa.  Amen.  

MARLA WALDRON lives in Wyoming, Ohio with her husband and three grown children. She has been a public school teacher for 34 years. She is active in mentoring new teachers, Bible study, coaching Girls on the Run, and is honored to serve in the Dented Fender Ministry.

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New Adventures Ahead, No Instructions Included…

New Adventures Ahead, No Instructions Included…

On our wedding day I gave my husband a card that said, “New Adventures Ahead … No Instructions Included.”  We were facing uncharted waters together, jumping in to blending children, families and life histories together.  Our wedding was magical!  It was beautiful, fun, meaningful–everything you would want it to be.  The next day as we boarded the plane for our honeymoon we were full of deep joy.  Our new adventure had begun!

With wide grins we reached the travel counter for our cruise.  Little did we know the plans we had carefully crafted together were about to be yanked forcefully out of our hands.

“May I see your passports please?” the kind woman at the counter inquired.

Dutifully David handed over our documents.  We could see our ship floating majestically right in front of us, glistening in the Miami sunshine.  Distracted and excited, it took us a moment to notice the woman had stopped checking us in and was waving a supervisor over.  To my horror, the passport I had asked a friend to pack for me was an old expired one that was no longer valid.  We would not be permitted to board.

In one moment, all of our special plans evaporated before our very eyes.  Exploring the ship and grabbing lunch on the deck, gone.  Breaking open the chilled champagne and Pellegrino that waited for us in our room, gone.  Toasting our new marriage and sailing off into the sunset, gone.  Overwhelmed with anger, frustration and self-loathing, my head dropped into my hands and I started sobbing.  My honeymoon was ruined.

You know you’ve married the right guy when in the midst of the disappointment a gentle arm reaches around your shoulder, pulls you in close and tells you it’s going to be alright.  Before I knew it, he was on the phone moving mountains, changing arrangements, and shifting plans.  Within an hour my passport was being shipped (God love my parents!) and we were flying to another port the next day to meet our ship.  Never once did he try to make me feel bad.  He was reassuring, reminding me it was all going to be okay.  My tears begin to subside.

We prayed.  We both got re-centered.  Then David recalled that card I had just given him not even 24 hours earlier, the words taken on newer meaning.  “This is our first adventure together as a married couple, honey.  And if this is the worst that ever happens to us in our married life, we have nothing to complain about.”  He was right.  No one was dead.  Nothing was destroyed.  We still had each other, and it was still our honeymoon.

He continued, “Our focus shouldn’t be on a trip.  It’s just a trip.  Our focus should be right here,” he said, waving his arm gently between the two of us.  “And this…this is all good.  We don’t need a trip together to experience joy.  A trip is just one moment in time, and life is full of many, many moments.  This moment with you is all that matters.”

He pulled me in and held me close.  My shoulders began to relax; the stress started to melt away like a light snow on a sunny day.  Joy crept its way back into my spirit as I realized yet again this guy by my side is exactly the kind of person I want to be able to continue my life’s journey with. God was able to snatch away the victory from the jaws of defeat.

It’s crazy how hard life can come at us sometimes.  When I think of all I’ve experienced in my life—loss of loved ones, tragedies, financial challenges, broken bones and broken hearts—those are not the moments that jump out at me.  Instead, it is the presence of God’s steadying influence.  Whether it’s through prayer, the Bible, other people or worship, God is there holding me close.  And when I’m ready, he reminds me of all the joy I have also experienced—the birth of my children, the triumphs and victories, the love and the friendships, the growth and the blessings.  It’s already been a rich life!  It’s my choice what I choose to focus on with the rest of the moments I have.

So if, like me, you hit a rough patch (or two or three), remember: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning it’s shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful people so you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3).   God still has you!

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT: The race we are running is a marathon, not a sprint.  We will hit many obstacles along our path.  But God is bigger than any and every obstacle, even death, and He does give us instructions.  The Bible is packed with wisdom about how to handle our challenges when they come (because they always do!).  Read them to allow your spirit to shift your focus away from the negative and grab a hold of hope.  I’ve included a few of my favorites here for you to click on:

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Isaiah 43:1-4

Romans 8:26-28

Romans 8:31-39

PRAYER: Papa, always you are good even when things go wrong.  I know every good and perfect gift comes from above, and that you promise to use even the challenges we face in life for the good when we trust you.  Thank you that it is never your heart to hurt us, and that Jesus gave his very life to redeem us from those hurts.  You are a good father, and I am so deeply grateful for the joy you set before me even in the midst of the trials.  Thank you, Papa.  Amen.

BARBARA LOWNSBURY is an author, entrepreneur, and single mother of three.  She serves as the Executive Director for The Dented Fender ministry.  Follow Barb and The Dented Fender community on Facebook and Instagram.

WANT TO LEARN MORE?  Buy Barbara’s book by clicking HERE

Marking the Moments

I sit here a little in awe.  A year ago, I didn’t see this coming.  All I knew was that God had revealed quite clearly to me that somewhere in 2019 he would bring the man he wanted for me into my life.  I fought him at first.  It seemed selfish to really focus in on my personal life in that way for whatever reason.  But with a sigh, I submitted to Him and put bridal imagery all over my vision board for 2019.

Now, here I sit.  It’s my wedding day.  And I am in awe of all that has transpired this year, all the miraculous ways God showed up and moved pieces perfectly into place for this very moment.  I feel His joy for me today.  I feel His presence.  I feel His rich blessing and tender mercy and yes, even parental pride.  He is celebrating with me today, and I am celebrating with Him.

The man I am marrying is amazing in so many ways. I feel like God is showing off every time I see a new way we’re so perfect for each other.  It’s easy.  It’s fun, and he’s running after God as hard as I am.  My eyes well with joyful tears as I write this.

But why I share this, why I write this for you today, is because I want you to believe.  I want you to realize God has miracles of beauty and joy available for each of us.  Out of the ashes of hurt and heartache, He brings redemption and joy.  Out of a place of feeling lost and hopeless, He brings purpose and vision.  He has victories in store for you, amazing victories that will take your breath away.  Victories that may come when you least expect it, or when you’ve about given up on finding that breakthrough.  As you keep praying and keep pressing on in faith, those clouds will dissipate and joy will flood into your very soul.

When these moments happen, both big and small, mark them.  Do something that reminds you that God showed up for you.  It can be a moment, a special dinner, a card, a journal–anything really.  But mark that celebratory moment with God, thanking him for his gentle mercies.  Then when the next tunnel in life comes your way (because we all know they will come), you have your touchstones, your memories and badges of glory of how God has blessed and been faithful to you before.  He will have your back again.  Claim His promises and cling to them, using scriptures that speak into the goodness of his nature to infuse you with faith.  “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us a glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

So today I mark a moment, a profound god-given moment in my life that will change it forever.  And I am reminded of how amazing the Father we serve is.  How much his heart is to bless us–to bless you!  May all of our faith grow through the journey.

Searching for Significance

I have always wanted to have significance from the time I was young.  As a child, I used to put a blanket on, cape style, and hold a spoon in my hand like a scepter, pretending to be Miss America as I waved to my adoring fans.  My free time would occasionally consist of playing “office” where I would hire and fire people, write pretend checks and sit at a desk trying to feel important.  I would rehearse my Oscar speech and thank all my young friends in the neighborhood for their early influence on me.  I must have been convincing because afterwards they would say with solemn sincerity, “Don’t forget me when you’re famous.”

Why did I play that way?  I guess the list could be long.  But at the end of the day, I think each of us want to have a sense of power and significance.  We want to know our lives matter, that what we do with our limited time here on earth has made an impact.

What the grown-up version of me has come to understand is that the search for significance in what we do is an illusion, a temporary fix that doesn’t fully satisfy the soul.  It tends to come with a constant demand for what’s new and next.  Now, I don’t care so much about what I’ve achieved.  Yay, I have a list of atta-girls.  Don’t we all in one form or another?  But my list interests me far less than the difference I can make in someone else’s life.  I love getting to give someone the right word at the right time, the hug they didn’t know they needed until they received it, or the wisdom and insight to take that next step forward on their life’s journey.  I love empowering others to faithfully step into all that God has called them to be.  That brings me deep joy.

Still, even blessing others isn’t the truest source of my significance.  Think of the synonyms surrounding that word “significant.”  Words like powerful, compelling, momentous, important, rich, eloquent, weighty, and having meaning.  I find all of these things and more naturally flow out of my relationship with God.  See, my significance comes from knowing the creator of the universe chose me.  He didn’t have to.  It’s not like heaven and hell were picking sides one day and somehow God got the short end of the stick and had to take me on his team.  I was his first choice, his number one draft pick, the one person he most wanted to have on his side.  And the amazing thing is so are you.  He feels that way about each one of us.  How profound is that?!  It’s hard to feel like you don’t matter in light of the fact that Jesus literally gave his life to save you.  Not just everyone, but you.  Specifically YOU.

And the more we step into who God crafted each of us to uniquely be, not comparing ourselves to others but embracing the lane he placed us in, the more significant we begin to feel.  I don’t need to have this huge impact.  I just need to be who God has called me to be, and God will do the rest.  Ironically, the more I embrace this attitude, the greater my impact becomes.  It’s like the more I learn to be God’s conduit and the less I make it about myself, the more he is able to move and flow.

Nowadays, I don’t dream of making a big splash in this world.  Whether I do or don’t doesn’t really matter.  What I do dream of is walking closely with God, growing in my ability to discern his voice and grow in his wisdom, and to live out my life as only I can because there is only one me.  No one else can run the lane God has placed me in except me.  I am Plan A for my life and the people around me.  There is no Plan B.  The same is true for you.  That’s where my significance comes from.  That’s where my worth comes clearly into view.  And if you’re willing, that’s where you will find yours, too.

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT  Are you ever tempted to feel like you don’t matter?  Like you have no worth?  Do those feelings come from what you perceive to be a lack of achievement or influence?  In those moments, remember your significance before the Lord.  He reminds us of our value through the prophet Isaiah: “I took you and choose you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you.  I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.  So do not fear, for I am with you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (41:8-10).

Replace the lie that you don’t matter with his truth–you are incredibly significant to God.  He has plans to make an impact through you in the lane he’s placed you in, whether it’s with your husband, your kids, your co-workers, your friends, your book club or your spiritual community. What you do is significant to God and he finds you worthy.  And that’s something to smile about!

PRAYER Lord, thank you that I find true significance and meaning for my life in you.  All I need to do is look around me and see that the world’s ways don’t work.  You have destined me as your child to live a life that is full of joy and peace, not one that is fractured or ineffective.  When I start to get sucked into thinking it’s all up to me and what I do, help me to remember your sovereignty.  When I begin comparing myself with others instead of remembering that before the cross we are all the same, remind me of your truth.  Would you empower me today to remember how much I am cherished by you.  Thank you for a love that is so sweet, so powerful and deep, it literally transforms me from the inside out.  May I experience more and more of you within me.  Amen.  

BARB LOWNSBURY is an author, entrepreneur, and single mother of three.  She serves as the Executive Director for The Dented Fender ministry.  Follow Barb and The Dented Fender community on Facebook and Instagram.