Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Our Family in Iowa is Moving to Minnesota

Many of you that read my blog know that I did a challenge to write every day in Lent. Early in April I broke my promise and chose to pray daily and keep a private journal.

Early in April Brent was approaching graduation for his Masters degree. His final class was in April and in May he graduated. During this process he also started looking for an ideal job that would follow the career path that he desired for himself. Although I knew it was coming I was not ready for the bitterness that would settle in my heart as we anxiously awaited the next chapter of our lives. For the last three years I have known that we would most likely move out of state. I just didn't know where and when. These last months, they were the hardest. Every time I sat down to write, to journal, only anxiety poured out. Instead of blogging about that I chose to be silent. I chose to pray.

The hardest things ever to face are the unknown. Fear can settle in fast when you can't control your future. Even if the future holds promise, anxiety can really take a toll on the most joyful of hearts. I am a planner. An over planner who over commits and wants to get busy at work right away. Waiting to plan, that is hard for me.

After months of waiting anxiously (and it felt like years!) to find out what happens next I am excited to announce that Brent accepted a job offer in Minneapolis. Brent will be working for Honeywell in Golden Valley starting July 7th. The kids and I will move late this summer, once we are done with summer activities here.

I'm not really excited about packing. I don't like moving. I'm also definitely NOT excited about Minnesota winters. I would prefer somewhere warmer to be perfectly honest. But hey maybe the kids will finally get to play hockey and I hear we have some skiing options in the winter. And it is still in the Midwest, close to most of our family in a really cool city. *silver lining*

However, it is going to be really difficult leaving behind all of the wonderful people here in Iowa. I know we will visit and we will see family and friends from time to time. I know also that many will make the drive to visit us. Note: you guys better come visit!!! But not being able to drop in for that book club, or youth outing, or playdate, or meeting for drinks at the wine bar or being close to Kinnick for tailgates and just a short drive from family--that won't be easy.

I'm not good at goodbyes, I get overly emotional and say stupid stuff. So forgive me if I sound like I think it is the end of the world. We do know how huge of a blessing this is for our family. We are excited to start a new adventure but saying goodbye to these things is bitter sweet.

If there is one thing I want to say, it is that we could not have been more blessed, more encouraged, and more supported by our friends and family. It is going to be hard to leave home. I don't know where our journey will take us. I don't know what kind of adventures we will have next. What I do know is that Our Family will always call Iowa home. Always. 

Thank you friends. Please keep in touch. :-)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

China

This time last year Brent and I were in China. Brent had to go for class as part of his masters program. Me, I just really wanted an excuse to go to China. I was not going to take no for a China. I had wanted to travel there for years. I still want to go back.

I love the USA and I love living in Iowa. However, there is just something about traveling the world and seeing new places that I love. Seeing other cultures and experiencing different things. I love learning about other countries. The variety and differences among people, they are what I love in life.

We met so many neat people in both Beijing and Shanghai. We got to negotiate and barter our price when shopping, we tried foods that we had never tried and we visited a number of places that both of us had never been as well as ones Brent had been to before. We came home with so many fun stories to share with friends.


My favorite thing we did in Shanghai was our Huangpu river boat cruise at night where we saw all of the lights along the Bund and the Oriental pearl tower. We almost missed it even because of me, I am so glad we made it to the boat on time. I also really loved visiting places outside of Shanghai. Brent I think enjoyed visiting World of Joyland the most but my favorite was a town called Zhujiajiao. It was a little town built around water canals. Full of historical gardens but still a modest city it had lots of charm.


In Beijing who cannot love visiting Tiananmen Square or the Great Wall. My favorite activity was a Hutong bike tour that allowed us to visit one of the few remaining neighborhoods in Beijing. We visited a local family, a Eastern medicine pharmacy and hospital and dined at a local dumpling restaurant before visiting the Summer palace. The Summer palace had all of the magnolia flowers in full bloom and it was just a sight to see.


I don't know when we will go back to China. I just know I will go again. There are so many places there I still want to see. I want to go to more historical cities like Xian and I want to view more of the rice terraces and other natural wonders in China that are off the beaten path. I studied so much of the arts and history of China in college. Today I just want to see it all for myself. I love that my family all loves China as much as I do. My own kids share our love of traveling and want to visit China. Brent used to live there but even he still has many places he has not seen and would like to go to again.


It might be dreaming but someday I would like to just travel the world. China would be at the top of the list.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Treasures


Spring is here and the nice weather means that new life is stirring outside. Our yard has little tulips and daffodils starting to peek up through the dirt. We are all anxious awaiting for them to pop up and bring color and new life into this world. Every morning I can hear all the birds and squirrels outside our windows.Our yard has never looked great (yard work is not on our list of priorities) but hey it is starting to be green again.

Spring doesn't just bring with it new life, it brings with it new beginnings.

This winter has just been hard. The harsh weather has meant that we have been maybe a little too close to each other. There are only so many activities to do with young kids. We are all eager to get outside and enjoy the sun. There are wide open spaces, with plenty of distance between each other to spare. Now that spring is here I am so thankful for the chance to escape and bring a little fun back in our days. Most of all I am ready for the return of sanity. Also an end to the season of shoveling. And shoveling. And shoveling. And snow days and school delays. I am over those too.

Both of our boys are enjoying playing soccer, basketball, jumping on the trampoline with the neighbor kids, and riding their bikes. Eleanor is learning how to ride a bike and loves going on walks with Oliver every morning to the park. We have already gone through a brand new box of chalk and are ready to break out the bubble and kites this week.

We had our first picnic lunch this week and last week we had s'mores with friends. For the first weekend in forever we had an entire Saturday free to spend as a family at home just doing nothing. We just hung out and had nowhere to go. We managed to get some tasks done, but mostly we just spent time together.

This morning I wasn't fully awake and I was not really excited about the day. I was just exhausted. I threw an outfit together, brushed my teeth, decided my hair looked okay, and that I could wait on the shower. After breakfast and taking Thomas to school I took Eleanor on a wagon ride, my big coffee mug in one hand and the wagon handle in the other. Oliver rode ahead of us on his bike. It just felt good. The kids were so excited to be going to the park. I was excited because we weren't inside. I was happy because I had more than a second to gather my thoughts while they were occupied playing outside. I had coffee even. It was cold already, but I didn't care because I had coffee and that was enough.

My house, it was a disaster. A weeks worth of clean laundry needed put away. My kitchen and bathroom I won't even describe. My living room had the contents of a spilled cereal baggie that I still needed to sweep up from this morning's breakfast. My papers were scattered all across the couch from after class and my purse lay dumped out on the floor because my two year decided to search it for money or candy, I'm not sure which.

None of this bothered me. Normally this would have made me loose my sanity. Truthfully it would have. Today though, I really didn't care. I knew I would get to it all eventually. Today, we were going to just get outside.

Life gets fast sometimes or painful. Life can also get boring or lonely. Sometimes we get disconnected and sometimes we just need space. It is little things like these that make me happy. They are little moments to be treasured. They are blessings.

I have so much gratitude for days like today and this last week. Some days just are crappy. I mean really, we have all had them. But the good ones are like medicine for our souls, they make them not matter. There are bad days. But there are always good days too. There is always something better waiting for us. A treasure to be found.

Matthew 6:21 says that "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

I am so thankful that God would give me little treasures like these. They are not treasures that we think about here on earth, but treasures of our heart and soul. They are gifts. I know I take them for granted a lot, but I am thankful for them today. Treasures like these are important.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Disciples and Labels

One of my favorite things to study is the relationships that Jesus had in the bible. In particular I enjoy reading about the first 12 disciples. After Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by the devil he departed to Galilee and began his ministry of preaching to others. This is where he met the disciples and asked them to follow him.

The first disciples Jesus choose are important because none of them were perfect. Consistently throughout the Gospels we read how Jesus taught the disciples who God really was and what His word really means. Jesus choose a group of men with rough edges at best, sketchy backgrounds if we are talking truthfully, and at the worst would abandon Jesus in his greatest hour of need.

There was Matthew the greedy and corrupt tax collector and Thomas the doubter who didn't believe that Jesus was risen. There was Judas who betrayed Jesus and plotted to turn Jesus over to the officials. There was also Peter who denied Jesus in the hours leading up to his death and all throughout the Gospel had a rocky faith. He was either all in or all out. The rest of the disciples were not any more qualified. Jesus chose Simon who was a rebel fighting against corrupt government. He also chose Bartholomew who questioned whether Jesus was the real deal because he came from Nazareth, and what good would come from a poor town like that. The rest we know very little about, only that some were a tough group of fishermen.

So what do a bunch of fishermen, a rebel, tax collector, a doubter, a betrayer, and a denier and a brown-noser have in common?

They were not perfect and they all needed Jesus. These men all had labels. Some of them had very imperfect backgrounds that were questionable at best. But Jesus saw in them something good. He saw in them value. They were the diamonds in the rough (literally) that would become the rock of the early church. It is through Jesus' relationships with the disciples and early followers that we understand what Jesus was really teaching. Jesus was teaching us the power of love.

If Jesus saw value in a group of men as imperfect at the disciples, you can bet he sees good in us too. Jesus was preaching that through Him, we are made whole.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16 

God loved us so much that he sent his son into this world to save us. This is about God's love for us. God loves us more than enough.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

All of our brokenness, all of our labels, all of the sins of the past (and our future)are all wiped clean with God. Sometimes society sticks us with a label or tells us we need to be something else. Sometimes we do it to ourselves. We tell ourselves that we will never be good enough, strong enough, believe enough, etc. But it doesn't matter what your weakness is or how many flaws you have. God loves you no matter what. Labels don't stick with Jesus. Jesus loved the disciples and he loves us too.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2: 8-9

What a gift grace is! Unconditional love leads to grace. No hoops to jump through, no strings attached, never ending and infinite love. Nothing you can do can make God love you any more, and nothing you can do will make God love you any less. We don't need to be perfect because His love is always enough.

We all carry a label with us. We all think something makes us not good enough. But we are good enough and we are deserving of God's love. We are imperfectly perfect to God. God brought Jesus into this world so that we might know love and love each other. Real love. So that we might be brought out of the darkness too light and that we could become a light to each other.

We don't have to do anything but such a gift like that? It inspires us to love each other. It is so powerful that how can you NOT share it. When something is so good, every part of you wants to share that with others.




This pictures in this post are from our youth group last night. I had the kids look up scriptures about Matthew, Thomas, Peter, and Judas. I had them decide what label each of these disciples had. Before they did this I gave them 60 seconds to write down as many labels as they could think of that defined themselves. While they were working I wrote all of these down. We only had 8 teens and they came up with nearly 50 labels. That is a LOT of labels for any group of young adults to have.

My point was to show them that Jesus doesn't care about these labels. God's love is greater than any label they have. We all need to ditch our labels!

We are the next generation of disciples. I think we really need to lean on the stories of the early disciples and look at their relationships with Jesus. These disciples were not perfect, they got things wrong. But these mistakes and errors did not define their journey. The journey was learning to love God, love ourselves and love others.

It is also okay for us to get things wrong too. It is going to happen. We are no more perfect than the disciples in the early church. We are still writing our own stories and walking our own journeys with Christ. We all will betray or deny Christ at some point in our lives. The important thing is that we focus on love. God teaches us that love wipes out labels. Love should be the center of our relationships. Love is the solid foundation that we need.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

What if our relationship with God is like gravity?


Ever just feel like your life is completely out of control? Rushing back and forth between appointments, errands, and meetings. Maybe it is clutter, maybe it is your relationships, maybe it is your finances or your job, and  maybe you just don't feel like you have the time.

Driving with my kids in tow today I had a thought. We were having our own little "out of control" moment. We were on our way to story time but we were of course on the time and conditions set by my 2 and 5 year old. I was not in control. Not of time. Not of these kids. Not of the traffic lights and stop signs. Honestly I was thinking hey I am just lucky the universe let me have coffee and a running vehicle this morning!

I wasn't exactly upset that I didn't have it all together. Randomness seems to be how life with kids is, nothing is totally in my control. This is something I have to accept every day. Parenting is hard because sometimes we enter a survival parenting zone. The outcome of our efforts is not always in sight and we question ourselves. It seems like we are locked in a battle for our kids.

Today I just needed something to center me. I needed something to pull me together. And I thought, wow! I need gravity!

Gravity is a very powerful part of our life that we don't really understand, but we know it exists. It binds the fabric of our universe together. It is invisible. Still, it pulls on everything and without it nothing could exist.

"We know from Isaac Newton and his law of gravitation that any two objects in the Universe exert a force of attraction on each other. This relationship is based on the mass of the two objects and the distance between them. The greater the mass of the two objects and the shorter the distance between them, the stronger the pull of the gravitational forces they exert on each other." Read more: http://www.universetoday.com/75705/where-does-gravity-come-from/#ixzz2xqg7XRFB

You can kind of picture it as a cloth and a heavy ball. When we place the ball on a suspended piece of cloth the shape of the cloth bends and bows down. It doesn't break, it doesn't tear or rip. Instead the force between the ball and the cloth changes the shape of the cloth.

Gravity is kind of like faith. You can't see it, even fully explain it but it exists and it pulls at us.

God is always calling out to us and our soul pulls him to us too. Our souls want to be centered. The more energy and love we have for God and the closer we get to God, the stronger the pull becomes. We might run away from God, but the pull still exists.


In whose hand is the life of every living thing, And the breath of all mankind? Job 12:10

I needed something to center me today. I needed God to pull me back into orbit.  I needed prayer. I  really wanted that deep connection and relationship with Him today. I needed to know that even though I'm not in control, that I know who runs this universe.

"If God maintains sun and planets in bright and ordered beauty, he can keep us." -F.B. Meyer

God provides the balance that I need. I don't have to be in control because God is in control. God is a real force in this world and it is Him that I can trust in. When we have faith in God, he pulls us in tight. Our relationship with God is like gravity. Things happen in life completely outside of our control but it is because of His love for us that we can trust that God will pull everything together how they need to be. He will pull his arms around us and just love us. Through anything.

We might be afraid, angry, sad or a whole list of emotions but when we give these to God we are opening the door for a relationship with God. When we fully open up our hearts to God we lean in and our relationship grows. It is that trusting to work on that relationship that is the hardest part. We have to work at letting go of control. We let part of ourselves go and let God into our hearts instead. It transforms us.


The real transformation happens because he is always reaching out to us. He is always pulling at the fabric of this universe, working for good. It isn't about the outcome, it is all about His love for us through everything. It is about the gravity in our relationship. It is about His never failing desire to connect with us.

 I don't have to be perfect and have it all together. I don't need to be a perfect mother. I don't need to have all the answers. I need to be centered. I need to focus on God. Even in my imperfection, God gives me gravity. God can work through all of us through prayer. Our relationship with Him challenges us and transforms us to be the imperfect perfect person that we are. God's love is gravity.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Miss Unorganized

I am not an organized person. Actually, I am quite the opposite really. If I ever won an award in the Miss USA competition it would be "Miss Unorganized." Serious, that is the label I would stick myself with.

Lately my inability to "keep it together" has reached a whole new tipping point. We showed up at school today to drop off my preschooler. We were running late (which isn't really a new thing) and I walked him up to the door to discover that guess what? No preschool today. At which point he goes oh yeah I forgot. Of course I am thinking, oh great thanks. The worst part? I didn't even know!

There was a point in time where I was organized enough to keep my dates and appointments and schedule straight and track it in a planner. I even had a calendar up on my wall and a carefully updated Google calendar that linked my email account and my phone calendar. I had it together. I think I was anyways, it has been so long I have forgotten what that looks like. This was the second time this year I have done this with my son. I was expecting some paper trail to come home and remind me that my son had the day off but I either miss it or forget to write it down.

I find it pretty funny that after my little mix up today I would want to torture myself with an organization class at our church tonight about getting rid of clutter. Guys, I have to confess. I have clutter. Lots of clutter I hide before guests come over. Our class leader Becky Esker* said, "Clutter is the failure to make a decision." Boy is that true. I will procrastinate and excuse myself out of dealing with anything.

I need some priorities. I need to mentally free myself of all the clutter in my life. No more excuses, no more obstacles to prevent me from acting. I need to live my life in a way that puts my values first. That takes discipline. That takes knowing what my end goal is and working toward it through real effort.

One of the exercises she gave us was to Start Small using a list by John Maxwell. The first three things is to list 5 areas of life that lack discipline, to prioritize them, and handle them one at a time. To hold myself accountable I am listing them here for all of you to see.

1) Grocery/Meal Planning
2) Exercise
3) Prayer
4) Laundry/Chores
annnnnd
5) Organization (Did you think I was going to leave it off the list?)

So I definitely don't enjoy meal planning. And well exercise, that is already a work in progress and so is prayer. Housework you can just forget about, the kids seem to mess up those plans anyways. So the one I need to work on next is organization. If I was really specific I would say my calendar, my closet, my kitchen drawers, getting rid of kids' items we longer need, and those pesky boxes of junk in my basement.

So where to start? I'm going to have to go with my calendar! Seems pretty fitting considering the events of the day. Starting tomorrow I am going to take 15 minutes every day to update it. It's a good start I think to my journey to a more organized life!


*Becky Esker is a professional organizer. You can hire her to help you with your clutter.  Visit her website http://www.theorganizingchoice.com/ for more information.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Overwhelmed to Overjoyed

Yesterday morning, Monday morning, I woke up knowing that we were going to face a lot to do this week. The first thing I did was just sit there in bed listening to our house coming alive with the sound of our kids waking up.

First was my oldest, he kind of gets up and thumps out of bed, dragging his feet to the bathroom and back to get dressed. Then he races off to get ready as fast as possible so he can have as much time as possible to play video games before it is time to leave for school. His rush to get ready usually wakes up our daughter, the two year old. She wakes up and immediately runs to find me or her dad. She might climb our bed and beg to cuddle and watch cartoons. If you are not there she just follows her brother and helps herself to breakfast before playing. Our middle child, now he is our sleepy guy. You can't get him up early. No. He is grouchy in the morning. If you try to take his covers away he tightens his grip on them like a boa constrictor. If you lift him from the bed he hangs onto the bed with all his might, eyes closed the whole time. He doesn't like waking up. When he finally does he wants breakfast, right now!

After my oldest was off to school and Brent was off to work I had a hard time getting myself going. I had a lot to pray about, a lot to just think about, and a lot more to do. I needed to respond to some emails about our Financial Peace class, I needed to print documents, I needed to figure out a snack for 30 people, I had on my mind a lesson I needed to plan for high school youth group, I was thinking about several people I need to pray for, I was thinking about an event I needed to finish planning for the school, a phone reminder told me I needed to confirm a dentist appointment which reminded me I have a hair appointment coming up but also that I was very behind on my physical for this year as well as my eye check up. I thought about the cleaning and laundry that I needed to finish. I also realized I hadn't been to the gym in a while.

You know what I decided to do? In he middle of just feeling a teeny bit overwhelmed?

I decided to take my kids to the park. We had our first days of beautiful spring weather and right then I really felt like the important thing to do was to grab a bike and wagon and walk to the park. The kids played on the swing, the slides, and we sang songs (mostly Frozen) and played tag. Yes, I played tag. For a whole hour it was just play. Then we went home.

It was then that I made a plan to tackle it all. That was my clarity. That was my moment of peace that centered my day. That is where I welcomed freedom. Freedom to choose what was important. Freedom to change my itinerary.

I didn't conquer the world. I didn't get everything done. I got the important and necessary things done.

I replied to all my emails. I made arrangements to print everything I needed. I picked up cupcakes for the snack. I decided to pray about the lesson plan a little more when praying that night. I took care of what I could for appointments and planning. The rest I let go.

I sometimes get stuck in my rigid routine and schedule and forget to just live and break a few rules. Usually they are rules that I have made for myself. Ones that don't always make sense. It is usually my kids that convince me to let go. They teach me that my expectations don't  need to be so high. The show me how to find joy in little things, to be happy. The want me to love myself. They want me to fill my love tank and my needs too.

Yesterday morning, my tank was filling a little low. I needed something to run on. All it took was one hour to fill me up. One hour of pure fun and happiness without interruptions. It took singing and tag to set me free. Not a schedule, not a plan. It took having fun and being impulsive and not thinking like an adult. I needed fun. I needed to be free like a child. That is what made me happy.

We all need to be happy. Happiness is what keeps us going. Being happy is what we need. You don't find it in a list of accomplishments. You don't find it in things you buy. You don't find it by doing what makes someone else happy. You find it when you love yourself. You find it when you love yourself enough and give yourself permission to seek out joy. That is life balance. That is happiness.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Middle of Lent Reflections

WOW does the Schenk family ever have a lot going on this month. Brent has two weekends of class left and will be graduating soon. We start FPU tomorrow night and we are looking forward to leading the class for the first time. Kindergarten round up is this month which is just mind boggling. Next year we will have two kids in school full time and Eleanor will start preschool. We have lots of exciting things happening this month at church for the kids. We even will get to see extended family for Easter this year which is wonderful.

We also are starting another round of eye patching with Oliver. Poor Oliver has 5 more weeks of all day eye patches before we can start full time vision therapy. Our surgeon thinks that by doing intense patching we can get his left eye stronger faster. Oliver is very frustrated but with a little motivation (ie bribes) I am hoping we can get him to stick with us through this rough spot. We don't normally offer bribes but honestly how else do you convince a 5 year old to be a pirate for 5 weeks? You give him some booty. Oliver picked out all of his rewards. He picked out new infinity characters, a bouncy ball, a night out to the movies (Captain America of course), bubbles, and new markers. Well rounded choices I must say, hopefully these will convince him patching is worth it.

April is definitely looking to be a busy month compared to March. And March wasn't exactly a cake walk either.

Over 3 weeks ago I decided to blog through Lent. I can't say that it hasn't been without challenge. There were a few days were I didn't write at all while we were on vacation. And there were even more days where I wasn't sure how I felt about writing. But most of the time writing has given me clarity where my busy life cannot.

Looking ahead at this next month I can actually say that blogging and writing is giving me strength. I can't promise to write Nobel peace prize winning articles here. I can't promise that my writing will be perfect. But I can promise to write exactly what I feel, exactly what is on my heart, and that I will do my best to keep writing. I will write because this challenge is doing something. When I write, words spill out. But often my words help me search for what really is on my mind. Truth comes out. It isn't exactly life changing, but it is good. The truth is always good.

I'm over half way through this writing challenge. April will bring me a new set of challenges. But I'm still as ever committed to this writing challenge too.

Spring Clean Up

Spring has finally showed up here. We enjoyed our first weekend of nice weather as a family. The last time I remember having weather this nice was back in early November of last year. It has been a while. Goodbye snow, hello sunshine. Grass, it is so nice to see you again.50 degrees never felt so liberating! T-shirt and shorts and flip flops here we come!

Now that all the snow has melted I thought it would be a good time to clean up the yard. You know as a family. Our yard really needed to be cleaned up and our sidewalk had litter on it. Seemed like a good time to clean up the block. Actually, we tried bribing the kids to help with donuts and money but it only lasted for about a whole 10 minutes. Lovely.

Well let me tell you this, when you wait to rake in the fall and then it snows and the snow doesn't stop for 5 months, you still get to rake in March. And they are now heavy and wet so it is like shoveling. We had so many leaves under that snow it took me 3 hours to finish the yard. And I had help even. Ginormous leaf piles are waiting on the curb. (Hi neighbors, I apologize for the sorry state our lawn has been in all winter).

Now that my muscles are no longer too sore to type (only half kidding, my arms are killing me!) I thought I would say how this made me realize 2 things.One, that we should probably consider hiring someone to do all of our yard work because I really loathe it.. But also two, sometimes being proactive is best. Maybe not procrastinating or waiting until the last second to rake up the leaves would have been better. With all of our big trees, we should have been outside raking the leaves once a week. Or better yet we should have bought a leaf blower. Now that would have been a good plan!

Procrastination tends to be a weak spot in our home. I hope we will learn from this mistake. Or at least plan better and smarter for next time!


Friday, March 28, 2014

Schenks Do Science!


Thomas had his first science fair today.

I honestly can say I had really little to do with it. Brent and Thomas deliberated for weeks what kind of project to do. Thomas wanted to make robots, Brent wanted to do something with electric circuits. They ended up compromising, naturally with a project on sports. Thomas wanted to know why certain balls bounce higher than others.

I have to say my biggest commitment was not getting annoyed with all the balls bouncing around in my house. Okay, I did help glue but really that was because I didn't want rubber cement all over the table and couch. Brent did most of the work. It took about five nights to finish the project.

What I most loved about the science fair was how the cafeteria at the school was full of kids just excited about science. All of the kids were buzzing around checking out what their friends had learned. Thomas was ping ponging around the room so fast I couldn't keep up. He was checking out a condensation project, a balloon hovercraft, a liquid gak ball, a wind turbine, a solar eclipse model, and lemon electricity circuit plus more.

I kept hearing:

"Cool!"
"How does it do that?"
"What is that?"
"Why does it do that?"
"Wow!"
"Mom look!"

I loved seeing him excited about science and just learning how things in this world works. Science gets kids excited about math, physics, chemistry, and biology. I can't say that I have always been great at math myself but I have always loved science. Science kept me wanting to learn more.

That is exactly what I want for my kids. I want them to have the desire to learn more. In all things. Personal growth should challenge us, excite us, and make us keep wanting to grow. Science isn't just important because it brings us new inventions, new technology, and innovations. Science is important because it teaches us the art of investigating and exploring. It teaches us to ask questions.

Being able to ask questions, that is an important life skill. That is how we learn. At all ages, in all things questions give us answers that we need.

That is why I love science. I'm just glad my kids like it a little too.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

It Takes a Village




Yesterday after nap Eleanor and I went on a little drive. In the morning after we ran errands we had passed a tractor working in the field. I wanted to take my camera with and snap a few photos of the beautiful spring day. I had just finished a blog post and reading a bible verse at the kitchen table. It was time to go pick up the boys from school. It was one of the busiest hours of my day.

"Mommy mommy look at me!" She said, "Look, see my hands?"

I was busy putting my coat on but I looked down.

There she stood by the front door, hands folded together. Finger tips touching. Smiling, and without a doubt praying.

I wanted to jump up and down. My boys pray, but something about the way she was standing there praying really caught me by surprise. I had my camera within arms reach and I just had to take a picture.

Gently I asked her who showed her to fold her hands together like that. I clicked the capture button. Click. She answered, " Mary." Click.

I asked her if she knew what that was. She said, "I'm praying mom. Like Mary." The shutter clicked twice more.

It wasn't mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, or seeing a friend pray. She definitely has seen all of those people pray. It was her Aunt Mary. My youngest sister. She was the one who made an impression on my daughter Eleanor.

We as parents are a constant role model for our children. We are the first to leave an impression on our children's hearts. We nurture them physically. We strive to love them and care for all of the spiritual and emotional needs. We hope to raise them well.

Sometimes though, the impression that makes a difference comes from someone else. It could a family member, a neighbor, a friend at school. Maybe a teacher or mentor or even a stranger. Community matters.

It takes a village to raise a child. Not because parents are not important. Parents are the most important relationship a child will have. However, other relationships are important to a child too. The diversity of love from many people shapes us into the unique person that we are. Everyone has a unique life experience. No one will live a life exactly like you. Yet, when we share part of ourselves we often connect because we see something in our relationship that promotes a value we understand and share.

Values come from relationships. We only understand values when we see them outside of our home. Parents can help label them and point them out to their children. They ideally model them in the home. This is good. But often it is observing someone else act out a value or listening to someone else speak on a topic that we start to fully comprehend what that value really means.

What does this mean for us then? It means when everyone works together in a village, a village is stronger. If every child is met with kindness, gentleness, and sincere love that is what a child will know. It means every person in the community becomes important. The task of raising a child should be something that belongs to all of us.

The more loving and healthy relationships a child has the more opportunities they have to thrive. There isn't a perfect formula, but our communities need individuals that love. They need aunts and uncles and grandmas and grandpas that love them. They need teachers that are excited to see their class every day. They need mentors and pastors that they can trust to lead them. They need to know that there is such a thing as a good neighbor who is looking out for them. People are a part of our life experience. It is these relationships in "our village" that define us.

It takes a village. It takes love.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Seeds of Faith


Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.  Psalm 37:3

It is the farmer that tells me spring is near. The smell of earth fills the air. Tractors are at work in the field and the farmer labors away kicking up dirt into the sky. His labor brings forth new life. Fields of brown dull earth become green and full of vibrant colors.

When the farmer pulls his plow across the earth, he tills up the dead layers of the earth. Winter has left the soil dormant and cold. The plow cuts deep. It digs in and brings up fresh earth from below the ground.

The brown soil, the earth we stand on, is so vital for life. It is everything life needs. We build on it. We grow from it. It nourishes. Seeds need roots to dig deep and prosper. The soft, tender, broken layers of earth allow life to thrive. New roots don't happen instantly. They take effort and time. They give a seed the support it needs to grow with protection while providing a home.


A seed cannot take root and live without digging deep.

Let my faith always be like a seed. I must dig deep into my soul to grow. Digging deep takes labor. Digging deep means breaking through deadness within. It means having faith that the holes of my soul can be filled, just like the plow cutting holes in the earth will soon be filled with new life. The brokenness in my soul then can push out new roots. New roots that will grow strong in their new foundation. Secure and ready to embrace a new life.

This is the cycle of faith. Each time we dig deep, our roots can reach down and strengthen our foundation. Every year the farmer digs into the earth, breaking new ground again and again to prepare a new harvest. We also need to constantly dig through our own broken layers. It is the digging deep that is the hardest part. Sometimes we feel protected by those outer layers, even when they don't bring forth new life. We dwell in the deadness around us because digging deep and breaking through those layers can sometimes bring us more pain.

We need to prepare room in our own souls. We have to break through. We have to trust that God will fill all the holes of our lives. We must be faithful that these holes will become places of holiness. Our foundation cannot be shaken when we have faith in God. For He provides us with the spring of eternal life. When we live rooted in His teachings, waiting faithfully for Him, we are born into a different life. We are part of His kingdom. A kingdom of wholeness and not brokenness. Of not death but new life. When we break through, we can be filled with His peace. A peace that never ends.


Flood Zones

Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by something that I can't even process what I am feeling. Often this happens to me when something surprises me and leaves me blind-sighted. Good and bad things both do this to me.

Good things often fill me with a surge of emotions. Joy bursts forcefully out from every part of me light a ray of light. My excited self giggles and I laugh like a child. I might yell out in my joy. I might leap into the air or dance without control. It is goodness that fills up and overflows. Emotions flow. Joy shines. Happiness is all I know.

Life is not all good though. It is the bad things that leave me stunned and out of breath. Life continues around you even though you are frozen in place. You forget to breath. Time feels like it has stopped and your feel trapped. You feel numb. You know what is happening but you can't even put into words how you feel. You are not sure if you feel, let alone how you feel about it. Then the emotions of despair and pain set in. There is no noise. Only deep anguish and loneliness. You feel like you are alone in deep waters.

Bad things happen to everyone. The hardest things to cope with are those that we cannot control. Especially when it is the suffering of other people we love. Our hearts ache. We might even build walls to protect ourselves. We want to isolate the pain so we don't have to feel all of it. Like a flood wall build around a flood zone, we block out pain. We raise barricades to keep uncomfortable feelings out.

The thing is, flood walls block everything. They are great for protecting areas in flood zones. Some walls are necessary to keep us safe. However, not being able to feel, that is never good.

The thing about flood walls is when we build those high walls to block the water we also block the sun. The sun that brings warmth and light into our lives. The sun is powerful. The sun has the power to dry up the heavy rains that have become floods full of our sorrows.

Our tears also serve a purpose. Without water this earth would dry up and cease to know the beauty of those sunny days and the happy moments. Without suffering, we cannot value joy. Our heart cannot feel unless we feel it all.

This may feel wrong, that pain is part of this world. However, we don't have to ride out the storms alone. We have a really good life guard. One that will guide us to dry land. One that walks on water. One that can calm the raging storm in the sea.

His name is Jesus.  Life with Jesus means we don't need flood walls around our hearts. In the deepest of storms, in the deepest of water He finds us. He is our savior.

Matthew 14:22-33 NIV

Jesus Walks on the Water

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”


The thing I love about this story is Peter. Peter's faith in Jesus was a little rocky. Peter had doubts. Real doubts that all of us share. There is so much in life and even in the bible that we don't always understand. I won't pretend I understand it all. But I do know I find comfort in Jesus saving Peter. Jesus save us despite any of our flaws. We don't have to earn His love or be perfect. Jesus already is willing to be our life guard.

That to me makes any flood something I can overcome. If I have a life guard who always saves, I don't need to build up flood walls. I can live fully, flood and sun and everything in between. No matter the weather, I can make it. Flood zones don't have to control what I feel.

Whatever I am feeling, whatever I must face, I can do it with Christ.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Broken


This might look like a familiar scene. Especially if you live in the country and your neighbor has chickens. The kids played outside today and apparently talked our nice neighbor into letting them fetch some eggs from their chicken coop. For their efforts they were rewarded with an egg. An egg that they did not tell me about. Actually, after parading through the house they suddenly left and it got really quiet. I walked through my living room and found this on the floor. A single egg broke in half, it's contents on my wooden floors.

Well that explains it I thought to myself. No one wanted to explain to me why an egg was cracked on my floor. No one wanted to tell me how this unfortunate event took place. I never even heard the egg crack. I was in the same room but couldn't hear it over the sounds of kids in the house. It seemed like regular, every day noises.

We are all fragile just like the egg. We like to pretend we are tough. We are not as strong as we tell ourselves though. Apply enough pressure and our shells are bound to break, making our lives spill out of control. Who hasn't felt like they are a real-life humpty dumpty story. You feel beat up, like you can't possibly fall any farther, like things will never bounce back.

Sometimes, other people are breaking right in front of us and we don't even see it. Life distracts us from seeing. Sometimes people don't want us to see. They are broken only on the outside and no one can see the hurt and pain inside.

God sees though. God knows our brokenness. Even when there are no cracks, no messes to be seen, God always sees.

Maybe that is part of why God sent Jesus here to be with us. He loved us so much he brought his Son into this world, to break and to bleed and die like we do. Only Jesus didn't stay broken. Jesus died, rose from the dead, and will rise again. In His death, Christ defeated death. The bible tells us Jesus did this out of love for us. It also tells us Jesus is a healer. The list of people Jesus healed is huge. We are not just talking physical healing, but spiritual and emotional healing too. Everyone who believed in Jesus was made whole again.

Jesus can heal our brokenness too. With Christ the struggles of this world are transformed. Jesus can heal all of the suffering and pain of this life and take it away from us. His message teaches us that love does win. God's love wins. Jesus calls on us to be a source of healing and peace to people hurting in this world. When we love we send a message that all of the limits of this world can be overcome.

The broken egg on the floor is not the end of our story. God can heal us from the inside out even when we feel completely broken. He can give us peace. He will work through others to reach us. His love has no limits. His love is so powerful that he will never give up. When we surrender and let Him work in our lives he will bring us peace. It won't be overnight always, but he will heal us and end all of the suffering in this life. His will is to love us, and love us He will.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Light & Love



Oh my daughter Eleanor. You love to dance in the light for no reason at all. You love to sing in the morning. You love cuddling and you love tickle wars. You love being the silly, sweet you. There is so much beauty to be found in you.  You are fearless, nothing can stop you from keeping up with your older brothers. Life to you is an adventure, your spirit loves a good challenge. You are both strong and gentle. When your dad and I chose your name we had no idea how perfect it would suit you. Your name means "shining light" or "ray of light" and you are such a light to this family. Your favorite movie is Frozen. You love the queen Elsa and the princess Anna. You love Olaf and his warm hugs. I love it too.

I love the movie because I think it reminds us of three important lessons. The first lesson is that we should never live in fear. The second lesson is that we need to trust and be family to each other. The most important lesson is that love makes everything beautiful.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  John 14:27

When Elsa flees to the castle she is afraid. She has been hiding so much of herself for years. Hiding her gift which is such a big part of herself has made her lonely. Her life has been a prison without hope for her future. She is deeply afraid of everyone knowing who she really is. It is safer to hide her powers. When everyone finds out, she frees herself. She is finally able to be herself. What strikes me about this is how sometimes in life we all have gifts or parts of us that we hide because we are afraid of what other people will think. Elsa is finally happy when she lets her light shine and lets everything else go. No secrets, no regrets, she is herself.  She is finally able to love. Fear keeps us from living and loving life. God doesn't want us to live a life without love. Fear is not God, because love is all that God is.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16

The second lesson I love from this movie is how Anna never gives up on her sister. Elsa has shut Anna out because she is afraid. But being the real sister that she is, Anna does not give up. She takes big risks at times and believes in her sister even when no one else does. Finally at the end she saves her sister in an act of great sacrifice. This is what family is about. Family is having faith in each other, believing in the best, and being present through the worst of storms. It is building a relationship with trust at the center. Family by blood or family by Christ, this is the foundation of healthy relationships that this world so desperately needs. God calls us to be the person we are for the love of others. Every day. Every person. Anna teaches us that love of God and living His word by acting fully in love to others frees us. Faith, Hope, and Love guide us and become our light.

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

The greatest lesson comes when Anna saves her sister in her act of selfless love. Love we realize makes all things beautiful. Elsa's powers are transformed into something beautiful because she now knows love. She is loved. Love makes everything different. When love is at the center, our hearts are changed forever. Elsa now can share her gift, her light, with the rest of the world. This light drives out all fear and becomes a light for others too. The gift of love is not something to be hidden.

 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” 1 John 4:18

Love drives out all fear. Pure love prevails over all. Frozen really is a love story that teaches us to not be afraid. It teaches us to live with hope. It teaches us to have faith and to build our relationships with trust. Most of all though it shows us that love is the greatest gift and power in this world. Unconditional and pure love can transform our lives. Love is a light in this world that we should never hide. Love casts light into our lives and makes all things beautiful.

Someday my daughter Eleanor I pray you will see in this movie the lessons that I do. I hope that you will never feel like you cannot be yourself. I hope you will never be afraid of anything in this life. If you are afraid, I will be here for you. Through any challenges in life know that you can have faith in God. When you need answers your church family will be there. They will make you a light unto this world too. Trust in God, His light will make your own light strong. There you will find your answers. In your journey, there you will find peace. Most of all I want you to know love. I want you to know that God's love is the greatest power in this world. God's love is selfless, he loves you no matter what. Never doubt this, no matter what the world tells you. God loves us all. He calls on us to love others in this fashion, to bring His love into this world.

Eleanor, be a light. Always be a light. Be a force of love to everyone you meet. Live fearlessly, trust in the beauty of life, and have adventures that lead you to love life. View every challenge as opportunity to learn something new. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Don't be afraid to live. Live with courage and be brave. Be graceful. Be kind to others. Surround yourself with people that love you for all that you are. Chase dreams, explore the world. Most important though, always remember the power of love.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Overcoming Mountains

There is something really magical about mountains. Their size alone makes them impressive. They stand formidable, strong, and unyielding. Time has tested them and there they still stand. Their peaks tower above earth pointing to the blue skies and knocking on heaven's gates.

Mountains stand still, in silent praise of God.

Ascend a mountain and dwell in their presence and you will find yourself entirely lost in God's creation.  Only you are not lost but at peace, fully aware of everything surrounding you.

The path up the mountain is never easy. The climb challenges us and pushes us. Before the climb we were fearless conquerors. After a while we reach a point where our mind and body are tested. Every step higher weakens our resolve. Our foundation doesn't always feel secure with small pebbles under our feet.

Still, given the choice to turn back or carry on we hold our heads high and resolve to continue our quest. Our journey to the top must carry on.

You feel like giving up a thousand times over. Yet, when you reach the top you find yourself free. Elated and completely frozen if even for a brief moment.  You are fully aware of where you stand now and where only brief moments before you stood. Joy spills out. So much that you can't understand it all. Emotions run wild like the wind.

Mountains offer us a life changing perspective. Climbing mountains gives us clarity because life gives us a few mountains of our own.

Sometimes we get stuck on a mountain. We want so much to overcome struggles in life but gravity pulls us down. Dreams seem impossible and the hurts of life hold us captive. Illness, loss, grief and pain are real challenges. It can feel as if we are never going to make it to the top. We sometimes get caught in that rhythm of one step forward,  two steps back.

Somehow though we keep going. We persevere.  We carry on like warriors. The climb is not easy but when we look back things look different. The mountain doesn't change, we change.

No one wants to face trials in life. I would never wish for anyone to climb a mountain big or small. Where there is suffering, there is not peace. We all need peace. But I do know that even the scariest, meanest, most intimidating mountain can be defeated. I know that when we fight on and carry on like warriors we do finally reach the top. The mountain will stand, but we are now the victors. We can overcome.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Power of Words

On my mind today is the power behind words. Words can do three things. They can lift us up, pull us down or leave things exactly where they are. Words are powerful because they create a dialogue that conveys more than just thoughts. Words can convey emotion.

I have long struggled with finding a balance using words. I tend to be socially awkward at times because of how much I talk. Talking is a natural gift I have. Some might say I even love the sound of my own voice. But really it stems from my own fear of silence. Put me in a room with a bunch of strangers and I will find anything to talk about because I get uncomfortable with silence. My need to keep the conversation flowing usually ends in me saying something I didn't think all the way through.

Sometimes my ability to talk is a great thing, because it creates good dialogue and meaningful conversations. It maybe even gets a few laughs. Many friendships of mine started with me simply offering up something to discuss or laugh about.

However, this tendency to speak before thinking can really get me into trouble. I often contribute too much to a coversation and forget to listen. Even worse, I might say something without even considering that it has the potential to be offensive or possibly hurtful in nature to someone I love. I also tend to not respect the importance of silence.

A while back I stumbled upon T.H.I.N.K. It stands for:
Is it true?
Is it helpful?
Is it inspiring?
Is it necessary?
Is it kind?

When I find myself talking I really try to live by these. My goal is to only let my words lift and encourage others. For me that is not a simple thing. It means recognizing the feelings of someone else and putting them before my own desires or feelings. It means holding back sometimes what I really feel or think. Take "Is it true?" For example.  Telling it like it is doesn't always help and often times is more hurtful than kind.

To truly think of others I must balance these values. The absence of words is just as powerful as the most elegant choice of words. The right words or lack of words are powerful because they convey empathy and thoughtfulness. Words help us find shared ground and understand each other better. Words are powerful. When we T.H.I.N.K. we can use that power for good.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When Generational Gaps Become the Difference

Last Saturday I attended a local show choir competition. A few of our youth group kids were performing and since this would be their final local performance I thought it would be fun to go just to cheer them on.

As I sat and watched several groups perform I noticed what our society doesn't always see. I saw teens that had to of put in hours and hours of hard work and dedication to put on a show. I saw teens that were passionate and excited about life, fully using their talents and gifts. I saw teens working together as a team.

Our society doesn't always see in young people what I saw that afternoon. In fact, adults don't always see young people at all. They build up walls so they don't have to see. They make excuses for why they don't need to be near teens and younger adults. Sometimes adults even build walls so high they become stereotypes and prejudices in our minds. So teens today either feel ignored or misunderstood. This creates divisiveness and furthers generational gaps. This can have very long-lasting and negative consequences.

Youth today receive many negative messages because of these walls. Sometimes they are told they are materialistic if they spend money on clothing or fun. If they use smart phones, social media, and computers they are told they should be less reliant on technology. When they participate in sports or non-school related activities they are often told they are selfish because generations past worked labor heavy jobs or fought wars.

You hear it often, an adult blaming a younger generation or pointing out negative things about young people these days. Not all adults do this. But enough of society does that it becomes the message teens today hear. This is not the message our future leaders need.

I think younger generations need encouragement and support. Generations are supposed to be different. Our generational differences mean we are human. We are evolving and redefining what life is constantly through relationships. I like to think that there is much to be learned for BOTH adults and youth from each other.

We can only learn from each other when we make an effort to build up relationships instead if walls.

Building a relationship starts with seeing. It starts by making observations with an open mind. It starts with presence.  Only when we make ourselves fully present do we become able too see a person. This true in all relationships.

That is where we really understand each other. Understanding our own shared humanity makes differences insignificant. The world is not black and white but all the colors of the rainbow inbetween that fill our lives with vibrant colors and real diversity.

Youth today are amazing. They bring so many positive things to this world.  Just like the show choir groups I saw, youth today are passionate about living and willing to work hard to follow their dreams. This is something to be celebrated and supported.

Future generations need praise and they need the presence of older generations in their lives. It is relationships between generations that will cultivate understanding and respect. When we promote this all generations become beneficiaries of a better world. It is respecting each other that makes all the difference.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Mud Puddles and Dirt

Ahhh spring. This year it is especially beautiful after the harsh, cold winter we have had. Spring brings warm sun, new life and all things green.

Spring also is a bit dirty. Melted snow means mud puddles and dirt. My kids know just how to track in all the mud in the neighborhood. It is a special gift they have, my little dirt magnets.

I really would rather not have to put up with the messy muddy boots and dirty puddles on my floors. But they are special too. Those footprints mean my kids are exploring and learning. They are also a (very) visible reminder of what life is supposed to be.

You see, we all need to get dirty to really live life. We all make mistakes. Mistakes are not a bad thing, they mean we are growing. We need them to learn. They mean we are taking real risks to find real happiness.  Life is about picking yourself up, brushing the dirt off and trying again. You live and you learn. A little dirt, a little mud--those are good things.

The thing about dirt is you can clean it up and you can always start over. Dirt doesn't have to stick. All the mess and muck in our lives doesn't define who we are. It is the changes in us that define our lives. All that dirt is us teaching us lessons, sometimes really messy ones.

When I look at the mess my kids make I try not to get frustrated anymore. I try to see the good. A little dirt never hurt anyone after all.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Road Trip

I love vacations. I love traveling the world and road trips can be very fun. However, there is something about traveling that is just not fun when you have kids. Between the packing and all the laundry and forgetting items and cranky kids it puts me in a terrible mood. Usually most of the packing is left up to me and let me tell you it is a lot of work keeping tabs on 5 people's stuff. It is enough to make me want to throw in the towel and stay home. It is exhausting.

However, I have learned that a couple things make our travels so much easier. They are not fool proof but they seem to keep us from kicking each other out of the van to go take a hike. In fact, if I listed the most important things there would be three things we do to make our trips more enjoyable.

  1. Travel light. The more you pack, the more of a burden it becomes.
  2. Start with a clean car. If you are going to be stuck in a car traveling with 4 other people for over ten hours you might as well start with no clutter and obstacles.
  3. Load up on healthy snacks, water and even some caffeinated beverages. These give us energy and keep us going in those umm, less that fun moments. The kind where one kid is screaming because they want to watch a movie for the third time, one kid is crying because they want to sleep, and the other one won't stop asking if we are there yet.
I think our journey through life can be like these 3 things too.

If we go through life carrying too much baggage we get exhausted. Our baggage can be anything that drags us down. It could be unhealthy relationships, grudges, regrets, or even expecting too much of ourselves. By letting go of these things we free ourselves up to focus on more important things and try something different. 

Also, sometimes it is really easy to accumulate unnecessary items or junk. It might even just be too much of a good thing. A closet that is always overflowing or a pantry or refrigerator so full that you forget to use something before it goes bad. It happens but it becomes extra work and an obstacle at times. Sometimes we do this with our soul too. We don't give priority to spiritual growth or growing our faith. We clutter our faith and push God out.

The last thing is we have to be conscious of is providing what not just our body needs but our soul needs too. Our body needs fuel to run. Our soul is just like this. We need time to re-energize and relax. Mental breaks are important to the soul because they give us time to process information which helps us use good judgement even in tough situations. We have to give ourselves permission to recharge from time to time.

All of these things make the journey easier. Things will happen, detours in life will come up, and our destination will sometimes feel out of reach. Sticking to these three rules prepares us for anything though.  Just like family road trips, life can be a drive down a highway too. We need to let go of unnecessary baggage and clutter in our lives and add balance by using this freed up time and energy on things that make us enjoy the journey. Our perspective changes with this freedom and we become ready to face even the biggest road blocks. It makes us want to grab the keys, jump in the driver seat and yell road trip!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

How my son taught me to be selfless

Most parents raise their kids hoping for them to be nice. They want their kids to be a good friend and to be kind to others. We want other things for our children too. Things like a focus on academics, or a drive to succeed in their job, or healthy relationships. We want them to live well-rounded lifestyles. But if we could pick one simple thing we would say we just want nice, happy adults.

As a parent myself, I tend to worry about my kids. I over-analyze their actions. Every time they argue, or refuse to share, or are rude I convince myself that I am messing it all up. Between my three kids, someone is always making me wonder if we are getting it right. Parenting is such a challenge, so up and down. My fear is that we will get it wrong and end up with a big bill in therapy someday. I work myself up because I am so focused on raising nice kids. Nice kids that I want to be nice adults someday.

Today, something changed my perspective.

My boys' school is collecting money for Pennies for Patients. It is for children with cancer. I kind of blew it off because well we had other things we were working on this month and I assumed that an 8 year old and a 5 year old were just not going to be interested in giving their spare change to any cause. I forgot all about their little collection boxes. Until today.

While we were preparing to leave today my five year old son Oliver was running through the house with his bag half open. As he shuffled through the kitchen I heard coins clunking around in his backpack and spilling out onto our floor. I stopped him to make him empty his bag and clean up the coins, thinking he was bringing money to school for fun. When I started to open his bag and told him not to bring money to school he stopped me. "Mom! WAIT!" He told me with his hand up. He scooped up the coins and pulled out his little collection box and put them all back in.

Then it hit me. Wow. He was bringing money to school to give, not for fun. I was flabbergasted. We hadn't even talked about the penny drive together.

I counted out his coins with him, curious what he decided to donate. He had a total of $1.03 in change. Such a tiny little offering. I asked him if he really wanted to give his money and if it was important to him. He nodded his head yes enthusiastically. He insisted on it. Kind of a proud moment for me. I told him that this was really special and that I would match his gift. So we pulled out my wallet and counted out more coins together until we had a total of two dollars and six cents. He was just giddy at this point and his little sister thought this was of course very exciting so she was jumping up and down too.

 This whole experience reminded me of the Widow's Offering in Mark 12:41-44.

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” 

I hugged him and I told him about the widow giving all that she could and how it was such a great gift. I told him his gift was like the widow's gift. It was small but it was great too.

My perspective changed today because of his willingness to empty his tiny little piggy bank. He wasn't just being nice. He was giving all that he could. He was being selfless. He was putting someone else before his own wants and needs.

Really, my son taught me a lesson about being selfless. His giving casts a big light on my own unwillingness to give. To my own reluctance to give joyfully. My son taught me that I need to look at my own self and do some thinking of my own. I need to be better about giving more of myself in several areas of my life. My adult mind struggles with this concept.Giving hurts sometimes. For him though it was easy. I want for my heart to be like his. I want to give with joy.

I don't just want "nice" kids anymore. I want us to be more selfless. I want kids that give from their heart in all that they do. I want givers. Givers that give something up and make sacrifices because it means helping someone in their moment of need. I want givers that use whatever they have available--time, money, talents-- to bless others. Because that is the right thing to do. Not just to be nice and polite. But to give people a little more than that. To give people yourself too.

Listening Ears

On Wednesday nights I help in the preschool class at our church. Today the children were learning about Psalm 23 and we read a book called The Lord is my Shepard. It is a staple story in the Bible, especially for children. These 3-5 year old kids all understood how to care for a sheep. You feed it, give it water, and look after it. Very basic needs.

We then discussed how God provides for us. God protects and leads us like a good shepherd. A good shepherd tends to his flock asking them to follow him.

Now I found this lesson just a bit ironic as a parent volunteer. While we were preparing for our craft I asked several times for the kids to put on their "listening ears" for their teacher. For the record, my own child was definitely included in this group. I had to smile and laugh because we were teaching a lesson about following our shepherd and listening. And hey we needed practice at it!

This really reminded me of how I also don't listen very well. I tend to do most of the talking in my relationship with Jesus. I forget to listen and I miss out sometimes on where Jesus is calling me. Where God is calling me. It is very hard at times to get rid of all the noise blocking out what God needs and wants us to do.

This thought really reminded me of where Jesus tells us to follow him and listen to his teachings. In John 10 verses 2-4 we see Jesus telling us to follow his voice.

The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 
The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice.
He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 
When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them,
and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.

 Jesus tells us here that not only does God know and see us each individually for what special person we are, but also that he will lead us. We all have a special and unique calling by God and when we follow Jesus we are led to God. Jesus is our shepherd because he shows us the way to live life.

It is hard to listen. Especially when we aren't sure we have all the answers and when we have doubts. These cloud our decision making process and challenge us. They make it harder to discern where God is calling us.

However, we can put on our listening ears. And then we can hear God's call for us.

Prayer and a relationship with Jesus help us find the answers we are seeking. These answers are found with God. We are not led astray when we follow Christ! Listening is a hard thing to practice for sure, but this scripture offers us hope that we can and will get it right. It just takes a little practice.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Why I Go To Church

Growing up I was raised in a Christian home. I also attended a private Catholic school most of my childhood. Having this made me feel pretty safe. Safe in my faith and pretty confident that I had all of the answers. I generally didn't have to ask questions of my own. You could call it being sheltered from life or maybe even just being young but I was really certain I had life figured out.

After I graduated I became unexpectedly pregnant. All of my relationships changed at this point. Some ended altogether. Others strengthened. Even more evolved into a different kind of relationship. I chose to become a parent at the same time most people realize they are now an adult. Life was new not just because for the first time I was experiencing life and making my own choices, but because I was making them for someone else.

It was during the first year of my son's life that I decided we needed to attend church. I was a new parent, exhausted and unsure of myself as a mother. I told myself I was doing this for my son. I wanted to raise a good Christian that didn't make mistakes like I did.

I realize now that the REAL reason I wanted a church for our family was for me. I wanted someone to guide me, to lead me, to help me find all the right answers to the big questions. I was lonely, seeking friendship, looking for someone who understood where I was at. We tried a few churches and nothing stuck because I wasn't getting my answers.

What I discovered was that no church can lead me, it was up to me.

Probably not what you expect me to say but hear me out.

No church could lead me because I had to let God lead me. I was looking for answers in churches. I wanted someone to give me a cheat sheet for the final exam. I just wanted answers and I didn't want to do the homework. I was not relying on God. I was relying on some other person's faith in God.

Here is the funny thing though, my messed up attempt to find answers actually helped me find my answers. You can do it all wrong and backwards and still end up getting it right.

Years after we first tried to look for a church our life circumstances lead us to a new one. This time it stuck.

That folks is GOD.

God works through individuals and churches alike. He has a plan for all of us. He has blessed us with the Holy Spirit and when we listen to it we become a part of God's plan. The best part is He works through us even though we are not perfect. Churches don't have to be perfect. People don't have to have it all figured out. Why? Because God has it figured out. God knows all about us.

Psalm 139: 9-10   
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, 
 if I settle on the far side of the sea, 
even there your hand will guide me,
 your right hand will hold me fast.

 Psalm 139 tells us that we are safe and secure in God's presence.

That my friends is why I attend church.

My church is pretty fabulous. I think we are hot stuff.

I love our choir because they always are trying new music. I love our potlucks and I think we have the best food in town. I think our children's committee throws the best parties and our VBS team has the best dance moves. I love that our church has people entering those doors every day of the week. I love my fireside crowd that scoots over when someone shows up late because hey next week they know it will be their turn. I love that our church has people represented from all generations, different backgrounds, and different political viewpoints too.

But these reasons, as great as they are, they are not WHY I attend church.

I attend church because it is a place where I can find my own answers. It is a place where I know God is with me. It is where I can ask God to lead me. When we let God lead us he works through our circumstances wherever we are. All we have to do is let Him lead the way. God is with us every step of the way.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Prayer Doors

After school today I was just a little bit distracted. I was driving home, caught up in my routine, but not fully there. I  was asking all the usual questions. How was your day? What was the best thing that happened? Did you get your spelling test back yet? Who did you play with at recess. As my kids told me about their day though I wasn't really listening. Not because I didn't care but because I was thinking about all the items on my to-do list and over analyzing my day. We arrived at home and I asked a question for the second time. My boys looked up at me and said, "Mom don't you remember what I told you in the car?"

BUSTED. I was definitely caught. I was not being fully present. I was not listening. Lucky for me my kids are quite forgiving.

Today reminded me of how I do this with God. I forget to pray, forget to listen. Or worse I go through the motions and say the prayers and know all the answers to questions without thinking them through. When I do that I am not fully respecting God. I am not really giving my faith the attention it needs to grow.

Faith is supposed to require constant attention. Life throws all kinds of challenges at us. All kinds of situations. Sometimes that means we need something to center on. We need something to help us focus. There are many different ways to do this. But the best way is making a plan to a create time in our day for prayer so we can connect on a personal level with God.

Prayer is really about having a relationship. God is always knocking on our door, asking in to chat. God is always going to work through other people in our lives even. But if you are too busy to answer the door you miss out on an opportunity to hear a new perspective. To see something differently. Worse maybe is you know all the answers. You don't take the time to see what else you can learn. To understand things in a different way.

I like to consider myself a pretty open minded person. But really I think maybe I am not. When I don't pray and when I don't make myself fully available to God I am closing a door. I close my mind off to change. I am not building a relationship . Instead, my relationship with God suffers.

Being present in prayer does take dedication and time. It is an investment in my relationship with God. It is a hard thing to work on. It is something that some days I do better than others. Some days I fail miserably. If I am being honest I would say I fail almost always. Prayer is work. And yet, the more I work at it the better my relationship with God is. Even more of a surprise is the times I do succeed. These moments I like to think of as prayer doors.

Prayer doors are the moments when we make a real connection. I think it is these rare, good moments where we make a connection that make prayer worthwhile.

God loves us unconditionally. He doesn't want experts. Not prayer experts, not even expert Christians that can quote the bible front to back or tell others how to live. He wants us to have a real relationship with Him. He wants us to open that door.

God does accept the hot mess that is me. The hot mess of me who is forgetful, not present, selfish, overextends herself just a bit too much, sometimes yells, worries way too much, has many fears and doubts, wants to be control and have it her way, and can't seem to find the time of day to pray. That isn't even the full story on me. But he accepts me.

He accepts all of us as we are. He sees through us. Even when we shut the door he sees the real us. He accepts us even when we answer the same question over and over and miss what he is telling us a thousand times over. He doesn't just forgive us, he loves us exactly as we are, exactly where we are.

It is understanding His love that keeps me going and keeps me praying. His presence keeps me hopeful. It tells me that maybe in His presence I can be present too. I think I can open that door.