Lessons from the Lake

As we wrap up another summer of freckles, sandy toes, and ice cream cones what wisdom can we take with us from our lazy days of reflection by the lake? Here are a few lessons that we learned (or remembered) this year at the cottage:

  1.  Less is more.  If we can fit 6 people and all that we need to live for 3 weeks into a mini van we must have too much stuff at home.  All the fussing about with our wardrobes and our decorations and our kitchen gadgets and, yes, even our bookshelves can be a distraction from the things that matter most (which are actually not things at all).  Living simply allows us to be fully being present in the moments of our lives.  Consider the true cost of the stuff you bring into your homes in terms of the time and energy it will sap from other worthy endeavours.
  2. Water IS therapeutic.  It turns out that the inner calm you derive from the sound of crashing waves on the shoreline physiologically and psychologically relieves your stress.  We are more at rest when water surrounds us with its healing powers. Water also reminds us of the living water that is promised through Christ in Scripture and this elemental connection is no coincidence. As Canadians, we are blessed with beautiful waterscape that we shouldn’t take for granted as we cultivate #bluemind.
  3. You are doing too much laundry.  Although this may also be a positive byproduct of the limited options of a simple wardrobe (see #1), we manage to do very little laundry with limited cottage facilities and somehow we still have clean clothes. I don’t know about your kids but mine have thought on occasion that cleaning up their room meant putting every article of clothing that was on the floor into the laundry basket.  In response to this sweeping and unnecessary overload of the laundry basket we instituted a new rule: unless something is stinky or stained it can be worn again.  (Underwear and socks are, of course, always laundered – without inspecting stink or stains!) At the cottage, this rule is diligently followed; at home, it is a work-in-progress.
  4. Wasting time is not a waste of time.  My daughter recently purchased a shirt that reads, “I waste my time wisely” – isn’t that a great slogan?   An extended sabbatical is a wonderful respite from the daily grind but we can’t always wait for a vacation to take a rest.  Coming home to a Sabbath-rhythm is essential. Just be sure to waste your time wisely by filling it with the things that rejuvenate your soul.
  5. Boredom fuels creativity.  When my kids use the b-word I remind them that I am not their entertainment director and that boredom is a gift for their imaginations. I can’t remember the last time I was truly bored but I long for boredom because it is in those moments where we pause to be still that we open ourselves up to new burst of creativity.  At the cottage, songs were composed and stories were written as the kids mined the beauty from the boredom. Just today my “bored” kids decided to set up a comic book studio, assigning appropriate roles to all siblings based on age and natural talent.  I would not have come up with that idea as entertainment director, I assure you, and if I had rushed in with another suggestion, they would have missed out. And this is not just about children; each of us needs a chance to be bored in order to fuel our creative genius.
  6. Art is imitation.  When an artist attempts to capture the beauty of a landscape s/he is first inspired by the Creator’s canvas.  Even the photos I took at the lake did not begin to capture the grandeur of the vibrant double rainbow or the vast starry sky – the scenes that took my breath away.  Beauty and wonder surround us, no matter where we are. Look for it. Revel in it. And let even the most creative imitations remind you of the original artist.
  7. Even rainy days are full of joy.  The sound of rain on the rooftop or droplets dripping from heavy-laden leaves are further examples of #bluemind. But beyond that, on rainy days, or snow days, or any other days that the weather drives us indoors we have a valid excuse to stay in, to stay put, and to readjust our agendas.  These days permit freedom from the pressure to “get out there” and provide opportunities to “get in there”.  Instead of seeing inclement weather as a spoiler of great plans, choose to see it as an unexpected opportunity for a different kind of day, one that can be full of the joys of reading and reflection.
  8. There is a song in the stillness.  There is so much noise around and within us every day that we can’t enter into the quiet with much ease at all.  On those rare occasions that we manage to hush the noise we’ll find that there are still sounds in the silence.  A bird’s song, rustling grasses, and lapping waves -natural music that is muted by the usual cacophony – are rediscovered when our ears are tuned in.  Life is so much richer when we rediscover the still small voice in the wind and can finally hear it again.
  9. A different view offers a different perspective.  When we take ourselves away from the things that we typically look at we begin to see our circumstances in a new light.  There is something real and honest in our need to get away to regain perspective; a different visual space will promote a different mental space. Frequent breaks from our usual surroundings will freshen our outlook and help us to see things anew.
  10. Families who play together stay together.  My favourite moment in our entire vacation was the spontaneous outburst of the Covey a cappella rendition of Celebration – complete with back-up vocals and multiple harmonies. Though our Dutch Blitz game was temporarily interrupted by this flash mob, a fun-loving spirit that we had been searching to reclaim was revived by its energy.  The fam jam on the porch overlooking the lake fostered the same closeness; banjos, guitars, vocals and a stack of chord sheets will set the stage for memories that last a lifetime.  Play – games, music, sports – together and you’ll strengthen the ties that bind.
  11. Rent is not a four-letter word.  Too often we (in North American Society) see rental options as “throwing our money away”.  We choose to rent our cottage and many people have questioned us in this decision; yet, it makes all the sense in the world to us.  It functions like an all-expenses-paid family vacation:  we budget a set amount and show up to relax and enjoy it. When you own a property you cannot get away from the obligations to furnish, maintain and fix. We go away to get away from all those obligations at home.  Why would we want to double our to-do list at a time in our lives when keeping one lawn cut is a challenge? Rental options can provide a wonderful level of freedom that ownership does not.  Besides, even the things we think we own are only borrowed for a time; they’ll all go back in the box.
  12. Second breakfast is as important as first breakfast.  Experts have always encouraged us to eat a healthy breakfast to start your day properly.  But we really don’t hear enough about second breakfast.  At the cottage, the day really doesn’t start with much activity until after second breakfast and this seems like a habit worth bringing home. Another expert on living well, J.R.R. Tolkien, put it this way:  “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

How did your adventures teach you about life this summer?  What did you learn (or remember) that you want to apply at home?

Covey, Jason Covey: a birthday tribute to my man

Tomorrow is my husband’s  birthday and I thought I would seize the  opportunity to proclaim his greatness to the world.

Note possible ulterior motive: I’m hoping this post may convince him to finally read my blog!

Here are 36 reasons that I love Jason, in honour of his 36th birthday:

1.  He looks like James Bond when he wears a suit.

2.  He laughs at all my jokes but he never at me.

3.  He is steadfast and level-headed.

4.  He takes his time and will not be rushed.

5.  He offers the single most memorable line in an evening full of conversation.

6.  He listens and remembers.

7.  He doesn’t succumb to the unrealistic expectations and idiotic opinions of others.

8.  He looks at me and he sees me.

9.  He is a respectful and respected professional that does his work with excellence.

10.  He opens our home to any number of vagabonds, including, but not limited to, former students, moms groups, and close family.

11.  He sees all his flaws as a place to start rather than a depressing end.

12.  He reads classic fiction – for fun – and he reads to our children.

13.  He tracks the paperwork and finances for our household on an Excel spreadsheet because I asked him to.  God bless him.

14.  He trouble-shoots technology problems and is patient enough to persevere until he finds a solution.

15.  He is an amazing athlete, playing all sports with ease (an ability I envy because I do not possess it).

16.  He helps around the house with menial chores like garbage, dishes, and laundry.

17.  He commutes every day so I don’t have to.

18.  He respects my profession.

19.  He tells me to relax, to sit awhile, and to let the rest of the “to-do” list go.

20.  He snuggled and continues to snuggle our babies.

21.  He gets his hair cut with a proper stylist.

22.  He cares about how he presents himself to the world:  with style and integrity.

23.  He will pick up diapers and feminine products on his way home from work without complaining.

24.  He keeps my bed warm every night.

25.  He strives to understand and meet my needs.

26.  He champions me in my secret ambitions.

27.  He listens to my lengthy and repetitive rants about delinquent teenagers at work, frustrating kids at home, and my mother.

28.  He cherishes his heritage and seeks to honour it in our home.

29.  He makes time for frequent dates and plans mini-break weekends.

30.  He draws me a bath, rubs my feet, and/or pours me a cup of tea (or a glass of wine) when I am weary.

31.  He trusts and values my opinion as an equal partner.

32. He DJs and participates fully in our Living Room Dance Parties.

33.  He reads his Bible daily with his morning cup of coffee.

34.  He will watch episodes of Gilmore Girls, Downton Abbey, and Parenthood.

35.  He tolerates my fits of hysteria that often end in tears or uncontrollable laughter.

36.  He is fiercely loyal and committed to his family.

                                                                         And…he reads my blog!

Happy Birthday, honey!  I hope you feel loved today and every day.

A Bit Loony

At the cottage this year, my husband and I spent some wonderful evenings enjoying the view of Charleston Lake and, as usual, this quiet time surrounded by God’s Green Earth had us thinking about the pace of our day-to-day lives.

Like Annie Dillard, tinkering at her creek, I often find that the time I spend in nature is spiritually charged.  It compels me to reflect on and examine my life and to learn from the wisdom embedded in creation.  This particular vacation, my attention was drawn to the flight patterns of two birds.

Have you ever observed the distinct contrast between a loon’s frantic flapping and a hawk’s majestic soaring?  Sure, they both make it to their chosen destination but watching them get there reveals a significant difference; the loon looks like she is barely surviving while the hawk makes it look easy.  Truly, loons are not very graceful when they fly.  They exert so much energy and appear to be fighting against the wind and the gravitational pull whenever they are airborne.  It seems they should take some advice from Dory and “just keep swimming” because they’ve got that mode of travel mastered.  Just take your time, loons.  Stop trying so hard.  Align your flight with the power of the wind.

Oh. Right.

So, I’m a bit loony.  Shocking revelation, I know.   Friends, I am fighting every fiber of my being as a Type A, driven, task-oriented individual and am resigning myself to the fact that this pace is not a healthy or inspiring way to travel.  Actually, it’s a little crazy.

I often succumb to the frenetic pace of our society because I feel the need to get somewhere or to accomplish something according to an arbitrary timeline that I have established for myself, generally based on unrealistic expectations and external pressures.  I rarely orient my life to a rhythm that breathes.  Hence, the frantic flapping and the trying too hard.  And the grace-less flight.

istock_flying_common_loon[1]

But, I am weary from all the flapping and I’m baby-stepping my way into the hawk program.

The late Dallas Willard offered the wise instruction to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives”.  I must do this.  I know it to be true.  But it is SO HARD.

So, where is the hope for me in all this loon-acy?  How can I reorient my pace to something that is life-giving instead of life-draining?

I think it is as simple and as hard as this:  daily I must resist the tyranny of the urgent and SLOW DOWN.  Daily I must choose to live in harmony with the indwelling Spirit, release all the busyness and striving, and become attentive to God’s work in and through me.

If I want to soar, I have to put my hope in the Lord to renew my strength.

30 Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

31 but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like [hawks];

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40, italics mine

The Top Ten Reasons to Love Gwyneth

So, my baby girl just turned 10 and I thought it was the perfect time for a top 10 list.  The last time I wrote about her was when she was two.  A tribute is long overdue!

If you love Gwyneth, feel free to add your thoughts to the comments below!

I love Gwyneth for…

10. Her vibrant smile and freckled nose (and red hair, of course)!

9. Her delight over a good book.

8. Her willingness to try new things, especially foods.

7. Her creative script-writing, song-writing and flair for story-telling.

6. Her contagious laughter and silliness.

5. Her thoughtful gestures and kindness to others.

4. Her ability to animate any anecdote.

3. Her integrity and commitment to what is right.

2. Her sincerity when speaking to and about others.

1. Her strength of character and her authenticity.

Me and my girl
Me and my girl

Happy Birthday, G-Jane!  I love you to the moon and back.

Mustangs, High Heels and the Like

It seems we like to rent a cottage on a lake every year for summer vacation.  Many would say that rental money is thrown away, but perhaps not in the grand scheme of a vacation.  Certainly, ownership is the North American way.  In Mordecai Richler’s novel, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, the protagonist lives his whole life trying to prove his worth based on the assumption that “a man without land is nobody”.  Why?  Do we really own anything anyway?  As Christians, we acknowledge that all gifts come from the Giver.  Do we think about our spending spiritually?  Like, what would the Creator the Universe spend his Toys’RUs gift certificate on?  That question is rarely on my radar at the mall.

I was chatting with my dad last night, sitting in Muskoka chairs, looking out over Morrison Lake and waxing eloquent about what I would want in a cottage if I owned one.  His striking comment was, “I’d have to go a long way to justify a cottage”. (This from a man who just bought a Mustang convertible, but I digress.) But do I need to own a cottage?  Couldn’t I just rent every year and be thankful?  Arguably, even the rental money could be used for better purposes.  I really have trouble sorting out the complexities of cash flow.  Do we actually do anything differently as Christians, other than tithe? I doubt most Christians even do that.

Our conversation turned to the abundance in North America and the glaring contrast between poverty and affluence.  I was reminded (as I often am) of Richard Foster’s book The Freedom of Simplicity in which he suggests that we, as Christians, have the choice to live simply so that others may simply live.

What does financial simplicity actually look like, though? I often wonder how to process the use of money in our culture.  I know we justify so many things that we don’t need and (if you want to get technical about it) those dollars could provide food for starving people –  the cost of a Mustang could cover a lot of loaves and fishes.

Somehow, I don’t think it is a simple as that, though.  I think we all need to wrestle with our riches.  That’s right,  if you ate today, you are rich by global standards and you will  have to give an account for how you spend all of your resources, including your money. For me, that’s a sobering thought.

I remember Pastor Carey Nieuwhof sharing one approach to purchases which was to consider how they could be used for Kingdom purposes: could those extra spots in the vehicle allow you to provide needed rides?  Could an extra bedroom in your house allow you to foster or adopt?  Could your cottage be used to provide spiritual retreat to friends or family in need of rest? Essentially, you are asking are your purchases selfishly motivated?  Most of mine are.  Even those little ones that are seemingly harmless.

We buy things for our enjoyment.  I don’t think that is entirely wrong, but how do we reconcile our spending with our faith?  There are SO many ways we spend on really pointless things.  (As an aside, I used to work with a teacher in Kingston that often expressed his concern for a world that paid good money for water and dirt!)

Hypothetically speaking, if I were to buy a cottage for my family, would I regret that expenditure at the end of my life in light of world poverty?  Could that money have been put to better use?  Arguably, yes.  But so could the money I spent on shoes:  many people don’t have even one pair and I have…well, several.  Any purchase could be considered in light of its eternal value and cause us to be convicted about priorities. Store up treasures in heaven and all that.

A long time ago, our pastor asked each family to consider their mission as a family.  After tossing some ideas around the dinner table, we decided that our mission was summed up in one word:  share. I think there is something to the idea that we hold all that we have been given loosely, actively seeking ways to meet needs with our abundance.  We are working on that principle of generosity in our family with more than just our money and possessions.  We realize that we are to share our gifts and our compassion and our wisdom, too. But, even with those efforts, I feel like I have a lot to learn.

What principles do you apply when it comes to spending in your family? How do you deal with these tough questions from a spiritual perspective?

Cracking Me Out

 

Gwyneth shouted at Wesley, “stop that singing, you’re cracking me out!”

“Don’t you mean, cracking me up?” I asked.

“No, cracking me out, like ignoying me!”

You see, Wesley has a tendency to fixate on a single lyric and proceed to sing it like a broken record, with only slight variations in tone and volume.  For the most part he is completely oblivious to the fact that he is even doing it.  He just enters into his own little world of play and repeats his chosen phrase to the rhythm of his own imagination.  The day of this particular outburst, Gwyneth was trying not to listen as she coloured nearby but the repetition was getting to her and she was beginning to be annoyed.  In her frustration, she invented this new phrase, one that I have since adopted into our family’s vernacular.

So, what does it mean to be “cracked out” (avoiding all obvious drug-related references)?  In Gwyneth’s world, it means to be pushed beyond her limits and frustrated by the actions of another.  Considering this definition, I can identify with her sentiment.  In fact, I often experience this phenomenon:  I allow someone’s words or actions to get under my skin and become an irritant.

But getting “cracked out”, though annoying on one level, may actually provide a needed opportunity for spiritual growth.  My tendency to be frustrated with the deficiencies in others is actually a call to look in the mirror.  Instead of blaming the annoyance on the annoyer, perhaps I should examine my own heart to understand why I am responding the way that I am.  Is this reaction more about my inability to accept a difference of opinion?  Have I really listened in the first place to what was being said?  Am I hard-hearted or judgmental?  Am I extending grace?  Do I accept the reality of a flawed and shared humanness?

I think God uses relational conflict to cut to the heart of the matter.  Through relational tension, my shell, or the illusion of where I think I am spiritually, is figuratively broken and my true self is exposed.  My responses to annoyances, miscommunications, and offences reveal what is really going on in my internal world.   In essence, I am “cracked out” and my spiritual maturity is tested.

When I harbour unforgiveness, gossip or complain about a situation I can be sure that I am not honouring God with my reaction.  In fact, it is a wake up call for me to revisit some of the scriptural wisdom about judgment.  Jesus asks me, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3).  When I find myself irritated by a speck, first and foremost, I need to address the plank.

Jesus carefully chooses the substance of comparison in this illustration.  Sawdust is merely a tiny wooden byproduct whereas a plank, also wooden, is significantly more obvious.  The specifics of the speck that I notice should reveal something to me about the nature of my grievances:  the things I criticize in others should be measured in my own self-analysis, especially considering the difference in magnitude.  For example, if I am critical of someone’s pride, it may be that I am significantly more prideful.

When I realize that my weaknesses are made from the same fabric as those offending me, I might discover a renewed desire to extend grace.  If Gwyneth understood that she is often the one with the louder voice, singing without apology when she plays, she might be able to let Wesley’s serenades be less of an issue.

I believe God gave our family this new adage as a reminder.  Next time I feel like someone is “cracking me out,” I’ll remember that the emphasis is on me.

(originally posted in 2009)

 

Abundant Life

 

I have an abundance of stuff in my home.  I have an overflowing sock drawer, a more than adequate supply of breakfast cereal, and an abounding mound of laundry.

I also have an abundance of activities on my calendar.  I have a ton of commitments, a large number of obligations, and several fun-filled social engagements.

On one level, I am thankful for these things (okay maybe not the laundry) but the fact that they exist in abundance doesn’t do much for my spirituality.  Most of this stuff just distracts me from seeking the real thing.

Confusing God’s abundance with accumulation and activity is fairly common.  Most people, myself included, rush about in an effort to have more and to do more.  But more of what?

It’s no surprise that God’s agenda does not prioritize material things or busyness.  He explains in John 10:10 that the life he wants for us directly competes with the life the world offers.  The enemy comes to “steal, kill, and destroy” (hardly appealing) but Jesus comes that we can have a full life. I think most people’s lives are full but with the wrong things.

God offers us a life full of stuff that Satan has no power over.  Things he cannot steal, kill or destroy, at least not unless we let him.  Jesus offers us forgiveness, healing, rest, peace, contentment and love and the only way we lose out in those areas is if we fail to claim His promises or if we choose to live outside his will.  Otherwise, he will fill us to overflowing with the stuff that really matters.

In certain situations, like my laundry heap, more is not better.  But if it’s more of God and His goodness, I’ll welcome the abundance.

(Originally posted in 2009)