When I Need to Ignore the To-Do List: Friday Morning Coffee #77

Lately, I’ve been in a season in which time seems to be getting away from me. (I know, I know, it only gets worse the older you get.) The hours, the days, the weeks are slipping by, and I don’t know how we’ve made it to nearly December.

I’m juggling multiple to-do lists. There’s the book to-do list, the blogging to-do list, the baby prep to-do list, the chores-around-the-house to-do list, the upcoming Christmas preparation to-do list, and the never-ending tucked in the back of my mind ‘I should be doing more of this’ to-do list (though this one is the only one that doesn’t make it onto a sheet of paper).

I thrive on to-do lists. They typically reduce my stress levels and help me craft a plan of attack to complete the tasks at hand. They give me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when all the boxes are checked and I finally drop it into the waste bin. But lately they’re also reminding me of the fleeting passage of time and my daily limitations.

I’ve reached the point in pregnancy in which the end of the day finds me tired. Caring for myself and (around that time of day) our swirling, kicking child means sitting on the couch with my feet propped up, sipping tea, and listening to the crackle of the woodstove. I have to ignore the to-do list.

I’ve been noticing lately that my soul is craving rest and quiet. It’s craving sabbath. The pressures of what I do need to do (and feel like I should do) press into my mind, hunting me down in the stillness. Their nagging voices remind me of all that’s left undone. And sometimes I give in, getting up to do “just one more thing.”

I’m always learning the discipline of resting my body - of physically stopping to have those quiet moments. But at the moment I’m also practicing the discipline of resting my mind. This I find much more difficult.

I can ignore the to-do list hounds by refusing to keeping “doing,” but I need to also learn to silence my mind to their braying. To accept that I can’t do everything. To be at peace when things are left undone. To recognize that rest - physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual - are just as important (if not more-so) than washing the upstairs toilet and starting my Christmas cards.

This weekend, I hope to do a little of this. To enjoy the company of dear friends, the comfort of their presence, the joy of shared laughter. To be present in the time left pre-baby with my husband and cherish our simple moments together. To delight in the chill of wandering through a field to pick out our Christmas tree and the warm glow of putting up decorations. To relish moments of being, of holy leisure. This weekend, I want to ignore the to-do list.


Do you need to turn off the to-do list this weekend, my friend? How can you carve out time for the rest your body, mind, and soul need?

Thanking God for the Fleas

There’s a famous episode in Corrie ten Boom’s book The Hiding Place that has been on my mind this week as I’ve been thinking about thankfulness.

Corrie and her sister Betsie have just been transferred to the Nazi concentration camp Ravensbrück. They find themselves in horrific living conditions, trying to sleep in overcrowded bunks lined with rotting, flea-infested straw.

Betsie prods Corrie to reread their Scripture passage from the morning. It was 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

“‘That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’ I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.

“‘Such as?’ I said.

“‘Such as being assigned here together.’

“I bit my lip. ‘Oh yes, Lord Jesus!’

“‘Such as what you’re holding in your hands.’ I looked down at the Bible.

“‘Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all these women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.’

“‘Yes,’ said Betsie, ‘Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!’

She looked at me expectantly. ‘Corrie!’ she prodded.

“‘Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed suffocating crowds.’

“‘Thank You,’ Betsie went on serenely, ‘for the fleas and for–’

“The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’

“‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’ she quoted. It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.

“And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.”

I have to admit, I’m with Corrie on this one. Giving thanks for fleas? I can thank God for being present in spite of the fleas, but thanks for the fleas themselves - you’ve got to be crazy.

Perhaps I recoil because I’ve seen this spiritual approach abused. It swoops in when others are broken open by life’s tragedies and cheerily insists “Give thanks.” Give thanks for this cancer. Give thanks that your husband died. Give thanks that your heart has shattered, your life is in ruins, your dreams have been ground to dust.

And yet I have Betsie ten Boom’s sweet voice in my head: “Thank you for the fleas.”

I do not have the audacity to tell others to do this. If I’m honest, I don’t have the audacity to do this myself most of the time.

I can thank God for his presence and faithfulness in the midst of my suffering. I can thank him for his character, which reaches above my own circumstances. I can thank him for the strength to endure, for the gracious gift of faith. I can thank him that his nature is to be at work even in the darkest moments, that he is the One who redeems and restores.

But thanking him for the source of that pain makes me pause. Can I thank him for that too? Thank him as an audacious act of faith that even this pain can be become something meaningful in his hands?

I’m not there yet. But when I see again and again God’s ability to redeem pain in ways that defy logic and comprehension, I wonder if I should be. I see it in my life, in the lives of those I love. I see it in a story like Corrie and Betsie ten Boom, two sisters in Christ who suffered far more than I ever have.

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As Corrie and Betsie settled into their live at Ravensbrück, they held worship services in the barracks. They were shocked to find no interference from the guards. It was the one place they were not under oppressive supervision. So many women packed in around where they stood under a dim light bulb that they had to add a second “service” after the evening roll call. They marveled over the freedom they had to read the Bible and pray in this way in such a place.

I’ll let Corrie finish the story:

“One evening I got back to the barracks late from a wood-gathering foray outside the walls. A light snow lay on the ground and it was hard to find the sticks and twigs with which a small stove was kept going in each room. Betsie was waiting for me, as always, so that we could wait through the food line together. Her eyes were twinkling.

“‘You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,’ I told her.

“‘You know, we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,’ she said. ‘Well–I’ve found out.’

“That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it.

“But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?”

“Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: ‘Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, “That place is crawling with fleas!’”

“My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.”

I’m still learning this one. I’m still learning what it means to “give thanks in all circumstances,” what it means to give thanks in pain, what it means to give thanks, perhaps, even for my pain. But I’m pulled towards thanksgiving by a God who is always faithful, who does not cease to work in the valley of the shadow, by a God whose own pain burst open into our greatest hope.

Can't Stop Looking At You: Friday Morning Coffee #76

I stared out across the lake. I had to focus to be able to absorb all the beauty. Sandy colored mountains sloped to the deep blue water. They were barren in the autumn chill, cut with the shades of deep crevices. It was as if giant fingers had run down their sides, pinching and pushing the earth into mesmerizing patterns of planes and angles. We’d followed them along the river, along the lake, captivated.

On our drive there the day before, we’d passed through the Cascades. The mountain pass greeted us with the first sight of snow of the season. The flakes swirled through the trees. The frozen branches looked as though they were made of glass.

I was in the kitchen now. My friend was talking about her son. She gestured to the window, to the view that continued to pull my eyes. “It’s crazy. I look at the beauty of creation—the mountains, the lakes, the sunset—but then I think about him, and it’s him I can’t take my eyes off of. I look at all this beauty, and think ‘Yes, but I just can’t stop looking at you.’”

A delicate sliver of moon glowed yellow in the night sky. But she was thinking of a tiny boy with pale hair, now fast asleep.

It came to me then, in a flood. Doesn’t that give us a beautiful picture of our Father’s love for us? I can imagine Him saying, ‘I look at all of the beauty of Creation, at all of the works of my hands, but, my child, I just can’t stop looking at you.’

Practicing the Presence of God

This is an updated and edited version of a post that appeared originally in October 2015.


“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” - Brother Lawrence

I sometimes grow weary of the mundane. Dishes in need of washing appear day after day on my counter. The dirty laundry bin stays empty for only a few hours at most. There are bills to be paid, doctor appointments to keep, trash to be carried away week after week. No matter how hard I scrub, the shower will once again collect soap scum, the toilet bowl that mysterious water line. It’s easy to wish away the monotony of ever-accumulating chores. It’s easy to find them drudgery.

Then I remember our friend Brother Lawrence.

Brother Lawrence was a lay brother in a Carmelite monastary in 17th-century Paris. After his death, a fellow monk compiled a short book of Brother Lawrence’s letters and recorded conversations. If you have never read this delightful little book, The Practice of the Presence of God, you really must.

Brother Lawrence has been made famous by scrubbing greasy pots “for the love of God.” While serving as a lowly monastic kitchen aide, he “resolved to make the love of God the end of all his actions.” He developed a spiritual practice of remaining in constant communion with God through a continual conversation in prayer. Every act became a way to glorify God. Through his daily practice of “abiding” in God’s presence, the mundane became a place Brother Lawrence could serve God and experience His presence.

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He teaches me a simple lesson, one I need to remember when I bend over the kitchen sink or stand folding the laundry: what makes an action glorify God is not the nature of the action itself but the attitude with which we do it.

Brother Lawrence says to me, Go do life and recognize that every little piece of it is from the Lord. Everything you do can be for His glory and out of love for Him. He cares about the details and the daily menial tasks. He can meet with you in them.

In my work, my chores, my play—all those moments of normal life—God is there. Glorifying God does not require me to fill my time with a litany of explicitly “spiritual” activities. It simply requires an everyday life surrendered to Him. He is glorified in His children being fully alive. He is served as I live each moment to His glory, out of love and gratitude for Him.

There are times when a life of this continual surrender and constant attendance to God’s presence does result in a drastic life change. It may lead some of us to move somewhere we wouldn’t chose on our own. It may lead to a career change. It may lead to radical actions with our time or our money. But most often, it means “doing life” in a rather non-extraordinary way, but with the eyes of our heart on the Lord, seeking to serve Him in the everyday, seeking to walk continually in His presence, as if He were physically with us as we go through our daily tasks.

So how do we do this? How do we follow the lessons our friend Brother Lawrence taught centuries ago? What is the secret that brought Brother Lawrence to the point of meaningfully and worshipfully scrubbing pots for God?

“In order to form a habit of conversing with God continually, and referring all we do to Him; we must at first apply to Him with some diligence: but that after a little care we should find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty.”

In other words—practice. We practice keeping up a constant conversation with God as we go through the day. We practice considering how we can do the simple work before us to His glory. According to our friend, Brother Lawrence, this practice eventually makes abiding in God’s presence our default mode.

So wherever you are today, friend, remember that God is there with you, no matter how trivial it might feel. Look for Him there, practice His presence, and do all for the love of God.


"A Sliver Is Enough": Friday Morning Coffee #75

Happy Friday, everyone.

A couple months ago, we announced we were expecting our first baby. In that announcement, we shared briefly about our journey through infertility.

While we were in the trenches of it, I didn’t share much publicly. It was too soon, the pain too fresh and too raw. But I now feel ready to begin sharing more of our story with you.

Today, I am over at Elisabeth Klein’s blog in a guest post about the pain of infertility and a bit of what I learned about faith, hope, and joy in the process.

Head over to Elisabeth’s website to read “A Sliver is Enough.”

We were often told to “Just trust God’s timing.” Each time, the same response sprung to mind—and sometimes escaped my lips—What choice did I have? Like Peter, I asked, “Where else would I go?” …