Thursday, July 13, 2017

How Devoted Are You?

Summer break never lives up to my expectations. 

I guess I should rephrase that.  Summer is great, but I get so caught up in summer break I forget all my well-laid plans.  Every April, I start dreaming about all the awesome, organized, restful, adventurous things I hope to accomplish and then about mid-July, I start feeling summer slipping through my fingers.  I’ll be back at school in a few short weeks, with months to endure before the next summer break.  It’s a vicious cycle, really.  I plan big, but enjoy being lazy...I mean restful.

One of the most important plans forgotten is the planned morning devotion, reading, studying, praying time.  When I dream about summer, I just know I’ll get up with the sun, before my kids wake, and spend some peaceful time in the Word.  Just me, my bible, my journal, and my trusty pen. Oh, and coffee.  Like one sweet pictorial representation of devotional perfection.

Break hits and real-life hits and nothing is as I dreamed.  Totally my fault, though.  When I don’t have to wake up at 5:30 am to get ready for work, suddenly I’m regressing to sophomore year of college and staying up way too late.  But 37 feels a lot different than 20.  For real.  Late nights equal sleeping in until my morning-loving children bust out of their bedrooms. 

Too late for my idyllic, kid-free devotional time. Sigh.

I settle, and I use that word strongly, for squeezing in time with God during my unorganized days.  I read a couple of verses here and there, a chapter or two in a book, a quick devotional, or a blog post.  Rarely do I sit and really digest what I’m reading. Instead I’m content to do the bare minimum just to say I did it.

Lately this has been weighing heavily on me as I’ve noticed I’m not as patient and not as kind as I should be, especially to those closest to me.  James 4:8 tells us that if we draw near to God, he will draw near to us. The truth is, I haven’t been doing my part and as I hurry through my scripture reading and prayer time, I’m not being fully devoted to God.  During the school year, God is a priority, but in the summer He sometimes becomes an afterthought as I focus too much on myself, my fun, my rest, and my needs.  Me, me, me.  I hate that.

When my identity is no longer intertwined with Christ, I am a shadow of who I should be.  I make myself an idol.

In the first chapter of The Fruitful Life, by Jerry Bridges, he hits the reader hard with some truth.  He writes that, “devotion to God is the only acceptable motive for actions that are pleasing to God.”  It begs the question, am I self-centered or am I God-centered? What motivates my actions.  It causes some pretty intense soul searching.  He goes on to write:

So often we try to develop Christian character and conduct without taking the time to develop God-centered devotion.  We try to please God without taking the time to walk with Him and develop a relationship with Him. This is impossible to do.


This summer I haven’t been devoted.  Instead, I’ve been going through the motions and checking off lists.  I’ve been too lazy. 

Conviction is painful, but also awesome.  It’s God seeking me out to bring me back to Him and I plan on doing just that.  The Lord tells us when we seek Him, we will find Him, when we look for him with all our heart (Jeremiah 29:13). 

This is how I’ll seek Him.

Make Him a priority.
I may be great about giving God my monetary tithe, but am I good with freely giving him my time? Am I careful to devote time to him to both talk and listen? Making Him a priority means putting my self and my time to the side in order to focus on Him.  But really, everything is His anyway so I'm just giving it back.  From that perspective it is less burdensome to spend time with Him. 

Quiet time in the Word, without distractions.
Being devoted to God comes from a relationship with Him.  Relationships grow when we spend one-on-one time with someone and the same is true with our relationship with God.  I will make an effort to get up early, before the kids, and focus on Him.

Thinking and praying about what I study.
While devotion comes from a relationship with God, relationship comes from prayer and scripture study.  How do I know Him better if I don’t take time to really study Him and spend time with Him?  For me, I try to highlight and journal as much as possible so I can pinpoint what stands out for me that particular day.  It's also a point of reference when I pray and listen.

None of this will be without giving on my part, but isn't that the point?  Emptying myself in order to be filled by Him is the ultimate goal.  

What about you?  Has God been convicting you about your time with him?  Do you desire devotion?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Almost Minimalist: How I am adopting a simpler lifestyle in 5 small steps – Part One

If you saw my house right now, you would think I had no knowledge of the concept of minimalism. 

We are in the process of packing up one house to move to another and we look like a bunch of hoarders.  I’ve already taken thirty-ish boxes made up of linens, out of season clothing, toys and craft items, books, and random closet stuff to the basement of the other house. It still looks like I’ve not moved a thing.


The pile of boxes in my living room and the almost empty bookshelves are the only indicators of a relocation.

This is real life, people.

Despite the mess that is my life right now, I am very interested in the concept of minimalism.  I desire empty tabletops and counters, minimal furniture and décor, capsule wardrobes, and a modest house that is not consumed by stuff. I’ve made slight changes in my life to push me closer to this lifestyle, but as this preparation to move has shown me, I am nowhere close to where I want to be.

I know what I want minimalism to look like in my life and I have a plan to get there.  It will take time, planning, getting my husband and family on board, and some self-motivation.  It’s not going to be the easiest of tasks because it takes dedication, but I have an action plan that I believe will work for my family.

1. Delete Clutter

The Idea

For a while now, while prepping for our move, we’ve been living in chaos.  I’m not even exaggerating. Boxes, piles of random items, and all horizontal spaces filled with stuff.  Lots and lots of stuff.  Stuff I don’t even really care about, but I feel frozen when I look at it. Where do I even start?

Minimalism encourages us to clear out the clutter.  If we remove the clutter from our houses, it will help us live in a cleaner, clearer, more restful home.

Our Solution

We’ve been filling bags with things to both toss and donate.  I’m not going to lie though, there have been times where I’ve just cleared out a closet and tossed everything in a box without even sorting.  I know I’ve made work for myself later, but I also know half the stuff sitting in boxes right now won’t make the cut.  They’ll be sorted out to live life in someone else’s home or, in some cases, the garbage dump.

2. Small Scale Living

The Idea

Tiny house shows fascinate me.  For a few years now, I have been enamored with the idea of getting rid of 95% of my stuff and moving into a small home, possibly on wheels, and living a streamlined, paired-down life.  Living like this seemed so freeing. 

Until I went on a recent vacation with my family, that is.

Our Solution

There is nothing like one bedroom, kids on the pullout couch, one bathroom (aka one toilet) living to bring you back to reality.  Now don’t get me wrong, I could totally live like this. In fact, scores of people around the world would love to live like this. But at this point in my life, it's just not feasible. 
For the Naaktgeboren family, it is important to create a space where people feel comfortable and welcome.  Although we are moving into a larger home, from approximately 1300 square feet into 1500 square feet, it is still modest compared to other homes in our town, and certainly other homes in America.  So, while we need the room to spread out, we chose not to build a large home so we can maintain a level of coziness for our family and friends.

While we could certainly survive in a smaller home, we welcomed the opportunity to build a modest home suited to our needs.  Not too big, not too small, but just right.

3. Streamlined Wardrobe

The Idea

Walking into a closet that has minimal, but purposeful clothing is a goal I have for myself and family.  I find myself drawn to Pinterest posts that show capsule wardrobes based on season or style.  I love the idea of less laundry to fold and put away, and fewer clothing items laying in the floor of my kids’ closets and rooms.  Less clothing also means the ability to get rid of dressers in my bedroom, possibly creating a nice reading nook.  A better use of space, for sure.

Our Solution

Slowly, I have been removing out of style and out of size clothing from closets and dressers around my home. We dropped off bags at the local thrift store and I sent things to an online website to be consigned (  Updating my wardrobe has been easy, especially since I shop second hand from online retailers.  My goal is to create a small wardrobe for work and play that uses the same color scheme (black) and can utilize the same few pairs of shoes for these outfits. 

4. A Calm and Cozy Space

The Idea

Sometimes people hear minimalism and assume stark, white rooms with a single chair and no comfort to be found.  Our house is a home that’s meant to be used by the two kids, the two dogs, the cat who loves to snuggle, parents who like to veg out on the couch and watch Netflix, and visitors who will come to enjoy a warm meal and warm companionship.

Our Solution

Minimalism and comfort can certainly coexist.  This involves rooms that are not full of furniture, counters and surfaces that are clear of clutter, décor items that have meaning, and an overall less-is-more approach. While we will not have clutter, we will have items that create a cozy atmosphere.  There will be nice smelling soy candles to create atmosphere, a basket of blankets next to the couch, and rocking chairs for porch sitting.  Our home will be a place of peace and comfort.

5. Simplify Life

The Idea

Simple living is a concept I admire because, in a world of stress and noise, it allows a slower, quieter pace.  When I think of simple living, I think of gardening, making homemade meals, playing slow, soft music (I love the Laid Back Beach Music Radio station on Pandora), reading a good book, taking an evening walk, and just adopting a slower, more intentional life.

Our Solution

Moving from a subdivision to 10 acres in the country has been a great motivator to slow down. We’re encouraged by a piece of property that will allow for some livestock and chickens, a garden and orchard, a pond with fish, and woods for exploring.  It practically begs for its owners to adopt a simpler way of living.  We have also built a house conducive to rest and relaxation with plenty of room for outdoor living.

Our hope is to use these minimalist concepts and apply them to our new life at Naak Acres. 

Have you thought about adopting a minimalist lifestyle in some form or fashion?  What steps have you taken to move in this direction?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Loving My Neighbor: Help Me to See with an Eternal Perspective

My sight is something I have never taken for granted.

When I was a teenager, I had one eye with perfect vision and one that was terrible.  The good eye got me through writing papers, looking at chalkboards full of notes and equations, and allowed me to only wear glasses when I was behind the wheel of my car.  Over the years, my vision got progressively worse and without corrective lenses, I was like the blind guy written about in the eighth chapter of Mark who told Jesus that he could see people, but they looked like trees walking around.

Fast forward to two years ago when my vision began to weaken even further.  I couldn’t see anything without corrective lenses and it wasn’t much better with my glasses or contacts.  In my job where I looked at computer screens, paperwork, and faces all day, seeing clearly was important. I was often plagued by headaches, had a tough time with eye contact, and struggled emotionally with this decline in sight.

God is so good to send us the right people at the right time and for me that was my new optometrist. She gently told me my eyesight had deteriorated due to a cataract in my left eye.  It was very rare, she said, to see one in a person my age (at that time 36) and she would send me to the eye surgeon ASAP.  I cried, partly out of relief and partly out of disappointment. Even with the surgery, my sight would never be perfect. My doctor cried with me.

Post-surgery, my vision is better than pre-cataract, but is still a struggle. If I have corrective lenses in both eyes, I can see distances well, but struggle to read.  If I remove the corrective lens from my left eye, I can read perfectly, but cannot see far away or safely drive. 

My vision will never be without problems. As I sit here writing, I am trying to adjust to another new prescription in my left eye.  My sweet eye doctor has made it her mission to help me adjust to my new sight, especially after another laser treatment to the cataract that grew back over my artificial lens.

The one thing I know is that nothing is perfect in this life.  We have sickness, sadness, and grief, all of which exist in a fallen world. 

I’ve learned through this journey that what is seen here in this life is not as important as what is seen through eternal eyes.  Everything I fix my eyes upon here on earth will fade, so I should give attention to what is not seen (2 Corinthians 4:18). Recently our pastor taught out of Hebrews 11:13-16 and the focus was on our future home. The writer reminds us this world is not our home because, if we are Christians, then our home is with our Heavenly Father for eternity.  This world will pass away, so it is best to put our focus on eternal things.

My sight here is faulty and sub-par, but it is just temporary.  What I should be focusing on is the sight that impacts eternity. 

My prayer is for an eternal perspective.

Help me to see the marginalized in my community and world who need someone to meet both their spiritual and physical needs.

The Bible is very clear about taking care of those in need and going to the ends of the earth to share the good news of Christ’s love and sacrifice for us.  The book of Isaiah is thick with encouragement to defend the oppressed, seek justice, take up the cause of the widow and orphan, and do good. God’s word compels us to see those in need and let God use us and the resources he’s given us to provide. Matthew 28:19-20 instructs us specifically to “go and make disciples” and various New Testament passages encourage evangelism. Shannon Martin, in her book Falling Free, puts these concepts together and reminds the reader that God sent His son to the earth to take the position of a humble servant. She states if He left his elevated position for a lowly one, it “should send us running breathless into every busted-up city, every barred-up shack, every cave, every cell, every pain-drenched street corner we can find in order to bring the good news¹."

Help me to see those in need of a friend.

Working in the public school system, I am very aware there is something lacking in our culture.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t just plague our children; it is prevalent in our adults as well. The more technological we get and the busier we are, the more we build invisible walls between us.  

Just look around.  You’ll see it in the people you encounter every day.  Maybe you’ll even see it in yourself.  As connected as we are with the press of a button on our computer or smart phone, it is a shallow, weak connection. It's like using dental floss to tow a broken-down vehicle.  This false sense of connection can lead to loneliness and isolation, and a lack of real friendship.

The truth is, we were all created for community.  From the very beginning, God didn’t think it was good for man to be alone.  God’s word gives us encouragement toward friendship, fellowship, relationship, and family. This starts with being more aware of the those around us and being willing to pursue those people.

Help me to see those who need mercy, not judgement.

Have you ever been the target of someone's judgmental attitude? It's a terrible feeling to receive judgement from another when really what you need is comfort.  If I mess up, I want someone to speak the truth in love, but certainly not forget that love is part of the equation. In dealing with our neighbor (friend, family, or acquaintance),  it is important to always remember the plank in our own eye before passing judgment on the speck that ails our neighbor’s eye.

Whenever anyone asks me for a book recommendation, I always tell them to read Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker.  It is full of wisdom and many, many quotable passages, but one part I always remember tackles the topic of being judgmental. Hatmaker writes, “We are only qualified to administer mercy, not judgement, because we will pull up many a beautiful stalk of wheat, imagining him a weed².” It is not our job to stand in judgment of those around us because no one is too low or too sinful for the grace of God, including you and me. Our responsibility is to show love and mercy.

Help me to see, REALLY see, the people I’m with every day.

Whenever anyone famous dies, an outpouring of admiration floods the internet.  I read articles listing all the ways a person was appreciated or labeled as good for the all the endearing qualities they possessed, and I wonder if their loved ones and admirers ever shared their thoughts with the person while they were living. It seems like a waste and a shame only to build someone up after death.

We can speak life into our family and friends.  We have the opportunity to see the good in them and make sure they know what qualities make them admirable. What’s the harm in saying kind words and pouring out encouragement? If I see my child being helpful to her sibling, I should say so.  If I know one of my dear friends is a great listener, I should point out what an awesome gift this is.  If I admire the confidence in one friend, or the humbleness in another, they should know I see these traits and hold them in high regard. 

We’re blessed to be with our family and friends so frequently it’s easy to take them for granted. My hope is to care for those around me, let them know how loved they are, encourage them, and point out all the wonderful traits and qualities that make them unique. We should spend more time building people up and see them the way God does...with eyes that see from an eternal perspective.

¹ Martin, S. (2016). Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

² Hatmaker, J. (2014). Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks your Comfortable Christianity. Carol Stream, IL: NavPress.