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Hundreds of titles for this post were swimming in my head.  Even more topics.  A hint of dread was quickly brushed off like the cobwebs that would be resting on this blog if it were tangible as I wondered if I still remembered how to write.  Needless to say, it’s been a while, eh?  Something to the tune of four months, I believe.  It might as well have been four years, what with all the changes that have taken place during the great blogging silence.  I could write many pages documenting all the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual changes, but I’m going to write about something that’s particularly of focus: the power of encouragement.

I must admit, though I crave it as much as the normal human being, I really lack in dishing it out.  Somehow, if I give some, maybe I won’t have any for myself?  As if it’s going to run out, or something.  I’m realizing something spectacular.  Kingdom fruits never run out.  They seem to multiply more rapidly when given out.  We’ve entered this new culture where one of it’s many strengths is encouragement.  Wow, has it been a culture shock for Jer and I!  It’s brought some major exposure to a bit of unhealth, for sure.  As much as I despise comparison and know of it’s evils, it’s still in there.  I realize it when I see a picture of most everyone on earth vacationing and having the time of their lives while I’m home alone on day 24 of 28 of being a single parent.  Just as I’m about to post something kiddingly-sarcastic, comparing their good time to my alleged lonely misery to get some sympathy, I read the comments from other friends, “I’m so happy for you!”  “That looks so fun!”  “That’s awesome!”  I stop.  Wow.  Those guys are being so nice and encouraging and they’re not on vacation, either.  Some of them are even actual single parents, not temporary ones like me.

Encouragement brings freedom and allows beauty to flow.  I’m telling you, people here are encouragement dealers!  I’ve decided I want to not only be a user, but a dealer, too.  Oh, the high you get when someone says, “Your hair looks so cute!”  Whatever!  I know that seems so shallow, but seriously, you know how good it feels!  “That color is good on you.”  “Awesome new song!” “I love the way you take pictures!”

Being delighted in is the most amazing thing.  More and more, I’m grasping the sheer joy and freedom that comes, knowing that my Father delights in me.  Instead of starting my devotions in shame, thinking of how I don’t spend enough of my day in concentrated devotion, how I blew it when I yelled at one, or all, of my kids an hour ago, and all the other reasons for Daddy to say, “Bad girl,” to me, I am reminded that He delights in me.  How I am redeemed in Him.  How all that other stuff is a dead me coming back to haunt me (yeah, I like Kris Vallotton’s imagery), but He wants to bring the real me more and more to life because He loves who I am dearly.  Oh, what a feeling!  Oh, how I want to parent like this more and more!  My kids need to know that I delight in them so much!  I am starting to shower them more with encouragement, and wow, I’m seeing more and more of their beautiful, true selves and less and less of their bickering, whiney behavior coming out.

Encouragement is powerful and life-transforming.  When I feel loved, delighted in, and encouraged, I feel safe and free to be who I really am.  It’s ridiculous to think that I always had all of that in Him, but I was looking for it solely in people (which seems to come hand-in-hand when you have the fear of man like I did).  I desire so much to be that to everyone around me.  I really do love you.  I don’t talk behind your back and criticize you after I smile and flatter you to your face.  I delight in who you are.  You are beautiful.  That color really looks good on you.  I love your new hair cut.  Those jeans are hot!  I love hearing you sing.  That is an awesome work of art.  And, Jer’s and my favorite new way to encourage in this culture, “COME ON!”  Ahhh, that felt so good.  Wouldn’t you know it?  There’s even freedom and joy when you give encouragement!  I’m addicted!  This new chapter of life will be one saturated in encouragement!  Oh, the life that’s about to flow!

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I find it amusing that most of my spiritually-based posts have “bread” in their titles.  I love bread.  If only ontological bread was as nourishing as the metaphorical one.  I miss the nineties.  Carbs were good for you in the nineties.  Atkins, really.  Why did you go and start this low-carb revolution?  That, my friends, was me following a little bunny down a trail…

Back on the path…  I’m going through a book my parents gave me a few years ago called, “Sleeping with Bread, Holding What Gives You Life.”  The title was inspired by the story of thousands of children who were orphaned in WWII and left to starve.  Some of the children in the refugee camps couldn’t sleep because they were afraid they’d wake up and have nothing to eat.  One of their caretakers decided to give them all a loaf of bread to sleep with so they would have assurance of food to eat the next day.  The children then slept peacefully.  The bread reminded them “Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow.”

The book is based off of The Spiritual Exercises founded by St. Ignatius, where we listen for God to speak through times of consolation (what brings life and connects us to God) and desolation (what drains and disconnects us from God).  For instance, when I look at my now sparkling house after a long, hard, frequently interrupted day of deep cleaning, it is a moment of consolation for me.  What is God speaking to me in this?  When I am tired and melancholy and I lose my patience with the kids, that is an instance of desolation.  What is God speaking to me through this situation?

I realized that when I am in a season of consolation, when I feel close to the Lord, I am also spending lots of time outside working the soil and tending to plants.  I hear Him speak to me and so many parables and passages start to make more sense.  I want to give Him my adoration and worship by doing what God originally put us in Eden to do, to “work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15, ESV).  

When I’m in a season of desolation, when I feel furthest away from God, I realize it’s when I’m thinking about myself a lot.  For some reason or another, my devotional time has dwindled, and situations start knocking me around harder than normal.  Then worry, insecurity, doubt, and loneliness sets in.  My mind becomes consumed with finding fleshly, potentially destructive things to pacify my bad feelings with.  I eat an unbalanced amount of comfort foods (mainly bready sweets like cookies and cakes), waste time online shopping looking for something new to need, and avoid going outdoors because its a little too hot or cold or windy for my comfort.  I wonder why I feel so distant from God.  Why isn’t He speaking to me?  Then, I realize the lack of focused time I have spent with Him and where I veered off the road.

The examen is also a way to find out what our individual “sealed orders” are from the Lord.  Sealed orders are the unique purpose God has for each individual here on earth that He put in our very DNA.  The more we discover and carry out our sealed orders, the more our lives are filled with consolation.  This was a new idea to me.  Growing up in our church, I interpreted certain teachings that whatever you wanted to do least of all, that’s what God was telling you to do.  I don’t doubt there are times when God does have things for us to do as part of our sealed orders, like Jonah going to Nineveh, but I don’t think our actual sealed orders are the opposite of what we love.  This was a freeing revelation to me.  It’s actually OK to do what I enjoy.  In fact, God put that desire in me to fulfill His plans for me.

I particularly like the idea of doing the examen over dinnertime with the family and observing special ones on holidays (on the 4th of July, share what we’re most and least grateful for in our country, on New Year’s we share what’s brought the most and least consolation over the past year, etc.).  I’d like to start incorporating these in our family life and holidays as a way of enriching those times together.

This whole “examen” thing has really added salt to my time with the Lord.  I feel an exchange between Him and I when I observe it.  It has helped me to slow down and listen.  My Father truly is talking to me throughout the day.  I just need to take the time to listen.

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Drought weights the trees, and from the farmhouse eaves
The locust, pulse-beat of the summer day,
Throbs; and the lane, that shambles under leaves
Limp with the heat–a league of rutty way –
Is lost in dust; and sultry scents of hay
Breathe from the panting meadows heaped with sheaves.

– from "The Rain-Crow" by Madison Cawein (1865 – 1914)

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