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Life In Season
Celebrate The Moments That Fill Your Heart & Home
By Vanessa Hunt, Heather Patterson
Worthy Publishing GroupCopyright © 2016 Vanessa Hunt and Heather Patterson
All rights reserved.
A LIFE UNFOLDED
When I was in high school, I worked at the clothing store Express. As it was considered the new, trendier, sister store of The Limited, I felt like I had scored big-time, and I kept a running list of all the things I was going to buy with my employee discount. Anyone who has worked in retail clothing will tell you that it all sounds like fun and games until you find yourself elbow-deep in boxes of clothes, all waiting to be ironed and properly displayed, and you have to deal with grumpy customers while you attempt to figure out how to work the register. Probably the most essential tool for the clothing retail employee is the folding board. It looks like a clipboard without the clip part and is used to get those shirts folded like little soldiers all in a row on the display shelves. I loved this tool! It spoke right to my neat-freak heart and I got such a sense of satisfaction out of using it to get the perfect fold. And then the inevitable would happen. Some customer would have the nerve to come along and dig through those perfectly folded shirts to find the size they needed, leaving my precise little soldiers all rumpled and wrinkled and a shell of their former, perfectly folded selves.
I don't know about you, but throughout my life, when I heard the word unfolded, it always conjured up images of a soft and flowing process. You hear someone reference the "unfolding" of a story and you envision something almost magical, holding your breath as each new chapter reveals itself. I'm always particularly reminded of this in the spring as we watch and wait for the moment when new life emerges on the branches, a bud unfolding to reveal the blossom inside. But think about what must happen for that bud to appear. There's pushing and straining in order for it to finally break through the surface of the branch. I think the reality is that most of the time, the process of unfolding something isn't quite so magical. It's rumpled, it's wrinkled, it's messy, and it's anything but perfect.
For most of my life, I tried very hard to stay folded up. I wanted my life to look like those crisp shirts, stacked up all neat and tidy on the display shelves. But God had other plans for me. My life became unfolded.
I thought that if I did everything just perfectly and made all the right choices, I could sail through life with barely a wrinkle. It wasn't that I thought I would never face challenges, but I assumed that I could avoid most of them through sheer determination.
After I married the love of my life, we discovered that having children would be a very difficult thing for us. And with that discovery, I realized just how much in life is truly outside my control. You might think that this is the time when everything became unfolded. You would be wrong. Because, you see, this was really only the moment when my folded-up life was removed from the shelf. The unfolding began when, despite my pain and grief, I welcomed the unique opportunity that the Lord was giving me: the opportunity to peel back the layers of my heart. And as each layer was peeled away, I was startled by what was revealed. I discovered that I was a rumpled, wrinkled, imperfect mess.
What I wanted was simply to be comforted in my hurt. I just wanted God to wrap me up in His peace. And He did give me that. In the moments when I felt like I couldn't breathe because the pain was just too great, I understood what Psalm 147:3 really means when it says, "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." But I also realized that, sometimes, in our most painful moments He is calling us to something else as well. He's calling us to take a closer look at the sin in our lives. And perhaps, it's only the painful situations that strip us bare and take us to a place where we can actually see ourselves in all of our imperfect glory.
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined — and everyone undergoes discipline — then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7–11)
When we are willing to look at hardship — at our life unfolding — as discipline, it changes everything. Or at least, it should. We should see it as an opportunity. It's an opportunity to see ourselves in a new way, to see ourselves the way God sees us. By realizing my hardships are actually a way that I can draw closer to my heavenly Father and be changed to reflect His heart, I can see them in a different light.
Are you ready to start seeing the beauty in living a life unfolded? Because where you look down and see a wrinkly, rumpled, imperfect mess, God looks down and sees that you are at exactly the right place for an amazing journey to begin. A journey that will be painful. A journey that will leave you untidy, undone, and unfolded. But I can guarantee that you will not be left unchanged.
BIRD'S NEST CUPCAKES IN MASON JARS
_ (1 8.25-oz.) package white cake mix
_ 3 egg whites
_ 1 ¼ cups buttermilk
_ 2 Tbs. vegetable oil
_ 1 tsp. lemon extract
_ 1 (16-oz.) jar apricot-pineapple preserves
_ ½ cup lemon curd
_ 1 (16-oz.) container cream cheese frosting
_ 1 (6-oz.) package flaked coconut
_ Hershey candy-coated eggs, blue
_ ½ pint mason jars
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Beat first 5 ingredients at low speed with an electric mixer 30 seconds or just until moistened; beat at medium speed 2 minutes. Pour batter into cupcake liners in muffin pans. Will make approximately 24 cupcakes.
Bake for 16–18 minutes. Cupcakes are done when center springs back. Do not overbake.
Allow to cool on wire rack.
While cupcakes are cooling, spread coconut in even layer on cookie sheet or baking pan and toast at 350° F for about 10 minutes until light brown. Stir occasionally while toasting. Allow to cool.
Place one cupcake upside down in each mason jar. Top with a tablespoon of lemon curd and spread to cover cupcake. Pipe frosting to cover lemon curd. Top with tablespoon of toasted coconut.
Add another cupcake right-side up. Top with a tablespoon of preserves and spread to cover. Pipe frosting on top to cover completely and form a slight mound. Press in toasted coconut to make "nest" using thumb to gently make an indentation. Place three candy eggs in middle.
Repeat for each jar. Will make approximately 8 servings.CHAPTER 2
CLEAN FAUCETS & CLEAN HEARTS
I stood in front of the bathroom mirror one morning, moaning and groaning over the fine lines and wrinkles that had suddenly decided to make their appearance. On a day when I was already feeling impatient and discouraged, this did not help to improve my mood. It seemed like one day my skin was smooth and supple and the next day I woke up to a road map running across my face. As I was pondering what miracle cream I should purchase the next time I was at the store, I glanced down at the sink and saw it. I had to look a little closer to make sure my eyes weren't deceiving me, but sure enough, there it was — a ring of grime around the faucet. Honestly! All the kids had been asked to do was clean the bathroom. The beautiful sunshine streaming in the window on that spring day only emphasized just how poorly they had done this seemingly simple task. It also emphasized my wrinkles, but that was beside the point. Is it too much to expect teenagers to put a little bit of effort into their chores? Apparently it is.
On a morning when I was already feeling critical of myself, it wasn't much of a stretch to become very critical of my children. Before I knew it, I was hollering down the hall at them. "Am I the only one around here who can clean the bathroom well? Does no one know what it means to actually scrub the sink? Did you even have your eyes open while you were cleaning?"
I worked up such a strong dose of what I believed was completely justified indignation that I was determined to march them into that bathroom and show them just how horrible of a job they had done. I needed them to see the dirt they'd missed. I needed to point out that ring of grime around the faucet so that not only would they really understand my anger but they also would be sufficiently chastised into never doing it again.
But as I marched down the hallway toward their bedrooms I could hear God's voice whispering to me. He called me to stop, to look more closely at my own heart in that moment. And what I saw there was far worse than the wrinkles I had spotted on my face just moments earlier. I saw a ring of dirt and grime and blackness around my heart that gave the sink a run for its money. I was instantly convicted, and felt so ashamed of my quick temper and the desire to see the worst in my children. Grime around a bathroom faucet isn't really harmful, but the grime around my heart most definitely is. It's the grime that drives me to be so quick to criticize the very people I love the most. It causes me to lash out in anger and frustration instead of acting with love and gentleness. It causes me to focus on all their flaws when mine are so much more obvious. Or at least they should be more obvious.
How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye. (Luke 6:42 NASB)
Isn't it always so much easier to spot someone else's grime? Our sinful nature tends to get great pleasure out of finding fault with others. It's as though by seeing their flaws we are distracted from seeing our own. On that day, my desire to point out exactly how my children had failed was very tempting. But how can I not extend them grace when my heavenly Father extends it to me over and over? Author and inspirational speaker Emily Freeman says, "Showing grace means releasing someone of the responsibility to meet my needs." In order for me to show grace to those around me, I not only have to be aware of my own need for it, but I also have to be willing to let go of my expectations of others. Does this mean I excuse my children's behavior or never reprimand them for disobeying? Of course not. But it does mean that I have to approach them differently. I have to do what God does for me. Hope for obedience, but offer a heavy dose of mercy and forgiveness when they don't do as I've expected. My job isn't to be a spirit breaker; it's to be a spirit restorer. And that definitely won't be accomplished by hollering about their lack of cleaning abilities.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:6–10 ESV)
Soon I could feel God righting my spirit. I quietly made my way back into the bathroom. I looked down at the sink again and realized that it wasn't actually as dirty as I thought it was. In fact, the bathroom was fairly neat and clean. The kids really had done a pretty good job. I turned off the light and went to thank them for cleaning the bathroom.CHAPTER 3
There are several pieces of furniture in my home that I consider heirlooms. They have been passed down from generation to generation and moved across the country and back again. They are part of so many of my childhood memories that they practically feel like members of our family. My daughter sleeps on the same bed that my mom slept in when she was a little girl, with the matching dresser nearby. Those same pieces were in my sister's room many years ago and we spent countless hours on that big oak bed pretending that it was our wagon as we reenacted our favorite Little House on the Prairie episodes.
The dresser was used as a changing table for both of my babies. It wasn't until it was moved into my son's nursery that I noticed something odd about the attached mirror: There were areas where it looked cloudy and discolored. I asked my mom about it and she told me a story that made these particular heirlooms even more precious to me.
My mom grew up on a farm in Michigan. When I was a little girl I absolutely loved hearing her tell stories about her childhood. She would recount the time when she and her best friend were determined to sleep in the barn one night, only to be frightened out of their wits by her older brother, who couldn't resist tormenting his little sister. Or she would tell us about attending a one-room country schoolhouse with her aunt as the teacher, and how she loved having her very own cow. But in all those years of stories, somehow the story of the fire was never part of her repertoire.
When my mom was sixteen years old, she arrived home one day after working her shift as a carhop at the A&W, to find the road to their farmhouse completely blocked off by fire trucks. She ran toward the house and saw firemen shoveling burned debris, water, and her belongings out of her bedroom window. She vividly remembers seeing the charred remains of her favorite doll lying in the yard. The fire, caused by faulty wiring, had started in the attic, above my mom's bedroom. Thankfully, it didn't spread further than that, but the damage, both emotionally and physically, was still significant. The oak bed and dresser in my daughter's room survived that fire, but the clouded mirror would always bear testimony to the event.
These days, vintage furniture is all the rage — the more chipped, distressed, and antiqued the better! I love seeing the reminders of family history in those heirloom pieces of furniture in my home: the nicks and scratches, the watermarks and places where the finish has worn off. Everywhere is the evidence of years of wear and tear. We look at those pieces and we lovingly declare them to have "character."
In my backyard I have a potting bench and on that bench is evidence of my forgetfulness. Every year as the cold weather approaches I manage to remember to dump out my potted plants, but in my hurry I've been known to leave my clay pots sitting out all winter long. And when I return in the spring, ready to plant again, those clay pots definitely look different. They have a new patina. But, for the same reasons I love my antique furniture, I really love the look of the patina on my clay pots. I like the nuances of color and texture. I like it so much that sometimes I've even taken new clay pots and painted them to look aged. To look like they have patina.
But while I'm more than happy to celebrate the patina on furniture or clay pots, sometimes I'm more hesitant to embrace the patina on my heart. Instead of seeing the wear and tear that has come through the challenges I've faced in my life as beautiful, I regard it as blemished.
Romans 5:3–5 says, "Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." In order for those clay pots to have developed patina by the time I see them again in the spring, they must have gone through quite a weatherization. They had to experience some suffering to get all of that beautiful character. And I think that it is time for me to start celebrating my own patina, to choose to look at all of my nicks and scratches as a necessary part of my faith journey and the evidence of just how far I've come.
The process of something obtaining patina is one that is layered and produced by exposure to the elements. Similarly, the patina on my relationship with God is a reflection of what has been produced through my times of suffering. There is a layer that shows how the challenges have created a kind of perseverance in me I never knew I was capable of. And that perseverance keeps me moving forward in the face of adversity. This then produces the next layer, which is character. It's through persevering that my character is developed and strengthened in such a way that I begin to reflect the character of my heavenly Father. And it's only after perseverance and character that we reach the final layer, the one that is the most visible. One would think that hope would come first, but in the passage from Romans we see that hope comes as a product of perseverance and character. Having been through suffering, through the wear and tear and weatherization of life, hope is what shines through in the end. And with hope as the layer that everyone sees, we are proudly declaring that we embrace our patina. We celebrate those nicks and scratches and treasure them just as much as we treasure our heirlooms.
Excerpted from Life In Season by Vanessa Hunt, Heather Patterson. Copyright © 2016 Vanessa Hunt and Heather Patterson. Excerpted by permission of Worthy Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
A Life Unfolded,
Clean Faucets & Clean Hearts,
The Worry Jar,
Certainty in the Unknown,
The Chin Hair,
I Will Always Come for You,
The Waves of Life,
Weeds & Warnings,
Stay in Your Lane,
Rituals & Relationships,
Onward, Christian Soldier,
Mind the Gap,
The Cider Press,
Adventures in Advent,
My Road Less Traveled,
And the Soul Felt Its Worth,
In the Doldrums,
When Life Is Foggy,
"No" Is Not a Bad Word,