Sunday, March 30, 2014
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.
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
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:
"How does it do that?"
"What is that?"
"Why does it do that?"
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
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
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.
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 Water22 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
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
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
Thursday, March 20, 2014
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
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
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
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.
- Travel light. The more you pack, the more of a burden it becomes.
- 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.
- 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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Sunday, March 9, 2014
The youth group served a meal tonight for families at the Willis Dady Emergency Shelter here in Cedar Rapids. We prepared a spaghetti dinner together at church before departing for the shelter. I had not been to this shelter before. I have served meals to homeless or needy families in the past but never here in Cedar Rapids.
I really wasn't sure what to expect from this visit. I knew we would eat a family style dinner with the people living there but I wasn't sure who I would meet and what I would face when I walked through those doors. I was somewhat anxious. Not because I was afraid. I was anxious because I wasn't sure who I would be called to serve.
The shelter's website has the following quote by one of my favorite authors.
"Sometimes you don't know when you are taking the first step through a door until you are already inside." -- Ann VoskampThis is a truth. We did serve many wonderful people tonight when we walked through those doors. Little did I know though that I would meet someone very special. Someone who would change me.
As we welcomed families in to grab a plate of dinner I met a mom and her little boy. The little boy's name was Tim*. He looked like he was about the age of my son Thomas. I asked him how old he was and found out he was 8, almost 9 he proudly told me, in third grade. His family recently moved to Cedar Rapids. We ate our spaghetti dinner and I told him he had to have brownie from the middle because they are the best ones. As we sat there we talked about school and making new friends in new places. He was a bright young boy, really smart and excited to tell me all about himself.
We talked about super heroes. He told me Spider Man is his favorite. Which of course I had to tell him that Captain America and Thor are my boys favorite super heroes. Marvel Comics have the best heroes. He told me he thought Captain America was the best super hero because he believes in doing the right thing and not just fighting bad guys.
I then found out he wants to be in the army when he grows up. Although he admitted last week he wanted to be a bounty hunter and before that he wanted to be a police officer. I asked him if he believed in protecting people and helping people. He agreed it was very important and I told him that I thought he would be good for a big job like that. I told him I know a police officer and a marine and maybe he will grow up to do big things some day just like these men.
We talked about his rainbow loom band bracelets he was wearing. I found out he was given both of them by friends. I couldn't help but think of my own kids and how they like exchanging bracelets with friends too. I swallowed hard. I knew our family was taking these simple joys like loom bracelets for granted. We don't appreciate all the "stuff" we have and I know it.
Before I knew it was time for Tim to leave. His mom thanked me many times and I know she was very appreciative for sitting with them and just talking to her son.
I am really honored to have met Tim today. He taught me that even the smallest person can be brave. He was in a new place and in a new school but he still had a smile on his face. I know he misses his old home and school. I know it had to be hard. I could see it on his face. Yet, he still had hope. For that I think he is the bravest person I have ever met. I was blessed to meet him. I think maybe he served me more than I served him.
I saw into someone else today. I walked through those doors and everything changed. I met someone very small but very important. I met a little boy named Tim. A little boy who just changed my world.
Tim, I see you.
*I have changed the name to protect this child's identity.
Saturday, March 8, 2014
Thomas turned eight on Friday. We had friends over to celebrate his birthday today.
Here is Thomas blowing out his birthday candles. For the first time he stopped to make a wish before blowing out the candles. It kind of melt my heart.
He won't tell us what he wished for. But I had to smile because this birthday showed me how different he is just from last year.
You love to lead. You are a great leader.
You are smart. You think for yourself and like a good challenge.
You are impulsive and like to have fun in the moment. But you are getting better about knowing when to stop and think before you do something.
You make friends easily because you love to laugh. You do silly things and it makes everyone smile.
You have a strong sense of morals. You want things to be fair.
You are a big help around the house. You always help your sister and you even help your brother too. Even when you don't want to.
You make mistakes, but you always are willing to try again. You are persistent.
You like to win. You are ambitious and I know you will do big things.
You are observant. I see you. I see you watching your dad and I.
You are starting to ask good questions about life. I love seeing you think out problems and wonder about God.
Eight I think will be fun. I know we will have our share of challenges ahead of us. But I know that means there will be even more opportunities for you to grow. I love seeing you grow up. I love our "date" nights. Our birthday breakfast was my favorite. Your dad and I are proud. We love you.
Friday, March 7, 2014
Last weekend I celebrated my 27th birthday. Birthdays I think are a great time to reflect back on our past. I like to think about all the different blessings and challenges I have had as well as what opportunities and obstacles I might face in the future. This birthday was no different.
I did have a lot of blessings in the last year. We traveled literally around the world to China, I had some amazing service opportunities in our church, and we moved to a new town and made several new friends that I hope to have for life. I had our challenges too. Our middle child had surgery and I am continually exhausted from the stress of raising kids in a home where one parent is both working full time and in school. Grad students everywhere I know you can relate. Life balance is hard to achieve right now. I am not always my best self. There are days where I am just in parenting survival mode because those perfectly laid plans I made are just not going to happen. I have to let it go.
Letting go I think is always the hardest battle. You are admitting that some things are out of your control. Maybe you even realize that everything is out of your control. Suddenly things look really uncertain.
So much of life is unknown. To overcome that, we make big plans to make ourselves feel like we can control life. We fill up our calendar and schedules with important to-do items. However, sometimes we plan so much that we micromanage every minute of our time. I definitely do this. My plans become elaborate and I fill in any "free" time to make myself more productive.
One of the things I really learned this year was in one of my parenting survival mode moments. Here I was trying to get my kids to bend their wills to my plans for the day. Let me tell you: getting a headstrong seven year old, a distracted five year old, and a defiant two year old to cooperate is no cakewalk. We are talking about a battle of epic proportions. Here I stood trying not to lose it because MY kids were not sticking to the itinerary, to MY plans!
I realized that this is no way to live life. My kids don't need to be in a ton of sports that have us constantly on the go. We don't need to say yes to every opportunity that we encounter. Our calendar shouldn’t be so complicated that it practically needs an interpreter as if it is in some foreign language. Soccer, dance, swimming, commitments – these things by themselves are not bad things. It is when we over schedule and are busy all the time that this is bad. When we live like this our calendar dictates our lives. It controls us. It defines our lives instead of the other way around.
I will be the first to admit we are so guilty of this. I need to make sure we as a family change our priorities so time, calendars, and to-do lists don’t define our lives. I need to put God first, family second, everyone else next.
I don’t want us to be so busy that God becomes something random. I don’t often get things right with God. I will definitely admit I don’t always put God first. But I think I’m learning that maybe a little less is more for our family right now. I’m less distracted from prayer, from church, from my relationship with God when I center my life in this way. Freeing up my schedule actually frees me. I think that is definitely something I can keep on my to-do list.