Sunday, August 09, 2015

The Bigness of Small Things

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin... - Zechariah 4.10

Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches. -Matthew 13:32

Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?  -John 6:9 

I think that there are two types of people: the folks who do not dream big enough and those who cannot see the bigness of small things.

I fall into the second category.

As long as I can remember, my desire was to "make it big," "do it all," "change the world," and "be all that I can be" in the little time I had on the planet.  My heart was a giant, impatient exclamation point- always waiting for a grand finale. 

"Seize the day!"
"Leave your mark!" 

The above words are fuel propelling us forward with impressive force. When we are young, especially, we have this hunger for making an impact that drives us towards ambitions that sensible adults tend to break down into the "impossible" category.  Motivational messages inspire us and provide us with a positive purpose. For we are indeed capable of great things.

I devoured the ideals of "thinking big" and "expecting great things" to such a degree, though, that I was often disappointed by less than extraordinary outcomes. If you're not noticed enough or it takes too long to see results, the problem of doubt arises. We get confused by what we see, because it doesn't match up with our idea of "big." That's when I would lose steam, lose inspiration, lose my way.

For me, motherhood, has been the experience that sent me into spirals of more question marks than exclamation points.  But it's okay.  To be curious, to wonder, and to not know it all, means that we are receptive to Truth when it is revealed to us. I have learned so much about being humble, grounded, and discerning. I value the circumstances that brought me understanding and realize that my unseen acts of service matter.

Constantly, I have to remind myself of the real things happening right in front of my face, because they are rarely what I expect to be awe-inspiring.  But the little details are all part of a bigger picture that just isn't finished yet- the snuggles, struggles, conversations, meetings, sacrifices, milestones, memories, efforts, prayers, late nights, early mornings, habits, schedules, successes, and failures. It all can be big things to someone.

Is it so small to write a letter of appreciation to someone?  
Is it too a tiny feat to take care of a sick child through the night? 
Is it insignificant to make time to help or meet with a friend?

If I will just start;
If I will believe that it's all important;
If I will do the small, God will do the "big."

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

When I Don't Want to

Today, I don't want to get up.
I don't want to wake the kids up.
I don't want to pick out their clothes, brush their hair, pour their cereal, pack their lunches, hurry them off to school.
I don't want to have responsibilities today. 

What I want to do is go on strike! Could everyone just take care of themselves today?

It's a ridiculous notion- a momentary grownup temper tantrum. My grumpy mood probably stems from feeling spread a little too thin and a little too tired...and maybe even a little too taken for granted.  Understandably, I don't just pop out of bed every morning with a chipper outlook and abundant motivation to do a mom's work.  

But I have to show up- not just because my family needs me, but also because God calls us to serve others (Matthew 20:28, 1 Peter 4:10)! He also asks us, "to work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for The Lord rather than for people (Colossians 3:23)."

This is real, honest-to-goodness life, but somewhere, if I look for it, there is something perfectly awesome- even in this secret moment of rebellion. 

So how did I rescue my morning? I took extra long to drink my coffee before waking up the kids.  I turned up music and busted out terribly desperate dance moves at the breakfast table.  I forced myself to fight the "flight" instinct and push through. 

I also remembered this great letter that Paul writes in Romans 7 that is so frustrating it's comical. Most versions translate the Greek into something like, "Why do I always do what I don't want to do and don't do what I want to do, etc."  I read through The Message for another possibly, less confusing way to say it:

"It happens so regularly that it's predictable.  The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up.  I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight.  Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge...[Jesus Christ] acted to set things right in this life of contradicitions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different (Rom. 7:21-25 MSG)."

The good news is in the next chapter:

"...the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along...He knows us far better than we know ourselves...That's why we can be sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good (MSG Romans 8:26-28)."

So today, like Paul, I'm embracing a Wednesday filled with my fragile humanity.  I'm confronting my not-so-pretty parts and telling them that they won't win.  I can do good things, even when I don't feel like it. When I'm tired, fed up, stressed out, annoyed, or too busy, I can still make good choices.  I can still do the right thing, because I have help and I am not alone.

And guess what?  Sharing this truth with my kids in the minivan on the way to school, was a funny teaching moment.  "See, kids?  Even Mommy doesn't always want to get up and go to school.  Even Mommy doesn't feel like doing things that she should do. But we do them anyway, because they are right.  Making good choices, despite your feelings, is still our responsibility and it is possible."

Heck yes!  Humbling yourself before your family is wonderfuly liberating and more powerful than any amount of preaching from pedestals. 

Let's get to work!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Twelve Years a Marriage

Dear Husband,

Our first year of meeting was like a sprint. We became friends fast. Fell in love fast. Got engaged and married fast. Had babies fast. 

But twelve years of marriage was 4,383 days long. Not fast. More like steady. 

Our shared life has required us to train for a marathon of loving one another through all kinds of weather, changes in terrain, and fluctuating emotions. 

We slowed down and acclimated to each new addition to the family. As job changes and relocations surfaced,we watched our steps and adjusted our rhythm. We have learned to pace ourselves in patience when disagreements arise, when pain comes, when emotions blur our vision. 

To win this race, we must continue to fix our eyes on the finish line, not getting hung up on temporary circumstances or personality differences. 

Because we're not scoring individual points for a race we entered together. Everyone else may pass us by on their singular paths to happiness, but we know that we have chosen a team philosophy. There is no "I." 

We have common goals and worthy motivations: With Jesus as our inspiration, we're carrying a light to the world and raising our family to love God and others. It all starts with us.

I'm so proud of us for completing another year! Still holding hands. Still cheering one another on. Still in the race.

Thanks for running with me.
With love,
Your Wife

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Seeing Opportunities in Interruptions

Interruptions frustrate me. They keep me from completing tasks quickly and distract me from accomplishing goals.

When one of my children ask me to find something, another one refuses to do something, and the youngest needs my help with something, just getting from Point A to Point B is like running a race against the wind. 

Interruptions are my current reality, but if I focus too much on these disruptions they throw off my perspective. I see only problems, instead of opportunities.

Even Jesus dealt with interferences: while he was trying to take a nap (Mark 4:35-39), while he was trying to speak (Mark 2:1-12 ), and while he was trying to go somewhere (Mark 4:22-34 ). Rather than ignoring requests, the Bible records many examples of Jesus stopping to address someone's problem. As a result, we have  stories of miracles and forgiveness to strengthen our faith. 

How quickly I forget that life is made up of moments. And moments are what we make them- planned or surprised. Each interference into my world can serve a precious purpose

When my neighbor knocks on the door, I don't have to stop what I'm doing and answer.  My choice is to ignore or engage. One decision totally makes her day and strengthens our trust and friendship. The other completely locks the door on kindness and hospitality.
Likewise, the interruption of a sick kid shocks me into canceling my plans for a few days. I don't like having to drop everything. It's certainly a quick track to self-sacrifice, because I'm forced to immerse myself in nursing and disinfecting until the victim is well. And yet, I can choose a grumbling attitude or a compassionate one. This interruption can emotionally knock me down or give me laser-sharp focus on the health of my family. My kids can tell if I'm serving out of love or out of obligation.

The endless disruptions throughout my every day, can nag at me like a dripping faucet or open my eyes to those smallish, important moments. Re-tying a shoe, settling arguments, applying band-aids, last minute carpool arrangements, answering the 385th question... Each inconvenient interruption is an opportunity. To love better. To learn more. To help another. To be aware. 

My friend, Joey (from JoeyTalks), said "Interruptions are intended to get my attention." His family experienced a dramatic disruption a few years ago that caused him to stop and process his whole perspective. His story impacted me. Watch this video and look for opportunities in any unexpected moments that come your way today:

1 Peter 4:8-11 Most of all, love one another deeply. Love erases many sins by forgiving them. Welcome others into your homes without complaining. God’s gifts of grace come in many forms. Each of you has received a gift in order to serve others. You should use it faithfully. If anyone speaks, they should do it as one speaking God’s words. If anyone serves, they should do it with the strength God provides. Then in all things God will be praised through Jesus Christ. Glory and power belong to him for ever and ever. Amen. 

Monday, February 09, 2015

Everyone's Brain but My Own

It's Monday. And it's one of those weeks.  My chances of forgetting something are increasing by the hour. 

The calendar is set with reminders for each family member like big fat post-it notes on my forehead. Also, my daughter can't find her jump drive for an upcoming paper.  My son lost his jacket- again.  
Dance rehearsals, costume pieces, Valentine cards, school volunteering, doctor appointment, teacher conference, packing overnight bags and of course all of the usual meal planning, laundry, and dishes. It's all culminating into one lengthy to-do list and...oh my gosh, oh my gosh...Breathe.

I am so often required to think for my children, which clutters my brain with too many tasks.  It's a grey area in parenting for me, because if I don't remind my 7-year-old to brush his teeth, he may skip the morning ritual.  And yet, I am frustrated by constantly having to verbally direct each step of a task.  So tired of hearing my voice. Coaching seemingly no-brainers.

"Put your socks and shoes on."
"Get your coat on."
"Put your lunch in your backpack."
"Where's your backpack?"

I decide that this will be a good lesson in responsibility. So I just let my son go to school without a jacket and my daughter will have to do a little more detective work before I buy her another school supply.

The danger for busy Monday mornings and activity-packed weeks like this is that I will go, go, go and starting running on empty. I will give, give, give until I have nothing left. Then I start snapping at the kids and the husband, sighing unnecessarily loudly at each request, and emotionally retreating. 

Mom needs to create a little mental space for other things. I need to protect a little patch of green grass for pulling out a blanket and lying peacefully on my back to look at the clouds.  I have to reserve at least one wrinkled section of my brain for personal enrichment. PLEASE.

As tempting as it is to race without warming up, the risk is a pulled muscle.  Starting the day without carving out time for prayer, reflecting, reading, and just sitting with a cup of coffee only raises my percentages of impatience and anxiety. For myself, scheduling a few hours for writing, making art, or having a conversation with a friend is usually all I need to return to my work refreshed- even when I am facing such a demanding week.

So after a little break, son, I'll help look for that missing jacket...again.
And may The Lord our God show us his approval and make our efforts successful. -Psalm 90.17
The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.  He renews my strength. -Psalm 23.1-3

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Birthday Reflections

It's my birthday weekend!

I have been thoroughly celebrated by my husband, my family, my in-laws, my kids, and my friends with so many good things.

I'm half way to seventy now, so I guess it's safe to say that I'm a no way an expert at much but definitely better at some things. Not entirely sure of every next step but a little more confident than before.

It seems appropriate today to evaluate the last thirty five years, because recently, it hit me that I am not quite who I used to be.

I used to be a lot more messy;
I used to be frequently depressed;
I used to think that I had nothing to offer;
I used to feel jilted by my single parent upbringing;
I used to only see my failures;
I used to want more than anything to prove my worth to others;
I used to seek fame;
I used to believe I wasn't cut out for this.
When anyone lives in Christ, the new creation has come. The old is gone! The new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
I've changed in good ways.  I've learned and grown, and it's so encouraging.  Because most days, it feels like I'm climbing uphill, out of breath, looking for the end of a struggle.  Hoping for victory at the top of the mountain, instead of just feeling tired.

Looking back, I can see where I've been and what I've traveled through, relieved to find myself past a few hard seasons- coming out a little stronger than I was at the start.

We can always be better, but it's good to remember that we've made progress too.

I am still in the middle of other spiritual lessons, but I'm teachable.  I could be more patient, more efficient, more organized, more assertive, and more physically fit too.  I'm still traipsing down unmarked paths,  tripping a little, figuring things out as I go.

But I'm hopeful, because at least they're not the same trails.  At least I'm not walking around in circles.

One of my kids' favorite books was "We're Going on a Bear Hunt" by Michael Rosen.  In the story the family runs up to a few obstacles while on their adventure, and each time they chant: "We can't go over it.  We can't go under it.  Oh no! We've got to go through it!'

When we have difficulties in this life, the fastest way to the other side is to just go through it. Avoiding hard stuff only stunts our growth and keeps us stuck. But with bravery, prayer, community, and Jesus, we can cry and learn and graduate to the next thing.  Then we can help others.
We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him...(Romans 8:28)
Being inexperienced in motherhood makes me more relatable to the new mom who feels likes she's not doing anything right.  I remember what that felt like.
Going through an unplanned pregnancy and starting a family with very little money, allows me to understand the struggles of others. I've been there.
Questioning my worth, my place, my purpose, brought me the knowledge of who I am in Christ. So now I can speak into the lives of my friends who have forgotten who they are or have never even known.

And we keep on working. Always being in the process of transformation shouldn't slow us down. Knowing that we have more purpose and more chances should give us hope.  It's exciting to look forward to a more improved version of myself.  To increase in wisdom and see new places.

I don't know who says it, but it's completely fitting: "If you're not dead, you're not done."

My birthday is another milemarker. Today is a monument.  It's a chance to read the writing, honor the past, and then look ahead.
And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him. - 2 Corinthians 3:18 (MSG)
God began a good work in you.  And I am sure that he will carry it on until it is completed... -Philippians 1:6

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Faith Like Flying

Finding A Feather

The week following Christmas, my family took advantage of a warm afternoon to put our feet in the sand and smell the sea.  It's such a blessing to live here close to the water- to be surprised by sunny days in the middle of the dreary wintery ones. I find it nearly impossible to feel stress when the sounds of the waves shush my busy brain. 

My mom was with me on this particular escape, keeping my littlest son on the lookout for treasures.  I listened quietly nearby at their conversations while I watched for photo opportunities (my own version of treasure hunting).  

They found broken pieces of sand dollars, an assortment of small shells, and coral.  Washed up sticks were transformed into art utensils, weapons, or canes.  We searched at the edge of the water, being careful not to get our feet too wet or mucky from the December ocean. Ultimately, though, the ripples were too irresistible for shoes. My kids braved most of the walk barefooted.

Back and forth we traveled- from the sea to the dryer sand dunes, where we picked through the high tide's scattered leftovers. 

That's where I found the feather.

I know feathers are all the rage right now.  They make pretty art subjects, resembling lighthearted whimsy and lofty daydreams.  There is something inspiring about feathers and birds. They represent freedom. We wonder what it must feel like to fly with clouds on top of the wind.  Seeing things from so high. Being above the chaos and clutter of the earth.

We wish we could be so fearless. So uninhibited. So carefree. 

But that feather floated to the sand from a hard, steady climbing and a persistent balancing act. A fierce motivation and trained instinct kept a determined bird aloft. A creature covered in hundreds of those feathers, resisted fear and pushed through physical adversity on its journey above us. It's not all a vacation in the sky.  It's not always an escape into the blue.  Because it's not always a breezeless, sunny day.

Sometimes it's cold and harsh. And when it is, the bird becomes more intentional. It perseveres through headstrong winds because it knows there's a calm on the other side of it. Maybe a little higher, they can relax those feathers and find their destination. 

Each trip requires well-earned, single-minded faith. But the bird's had practice. Experiencing all types of weather, it flies in confidence, not fear. It's fallen feathers are like badges of honor.

Learning to Fly

I once watched a nest full of baby wrens hatch and grow on my back porch. The day one fell out of the nest, I anxiously waited and wondered what would happen. Where was the little one's mom? From my side of the window, I worried over the survival of the young bird bouncing and flapping around my two-story porch. It's siblings fidgeted and frantically chirped from the nest. Watching.

Then the momma bird arrived and assessed the situation. She must have heard the commotion and found her floundering offspring nearby. But instead of hovering or trying to rescue the baby, she directed.  It was like the mom was coaching the young bird to keep going.  "It's okay.  I've done this before.  Let me show you how to fly."

The chirping increased, as the family communicated with one another.  The mother hopped away to the edge of the porch and waited for her charge.  He fluttered and fell short distances, but she would catch up or come back to encourage him along.  After several minutes, the pair of birds had made their way down from our deck onto the grass, then onto a low branch of a small Maple tree, and over to the ledge of a fence, and finally to the woods beyond.  

For the rest of the day, our family watched as each baby bird dropped from the nest, following the first brave sibling.  Their mom returned to help them reach new higher perches.  They practiced strengthening their wings and trusting their abilities.  And not one of them went back to the nest.  In fact, we never saw the wrens again.

The amazing thing is, that not one of those little birds had flown before.  They had seen their parents come and go.  They had probably wondered what was outside of their safe little bed of twigs and feathers.  But until one of them peered over the edge and took a leap, they never experienced the thrill of flying.  Ultimately, they would have also never realized their God-given propensity for taking to the sky.

Faith Like Flying

Looking at a feather, thinking of those little birds, I am struck by how they represent something other than easy aspirations.  That first flight took immense faith and trust in their parent, in their Creator, in their abilities.  I know I'm not a bird, but I can imagine that there must be some fear too, when standing on the edge of the unknown.  Don't we all evaluate risks and experience anxiety over what could happen, if we jump out of our comfortable places? 

The thing is, faith is only a good idea until we decide to do something with our belief.  It's intangible until we show that fear will not deter us.  James 2:17 says that "faith, by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead."  If we don't ever do something in faith, than faith is basically obsolete.  It doesn't actually exist.  Is a bird without wings even a bird?!?

We've heard that "love does," but so does faith.  What would happen if we treated our belief, our trust, our faith like verbs instead of inactive nouns? The Bible is clear that "faith without deeds is useless (James 2:20)." So why don't we start putting our faith into action?

My theme for the year is "Faith in Action."  I'm determined to dig into the faith heroes of the Bible (Hebrews 11), learn from examples of faith around me today, and practice working out my own faith muscles.  It requires me to trust God to take care of outcomes while I take obedient steps, despite my fears.  He will use my efforts and test flights to accomplish His purpose. In return, my faith will grow (Galatians 5:22-23, Colossians 2:6-7).

And you will know that I am less talk and more "walk"...or in this case, "fly" (1 Thessalonians 1:3).

Comment here or join me on instagram or facebook to share your faith stories with #FaithLikeFlying and #TheMomSeason, so we can all be encouraged (Romans 1:12)! I would love to hear from you!

Monday, January 26, 2015

My Four-Year-Old's Star Wars Party

My youngest turned four last week, and because he has a big brother, he chose a Star Wars theme for his birthday celebration. How do you make Darth Maul and Lord Sidious cute?! I know. I'm a girl. But as a mom, there are just some story characters and movie elements that I'm just not in love with. 

So in order to have a party erring on the "light side," I decided on some simple decorations and fun preschool activities. 

First, I took a picture of my little guy in his best Jedi pose and did some editing on my phone for his email invitations. Honestly, it was faster and the easiest way for me to be in contact with other parents for RSVPs and any changes in plans. Plus, it was free!

For a preschool lunch visit during the week, I bought pre-made brownies, slapped some thematic pieces on top and made my son and his tummy perfectly happy (without all the fuss). 
I also put together a little party favor for each of his classmates for less than $1.00 a piece. A starry bouncy ball and two "light saber" glow sticks in a little black gift pouch.

The cake was just a boxed chocolate mix baked in two round pans then iced with a dark gray tinted frosting. My son thought it would be cool to have a "Death Star" cake, so I browsed online for ideas and contemplated the simplest way to do this for a non-professional cake decorator (me).
I bought pre-made white fondant and rolled it out, cutting out shapes resembling the main elements of the ship. Then I sprayed it with an edible silver color spray (shortcut), and stuck them into place on the frosted cake! 
It passed the boy test, which is a huge compliment, since I only know what a Death Star is because I have sons ;-)

I wanted the party decorations to use the Lego Star Wars characters because they seemed more age appropriate, but I could not find plates and napkins for a reasonable price. I ended up printing out some images to set out and then kept with a blue, silver, black color scheme.

My older two kids were wonderful helping with cutting out paper stars and using some glow-in-the-dark stars for table decor. We also looked around the house for Star Wars toys we already had to display. The boys were proud to show off some Lego sets and figures they've collected.

The biggest part of this celebration was planning the activities. It's usually cold in January, and we've had several stretches of rainy weather. So having an inside party requires some creative preparation!

Thank you, Pinterest parents, for sharing your ideas. I used some of those for the following games:

The pool noodle light sabers were a big hit. We cut red (Darth Vader), blue (Luke Skywalker), and green (Yoda) pool noodles in half. Then I wrapped the ends in black and silver duct tape, using blue round price stickers for buttons. When the kids arrived, we let them decorate the   light sabers with star stickers and letters for their names.

With their new (and safe) weapons, they defended the earth from asteroids. The object was to keep some grey balloons from touching the ground with the light sabers.


What's more preschool than playdough, right? We just used blue, black, and white colors to coordinate with the party. Then we let them mix them and cut out stars with cookie cutters.

We drew storm trooper faces on helium-inflated white balloons with Sharpies and let the kids shoot at their enemy targets with Nerf guns.  My older son was more than happy to help with this activity.

For this busy activity, I printed out images I found online and had them laminated to be waterproof. Then I covered the bottom of a plastic container with aluminum foil and filled it with water to represent the carbonite that poor Hans Solo is frozen in. 

It took about 12 hours to harden, and I froze four blocks so everyone would have a chance to free the Star Wars hero.

The kids took turns pouring salt and warm water over the ice, then used spoons to chip away the ice, ultimately rescuing the prisoner!

The party went smoothly, thanks to help from my family and lots of prep during the week! And the kids had a fun playdate. I love #celebratingmypeople

Mission complete :-)