On Loving and Longing

it’s Valentine’s Day next week, and the aisles at Target are working overtime to make sure we know that love is in the air, am I right? 

And does it seem like we are all collectively trying to feel light, flirty, and happy…yet know that life is truly often heavy, burdensome, and even our best days are as the Psalmist says: “but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” (Psalm 90:10)

I’m not trying to be a downer; I’m just telling the truth from where I’m seeing it: Love is sweet and fragrant and fun, but it also requires labor, sacrifice, and diligence. I can’t look at pink hearts without considering all the purple ones too in the trenches of life. Love and loss, love and longing…seems to always go hand in hand.

After almost 19 years of marriage and loving a husband plus six kiddos…love (the verb) and the celebration of it feels much different than it used to:

Less fluff and more foundation. Less stuff and more substance. Less heartburn, but more heartache.

Life is full of opportunities to love, feel longing or loss, and to love anyway.

I’ve been thinking on these things as Valentine’s Day approaches and GraceLaced Shoppe launched the Be Still Series this week (with a sale!) The series is about fighting chaos and the discouragement of waiting for change, with the steadying truth of God’s Word. It’s His Word that reminds us that:

He is good when He blesses and takes away. He is not through with us yet and will indeed wipe away every tear and make all things new. We can be still because He is still on the throne, even when everything is not perfectly lovely or loving.

Love and longing can sometimes feel like the same thing: Both make the heart ache and both teach us to trust what we can’t always see with our eyes. 

So maybe these verses meet you at the intersection of loving and loss, maybe they find you yearning and waiting, and maybe these verses remind you that you must just keep pressing on in love and praise because Christ is love and your life is in Him.

I hope so.


*And if these (or anything else in the shoppe) speaks to you this week, we are having a shoppe-wide sale, so enjoy the discount and free print promo through Wednesday 2/15. 


Cheering you on, friends.

Because of grace,

 

(Family portrait by my friend, Joy Prouty of Wildflowers Photography)

Grinding The Wheat in 2017

If we were having coffee today, I’d tell you that what I do here and on Instagram is equally for preaching to own heart as it is to encourage yours. I’d tell you that true hope isn’t in pretty prints but with the good news they proclaim. I want to be a John the Baptist with brush in hand, pointing to the One who actually brings life. May GraceLaced art be a starting point, not the end itself. Let’s not treat the Word as Spurgeon describes: 

There are times when solitude is better than society, and silence is wiser than speech. We should be better Christians if we were more alone, waiting upon God, and gathering through meditation on His Word spiritual strength for labour in His service. We ought to muse upon the things of God, because we thus get the real nutriment out of them. Truth is something like the cluster of the vine: if we would have wine from it, we must bruise it; we must press and squeeze it many times. The bruiser’s feet must come down joyfully upon the bunches, or else the juice will not flow; and they must well tread the grapes, or else much of the precious liquid will be wasted. So we must, by meditation, tread the clusters of truth, if we would get the wine of consolation therefrom. Our bodies are not supported by merely taking food into the mouth, but the process which really supplies the muscle, and the nerve, and the sinew, and the bone, is the process of digestion. It is by digestion that the outward food becomes assimilated with the inner life. Our souls are not nourished merely by listening awhile to this, and then to that, and then to the other part of divine truth. Hearing, reading, marking, and learning, all require inwardly digesting to complete their usefulness, and the inward digesting of the truth lies for the most part in meditating upon it. 

Why is it that some Christians, although they hear many sermons, make but slow advances in the divine life? Because they neglect their closets, and do not thoughtfully meditate on God’s Word. They love the wheat, but they do not grind it; they would have the corn, but they will not go forth into the fields to gather it; the fruit hangs upon the tree, but they will not pluck it; the water flows at their feet, but they will not stoop to drink it. From such folly deliver us, O Lord, and be this our resolve this morning, “I will meditate in Thy precepts.”  (C.H. Spurgeon)

Friends: persevere in the grinding, gathering, plucking, and stooping low to drink from the Well offered to us. May all the beauty + truth you find here in 2017 merely adorn what is most satisfying: Christ himself.

We can’t drink from a cup that is already full of our agenda and striving, so to that end will you pray for me as I pray for you: That we would be emptied of our kingdom and filled up with His.

That’s my commitment as I seek to steward this space well; thank you for beginning another year with me here. 


In effort to grind the wheat this year, I’m beginning (again) another year-long reading plan with the ESV Bible App. You can choose from several plans, and read passages in app, or have it read to you. It’ll track your progress and keep you working through the Scriptures in manageable chunks.

I’d love for you to join me. It’s not going to be perfect, and some of us will have to set aside our ideas of a perfectly quiet house and unfettered time with all our commentaries open, plus endless hours to Bible journal — let’s be real; that’s not going to happen every day. Some us won’t make it all the way through without missing a single day, and it will drive us crazy, but that isn’t the point. It’s not about us, but about knowing Him and the promises of His Word, in its entirety. The point is to PERSIST:

I hear the app only has Bible reading plans for the iPhone version. If you’re an Android user, I will post daily reading charts as often as I’m able in my Instastories in the mornings: Instagram.com/graelaced. Join me there for encouragement!

Sometimes it’s not the words of my mouth that’s the problem – I’m fairly good at guarding those; it’s the meditations of my heart that can run unfettered, which in time, will reveal itslef in my speech too. I’ve been sharing on the blog and in Instastories about not just liking the bread, but #grindingthewheat in 2017. We do that by tethering the meditations of our hearts to the unfailing Word of God…not for a pep talk or for self-affirmation, but to align our desires with His. Our Rock and our Redeemer isn’t just faithful for salvation but for every day we’ll need hope for our tongues + minds in 2017! 


By the way….Did you purchase last year’s Garden of Truth calendar? Now that the year is over, are you re-purposing it and memorizing the scriptures? I hope so! Let me know how you are using last year’s calendar, I’d love to know.

And if you haven’t purchased a 2017 Hope In the Desert Calendar, don’t wait! They are 50-70% off in the Shoppe, depending on quantity. My hope is that you will let the Word minister to your heart day by day, and that these scriptures will be hidden in our hearts as we preach the truth to ourselves!


Praying for you as you grind the wheat and grow in the Word in 2017. It’s worth it…to persist and not give up. I’m standing and seeking along with you. 

Because of grace,

 

Farewell to 2016 {from the Simons Family}

As we head into the last weekend of 2016, our family’s reflecting on where we’ve been and where we’re going. Was 2016 as hard for you as it was for us? We will all collectively celebrate the turning of a new year in just two days, but some journeys and seasons in life simply don’t reset just because the calendar says it’s a new day.

As always, new beginnings start in our hearts. 

For me, it begins with giving praise for all Christ has done to redeem us and to give hope to our foolishness. But it also begins with tracing back through, and not forgetting, what waters He’s brought us through this year, and how we’ve learned to praise Him, even when they’re not waters we choose to tread. 

(Photo credit: Joy Prouty, Wildflowers Photography)
(Photo credit: Joy Prouty, Wildflowers Photography)

2016 gave new meaning to Job’s words: “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)
 

From the start of the year, when my oldest son and I traveled with Compassion Bloggers to Ecuador.

…To the unexpected opportunity to fulfill a family dream of creating a respite in Durango, Colorado,

…To Troy coming to the end of his 8 year journey as headmaster of a classical school we were part of founding,

…To writing and painting my first book, due to release in September 2017,

…To a painful season of goodbyes and new beginnings,

…To the best and the hardest moments in training young hearts,

…And to ending the year looking at one another as a family, and as a small business, and marveling at His bountiful blessing, first and foremost displayed in grace, everyday.

The One who’s birth we celebrated just days ago – Emmanuel – has been faithful and merciful at every turn. His hand has guided and provided for us as a family in both physically and emotionally.

Coming soon to GraceLaced Shoppe...
Coming soon to GraceLaced Shoppe…

And as a small business owner, I thank you, on behalf of my family and the GraceLaced Team, for not simply purchasing my artwork and products in 2016, but for joining us as we seek to adorn the gospel of Christ and make the beauty of God’s Word and creation known. He is worthy; we are honored to reflect His glory.

I’m excited for what 2017 may bring, but as we prepare to share these changes and things to come, I keep in mind: Let your will be done, Lord.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.

— Proverbs 19:21

If there’s one thing I learned in 2016, through the fire of refining by the Lord’s hand, it’s that I want no plan that is not of Him and in Him and for His glory. 

To that end, Lord, lead us into 2017…to Christ be the glory for all that is to come.


In case you missed it in our newsletter, or on social media, we are closing out the year with a huge Inventory Clearance SALE!

GraceLaced Hope In the Desert 2017 Calendars are 50-70% off, popular prints and all Christmas products are marked down, and many prints are discontinuing. Prices good while supplies last! Sale ends 11:59pm MST 1/1/17!

Because of grace,

 

Hope…In The Desert {Launch + Sale!}

For those who know barrenness, waiting, thirst, and longing…

…those who know dry seasons of the soul…

…for the one who’s cup isn’t overflowing like it once did:

God makes a way in the wilderness. He provides rivers in the desert, and breaks up our fallow ground. He is the author of hope in, and through the desert.

I have known such desert seasons more than a few times in my life, and can confidently say there is nothing more satisfying than a parched soul whose thirst is quenched — Jesus alone is our balm and sustainer in those seasons. 

I am grateful and thrilled to share with you the Hope in the Desert 2017 (3-in-1) Calendar.

My prayer for us is this:

That come what may in 2017, whether our current circumstances change or don’t; whether we feel relief or not; whether we experience lush growth or press on in drought, we might hold fast to our HOPE in Christ, the source of living water, himself. 

As with the last year’s Garden of Truth 2016 Calendar, the Hope in the Desert 2017 Calendar is meant to instruct, inspire, and encourage us as we speak to our longings with the truth of God’s Word.

It is designed to be repurposed as (12) 8×10 art prints and (12) scripture memory cards. My desire is for us to find the Word of God beautiful, practical, transformative, and purposeful in our everyday lives. That is my heart behind every piece painted in GraceLaced Shoppe, but especially in our annual calendar. We hope you love this year’s version as much as we do. 


WE ARE CELEBRATING WITH A SALE!

 

Now thru September 20, receive the entire 12 image Hope In the Desert Lock Screen download set, FREE with calendar purchase. (You will receive an email with FREE coupon code once you’ve purchased a calendar.)

(FYI: With the 20% storewide discount, our already discounted 4-pack bundles are only $120…making the calendars only $30 a piece!)

Take advantage of the 20% entire store on canvases, including brand new Hope In the Desert Canvas offerings…

I hope these verses are a balm to your soul as they are to mine as we break up the fallow ground of disbelief and hardness of heart, and welcome the downpour of sustaining grace that comes only by way of redemption. He is our hope in every season…even in the desert.

Grateful for you all. Press on, friends.

Because of grace,

 

Building Relationships When You Have No Bandwidth

The older I get, the more I realize that when it comes to relationships, leisure is a luxury, but intentional is something all of us can afford. 

Perhaps you can relate…hear me out:

Family, friends, and fellowship take time — time that seems most elusive during the very seasons we need them most. Child-rearing, career-building, purpose-finding, needs-meeting, faith-building, life-managing, and marriage-investing all seem to pile into the same (roughly) decade-long season that leaves us with almost zero percent bandwidth and, yet, 100% need for support. Personally, with a 14 year old and a 3 year old as bookends, plus over a decade of ministry work, Troy and I feel like the season has been close on to 15 years now. 

It doesn’t mean that we don’t have dear friends. It doesn’t mean we don’t find meaningful fellowship at church. It doesn’t mean we don’t have family dinners with extended family. It simply means that building relationships doesn’t look or feel quite like we thought it would. 

There are not as many dinners that go long into the night as we imagined. There aren’t as many family reunions or vacations on the calendar. We don’t sit around strumming guitars on a Tuesday night and tell our life stories as regularly as we did back in college. (Wait, do you?) We have to fight for leisure, and even more so to be intentional. 

We are 40-somethings now, and more than ever, we have to consciously choose being intentional over leisure. I’m making peace with it…and maybe I’m a slow learner:

  • I’m making peace with the fact that I don’t get to see extended and out of town family as often as I’d like, but I can be intentional and not superficial when we do spend time together.
  • I’m making peace with how difficult it is to counsel others when I’m counseling my own children, but I can pray about specific relationships that come my way.
  • I’m making peace with not making it to all the fun social functions in favor of the ones that feed my soul with good conversation.
  • I’m making peace with taking time for strangers for the sake of widening my circle, in lieu of only surrounding myself with the comfort of the familiar.
  • I’m making peace with how much time it takes to grow a thriving – not just surviving – family; my family is a mission field as significant as the one across the ocean.
  • I’m making peace with not pleasing all who have expectations of me and not expecting other to please me either; relationships are not built on guilt but giving. 

On the one hand, I’m making peace with how relationship take intention when leisure is rare, and on the other: how much grace I can give and receive while figuring it out.

Friend, don’t close the shutters or bring in the welcome mat; let’s just change our expectations and focus. 

Maybe we can offer ourselves and others a bit more grace while navigating these seasons where what we need and what we can offer are sometimes juxtaposing. 

And maybe while we all learn how to be more intentional, we can start by remembering that the most deliberate relationship secured for us on the Cross of Christ is the most satisfying relationship we can have. Family, friends, and fellowship were all meant to mirror horizontally what we discover vertically. Amazingly, when we grow more intentional to know Christ, we grow more intentional to love others. No wonder these are summed up as the greatest commandments:

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.

— Mark 12:30-31

Praise Him for the tension: the lack of leisure that makes us more intentional, the hunger for relationship that makes us press into our God and those He provides for fellowship, the inability to juggle it all…that teaches us that He alone can make “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) 

He’s still at work…in and through each relationship in our lives,  in whatever season we find ourselves.

Because of grace,

 

Worry, Replaced.

I’ve been a worrier my whole life. Biting nails, thinking too long into the night…and at times, feeling that all too familiar weight upon my chest. And while there are all sorts of enjoyable ways to shake off our struggles and distract us from our worries, the fight is not easily won. I don’t know about you, but I can’t simply apply “Don’t worry, be happy!” or “Shake it off!” or “Believe in yourself!” to the inner beast of worry. You see, the root of worry is rarely a simple rearranging of circumstances or fixing of others’ perceptions of you; worry is rooted in idols of the heart. 

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Phil. 4:6)

Worry, a sinful trusting in ourselves over a mighty God, stands guard at the doorway of our heart idols: fear, approval, pride, justice, self-sufficiency, comfort, ease. I’m familiar with them all. 

The only way I’ve known to battle worry effectively is only by Grace: to slay the idols of my heart with the powerful love of Him displayed through redemption in Christ, and replace them with the truth of God’s Word. Here’s where we must preach truth to ourselves. Nothing else will do. Not friends, favor, sunshine, good food, travel, nor new shoes. They all lighten the burden, but only the gospel will throw the weight of our self-suffiency upon Christ, and set us free.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

{While we’re on the topic of worry, do any of you entrepreneurs, creatives, or writers ever worry over how to use social media, especially Instagram? How? How often? Why? Is it making a difference? 

I’m over at the Hope Writers Podcast episode: Instagram For Writers. Find the full interview with me about Instagram at Hope Writers site (where you can do a trial membership to check it out!

Between book writing, personal circumstances, and the busy Mother’s Day season at GraceLaced Shoppe, I’ve not yet found my rhythm with how to be more present here at the blog; but, I’m grateful that you show up. I’m grateful that you join me here to find GRACE – not self – as the beauty in our everyday.}

Because of grace,

 

On The Other Side Of Suffering

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I’m not sure if today — this Monday of Passion Week — finds you going along your usual way, or if you, like so many, are walking through another day of suffering and trials of various kinds. Perhaps it’s prolonged illness or persistent pain. Maybe you’re facing financial strain or broken dreams. Perhaps it’s a wayward child, an unbelieving husband, or an unforgiving friend. We feel alone in our own particular suffering, but at the start of Passion Week, we recognize: Jesus suffered and was rejected; He was a man of sorrows. (Isaiah 53:3)

The hardest part of suffering is not knowing why: Why these circumstances? Why this trouble? Why the pain? The disciples were faced with the same questions as they witnessed the betrayal, trial, and crucifixion of their Lord, Jesus. The darkness of their circumstances was even accompanied by an actual 3 hours of darkness at the cross, and they could see no viable way out.

What the disciples didn’t know was that the outcome of their suffering, of Christ’s own suffering, was for their ultimate good and God’s glory. The other side of suffering wasn’t an undetermined fate of hopelessness but a purposeful plan that rescued the hearts of men.

We are blind to hope but for faith to open our eyes. If it were easy to grasp, we wouldn’t be told so many times, in so many ways, to rejoice in suffering…and to wait for His story to unfold in and through us:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.  (1 Peter 4:12-13)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21)

On Sunday, we will be celebrating the resurrection of Christ. We will be proclaiming that the grave cannot contain him, that we who trust to the blood of Christ for salvation are no longer enslaved to the pattern of this world, and that Jesus is victorious over all of sin and death. We will be praising Him for these truths then, but we can remember them now, even amidst our own roads of suffering. He meets us here in the same way that fear and doubt in the disciples were met with the living Christ, who on the third day made clear his declaration on the cross: “It is finished.”

Today, as we travel the sorrows and suffering of whatever circumstances we’ve been given to walk, we can look to the promise of those words Christ proclaimed, knowing full well that His sovereign plan prevailed there at the cross, and does so today in our very lives.

It is finished…

  • all the striving to fix our own foolish and sinful choices by our own righteousness
  • all the seeking to prove ourselves worthy, acceptable, and capable
  • all the guilt and hopelessness of making messes out of our blessings
  • all the bondage to the decay of this temporary life
  • all the separation and distance from our Father
  • all the emptiness of vain pursuits
  • all the useless worship of things, people, and ideas

It is finished, because Jesus crushed everything we could offer to better ourselves, and offered Himself instead, our only means of grace. 

With our eyes on Sunday, let us consider our sufferings in the light of His, and the glory that is revealed on the other side of it. Sunday’s coming…and we know how the story ends. Now, Lord, enable us to walk as we believe.

(P.S. An archived post here on ideas for how to engage your kids during Passion Week.)

Because of grace,