Thursday, January 16, 2014
Saturday, December 21, 2013
Every year at Christmas two prominent questions circulate through families: “What do you want?” and “What did you get?” If we aren’t intentional, the idea of giving takes a back seat to our own wish lists of toys and treasures.
After the celebrations are over, how often do we ask this question, “What did you give for Christmas?” And, how do we teach our children about the joy of giving when we bombard them with questions about what they want? Don’t misunderstand me. I love the excitement of surprising my children with things under the tree and watching their faces light up when I open a gift they’ve specially chosen for me. But, how do we, who have been blessed with so much, extend beyond our four walls and demonstrate to those who have nothing that we care? Jesus, the most costly gift ever given, came for all humanity, including the poor and downtrodden. If we do nothing to reach out, what example are we setting for our families? Will that not perpetuate self-centeredness?
Most years we purchase gifts for children through the Salvation Army Angel Tree program. Every year, with a deadline looming, I frantically shop for gifts with minutes to spare and lug them to the drop off site. The announcement at dinner, “Hey, I bought gifts today from our family for a little girl who wouldn’t have any presents under the tree,” falls flat evidenced by their impassionate, uninvolved nods.
Like the contests that require one to be present to win, so children must participate to learn the inestimable value of giving. So this year for the first time, my daughter, Maddie and I trudged through stores searching for just the right things for two girls. How much better to have my daughter with me to save these girls from some serious fashion faux pas had I been shopping solo!
After delivering the bags of gifts, the field trip experience began to impact Maddie’s mind. She asked, “So, you mean, this is all these girls are going to receive for Christmas?”
“And, they won’t know we gave it to them?”
“Wow! That’s really cool, Mom. They can’t even repay us or say thank you.”
“No, it’s just like what Jesus did for us when he came as a baby. He gave with no strings, and we can never repay him.”
After a bit of silence, my 12-year-old wistfully whispered, “I sure wish I could see their faces when they open those gifts.”
“Me too, Maddie. Me too.”
I know the One who gave us Himself sees those young girls open the small gifts we gave in His name. And now, my daughter sees as well—that we can impact the world around us—one gift of love at a time.
What will you give this Christmas?photo credit: amandacphoto via photopin cc
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Last week, while out of the country with my hubby, I received a distressing email from a colleague removing me from a writing project. It wasn’t her decision, and while she tried to spill the beans as gently as possible, the news still wounded, inflamed jealousy, and incited anger. My head understood the reasons why, but my heart felt that I deserved more for the hours logged tapping keys. Ill-timed in the middle of a glorious trip in the Serengeti Desert, perhaps the earth-shattering update could’ve waited for a face to face conversation. Still, there's no such thing as perfect timing for painful news, is there?
Life is filled with the unexpected, isn’t it? We never anticipate what is around the next bend in the road. Most of the time, we truck along without thinking about any potential head-on crashes or side swipes. We don’t anticipate someone or something interrupting our smooth sailing, and in a split second, life changes.
The surprising diagnosis of breast cancer, startling death of a loved one, abrupt end of a marriage, miscarriage in late pregnancy, estranged family relationship, unplanned pregnancy, loss of a writing job can happen as sudden as it takes to send an email across the world. Unfortunately, I know real live people, including me, who have been the recipients of such devastating reports in recent days.
Unfortunately, sucking in breath on God’s green earth equates to facing disappointment at some point. I can’t press the escape or delete key when it comes to tragedy. Because I live in a broken world, unforeseen events come with the territory. I can choose, however, how I respond to these unplanned catastrophes.
My human nature cries, “Unfair!” I certainly deserve better than this, right?! The very phrase I spout so quickly to my children comes ringing back in my ear, “Life is not fair.” It’s so much easier to say than experience. The two year old in me emits its ugly self as I pout and stomp my feet in rebellion against this unpredicted bend in the road. I didn’t ask for this interruption, and the world will know it.
Yet, there is another way to handle these crises that crash into my life without warning. I’ve coined it, “But…God,” simply because when I frame the disruption of my plan in the light of His purpose, my perspective changes. Down deep, I am convinced God desires the best for me, so I know He will somehow work good in even this out of the blue predicament. And yes, the Enemy lurks, evil abounds and life happens, so I shouldn’t be surprised that my journey feels like a roller coaster that jumped off the tracks.
Still, God promises His presence always, in every situation, no matter how ugly. And I’ve witnessed that truth firsthand—through divorce, single-parenting, financial pressures, parenting teens, difficult family relationships and now this writing obstacle. I don’t understand God’s plan and purpose, but He sees what I do not see. His vision is perfect; mine is flawed. Thus, while I deal with disappointment and specifically this setback, I trust God to work more of His character in me and reveal my new direction.
What disappointments have you faced? What has been your typical response?
“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” Romans 5:3-5 NLT
Monday, October 28, 2013
Last night I dreamed about riding the transit bus. Weird? Yes! But, it’s “waste” week in The 7 Experiment Study, so I’ll chalk it up to that. Like you might be, I was confused about what this week entailed. If you guessed recycling, gardening, buying local, shopping thrift and second-hand, conserving energy and water, composting and driving only one car (hence, the bus dream), you win the prize.
Why is it these fasting weeks occur at the most inopportune times in my life? My hubby and I are traveling in a week, and I need to purchase last minute articles at Target, not mom and pop stores. Not to mention, our Roof-Crasher’s (aka RC) Bible study will be packing Operation Christmas Child boxes this week, and I’d like to buy the needed items at a cheap chain store where I can use coupons. Can that count as being thrifty? And, sharing a car doesn’t work in a family that spends four days a week driving to gymnastics an hour away. Gardening? If only summer would return, I’d be planting before you could say zucchini. October has my permission to chase Old Man Winter into Never Never Land.
Sarcasm aside, waste week for me will be a hodgepodge of elements. Since we already recycle, drive a hybrid, organize errands strategically in order to conserve time and gas, consume leftovers, monitor our home electricity and gas, what else could we possibly do? Honestly, thrift store shopping fell off my list of options the minute I read it. I can’t even stomach garage sales (sorry, dad).
One area that I should incorporate into my regular lifestyle is buying from local vendors. I struggle with this mostly because I clip coupons to save money. It’s difficult to justify buying local when I am saving money for my family. Yet, wouldn’t that be the best way to support small businesses in my community? I have also been lax when it comes to bringing my own recycled bags to the grocery store. Week after week they lay in the dark trunk of my car, but I continuously forget to bring them inside the store.
So, I’ve placed two additional goals on my list this week: buying local and using recycled bags.
In her study, Jen Hatmaker quotes from Wendell Berry’s book, What are People For?:
“The ecological teaching of the Bible is simply inescapable: God made the world because He wanted it made. He thinks the world is good, and He loves it. It is His world; He has never relinquished title to it. And He has never revoked the conditions, bearing on His gift to us of the use of it, that oblige us to take excellent care of it. If God loves the world, then how might any person of faith be excused for not loving it or justified in destroying it?”
Photo courtesy of Apple's Eyes Studio, FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Saturday, October 26, 2013
Thirty years ago, media encompassed television and radio. That’s it. Nothing else. No one owned personal computers. The internet lived in someone’s head. Al Gore’s, so I’m told! IPhones and iPads didn’t exist. Responding to a phone message might take days instead of minutes. No one Googled anything or Facebooked anyone. And a “pin” was something you wore on a sweater not put on your Pinterest board.
Giving up media for seven days might have been a bit easier than it is today. Approaching this week in The 7 Experiment, by Jen Hatmaker, gave me anxiety. Thus far, I’ve fasted a week in food, clothes, possessions, and now this tough area. Unplug completely? Very tough in this age of texting, emailing, internet surfing, and Facebook stalking.
My plan for the week seemed doable. NO Facebook; no Words with Friends or Dice Buddies (sorry, friends); necessary texts only; use of computer only for sending and responding to necessary emails, writing and homeschool purposes; one hour of television a day.
Sigh. I failed miserably. All texts became vitally important. And, movies don’t count as television, do they? How about watching the Colts beat the Broncos? My husband told me neither was “technically” television, and since I must submit to his leadership…Well, you know the rest of the story, folks. Then, before I realized it, I read someone’s blog post. Oops! I wasn’t supposed to do that. It reminds me of the few times (almost nonexistent, in fact) I’ve eliminated sweets from my diet and remembered right in the middle of eating a piece of chocolate cake. Unexplainably, however, the one area I did not cheat was Facebook even though 14 notifications taunted me.
So, what’s the point of all this besides realizing that I’m a failure at a full-blown media fast…and I’m not sure I really want to do this ever again?
Creating space for quiet, contemplation and communication is important. If I’m always plugged in, how can this possibly occur? When family moments are dominated by texting, viewing television and surfing the internet, true connection can’t happen. I’m just as guilty as my children at letting media distract me from truly being with people. When I hear the ding of a text message while conversing with my hubby, I’m distracted and driven to read it promptly. Finishing an email or reading an article on the computer becomes more important than my child’s concern. I too often let the media device displace the person present.
This week, I was less preoccupied with gadgets and more engaged with my family and friends. The Facebook world interacted without me, and quite honestly, I didn’t miss some of the emotions that rise from posted statuses, like political rants and inappropriate public displays of affection. And, since my status stayed silent, I didn’t intermittently pop on Facebook to check my “likes”.
This morning marked the end of my fast. Immediately, after clicking on Facebook and scrolling through the newsfeed, jealousy flashed like Fireworks on the 4th of July. While Facebook employs positive community elements, it also exacerbates a few emotions with which I struggle. This short absence from Facebook gave me a reprieve from the daily flaring of those ugly feelings.
The most significant lesson I grasped during this absence of media (except for my propensity to justify cheating), is the misplaced priority I’ve given to some modes. Because Facebook was removed from my diet, I looked for different ways to interact. I took opportunities to meet with local friends, and focus undistracted on my family. My multi-tasking excuse—I can play games on the Ipad, talk to my daughter, search the internet, and text brilliantly at the same time—becomes a poor attempt to rationalize time management. However, I realized that I haven’t handled my time well, because I am distracted.
So, what if I didn’t return to media as usual? What if I ignored my phone’s chirps in order to be present with people? What if I checked Facebook once a day instead of sporadically all day? What If I determined to control my time, not let the call of media waste it?
Jen Hatmaker writes, “But I think if we shut down some of the noise and static, we might find more God, more neighborly love, more family, more life. May we be only under the control of Jesus who fills our minds with hope and truth and grace unending.”
Are you ready to shut out some noise, and be present with your peeps?photo credit: Ed Yourdon via photopin cc
Saturday, October 19, 2013
Several years ago I sat facing Claudia, our women’s minister, with tears welling up, threatening to trickle down my face, making a mess of my mascara. Not a pretty sight to behold. The visit wasn’t what I expected. I had entered with an agenda in mind but received something entirely different.
For a few years, I had been involved in a women’s Bible study called Roof-Crashers, the name based on the Bible story in Luke 5 in which the friends crashed through the roof for the paralytic because they knew Jesus could heal him. I began as a participant, graduated to a table discussion facilitator, and most recently led the Connect team, which was created to provide a welcoming and warm environment for all attending the study. To say that I felt uncomfortable, inadequate and unqualified in these leadership roles is an understatement. Most of the time, I felt like a bunny living at the North Pole. Completely out.of.place.
The words that came from Claudia’s voice, however, were not those that questioned my ability, my talents, or my qualifications. She simply proclaimed, “You have leadership gifts. You are a leader. Will you help lead Roof-Crashers?”
I’d have turned up my hearing aids if I had any. Thoughts pinged in my brain like a pinball machine. What in the world is she talking about? Me, a leader? Me, lead Roof-Crashers, a Bible study of over 100 women? She must have me mixed up with someone else, because I wouldn’t even know what to do!
I would’ve looked around to locate the woman she was talking to, but I knew we were the only two in the office. What do you do with words that bring hope to a dying dream? Words that breathe life into a desire that was buried? Words that infuse soul into a subconsciously held belief that you nixed greater leadership opportunities due to a failed marriage? Let me tell you what happens.
You wake up from the lies the enemy has whispered to you. Oh, it’s not like I thought I was completely washed up or relegated to a bench warmer. It’s just that down deep in my heart, I figured that my failures limited my usability factor. After all, once people saw the big “D” on my sweater, they would fling me to the bin of botched break-ups, where I’d be relegated to behind the scene, second hand roles. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, but I certainly couldn’t serve in any greater capacity. I imagined whispers behind my back. “Why is she leading when she’s been divorced? If she couldn’t make her marriage work, why should we listen to her? What right does she have to be in this leadership position?”
When Claudia looked at me, however, she didn’t envision my past failure and write me off as unusable. Instead, she perceived that which even I did not see and spoke it into existence like God calling the sun, moon and stars into being. Her voice invited me to take a position that I thought reserved for the faultless and flawless.
Yet, if we look at biblical history, Jesus chose the broken, battered and beaten down to carry His message of unfailing love. Because they experienced His forgiveness and mercy, they were perfect examples to the lost. Who better to tell the message of grace than the woman at the well with five previous husbands and a live in boyfriend, or the woman caught in the act of adultery? Their culture rebuffed and rejected them, but Jesus spoke life-giving words into their souls, and they were filled with hope.
It’s when we recognize our brokenness that Jesus can breathe life into those painful places, and we can be used to spread His light to others who need a resurrection. When we realize that leading anyone is not about reaching a state of perfection, but about God working in and through our messy lives to reach a broken world, we rise up in His strength and power—even when we don’t know what the heck we are doing!
Our qualification to lead comes from Him calling us to use our broken pieces to summon the shattered to shine in a dark world.
In the middle of your muddled mess, let God renew your soul with His words of life to lead right where you are, right now!
photo credit: pedrosimoes7 via photopin cc
Friday, October 11, 2013
It's Five Minute Friday once again where many of us write for 5 minutes straight...the word is ordinary:
Devastating words can turn an ordinary day upside down.
It was an ordinary day, an ordinary trip to Taco Bell for the girls in the office, an ordinary drive back—almost 16 years ago. Until I walked in the door. Until my co-worker said that the pastor wanted to see me. Until I stepped into his office where my husband sat waiting.
Why was he here? What was going on? Thoughts breezed through my head like wind whipping through the trees.
Then the painful, heartbreaking words flew out. Words that flipped an ordinary day into the hardest in a matter of seconds. Words that ripped deep into my soul and made me feel less than, not enough and definitely ugly. Words that overturned my marriage in one instant.
Oh, how I longed to return to an ordinary day.