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?
On a recent trip to the National Zoo, we had a great time watching this meerkat. The other meerkats in the habitat were rolling in the dirt, playing, and digging, but this one climbed up on the highest rock in the enclosure and stood very still and just looked, systematically, in every possible direction. The educational plaque hanging on the wall nearby explained that this behavior is common for meerkats. Since they are such tiny creatures and generally walk on all-fours, meerkats will frequently pull themselves up on their hind legs to get a better, higher view of their surroundings and search for predators.
This week on my commute to work, I've been reading in Genesis about the life of Joseph. You remember Joseph - the coat of many colors, being sold into slavery by his brothers, being bought by the Captain of the Guard in Egypt, ending up in prison (unjustly), interpreting dreams beyond his own capability, being restored and elevated to the position of second in command to the pharaoh, saving his family from the effects of a severe famine, being reunited with his father who thought he was dead. AMAZING LIFE STORY to be sure. The thing that struck me this week as I read through the account of the life of Joseph again was that He was always experiencing God's favor, regardless of his circumstances:
1. His brothers threw him in a pit, but didn't kill him.
2. He was sold into slavery, but everything he did prospered and he was not treated like a slave in the home of Potiphar.
3. He was put into prison unjustly, but again everything he did there prospered and he was given responsibility and meaningful work even in prison.
4. He was offered a high position in the government of the pharaoh which he did not seek out.
5. Everything he did in Egypt prospered and his work there resulted in saving a nation from a devastating famine and in restoring his family to him.
As I read and reflected on Joseph's life, I was reminded that we cannot gauge whether or not we are living out God's will for our lives based on our circumstances. After all, Joseph was rejected by his brothers. a slave, and a prisoner, all while being right where God wanted him to be. A better gauge of living out God's will, it seems, is His favor. God's favor plays out in the smallest of ways and on the grandest of scales, but is of equal value regardless of the way it is displayed. Sometimes we have to be like that meerkat, and rise above our own limited perspective and try to catch a glimpse of what is really going on in the midst of our suffering. If we don't, we are destined to be enslaved to our current circumstances and our limited interpretations of them.
This is more than looking for a "silver-lining." This is about remaining faith-filled in our attitudes and faithful in our actions regardless of our situation. Refusing to despair when we know we are on the path God wants for us. Submitting to the route that He has deemed best and looking for evidences of His favor along the way to keep us going. When we are in the pit (rejected by those who are supposed to love us and protect us), in slavery (stuck in a difficult situation without any control over it), or imprisoned unjustly (falsely accused and punished without cause) - may we rise up to our full height (in his mercy and grace) and look for evidences of favor smack dab in the middle of the pain and difficulty. If they are there, then we have cause to rejoice in the midst of the mess and hold on for the deliverance that will surely come. If they are absent, we have cause to repent and wait for the restoration that God has promised never to withhold from His children.
Psalm 121:1-2 (NIV)
"I lift up my eyes to the mountains-- where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth."
Psalm 30:5 (NIV)
"For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning."
Today three delightful, hard-working ladies from the moving company are here packing up everything that we own. They have gone about their work pleasantly and with a sense of pride. While they were busy packing-away, a dear friend stopped by to chat and we stepped into one of the rooms that they were not working in for a lovely hour or so to catch up without getting in their way. When I bid my friend farewell, I walked through each room that they had completed and sighed... "This is real!" I thought. I joked with them that I guess there was no going back now and one of them insisted, "Nope, you are moving!"
I went upstairs to, ahem, use the facilities, and only after I'd committed to that act did I realize - THEY HAD PACKED THE TOILET PAPER. Wow. Talk about total commitment to the job. "You ARE moving!" Well, no kidding. We sure can't stay here without toilet paper!
As I reflect on that moment of shocking realization that the T.P. was in a box somewhere and not on the roll, I'm now laughing at myself... how often do I get ahead of myself in life... planning for what is coming a few steps down the road and inadvertently missing what is obviously important in the here and now? Answer: Too often.
Life lesson for the day - Don't neglect the needs of today while planning for the future... or if you prefer: pack the toilet paper last for Pete's sake!
I've decided life is really about sifting.
Perhaps I should clarify. In 2013 in the United States, I would venture to guess that most households do not own a sifter and most youngsters today have likely never even seen one. There are many different types of sifters for many different purposes, but the one I'm most familiar with is a flour sifter. Hang with me here... I think it will be worth it in the end... Kitchensavvy.com tells us that, "In earlier days, sifting flour served several purposes. When flour was milled using stone wheels, as opposed to modern steel rollers, sifting removed bits of the millstone and other impurities that might be found in the flour. Sifting also breaks up clumps, adds air to the flour which helps produce lighter cakes and pastries, and makes measurement more uniform."So why do I think life is really all about sifting? Well, I've seen people who've been through horrible, nightmarish things in life who still live healthy, happy, fulfilled, purposeful lives and I've seen others who've been completely sidelined by the most minor offense.
The bottom line is that what we hold onto and what we let slip away, for better or for worse, really does define our human experience.
So how do we sift what life hands us? We can't hold onto everything we experience in life, so how do we decide what to hold onto and what to release? Here are two questions to ask about the stuff in our lives we are holding onto to determine whether it should survive a good sifting:1. Is it pure?
In the description of the flour sifter, we learned that one reason for sifting is to remove impurities. Is what you are holding onto pure? Is it True? Is it producing purity and truth in you?
If yes, then hold on to it. If not, let it go. 2. Is it adding lasting value?
A flour sifter incorporates air into the flour which makes the resulting baked goods light and fluffy. Is what you are holding onto adding value to your life that will produce something even better in the long run?
If yes, then hold on to it. If not, let it go.
So, what sorts of things need to be sifted...
- memories (more specifically, the way we interpret memories)
- relationships (careful here, grace is always the first resort)
- recurring thoughts
- possessions (or our attachment to them)
If the flour sifter example is any indicator, things get clumpy the longer they sit. Why not run the stagnant, clumpy parts of your life through the sifter and see what happens...
chances are there are some things that you've held on to that need to be broken up (reevaluated), filled with air (reinvigorated or reframed), and thoroughly filtered (keeping the good and releasing the impure and untruthful).Hosea 10:12
"Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you." ESV
The video below is a PERFECT example of a life that has been well sifted.
This is Luke McMaster. He is a multiplatinum song-writer who recently launched a solo career with a billboard hit song - "Good Morning Beautiful." About a month ago, just before Christmas, a friend of mine from childhood was facing a heart surgery for her 3 year old daughter, Elouise. Prior to her surgery, Elouise's grandma introduced her to "Good Morning Beautiful" and it became her favorite song. They tweeted Luke McMaster (a stranger to them) a picture of Elouise listening to the song before going into surgery. He promised to record a special version just for her.
The thing is, he actually did it.
He chose to be delightful.
He didn't have to. Elouise came through her surgery beautifully and would have lived a happy life without a personalized version of a billboard hit song. But he did it anyway. This isn't the first story or video to inspire this kind of attitude that I've come across lately: Jon Acuff wrote this blog post called Choose To Be Delightful
about his experience at Trader Joe's, and if you haven't been watching the Kid President videos
... well then you are missing out big time!
I guess the theme is, Why NOT be delightful?! It only takes a few extra moments of your time and makes a HUGE difference in the world around you.
P.S. You can get Luke McMaster's debut album, "All Roads," on iTunes or Amazon. (not a paid endorsement, I just think it is great to support artists who take the time to be delightful
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?
If you haven't read Seth Godin's blog, you are missing out. I've been pondering one of his posts for a few days now and realized I should really pass along some of my favorites. Next time you and I sit down for coffee, tell me what your favorite is and we are guaranteed
to have great conversation as a result. Here are links to my top 10 favorite posts (lately anyway) and quotes from each that stood out to me:
1. Beyond Showing Up
. "Showing up and taking notes isn't your job. Your job is to surprise and delight and change the agenda
2. Question the Question
. "The best creative solutions don't come from finding good answers to the questions that are presented. They come from inventing new questions
3. Empathy Takes Effort
. "It is easier to walk on by, to compartmentalize and to isolate ourselves. Easier, but not worth it
4. Nonprofits Have A Charter To Be Innovators
. "We're doing important work, our funders count on us to be daring and bold and brave, because the work we're doing is too important to play it safe
5. Anticipation vs. Anxiety
. "When you work with anticipation you will highlight the highs. You'll double down on the things that will delight and push yourself even harder to be bold and to create your version of art.
. "Perfecting your talk, refining your essay and polishing your service until all elements of you disappear might be obvious tactics, but they remove the thing we're looking for: you
7. Fighting With vs. Fighting For
. "They are similar emotions and efforts but they lead to very different outcomes
8. Waiting For All the Facts
. "The real question isn't whether you have all the facts. The real question is, 'Do I know enough to make a useful decision?' (and no decision is still a decision)
9. Two Questions Behind Every Disagreement
. "Are we on the same team? and What's the right path forward?
10. How to Run a Problem-Solving Meeting
. "5. At least one person, perhaps the host, should have a point of view about what the best course is, but anyone who comes should only be invited if they are willing to change their position
When I was growing up I practiced two things seriously - gymnastics/cheerleading and piano. In high school, I stopped practicing piano because I lost interest and in college, after taking a gymnastics class that humbled me to my core, I stopped practicing that too. Today I can play a couple of songs on the piano and I might be able to do a cartwheel if I stretched REALLY well first... other than that, there is nothing about me or my life now that suggests that I spent hundreds of hours of my life PRACTICING these two disciplines. Why is that? Because I stopped practicing those things and started practicing other things.
I was thinking about that this week when I read several verses in the Bible that talk about practice. It made me want to know more about what the Bible says is worthy of our life-long practice, not just a few years of devotion, but a lifetime! This is what I learned.
FIVE THINGS TO PRACTICE AND ONE WARNING:
1. We are to practice FEARING GOD. Why? Because that is where true wisdom and understanding begins.
Psalm 111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!
2. We are to practice TRUTH, HONOR, JUSTICE, PURITY, LOVE, and EXCELLENCE. Why? Because the God of Peace will be with us in those endeavors.
Philippians 4:8-9 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
3. We are to practice USING OUR UNIQUE GIFTS. Why? So we can be a blessing to others.
1 Timothy 4:13-15 Paul tells Timothy, "Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress."
4. We are to practice DISCERNING GOOD FROM EVIL. Why? Because this demonstrates our maturity and enables us to teach others.
Hebrews 5:12-14 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
5. We are to practice FAITH, VIRTUE, KNOWLEDGE, SELF-CONTROL, STEADFASTNESS, GODLINESS, BROTHERLY AFFECTION, and LOVE. Why? Because these things keep us from being ineffective.
2 Peter 1:5-10 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.
What would happen if we added these 5 areas to our "to do" list each week?
What would happen if we put our time and energy into practicing the things that God says are worthy of our effort and stopped putting so much time and energy to the things that are not?
1 WARNING: Avoid preaching without practicing. Why? You become a hypocrite and you set others up for failure.
Matthew 23:2-4, Jesus says: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat,so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger."
Time to practice.
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