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The blog home of speaker and writer Mindy von Atzigen

The blog home of speaker and writer Mindy von Atzigen I am a lover of words, Jesus, and His church. I am also a wife, a mom, and a friend. I hope you'll consider me yours...

Two Invitations

"The enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground, he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.  Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled." (Psalm 143:3-4)

Those words from David the Psalmist are the obvious result of deep crisis.  David had a number of life events that could have produced them, but he's not alone.  I've been there.  Everyone I know has been there at least once.  We've all tasted of this place of crisis, not just in the physical life being threatened, but the place where the soul is at the brink of death.  The place where thoughts, emotions, decision making, they've all been brought past the point of pain to the shadows where only numbness resides.

And it's there that we have an invitation.  Two, actually.

When we find ourselves in the shadowland, the valley filled with such thick fog that we can not find the face of our Savior, we can choose to accept the invitation to set up camp and become a permanent resident, or we can start climbing out.  

The first invitation comes from the one who brought you there in the first place.  The one who has pursued you, crushed your life, and made you sit in the darkness.  He's the one who constantly reminds you of the faintness of your own heart with words that never suggest you'll ever be anything but appalled at your own life.

But, the second invitation, the one that is harder to find, harder to open, and harder to accept?  It comes from the lover of your soul, and it's the one David sent in his RSVP for in the very next verse.

"I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the works of your hands.  I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.....for your name's sake, O Lord, preserve my life.  Bring my soul out of trouble."  (Psalm 143:8,11)

The invitation is to remember, and by remembering to climb out of the darkness that makes you think life has always been this way and will always be this way.  Remembering what He's done and the many times He has already saved your soul in the past is the act of turning on the light, and stretching out your hands for His presence and asking Him to meet you again is taking the first step out of the shadowlands. 

So, today, if you are in that place where your soul is in danger, where you can not see Him and you don't feel anything at all, remember.

Remember the way He met you for the first time.
Remember the way He changed everything.
Remember the way He spoke to you kindly.
Remember the way He provided when you thought there was nothing in your future but lack.
Remember the way He gave you the answer before you ever even thought to ask.
Remember the way He held you when no one else even knew you cried.
Remember the way He carried you through the storm you couldn't stand in.
Remember the way He answered the cry of your heart with His presence.

And after you remember, wait for His presence again.  Stretch out your arms and call.  And let Him bring your soul out of trouble.

You have not always been here.  You will not always be here.  Your soul will live again.

No Substitute

I recently enjoyed speaking to a friend on her podcast about pastoring your soul.  We spoke about the busyness, the noise, the tiredness, and the chaos that can drown out our own heart's signals that it's time for a pause.  A pause to be still, be quiet, and be refreshed.  It was a great conversation, and if that stirs something down deep, you can listen to it here.

But, as I was processing the things we talked about, I realized there is a pattern I've begun to follow in life that not only pastors my own heart, but my marriage and my family.  And it all involves TIME.  I wrote about it here a few years ago in regards to fostering a healthy relationship with my husband, so I've known it existed, but I've come to see that the same pattern that nurtures my marriage also nurtures the deep parts of me, and is even the same pattern that causes my kids to thrive.

And that's my greatest desire for each of them, that they would thrive at being exactly who God created them to be, that they would be so confident in the truth of the nest they were raised in that when it comes time to fly, they would soar.  And there's no way that happens without an investment being made into them, an investment of time.  Because it takes time for that truth to sink in and be rooted.  It takes time to listen and learn where their hearts are unsure.  It takes time to discover the gifts buried deep and to call them out.  It takes time for mistakes to be made, discovered, and corrected.  It just all takes time.  And there's no substitute for it.

For all those reasons, having an intentional pattern of time spent with my children has become a blessing.  There's the daily meal at the table, the weekly family night, the monthly fun day, and the annual vacation.  And not every one of those is filled with deep conversations or even half-way deep conversations, but because there are enough of them, the deep conversations have a vehicle in which to overtake the daily routine.  They have a pause where they know they will be heard.

We haven't always done it well.  We've had the seasons where we let the pauses get filled with too much noise, too much everything.  But, we've learned that our children are remarkably forgiving when we simply say, "I'm sorry we've let things get too crazy.  Let's bring it back."  

And when we lead them to the pause, they follow.

Weekly Adventures: Six of Our Best Family Nights

Recently, Treasure the Ordinary featured a post on Family Nights.  That article has sparked a great deal of feedback, with many readers retelling how they, too, have had to go back to "boot camp" as a family and pick up old, yet important habits they had inadvertently laid down.  I'm encouraged that it's never too late to start over, and that this week's family night could be your best yet!  

To that end, here is a list of some of the most enjoyable of our recent von Atzigen Family Night Adventures.  In the past, I've noticed that ideas I've found online for this kind of thing seem to be centered around families with young children.  So, while a lot of these ideas could be adjusted to accommodate little ones (especially if you partner them with older kids or parents), my list here is centered around families with older children and teens.  I hope they will spark your own idea for an evening in, or an evening out, as long as it's with the ones you love most.

  • "Chopped, Family Edition"- This was one of our most fun family nights ever!  A full scale replica of the TV show, complete with older brother filming the action in order to put together a highlight reel.  To play, I tasked the three youngest to compete in the dessert category.  They had 30 minutes to concoct their best creation using 3 out of 4 ingredients (pre-stocked in the family picnic basket!) and a maximum of 3 other ingredients out of the family pantry.  Parents did the judging, and overlooking a couple of nasty bites (think frozen hot tamale candies coming at your taste buds out of no where!), it was mostly delicious.  My teenagers all loved it, since it brought out all of their competitiveness, and it's even since sparked some interest in the kitchen that wasn't there before.
  • "Wiki Night" - Get out all the smart phones!  Before you play, someone needs to stock the draw pile with random topics (the Wright brothers, cheddar cheese, Argentina, etc.).  To play, someone draws a topic from the pile, and everyone opens their wiki app to that page.  Someone then draws the second topic out of the draw pile, and the race is on to see who can get to that page first.  You can't use the back arrow, and you can't exit wiki, but other than that, it doesn't matter how you get there.  First person to the designated page wins!  (Note:  You can have as many people play per round as you have smart phones, but if you only have access to one or two, you could play tournament style, timing each person for their "score.")
  • "Book Store Scavenger Hunt" - This one was great for a night when the parents were tired, but didn't want to miss out on family time.  The two of us sat in the bookstore cafe, reading a good book and drinking a coffee while the kids roamed the store taking photos of the items on their scavenger hunt list (a book with exactly 394 pages seemed to be the hardest one to find!) and sending them back to mom or dad's phone so we could monitor their progress.  We would occasionally send them all extra challenges that they could complete alongside their list for bonus points, my favorite of which was "take a picture of one of your siblings without them knowing."  The rule was you could not run and no one in the store could even be able to guess you were there on a scavenger hunt, so everyone had to play it cool and keep from being an annoyance to other customers.  The winner can even get to choose which new book you go home with!
  • "Blessing Night" - We did this one around Christmas time.  Instead of spending money on our own family night, we took a family trip to Wal-Mart and bought everything that would be needed for another family to have a great family night.  Every one of my kids picked out their favorite candy, we spent a great deal of time choosing just the right puzzle and just the right board game, and then we added a family movie, hot chocolate, popcorn, and even a blanket.  I was proud of my kids when we loaded it all in the car to be dropped off for a project at our church and went home to eat the snacks that were in our own pantry.  I know we could have gone out after we did our shopping, but I felt like it was important to have one night completely devoted to serving others, and I wasn't disappointed.  I liked the fruit I saw in my kids.
  • "Movie Night" - This time, it was to see "Hidden Figures," which I highlight because it was an excellent film and one that provoked deep discussion with our teenagers.
  • "Photo Shoot Night" - Find some zany props, get into some crazy costumes, and head to an interesting location.  For extra fun, you can hire a photographer, but if you need it to be free, just bring a tripod and a creative streak.  I don't have a single child that doesn't like to have pictures taken, so we may be abnormally fond of the camera, but every time we do this, we end up with crazy fun memories.  This year, our photo shoot night ended up being our Christmas card, Viking helmets and all! 
Whether it's planned or spontaneous,  may your family time be sweet this week, friends.  And may it make you long for more.

Soul Food

I did it.  I did the thing I've been planning to do for months.  I took a day off and spent it alone, at home. 

I did what I wanted.  I didn't do what I didn't want to do.  I drank two cups of coffee instead of one and didn't even get dressed until after lunch, which I ate alone with only the sound of the dishwasher for company.  I played the piano.  I read a little.  I walked the dog.  I took a nap.  I wrote a poem. 

And I didn't want it to end.

It's that profound desire to hold on, to savor, that makes me wonder why I wait months and months to take a day that brings me so much joy and so much renewal. 

For some people, today would not have been a blessing.  They would rather have spent it in a crowd of friends, hiking, or maybe touring a vineyard.  And that's the thing, isn't it?  Our ability to discern what it is that both brings us peace and invigorates us at the same time is the point at which we have learned to pastor our own souls.  For too long, I stayed away from the seminary of my own heart, distracted by the need to perform and believing if I took time away to feed myself, I was selfishly robbing the people in my life of what they needed. 

But, time spent in regularly pastoring my soul keeps me from feeding others with empty hands and allows me to break off a piece of my wholeness and offer it freely, without fear that it is all I will have for tomorrow.

And so, I will not wait so long for the next time. 

Ode To A Day Home Alone
Creative stirrings make
lukewarm coffee as the bathrobe
spins out like a ballerina's chiffon,
the riverdance flowing around the living room rug,
and the dog sleeping on, unaware
of the freedom that comes with

Simple Prayers

"On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, 'They have no more wine.'"  (John 2:1-3)

As a mother of three sons, Mary's relationship with Jesus intrigues me.  There are not a lot of details of his growing up years.  There's his birth, his dedication, his foray into the temple.  And then there's this simple, yet worldchanging story of attending a village wedding with his mom.

I love to imagine him there.  Eating the wedding feast.  Singing the songs of blessing over the couple.  Dancing to the music of celebration.  Toasting the new family's prosperity.

And then, this interruption.  The moment his mother comes to him and quietly whispers her prayer.

Because that's what it was.  A request for him to move, to act, to intervene in the natural unfolding of events with the force of the supernatural.  And I love that what moved Mary's heart to seek out Jesus wasn't to save the life of someone choking on a lamb bone, but rather to save a neighbor family from embarrassment.  She knew that running out of wine would mark the family with shame in front of the entire village, and being sensitive to those who live in shame, she simply caught Jesus' attention and said five words.

That's it.  One simple phrase.  "They have no more wine." 

There wasn't a long drawn out explanation or a detailed description of what she wanted him to do.  Just a sentence that defined the need and communicated the complete trust she had in him to make any decision that needed to be made.

And I 've come to believe that is the exact way my own prayers work best.  My prayers seem to be the most effective when I refrain from telling Jesus exactly how He should meet my needs or giving Him all the reasons why I have the need in the first place.  They seem to produce the most fruit when I simply catch his attention and whisper the equivalent to, "I have no more wine."  My simplest statements  are the ones that speak of complete dependence on who He is and my complete trust that His decisions are enough.  It's when I feel the need to explain, to beg, to tally up the words like points on a scoreboard that I find my faith in both His goodness and sovereignty is wavering. 

So, again Mary becomes a role model.  An example of presenting the need and trusting that He hears.  But, she also does one more thing.

"'Woman, why do you involve me?' Jesus replied. 'My hour has not yet come.' His mother said to the servants, 'Do whatever he tells you.'" (John 2:4-5)

She not only brought the need to His attention.  She readied the environment around Him for obedience.  She prepared the way for Him to move by aligning herself and those she had influence over in agreement with whatever command He might give after her one sentence prayer.

She prayed and she obeyed.  And it made all the difference.

"Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, 'Fill the jars with water'; so they filled them to the brim.  Then he told them, 'Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.'  They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, 'Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.'"  (John 2:6-10)

What To Do When Someone Hurts Your Child

Ever since I was a little girl, I've read the Christmas story from Mary's perspective.  What would it have been like to birth the Savior of the world?  After a pregnancy where everyone thought the worst of you?  And what was it like to experience that birth far from home, away from your own mother, with only your young, terrified husband to hold your hand?  The birth of Jesus was a miracle in many ways, and one of them was that a young teenage girl said yes to the whole thing, trusting God to sort out the details of her very real life.

But, I'm certain the birth wasn't the hardest part for Mary.  For, just days later, she would hear the words no mother ever wants to hear at her baby's dedication service, spoken by a prophet who whispered them while looking deep into her eyes, "And a sword will pierce your own heart, also."  (Luke 2: 35)

What could she have thought upon hearing those words?  She had no frame of reference for what was coming.  She hadn't yet read the back of the book. 

She found out in real time that not everyone would believe He was who she always knew He was.  That people close to her would turn on him, betraying Him into hands that sought to kill the life she brought in to the world.  That He would die on a cross being mocked and spat upon by the very ones she knew He loved more than Himself.  And it's that part of Mary's story that both breaks my heart and captures my respect.

Because just recently, I watched a child born of my body experience hurt at the hands of someone else.  It was small in the great scheme of life, the kind of thing that most everyone experiences in junior high.  But, it brought tears and pain and confusion to one I love more than my next breath.  And in that moment, I didn't want to sit on the sidelines and pray.  I didn't want to counsel forgiveness.  I wanted to crawl out of my mama bear cave, stand on my hind legs, and roar until I could force retribution.  I wanted to fix it.  And fix it with vengeance.

But, I didn't get to.  Because that's not the way of the God I serve.  Instead, I held my child close to my heart, waited for the tears to stop, and we prayed.  We released the one who had done the wounding and we asked the Lord to bless them.  I admit that a little later, I also had to quietly ask the Lord to forgive the angry thoughts I had entertained that may have involved super glue and a flagpole, but the point is, in that mama bear moment, my child needed me to model a life value.  Because my babies won't always have me around to run to.  But, they will always have the God we can go to together.  And He is there for both of us, just like He was there for Mary.

He was there when she birthed her vagabond son in a stable.  He was still there in her panic when she realized she had left her pre-teen in Jerusalem and was a three day journey away from him.  And He was there again when she watched the man she knew to be completely innocent of sin murdered on a cross for her own sin.

He was there.  He was there for her and He was there for her son.  He was there because that boy was also His son.

And that's what brings peace in the moments when we watch our children walk through pain.  The truth that, even more than being bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, these children belong to Him.  He loves them more than we can fathom.  He has a plan for their lives, one for hope and a future.  And He will never leave them.  They are His.

Fashion Forward

I most often write about the things God is doing and speaking in the quietest places of my heart.  But, today, there's just something I need to confess.  And it seems loud and not very spiritual at all.  But, it has to come out.

I am a fashion mess right now.  I'm not really sure how this happened.  For most of my life, I've been able to look around the room, take stock of the styles and trends represented, and think, "Yep.  Smack in the middle.  Not too far ahead, like a Paris runway model, but not far enough behind to be reppin the Amish runway style."  And I was good with that.  "Just enough to keep up" was kind of my motto, but not so vested that I had to buy a complete new wardrobe next season when whatever current trend that was all the thing became the thing that wasn't the thing anymore.

But, something has happened.  It's not that I'm the Amish runway model, exactly.  I'm just confused.  It's like I went to sleep, woke up, and can't make sense of my closet.  Do my jeans work anymore?  Am I supposed to always roll them?  I did that already, in the eighties, but my old tight-roll method doesn't seem to apply here.  And the boots.  I had just gotten used to the tall boot thing, but now they're short.  Some with the wedges, some with the fringe, but none, apparently, with socks.  So now there's a little gap of skin between my boot and my jeans, which is, by the way, the same crisis I experienced when Jennifer Garner rolled out low rise jeans to American culture on "Alias" and suddenly I looked decidedly much more Amish because I was terrified to follow suit.  First of all, there was the fact that while she rolled it out, she didn't roll out, if you know what I mean.  I, on the other hand, was pretty sure there would be a good deal of rolling if I attempted it.  But, second, there was the other fear that people would see my skin.  And if they thought my face was fair complected, seeing the paleness that is my stomach was going to cause some serious blinding which I might in turn be sued for.  Which is exactly my new problem with that bare skin between my jeans and my boots.  It's white, people.  Really, really white.  Which means if I wear the popular black pants and equally popular black booties, my leg resembles a double stuffed Oreo.

And then there are the off the shoulder tops (we did that back in the "Fame" days of the 80s, too), the geometrical everything, and the necklaces that look strangely like my mom's twisty beads from back in the day.  I just have no idea what to do with all that.  I go shopping and try to buy an outfit that has the "look," and I end up going home with a tea towel and a mall pretzel.

Which is why I'm doing something I would never have done before.  I now subscribe to a service that ships clothes to my house.  It means I have a stylist.  Her name is Erin.  And she looks at my measurements and sends me things that fit.  And what's more, I try them on in my own closet, following her instructions with how to pair things, and strangely like every single thing she sends. 

And the crazy thing is when I look over her choices for me, I usually can't find a one that I would have picked up in the store.  Not a one.  And yet, Erin sends them to me, and they look fabulous.  She is somehow able to discern the look I want (not necessarily trendy, but classically stylish) and piece together the puzzle of my wardrobe with just a couple of new things that really work.  It's like she's able to see where I'm going and get me there without the hindrances of my own self-critiquing brain.  She's gifted, I tell you, gifted.  And lest you think other stylists would be equally as gifted, I'll let you know that the company once tried to change my stylist and the entire shipment was such a disaster that I wrote the equivalent of War and Peace, Fashion Edition in one epic email until they called me and told me Erin would be my stylist again, and forever be my stylist.  I'm serious.  I'm pretty sure they have now doubled Erin's pay and given her a corner styling office just so she'll never leave them for fear of receiving Moby Dick, Fashion Edition in their inbox.

I'm not going to tell you which styling service I use because I'm afraid you'll think I'm getting paid to write a promo for them, but I will share this with you, my one deep and slightly spiritual thought for this shallow rambling.  How many successful options have I passed by over the years because I was confident they weren't for me and would never work?  How many times have I missed the fabulous in favor of the safe and tried and true?  I think the answer to that may be more than I'm comfortable admitting.

I am in fact quite uncomfortable when I think about the times I've refused to try something a lot more important than new jeans for fear that I would look foolish or find out that I'm not good at it.  The times that I've censored myself from success because I was just downright afraid.  The times I've refused to follow the bold longings because I wasn't sure where they would lead.

I wish Erin had a service for that.  But, since she doesn't, I'm going to have to listen to another stylist.  One who knows me better than I know myself.  One who doesn't care what I look like when I'm trying something new.  And One who is confident He can get me where I'm going, if I'll trust Him.