In February, when it became clear that we would be moving out of rural America, where a monthly mortgage payment on a 2,400sf house was right at $1,000, into one of the most expensive urban areas in the country, where you can't even find a tiny, one bedroom apartment in a bad neighborhood with rent at that price, we had to adjust our thinking. What had been unacceptable to us for the previous 13 years (aka: the thought of apartment life), shifted to becoming highly desirable as we began to get an idea of what it would cost to live in the DC metro area. An hour long commute to and from work, would have been completely unthinkable in any other context and yet here, shockingly, it doesn't seem so bad because it would save thousands of dollars each year. Our perspective had to be altered to suit our new reality.
It was funny to me today to hear myself tell Jason how much I was loving apartment life. I love it because the apartment is small so it is easy to clean. I love that we have absolutely ZERO responsibility for keeping up a yard or maintaining the exterior of our dwelling. I love that we don't accumulate too much "stuff" because there is just no where to put it. I love that it is easy to heat and cool. I love that we have free access to a swimming pool (that we don't have to maintain) and a fitness center. I'm just altogether completely pleased with something I DID NOT WANT in the first place. Go figure.
When Jason and I got married almost 15 years ago, we lived in an apartment for two years. We hated it. We complained about it. We desperately wanted a house, where our neighbors weren't so close and where we would have more space. We then rented two different houses for 3 years total and we complained about each because, although each had their merits, neither was "our own place." We then bought our first house and the excitement quickly wore off and we complained about all the things that needed to be done to fix the place up and make it more modern and more "us." After three years, and a lot of home improvement projects, we moved across the country and bought a bigger, nicer house and thought we had arrived. Turns out, bigger, nicer houses take bigger wads of cash to maintain. They can also be harder to sell, and when it was time to move on from there, it took two and a half years to find someone who wanted to buy our bigger, nicer house. Boy did we complain about that! In the meantime we came to know the joy and heartache of renting OLDER homes (80-100+ years old). Everyone who visited us raved about "the character" and "the potential," while we put off saving for Tim's college education in order to pay the astronomical heating bills for those old houses and , you guessed it, we complained.
So here we are living in an apartment - back to square one - and paying more for it each month than we ever dreamed of paying for housing in our lifetime, and we are happy. It is up to us now, to catch a clue and stay that way, and stop complaining. Obviously, each living arrangement has its ups and downs - but at the end of the day, it is a roof over our heads and a place to sleep, prepare and eat meals, and be a family. It could be better and it could be worse.
Someone posted this quote on Facebook today: "That thing you are taking for granted is the very thing someone else is praying for." I'm taking two lessons from that today:
1. Habitual complaining is lame. It shows utter disrespect for those who are going without and a lack of trust in the One who directs our paths. May I learn contentment and joy in the here and now, whatever and wherever that may be.
2. I should always examine why I am praying for the things that I am praying for. Bigger, better, cheaper and easier aren't the goals of life. If I am praying for something that someone else is taking for granted... maybe it is because they are self-centered... but maybe it is because it isn't really worth praying for to begin with.
"This then is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one."
Amen. Have I told you how much I love our little apartment?
He walked in the door on Monday afternoon, fresh from a ride home on the school bus, dropped his things on the floor and started into his rant before he even had his jacket off... "They're on to me, Mom!" Well, that sure got my attention. He proceeded to tell us a story about a missing Agenda (aka: important middle school notebook that is a required tool for keeping track of assignments and info from teachers). The tale was lengthy and harrowing and passionately delivered and at its conclusion Tim stated emphatically that he was 99% certain it was not missing at all, but rather had been STOLEN. He then seemed perplexed that his father and I were not in a total state of outrage over this shocking revelation.
Meanwhile, Jason and I were trying to figure out what in the world he meant by the statement, "They're on to me." Jason was the first to sort through it. "Son, I think what you meant to say is that 'They have it out for you,' or 'They're out to get you.'" "Oh," he said. We went on to talk about how middle school is middle school and no one escapes unscathed, and how it also isn't wise to make accusations or get emotionally caught up in things that you can't control, but the real lesson that came out of that moment was, BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SAY TO MOM AND DAD - THEY WILL USE IT TO MOCK YOU MERCILESSLY FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Ever since Monday, "They're on to me," has become Jason and I's mantra. We use it frequently and with great delight on any given occasion, much to Timmy's chagrin. Give it a try sometime, it's fun! :)
On a serious note: The comparison of the two phrases is a great lesson for all of us. Are we tempted to assume the world is out to get us when things go wrong? Are we hiding anything that would cause us to be devastated to find out if someone was, in fact, on to us? Neither of these is any way to live! Honesty, integrity and perspective! May we all have them in abundance and strive to keep them all the days of our lives.
P.S. The agenda was located the next morning. All is well.
"Are you parenting to survive the next 20 minutes or to enjoy the next 20 years?" - Julie Richard
I heard this quote during the "Leading & Loving It" webinar this afternoon and I thought it was worth pondering and passing on. I think every parent of a toddler or young child has been guilty of "parenting to survive the next 20 minutes" at some point, if not on a regular basis! Those are difficult years, to be sure. When our son was that age, Jason and I read a book that referred to the toddler years as the "first adolescence," and encouraged us to stand our ground and make sure that we established ourselves as the consistent leaders of our home during that time. The book suggested that if we did so, the second adolescence (the teen years) would go much more smoothly. Well, the second adolescence is just about upon us, so I'll have to let you know how that plays out.
So what does parenting to enjoy the next 20 years look like? I don't have all the answers, but here are the first few things that came to my mind as I reflected on this idea:
1. Avoid overreacting.
2. Parent out of faith, not fear.
3. Choose your battles wisely.
4. Focus on character development.
5. Extend grace.
What do you think? How do you avoid survival parenting?
Yesterday my son went with his youth group to volunteer with Target:Dayton
. They served a meal to the people who came in need of one. Some were homeless, others barely getting by. Timmy was in charge of the coffee.
As we drove home, after the bus dropped him back off at our local church, I asked him about his experience. These are the 3 simple things he shared with me and the profound lessons I learned from him:1. Tim's quote:
"Not everyone there "looked" homeless
." Mom's lesson:
Not everyone I meet today who could use my help or encouragement will "look" like they need it. That doesn't mean I should withhold it. Target:Dayton provides their services indiscriminately and lets each individual decide whether or not they need them and want to receive them. I should be so generous with my time, resources and attention.2. Tim's quote:
"I didn't know there were so many people in Dayton that were homeless. There were so many of them
." Mom's lesson
: The need in the world is greater than I realize or have ever actually seen with my own eyes. If I saw it all at once, it would likely overwhelm me and paralyze me. The need is great. I would be wise not to forget that.3. Tim's quote:
"There was a lady who worked there who came up to me and told me I was doing a good job
." Mom's lesson:
It helps to know when we are on the right track. Serving others isn't easy and when I see someone doing it well, I should tell them so. We all secretly wonder whether what we are doing is making a difference and whether we are "doing it right." Words of encouragement are precious gifts that keep the givers giving.One bonus lesson I learned:
The first time our children (or any one else for that matter) experience something, we need to pay attention to their reactions and descriptions. When we have "been there and done that
," we forget the power of a first experience and the unique perspective that comes with it.
Lance Armstrong: "Cancer taught me that pain has a reason and that sometimes the experience of losing things – whether health or a car or an old sense of self – has its own value in the scheme of life. Pain and loss are great enhancers. We have unrealized capacities that only emerge in crisis ... capacities for enduring, for living, for hoping, for caring, for enjoying. Each time we overcome pain, I believe we grow."
Now the pain is of his own making and cannot be overcome through perseverance, but only through repentance. I'm disappointed. Maybe I have no right to be. I don't know Lance Armstrong. I have never met him. Why should I feel I have any right to feelings of disappointment? Because I read his book (multiple times), and I ate it up. Because I followed his story and wanted to believe him. Because he wasn't just an athlete, he chose to be a public athlete. He chose to allow people to rally around him and use him as an example, an idol. He branded himself and his brand was built on hard work, an indomitable spirit, perseverance, and an attitude that refused to embrace the victim mentality or any hint of negativity. Talk about inspirational!
The only flaw = himself. When you make yourself out to be a god, when you tell people that you went through hell and not only survived it, but crushed it under your feet and you did it all on your own merit and effort, well you better be telling the truth.
Yes, I'm disappointed in Lance Armstrong. His life and story, however, has become infinitely more valuable to me now. You see, as a mother, I would never have pointed my son to Mr. Armstrong as a mentor or hero. As someone who puts my faith and trust in Christ alone, I never have and never will encourage my child to place others on a pedestal. I will however, use his journey as a powerful cautionary tale. Right now, my son has no idea who Lance Armstrong is, but in the days ahead I will make certain that he does. I will show him video clips of Lance insisting that he never doped and have him read articles about the financial and personal pain that others were forced to endure as Mr. Armstrong kept up his charade in order to protect his own brand and image. We will sit down together and we will have conversations about why someone would lie and keep on lying, and whether or not we are capable of the same sort of deception (sadly, we are). We will discuss the danger of elevating ourselves and our accomplishments for others to take note of. And we will pray for Mr. Armstrong and we will pray for ourselves.
Revelation 2:5 "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent." (ESV)
2 Chronicles 7:14 "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (ESV)
1 John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (ESV)
I've lost nothing, personally. Not a family member or friend. Not even a community member or a friend of a friend. Yet, my stomach churns and the tears flow.
I find myself asking... Do I get it now? Do I recognize the frailty of life? Is this what it takes to wake up a 30-something wife and mother to the reality that she will eventually lose every relationship and every earthly thing - either when they pass on to eternity or when she does?
Everything on this earth can and will be shaken. Do I really understand that now? If I do, how then shall I live?
Is this a wake-up call to YOLO living? You do only live once, after all.
Is this a wake-up call to pursue a cause? Gun control? Anti-gun control? Better care and more options for those with mental illnesses? Surely some action should be taken, after all.
Is this a wake-up call to love my family more fully? Do I need to become more involved in my son's school? Devote more time to family activities? Visit relatives more frequently? Family is important, after all.
Is this a wake-up call to be more observant? Do I need to pay closer attention to the people around me who may show signs of being unstable? Should I think back on every person I've known through the years and see who might fit a profile? After all, If I don't notice, who will?
Over the coming days and weeks, Americans will be encouraged to do all of these things by a variety of people we have likely never met nor will we ever meet - newscasters, political figures, heads of movements - and we may even be challenged to examine some of these things by our own family and friends. We are awake now, and when you are awake it is time to get up and do something.
So what shall we do? How shall we live in a world where horrible things happen without a single warning? Here are some suggestions the Bible offers for living "fully awake:"
1. Know God. At the end of the day, everything in this world can be shaken and taken. Make it a point to know the only One who cannot. There is no excuse for not getting to know Him. Romans 1:20 NIV: "For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." The unshakable, unchangeable God of the universe invites you to know Him: James 4:8-10 NIV - "Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up."
2. Be Kind, Forgiving and Joyful. Pray and Give Thanks to God. Once you know God and you are steadily learning more about Him more, you inevitably want to know what He wants from your life. What is his will? 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18 - "Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."
3. Spread His Hope, Lovingly. Don't keep His light to yourself. The world is a dark place. Don't just be glad for the Holy Spirit's unquenchable flame in your life; share it with others. 1 Peter 3:15 NIV - "But in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."
We can do these things, and by God's grace, though outwardly we may be wasting away as the world turns on, inwardly we can be renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).
It will take people who are being inwardly renewed day by day to keep up the good fight - to live life knowing we only have so many days on earth, to respectfully and passionately pursue causes worth pursuing, to love our families selflessly, and to be truly observant and mindful of those around us.
"For this reason it says, 'Awake, Sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." - Ephesians 5:14
This weekend, some friends took Tim and I to the Southern Ohio Indoor Music Festival
. It wasn't my first time hearing bluegrass music, but it was my first time at a bluegrass FESTIVAL. As I sip my coffee this morning and think back on the experience, I can't help but think the church (global and local) could learn a lot from the bluegrass music culture. CHURCH, Listen up!
- People really cared about each other and they showed it. This festival is an annual event. During the course of the concerts this weekend, people who were not in attendance for various reasons were appropriately acknowledged. It was evident that while the music is what initially draws people to the festival, the friendships and family-feel is what keeps people coming back year after year. Examples: One lady who ran a booth each year was unable to attend this year because of health problems. The festival organizers left several sheets of stationery in the vendor room for people who would notice she was missing to write her encouraging messages and let her know she was missed. One of the performers lost his mother to cancer a few weeks before the festival. A last minute raffle was organized and people donated to breast cancer research (raising over $2,500) in her memory at the event. Local church - how can you show people in your congregation that they matter? That their losses matter to you? That their presence and involvement matters to you?
- Young people were celebrated and involved in every part of the event. Young people, ages 11 and up, were prominently featured at the festival. Some were musicians who played on the big stage right alongside those who had been playing for decades, honing their raw talent. Others were working at the vendor booths, working back stage, or helping check in the musicians' instruments between sets. The bluegrass culture quite naturally celebrates senior adults, but they go out of their way to honor young people and to involve them and embrace them. Local church, young people are the future of your congregation. How can you embrace their talents, energy and perspective? How can you bring them along and include them in every area of ministry?
- The music was equal parts serious, fun, and inspiring. When people think of bluegrass music, most will think of Dueling Banjos or something upbeat and knee-slapping from Oh Brother Where Art Thou. That kind of music is a part of bluegrass but it isn't everything. Bluegrass music can be soulful, serious, reflective, and even silly and down-right funny sometimes. It pays homage to EVERY human emotion, not just the ones people deem pleasant. While you might go to a concert to hear Dueling Banjos, you may very well leave thinking about something that you never even realized was a part of the bluegrass scene. Local church, Don't be a one trick pony. God created individuals to be creative, unique, and infinitely variable. When the church reflects that reality it brings more glory to God, not less. Our music, teaching, events, programs, prayers, outreach and ceremonies can and should have variety and at times should be unexpected.
- There is no competition in bluegrass. If you have attended a concert, but not a festival, you might be under the impression that it is each musician/band out for themselves. When you sit through a day or two of music with multiple bands present however, you quickly find that they all know each other and they are all very much family. Their goal is a common one - to play great music and to see bluegrass music enjoyed and carried on as a genre. It is very common during a band's performance for them to bring up other artists to the stage for a comedy routine or a special song that they will collaborate on. As the festival goes on this happens more and more frequently and at the end a finale might include 4, 5, or 6 different groups all playing together simply for the joy of the music that they share. Local Church, you are not in competition with other denominations or the church down the street. Embrace your commonalities for the good of your people and for the good of the cause of Christ. Celebrate each other. Work together whenever possible.
- Bluegrass music is not about perfection. There were several points during the festival when mistakes were made by the singers and musicians. They were obvious at times and more subtle at others. One particular moment occurred when the host of the festival couldn't seem to find the right note to start an a capella song with his band. He didn't try to act like it wasn't happening. He made us all comfortable with his struggle by acknowledging it, humorously even. We were drawn to him and rooting for him. Someone brought him a bottle of water and the show went on and the song was great! It didn't take away from the festival one bit... in fact, that moment enriched the festival! People were reminded that the players on stage were just as human as they could be and that they were up there to be a blessing and to bring joy, not to be superhuman and without imperfection. Local Church, do not fear imperfection. The more you cling to perfection and demand it, the more you set people up to feel distanced from what is going on within your four walls rather than drawn to it.
I hope everyone reading this gets a chance to go to a bluegrass music festival at some point, but more than that I hope that you get yourselves involved in a local church and be people who make the church more joy-filled and effective in its work. Romans 12:3-5
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
"Mom, sometimes I have thoughts like, 'Is God really real?'"
This statement is part of a conversation I almost didn't have with my 11 year old son, Timothy, yesterday in the car on the way home from Wal-Mart. Once I had time to process that entire conversation and the events of that day, I knew that I would need to share it here. Some things are just too important NOT to share.
Earlier this week, Hurricane Sandy brought rain, snow, flooding, power outages, and havoc all throughout the northeastern United States. My husband, who has been gifted with a heart that longs to serve others in tangible ways, immediately sensed that he was meant to help those who were affected in some way by the flooding and devastation that the storm caused. He knew he had to go. We have been out on a limb (where God has called us to be) in so many ways, over so many years, that I didn't even bat an eye at this. Could we afford for him to go? No. Did we know how it would happen or where he would stay? No. Did that matter? No.
Jason pulled $500 out of our emergency fund, packed his duffel bag, pillow and sleeping bag, borrowed a church van (loaded with bottled water donated by church members), and I prayed over him and kissed him goodbye at 8:30am on Wednesday morning. Sometime before lunchtime that very same day, I got a phone call from someone we dearly love. He had been planning to make a donation to a disaster relief organization to help with Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts and heard that Jason was going. He asked how we were paying for the trip and I told him that God would provide. He said he was standing at his bank counter and wanted to wire money into our account to help out, and could I please give him our routing number and account number! Guess how much he gave, without me ever telling him what we needed. $500 exactly. That money, combined with the $120 that various people from Grace Baptist of Cedarville had pushed into our hands/pockets as they dropped off bottled water, will no doubt meet whatever needs come up in the days ahead as Jason offers a cup of cold water, a hot meal, the gospel of Christ, and his physical labor to those who need it most.
Wednesday afternoon, as Timothy and I were driving back from Wal-Mart, I hesitated to tell him that story. I didn't know if he was old enough to really understand the process of trusting God in that way. I didn't want to give him a false impression that you could just run out and do whatever you wanted for God and that he would throw money at you to cover the cost. Still, something in my spirit told me it was worth the risk that he might learn the "wrong lesson" in order to share what God had done and give Him glory. When I relayed the story, Timmy had the biggest smile. He said, "Mom, sometimes I have thoughts like, 'Is God really real?' Then I hear stories like that and I KNOW. I KNOW HE IS REAL and I think how stupid it is to think He isn't."
I am so glad I shared that story with my son. Just in case someone who is reading this is wondering, "Is God really real?" I thought I should share it with you as well. Two questions for you today:
1. What spiritual conversation have you not had with a young person in your life because you aren't sure he/she is ready for it? May I venture to suggest you give it a try? Children and young adults are far more spiritually attuned than we give them credit for!
2. What has God done in your life lately that you need to share with someone else? I know how much that story encouraged my son, and I am hoping it encourages you as well. What stories of His goodness have you not shared with others? We need to hear them!
Hebrews 10:25 NLT "And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near."
If I had gone to the Cheesecake Factory today by myself, I never would have tasted these. These are Avocado Eggrolls and they are DELICIOUS. I never would have ordered them on my own though. Never. I have my standard order and I don't vary from it much. I have my Cheesecake Factory favorite and I stick with it.
But today, I went with my husband, my son, my mother-in-law (Sandy), and my father-in-law (Jim). Jim and Sandy like to go to the Cheesecake Factory near their home sometimes and just order appetizers and drinks. Having tried several appetizers, they now know what they like best, so they ordered the avocado eggrolls and some calamari for us all to enjoy before our entrees, and I am so glad they did! I enjoyed every bite.
So this got me thinking... We really are better together, folks. We weren't meant to walk through life alone - picking out our favorites (places, food, books, movies, jobs, stores, bible verses, activities, etc.) and sticking with them. We were meant to walk through life together, to rub shoulders with many different people and experience their favorites along with our own; opening our senses to the world as THEY perceive it. We won't always love the world as others show it to us. Sometimes we won't be able to relate at all, but even if we don't share their view we will have a clearer, broader perspective when all is said and done.
Once during my childhood my grandparents traveled from Florida to visit my family in Arizona. We were so excited to take them to see the Grand Canyon! We couldn't wait to show off the beautiful scenery and watch them take their first breathtaking glimpse of God's creative power on display. I will never forget them getting out of the car taking a look over the edge and NOT BEING IMPRESSED AT ALL. It was just a big hole in the ground to them. For a long time this frustrated me. I just couldn't understand it. I even blamed them for not having a stronger reaction, but at the end of the day: they saw it. Whether it moved them or not, they saw it. They had that experience in their back pocket for the rest of their days and no one could take it from them. For me the Grand Canyon was a place where God was to be worshiped and where my imagination ran wild. For my grandparents the Grand Canyon was a place that made them glad they lived in Florida where there are lush green trees and warm, sandy beaches and not in Arizona where deserts are beautiful, but harsh and desolate too.
Regardless of whether our time spent with others trying new things, exploring THEIR favorites, shows us what we have in common or brings into stark contrast our differences, it is time well spent.
So my question today is, when was the last time you sampled someone else's favorite anything? When was the last time you stepped out of your routine and asked someone to show you a piece of the world through their eyes? A new sight, a new taste, a new perspective/opinion, a new hobby, a new labor, a new way of doing something you've always done?
You never know... it might just be a hole in the ground, but it could be THE GRAND CANYON! It's worth a shot.
"Picture your marriage as a grassy field. You enter it at the beginning full of hope and joy. You look out into the future, and you see beautiful flowers and trees and rolling hills. And that beauty is what you see in each other. Your relationship is the field and the flowers and the rolling
hills. But before long, you begin to step in cow pies. Some seasons of your marriage they may seem to be everywhere. Late at night they are especially prevalent. These are the sins and flaws and idiosyncrasies and weaknesses and annoying habits in you and in your spouse. You try to forgive them and endure them with grace.
But they have a way of dominating the relationship. It may not
even be true, but sometimes it feels like that’s all there is—cow pies.
Noël and I have come to believe that the combination of forbearance
and forgiveness leads to the creation of a compost pile. That’s where you shovel the cow pies.
You both look at each other and simply admit that there are a
lot of cow pies. But you say to each other: You know, there is more
to this relationship than cow pies. And we are losing sight of that
because we keep focusing on these cow pies. Let’s throw them all
in the compost pile. When we have to, we will go there and smell
it and feel bad and deal with it the best we can. And then we are
going to walk away from that pile and set our eyes on the rest of the
field. We will pick some favorite paths and hills that we know are
not strewn with cow pies. And we will be thankful for the part of
the field that is sweet.
Our hands may be dirty. And our backs may ache from all the
shoveling. But one thing we know: We will not pitch our tent by the
compost pile. We will only go there when we must. This is a gift of grace that we will give each other again and again and again—because we are chosen and holy and loved."
This is an excerpt from John Piper's book, This Momentary Marriage. It is my favorite book on the subject of Christian marriage and it is a resource that Jason and I rely on HEAVILY when offering premarital counseling sessions. I pray that you can find your own way to keep the "cow pies" where they belong - in the compost pile, and that you pitch your tent far from that place.
PS - Congrats to our friends Jared and Emmy on their recent wedding and many blessings to Sabrina and Emily and their grooms as they make final preparations for next week's big events! We are blessed to have you in our lives.