The View From the Porch

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“Come on.  We have nothing else to do today.”  My husband begged to take the kids to look at the Horses for Sale.  He had spotted the posted sign while we were on a Memorial Day getaway.  

An hour later, the owner met us at his field where we talked horses while the kids pushed tall grasses through the fence.  They’d squeal with delight at the thrill of having the massive animal’s agile, soft lips pull the shoots from their little hands.

What started out as an innocent way to spend an afternoon, became a pivotal moment in our family’s life.  We lay awake for hours that night, talking about our desire to give our children the love for animals, strong work ethic, and space to run that horse ownership requires.

Knowing we couldn’t keep a large animal on our current homestead of .17 acres, we started the online search for horse property.  Within seconds, up popped that-house-with-the-porch. It was the one I used to run past and think “If I could have any house in town, it would be that one.”

The inside of the home needed updating, but the bones of this southern-charmer were undeniably beautiful.  Everyone agreed that those bones were greatly enhanced by the wrap-around porch running along three sides.

Over the next few months, we purchased the home, remodeled the main floor, bought our first horse “Dash” to live out back, and settled in.  Our first family photo in that house was of all 7 of us crowded onto the freshly-painted porch swing, bundled up in turtlenecks and sweaters.  It graced our Christmas card that year.

The porch quickly became my favorite room in the house.  From it I’d set a glass of ice water to my side, tuck my feet under me on the couch and answer the calls to watch a of tug-of-war with our bulldog Jeeves, a new trick on the trampoline, a rowdy game of Frisbee between a group of teenage boys, or my daughter dancing at night with lit sparklers hand.

From that corner of my world I could see the retired school teacher leisurely pedal her beach cruiser around the neighborhood.  I’d call hello and wave to the neighbor who was being pulled along on a leash by his massive dog. I’d squint and try to identify which family the kids on scooters belonged to.  The crunch of car tires on our gravel driveway would alert me that someone had arrived, long before I’d pull my nose out of a book to see who it was.

In the early light of morning I’d sneak out to the porch to putter around and arrange things to my liking:

  • display the nation’s flag, 

  • water the potted palms, 

  • shoo the cat off the cushioned swivel rockers

  • plump that season’s throw pillows 

  • straighten the wreath on the front door,

  • then do a few needed sun salutations to shake off the sleepiness.

This space regularly offered a momentary escape when life became too loud or overwhelming inside.  I’d step onto it to cool down after a disagreement. It provided a perfect place for a few minutes of uninterrupted journal writing.  It was the natural choice for a private phone conversation with a friend.  

As a family, any time we’d carry our plates of food out to the porch, mealtime was instantly elevated to picnic status.  And the kids loved it. We’d sit on the steps, perch up on the railing, or score a seat on the porch furniture, all prepped and ready to swap stories and share inside-jokes.  Those long evenings of conversation came about as we’d separated ourselves from the technology and chores waiting inside to disturb our peace. It’s as if stepping out onto the porch transported us into a different world--a world of connection and leisure.

It’s true that my view from the porch is of a wide expanse of green lawn, aspens and pines, a neighborhood filled with kind and generous people, and the stunning Wasatch Mountains.  But the view I have come to appreciate the most is the one of a life filled to overflowing with customized blessings and contentment.

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Ministering for Millennials . . . and for the Rest of Us Too

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Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been participating in a newly released New Testament Bible study program called “Come Follow Me.” 

To be honest, though I have loved Bible stories since childhood, as an adult I have skipped around in the Bible, (with a lot more skipping in the Old Testament if you must know) and have never made a serious effort to study its messages. 

With this new study guide however, the bite-sized grouping of verses, the beautiful art, and the thought-provoking questions have provided a very different experience.

I’ve been finding new levels of understanding and peace in my study time in the early mornings on my own, at church with my neighbors, and occasionally with my family in the living room or over video conference so we can all be together . . . stretching from Grandma’s house to the bachelor’s pad.

One of the interesting things that I have noticed is that as you study the life of Christ, you don’t hear about His three-year teaching assignment.  Or His three years of service.  It’s his three-year ministry.  So, what’s the difference?

To teach is to instruct in knowledge or skill.

To serve is to aid or to work for.

To minister is to learn or attend to another’s needs, representing Jesus Christ and acting as His agents to watch over, lift, and strengthen those around us.

Do we recognize the difference?  We aren’t just taking care of physical or even emotional needs, but we are coming to understand people and offering our love, hope and care as Christ would if he were here caring for the daughter, neighbor, mother, co-worker, stranger, child next to us.

Because for us to be like Jesus—to be Christians--we need to learn how to think, feel, and act as he would if he were here personally ministering to those he has placed us amongst. 

In speaking of ministering Jeffrey R. Holland described it as “labor[ing] side by side with the Lord of the Vineyard, giving the God and father of us all a helping hand with his staggering task of answering prayers, providing comfort, drying tears and strengthening feeble knees.”

Ministering Hacks:

With all of the talk of ministering, some of us are still confused as to what that looks like.  How it can become second nature?  Heck, some of us are still stuck on trying to figure out what counts as ministering.

In an attempt to wrap my mind around a big concept in a simple way, I find it helpful to look for look for a phrase, mantra, or a hack.  Everyone loves a good short cut. 

Here are a few “hacks” you may have heard and could use to give new emphasis to your ministering efforts:

·      Just do it.

·      Lengthen your stride.

·      Never Suppress a Generous Thought

·      What Would Jesus Do (WWJD)

·      Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam

·      If the Savior Stood Beside Me

·      Scatter Sunshine

·      Have I done any good in the world today?

One of my personal favorites is one my son used on me.  After some real head-butting during his teenage years, he left to serve a two-year church mission in South Africa.  When we picked him up, we decided it was a perfect time to take in a wildlife safari. 

One particular evening, his dad had left our room to go retrieve something from the main lodge, so my son and I sat on the bed talking our heads off.  We were desperately trying to catch up on two years of pent up conversation. 

I finally told him “You look tired Honey.  Why don’t you go to bed?  We’ll have plenty of time to talk in the morning.”

He made me smile when he said, “But I just can’t get enough of this.”

Then he gifted me a moment I will never forget.  He reached the doorway, turned back and said “Mom?  Is there anything I can do for you?”

I was stunned.  My heart softened.  I felt the harbored hurts from those snarky teenage exchanges just dissipate into thin air.  He wanted to help me.  He loved me.   And I was in utterly in love with him.  I felt truly ministered to.

How I’ve Been Ministered to:

Ministering continues to happen to me.  As a recipient, these were more than just kind acts.  I have been humbled and strengthened as people do simple things that left me sure of their love and of the God they are patterning their lives after.  Here are just 10:

·      During a women’s dinner, someone went to the church kitchen and brought me out a toothpick loaded with skewered bread and butter pickles, because I had mentioned that I loved them.

·      Several someone’s asked about a recent project I had underway and celebrated its completion with me.

·      Someone played with my hair and scratched my back.

·      Someone gave me a little ring, just so I knew I was loved. 

·      Someone showed up with lunch for my hubby and me when I returned her cheerful text inquiring how I was doing with a desperate, rambling text about how I was failing in multiple arenas. 

·      Several someone’s texted to offer help at our son’s wedding reception.

·      Several someone’s consistently ask how my missionary is doing and show interest in his experiences on social media.

·      Someone drove my child to and from an extracurricular activity for three months in a row. 

·      Someone bore her testimony of God’s hand in healing and strengthening her through her child’s addiction. 

·      Several someone’s have taken time to help me plan our family’s epic trip to Asia, giving me phone numbers of favorite drivers, sending me the travel and language apps I need to download, and loading me up with books to peruse.

Could you easily make a list of how you were ministered to this week?  It’s like a gratitude journal, with a ministering twist.   

Might I also point out that even though these folks didn’t necessarily use Christ’s name anywhere in our conversations, because I know they follow him, their actions bore testimony to what they believe and Who they follow.

Digital Ministering:

I’m fortunate to be a member of our neighborhood’s Digital Ministering Committee.  If you’ve never heard of that, it’s most likely because we’re the only one. (That we know of anyway.)

As members of this small committee, we were invited to help define how we could encourage others to use the modern tools and technology available to us to spread the love, hope, and gospel of Jesus Christ.  Rather than calling ourselves “online missionaries,” which we are not, we were given a charge to teach people of all ages, how they can minister to those near and far through phones, email, text, video conferencing, blogs, forums, social media, and so on.

Since our beginnings last year, our committee has taught youth groups, women’s groups, church leadership, couples and more in bi weekly gatherings at someone’s home, as companions invited in to share a short message during a family’s evening gathering, or in small group classes taught in homes on Sunday afternoons or midweek mornings.

One former bishop of a congregation said “I have a ministering brother whose health is falling apart and another who’s family is falling apart.  I never thought about using texting as a way to send them a scripture or encouragement.”

Two young parents who were both returned missionaries shared that they loved their missions but hadn’t been sure how to keep inviting and teaching other’s about Christ now that they were busy with their young twin girls.  Using technology provided an efficient and comfortable way for them to do that.

A retired couple who have served numerous missions was happy that though their health would no longer permit them to serve away from home, or even to leave their home, they still had a way continue their joyful work of reaching out to bless and lift other’s through love and faith-promoting messages.

You don’t need to be a social media influencer to have influence.  You don’t need to be a millennial techie to use technology. 

What you DO need, is to have a ministering mindset and an at-the-ready question like “Is there anything I can do for you?”

Feeling loved, 

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Bangs and Prom: How to Connect With Your Daughter

Bangs and Prom:  How to Connect With Your Daughter

“Mom?  Do you think I should cut bangs into my hair?”

“Yes, honey.  I think they’d look cute.”

“But do you think I’ll regret it?”

“For sure. But it will be fun for a little while and then you can rue the day that you did for the next five years.”

“I’m going to ask Dad.”

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Windows Into Their Worlds

Windows Into Their Worlds

Last July I casually began a little accountability group of women to help us begin or finish the books we wanted to write.   

The casual experience rapidly grew into something much more motivating and powerful than any of us had imagined.  It spawned a group name, websites, speaking events, workshops, a new book written collectively, and finally a small publishing company.  That was in a matter of six months.

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How to Measure a Life

How to Measure a Life

I stood in the back of a flatbed trailer with my sister.  We were at the county dump.   

Our parents needed us for another afternoon of dusty and tedious work. Dad was struggling with dementia and mom had her hands full with her own third bought of cancer.  They had moved from their Arizona home of 25 years, to be near their three married children in Utah. 

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Grit vs. Grace

Grit vs. Grace

Living in the Mountain West, we happily host nearly 25 million visitors per year from around the world.  Tourists use their vacations to come admire the beauty of our landscapes and wildernesses.  Boasting 5 national parks and 14 ski areas, along with scenic byways, Utah’s monumental cliffs, red rocks, canyons and mountains are some of the most unique and stunning views you’ll ever see.

 

But you know how it is.  If it’s in your own back yard, you are often guilty of not exploring it.  Like the man I met at church in Kauai, Hawaii who admitted to me that he hadn’t even been down to the beach in over 5 years!

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3 Times That Sacrifice is Actually a Gift

3 Times That Sacrifice is Actually a Gift

On a road trip with my youngest son, we were listening to the audiobook of Corrie Ten Boom’s incredible WWII memoir, The Hiding Place. One of her stories triggered a memory in me and I pushed pause on the stereo to tell my boy a story of personal sacrifice that daily affects his life.

My grandmother was single most of her life. She raised her five children while teaching elementary school, and supplemented her income by giving piano lessons after school until it was time for dinner. She would then feed her family, clean the house, do the laundry, and prepare for a repeat the next day.

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Keep Your Ear to the Ground

Keep Your Ear to the Ground

A recent yoga practice ended with me sitting on my knees, my forehead resting on the mat.

Soon I wiggled my legs out from underneath and lay on my stomach, with my ear to the ground in a corpse pose. What a relief to be done.

The family was out of the house, and I deserved a cat nap for my efforts.

I didn’t get one. Just as I started to doze, the air conditioning unit clicked on under my ear.

Then I heard a shower start up and water began trickling down the pipes. (What? I thought everyone was gone!)

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49 Lessons Learned in 49 Years

49 Lessons Learned in 49 Years

Birthdays.  I’m kind of getting over them.  There’s really nothing I need, and nothing the family needs to try to surprise me with.

So this year, I thought about this annual milestone differently. 

“Now that I’m in my 50th year, what exactly have I contributed to the world in that time? What have I learned from the world in that time?”

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We Can Borrow More Than Clothes From Our Sisters

We Can Borrow More Than Clothes From Our Sisters

God granted me one little sister.  We started out best friends.  Then I grew up and she became an annoyance.  Then I grew some more and we became best friends again.

In high school I remember being jealous of how smart she was.  She was invited to be in the gifted program, and I wasn’t even sure where the gifted kids met!

She had a sense of style and an eye for beauty.  I’d turn up my nose at some outfit she had purchased, then would sheepishly end up borrowing it every chance I got because it just had that cool factor.

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Five Ways Autopilot Promotes Sanity

Five Ways Autopilot Promotes Sanity

We’ve all seen the movie scene where a dashing airline pilot reenters the cockpit after strategizing with his crew or handling a disturbance between passengers.  He finds all is in order and the plane seems to be magically, peacefully flying itself.

I used to think… “Goodness, I wish I had a car that could do that.”  But with that being more of a reality than a Jetsons-like dream, I’ve advanced my wishing for an autopilot mode in life.

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Losing Truth and Light

Losing Truth and Light

In college one of my roommates painted a picture for me, so funny that even today I giggle each time I think of it.

She said that in one of her religion classes, the professor taught that any time we knowingly sin, or break a rule, we will lose truth and light in our lives.

One of the rules on our campus was to use the sidewalks.  We were never to cut across the lawns in our hurry to get to class. 

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Three Reasons God Gives Us a Break

Three Reasons God Gives Us a Break

School is almost out for the year.  Ah…that blessed promise of freedom.  We all rejoice in the coming recess.

My young people suddenly take on a slight lilt in their voices.  They smile more easily.  Even the rush of compiling projects, taking placement tests, and cramming for final exams doesn’t dampen their bubbling enthusiasm.

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