Tag Archives: Gratitude

Always Under Construction…

“Partnering with Jesus to advance his kingdom is often difficult and unpleasant, but there are some unexpected upsides.  It is never boring.” – Chris Travis, Insignificant

As is often the case when embarking into an unknown area, we venture out on highways that we have not yet traveled.  We find ourselves leaning forward as we wonder what will be around the next bend.  The anticipation of a new landscape, a breathtaking view, the wonders of majestic mountains coupled with patchwork quilts of farmland never grows old.  Every journey contains a choice – will I eagerly look to what is coming, or dread the unknown?

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A few weeks ago, we were able to venture out of the city on a long weekend to visit Quilotoa, a crater lake located high in the Andes Mountains.  As is our custom, we grabbed a mattress and a blanket, threw the kids in the back (once we were outside city limits), and proceeded on our adventure.  We traveled a bit and then veered off the main highway to the winding road which would take us deep into the mountains.  Once we found a quiet little pullout, we unpacked our picnic lunch and enjoyed the solitude of rolling hills and puffy clouds.

 

We are always amazed at these spaces and God’s creative handiwork.  We continued to wind around bend after bend, switchback after switchback, particularly thankful that the truck continues to be a faithful and trustworthy companion on our journeys.  Of course, we consider how awful it would be to have a breakdown so far from a main road, yet remain grateful for the many miles we have traveled together without significant incident. As we continue on our way, we eventually happen past a much needed gas station, and, while standing at our pump out in the middle of rural Ecuador, greet a gentleman on a motorcycle who arrived the previous night from Kansas City.  He has been in country less than twelve hours and, with his limited Spanish, is making his way to the coast, stopping at the crater along the way.  Among other things, we discuss with him the beauty of the surroundings and the amazing upkeep of the road we have been on.  It has been lined with flowers in the town, and seemed somewhat new.  We wish him well and pull out ahead of him, eager to continue our journey but marveling at the coincidence of meeting a lone English speaking tourist at a random gas stop in the middle of the mountains of Ecuador.

As the kilometers tick away, I’m not sure why we continue to be surprised when we meet unexpected obstacles, but our North American roots run deep – we often expect the way something is done in the US of A to be the same regardless of where we are.  In this case, our previous musings on the newness of the road bounces up against our unexpected reality that maybe, just maybe, they hadn’t quite finished the project. We must have somehow missed the “construction ahead” signs (there weren’t any) and we had suddenly ventured into some serious change of roadbed.

No flag men, no pilot car, no detour signs; the inconveniences we dread seeing in the States when we are in a hurry to arrive at our destination were nowhere to be found, and, in actuality, nonexistent.

Road under some SERIOUS construction.

Imagine the immediate conversation in the car: “Which lane are we supposed to take?”

“Are we even on the right road?”

“Truck ahead! Can you get around him?”

“Do we try to go forward, or should we turn around and go back?”

“We’ve come this far…there is no way we can change our investment of time and energy at this point!”

After all is said and done and I reflect on this trip from the safety and comfort of my living room chair, I can’t help but notice the parallels of our life journey right now.  We are currently at the crossroads of some major decisions.  Our time here at Alliance Academy International is drawing to a close, and we have been working through the immense emotions and changes that come with a decision such as this.  Many different roads stretch out before us – great choices and opportunities – but the fearful part of me is concerned we will choose the wrong one.  In some ways, certain actions can be interpreted as barriers and discernment is needed to determine if it is simply a detour, a roadblock, or a closed road.  Many people have valid opinions and insight and we must continue to weed through godly counsel as well as personal preferences.  This road is bumpy, winding, and we can’t really see very far in front of us at this point.  To be completely forthright, there are many days where I question everything about what we are doing and where we are going.  Unfortunately, working through all of these thoughts means a whole lot of uncomfortable introspection and a spotlight on my own shortcomings.

Honestly, once in a while, occasionally, sometimes, frequently I want to do things my own way, with my own best interests in mind.   I want to pick my path, what is best for me.  I want to be selfish and choose myself first. I want to not feel bad about the way I treat my husband, or how I speak in anger or frustration towards my kids.  Keeping the best interests of myself in the forefront means I have the right to hang on to past hurts because it is justified to feel this way.  Sure, I may cast my cares down at the feet of the Lord, but pride makes me pick them back up, time and time again.  And, when choices are on an even bigger scale, involving the future and where we will live next, where we will serve in our next phase of life, certainly I have the right to pick and choose based on how I feel and what I will get out of it, right?

In the minds of the world, everything I wrote in the paragraph above would not only be accepted, but perhaps even honored.  It’s understood that I should “get mine”!  But, I have learned over the recent years that my way, although it is self-serving and may sound or feel satisfying in the short-term, is by no means the best way.

Thank the Lord that He has drawn me to himself and called me to be His own!  He chose me, and, each and every day, my choice, despite how much I fail or fall short, is to follow Christ, no matter what.

I don’t have to do anything because he has done it all, through his sacrifice for me.  But, my response, due to my thankfulness for this gift, is to serve him with all that I have and all that I am.  I strive to become more and more like him every day – I want to be more Christ-like today than I was yesterday.  Granted, it is definitely not easy and I fail miserably all the time (see paragraph about selfish tendencies listed above!) but, blessedly, I am forgiven for my shortcomings, so I get up and try to be obedient in letting him lead my life again and again.

The beauty of all this (there’s actually a lot but I’m picking this one today…) is that His plan for me is promised to be SOOOOO much better than my plan for me.

It is promised in John 10:10 and I can claim and trust that promise for my life!

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (ESV)

Or, if you read it in the NLT version, it shows how it is beyond what I can comprehend…

A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

This life of a Christian is never boring, and it is full of adventure when Jesus IS the pilot car.  I am immensely thankful that I don’t have to venture out alone as we have the gift of the Holy Spirit leading us along.  We know by seeking Him and aligning our hearts with his, he will auto-correct us if we are veering off course.  By  immersing ourselves in his Word while strengthening our relationship through prayer and communication with Him, we can be assured that we are traveling His road, in His time, for His glory. He alone can provide the assurance in each step, each decision, because we trust in his leading, even if we are unclear where it is taking us at any given moment.

Despite the twists and turns and actual obstacles in the road (once again, our truck proved herself to be true as she cleared water pouring over the road and easily bounced over boulders), we eventually reached Quilotoa and were immensely rewarded by the wonder and beauty of God’s creation. Surrounded by snow capped mountains, the lake reflected the ever-changing hues of the sky.  The journey was well worth it due to the destination.  In this case, we were able to see the end product of our journey in just a matter of hours.

 

Thankfully, as Christians, we also know the ultimate destination at the end of our time here on earth.  We have the assurance of heaven due to Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection for each and every one of us. So, we trust in Him to continue to guide us as we follow wherever he leads.

Things are changing for us…including our location and calling. The new chapter is becoming more clear each and every day. Today, we choose joy in the opportunities coming into focus and continue to experience a peace beyond all understanding as we travel the unknown road into tomorrow.

This is what the Lord says – Your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow.  Oh, that you had listened to my commands!  Then you would have peace flowing like a gentle river and righteousness rolling over you like waves in the sea.” Isaiah 48:17-18 (NLT)

Thankful to be a small part of this amazing adventure ~

Sarah

PS.  As I have been writing this over the past days, a news story was developing about a tragic accident along the very road we had traveled a few weeks prior.  The excessive rains we have experienced lately were a key factor.  Once again, we are overwhelmed with thankfulness for our safety and protection in this country, and our hearts are heavy for those who are victims of this sad event.  May we ever be mindful of how fleeting life is, and how the urgency to share Christ with others should be our first thought and action in whatever our circumstance.

El bus cayó a un barranco debido a que el puente del lugar colapsó. Tres personas resultaron heridas una de las cuales falleció. Foto: cortesía Bomberos de Pujilí

Photo credit: El Comercio

An Attitude of Gratitude

A few years ago, a friend recommended a book to me that changed my perspective in a tangible way.  Aside from the Bible (yeah, that one changed my life significantly as well) there are only a few other books I would cite as having the impact that this one had.

Interestingly enough,  I didn’t particularly care for the author’s writing style, to the point that I have no desire to go back and reread the book.  But, what has remained with me over the years is the overall concept…looking purposefully at the things we see day to day and finding the joy in the simplicity of life.  By viewing life through the lens of thankfulness, we can move beyond superficial appreciation and enter into an inner gratitude that transcends circumstances.

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Sounds profound, but the concept is remarkably simple.  In my mind, it looks a bit like this:  get up in the morning, put on your thankfulness glasses, and start challenging yourself to see the beauty, the moments, the uniqueness of the world around you.  Throughout the “busy-ness” of the day, take time to savor the interactions with others and view them as opportunities that have been placed before you to make a difference, to matter.  Start SEEING the life you are living instead of simply surviving.

DSC_0009 (2)It’s life-changing, walking through your day this way.  Because you are no longer walking through life…you are meandering, sauntering, savoring, relishing…you are LIVING.  You are caught up in the wonder and amazement of what is happening around you.  You are wearing the proverbial rose-colored glasses, but you don them with confidence, being filled up with gratitude for what our Lord has done for us each and every day.

This works, people, because the focus turns outward instead of on yourself.  It’s awfully difficult to have an unfulfilled life when you are tuned in to the blessings around us.  Brad has been continually focusing on the verse from Zechariah (4:10a) which says “Do not despise the day of small things…” which shows us that all we do and see are important in the scope of God’s kingdom.  From the simplest of tasks, when done with an attitude of worship and focus on others, we can have impact and change lives.  Small seeds are planted which can grow into trees bearing massive amounts of fruit.  Who are we to wonder about our impact this side of eternity?  We can find comfort and rest in knowing that we serve a God greater than ourselves, and, when our hearts are turned to doing what is right, what is good, what is honorable, this cannot turn void.  By looking outward and seeing God’s gifts to us we will, with little effort, translate the joy and contentment we have to serving others and relishing the life of small things.

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How do I know?  Oh, my friends, because knowing this concept and doing it are two separate things.  I’ve seen the good, but lately my focus has been SO much on me that I’ve fallen away from what i know.  When I am NOT focused on the gratefulness I have for everything that has been given to me, I fail miserably in all aspects of my life.  I’m a burden-downed wife, a crabby mom, a co-worker who doesn’t see hurt and pain around her.  I’m self-centered, with a poor-me attitude.  I get overwhelmed by the continual inconveniences that come my way.  They pile up and seem insurmountable, when, in perspective, they are nothing but a mild irritation.  The contrast of living a life of gratitude with that of a life of me, me, me is the difference of living a life with meaning and purpose versus trudging through the day.  I’ve seen both sides, and I want to jump over to the other again.

DSC_0089When I’m caught up in the cycle of inner wallowing, I have to make an intentional effort to get back to the basics.  While I’ve been doing my bible reading daily, I also needed to step things up a notch or two to get back on track.  I need tangibleness…things that I can do to see results.  Here are a few steps I am taking to get back on track when I feel myself slipping back to “Sarah-focus”:

1.  Pick up (or start!) a gratitude journal and write things down:  Even though I am being grateful for items in my mind, seeing them on paper works for me.  I can’t do my tablet or my computer – I need tangible and handwritten.  Just start writing.  Start with the obvious – thankful for food and clothes, but challenge yourself to go deeper and find the little things in your day which mean something to you.

2.  More intentional prayer:  I’m working on the habit of praying in the moment and beyond.  When I say I will pray for you, I’m going to do it right that very minute.  If it’s via Facebook, you can know with all assuredness that the minute I’m done typing you the note, I’m praying.

3.  Keep a praise and prayer journal:  I’m just restarting this again after many failed attempts to keep it up.  I love to see how God is faithful through the good and the bad.  I find it’s easy to keep a prayer journal with all the requests, but harder to keep a praise journal.  I’m incorporating them to be one and the same, because, most of the time, they go hand in hand. (By the way, in the interest of simplicity and margin (see #7) I have combined my gratitude and praise/prayer journal.  Trust me, this is a big step for someone who likes things all neat and orderly and didn’t even start a gratitude journal for years because she couldn’t find the “perfect” journal…but, really, aren’t they all falling under the same general theme anyway?)

4.  Write thank you notes:  This has always been an intention of mine and I find that I fall miserably short.  Instead of spending time in the regret pool, I’m going to write them when I can and make sure I keep them front and center to remember.  If I’m looking outward, I’m going to find lots of opportunities to write and I don’t want to miss the chance.

5.  Take more photos:  I love to take pictures, and I plan to look through my lens with a different eye.  It’s easy to be thankful for the sunset, the beautiful flowers…but the insects?  Dirty dishes?  Amazingly enough, there is beauty in those as well.  I have a special little guy who loves to see bugs…how cool to see the ones from Ecuador.  (Thaddeus, the one below is for you, buddy). The dishes?  We’re blessed with food throughout the day. You get the…picture.

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6.  Encourage others:  While I try to be faithful in this area, I want to continue to grow and be transparent.  Again, seeking others out and helping to reframe life in terms of “joy” is a discipline requiring practice.  When we work together as a community to build each other up, the strength we have together cannot be shaken.  Let’s keep the gossip and drama out of this realm…I want to be a woman who stands to support, not break down those around me.

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7.  Allow margin:  In the world we live in, we are constantly behind, overtired, stretched to the breaking point…when running this race there is no room for reflection and contemplation.  I would go as far as to say that allowing down time in your day is often “frowned upon” by the IMG_0041fast-paced culture we live in.  We need to use more of the “addition by subtraction” principle to seek out the best of things in our life and lose the weights that are keeping us from joy.  I need to continually evaluate my “red flag” areas…particularly in the area of Facebook time.  Am I using up my extra time in areas of growth and gratitude, or by escaping into another world through some other means?  Additionally, if I have no margin in my day, I have no time to take the opportunities that God places before me…in fact, I will probably not even recognize them as ways to make a difference.  This is a daily battle for me, but when I set my heart on Christ the minute I put my feet to the ground, He helps me focus on things that matter.

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Finally….

8.  Keep the first things first:  Best intentions are only that…intentions.  I, on my own power, will fail if I don’t tap into the life source that is a power beyond my own.  I need to be fed through the Word and through other believers.  By the strength of the Holy Spirit, I can be used for his glory and His kingdom work.  I only need to trust Him to lead and guide me.  When I venture my own way, and go the way of the world, the result is angst, uncertainty, being unfulfilled.  When I seek Him first, the path is clear.  Oh, that I may continually keep that as my focus and guiding principle.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.  (Romans 12:2 NLT)

These are my action steps…ones that I need to continually look back to and focus upon to keep my attitude of gratitude.  I’ve slipped away but am heading back in the right direction.  I’m thankful for a gracious God who is patient with us as we meander our way through the one life we have been given.  I continually flounder, but know that when my eyes are focused on Jesus, my life is one of satisfaction and joy, which, when I stop to actually think about it, is truly the only way I want to live. Brad and Sarah

I pray you have found this joy that can only be based in Him.

To God be the glory,

Sarah

PS.  By the way, the name of the book I read was One Thousand Gifts: A Dare To Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp.  Just a book I read – no affiliation or compensation for plugging it.

Blest Be the Tie that Binds – An Overview

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.

Boy, this post is long overdue.

<insert all our excuses here>

Where to start?  The hymn above came to my mind this morning as I was looking through pictures from the past few months.  This past summer was certainly a new experience for us.  How do you “do” travel back to the United States when you no longer have a home, a vehicle, or anything to really call your own?  How do you do it “well”?

DSC_0066And, how do you get used to paying this
<—–when you are used to paying $1.03 for diesel or $1.48 for regular??

While we reflect back on what went right and what we could improve on, I find I have one big regret from our summer in the US…I’m sad that I didn’t take more pictures of each and every sharing time we had with friends and family.  I would have loved to now look back and see every person we were blessed to come in contact with.   But, we did have a summer of strengthening relationships and intentional fellowship which was a gift in itself.  Our time was filled with binding our hearts with others, and, now, as we are back in Ecuador, I cherish the memories and time of encouragement we experienced even more.

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The kids were able to connect with friends and cousins…it’s pretty much a dream summer when you have the “yes” parents who let you see all your friends as much as you possibly can.  Josh and Tess were welcomed into the families of their friends, and Jacob rejoined his baseball team, with team parents who graciously shared hotel rooms and their cars to help us out when we couldn’t attend tournaments and games.  They also had the opportunity to speak to their youth group about what has been happening in Ecuador and how they each have been finding a way to use their gifts to serve others.

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Before our Father’s throne,
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
Our comforts, and our cares.

Probably about eight years ago, Brad was asked to take a position as deacon of our church.  His first impulse was to say no, feeling totally unqualified and certainly too busy to take on this role.  Interestingly enough, through a lot of prayer and searching, “no” became “yes” through obedience and Brad stepping out in faith.  His only condition was that he would never have to stand in front of church and lead a service or speak.  So, of course, as God would have it, Brad was asked to share the message at our home church one Sunday over the summer.  He did a fabulous job of sharing how God is faithful and we only need to cling to the Rocks and the Roots – his promises!  Take a listen…(you may need to allow time for it to buffer and feel free to click on the HD in the bottom right corner to reduce the quality slightly to allow it to load faster)

I was also blessed to be able to be a part of a special women’s retreat put on by my home church, held just days before we left to return to Ecuador.  I can’t describe the feeling of standing before these ladies who have been such a vital and important part of my life for the past years.  While the theme of the event was Invisible: When Only God Sees, I can tell you that these special people are seen by me.  I see women who have been hurt, wounded, stretched, bound, persecuted…but know and trust they have been released and redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.   What an encouragement for me to be with these godly women and challenge them to exercise gratitude on a daily basis to change their life and to affect the lives of those around them.  My soul was plumb filled up to venture forth for another year without them.  We serve in different places, but we serve the same Master.

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We share our mutual woes,
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.

Over the course of this past year, we had been praying for so many people from our family, our friends, our church…while we were home, we once again were able to celebrate joys and share in the sorrows of those we love.  Our dear friends were finally able to bring home their twins from Haiti after delays, heartache, and obstacles.  In God’s perfect timing, we were able to share in the special homecoming and rejoice with the arrival of Judah and Elijah.

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We continue to pray for our brother-in-law, Gary, who lost his best friend to an aneurysm while we were together over the 4th of July.  We were blessed to have met Matt Stefan on many occasions and know he had an eternal impact on those around him.  Once again, the shortness of life brings our focus back to the urgency of sharing the gospel and living for Jesus.

When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.

Coming back to Ecuador felt a bit different this year than last.  While we were excited to return, the excitement of the unknown had diminished and we knew more of what we’d be facing.  We had the whirlwind summer of being with friends and family, deepening relationships that would be now again separated by time and distance.  As the hymn states, it gives us inward pain, but we have the assurance of being united again, if not physically, then in heaven.  This is the promise we cling to and we claim.

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We’ll share more in the upcoming days on what has changed, our challenges, our hopes, and how we are trying to continue to be intentional with sharing the gospel.  There are may exciting changes and challenges ahead, but we are looking to the One who is faithful to guide and direct our paths.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV

 

We saw God today

In a little over a week, Brad, Tess, and I will head back to the States.  Our boys are already well immersed in the American culture, feasting on foods they have not had for ten months, and fully enjoying the joys of the much-beloved idiot box television.  From afar, it appears that they have re-acclimated nicely, and are treasuring their time with family and friends.

We are deeply excited to join them.  We are anxious to see all of our loved ones, have a Starbucks coffee, enjoy some creature comforts that we may miss here, and get reacquainted.

But, honestly, I think it is going to be WEIRD.

Not in a bad way…just different.  I’m not totally sure what to expect.  We’ve gotten used to some things here that we absolutely love.  We miss some things from our previous home.  Put that all together, mix it up, and I’m not sure what is going to happen once we get feet back on the ground in the good ol’ US of A.  People talk about culture shock and that it happens in both directions.  Our boys have eluded to a few observations they have made already, so we’ll need to debrief to see if it truly is a reality for us.  In the meantime, we’ll embrace the time we have together, revel in being with fellow believers, and reminisce about the simple and blessed life we have experienced over the past months.

While we’ve been in Ecuador, we’ve been working on being intentional in slowing down from the hectic pace of life, building relationships, listening to God’s voice, and living in the moment.   It’s often not easy – we get caught up in the “busy-ness” here just like everyone else.  It takes practice to remember, first and foremost, that we are put on this earth to bring people to Christ and serve others.  By taking away all the “noise” and seeing God’s fingerprints in our life, we are more apt to be focused on the true things that matter.  As we become more aware of what is going on around us, and how God is at work in each and every moment, we become less self-centered and inwardly focused.  We start to see the beauty in even the smallest of things, which, in turn, makes him even more real and brings us into His presence.

How do we see Him at work?

It’s full moons and cotton candy clouds at sunset…

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It’s horseback riding thanks to friends who share their expertise.

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It’s spending an entire day setting up a created game with just the supplies you have – and making it work.

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It’s dogs you love and an extra who takes your bed.

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It’s working on projects that someday will make a difference.

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It’s drinking Coke out of real glass bottles.

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Sleepovers in the prayer cabin,

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and Superbowl drawings on the whiteboard.

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It’s about watching luminescent hummingbirds actually land…

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and playing extreme croquet.

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It’s taking time to pet the dog…

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and watch the art of a hard day’s work,

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It’s taking time to wait for your alpha male to come home.

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And a cozy fire.

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It’s seeing a baby calf within a half hour of its birth, and watching it stand for the very first time…

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And playing guitar by yourself, or for others…

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It’s doing schoolwork on the porch swing on a beautiful day…

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Or homemade donuts for breakfast, fried two at a time…

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It’s colorful quilts blowing in the breeze…

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Taking time to swing and hike –

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Stopping to notice the colors that are painted in the landscape,

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It’s not being fazed by a traffic jam of an unexpected sort…

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Or having a different than normal view on your walk to town…

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It’s having to slow the pace to get where you want to go, and enjoying the roads (steep as they are) as you meander your way to the destination…

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Sometimes, just living a simple life helps us treasure every moment as it happens.  It is learning to see the beauty in the day to day, in the normal, in the now.  You don’t have to go to Ecuador to find it.  It’s about being intentional with everything you do and say.  It’s about seeing the Creator in the creation.  It’s how God intends us to live.

Just look around and see how the Creator is calling you to Himself.  He’s just waiting for you to notice.

Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the splendor and the majesty, for everything in the heavens and on earth belongs to You.  Yours, Lord, is the kingdom and You are exalted as head over all.  1 Chronicles 29:11