"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Psalm 51:10

Monday, October 28, 2013

Caring for Creation



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?”




Yes. Exactly. 




Photo courtesy of Apple's Eyes Studio, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Going Offline



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

Broken and Unqualified




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

An Ordinary Day

Five Minute Friday

It's Five Minute Friday once again where many of us write for 5 minutes straight...the word is ordinary:

Ready? Go!



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.



Stop!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

How's Your Eyesight?



“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:21

If our treasures steer our hearts, what does it mean when women can tote boxes and bags of clothes, books, baby items, canned food and other miscellaneous objects to donate and still have a houseful of goodies? It’s surely a generous act to think of others in need; however, what does it say about us that we possess that much overflowing our closets and homes? That we can give away items we will miss as much as the $5.00 we drop at Starbucks without a second thought.

Almost the length of one wall in this massive room was piled with items going to 8 different organizations within the community and beyond: Crisis Pregnancy Center, My Sister’s Closet, Honduras, New Leaf New Life, Kirkwood Mealshare, Salvation Army, Shalom Center and Backstreet Missions. The idea behind “possessions” week, the 3rd chapter in the Jen Hatmaker study, The 7 Experiment, involved giving away our castoffs to those less fortunate.

To get the back story regarding this particular study, read these earlier posts about food and clothes. The premise about possessions, according to Jen, is this: “How do we manage our wealth, financial priorities, and possessions with godliness and integrity?” Instantly convicting when I consider how American culture impacts and influences my decisions regarding the belongings with which I simply can’t survive. With brimming food pantries, bulging closets, bursting toy chests and wall-to-wall furniture, what possesses me to shove more into my four walls? And, just how large are my four walls?

Just think about it for a minute. When we get married, we most likely first reside in an itty bitty apartment with one bedroom, one bath, a kitchen and living room. We can’t buy too much or our furniture will push us out the door.  My son and daughter-in-law live in an apartment like that with just barely enough room for a table that seats four and a small sectional.
However, as typical Americans, we save money so that someday we can purchase a larger space for our expanding family. God forbid we should live in an apartment for the rest of our lives and waste rent money. We need an investment and more acreage. After all, when we birth our children, they each need their own rooms and a colossal yard with a swing set and trampoline (with an enclosure, of course). Our new place will need a play room otherwise their bedrooms will be overrun with toys. Oh, and we need a bathroom for mommy and daddy, one for guests and perhaps a jack and jill for the little ones. We buy into this mentality because we drink the Kool-Aid, we live in America, and frankly, this is just how we do it here. So, we move into our new place after living in an apartment the size of an anthill, and immediately, our one table with 4 chairs and sectional look lonely in that colossal castle. More house means more stuff to collect. And so, the vicious cycle of buying, filling, purging, buying, filling, purging begins.

Lest you think I’m censuring everyone that lives in a nice house with a bedroom for each child and a big backyard with a playground, I’m looking at my own reflection. I bought into the American dream with a mammoth mansion of 5 bedrooms and four baths. Can you say crazy? Actually, it didn’t seem that big when all 5 of us filled the place, and it certainly came in handy for those big family gatherings—once a year. But, could we have been just as happy in a smaller, more conservative house boasting three bedrooms and fewer bathrooms? In terms of cleaning, I shout a resounding yes!

Happiness doesn’t depend on the size of my house or the number of possessions I own; instead, it’s found within relationships—of my husband and my children and those whom I welcome inside these walls. Who cares about the wall art, the furniture and the d├ęcor? Do those who walk through my door feel love, acceptance and kindness? Or, do I apologize for the cluttered counter, the dog’s diarrhea stain on the carpet or the mound of unfolded clothes still on the sofa? Do I convey to guests that I am embarrassed that our master bedroom and bathroom are as large as our living room and kitchen combined—that it seems grossly extravagant? Why do I feel this need to explain, justify, and apologize when friends come over to connect not criticize?

I’d like to think that stuff isn’t that important to me, but I believe down deep I’m just deceiving myself. I freely donate my daughter’s clothes to one of her friends; I’ve given away many books, furniture and other things our family doesn’t use; we support various non-profit organizations; we sponsor a World Vision child in Africa; and yet, we still accumulate. Our culture tells us we need the latest gadgets and gismos. We covet what our friends’ purchase. Going to the mall fuels our desire for more. It becomes an insatiable thirst to keep up with others.

Jen says, “Darkness is never more dangerous than when we’re plunged in it and think we can see.” The question lingers: do I think I have good eyes, but a 2x4 blocks my vision? Without my contacts, people appear like blurry blobs of flesh. Occasionally, my hubby will ask me as we prepare for bed if my “eyes” are still in so I can give my opinion about his clothing choice for the next morning. If I’ve already removed my contacts, I scoot about two inches from what he’s holding, squint to bring the objects into focus and give him a yes or no. Those with horrible eyesight understand the significant impact contacts or glasses make in bringing objects into focus. Without them, a world is formless and a mesh of colors blending together.

If I acknowledge my physical eyesight is no good without correction, what about my spiritual eyesight? What are the lies with which I convince myself about money and possessions?

“I’m doing enough already.”

“Someone else will help.”

“I’ve worked hard, so I deserve this.”

“I’m buying this for a good reason.”

So, now what? Do we put our houses on the market and sell everything we own because of the pile of guilt in our front yard? Most likely not, unless God has directed you to. Or, do we carry on as usual, accumulating assets, ignoring the great needs around us? Nope, not this either! Actually, change begins when we remove the scales from our eyes to see the needs around us. We make small steps in the direction of giving, serving and helping whenever and wherever we see an opportunity.

“Every day we have incremental chances to store up heavenly treasures, to foster good eyes, to be filled with light, to serve and love our God and His people.” Jen Hatmaker

I desperately desire to foster good eyes, how about you?




What are the lies you tell yourself about money and possessions?



What can you do this week to be generous?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Write

Five Minute Friday


I struggle with this mechanic called writing. To write or not to write, that is the question I contemplate often. I seem to have this love-hate relationship with the process. 

Some days procrastination takes over until a deadline looms over my head pushing me to the keyboard. My housecleaning, oddly enough, operates similarly. When a houseful of guests descend upon me, I’m all hurry and scurry, mopping and sweeping to get the house in order.


Other days, I can’t wait to get to the computer to put thoughts, ideas, words down in streams of sentences. Attempting to put clarity to the swirls of thought in my head. 

And, five minute Friday? It’s a complete panic for me, honestly. I feel like someone has a gun to my head as I race against the clock putting some semblance of clarity to the thick mess in my head. 

Like right now!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Bouncing Her Way


I am shocked, stunned, surprised about this homeschooling adventure with my daughter, Maddie. A few weeks ago, I talked about the years I spouted never will I ever in a billion years homeschool. The reasons not to homeschool appeared starkly obvious to me: a) her precious life could be endangered—by me, b) 7th grade math includes story problems—sorry, dad, I still don’t understand, and c) my lunch ministry will suffer—okay, it’s pretty much nonexistent. The point is, we trudged forward, and guess what? She still lives, YouTube helps with math, and I escape every so often for lunch with a friend.

I’ve discovered a few things in this short journey thus far. I may or may not have made a premature judgment regarding whether a certain type of child could handle schooling at home. Okay, I did, all right? I always believed that if I were forced to choose homeschooling or be burned at the stake, I could school the older two who would’ve performed well since they have always been self-motivated, disciplined, conscientious students. Of course, I never entertained the outrageous notion of homeschooling them, and most definitely not Maddie, the distracted, unfocused, bouncing-off-the-walls baby-of-the-family who couldn’t sit still if a bomb was attached to her. Hence, what kind of crazy middle-aged mom considers locking herself in this prison cell?

Just call me “loco” because here I ruminate, pounding keys about the astonishing advantages of doing school with this independent, spirited tween. Throughout her years of public school, she couldn’t sit still, focus, or remain quiet. She disagreed openly with peers (mostly about the illogical arguments of the Big Bang Theory), visited the school nurse frequently (with a variety of ailments) and couldn’t complete tasks in a timely manner. At home, this girl stays motivated, works diligently and fidgets to her heart’s content. She bounces on an exercise ball while writing. Maddie studies in my bed, on the floor and hanging lopsided over a chair. She takes short lunch breaks because she has to “get back to work.” Her words, her idea, not mine. She takes responsibility for her learning. Maddie doubles up on her work during the week, so she has less to complete on Friday.

Frankly, I’m wondering if someone switched daughters on me because this is not the Maddie I know. Oh, sure, she still has those days in which she can’t focus. But, it’s not due to outside distractions of overfilled classrooms, hallway drama or girlfriend arguments. And, even if it takes her two hours to finish math, a bell doesn’t ring signaling she must move on nor does a teacher stand by her desk waiting to collect a paper she’s scurrying to finish. If she takes more time on one subject, she has the opportunity to quickly complete the next. The decision is hers. She’s realizing that in a traditional classroom, she was required to move with the masses. Now, however, she can move at her own pace, in a learning style that fits her.

What am I learning? I can be patient with a squirmy, non-traditional student with ants in her pants. Learning new things can be fascinating, like watching interesting YouTube videos of an octopus choking a shark to death.  Two years of high school Latin (thank you, Mr. McCraith) wasn't a waste of time. And, last but not least, I shouldn’t judge how someone will do in a situation until tested.

The bottom line regarding any school decision is to consider the needs of each child. At this point, we’ve run the gamut of private, public and homeschool. We’ve encountered positives and negatives in each arena. Do your homework, evaluate your children, ask God for wisdom in your decision and move forward in the direction you feel prompted. Don’t worry about others’ opinions. You do what’s best for your family.


I’d love to hear about your school experiences!


What school choice have you made for your children, and why did you choose that particular option?