Archive for the ‘My Life in the Kingdom’ Category

Did You Know God Answers Prayers? No, Seriously.

This first part might be silly to you.

See, for weeks, I’ve had this worship song on the tip of my tongue.  The only problem is that I can’t remember…well…any of it.  I remember that it has a part where the girls echo.  I remember that it is kind of upbeat.  That it might have the line, “I need you.”  I remember learning it in Summerville and singing it around a bonfire.

That’s all I remember.

And for weeks, whenever I’ve been singing around the house or in the car, I’ve tried to remember that song.  I have racked my brain, you guys.

Well, last Thursday, I was driving the kids to Chattanooga to meet my mom, and I was singing some worship songs (the drive to Chattanooga will do that to you.  It is gorgeous!). The kids were content with their i-devices, and I was up front, singing softly through my repertoire, when that song-I-don’t-know came back into my head.  Again, I tried in vain to tease it out of my brain, to no avail.

Finally, I decided to pray about it.  What made me want to pray was that the kids and I had recently read a biography of George Muller, the guy who started all the orphanages in Bristol in the 1800’s.  That guy prayed for everything.  It was nuts.  He never asked for a dime for his orphan houses.  He just literally prayed every day that God would supply their needs, and…God did.  Seriously.  It was insane.

The thing is, Muller just had such faith in prayer.  Like, he prayed and expected God to answer.  I mean, really answer.  You know?  So, although my request was a far cry from feeding the orphans, I decided to pray about this song, just to see.  I tried my best to think like George Muller and to really have an eager expectation of God answering my prayer.  So even though I felt more than a little sheepish, I laughed nervously and asked God, “Please, tell me what that song is.  I really want to sing it to You!”  Then I waited for a second.  When nothing popped into my head, I sighed and started to sing another song.  Midway through, I stopped.

“I love You.  I need You. Mmm-hm hm-hm-hm, I’ll never let you go.”

I paused.  Yes!  Yes, that’s how it went.

“You’re my savior.  My closest friend.  I will worship You until the very end.”

Within a minute or two, the whole song had come back to me, and I was happily singing,

“Jesus–you’re the lover of my so-ou-oul./ Jesus–I will never let you go,” 

with a big smile on my face.  I had finally remembered the song.  “Thanks, God.”  I said.  “That was killing me.”

That’s the silly part of the story.  But it gets better.

The next day, I went to a homeschool convention, which was so much fun.  I went to lots of sessions and got various tips about the benefits of notebooking and the importance of including art in your curriculum.  It was the last session of the day, however, that really rocked my world.  The session was called, “The Logic of English,” and it was taught by Denise Eide, the author of a phonics curriculum by the same name.  Her 60-minute session blew me away.  She really explained the nature of the English language to the packed room, and her thesis is that even though English is a complex morpho-phonetic language, it is not inherently inconsistent.  We only think that it is because we don’t understand the rules for it.  Using enough specific examples to convince me, Denise argued that the knowledge of 74 phonograms and 30 spelling rules will explain 98% of the English language.  Even more than that, she used statistics to highlight the reality that our nation is experiencing a literacy crisis.  She showed how literacy greatly affects one’s path in life (and the likelihood, for example, that one will end up in prison or on welfare), and she issued a stirring call to the church to step up and stand in the gap.  She claimed that it is the duty of the Christian not just to teach our own children in our little nest, but also to make the world a better place.

Not surprisingly, this all set my hair on fire.

I drove home that evening, mulling over the implications of her talk and trying to figure out some way to bring her program to the kids at Youth Encouragement Services, an after-school program that is closely linked to our church.  Should Greg and I buy the curriculum for Y.E.S.?  How much would it cost?  Would Daniel, the Y.E.S. director, even be interested in using it?  Would it work well in a group setting?  I had so many questions!

That night, I prayed about it.  And the next morning, I prayed some more.  My song prayer had really bolstered my faith, and so I prayed what I call a “for-real prayer.”  As in, “For real, God, I am expecting an answer to this–today.  I need You to make this clear to me.”  After I prayed, I talked to Greg about my conundrum.  See, we had some money set aside to do something else for God’s kingdom, and I was wondering if God wanted me to use it instead for this curriculum.  It wasn’t much, but enough to buy a teacher manual and some of the manipulatives.  Maybe we could make our own workbooks?  When I told Greg about it, he suggested, “Well, why don’t you ask her if she would cut a deal for Y.E.S.  It’s a non-profit, after all.”  Huh.  I had never thought of that, but the more I considered it, the more sense it made.  If Denise would work with us, then maybe we could use our money to do both things.  That settled it.  I asked God to let that be my sign that He wanted me to pursue The Logic of English.  It seemed like a fair test:  Denise had been so passionate about serving the community in her talk.  We would see if she was in real life, as well.

My resolve wavered several times before I got a chance to talk to her at her booth.  Maybe that wasn’t such a good test after all.  What if they weren’t willing to play ball–did that really mean that I shouldn’t use their curriculum at all?  I lingered around the booth for awhile, and finally got a chance to talk to her husband about everything.  He was open and supportive, and said they would be willing to work with us, but he wasn’t very committal on specifics, which honestly made sense to me.  As I walked away, I pondered.  Was that enough?  Was that my sign?  God knows that I need bright neon signs–We’ve been through this, time and time again, and He usually supplies the electric signs when I need them.  Because of that, I just wasn’t sure that this was it.

Later, I wandered back  over to the booth and ended up talking to Denise herself.  When I mentioned Y.E.S., her eyes lit up, and she asked me all sorts of questions about it.  What really intrigued her was that we had the kids every day.  That’s what she kept coming back to.  This program works so much better if it is taught daily, she kept saying.  She also seemed incredibly excited about the opportunity to partner with us.  I knew from talking to her husband that their company was new and not really on its feet yet financially.  Denise, however, waved off those concerns.  She explained that she was friends with the head of the National Right to Read foundation and felt confident that she could get a grant for whatever we needed.  As we kept talking she finally said, “Even if we can’t get a grant, we can make this happen.  If we have to donate it ourselves, we will make this happen.”

And that was my bright neon sign.

Or maybe it was this:

Image

This all came today, just one week after I prayed for a sign that God wanted us to use The Logic of English at Y.E.S.  It is everything we need to launch a K-2nd grade class this summer, and we didn’t pay a dime for it.  Denise donated it.  She and I are also going to work on a grant proposal this summer for money to start a more extensive literacy program in the fall, one that includes more age groups.

This past week has involved a lot of scrambling on the part of Daniel (the Y.E.S. director), Denise, and me, as we tried to figure out how to maximize this opportunity and start as soon as possible, without stretching our resources too far.  Implementing a new program takes a lot of work, and I had to chuckle a couple of times as I thought, “Be careful what you pray for!”  However, this is the type of work that is totally worth it, and it feels amazing to be doing something that seems so clearly in God’s direct will.  I have no idea where this all will lead (right now, I’m focusing on doing “the next right thing”), but I am so thankful that I serve a God who does answer prayers, a God that lets us partner with Him to accomplish His purposes on this earth.  

Sometimes, I need to be reminded of that amazing reality, and I’m sharing this all with you, just in case you need to be reminded, too.

In Defense of Dandelions

IMG_7959We have a dandelion problem in our yard.  Perhaps it could be because my daughter obsessively blows dandelion seeds across the lawn whenever we get a chance.  And perhaps it is because Greg and I can’t muster up the concern to address that tendency.  Regardless of the cause, the result is that bright, round dandelions are scattered across our backyard.

I’ve been amazed at how fast they grow.  Greg mowed the yard on Saturday afternoon.  When I pulled in the driveway after church on Sunday, there were more than a dozen seemingly full-grown dandelions waiting to greet me.

“Oh my goodness!”  I exclaimed.  “Look at how fast dandelions can grow!”  The kids and I marveled, but I also couldn’t help shaking my head and sighing.  Luke asked why I did that.  I explained that dandelions are weeds, and that people try to get rid of them.  It was then that Anna piped up:  “I would never try to get rid of dandelions.  They’re so beautiful!!”  

Her comment made me pause and think.  Why is it that we disdain dandelions so much?  Yes, they use up too many nutrients and keep one’s yard from being uniformly green…but why must we have uniform yards?  Who decided that uniformity was beautiful?  Besides, dandelions are pretty–really!  If they were a rare flower that took lots of work, I think we would admire them a lot more.  And yet, because dandelions take no effort, because they grow overnight where we don’t want them to grow, we resent them.  Isn’t that curious?  We love flowers that we control, that we work for, that we coax into blooming.  We love the ones that stay in our neatly ascribed garden boundaries.  But wild dandelions, which don’t ask our permission before gracing us with their beauty, draw our wrath.

That’s an interesting phenomenon.

I’ve noticed the same thing with weather.  Lots of people like crisp air in autumn.  Others love beautiful snowy days in winter, or warm spring days, or the hot days of summer.  But what no one seems to be able to stand is summer days in autumn, winter days in spring, or overly warm days in winter.  In short, we like the various types of weather, but in our minds, they must be in their proper season.  Case in point:  this chilly spring has been driving everyone crazy.  If the calendar says April, daggonnit, then it’s supposed to be warm!!  A cold day is all well and good when it is January; then we might make a fire and sip hot chocolate and enjoy it.  But in April??  Forget it!  Basically, we like our weather patterns to be predictable, controlled.  And when they don’t fit into our preconceived notions of seasonal appropriateness, we rail against them.

But a cold day has just as many possibilities in April as in January.  And a warm, balmy one should be no less enjoyable in October than in May.

And a dandelion is beautiful.IMG_7958

Even if we can’t predict and control it.

Pondering the dandelions yesterday afternoon made me realize the different “dandelions” that pop up in my life:  those things of beauty that I resent, just because I can’t control them.  Take waiting, for example.  So often, my life seems so busy, so chaotic, and I would just love a chance to sit and be quiet, to calm my thoughts and ponder and reflect.  Such moments seem to be in short supply, and I am constantly scheming of ways for my life to slow down.

Until it does slow down, at a traffic light or a carpool line at tutorial or a waiting room.  Then, suddenly, I have a few seconds to myself–moments where no chores beckon, with no items on my to-do list able to be knocked off. I have a few moments to sit and think.

And do I enjoy these moments??

No.  I don’t.  These moments are dandelions.  I can’t control them; I didn’t choose them.  Thus, I don’t want them.  Apparently, I want quiet time on my terms, when I am fully prepared for it.  I want quiet time on my couch, surrounded by my books and notebook, not here in my car in the middle of traffic.  Yes, they are moments to think, to pray, to ponder, to refocus.  But I don’t appreciate them.  I find myself resenting these “time dandelions” instead of marveling at their fleeting beauty.

Or take moments with my kids.  I love times of connections with my children, times of snuggles and good conversations.  That’s a big part of why I homeschool.  I love to spend my days reading to my kids, talking to them, and playing with them.

Unless, of course, I’m in the middle of another task.  In that case, I grow impatient when they need me, and resent when they persistently demand my attention.  Often, these spontaneous interactions, these dandelion moments, could lead to bonding and beauty–if I have the wisdom to embrace them.

And that’s my challenge for myself today.  I want to appreciate the dandelions in my life, the little moments beyond my control.  I want to see the beauty in a life that I can’t fully plan, a life that keeps surprising me.  I want to embrace opportunities to rest and opportunities to love, even if they aren’t in my perfectly manicured garden–er, I mean schedule.

Because dandelions are beautiful.

My daughter taught me that.

I’m Going to Die Soon (and So Are You)

Four years ago today, my brother died.  After a long battle with bipolar disorder that stole his sanity and severely tested the rest of ours, he committed suicide.  This morning, I put up a picture of him on Facebook, being silly with my son:

mike and luke

The picture garnered a silent stream of “likes” throughout the day, and I was oddly comforted by my friends and family’s acknowledgment of his death.  Because that’s what those “likes” were to me:  an acknowledgment.  I know it’s silly, but with just a simple click of the mouse, they said to me, “Yes.  That happened.”  And there is something in me that doesn’t want others to forget.

Alongside the silent “likes” on Facebook, quiet snowflakes fell outside all day long.  I have never experienced anything like the weather today:  it snowed and snowed, but nothing stuck.  That’s because it was 34 degrees all day.  And yet, the big, fat snowflakes kept tumbling down from the gray sky, refusing to turn into rain.  They were peaceful and beautiful, and I took their presence as heaven’s acknowledgment of this significant day:  Peace and beauty, falling from the sky.

The thing is, today was not a sad day.  I wasn’t tearful (for the most part); on the contrary, I was very busy.  This morning, I had our church’s first curriculum meeting, where I sat around a table and discussed with several other wonderful people how to best equip our children for the Christian life.  On the way home, I stopped by the grocery store.  Then, I came home and started working on the house:  I mopped, I scrubbed baseboards, I vacuumed, I spot cleaned, I did laundry.  You know, all those little things that make it so I can open my house to others and welcome them in.  This evening, I attended a benefit to support some friends who are in the process of adopting their third precious child.  No…I wasn’t sad.

I was just mindful.

Whenever I think about the fact that my brother is in heaven, I am comforted by the idea that I am going to see him soon.  Maybe that sounds morbid, but it’s true.  You and I are on this earth no longer than a minute.  Our life is a breath.  We are the fog that appears in the morning and vanishes.  We are the grass that quickly withers.

We are the snowflakes that don’t even stick to the ground.  That’s how ephemeral our presence is.

Is it weird that that thought comforts me?

Is it weird that it energizes me?

Sometimes I think, “I AM ALIVE ON THIS EARTH AT THIS MOMENT!”  And that thought blows me away.  It makes me want to live my little moment to the fullest.  It makes me want to live for things that MATTER.  It makes me look with disdain on all my petty concerns, like the big world map canvas I want (but can’t afford) for my living room and like the pounds I still want to lose.  It makes those little frustrations seem like the pointless distractions that they are.  And it makes things like loving my neighbor and serving others and dying to myself seem like they are the only things that matter.

Because they are.

No, the awareness of my mortality doesn’t sadden me; it invigorates me.  And that makes sense, I guess.  At least, it does to C.S. Lewis, who observed,

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.  The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.

I believe that Lewis is absolutely correct on this point.  It’s when I forget that my life is a breath that I get distracted by wall decorations and weight gain and all manner of other meaningless junk.  My brother helps me remember that.  And so does the Bible.

I’m going to die soon.  And so are you.  Let’s start living like we understand what that means.

The Next Right Thing

Last weekend, I took seven middle school girls to a Girls’ Conference at a church in Memphis.  While there, I experienced some serious sleep deprivation (a 4:30 am-to-midnight day will do that to you), but also heard some good messages.  One speaker made a really simple point that was able to make sense even to my sleep-addled brain.  She said something to the effect of, “Obeying God simply means doing the next right thing.”

That’s it.  Earth-shattering, right?  But for me, it kind of was.  I often get overwhelmed by the big picture:  what does God want me to do with my life?  Is He pleased with me?  What are His plans for me?  And am I following them?  Am I walking in obedience??  Ahhhhh!!!!  Someone get me a Magic 8 ball!

My little brain can’t piece all that together.  But it can handle “the next right thing.”  The next right thing that day was to stay awake (drat) and to get to know these wonderful girls who were with me.  The next right thing was to really listen to them, and as a result, to get a true glimpse into their lives.  And the next right thing after that was to feel really convicted about how fervently I pray for my children, but don’t pray for these girls.  Another mom has shared with me the idea of “praying circles around my kids.”  On our trip, God gently asked me, “Who is praying circles around these kids?”  And so the next right thing was to start praying for these girls as often as I pray for my own kids.  And the next right thing after that was to write them an encouraging note before school.

The next right thing.

Similarly, I’ve been overwhelmed with the task of figuring out what and how to teach our children at our church.  I’ve had to realize that I can’t figure that whole picture out right now; I just have to do the next right thing.  The next right thing in that task was to organize the hand-me-down curriculum we have for the spring semester.  And the next right thing after that was to talk to our teachers and realize that they don’t like that curriculum, so I need to look for something else for the fall.  And the next right thing after that was to do online research.  And the next right thing will be to do some in-store research and hopefully find some samples to show our teachers.  These tasks are small, insignificant.  They are not the “great” things I dream about doing for the kingdom of God.  But maybe “great” things are just series of “next right things” that are allowed to continue to their natural conclusion.

The next right thing.

I have also been overwhelmed by the idea of this blog sitting here, unused.  I don’t really know what I want from it.  I don’t have any big picture of its purpose.  But I know that the speaker’s message during the Girls’ Conference was a good one.  I know that this idea of simply doing the next right thing has really helped me in my Christian walk.  So I’m going to share it.

Because sharing it is the next right thing.

A Mass of Hope and Longing (My New Year’s Post)

By all accounts, 2012 was a good year.  We settled into our life in Nashville, enjoying both our new church and all this city has to offer.  Greg loves his ministry job.  I taught my first college classes in years, and didn’t embarrass myself.  We made the decision to homeschool our children, and have loved it.  We grew closer to our church family and made some great memories with them.  We went to Washington D.C. for a week and also to the Chattanooga Aquarium and Rock City.  My best friend moved to the middle Tennessee area, and so did Greg’s grandmother.  Anna learned to read, and Luke learned to multiply.  We found a great gymnastics program for Anna, and Luke received his yellow belt in tae kwon do.

It was good.

On the resolution front, I met my running quota and read through the Bible (although, I admit I had to finish early, as I can only take so much of the esoteric carnage of the minor prophets and Revelation.  I know you should not rush through the Bible, but I struggle to understand that last bit).    I blogged about my desire to live a life of love, and while–shockingly–I don’t think I mastered that, God did teach me a lot about loving this year.  Particularly, He brought to light some selfishness and pettiness in my own heart that keeps me from loving others like I should.  This year, I long for freedom from such pettiness.  I know how to love deeply, but I long to love selflessly.

In fact, I have several longings as I start the new year.  I guess that’s weird because I’m not coming off a bad year, so shouldn’t I be more content?  I think that I am content in the important ways…but I still have hopes for the new year.  I hope, for example, that my new semester of teaching goes well, and that I’m able to successfully balance it with homeschooling.  It’s only one class, two days a week, so my hopes in this area are high.  I hope we are able to sell our house in South Carolina and do so without losing tons of money.  I hope that Luke and Anna find some real friendsthis year.  Not just people they get along with, not just people I set up playdates with, but friends who love them and actively want to spend time with them.  I hope to actually do some writing on that book that has been in my head for three years.  I hope to lose five pounds.  I hope that all the disparate parts of our church continue to congeal into a family–a family who is open and transparent with one another, a family who spends lots of time together, a family with one clear mission.   And most of all, I hope that God leads me deeper into Him and His will.  I hope that He teaches me more and more what it means to live every second of my life for Him.  I long for that.  I hunger for that.  But with all my longing and hunger, I still spend a lot of time confused and with a vague sense of failure.

So basically, I am a mass of hope and longing as I watch the last of this year ebb away.  To clear my mind, I am working on action steps, trying to noodle out my own role in resolving all this hope and longing.  Here’s what I have so far:

–Pursue God daily in tangible ways–and have someone hold me accountable in my relationship with Him (I am already working on this one).

–Pray daily for our church and for friends for our kids…and put into action several of my ideas for both.

–Run 175 days this year, and do some form of other exercise daily.  (We’ll see how that one holds up.  I’m okay with the running, but I have grown to loathe exercises.)

–Prepare thoroughly and in advance for all teaching endeavors.  (I have already started on this one, but it’s still too early to figure out exactly what that looks like.  At minimum, my goal is to have all classes and homeschool lessons prepared by the start of each week.  No “night before” stuff.)

–That leaves writing.  I may come back to update this, but right now my goal is to do something for my writing every weekday.  It could be as simple as jotting down an idea or looking up a verse.  Hopefully, it will usually involve more than that, but that’s the minimum.  It’s such a daunting task for me, and small steps give me strength.

I have also been really convicted lately about acting justly, especially in the realm of my role as a consumer.  Honestly, though, my fire died out in the holiday season, as I found myself doing things like running to Wal-mart at the last minute and buying M&M’s for my Christmas game at a kids’ party.  And also, I must admit, the seeming apathy on these issues from the Christian community often dampens my resolve and makes me wonder if I am crazy for thinking my purchases are something God cares about.  That’s why, for me, the issue of acting justly folds into my first resolution.  I must continue to purposefully seek God and ask Him what He wants from me, and I must have accountability both to help me interpret Him correctly and to make sure I obey the instructions I read in His word.

And I think that about wraps it up for my hopes, longings, and resolutions for 2013.  What about you?  Do you have any hopes or resolutions?

Thankful

I don’t know what it is this year, but I am looking forward to Thanksgiving so much.  In anticipation, I checked out tons of books about Thanksgiving from the library, and the kids and I have spent the last couple of bedtimes reading all about this wonderful holiday.  I have also enjoyed seeing people list what they are thankful for on Facebook.  I have thought about doing that myself, but I quickly discovered that I am too verbose for Facebook’s status updates.  Also, I can’t narrow it down to one thing a day.  Seriously, I started thinking about all the things that I’ve been thankful for in November so far, and I came up with the following list.  All of these pictures and all of these thoughts occurred within the last three days:

1.  I am thankful for how well my children get along.  A few weeks ago, a friend asked me if my children are close.  Now, of course, they do squabble with each other, but the answer to her question is, yes, they are close.  Sometimes even weirdly so.

For example, here they are wearing matching outfits.  This was ALL their idea.  I tried to dissuade them from it, but they would not be moved.

And here they are sharing my jacket in Kroger, because, according to them, it was “FREEZING.”

2.  I’m thankful for wonderful parents, who always love, support, and encourage me:

It means so much to me when my mom tells me I’m a good mom.  I guess it’s because she is the best mom I know, and so her I value her opinion on the matter.

3.  I’m thankful for all the good movies that are out.  I love watching movies, and yet, so often, there are not any movies worth seeing.  Right now, my list of “must see’s” is quite long:  Argo, Lincoln, Skyfall, Flight, Wreck-it Ralph, The Hobbit.  WOW.  That has got to be a record!  I’m not sure when and if I will get to see them all, but I am thankful to have that fun to look forward to.

4.  And I’m thankful for a husband who, for some odd reason, seems absolutely smitten with me:

5.  I am giddily thankful for the fact that the NASHVILLE PUBLIC LIBRARY HAS A MOBILE APP!  And yes, that proclamation is worthy of all caps.  Seriously, for months–months, people!–I have been bemoaning the fact that our otherwise wonderful and exemplary library system has no mobile app.  As I look up books, put in requests, and renew books almost daily–if not multiple times a day–I have longed for a way to do these things easily on my phone.  I have searched the app store for such an app, just knowing that it had to exist.  Not finding it, I have complained to several of my friends about the library’s tragic oversight in this area.  But this morning, I made an amazing discovery, via the Nashville library website:  they do have an app.  In fact, they have probably had it for awhile, and I just didn’t notice.  And if possible, it is even more wonderful than my mental daydreams of it.  I kid you not, when I found out this wonderful information, I squealed, did a little happy dance, and ran and told Greg.  This is a game changer, guys.  Game. changer.

6.  I’m thankful for Nashville’s autumns.  After spending most my life in the deep(er) South, the phenomenon of leaves that change color and fall off the trees continues to blow my mind daily.

7.  I’m thankful I get to watch my children learn.

8.  I am thankful for our wood-burning fireplace in our kitchen.  And I am thankful for woods behind our house.  And I am thankful for a husband who cuts wood and starts a fire, without fail, at the request of any family member.

9.  Speaking of my husband, I am so thankful for what a wonderful man he is.  I was just thinking the other day of all the things he does around the house, big and little, and I came up with this list:  makes and tends fires in the fireplace and outside fire pit; fixes anything that is broken, and if he can’t, arranges for a professional to come; takes care of our budget and finances; does all outside yardwork; washes the cars; handles the thermostat (seriously, until I thought of this list and asked him, I did not know where the thermostat was); takes out the trash and brings it in (no small feat with our massive hill of a driveway); handles any and all computer malfunctions; figures out how any given item in our house works and then explains it to the rest of us (the latest example is our telescope); helps out with science experiments for homeschool (mine is more of a “humanities-leaning” mind); makes sure all the doors are locked at night; introduces me to new music, and keeps me updated on general current events (basically, I live happily under a rock, and Greg is my connection to the larger world); and I’m sure there’s more.

10.  I’m thankful that November 1 marked one amazing year in Nashville.

This little note was waiting in Greg’s car the other day.  It was from two of his teens.  He absolutely loves his job, and it makes me happy to see him so happy.  He gets to see his teens everyday at the after school program, and he tutors them daily, goes to their school and sports events, and takes them on all sorts of fun trips.  Several of them have referred to them a second (or a first) father to them, and it is clear that he plays that role in many of their lives.  My favorite comment came when he was taking two teens, a brother and a sister, home one night, they passed a Greek Orthodox church, and the sister inquired about the meaning of “Greek Orthodox.”  It was a simple question, but when Greg explained, the boy asked in outright amazement, “How do you know so much??  Wow…it should be illegal for one person to know that much stuff.”  I remember feeling the exact same way about my own dad, and I smile every time I think about that comment.

I also smile when he relates so-and-so’s progress on her 6, 7, and 8 times tables, knowing that Greg has promised her Tacquis if she memorizes all of them.  Or when he tells me about how he is mentoring an incarcerated young man as part of a local Christian program to rehabilitate prisoners.  I am so incredibly thankful that my husband is doing work that both fulfills him personally and helps to spread God’s kingdom.  I’m so thankful to be able to support that work as his wife.

11.  I’m thankful that we get an extra hour of sleep tonight!

So do you see what I’m saying about the Facebook thing?

What are you thankful for?

My Peace with Pinterest

“Woman was not made for Pinterest, but Pinterest for woman.”–Kim Kirby

I tend to be protective of my mental health.  My protectiveness stems from the fact that I view the human mind as quite fragile, which means it should not be subjected to pointless stress and strain.

It is that conviction that kept me away from Pinterest until last month.

When I first heard about Pinterest, I didn’t really understand what it was all about, but I signed up anyway, vaguely thinking that it might be a good way to keep up with the blogs I like to read.  Which, of course, makes me the only person on the internet who responded to the idea of Pinterest with, “Hmmm…that sounds interesting.  I’d like to use it to organize my reading material.”

Clearly, I didn’t get it.  And just as clearly, I’m not a crafty person.  The idea of using Pinterest as a repository of creative ideas held no allure to me.

When I first started a Pinterest account, back in those early days, I immediately became 1) disillusioned with Pinterest’s usefulness as an online blog organizer, and 2) freaked out by the fact that several of my Facebook friends started following me on Pinterest.  Those stalkers!  At the time, I didn’t even know how they knew I was on Pinterest!  Paranoid, I promptly deleted my account.

By the time I actually understood what Pinterest was, I was even more disinterested in using it.  However, last month, my bff convinced me that as a homeschool mom, it was criminal–criminal!–to not be on Pinterest.  She convinced me that the site would be an invaluable resource to my children’s education.  And since I was already haunted by the prospect of my artsy daughter condemned to a life of educational drudgery at the hands of the most uncreative teacher ever, I capitulated and signed up.  Again.

And guess what?  My friend was right!  Pinterest has helped my family a lot!

But.

But I believe the reason that Pinterest has proven valuable in my life is because I cling to three simple mantras in my Pinterest use:

1.  Pinterest should not make me feel bad.

I know that sounds lame, but it is one of the main reasons I hesitated to sign up for Pinterest.  I really try not to judge myself too harshly or compare myself to others, but I worried–and not without reason–that the sight of all that wonderful creativity would just depress me.  Instead of inspiring me, it would just remind me of my own artistic failings.  And again, I know that sounds lame, but I have had to stop reading blogs before for similar reasons.  Here’s how it would go down: I would start reading a blog by a wonderful Christian mom who was always doing creative crafts with her ever-smiling children in her beautifully decorated house filled with only organic food.  And then instead of coming away inspired or even–I don’t know–happy for her, I would instead dwell on my own disheveled, chemical-filled, art-free home and feel like a massive failure.

Which is stupid.  Let’s just acknowledge that.  Other adjectives that come to mind are petty, insecure, jealous, selfish…I could go on, but I think you get the picture.  These feelings do not bring me closer to the Lord.

However, they are what they are, and when I get in those situations, I just have to mentally tell myself, “I am so happy for that blogger and hope that her life is every bit as wonderful as her blog makes it seem…but I just don’t need to read about it ever again.”  And then I move on with my life.

At this point, Pinterest has not made me feel bad, and I think a big reason is that I limit my exposure to it.  That brings me to mantra #2:

2.  Pinterest should not waste my time.

I have enough time-wasters in my life (I’m looking at you, Facebook), and heaven knows I do not need one more.  As a Christian, I am convicted by the fact that my life is a gift from God to be used to build up His kingdom.  Thus, anything that wastes my time wastes that gift.

Thankfully, Pinterest has not done that so far.  When I need an idea, I search for it.  When I don’t, I stay off Pinterest.  Seems simple enough.  I think it helps that I’m not naturally crafty and so am not tempted to look for ideas for their own sake.

3.  Pinterest should make my life easier.

This is a big one.  Sometimes, I see the lengths that people go to fulfill some Pinterest inspiration and I think, “That person’s life would have been so much easier if she had never seen that on Pinterest.”  I thank the Lord that I got married before Pinterest, because the pressure to create “Pinterest-perfect” weddings seems enormous these days.  Some people love all that stuff, and again, I’m happy for them (really!), but to me, all that wedding planning sounds like torture.  (Full disclosure:  I barely planned my own wedding, much to my mom’s delight.  She would call me periodically to tell me what kind of flowers she had picked for me or what photographer she got, and I tried politely to feign interest, all the while grateful that she was handling it and letting me finish my last semester at school.)

My point is that I think that Pinterest can make life more complicated, whereas my goal is to make it more simple.  Thus, I only pin things that are really, incredibly, extremely easy to make.  I know that I can’t handle much Pinteresty brilliance, and that my life is complicated enough without having to figure out what “modge-podge” is.  (Actually, I do have something pinned now that calls for modge-podge, and, though it seems very, very simple, it still makes me shudder just a little bit.)

But let me give you an example of how Pinterest made my life easier today.

I had been feeling bad about my kids not doing any “fall” crafts, and so I found this super easy one on Pinterest.  It was inspired by a book about mummies that was available at my library, and the required materials were construction paper and paper plates.  We did it this morning, and the kids thought I was soooo crafty.  (It’s important to set a low bar.)

We finished up the morning with Language Arts and Math.  Math was a struggle, and afterwards, I desperately needed a sanity-saving break, so I kicked the kids outside to enjoy the beautiful fall day while I straightened the kitchen and caught up on one of my friend’s blogs.  Coincidentally, she talked about making homemade sidewalk paint from Pinterest, which I read at the same moment my son was leaning against the window mouthing to me that he was bored.  Sidewalk paint takes corn starch, water, and food coloring.

Done.

That bought me enough time to make lunch.

Then, after lunch, the kids asked if we could do yet another Pinterest-project that consisted of converting a pumpkin into a planter.  Here’s how you do it:

1.  Cut the top off a pumpkin.

2.  Walk inside and do whatever you want while your children spend twenty minutes filling it with dirt and watering it.

Here’s hoping those pumpkin seeds will grow.  And even if they don’t, these three incredibly simple projects made me feel like Mom of the Year and Martha Stewart all in one.  And combined, they took about fifteen minutes of my time.

That’s what I’m talking about when I say Pinterest should make your life easier.

And I hope that if Pinterest ever stops making my life easier, that I will (again) delete my account.  The way I figure it, life has too many natural struggles and stresses for a website to add to them.  For some crafty people, Pinterest might be unmitigated awesomeness.  For my non-crafty self, it is a little more of a challenge to make sure that it benefits the lives of my family and does not detract from them.

Do you use Pinterest?  Have you noticed any pitfalls?  Or do you just love it??

Defending God

Last week, I read the novel, Life of Pi, by Yann Martel.  If you have read it before, I’d love to hear your take on it.  For me (and I can’t believe I’m saying this), it was a little too postmodern.  What I got from the book was that one should choose to follow a religion, not because that religion is rooted in any objective truth, but because it is a “better story” than the brutal, senseless reality of life.

Cheery, huh?

However, despite that bleak, existential message, I did find some interesting ideas in the book, including this gem:

“There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God, as if Ultimate Reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence, were something weak and helpless. These people walk by a widow deformed by leprosy begging for a few paise, walk by children dressed in rags living in the street, and they think, ‘Business as usual.’ But if they perceive a slight against God, it is a different story. Their faces go red, their chests heave mightily, they sputter angry words. The degree of their indignation is astonishing. Their resolve is frightening.

These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their defense, not God’s, that the self-righteous should rush.”

Preach on, Yann Martel.  I may not agree with you about the nature of objective truth, but I’m totally with you on this.

So…have you read Life of Pi?  What did you think about it?

Full.

That’s the best way I can describe my life of late:  full.

And by full, I don’t mean busy.  Not at all.  In fact, I wish I could properly convey how I despise the frantic pace, the unceasing rush, the gnawing stress of busyness.

That’s not what I mean by full.

Throughout the hot July, our lives were full of family and friends.  We spent the 4th with my parents, and life was full of delicious food and luxurious, heavenly time with “Gaga and Granddad” and with dear friends-who-might-as-well-be-family.  The next week, some of our cherished friends from South Carolina came and stayed all week, and life was full of long hours of “catch-up conversations,” daily adventures around Nashville, and the occasional “Mommy break,” which mainly consisted of eating and talking some more.  The very day they left, the kids and I went on our own road trip, and that next week, life was full of the joy of an old friend’s wedding and awe over the Smoky Mountains and the beautiful Virginia countryside.  It was also full of the excitement of arriving in our nation’s capital and seeing our cousins.  It was then crammed full of all sorts of amazing sights:  a giant, towering obelisk; magnificent, imposing memorials; and museums packed with the memorabilia of a mighty nation.  There was also a trip to Baltimore that was full of water and war ships, full of picnics and coffee breaks at Barnes and Noble.  There were nights that were full of young cousins giggling and playing.  The whole week was just…full.

Then, we came home, started homeschooling, and started the fall program at our church.  And life is now full in a different way.  In the last month of summer, it was full of joy.  Now, it is full of purpose.  It is full of the things-I-was-made-to-do.  

Here’s what I’ve realized about myself:  I can’t be truly happy unless I am doing the things-I-was-made-to-do.  I can’t really explain the difference between a thing-I-was-made-to-do, and a thing I just enjoy doing, except in terms of the difference in fulfillment.  When I am doing the things-I-was-made-to-do, it’s like I am complete.  Whole.  Perfectly satisfied.

Writing is a thing-I-was-made-to-do, which is why I started this blog.  I was made to think and to mull over ideas, and then to express my thoughts about them in writing.  I just was.  And it gives me a profound sense of meaning to do so…even on this tiny blog!

Isn’t that funny?  My contentment of soul does not require that I get paid for the things-I-was-made-to-do, or that they be “big.”  I just have to do them.  And I will be full.

But in this last month, the one after our wonderful travels, I have been caught up in other things-I-was-made-to-do.  See, I enjoy teaching college, I really do.  But I was made to teach my kids.  I’m not claiming that all parents are or that everyone should homeschool. I ‘m just saying that the profound sense of meaning and purpose–and yes, joy–that I get from teaching my own children shows me that I am doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.

Because of our homeschooling schedule, I have also had more time to volunteer at our church and its co-laboring after-school program.  These past few weeks, I have been up to my ears in curriculum:  our homeschooling curriculum, the church’s Sunday school and Wednesday night curriculum, and also educational materials for the after school tutoring program.  I have organized materials, taken classroom inventories, purchased tutoring manipulatives, met with teachers, toured other educational programs, and tried to teach first graders (my own, and the kids at the after school program) how to add and subtract fluently.

And every moment of it has filled my soul to the brim.  Like writing, these are the things I was made to do.

I am very full right now.

And so ridiculously happy.

And oddly, that’s why I haven’t really been writing in this little spot.  My heart and my mind are so full and satisfied with the current “work of my hands” that I don’t have that aching need to find meaning in the keys of the keyboard.  That need was so real last winter and spring, when our lives were transitioning, when I was still trying to find my place in my new world.

I do still want to write here, and I plan to continue.  I always want this space to be here because I have found that my need to write comes in seasons.  It ebbs away, only to spurt abruptly back to life a few months down the road.  It is also nice to have an organized repository for all my spiritual thoughts and theories…and to see how they evolve and shift!

So if you are still reading, I want you to know two things.  One, I love talking to you in the comments and bouncing our thoughts off each other.  Writing organizes my thoughts; discussing them with others refines and purifies them.  And two, I (clearly) can’t guarantee the regularity with which I will write.  In the past, I have felt the need to be a “regular poster.”  I have no idea why.  It’s not like I was trying to be some kind of big time blogger  (in fact, whenever I read the comments on bigger blogs, I inevitably end up cringing and thanking God that I don’t have to deal with so many hostile strangers!).  I guess part of me was so thankful for your feedback that I wanted to offer you my own consistency as a writer.  Forced consistency, however, just leads to dry, forced thoughts.  I now think it would be better simply to write when I have something to say.

So…that’s my “catch-up post.”  I can’t really imagine anyone still reading and checking in, but if you are, I hope that all is well with you, and that you are tasting some of this magnificent fullness in your own life.

Speaking of which,

What makes you full?  What are your things-that-you-were-made-to-do?

“Be Nice to the Person You’re Next To”: Church Highlight Reel

Today was a good day in church.  Here are a few of the high points:

Highlight 1:  In Sunday school, after talking about the parable of the sheep and the goats and its implications for our church, our teacher directed us to 1 John 3:17.  I had the NLT, and this is how it read:

If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?” 

I think it was the unfamiliar translation, but something about that verse just hit me in the face like it was the first time I’d heard it.  Such a simple question…

In discussing what a life that follows these verses looks like, our Sunday school teacher said something that really hit home to me:

“It’s about having your day usurped.  It’s about finding out that the things you thought were important are not as important as the needs of others.”

Ouch.  My plans tend to be very important to me.  These words, and the verses that lead up to them, really spurred me.  Yep, “spurred” is definitely the word!

Highlight 2:  After Sunday school, I went to pick up my kids, who were finishing up a thankfulness activity.  Luke proudly showed me his craft:

I’m thankful for our family, too, Luke.

Highlight 3:  During the Lord’s Supper, the speaker directed us to Philippians 2, an old stand-by.  Again, the simplicity of the NLT brought new life to the words in verse 4:

 “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”

Again, so simple and yet, so relevant.  Also, I think it has been too long since I’ve read an epistle; I realized today that I am starving for them.  Hungry for more, I read past the requisite first 11 verses and was blown away by verse 13:

 “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”

Ah…manna from heaven is what that verse is to me, especially in light of all the “spurring” that went on during Sunday school!

Highlight 4:  Greg did something different in church today.  He shortened his sermon on Romans 6, saving time for us to break out into four groups and answer discussion questions about the passage and its applicability to our lives.  His rationale was that it is a shame for us all to get together as a body and only listen to one guy talking, when there are so many stories and experiences and thoughts to be shared.  I loved that.  I also love that everyone in church was invited to be a part of the groups and to participate.  My kids and I even went to different groups!  In my group, there was a sweet six-year-old girl, and who thoughtfully participated, and the group leader, a Bible professor at Lipscomb, did a great job at affirming her (very good) comments.  For example, when the group was asked what individual things we could do to live out the story of Jesus, this little girl thought a moment, then raised her hand.  When called on, she offered, “You can be nice to the person you’re next to.”  So precious…and as I thought about it, so profound.  If you know me, you know that I do think we have global responsibilities to our neighbors across the oceans; however, I also know how easy it is to “love” people who are far away.  In contrast, it is sometimes so difficult to love the person who is right next to us:  our neighbors, the person in the grocery store, our brothers and sisters in Christ, even our family members.  As our group leader affirmed, just think of what a better world it would be if we all loved the person next to us!

Highlight 5:  During the closing prayer, I noticed Anna slip something into my bag.  After the prayer was over, I pulled out her note:

Is it any wonder that Sunday tends to be my favorite day?

What did you do in church today?

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