Simple Living Series: Buy only what you need

con·sum·er·ism

noun

1. the protection or promotion of the interests of consumers.

2. the preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods.

It’s that second definition that hits me in the gut every time…because it is absolutely true.  Our society absolutely has a preoccupation with getting more stuff.  And there are lots of reasons for this preoccupation.  We think we need it.  We think we deserve it.  We think everyone else has it.  We think it will make us happy.  And despite the fact that 99% of the time none of these things are true we still persist in clinging to these flimsy reasons as an excuse to acquire more and more stuff.  Don’t believe me?  Check out these scary numbers.

Over $250– How much each individual plans to spend on Halloween this year

$350 Million– How much Americans spend on pet Halloween costumes.

$2 Billion– How much Americans spend on Halloween candy.

Frankly we are just lucky today is Halloween and not Christmas because you don’t want to see the scary numbers that come down for that holiday.  Do we really think we need to spend $2,000,000,000 on…candy?  Does this not seem crazy to you?

If you’ve been keeping up with the the Simple Living Series you know what happens to the majority of the stuff we buy (if not check it out here).  We trash it and it populates landfills for years and years.  We are always going to have trash and until some genius invents a way to reuse every single piece of our trash, we are going to have landfills.  On the previous post of this series we talked about some alternative approaches to dealing with the things that we accumulate.  But the truth is that we need to be concerned about the fact that we are constantly and actively accumulating all these things that will have to be dealt with later.  Instead of having to declutter every so often, we need to look at why we are accumulating useless possessions in the first place.

We need to unplug from the consumerism machine.

Make no mistake, it is a machine and we are totally plugged in.  Like…Neo plugged into the matrix plugged in.  Because the consumerism machine is creating a false life for us that really only exists in our heads and all the while it is draining the life from us. (I’m sorry if you haven’t seen The Matrix because you won’t understand how truly brilliant that analogy is.  Go watch it now…I’ll wait here.)  The consumerism machine has us convinced that it is feeding us, making our lives better, happier, and fuller, when in reality it is slowly killing us and stealing our joy.

Here’s how it works.  You are at home after a long day at work just watching some TV and a commercial break comes on.  3 minutes later you are back to watching your show and chances are good you can’t even remember the commercials you just watched.  But later in the week you recognize a song on the radio and can’t remember where you have heard it before until you realize it was an advertisement for a particular thing.  Now you’ve got the jingle stuck in your head.  That weekend you get bored, so you decide to go to the mall.  You don’t need anything specifically but you’ve been wanting a new pair of shoes and you’ll just walk around the mall.  You end up spending 4 hours at the mall trying on clothes and shoes and looking at other stuff.  You buy a thing here or there and walk out with 3 shopping bags of stuff.  Stuff you now have to find a place for in your home. 

Confession:  The absolute most dangerous place for me in my battle with consumerism is Target.  I go in for a legitimate reason- like toilet paper or dog food- and leave with a new shirt (it was on sale!), new shoes or pjs, and that new Threshold household thingy (their new line of Threshold stuff is the cutest, most adorable bane of my existence). 

We buy things we don’t need and didn’t know we wanted 10 minutes before we saw it because we are programmed to do it.  We are programmed to believe that buying things will make us happier and fix the problems that we have in our lives.  If only we had that kind of mascara, our eyes would look bigger and more beautiful and we would finally meet a great guy!  If only we had that new fishing gear then we would be catching all the fish!  For every need we have there is a device, outfit, piece of equipment, or general thingy that will fill that need!  One problem:  most of these needs are manufactured.  We don’t need 100 pairs of shoes.  We don’t need a bunch of different kinds of glasses for different kinds of drinks.  Our kids don’t need every educational toy in a toy store.  Need isn’t the correct word for any of this stuff.  The word is want.  We want it.  And living a simple lifestyle means realizing the difference between need and want.

Need:  things we must have for survival.  Food, water, shelter. I would say we also need love and loved ones that we can trust.  We need some sense of security and safety.  We need some kind of purpose for our lives and we need work that fulfills us.  We need to be in relationship to God.  In fact there are lots of Bible verses that deal with what we need because this struggle of want vs. need is not a new problem.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff—
    they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long.
~Psalms 23

If God is our shepherd we won’t want for anything. This is not to say that everything will be easy and wonderful in the way that we would like it to be.  But we will be provided for in the way that we truly need.  Jesus taught us to pray “give us this day our daily bread”.  Not give me a big Costco so that I can go buy stuff in bulk.  Instead, give me what I need to survive, and serve, just today.  We don’t need as much as the consumerism machine wants us to believe we do.  And recognizing that fact is the first step to freeing yourself from it.

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” 

~William Morris

I love this quote because I think it speaks so directly to helping us determine whether or not we really need the things we accumulate in our homes.  And we have to be ruthless when deciding if our possible purchases fit these qualifications.  A thing may be useful but not useful enough for us to give it a place in our home.  A personal example of this is a stationary KitchenAid mixer.  These are beautiful pieces of kitchen equipment and many baking recipes do require a mixer.  But, even though I like to bake, I have learned from experience that I really only use a mixer about 4 or 5 times a month (with a few exceptions for holidays).  So a better tool for me is my small hand-held mixer that I can store easily in a cabinet or drawer.  Maybe you bake all the time and you would use this mixer every day or several times a week.  By all means buy yourself a beautiful mixer!  But just because something has the potential to be useful doesn’t mean it deserves a place in your home.  In the same way, you can think something is pretty or cute but if it is not so uniquely beautiful that it greatly inspires or motivates you then it doesn’t deserve any of the coveted space on your counters or walls.

Before you put another thing in your cart or click Submit Order on Amazon or Etsy (obviously talking to myself there) ask yourself 4 questions.

Is this thing useful?
Do I already have something that will fulfill the same function?
Is this thing uniquely beautiful? 
Will I use/enjoy this thing for many years?

It’s that easy.  4 questions with real, honest answers.  Don’t be controlled by the consumerism machine.  You have the power to unplug and determine what your true needs are for yourself.  Be discerning and ruthless as you determine what you will let in to your home! Instead buy only what you need.

What to do when you are all wound up

Do you remember playing tetherball when we were kids?  You know the one where the ball is attached to a string on pole?  You hit the ball back and forth with another kid trying to get the string all wound up on one side or the other.  You hit the ball and it goes round and round winding up the rope in one direction.  Your opponent hits the ball and it unwinds and starts to wind up the other way.  Round and round the ball goes getting wound up and down and up again in a new way.  Eventually the winner is whoever can hit the ball so hard that ball goes around the pole so fast that the other player can’t act fast enough to stop it and all the rope is wound up tight.  Remember this game?  (I found these awesome tetherball videos for your viewing pleasure.)

I don’t know about you but sometimes I feel a lot like that tetherball.  I’m just being whacked back and forth getting wound up about one thing and then the next.  Budgets due at work *whack*!  The house is a mess *whack*!  Accidentally replying all to that unfortunate email *whack*!  Parent/teacher conference *whack*!  Whatever the things are in your own life that cause you to get all wound up.  Confession time:  Nothing in this world makes me crazier than messy, dirty, and cluttered spaces.  And currently both my office and my home are in transition for a move.  So my office is a disaster.  My house is a disaster.  And I am a disaster.  I am all wound up and feeling pushed around by stuff outside of my control.  I want the stress ping-pong to stop but I can’t make it stop.

 Ever felt like that poor little tetherball being whacked back and forth between one stressful situation and another?

It is incredibly difficult to stop or even slow down this kind of stressful winding up.  There are a lot of things we have to deal with that we simply cannot control.  We cannot make our co-workers more agreeable or easier to work with and we cannot make our jobs any easier either (unless you get a new job).  Sometimes you are going to come up against deadlines and it is going to be challenging and exhausting.  We cannot control things like accidents or disease.  A phone call from a doctor or a police officer has the ability to send us reeling and change our lives forever.  We cannot control other people in our lives.  Our friends and family have the ability to make our lives very stressful.  Certain situations are always stressful- moving for instance.  Any kind of change can wind us up and make us feel like that out of control tetherball.

If this is where you are right now, please know I am sorry and I want to pray for you.  It is an awful, awful feeling to be trapped and tossed about by circumstances we can’t control.  It is not okay and I am so sorry.

So what’s the answer?  Well it’s not avoidance.  You can do all the right things to stay healthy and still get sick.  You can be the most productive worker in your office and still struggle with a particular assignment.  You can have an amazing relationship and still have to work through difficult issues.  You cannot out run it.  You cannot out plan it.  You cannot stop it.  S@#* happens.  And you can’t avoid it.

So now don’t you feel super encouraged?  Ok that’s it!  Have a great day!  Ok no, I’m totally kidding.  But seriously, I get it.  You can’t avoid it. You can’t stop it.  And all you want is to stop being whacked around by the stress and trouble in your life.  So what do you do?

I’ve only found one thing that works, at least for me.

I have to stop being the tetherball.  I have to step away.  

Get out of the game.  Take a break.  It does not make my problems go away.  I’m still going to have to face all that.  But for one day I don’t have to fight those battles.  For one day I can just breathe deeply and rest fully.  This sounds easy but can be very difficult to actually do.  If someone you love is battling cancer it can seem incredibly selfish to just step away for a day.  If you up against a deadline at work taking a day off can seem incredibly stupid.  But I’m not kidding when I say sometimes you have to just unwind.  It doesn’t have to be any big soul-searching retreat.  It can be as simple as spending one day at home in your pjs not doing laundry, chores, or answering emails.  It can be a movie-marathon.  It can be an epic bubble bath + good book combo.  It can be a day spent working on a project that does feed you- maybe a home DIY project, gardening, or a special craft project.  I’m not the boss of you.  YOU have to know yourself well enough to know what will feed your soul and let you rest (if you don’t  know what feeds you, you have a much, much bigger issue on your hands).

So my guess is now you are coming up with a list of reasons (excuses…let’s be real) why you can’t possibly take a day off.  You’ve got responsibilities!  You’ve got kids!  You are the primary caregiver!  You are the point person on the project!  No one else will take care of that!  Listen…some of that might be true.  Maybe even all of it is true.  But you still aren’t the most important thing in the world and the world will keep on spinning if you take a day off.  You can find someone to take your kids for an afternoon.  Or have time to yourself while they are at school or once they go to bed.  You can ask another family member to come take care of your ill loved one for a day (and choose a day when that is possible with schedules of doctors appointments and treatments).  You can delegate responsibility to another team member- and you know that once you take a break you will come back much more productive.  Letting yourself get so wound up that you snap helps NO ONE.  Stop pretending that it does.  You don’t have to be foolish and you do not have to be a martyr.

It may be difficult.  You may even feel some guilt (try to let that go) but when you are being whacked around by trial and tribulation and you are feeling all wound up you have to take a break.  You have to stop being the tetherball for just a little while and find your balance again.

 As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord.  They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”  But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again.
 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
~Exodus 14: 10-14

When you feel slapped around by life remember that these aren’t your battles to fight alone.  And, I know this is going to make you uncomfortable but, you can’t win these on your own.  Life is hard.  We get stuck between an army and a wilderness.  Don’t just stand there and think it is better that you were dead (whiny Israelites can’t even see the redemption right in front of them…oops…I do that too).  Stand there and trust that the Lord will fight for you.  God will fight for you.

You are not a tetherball.  You are a loved child of God.  You can take a rest.  God will fight for you.  So for today…you only have to keep still.

Is United Methodist just a punch-line?

“The church is full of oxymorons.  Want to hear one?  United Methodist.”

I laughed.  It was funny.  But I also winced.  Because it’s painfully true.  Our unity as a denomination, as the church universal, has been a joke for a long time.  I can’t imagine what it looks like to people standing outside of our Christian community.  Well I sorta can.  I’m sure it looks ridiculous.  I’m sure it looks like we are haters and liars.  We say one of the marks of the church is unity…and then proceed to fight it out Jets and Sharks style (we do have some awesome songs and hand motions).

When I was younger, although certainly old enough to know better, one day I got mad at my sister.  She was annoying me even after I had asked her repeatedly to stop.  Finally I started yelling at her and then…I tried to choke her.  Not my finest hour.  I quickly realized this was a bad idea…like super quickly…and stopped.  I hadn’t consciously thought “Oh I should choke her now” but I was just so ticked off!  I was a kid, I was mad, and I had zero impulse control.  I don’t really remember what happened after that.  I remember letting go and backing away.  I remember her crying.  I remember my mom staring at me in disbelief as my sister had told her what happened.  But I mentioned it to my mom the other day and she doesn’t remember it.  My sister doesn’t really remember that much of it either.  But I remember it very vividly as one of the most shameful moments in my life.  I am the big sister.  My job is to love and protect and encourage.  But I got angry and it got ugly.

My sister and I are very close now.  We talk most days, although we both have very busy schedules so we don’t get to talk every day.  We definitely don’t agree on everything but we do respect and love one another too much to let that be an issue in our relationship.  We are sisters and that comes first.

I recognize that the bad blood and difficult divisions between our denominations and our church members run much deeper than anything that exists between my sister and I.  We don’t have centuries of animosity and bitter fighting between us.  But scripture tells us to love each other as brothers and sisters so we need to look at how families interact when they are at their best and try to learn from that. That means being respectful even when we disagree.  It means listening even when all we want to do is get up and walk away.  It means agreeing that no matter what we disagree on we are still family; we still love each other.

It doesn’t mean finding creative new ways to separate ourselves.  It doesn’t mean choosing sides and throwing separate parties during annual conference.  It doesn’t mean congratulating ourselves on our ability to be “mostly civil” when radical, familial love is the standard we are called to.

One of the fundamental parts of the Christian life is the celebration of the Eucharist, although some of us call it the Lord’s Supper or the Lord’s Table or maybe something else I’m not yet familiar with. We don’t all celebrate it in the same way, look at it in the same way, or celebrate it at the same time.  This fundamental ritual (sacrament, ordinance) of our faith shows the seriousness of our divisions.

Jesus sat at his table and blessed the bread and the wine in the presence of his actual enemy, Judas.  Yet as Christians we can’t come together over this same holy meal because we cannot agree on theological issues.  Don’t misunderstand me- the divisions in our denomination and the church universal run deep and a long way back.  I respect that these divisions are real and are often heartbreaking and critical for people.  Hear me clearly: I don’t deny that these divisions are real and important.  What I am denying is the idea that we can’t find a way to still be one church.  Really?  We can’t all agree that Jesus is Lord?  We can’t come to his table?  We can’t disagree with someone and still worship with them?  Still exist as one church?

It gets easy to separate from those who disagree with us when they aren’t people that we know or love.  And that’s hugely problematic because loving our neighbor is the second greatest commandment we have.  Is there any debate there?

If instead of seeing division and debate we saw people what would happen to our church?  If we picture it as one big feast with all the members of our church family seated at the table what would happen to our view of the church universal?  Could you stand on your chair and cast them out?  Could you refuse them a seat?

I’m not saying we have to agree.  Because frankly I’m not going to agree with everyone and I don’t expect everyone to agree with me.  But I don’t want to be the church without Africa.  I don’t want to be the church without Asia, Europe, South or Central America.  I don’t want to be the church without women, men, or children that don’t look like me.  I do want to try to love people as Christ loves them and see them as Christ sees them.  I want to find ways to compromise, to agree to disagree and to let that be ok.  Because I don’t want to not be in community with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

This first semester in seminary has been a struggle for me.  I’ve struggled with the sheer volume of differing thoughts, doctrines, and opinions.  How can we possibly hold all these things together?  And the truth is we can only do it if we hold them with an open hand.  If we close our hands and decide that these things alone must be right then we will have to let go of the ideas and people that don’t fit.  But if we hold them with an open hand we are able to stay in community and conversation.

I don’t agree with you.  I think your theology is sketchy at best.  But I love you as my brother/sister.  I love you because you too are made in the image of God.  I don’t want us to be divided.  Can we talk about it?  Can we each be uncomfortable so that we can at least be together?

I don’t have any real answers.  I only have a burning desire to take seriously our calling to be a united church.

I want to come to the table our Lord has set for us, together.  

Forget and Forgive

It’s Thursday morning.  Spent all of last weekend in San Antonio on a girl’s weekend with my mom, sister, aunt, and some other lovely ladies.  Worked the beginning of the week squeezing what used to be a 5 day work-week into 2 days (I was out Sunday).  Drove to Dallas Tuesday night, got to campus and went to bed.  Up early on Wednesday to read for class, and go to class for 7.5 hours, wrote a paper, and attempted to be social (which really just looks like me eating and nodding…or being incredibly grouchy…I’m grouchy this week).  And now it’s Thursday.  I usually get to the library early and get as much work as possible done all day.  I have a spiritual formation group at 1:30 and a class from 6-9 but I spend the rest of the day reading or writing or whatever other work I have.  But it’s Thursday morning and all I have managed so far is a shower, a trip to Starbucks where I chugged a double shot of espresso and watched Netflix on my laptop, and now I am in the library in a comfy chair with my feet propped up on a table (possibly not supposed to be doing that) reading some stuff I found online last week.  So…a productive morning to be sure.

I am certain you have had days like that.  When the work of your life just doesn’t seem to compare to the sweet, sweet idea of doing…nothing.  When you need to drink a cup of coffee and just troll around online.  Or take a long walk outside.  Or read a book you’ve been neglecting.  Or whatever your thing is.

To be sure, the work of our lives is just that- work.  Whether it’s a job someone pays you for, a ministry you feel called to, a tiny human (or humans) who you are caring for and raising, volunteering for a cause you feel passionate about, or whatever it is, the things that we dedicate ourselves to can sometimes become overwhelming.

It is a joy to have work to set your mind and your might to but it doesn’t mean that you don’t have times when your brain is tired and your body is worn out.   

Today is that day for me.  And yes I will still drag myself to class. Truthfully, once I get there I will probably really enjoy it because my professor is SO SMART and I love hearing what he says about New Testament interpretation.  But all that other stuff I would normally be doing this morning…I’m going to forget about it and forgive myself.  Maybe after lunch I’ll feel up to it.  Maybe it won’t be till tomorrow or Saturday or Sunday.  But most likely it’ll be later this afternoon when I’ve let myself take a break for a while.  Cause sometimes you need to take a break.  Yes the work you do is important but it’s not more important than you.  There is always someone who can pick up your slack for a while.  Someday you’ll be that person for someone else.  Forget about it for right now and forgive yourself.  And then get back to it tomorrow.  Or Saturday.  Or next week.

Because you aren’t valuable for the work you do but simply because you exist.  

You don’t have to do anything today to earn your spot in the world.  Right now you can breath and it’ll be ok.  Seriously…it will.  Promise.  It might not feel like it but it really will.

Forget it and forgive yourself.  Hang in there!  If I can pray for you today I would LOVE to do that.  Just comment or message me!

Toughen Up, Buttercup

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I’m a Southern belle from Texas through and through. I remember sitting on my grandmother’s back porch one afternoon talking to her about something or another that I was working on or wanted, I honestly don’t remember now what it was, and she was encouraging me to go after it. She said ” There are no shrinking violets in our family.”

Is this just a Southern expression? I don’t know who else says it but it’s definitely an apt description of most of the women in my family. We are tough, stubborn, opinionated, and hard working. We get stuff done even
though sometimes we run right over people to get it done. That sounds negative but truthfully it’s one of my favorite inherited qualities (the ability to drop grade A sass at a moment’s notice is also in this category).

Sometimes I get the impression that I am supposed to feel negatively about this ability to just push right through stuff. I rarely feel guilty about it though because in a culture that avoids conflict of any kind, including healthy conflict, and spends 30 minutes crafting the perfect vague and unassuming email I tend to find myself uniquely situated to help move things along. And I like that.

I wasn’t always like that. I mean opinionated and stubborn sure but ready to tackle problems? Not so much. Avoidance was the order of the day. But I was blessed by some really tough situations when I was younger and it taught me that it’s better to deal with stuff head on and aggressively than to let them build steam and cause more problems for you later. You tackle enough of the tough stuff long enough and you start to realize that it’s not so tough after all. You CAN do this…even if you thought you couldn’t.

I know there will be more problems that come my way and no matter how tough I am I won’t be able to tackle all of them. I can’t cure loved ones who get sick or create jobs for unemployed friends. But I can go to doctor’s appointments, do research, and hold a frightened hand. I can keep the faith when it seems like no help is coming and I can ask everyone I know if they are hiring or know of someone who is. I can’t think of many instances when there isn’t something you can do…even if it won’t fix everything.

Don’t get me wrong. I have cried buckets when people I love have been hurting and there is nothing I can do to alleviate that hurt. I have spent long hours in prayer asking for answers that didn’t come. But, as I’ve grown, I have learned that crying and sorrow aren’t the same thing as surrendering to despair. And I have found the ability to move forward in the faith knowing that unanswered prayers don’t mean that your prayers weren’t heard.

The world is broken and not as it should be but people of faith are tough people. We aren’t tough because of the things we have weathered but because we know the One who calms the storms. We press on and fight on and look for blessings in broken places because we know that the brokenness of this world doesn’t have the last say. We know that sorrow, loss, death, ruin, and decay are going to come to an end one day. We don’t bow to the powers of this world because we know that only Jesus is Lord…so nothing else can be.

Stuff is going to happen and you are going to have to be tough. But you don’t have to be tough alone.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
1 John 4: 4

So be brave today. I know it’s hard and I know it feels like it is coming at you from all sides.

But…

It won’t always be this hard.

It won’t last forever.

You don’t have to face it alone.

Go get ’em.

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A Good Story

I love a good story.  I’ve always loved reading and I can remember getting really, really, excited about the next The Babysitters Club book (shout out to you 1990’s).  There’s something about a good story that just draws you in and makes you believe anything and everything is possible.  Good stories don’t all have great writing.  Sometimes the writing is only ok but people will find the story compelling (thus the success of the Twilight series).  But when you combine great writing and a good story you end up with something absolutely amazing.  The book series that immediately pops in my mind is the Song of Fire and Ice series, although lots of people are calling it the Game of Thrones series now since it has been made into a tv show.  Don’t get me wrong I love the show…but the books!  It’s great writing with a great story.  The characters are amazing!  And for me, ultimately that is the sign of a good story.  How interesting, engaging, and dynamic are the characters.  Jamie Lannister is one of those characters.  He seems so evil (his nickname is the Kingslayer…so…not the hero then), so twisted (he is a little too close to his twin sister…if ya catch my drift), and so selfish.  But the more you read the more you begin to see him as something else.  And over time he starts to change and transform.  I haven’t finished the series yet, mostly because neither has the author.  But good stories take time.  I’ll wait.

 

Mom and Me hanging out on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Mom and Me hanging out on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

This picture has a pretty good story behind it.  I guess technically it has a lot of stories because it was taken while I was on a trip to Israel with my bible study group and other people from that church which is also where my parents attend.  So my parents were on this incredible trip with me.  And we learned a lot about a lot of stuff.  And I could tell you about all the jokes and laughs because there tons.  Clearly somebody had said something that made me laugh and giggle in this picture but I don’t remember what it was now.  I don’t even honestly remember taking the picture.  I was jet lagged and had been taken all over Israel where everything is uphill so my memory of picture moments is sketchy at best.  But this is still my favorite picture from our trip.  Not because of where we were or how adorable we look but because it’s me and my mom laughing and hugging.  ‘Cause that wouldn’t have been such a likely picture about a decade ago.  We fought A LOT when I was a teenager.  I was difficult and more than a little crazy and my mom had her own stuff to deal with (like we all do) and we just kept colliding.  I remember the time I told her in one particularly painful phone call that I didn’t believe in Jesus anymore.  She cried.  I was shocked she didn’t already know.  It took work, lots of patience, lots of talking, honesty, and unconditional love (my mom’s particular specialty) but now we are best friends.  I trust her 100% and I love her like crazy.  I didn’t know we would ever be able to be this close or that I would ever think of her as my friend. We share our faith as easily as we share everything else.  I count on her for guidance and support more than any other person on this planet and I am never let down.  Our relationship is such an unexpected gift.  And this picture captures it perfectly- love, fun, and faith.  That’s me and the Tougs (my mom’s awesome nickname).  I think we have a pretty good story.

I have these two great friends who are in youth ministry.  They got married a few years ago after finding each other later in life.  They both have other kids but they are older- in fact they just graduated their youngest daughters from high school.  And they also just found out they are expecting a baby!  We were celebrating this incredible news last weekend when my friend started to talk about his reaction to finding out he is going to be a new dad again at 51 (his wife has given me permission to say she is only 37 😉  Seriously they are one of the cutest couples on the planet).  I thought it was really beautiful.  He said “I lay down to go to sleep at night and all the sudden open my eyes, look at my wife, and am like…we’re pregnant!  It’s crazy!  Who gets to have such an amazing life?  To find her, to share in this amazing, fulfilled life, and to have a baby now?  Who gets something this crazy good?  Who gets a life this good?”

Who get a life this good?  The redeemed.  That’s who.  Those who know they have been bought at a price and brought into the family.  People who are living in the richness of God’s grace.  Life isn’t always perfect or easy (I would imagine a baby will add some new challenges) but it is always blessed.  Every redemption story is a good story.

 

I don’t know what your story is or what you want it to be.  I don’t know what kinds of tragedies, mistakes, and heartaches have been written on your heart.  But I do know it isn’t too late to celebrate a good story.  The redemption that was offered to me is offered to you too.  You don’t have to write another line.  Let the Author and Perfecter of our faith write your story.  God is the ORIGINAL writer and He writes some good stuff.  He writes stories of love, rescue, peace, joy, defying the odds, and so much more.  The Bible isn’t a collection of just random stuff.  It’s the collection of the redemption stories of our faith.  It shows and reminds us of the power of redemption.  Because in the redemption story what was cursed becomes blessed, what was damaged becomes whole, and what was broken becomes beautiful.

 

May you find grace in the redemption of your story.  May you see the ways God is already at work in your life just waiting to bring you back into the family.  And may you find joy in a good, good story.

 

I would love to hear your story of redemption if you would like to share it!  You can email me or post it in the comments.

My Top Five: Priorities, Choices, and God

Standing on the Mt of Olives with Jerusalem behind me!

Standing on the Mt of Olives with Jerusalem behind me!

Hello, again!  I’ve missed you!

I’m just getting back from an amazing two week trip to Israel with some awesome church friends and Jerusalem University College.  I plan on sharing lots of that trip with you guys in the coming days.  I’ve been home for a week and am still trying to process everything we experienced on that trip.  So I’m asking for your patience.  I have pictures to make up for the wait I promise!

Priorities and Choices

Several weeks ago my wonderful and equally crazy roommate and I decided to host a girl’s retreat at our house.  We had about 15 teenage girls staying overnight to talk about all kinds of stuff.  One of the activities we did was to take a sheet covered in words like Family, Choir, Homework, Friends, etc and have them circle 15 things that were the most important to them.  From the 15 we had to narrow that down to just 10 and then 5.  Everybody did this pretty easily.  I think 5 was a bit tricky but everybody pretty much got it done with minimal effort.  But I can’t even explain the amount of anxiety that occurred when I instructed them to narrow their top 5 down to 3.  It’s not an easy task!  It’s not like they were choosing between their favorite kind of candy or favorite movies.  I was asking them to choose between  things like Friends, Family, Education, Faith, and Dating/Marriage.  These are some good and important things!  How in the world do you kick 2 of those things out?  It’s not an easy thing to do.  It took a good 5-10 minutes for everyone to get down to their top 3.  Then we talked about priorities and why it is important for us to make our choices based on what we really value and we can’t do that if we don’t know what we value.  It was good stuff!  I was being an awesome youth director!

Except I’ve been kicking myself for several days now because I realize…I stopped too soon.

It is definitely important to know the things you value most and where you place your priorities.  But what I should have done was push the conversation further and made them get down to just one.  Just one thing that is the  most important thing.  The one thing you will base all your decisions on, the one value you hold most high, your top priority.  Because that conversation looks very different than the one we had.

The sometimes uncomfortable truth

The sometimes uncomfortable truth is that I am guilty of thinking that I can have a top 3 list of interchangeable things.  That somehow friends, family, and faith are all on the same level and I can interchange them as necessary.  Today my priority is family, tomorrow it’s friends, and then on Sunday and Wednesday it’s faith.  But it doesn’t work that way.  God has to be my top priority and my top value and the place I make all my choices from.

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

~Exodus 20: 1-6

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

~Deuteronomy 6: 5

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.

~Matthew 22: 36-38

The Greatest and First

God doesn’t want to be in our top 5 priorities or our top 3.  He wants to be number 1.  He wants to be Greatest and First in our lives.  And that isn’t an easy thing to always understand or live out in a world which tells us that we need A LOT of different things.  Our culture tells us that we need to pursue the American dream of a spouse, 2.5 kids, a nice house in a nice neighborhood, a job we like and that pays us a good amount.  We need the right stuff.  We need the right family.  We need the right friends.  But all we need is to make God the Greatest and First thing our lives.  And I’m more and more convinced as I study and pray during this Lenten season that that means looking at some uncomfortable truths about the way I’ve been living and making some changes.  It means making myself uncomfortable as I step into situations and callings that aren’t normal or easy for me.  It means making some people I love uncomfortable as I tell them no so that I can tell God yes.  It means moving forward in faith even when I don’t know what it might cost me.  But the most beautiful thing God has taught me is that when I trust and when I put Him first I find my life to be more full and my soul overflowing with gratitude.

New priorities and New choices

I wish I had had that conversation with those teenage girls.  I see every week how over-scheduled and over-extended they are with school, activities, and family obligations.  Luckily for all of us we serve a God who is really good at making something beautiful out of our less than perfect efforts.  I know I’ll get lots more chances…here’s hoping this is one of them.  Maybe you, like me, need to hear that it’s good and right to pursue the different talents and gifts you have but don’t place them in front of the One who gave you those talents and gifts.  Maybe you, like me, need to hear that it’s good and right to love and care for your family and friends but don’t forsake your Heavenly Father.

My prayer is that we will be able to spend this Lent in prayerful reflection and evaluation of our priorities and our choices.  May we find the faith to put God has our number one priority even, and especially, when it doesn’t fit in with what others may think we need to focus on.  May we choose to follow God with our whole heart, our whole mind, and our whole being today and every day.  And may we find the joy and peace that comes from making God our Greatest and First love.

Blessed Stress

As I write this I am a ball of nerves (what a fun expression for such a terrible feeling!).  I am anxious, worried, and apprehensive.  I have to get up in less than 5 hours but am I sleeping…nope.  Can’t quite get calm enough to get real sleep. I’ve been fretting and worrying for weeks now…months really.  Why?  What impending doom is keeping me awake at night?

I’m going on a once-in-a-lifetime awesome trip to the Holy Land with my parents and a bunch of the most wonderful people from my “home” church.

That’s right I’m worked up about an exciting trip.

I know it sounds crazy.  Believe me I’m very familiar with sounding crazy.  I know what crazy sounds like.  It’s taken me a long time to really figure out why I’m so anxious.  In fact it took a conversation with my sister (she’s so awesome) and a very direct question.  The question was “It’s not like you really think that something bad is going to happen is it?”

And the answer is no.  No I don’t think anything bad is going to happen.  But it feels like so much good has happened that I don’t deserve it.  Surely something must be wrong for me to, not only go on this trip with these people I love, but to have all the blessings in my life that I have been given.  It’s been an amazing week full of such amazing moments.  But I’m constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I don’t think I deserve good things.

I’ve made some awful choices in my life and hurt people I love.  I still hurt people I love, albeit it unintentionally now.  I’m selfish and slow.  I’m an epic procrastinator and a good liar.  I’m quick to judge and slow to forgive.  I know the weight of my sin and I know that even though I have also done good things those don’t outweigh the bad.

I’m afraid of good things because I fear that in the balance I’ll have to pay for them with more bad things.

But what kind of God would I serve if that was true?  It’s not that God thinks I “deserve” to be blessed.  I cannot earn blessing.  I cannot earn grace.  He just gives it to me.  He wants to give me good things.  He wants to give me good things in abundance!

Do you do this too?  Wait for the bad things to happen?  Live in fear of the next phone call?  Dread when things start going well because you just know they’ll soon end in disaster?

God wants to bless you!  Not in the weird “prayer and prosper” way.  When I say things I’m not talking about stuff.  I’m not convinced God cares about what car we drive or where we live (unless those things are coming between us and Him or us and serving His people).  But I do think God has beautiful experiences and moments for you.  I think He has blessings of opportunities and redemption and healing in parts of your life you thought couldn’t be made whole again.  I think the goodness of God is so much bigger than we can fathom or imagine.

This fear that I am not good enough for the good things God has for me is stealing my joy.  Instead of excitement I have anxiety.  Instead of anticipation I have sleeplessness.

And that has to stop.

I will not let fear rob me of joy.   I will not let the lie that I am cursed and gone astray  be the only voice I can hear.  Because the truth is that I am redeemed.  I was bought at a price and brought back into the family.  I have the protection and favor of my heavenly Father.  Yes, difficult and hard things will happen.  But God will be moving in each and every one of those moments.  He will make those broken things beautiful.  He will make all broken things beautiful.

His goodness is here and is coming.  I will give thanks and praise for the goodness of God, my Father.  I will find joy in being His and find rest in trusting Him.

Love Letters: Faithful Friends

Scripture tells us that it’s not good for us to be alone and my friends make sure that’s never a problem in my life.  Undoubtedly one of the biggest blessings in my life are my friends.  My friends are thoughtful and considerate.  They are kind and compassionate.

They are not perfect people but they are wonderful people who have given me a beautiful community that I am proud and privileged to be part of. 

I have been blessed to be a part of their lives.  We have celebrated marriages, new jobs, new callings, new babies, and so much more together.  And we are constantly inviting more people into our community adding to our joy and celebration.  I didn’t know how amazing it could be to have such wonderful friends and I have to pinch myself that these people let me hang out with them!

Keeping friendships together takes work.  A lot of work.  Finding time to spend together when you have other, super important and necessary, obligations is tough.  Making an effort to check on one another and care for each others emotional and spiritual well-being is tough.  So a lot of times friendships fall away until we are left with mostly acquaintances and those friends we run into from time to time.

But having a community of people who love, support, push, and encourage you makes a huge difference to how you live your life.

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 

~John 15: 13

I truly don’t know what I would do without my wonderful friends.  They have enriched my life and made me a better person and a better Christian.  I believe more deeply because they have inspired and challenged me.  I have tried new things and thought about old problems in new ways because they have given me encouragement and perspective.

The love of faithful friends brings joy.  I am never alone because I know that no matter what- crisis of faith or crisis of flat tire- I have this community.  And for better or worse they have me.

My friends fill my life with love and I love them.

 

Why I don’t have a bucket list

bucketlistLast weekend some friends and I were hanging out and one of them asked what was on my bucket list.  If you’re not familiar with a bucket list, it’s a list of things you want to do before you die or ‘kick the bucket’.  Lots of people have them, in fact I even found this website that helps you come up with and track your bucket list.  There was a movie in 2007 about it and, although I haven’t seen the movie, everyone says it was great and I believe them.  I’ve seen lots of people with Pinterest boards dedicated to their bucket list and Tumblr’s with loads of festive memes all describing the bucket list goals.  I love goals and checking things off of lists so normally this would be right up my alley.  In theory, having a bucket list helps you to be more adventurous and take time to enjoy life and not just let it pass you by.  That sounds like a really great idea.  There’s nothing wrong with having a bucket list and I can see some serious advantages to having one.

But I don’t have a bucket list.  And I’m not going to make one.

Yes, there are absolutely things that I want to do in my lifetime.  I want to walk on the Great Wall of China, live in a cabin or cottage, write a book, go shopping in Paris, walk through Rome.  I’d like live somewhere foreign for a while and learn another language.  I’d like to be someone’s wife and someone’s mom.  But if I never do any of it that’s fine with me.  If all I ever do in this life is live alone in the little towns and suburbs of Texas that will  be a very good life.

 I have let go of the notion that life has to look a certain way to be extraordinary.  I think the extraordinary can be masked in very mundane and seemingly ordinary things.  But that isn’t why I don’t have a bucket list.

I think you have to live every day to the fullest and enjoy each moment because each one has something unique and beautiful to offer and show you.  I don’t need a list to remind me to appreciate the wonders of this life.  But that isn’t why I don’t have a bucket list.

I don’t think there is anything more glorious on this earth than the amazing things we will see when we are with God.  I don’t think that there is something so precious on this earth that if I don’t squeeze it in before I die I will have lived an incomplete life.  But that isn’t why I don’t have a bucket list.

I don’t have a bucket list because I’m not running out of time.  I don’t have an expiration date.  My clock is not counting down to zero.  I’m not running out of time.

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.

~John 3: 16

Don’t mistake me.  I figure I’ll get old and my body will shut down.  Or that  I’ll get sick.  Or that I’ll get hit by a bus.  Or something else will happen and my heart will stop beating, my lungs will stop filling with air, and my brain will stop firing off neurons.  I’m sure I’ll die.

I just don’t think that’s the end of it.

 But now that you have been set free from sin and become slaves to God, you have the consequence of a holy life, and the outcome is eternal life. The wages that sin pays are death, but God’s gift is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

~Romans 6: 22-23

I believe that I serve a God who conquered sin and death so that we might live forever.  Every moment is precious in life because life is precious.  Because life is full of wonder, joy, beauty, and love.  I don’t think I’ll float around on some fluffy white cloud forever and I’m not waiting to die to start living.  This life is wonderful and beautiful right now and I believe I can be a part of building God’s kingdom on Earth right now.  I believe that God created this world to be good.  I believe that He is going to restore it to all it’s goodness one day.  And I believe I will have all of eternity to see and do all of the good things that God has created for us to do.

I don’t have a bucket list because I’m not going to kick the bucket.  I’m not running out of time.