Rejoice When?

It’s difficult to miss a theme running through Philippians chapter 4.

“I always pray with joy”, “because of this I rejoice”, “I will continue to rejoice”, “joy in the faith”, “make my joy complete”, “be glad and rejoice with me”, “rejoice in the Lord”… well, you get the point!

Philippians 4 caps it off with words to paint on the inside of our eyelids. “Rejoice in the Lord always.” When? Did he say always? Always?

Perhaps the better question isn’t when but where to rejoice. “Rejoice in the Lord always”.  The reality of being  “in the Lord”  is the key.  We rejoice because we are in the Lord, He is near.

In the Lord, with Him near, we can always rejoice. We can rejoice during good times or during challenges for He is near.  That means during times of drought or times of timely rains the farmer can rest in knowing that God will care for the needs of the one that planted the seeds in faith.  

The farmer (and his wife) can be thankful and sleep without anxiety after telling the very near Lord everything on his mind. Why?  Because his requests are before God, the very God that causes the seed to grow , sends the rain and the harvest (how does a seed grow anyway?).  The Lord is near.

Sit and still your heart.  What is on your mind that causes you anxiety?  Imagine the Lord on the chair next to you, talk to Him, thank Him, imagine Him laying His hand on your head and the peace of God coming from heaven like honey pouring over your head and running down over your shoulders.

God does His part and we choose to respond in faith. It doesn’t always feel like a choice, does it? But after praying, Paul gives a list of things to focus our minds upon.

So here is your one week challenge! Set your minds on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy.  Each time the thoughts go south, negative, or down and the worry and anxieties come up-  stop, recognize where your mind is going and the energy it is wasting. Repeat the challenge above and set the mind on thoughts that meet Paul’s criteria!  Don’t get down on yourself, just keep praying and re-setting your mind.

Paul says we need to “put it into practice”, and boy does it take practice!!!

But do you see what he says is our secret weapon?  “And the God of peace will be with you”  Peace isn’t just a state of mind, it is a relationship in our heart with the God of the universe that has chosen to be near to us if we stand firm in the Lord.

So, are you up for a challenge?  Let’s do it together for Paul says it is the secret he learned for being content in any and every situation and for strength in everything he did.  Can’t you almost hear Paul talking?

“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Lord, forgive me for worrying. Thank You for being near, help me to practice setting my mind on what is true, to focus on You. Thank you that I can be in You now and forever. Guard my heart and my mind with Your peace that is above all understanding. Hear my requests ….and thank You for meeting all my needs as You have promised.  Amen


Perennial Grace

Every spring when I see the perennial flowers bud in such vivid color against the bleak backdrop of my still overgrown flower bed I am swept with the realization that I just don’t deserve them.  What have I done for these little gems of beauty over the past winter months?

Their internal clocks seem to be set for the time when it seems there is no hope for winter to ever end.  In fact, the crocus find their way through the soil and often through the snow as if to be a reminder that the hope of spring is here.

I am always surprised by the small splash of perennial color, that bit of yellow or purple, and curiously walk over to see what it is.  Every year it is the same routine!

They are so brave to arrive before the threat of frost is over and my heart is warmed, I smile with gratefulness at the undeserved beauty, and begin to watch more closely for more perennials to peek through.

So it is with grace.  When the circumstances are bleak, the day is long, the heart is cold, the mind is unfocused or the emotions are running amuk, God’s grace peeks through the sometimes untended soil of the heart.  He just shows up and I just don’t deserve it. What is that?  Is it God I see in the invitation of a friend that asks me to join her to a concert, or hear in the song of the birds, or notice  in the tear of a friend that is struggling to care for a difficult child?

I begin to look more closely- God’s grace, His reaching out to the helpless created being, becomes more evident.   The more one looks, the more one sees God working around them… which gives rise to the desire to clear the dead away from the plants that have faded in winter and focus on the  splashes of color in the flower bed of one’s heart.

Tending the garden of the heart may mean asking for forgiveness for a wrong committed, or setting the time of quietly reading God’s Word, or asking to meet with a friend and pray, or turning on praise music in the car, or….what is it for you?

Look around you closely for God’s perennial grace, especially when it seems that the winter in your life will never end.  He is close by and desires to be the source of your peace and joy.  Don’t miss the small things He does, say thank you for them and He will become more and more evident in your daily happenings.   And remember what joy it is to share your perennial grace God sightings with a friend. What needs to be tended in your heart to see Him more clearly?

Lord, thank you for the perennial flowers of spring that are a picture of Your perennial grace.  It’s hard to comprehend that the God of all creation perennially desires to make Himself known to me… may I keep watch for Your presence and enjoy your companionship throughout the day.  May I be faithful to clear away the debris in my life that is keeping me and others from seeing Your work and glory.

2 Corinthians 4:13-18

(crocus flower picture by Bethanie Achenbach)

27 in 2011

How about reading through the New Testament in 2011?

So? How about it? Tired of making bunches of resolutions that aren’t kept or just not making any at all?

Join with a large group of people that are resolving to read the New Testament in a year.  There are 27 books in the New Testament so it’s being called “27 in 2011”. Catchy, huh?  I didn’t think of it 🙂

By reading just one chapter a day, Monday through Friday, you can make that happen.  I love this schedule because that leaves the weekend to think on what has been read during the week and keeps the pace reasonable.  The reading schedule starts on Monday, January 3, 2011.  2011!

What a great New Year’s goal, one that will bring spiritual growth.  The really cool thing is that this growth will spill over into other areas of your life, like school, work, relationships with other people, or decision making,  if you seek to apply what you learn.

Sign up at www.FullyCenteredLiving.com to receive an email with a link to a special fun incentive each week, such as a chalk drawing or game to give some extra incentive to keep going (click on the “27 in 2011” tab and there’s a form there to fill in)!  There are a few other resources there for you as well to use if you would like.

Invite your friends to join you, read the passage together as a family, have the kids get the incentives sent on their own computer email, use it as a way to share with someone you have had on your heart.  Let’s keep each other sharp, motivated and accountable!

Email me to let me know how you are doing at: info@FullyCenteredLiving.com

Sincerely, Shelly Carlson

Remember, the main point is to get to know God better. He’ll be with you every step of the way!

Have you ever awakened completely disoriented and wondered where you were? Last night I slept in a guest room as I have a cough and didn’t want to wake up my husband. It is a basement room and it’s like a cave down there, very little light comes in. I awakened early and my eyes tried to find something in the room to help get my bearings.

“Where am I? What’s that?” The eyes focused intently on the little light to my left. “Oh, it’s the little light on the smoke alarm.”

That small fact helped my mind shift around on the mental map of the house and immediately I knew where I was, how to find my way to the door, and more importantly, find the way to the bathroom.

A walk past the back door brought a second look into the deep darkness of early morning. Again, small lights oriented me. Small pinpricks of light set in familiar patterns of constellations told me I was looking West and that the sun had not yet begun to rise.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
These words were spoken by Jesus in John 8:12.
That’s cool, very symbolic.

But wait, these words weren’t spoken by someone disoriented in the dark. They were spoken by someone who knew exactly where He was and His purpose. Just two verses later Jesus said, “I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from and where I am going.”
What is the bigger picture here?

Jesus had just forgiven the sin of a woman that was caught in adultery (spiritual blindness) and then went on to heal a man that was blind (physical blindness). He was speaking to the religious leaders of His day that did not believe He was the Messiah (further and perhaps even deeper spiritual blindness).

Jesus didn’t just see the candles burning in the temple of Jerusalem and say, hmmm, that would make a good word picture for these guys. No, Jesus had taken God’s blueprints for the world at the time of creation and spoken the words “Let there be light” in order for this illustration to have life altering, eternal significance.

The presence of light is not some cosmic accident randomly sprinkling stars in the sky to guide ships and to radiate from a candle in order to light up a romantic dinner.

It is a miracle that accurately measures time and races across distance to help us try to measure the size of the universe. It makes one gaze into the heavens at night and feel very small.

God’s plan for the world developed the significance of light by using it to focus people’s eyes on Him. He used it with the stars of the sky for Abraham, the burning bush for Moses, the pillar of fire for the Israelites in the desert and the sacrifice fire in the temple for Solomon, just to name a very few examples.

Light was created to focus our spiritual eyes and orient our hearts to the God of the universe. It was created so that Jesus could speak the words to the religious leaders that day and they would immediately know that He was claiming to be sent from God in Heaven as the Messiah of the world.

Jesus, the Light of the world, stepped into time and bridged the distance between God and us. He is the Light that will orient us to where we are at and where we are going.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Jesus’ claim cuts to the heart like a laser beam and give only two options, light or dark, life or death.

Would you like a Light? Beginning today, by reading one chapter a day, you can finish reading the book of John in the Bible before Christmas and discover more about Jesus, the Light of the world, whose birth we celebrate and whose death and resurrection splits our calendar. Let me know what discoveries are illuminated as you read!

Lord, give us a new glimpse of who you are during this Christmas season. Help us to focus our eyes on You, the Light of the world, as we see the lights twinkle on a tree or a candle lit on a table. May it not be a pretty symbol, but a life altering reality of a daily direction and purpose as well as an eternal destiny.

Genesis 1:1-5; John 1:1-5;  John 8:12

Creatively Grateful

Do you remember when the Wizard of Oz movie shifted from black and white to color? The invention of color cinematography brought us from the tornado in Kansas to the beautiful land of Oz and lit up the screen with vividly colored images. Can you imagine seeing the munchkins or Emerald City in black and white?

Last night I spent a little over an hour sewing covers for some chair cushions and pillows for a space that will be used as a second office when my daughter isn’t here. The purpose of this new space is to provide a more creative environment in which to work. Our business office YELLS at me to do the books, make decisions, study real estate and marketing materials, read trade magazines and file all those papers! It is NOT a creative environment for me.

After spending that little amount of time doing something slightly creative with beautifuly colorful fabric last night, I awakened this morning with a smile on my face. It only took a moment to realize the source of the smile- I had been doing something that made my heart soar. Making something useful and pretty, sewing and cutting, looking through the colorful fabric and thread is something that I love to do. It may be silly to others, but I absolutely love to open my box of thread and see the vibrant colors. It’s the same sensation that comes when colored pencils lay on the desk, or the paint is squeezed from the tube.

I’m grateful for color and creativity.
What creative activity is it that makes your heart soar? God, the Creator, has made us creative in His image. Everyone is creative in some fashion. You are creative.

Think outside the box, not just in terms of art. Do you enjoy a beautiful song or sunset, taking photos or scrap booking, baking bread or cooking a meal and setting the table with special decorations? Do you like keeping the grass mowed and flowers tended, bringing in a blossom to enjoy indoors? How about making a drawing for a floor plan, arranging furniture or keeping cupboards neatly in order? Are office documents or accounting books your forte- with words or numbers easily taking their place?

Do you write a note to a friend, journal, or get a buzz from giving a secret gift to someone in need? Do you recognize the creativity in the mind of a mechanic that understands the inner workings of the engine and hears the sound of a tuned engine, or an engineer that recognizes the beauty of a finely crafted airplane, or a builder of a home with his tools?

You are creative. You are made in the image of your Creator.

What is your creative gift that you are thankful for? Send me a note and tell me about it.

Let your creativity send your heart soaring up to its’ Source, the giver of all good gifts!

Lord, thank you for creating man in Your own image, for forming him from dust and breathing into him the breath of life.  Thank you for the gift of  Your Spirit that brings me spiritual life and a direct connection to You as my Creator. I’m grateful that you made me creative so that I enjoy ______.

Genesis 1:27;  Genesis 2:4-7

Fruit Bearing

It doesn’t get any better than sand hill plum jelly, or at least Calvin and many of my family believe that to be true.  Calvin watches the sand hill plum bushes that grow alongside the road near our home and studies their progress like most guys study football.

In the spring I hear how the bushes are beginning to bloom and how the blossoms are so fragrant.  I’ve grown to expect the large bouquets of blossoms that are brought into the house in whatever vase is at hand.  The aroma is sweet and drifts through the whole room. We always forget how many little worms come in on the flowers and drop on the counters causing the bouquet to get moved to the coffee table on the front porch or the picnic table in the backyard.

But the blooms don’t necessarily give an indication of whether or not there will be any actual sand hill plums to pick later in the summer.  We’ve never completely figured out the pattern to the fruit bearing, but after the blooms fall the watch continues….  “The sand hill plums are starting to set on.”  “Looks like there will (or won’t) be a lot of fruit this year on the sand hill plum bushes. ”  “How could there be so many blossoms and no plums?”  “Those plums are so good and tart, you should try one.”  (Tart is an understatement, but he even got a couple of the kids started eating them.)

In the later days of summer the real progress reports come.  “The sand hill plums look ripe.  We’d better get out and pick some.  We could make some jelly.”   “I sure love sand hill plum jelly.”  (Hint, hint.)

Usually I put it off a few days because it’s hot, there are a lot of bugs, the bushes poke and scratch and, worst of all, there is so much poison ivy.  Sometimes a big bucket of plums mysteriously show up on the counter top, but usually a picking party of one or two head out to visit while picking. The fruit is washed and cooked down to get the juice to make the jelly.  This year the juice is waiting in the freezer until the last jar of jelly from last year is gone.

You know that sand hill plum bush doesn’t put out any noisy effort to produce the plums, it doesn’t whine when the fruit is less or more for the year, it doesn’t complain when not producing cherries, it quietly endures the weather conditions and it is generous to the birds and I.

I wonder at times if those plum bushes aren’t more wise than I am.   They are simply doing what they were created to do.  We’re spending some time contemplating that question as we are in a time of transition.  What were each of us created to do, has it changed/shifted in this season of life?   How may we align our lives and work within this purpose as much as possible, allowing God to produce fruit in His way and His time? Seems this is something that one must revisit fairly often in life.  Each time brings more understanding of one’s self and circumstances and provides clarity and focus to make decisions and live in peace.

Dear God,  Thank you for creating each of us with such care, so that we are unique and with purpose.  May we be content where You have placed us and trust You to be present and active in providing opportunity for growth and for bearing fruit.   Help us to root ourselves deeply in Your Word so that we trust You with the circumstances around us and with the fruit that will come when we give ourselves completely to You. Open our eyes to see You at work in us and around us.

Psalms 1

A Gift

Two years ago I received a gift.  It didn’t look like a gift at first because it came wrapped in the trauma of CPR, ambulance and ER staff, intensive care, ventilators and waiting rooms.  It was stuffed with the tissue paper padding of prayer, friends and family, competent doctors and practical helps at home and on the farm.

Despite overwhelming odds, God preserved Calvin’s life at 4:24, Sept. 4th, 2008.  He is a gift- to me, his family and to each person he knows or with whom he comes into contact.   He is keenly aware of living on borrowed time and of living that time fully.  He genuinely cares about you and wants to share his story as well as hear your story.

Today I awoke early to the sound of Calvin softly breathing next to me.  My first thought was about the events of two years ago and life since that time- it continues to be an adventure.  Yesterday it involved bringing in a pest control company to exterminate an angry mob of bumble bees up in a our swather!  But I digress…

Today, Calvin got up and went to his favorite event of the week, men’s Bible study, where he drinks coffee, studies the Bible and prays with men he loves fiercely.   He grieves over the parts of Scripture he can’t remember exactly, but I remind him that he is living the principles taught there consistently every day.  He faces the disappointment of the certain things he can’t do anymore and after a time of mourning he chooses to  cheerfully accept them and to stand in faith that one day he will again, either by hard work, being healed further, or in heaven.  I am amazed at his resilience, tenacity and humility.  I am trying to take lessons!

A year ago our church family came to help us celebrate all God has done both in our lives and theirs and we built an altar to commemorate His work in our lives.  It remains as a visible reminder of the blessings in life each time we look out the window.

Life has continued forward in the past couple years.  Laura spent a semester studying abroad and another summer in East Asia.  We gained a new daughter in law, Savannah,  and later a granddaughter, Addy, who is now one year old.  Ben is helping significantly an the farm and they have been staying with us the past few months as they have been pursuing a home.  They recently closed on one in Lindsborg so we’re excited for them.  Calvin broke his arm on the ice last winter and I turned 50 in August (it is my Jubilee year!!).  Bethanie has run a full marathon and Darrin cheered her on.   My mother (age 86) brought my sister and I to Sweden this summer which has been on my “bucket list” for several years- it was such an amazing experience to be with them and to see our homeland.

We are evolving our businesses to fit our “new normal” and we are praying and working to move forward into new work venues that will fit us both.  This has proved to be a challenging process and we would appreciate your prayers as it is so multi-faceted.  For now we continue to farm and recently sold the real estate business (but I am working to gain my real estate license and plan to sell for the new broker).  We are determined to find God’s best for us in a win-win situation.

I leave you now with a “thank you” for being a part of our lives and for being there for us in so very many ways.  We are more grateful than you can ever know.  Following are part of the lyrics to one of many songs that mean so much more to us now.

“I Will Rise” by Chris Tomlin:

There’s a peace I’ve come to know, though my heart and flesh may fail.  There’s an anchor for my soul, I can say- it is well …

God has been an anchor- if you need an anchor in your life for any reason, we’d love to tell you more about it.

Life is good!  Come and visit us, the coffee pot is on and the bumble bees in the swather are gone!