Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Part 3 of a Dave Ramsey Flunkie: The Unexpected Trilogy

It felt like a burden lifted off my shoulders. Friday afternoon, after I had come completely clean here about all my wrestling and issues related to our financial ups and downs, I felt a freedom that comes with confession. I even wrote in my prayer journal how confession is good for the soul. And not just confession to God...like when we 1 John 1:9 our sins by standing on this verse: When we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive them.

Yes, that clears the air and removes the barriers in our relationship with our God when we continually agree with him about our sins and thus seek relational forgiveness for the ongoing health of our walk with him.

But, Friday, I felt a different lightness related to confession. It's best summed up by how my pastor describes it. JR Vassar says that we continually act like Adam and Eve, hiding behind fig leaves when we fail and stumble. Trying to cover our shortcomings. But community within the church--the unity that Jesus describes--is best found when authenticity and transparency allow fig leaves to drop.

That is the burden I felt lifted on Friday. Having blogged on Thursday and Friday -- doing what I felt was a matter of obedience. I felt the fig leaves fall. There is something so freeing about dropping pretense, isn't there? When we remove our masks and our plastic smiles and we simply let the real us be seen. No matter how it's received. I feel like my true confessions were something God asked me to do. To quit pretending. And in that moment, I felt the joy of pleasing my Father, no matter if anyone else approved.

Fear of man's approval is indeed something with which I struggle.
Yet, I laid out all my cards. Throwing them on the table for all to see.

The interesting thing...the amazing thing is this. When we drop our fig leaves, others feel free to do the same. When we take off our masks, others breath a sigh of relief that they can let theirs come off as well. Authenticity and being genuine in this world of putting on social media airs is a refreshing thing indeed.

So I thought I was done with this whole Dave Ramsey drop-out confession. I didn't intend to take over my blog with my story of financial woes beyond that two-part blog post.

BUT....

I've got more to say today.Here's the epilogue, as I see it. Unless, of course, this becomes like the Star Wars series where prequels and sequels just go on and on.

You never know. Maybe I'm more like George Lucas than I thought.

So, to back things up, you regular bloggy friends might remember the story of my sink that fell off my wall. How I was sinking a couple of weeks ago. My husband removed said sink from the guest bath floor, leaving us with only a pedestal.  I could honestly say that my half-bath now was a matching red-neck rigged set to go with my kids' bathroom shower, which has a trash bag duct taped around the tiles that fell off.  Let's just say that accomplishing home improvement projects is not really our forte.

It's all good. Our guests could easily walk into the kitchen to wash their hands after using the facilities. And, the pedestal without a sink is really quite a conversation starter.

Fast forward a bit to last Wednesday. When my dryer began to act up. I wasn't thinking it could be anything serious. After all, it's only 6 years old and we've had it repaired once already. The problem was that it would cut itself off after about 3 minutes of drying.

Now, clothes may dry on the line in 3 minutes in this Texas summer heat. But not in a dryer. So, chalk one more up to the "needs to be repaired" list. Moving on....

That's just what I did. I just kept moving forward, despite all our brokenness around here (and I'm not just talking about our home repairs). After all, I had a birthday party to throw for my daughter. Our sweet "adopted" daughter, Charity, came to spend the night and lend her help to pull off the small Fairy Tale Mystery Dinner that my girl wanted. We hot glued, we taped, we made tissue pom-poms... we basically crafted beyond our heart's content, trying to use things I already had to make the party special. Then, Saturday, we cooked, we set up, and we finished pulling it together. 

Preparations done, Charity went to shower. That would be upstairs, in our trash-bag decorated shower.

Yet, I heard a very small shower going on downstairs. Near my living room.

Oh, yes. It was definitely more than a trickle. Not yet a flood. But there was a problem.

Chris went to investigate. And sure enough. Our hot water heated was busted. Oh-so-timely. As it began to slowly flood our laundry room and our living room, just about 15 minutes before guests arrived. Chris instructed me to keep cooking while he got to work. He tried to stem the flow with every available towel.
 Oh, yes. Remember... our dryer was not working.Those sopping towels were all thrown outside around our patio furniture.

He was doing his very best yet realized the inevitable.

The water was going to have to be turned off.

As 6 preteen girls showed up for dinner. Being served on actual plates with for-real cups. Because I had decided to use what I had instead of buying paper products.

Little fact of life. You don't realize how many dishes and pots and pans you have used until you are suddenly without any water in your house and you have no way to clean them.

Another fact of life. It's a bit of a buzzkill to a lovely dinner party when you have to announce to the guests that bathroom breaks might get interesting. Particularly preteen girl guests. With a great need for privacy. As in, the ability to flush a potty.

Bless, all I can say is that we have the best friends in the world. One dad who came to drop off his daughter instead ended up helping Chris drain the hot water heater. Another dad came back after the party to help wet vac our carpet. And sweet Charity, despite battling the lasting effects of a nasty bronchitis and being exhausted from all of her help... she stayed to help me rinse all those dishes in the 7 minutes where we turned the water back on to fill every sink and bathtub and to get the dishes at least somewhat clean.

I'm going to shoot straight. When the water began to flood into the living room, and I was knee deep in party prep and really REALLY over having things break, I nearly broke myself. My dear Amy (see previous Dave Ramsey posts about her...Amy is to me like Gulley is to Big Mama)...she dropped her daughter to the party, assessed the situation, took one look at me, and pulled me in for a hug. She knows me well. She knew I was about 3 nanoseconds from break down. She offered her assurances and said she would be praying.

I mustered up my courage, knowing that if I allowed the tears to fall I would not be able to stem the flow. And I had a party to host, after all. So, here's how my internal prayers went down, as I welcomed girls and served the food.

"Lord, I'm trying here. I'm trying to be obedient to your calls. To be transparent and authentic. I've been asking you to heal my unbelief. Now, I'm pretty much shouting that request. I. DO. NOT. want to respond in the unbelief and stress and worry that I usually do. I want to be able to respond with belief in You. HELP me to do that!"
  
That is where this was different than all the other times. I was knee deep in my usual unbelief and worry, but begging God to help me respond differently. Every time my thoughts turned to worry and stress...I asked him to help me believe.

When the house was empty of guests and the dishes were rinsed and every sink and tub and pitcher in the house was filled with water since our water was again turned off, I collapsed into bed with a monster migraine. Off the charts pain. I had taken my meds and was settling in, praying my desperate prayer for the millionth time. 

I felt a nudge to pick up my iPad and read a little bit from Every Bitter Thing is Sweet by Sara Hagerty while I waited for the meds to kick in. I was saying my prayers about my unbelief and asking God to help my unbelief and telling him how I wanted to believe, and there it was.

I just "happened" to be to a section where Sara describes an a-ha moment while attending a Bible study. She realized, while studying about Adam and God in Genesis, that she had been praying repeatedly for her infertility with such unbelief. She had been praying like a beggar knocking on the door and expecting the butler to deliver her message to the Master. She was praying without the confidence of a child who knows they are dearly and passionately loved.

I read the section multiple times through. And I wept. Because there was the truth of it. Right there. I felt with such certainty in my heart this whisper of truth.

I don't believe in God's provision and his care because I don't know him well enough. I don't really know him enough to have that kind of confidence. I continue to box him in to all my preconceived notions and how people have treated me instead of letting those boxes be blown away with the TRUTH of God and his true nature toward me and all of his creation.

I wept and confessed and asked God to help me believe and know him. For real. And I drifted into a peaceful sleep.

I could end there. Because that is pretty monumental, to say the least. That I woke up late the next day with this prayer on my lips--"Lord, help me to have THAT kind of confidence. That I am a passionately and dearly loved child of a Father who is FOR me." 

It's a place of revelation where I will dwell and linger for who knows how long. Because it's truly earth shattering. It's an epiphany that changes everything.

And THAT would be enough. That is the true miracle, really. In this ongoing journey of faith and finances.

But there is more. 

Because of some incredible and ridiculous gifts that others felt prompted to offer... we will be debt free by the end of this month. Including the replacement of our hot water heater, sink, and dryer.

Debt free.

Who but God? WHO but God shows up in the tiny details of a flood in your house so as to show the flood of unbelief in which you are drowning? WHO but God works through sinks falling of the walls to reveal all the faulty thinking that has me falling off the walls? WHO but God reveals himself through a busted dryer to say that all things work together for good through Him who loved me?

Who but God says...I love you too much to leave you in your current state. And it has nothing to do with having debt or not. But I will be revealed through life's ups and downs to show you a truer faith. A truer belief. A truer relationship with Me. And with others. 

I love you too much to allow the comforts of life to lull you into a meaningless and false religiosity. But I will allow things to get shaken up in order to shake you up and spur you on to an intimacy with Me that will change it all.

And then. Not because he has to, or because I deserve it, or because I've in any way "earned it"... but he says I will show up and show you my sufficiency. I will remind you that I can change those circumstances that have you down. I can reach in and provide more than you ask or imagine.

Listen. I'm not saying that if you follow my "formula" or steps here than you will get the same result. I'm not spouting any kind of prosperity gospel. 

I'm saying that God cares more about the condition of my heart and my false notions of him than he cares about my bank account. Without a doubt.

Yet, he is the God of Jacob. The God who revealed himself to a man whose name meant deceiver. The God who said, "You are mine and I am yours. And I've got this. I've got you."

You may not receive a crazy generous gift that fixes it all. But you do have a Heavenly Father who fixes it all. Eternally. Forever. And he promises that he will make all things right. He will wipe away every tear. He will provide for every need. And he hears our every prayer.

So in case you are asking and asking and sinking and sinking.

Remember this.

Our God is a faithful God who is mighty to save. He delights over us with singing. He quiets us with his love (Zephaniah 3:17).

And as my story attests... He is faithful when we are faithless. And those who trust in Him will never be put to shame.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Confessions of a Dave Ramsey Flunkie (Part 2 of 2)

Author's Note: After receiving some thoughtful insight from a blog reader, I wish to clarify something regarding these blog posts about our journey through Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover. All that I write and speak of in regard to my personal financial journey should be read within this context. It's all a first world problem. All of it. Debt. College. Jobs. Student loans. Buying houses. Taking time off to be a stay-at-home mom. It's all first world problems. Because I've never known hunger or had a lack of shelter or truly been in WANT. I recognize that completely. And I hope what I'm writing is seen within that context here.

I've told my kids once or a dozen times that our Biblical standard is humility. Humility towards God. And humility towards others. Following Jesus means living to serve, just as he did. Watching carefully for pride within us. Because we are wise to avoid being in a position where God has to painfully humble us. 

Um, yeah. So about that....

Like I was saying yesterday, we were all happily trucking along in our comfortable Dallas suburb, enjoying our all American life, living quite happily in our four bedroom and two-and-half bath home. So very proud of ourselves for working successfully through Dave Ramsey's first few baby steps. After all, we've been socking away to retirement from the beginning, taking full advantage of matching programs from employers. We even started a small college fund for our kids when they were born. 

So there we were, living the American dream in a safe and great part of town, and none of us truly knowing what it is to be in need. And we were tap dancing along through our debt free existence. Thinking quite well of ourselves. Or at least, I was. My little works-based, performance and approval-hungry self was pretty much thinking I was the bomb dot com when it came to managing our household income.

Not to mention some pretty ridiculous things we've enjoyed through the generosity of extended family.

For six years, we were enjoying more than we deserved to in our debt free existence. We kept our cash system going, lived by a budget, tried to live well within our means, and gave our tithes and offerings, as we have our entire marriage.

We taught our kids to look in the "cash kiddie" to see if we had the cash for new shoes this paycheck or if we needed to plan to do it the next paycheck. We kept shopping sales and we kept ordering water to drink when we ate out. We love to give, so we've tried to be generous with the resources we've had. And we have continued in our careers with non-profits.

Little known factoid. You may or may not have been aware that our country went through a bit of a financial downturn in the last few years. 

Which for us translated to some job responsibility shifts for my husband. Listen to me carefully. In a season where so many are without a job, we've counted ourselves lucky to still have one. Or one and a quarter, I guess, with my contract work. Yet here's the bottom line. 

Our income has not increased. While the cost of things have. Our kids are getting bigger. Which means bigger appetites (two teenage sons here). Bigger clothes and man shoes and no more shopping in the kid section or buying the kids meals.

All of it...the "unexpected" that comes in life and the cost of living increase. And to be completely honest--my apparent inability to plan ahead and make some radical changes before it was too late.

So, as of last August, we officially went back into debt.

My prideful attitude has been completely called out. In these last few years, as our finances began to shift and shake, I have not dealt with it well.

You can ask any of my closest friends.

I confess it here honestly. I'm coming clean completely. I'm afraid that I am not stewarding this story of returning to debt very well. I've allowed myself to feel like a victim. To think I somehow deserve better or have earned some kind of elusive financial status because of my "faithfulness" to being a good steward. I've felt ashamed of our return to debt. I've felt angry about it. I've felt completely insecure and downright crazy about it all.

I've sunk to moments of feeling like God is mocking me.

I know. I know. It's ridiculous. I'm all whining about my lack of financial margins and how we are having to say no to our kids about some things. While we live a rather comfortable existence compared to the rest of the world. 

I'm living in the top 1%, while my husband is working, driving my paid for car and keeping my pantry stocked. 

And I feel struck down.

All because we are Dave Ramsey flunkies. Because I believed in a system that worked for us once, and I thought we were moving on up. (To a de-luxe apartment in the sky-hi-hi). 

(FYI: that was a cultural reference to a television show called The Jeffersons for those of you who are NOT a child of the 70's).

I've prayed. I've begged. I've bargained. I've admitted this financial struggle in a whisper as a dark secret. I've been wound up about it and unwound by it.

I've been desperate for this situation to fixed. But the truth I'm grasping more and more is that God is actually way more concerned about fixing some things within me.


And in case you've been there or are there or might be there, let me clearly state some things here.

God has indeed humbled me. But only recently have I leaned in to the lesson. Because my pride has allowed me to feel oh-so-sorry for myself and to think I deserved better. That I was owed.

But here's the truth of it. God's love and his grace and his provision cannot be measured in dollar increments. And our financial status is in no way a reflection of our worth to our Father. Nor should it be an indicator of our contentment. Or our security. 

Living by Biblical standards when it comes to money is definitely part of our obedience as Jesus followers. But our struggles within that journey do not point to our position before Christ.

We were every last one counted priceless. P-R-I-C-E-L-E-S-S. The highest price was paid for us, and if you are a starving child living on the streets in a third world country or a mostly SAHM whining about your little debt... your bank account says NOTHING about who you are to your Heavenly Father.

I'm throwing it all out here today. And this really doesn't come easy. But I think it's part of my journey to be real and authentic for those who might feel some kinship to where I am. 

I hope you will still be my bloggy friend.

God has gotten my attention alright. And here's the ugly truth. I have measured my worth by my material possessions and status. I have run to finances for security instead of God. I have worshiped the idea of financial margins, making it an idol, wanting it more than I want to hunger and thirst for God. I have wrestled hard here because I have a big issue with unbelief and worry. I have wanted to be debt free more than I have wanted to be growing deeper in the love of Jesus. I have envied others. I have coveting what others have.

And in all of it, I have been ungrateful. 

I have listened to the new Christy Nockels CD, Let it be Jesus, about a zillion times. There are two lines from two different songs which are hitting me square in the heart of this problem I have with money.

"everything is mine in You, even when my hands are empty."

"If You never did another thing for me, It will always be enough that You set me free, Always be enough that You gave Your life
Jesus, You are mine."


I can't yet sing those lyrics wholeheartedly. But I'm letting God know that I want to learn how.


Yes, I can look back and see some sorta messed up perspectives on money within my family lineage. I could easily chalk up my issues as "the struggle is real, y'all... cause it's just how I am. I need financial margins."

But that kind of attitude has not served me well, thus far. In fact, it's actually bound me up pretty good. When we were working to pay off debt and then we succeeded, I felt pretty proud of myself. Secure in what we accomplished. Rewarded for "living right." 

But it's a house of cards that comes crashing down. Because God doesn't owe me a thing. Rather, I am forever indebted to him. Because he paid the ultimate debt that I couldn't pay.

And whether I have a million dollars in the bank or owe a million dollars (which I don't...just to be clear).... Jesus loves me all the same. It makes no difference to him. 

How arrogant to think that our financial status is a reflection of how loved we are by our perfect Heavenly Father. What does that say of all those living in poverty? That God doesn't care? It's a total lie. Because Jesus, in fact, had tons to say about those in poverty and the marginalized. They were some of his favorite people to spend time with. And we would do well to stop judging people's worth by what they have or what they can do for us. We would do well to start realizing our actual position as debtors before a gracious God and fall hard on that grace every moment of every day.

When I place my security in whether or not I have debt or in which step I'm on from some financial plan... it'll never be enough. Whether I'm moving up through the steps or falling backwards. Because placing my security in our money makes me a slave to it and imprisoned by it. 

Apparently, while I may be a slow learner, I seem to be sifting through some weighty lessons here in round two of our battle against debt.

Yes. I would love to be debt free. But I think I need to be freed truly from my co-dependent relationship with money in general. It's all wood, hay and straw that will burn up eventually. 

I'm called to steward my resources well. Yes. I must. Be a good steward of all the amazing and ludicrous gifts I've been given. But it's time to stop letting them own me. It's time to lean in hard to the lessons being learned. To the revelations of my idols and my unbelief in God being FOR me and good, no matter where I find myself on Dave Ramsey's baby steps. It's time for me to be freed from worrying and obsessing about money. 

It's time to call it all out and own it all and ask you to hold me accountable to just that. To embrace that everything is mine in Jesus. And if the gospel is real and true, then so is that statement. And I've been freed from death...I've been set free.  Time I quit letting things in this world imprison me. 

So I'm finally processing and owning some hard lessons here. Right here, back in baby step #2. 

I'm asking God to help me get back up. To get in the fight and quit complaining and just tackle it. To heal the unbelief in me about his provision and his love that causes me to worry and fret. Every time I start to feel worry about our finances, I'm praying Mark 9:24-- "I do believe! Help my unbelief!" And I'm asking him to change me so that I want the imperishable things more than the perishable.

Here's my game plan, for anyone else in the same boat financially.

1. Keep praying for God to take his rightful place in my life above all else that distracts me from him.

2. Keep working the cash system. You really do spend less when you are handing over cash. So, every two weeks, when my husband is paid, I go get our cash that needs to last until the next paycheck. For us, this is cash for everything but gas, utilities, tithe, medical and mortgage. You can determine a good monthly amount of cash per category by using suggested percentages of your take-home pay, such as you can find here

3.  I had given up on tracking our spending beyond our cash system approach last year, and it didn't seem to work out too well. (AKA--back in debt). SO, I found this free app that I've been using for a couple of weeks in an attempt to go into attack mode again. It's called Spend Tracker. And it allows you to track your income and expenses with categories you can create. This helps me get a visual on a daily basis of where we are spending and what we need to watch.

4. We have sold all that we can think of worth selling to help attack our debt. I have opened an Etsy store, which is giving us a little extra income. And I have been able to pick up more contract work this year. I'm continually asking the Lord to show us what else we can do to increase our income. For the record, I'm wide open to going back to work beyond my contract. Thus far, we've seen his provision show up every time I'm applying for a job. We feel a strong sense that the more valuable place for me at this time is home with the kids in these critical tween and teen years. But we will keep asking the question about what I need to be doing.

5. In the meantime, we are cutting back our spending. Our eating out is nearly nil. We aren't buying anything by way of home decor or spending money on entertainment or other frivolous categories. And I am making a game again of seeing how little I can spend in general while we are back "in the red."

6. Got my ole debt pay-off chart posted. Again. Yep, that hand drawn thermometer chart, which we will keep coloring in as we get things paid off.
7. My husband and I are making more concentrated efforts to discuss our finances and check in on each other with it and game plan together. As well as praying as a couple about all of it.

That's where we currently are. Or really, I should say, this is where I am. Because while my debt status has changed a few times in the last decade, I'm coming to see my heart hasn't.

I've had a very unhealthy relationship with my income, savings, and margins--or lack thereof.

Yes, bloggy friends. I'm a Dave Ramsey flunkie. I did the baby steps, made progress, and then have had to start all over.

I don't think I'm the only one.

But this time, I'm finally seeing that there's way more to life than Dave Ramsey's baby steps. Money will come and go. Duh. That's been made painfully clear.

It's time I deal with the deeper issues at hand. 

And I'm seeing that these lessons learned are worth more than money could ever buy.

So this is my truest life story and confessions about being a Dave Ramsey flunkie.

If you are in this same journey with me, I'd love to hear any tips or tricks you have implemented financially. But more importantly, I want you to know that you aren't the only one.

You better watch out, Dave Ramsey. We're coming for your baby steps. And we shall fight on to conquer them again!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Confessions of a Dave Ramsey Flunkie (Part 1 of 2)

We tried, Dave Ramsey. Really, we did. We've worked the program. Went to the live event. Did (and still do!) the cash envelope system. Worked the baby steps. Yet, here is our story... the agony of defeats. The thrill of victory. And then, repeat, apparently. One step forward. Two steps back. 

I think someone needs to hear this tale. To know that you aren't the only one. Here within, you shall find the truth of our Dave Ramsey inspired journey to financial freedom. I share it humbly. With great humility, in fact. Because I'd love to be loud and proud of how we worked the program and never went back. How we got gazelle intense and conquered consumerism and paid off debt and lived like no one else now so that we can live like no one else later. 

And we never went back. I wish I could say that we have the experience and testimony to back up our one time stint as Financial Peace University group facilitators. I wish I could say, "do just as we did -- because we came, we saw, we conquered. The end."

Except that's not our story.

We are, truth be told... Dave Ramsey flunkies.

Listen, we are frugal people. We've never been really dumb with our money. That's not the heart of our struggle. The fact is that my husband and I have always worked for non-profits. For over twenty years, throughout our entire careers. I'm a social worker, for pete's sake. And my husband has always worked for a ministry, on the business side of things. Proof that we've never been in it for the money. 

We've worked hard our entire marriage to be wise financially. This was true even prior to our marriage-- during our dating and engagement. We both worked all through college and grad school. I was financially independent at 19, once my dad died. I was on my own completely. That means college, grad school and our wedding. Undergrad at Baylor University. (In other words, not cheap). That's a whole other blog post about how God provided for those years. The gist is that I worked, got scholarships and got an inheritance from a grandfather that allowed me to finish at Baylor. 

Then, Chris and I took out loans for grad school as we began to plan our wedding. We decided that the measley 3 semesters of grad school were worth it in the long run. So we began our long distant relationship as we worked, went to grad school, and planned our big day. We paid for 2/3 of our wedding on our own, with my in-laws graciously stepping in.

And then, as we jumped into wedded bliss, I clipped coupons, we ate in, and we went to dollar movies. We rarely bought clothes, and if we did, it was only on the sales rack. Clearance was the only way something was purchased. So that we could attack our debt head-on. Every extra cent-- Christmas bonuses, birthday money, whatever... it all went to our grad school debt. I made gifts instead of buying them. We completely skipped Christmas gifts for each other. And we memorized the dollar menu for whenever we did eat out. 

All in all--we were working hard to be good stewards of our finances and to honor God with our money. My husband does, after all, have an MBA in finance. God was good and faithful to provide when the unexpected came. Which it always does, by the way.

So we muddled through, on a wing and a prayer, and we were able to do crazy things like buy a house that was a foreclosure and have a couple of babies. I even got to completely stay home after baby #2 for one whole year. That is a testimony to God's provision. Honestly, I look back and think about how we were trucking along, feeling pretty good about our progress.

Then, since we were done with having kids, we dropped maternity coverage on our insurance when it came time to enroll for the next year. Why not? We said. We'll save some money, we said. We, after all, have managed thus far. With our great wisdom and God's grace. So we patted ourselves on the back for this carefully deliberated decision. 

You might guess what happened next.

Three weeks after our insurance enrollment, we found out we were pregnant with our precious bonus child. The one I had dreamed of and then surrendered. Because having two kids felt right to my husband. And so I released the idea of having one more.

And God said-- not so fast. I think he rather enjoys reminding us of his sovereignty and his omniscience. While we say that our baby girl is the missing piece to our family puzzle that we didn't know we were missing... the truth is that it all kicked off a long wrestling match with the Lord when it came to our finances.

Because we thought we had that all figured out, too.

I think for me, I hit rock bottom financially when I began to get threatening phone calls from collectors after my daughter's birth. We had tried to make payment plans and do our best when it came to the bills for delivering her. But, like any house built on straw, the tiniest thing made it come crashing down. For us, that translated to a series of minor but expensive health issues for our girl. Serious jaundice, barely escaping a hospitalization. RSV at seven weeks. Multiple ear infections. A garden variety of minor and routine sicknesses that kids just get. And all of it added up to the tipping point.

So we went, reluctantly, on an unusually snowy and ice day in Dallas during February 2005 to this thing called Dave Ramsey's Live Event. Oh, I was so gearing for a beating of an ALL DAY LONG affair listening to some boring guy tell me how I've messed up when it comes to finances. But, I was desperate. And I loved my friends, who were completely on board and wanted us to jump in with them.

I want you to know something. If you think an all day seminar that costs you money you don't have to teach you about money you wish you had sounds like the last thing you'd want to do, I'd agree. My friend Amy is rather convincing. And those collection agency calls had me in a very dark place. 

Dave Ramsey surprised me. It was worth every last cent we paid to go to that live event. The hours flew by, and I was on the edge of my seat. Yes, in fact. I drank the kool-aid. The Dave Ramsey, total money make-over kool-aid. To the very last drop. I came away gazelle intense and all about those baby steps and ready and believing that we could turn the tide. Or rather, that God could and would turn the tide as we obeyed the very clear steps he'd graciously showed us.


Moving to paying cash instead of debit cards. Brutal. Hard. A steep learning curve with continual tweaks. But, I was the money nerd. Despite not being the spouse with a degree in finance. I crunched the numbers. I kept the budget. I tracked our spending by putting ALL of our receipts into a spreadsheet. I made our debt pay-off goal chart to look like one of those thermometer charts. And we slowly began to color it in, creeping along toward the top.

If you've ever worked the Dave Ramsey baby steps, maybe you experienced what we did. It seems that we loved that first baby step so much that we accrued our $1,000 emergency fund approximately 568 times. Because it kept getting hit. And used up. Every time we tried to move on to tackle baby step #2, which is paying off debt using the debt snowball. 

It went a little something like this. Step one-- $1,000 emergency fund. CHECK. On to debt snowball. Tiny little successes. Then, the minivan broke down. Back to square one. Repeat the cycle, except this time, our dog got very sick ($$$$) and died. Back to square one. Repeat again. Kids growing through upteen shoe sizes in ONE school year. Seriously? Back to square one. Window breaks on the house and other house repairs. Back to square one. 

And so on and so forth.

I thought we'd never make it. I mean, truly. I was worse than an emotional roller coaster. Up one minute with the tiniest win. Then knocked through the mud again as we'd regress with the financial hits in life that come with owning a home, raising three children, and working for non-profits. I cried. A lot. I whined and was all Eeyore with my friend, Amy. Who was totally IN with us throughout the crazy ups and downs. She'd encourage me and I'd gather myself and we'd press on.

Until one day. That one infamous day when I crashed so hard that I can't compare it to any other time in life. Our minivan had been limping along through this whole process. Through the whole two years and nine months that we were working toward being debt free. We all but laid hands on that darn van with fervent prayers to keep it going. But this was it. Our faithful friend and mechanic had been so good to us, but shot straight. It was over. Time for a new vehicle.

And I lost my mess. I literally walked into my master bedroom... with the kids all occupied or gone to school. And I flung myself prostrate on the floor, face in the carpet, wetting it with my tears. And I decided it was time to just be raw and real and bear my soul with the Lord, who knows me better than I know myself anyway.

"God," I said, "I'm done. I'm so out of energy on this. I'm so sick of this manna diet. This 'enough for one day at a time' diet that we've lived on FOREVER. I can't take it. I need you to either give me a renewed appetite for this manna...or I need you to pour out some milk and honey. I don't want to be rich. I don't care for wealth. I just desperately need some margins here financially. Or, I need you to sustain me back to a place of contentment with manna only. I give up. It's all yours."

Then, I gathered myself. I sat on my knees. I thanked him for getting us this far. And asked him to show up and take it all from me.

Within 72 hours, we had a brand new minivan. The debt we accrued in its purchase was less than the average repair bills we'd been paying for previous 18 months on the old minivan. The miracle involved in this van purchase is more than I can explain. It was enough to give us peace that this step backward in debt was going to be okay. We had a game plan. We were completely amazed at how God provided far beyond what we had imagined (Ephesians 3:20) when we drove off the lot in a brand new car with 9 miles on it. Neither of us have ever owned a brand new car before...or since.

And it was the strength we needed to press on. To keep fighting the good fight, with our cash envelopes and our debt pay-off chart. To keep trusting that God heard. And he saw. And he shows up.

This is the first half of my Dave Ramsey story, after all. This is my true confessions as a Dave fan turned into a Dave success story. A true "we paid off all debt but our house" story. 

Listen, we did. We did just that. So much happened in the two months following that van purchase. We set new financial goals and time projections for reaching them. I look back and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I had indeed handed this thing over that day that I was so broken and desperate and laid out on the carpet. And within two months, we were, in fact, not only debt free, other than our house. But we had enough in savings to move forward with purchasing a larger home. In about sixty days, God had accomplished for us financially what we thought would take twelve to twenty-four months.

We never screamed how we were debt free on Dave's radio show. But, we certainly screamed it at our house when it happened. We giddily told the cashier at the bank when we ceremoniously went in together to pay off that last payment for our last debt (again--besides the house). 

Then, we told the man at the furniture store why we were paying CASH and rewarding ourselves for the years of our blood, sweat and tears of working through to baby step 4 and beyond of the Dave Ramsey plan. 

It was a sweet time of respite and relief. A time of seeing God's hand so firmly upon us, and feeling his favor that we so did not deserve.  A time of breathing deeply rather than panting hard through the race of debt payments. A time of thanksgiving and margins. A time that included a new home and a new job for Chris. A time to say, "Whew. That was hard. But God saw us through, and may this house and all we have be used for His glory alone."

Oh, yes. We were high-fiving ourselves and telling countless people how God was so faithful to bring our desert wandering through debt to an end. How we went from major debt to being freed from it -- and then, get this -- only mortgaging half the value of our new and larger home in the exact area where we wanted to move. 

We were counting our blessings, and naming them one-by-one. 

And we were telling anyone who would listen about how God had showed up through the wisdom of this radio talk show guy. 

So there we were, shaking off the dust from the journey through the financial desert. Toasting each other with the kool-aid of Dave Ramsey's teaching. With a thinly veiled pride about our accomplishments. 

Arrogantly thinking we were done. Thinking that we had seen the last of baby step #1 and that dreaded debt snow-ball that is baby step #2...

...we had no idea what was coming.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Our Kids are Suffering like Never Before

It was almost in a hushed tone, if an email could be written that way. My heart sank as I read it. Her disclaimer. Her words which seemed to be carefully chosen. About how she's wanted to tell us for a while, but just now felt she could.

Here's what she confided in us. Her son is suffering. Battling depression. Fighting hard. 

And this warrior mom is fighting for him. With him. On his behalf. And I could sense her fatigue through the tone of her email. 

I wish this news was rare. I wish I hadn't heard this same hushed confession as many times as I have. I wish I was not seeing this trend that seems to be increasing.

Precious friends whose children are suffering. From anxiety and depression and bipolar disorders, or other undiagnosed struggles of mental health. In epic proportions and epidemic trends. It's startling to me and quite unsettling. And I feel completely helpless on the sidelines of this battle ground. 

Because I can see the angst in the eyes of the mothers. Who are dear friends. Amazing people who have done everything "by the book," so to speak, to ensure their children are growing up healthy and happy and well adjusted. If I had to be brutally honest, I have to admit that I've breathed a sigh of gratitude that it's not my kid.

But it could be. It might be. Because the truth is it could happen to any of us.

This same painful confession of mental health struggles has been repeated to me so many times that I did some research. Because to me, in my little circles, it feels like it's a circumstance repeated way too many times. And increasing in frequency.

Sure enough. It's not just me. 

In 2007, the US Surgeon General's office released the following statement: "about 11 percent of youths -- about four million -- have a major mental-health disorder that results in significant trouble at home or school or with peers, and only one in five of these children actually get the treatment they need."


The cause of this uprising trend? The report speculates that part of it is the pressure our culture puts on kids these days to excel, earlier and earlier, in order to get ahead. Additionally, it cites the access to information where kids can watch over 500 channels full of information designed to scare them or make them discontent and set unrealistic expectations, and we are not wired for this kind of overload.

But truth be told, can we really ever pinpoint the why? The most important thing to note is the increase in frequency.

Additionally, a report issued by the Center for Disease Control in 2013 also found an increase in mental health issues in kids from age 3 - 17, with suicide being the second leading cause of death among adolescents aged 12-17 in 2010.

Bloggy friends, these aren't just numbers. If you don't know someone in the middle of this crisis, then I venture to guess that you will. Because I've been grieved by how many friends have confided in me that their son is struggling with anxiety. And I don't mean afraid of monsters under the bed. I mean, debilitating "I don't want to leave my house or be away from mom and dad or go to school" kind of anxiety attacks. Or friends whose daughters are struggling with depression. Which can even impair their ability to function. Or the news that TWICE this last school year, a high schooler at my son's school died from suicide.

I've been speechless at the times I've learned a friend lost a family member to suicide or has had to seek treatment for their children or teen. Or has had their world turned upside down with the crippling fear of where the depression or anxiety might lead for their child.

And for me, one of the worst parts of this is how these families are suffering in silence. Despite "how far we've come" in this information age, these families feel the sting of judgment and condemnation and are collapsing under the weight of the battle they fight, day in and day out.

It would seem that while we like to pat ourselves on the back as a society where we can openly discuss things and receive information overload, I don't think we've come far enough when our friends feel any sense of shame over what is happening behind closed doors.

It just shouldn't be. It's kicking someone when they are down every time we as a culture play the blame game when a kid or teen is wrestling with depression, anxiety or any other mental health problem.

Have we in the church not come any further than these people?

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
John 9:1-2

This was Jesus' very own disciples who made this massive assumption that sin was the cause of an ailment. And we tend to scoff at such ignorance.

But I have to say, from watching my friends fight it out in the shadows for their children...I don't think we've come all that far from such ignorance ourselves.

One of my friends, who is deep in the trenches fighting against mental illness for her children, has used a term that I think sums up the pain of this type of battle.

She says that what her family deals with, day in and day out, is not a casserole disease.

It's not a health ailment or health crisis where people show up with casseroles to help you through it. Instead, it tends to be a lonely battle because people don't know what to say. Or they assume there was some faulty parenting or some horrible problem within the child that is leading to this problem. 

Because we still jump to the blame game like the disciples did with the blind man instead of showing up to sit in the suffering with the hurting.

As if it is contagious. We seem afraid to get our hands dirty. We see the deer in the headlights look of the parents who lose sleep over worry for their child's serious illness. We want to downplay that it is often a fight for life and death. We see how uncomfortable it is for those in the midst of it, and fresh out of words, we offer none instead.

Shame on us. Truly, we can do better. And I think it's high time we resolve to do just that. To do better.

I think it's high time we get past our own stereotypes or fears and just listen with great empathy and care and concern. It's time we go with a meal in hand and a box of kleenex. It's time we have frank conversations with our kids about what to do when they feel themselves struggling or they see a friend doing just that.

It's time we discuss it and address it and learn how to walk along side it. 

Can you even imagine leaving a friend to suffer alone if her child was given the diagnosis of a chronic disease that could be deadly or crippling?

Yet we do just that with our friends whose kids are in the fight for their lives to find healing and stability while living with mental health illnesses.

Look, I don't have it figured out. I'm not so good at this myself. I've got a long way to go and I need my friends who are hurting to help inform and equip me to stand along side of them. 

All I've got is a whole lot of anger at this point. I'm hopping mad that these kids are dealing with their childhoods being robbed by a kind of pain that feels immeasurable because it's not visible. 

I'm sick to death of watching families being torn apart and attacked from within and from the outside by mental illness and people's inability to know what to do to help. Sure, it's easy to say, "Oh, I'm sorry. I'll pray for you," and then silently pray a prayer of gratitude that it's not your kid.

Except it is. It really truly is your kid. Because these are OUR kids.These are the friends and peers of our children. These are the children of people we know and love. This is our community, this is our village under attack. 

And I think we can do better. I know we can. I know we can quit kicking people when they're down by choosing to watch the struggle from a safe distance or adding insult to injury by even questioning what was done wrong to cause the problem.

Does it even matter? Do we even bother asking ourselves what lifestyle choice might have caused the cancer?

Let's resolve to quit that line of questioning when it comes to mental illness.

Let's just learn to make mental illness a casserole disease. Let's show up and stick around. Let's have ears to listen and arms to hug and hands to hold and an availability to sit in the pain with them.

And let's, for the love, drop to our knees and beg and plead on their behalf, asking the Almighty God to hold back the powers of darkness that are overcoming our kids. Let's not offer a quick prayer, but let's storm the Throne Room regularly and mightily and firmly for these hurting families. Asking God to strengthen them. Asking for wisdom to help them. Asking God for healing and for his light to pierce the darkness that is taking our kids under.

Day after day after day.

Let's be prayer warriors fighting the fight with all those we know who are hurting. When we don't know what else to do, just being present and available and willing to get dirty in the muck is enough.

The only thing worse than suffering is when we suffer alone because no one wants to enter our pain with us.

So, let's.

Let's just be near. And stick around. No matter what.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The (Elusive) Pursuit of Happiness

Let me ask you a question.

Are you happy? If you aren't, then what would make you happy? What are the things that are beyond your grasp right now that are causing you to feel unhappy? Why is it everyone else seems happy except for you? From all the movies, magazines, commercials and social media... there definitely seems to be an abundance of happiness.

For everyone else but you. 

Right? That's how it can seem.

Yet, my pastor said something this past Sunday that keeps rolling around in my brain.

"Our culture is obsessed with an 'I will be happy when' existence."
JR Vassar

An "I will be happy when" existence. 

Yes, that so accurately sums it up. I will be happy when my hair is fuller and bouncier. I will be happy when my house looks like that one on HGTV. I will be happy when my marriage is as fun and exciting and romantic as that movie portrays. I will be happy when my kids are feeding starving children in Africa as they pull a 4.0 grade point average like that friend on Facebook. I will be happy when I get the accolades due me. I will be happy when these toddlers quit sucking all my energy. I will be happy when I earn more, have more, and can do more.


Listen, I agree. Our culture is obsessed with this mentality. Fed by a constant connection of information via modern technology.

And I admit it here.

I've been as sucked into it as the next person. 

Oh, yes. I've sat on that church pew my whole life, claiming to follow Jesus. And secretly (or maybe not so secretly) worshiping at the altar of "I will be happy when."

There has been much unraveling for me personally during our church's current sermon series on idols. 

It's not a pretty picture when the mirror of God's word is held up to you--or maybe it's more like a microscope of God's word--and startling and humbling revelations come forth.

It's best described with my favorite new adjective -- it's brutiful.

It's part of the beautiful and brutal journey of peeling back the layers of distractions and idols and unbelief and self to get to the incredible core of walking in freedom through Jesus Christ.

And one of the many things that has to go in my life is my "I will be happy when" mentality.  Because it's had me chasing my tail my whole entire life. 

I will be happy when I'm finally a teenager and can drive. I will be happy when I'm a grown up and can make my own decisions. I will be happy when I finish college. I will be happy when I find a good job. I will be happy when I finally get to marry my college sweetheart. (Side note--my husband is a rock star, so it's not that I'm in any way disappointed in my spouse or my marriage!)

Then, it became I will be happy when we can finally have a baby. I will be happy when my baby sleeps through the night. I will be happy when my baby doesn't require diapers. I will be happy when I have another baby.

Then, that whole wishing for the next baby phase thing starts all over. On repeat, through three babies total.

I will be happy when my babies can feed themselves.  

Yet, as I've said here this summer a few times, my babies are so big that I actually find myself in a wistful and nostalgic frame of mind about all those baby and toddler and preschool stages that I was so wishing would hurry and pass.

Indeed, the "I will be happy when" existence falls incredibly short in actually bringing any deep sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.

The truth is we've all been duped.

Lest we beat ourselves up, this elusive pursuit of happiness is nothing new. True, our culture is obsessed with it. But so were the people of ancient times. The Israelites thought they'd be happy if they could be freed from captivity. Then, they thought they'd be happy if they could go BACK to it instead of wandering in the desert. They thought they'd be happy with some food provisions. Then, they complained about the manna and quail diet. 

And they, too, were caught in the vicious and unsatisfying pursuit of a happiness that felt just out of reach. 

My pastor spoke on Ecclesiastes this past Sunday, showing how even the wise, rich and admirable King Solomon, who had all the status, possessions and power of his day, found that none of it satisfied. He boldly proclaimed that all of it was meaningless. 

Because "only God can bear the burden of being our refuge, salvation and comfort." (JR Vassar)

Only God.

Only God can fill the gaps in our souls that feel empty in our constant pursuit of happiness. 

Oh, yes indeed, we were made for something more. We were created for more than we currently have within our possession.

But the "more" that we were made for is not more money, more status, more power, more beauty, more vacations, more loving relationships, more acceptance, or more fame.

None of it. If we obtained all that we are wishing for at this very moment, it would still not be enough. It would not be the happiness we relentlessly pursue.

Because the "more" we were made for is Christ alone. 

God has planted eternity in the hearts of men.
Ecclesiastes 3:11

We are wired for eternity. We are made and created with eternity in our hearts. We were made to be residents of a beautiful never ending that is beyond all that this world can offer.

Yet, we chase down all manners of substitutes instead and then become disillusioned and disenchanted when nothing else fills that space.

We tail spin into discontentment and frustration and envy and depression, taking on a victim mentality or fits of anger, when all our efforts and all our time and all our energy does not bring us the happiness we think we deserve.

So we run after it harder. We pursue happiness as our ultimate goal.

But God says he planted eternity in our hearts. Not temporal happiness.

And until we recognize the idol of "I'll be happy when", then we will never get off the hamster wheel of fruitless pursuits. We will always be one step away from what we think will bring us the lasting warm fuzzy we are chasing.

That we might call it out for what it is. An elusive pursuit. That we might instead use up all of that effort to pursue the God of all eternity. Learning to pause long enough to soak in his presence. Lingering over his Words. Praying honest and authentic prayers about our deepest struggles. Singing sacrifices of praise even when we don't feel it. Asking Him to be the satisfaction and fulfillment of all of our yearnings.

For he promises this.

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Psalm 16:11

There it is. In the quiet moments of stilling ourselves to perceive his presence, we find joy. We hear the birds sing and know our Father rejoices over us with singing. We see the sunset and know our God paints the skies with his glory. We hold our spouse's hand and remember all we've walked through together. We watch our children learn and grow, and we thank the Lord who entrusted them to us. In all these moments, we experience all the gifts we've been given and know that our God is good.

When we choose to see the here and now as merely a foreshadowing of something More.

Those are the happy places where we embrace why we were made and acknowledge the One who made us.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

No Rest for the Weary: Say it Ain't So

From the time we were newly in love as teenagers, my husband and I were quite aware of our differences when it comes to taking risks. Chris has always been the spontaneous one, the risk taker...the one leading me along to do crazy things like have a Sunday afternoon picnic in the middle of the circle in Waco.  Complete with a card table and all. 

For those of you who were not fortunate enough to attend Baylor or ever live in Waco--just driving around the circle can be a death defying stunt. Much less running across the traffic to set up a picnic in the middle of the circle.

Chris' mantra has always been, "C'mon! It'll be fun!" While my contribution has always been something more like, "Are you sure this is a good idea?"  

It would thus come as no surprise that my husband thinks nothing of driving for as long as possible with his low fuel light on. Of course, he has a whopping 0.7 mile commute to work.  I, on the other hand, whip into the nearest gas station the minute my fuel light comes on.

Why risk it?

This summer, I'm finally realizing the irony of our approach to driving versus our approach to life. Because God is revealing to me the dangers of how I tend to live on fumes while I would never actually drive on them. How I tend to go, go, go and do, do, do...way past the time when my fuel light comes on and my body says, "slow down!"

It goes back to that performance thing in me that I've mentioned here approximately 7,689 times. 

I'm a do-er. I'm task oriented and yes, in fact, I sometimes add things to my task list that I've already done just so I can mark it off.

Gotta problem with that?

I've long known this angst. I'm not oblivious to my inability to rest and relax. Yes, in fact, some might call me high strung. 

While my first job quickly led to burn out, I must admit I had some kind of thrill and satisfaction with all the tasks I had to get done and all the things that I accomplished in a day. Nothing bolsters my sense of self like seeing all the things I finished.  Self-worth. Self-importance. Self-esteem.

Listen, this is not a good thing. Truth be told, God has been trying to deal with me on this issue for decades. He's used thirty plus years of migraines, a bizarre season of dealing with a neck issue, and then two years with a ruptured disc to tell me loud and proud--"Girl, you gotta slow it down!" My body gives the signals, and my brain says fine. For now. Temporarily.

And then, I'm right back to my old tricks. Gotta perform. Gotta get things done. No day is a good day if nothing gets accomplished. I'm only as valuable as the job I just finished. My accomplishments equate my worth.

The truth is that while I know better, I am still really struggling at doing better. And I know I'm not alone. Because we live in a culture of performance and activity. Over-activity, really. 

We live in a world that says that the busier we are, the more important we are. We live in a community that says your kids are falling behind if they aren't excelling in multiple extracurricular activities by age ten. We live in a world that says being in demand and overworked and over committed is a status symbol.

We even attend churches that dictate an overcrowded calendar of opportunities, subtly inferring that a good Christian is a busy one.

And the thing is, the Bible says the exact opposite. God himself set a strong example in the second chapter of the Bible. 

You see, he made us in his image in chapter one. 

And then, he showed us one clear and bold rhythm to life that we should follow. 

He rested from all his work.
Genesis 2:2

This is not a suggestion. This is not some practice for the lame and lazy and slothful.

This is the pattern that God set from the very beginning, for all of his people. 

He says work hard. 

And rest.

In fact, God goes on to show in Genesis chapter four that when Cain was cursed for his actions, part of that curse was to become a "restless wanderer." Restless. Unable to rest.

Cain was cursed with being restless. Yet, we willingly choose to live this way. Rest-LESS.

We live in a world that screams at us constantly about our need to do, and the noise of the world drowns out the call of our God to regularly take time to pause.

We hit fast forward. And our pause button is broken.

This is not as it should be. 

Our God-ordained rhythm of life should include regular pauses. In fact, WEEKLY ones. Oh, yes. I'm talking about the command to remember the Sabbath day--the day of rest--and keep it holy.

It's not just a pipe dream or an outdated Old Testament suggestion.

And I'm smack dab in the middle of God reminding me how much I stink at resting and how I need to do better. 

My kids are all getting older and more independent. This summer, one or another of them will be gone for more than half the summer. My oldest just got a job and will be working 30-35 hours a week for the rest of the summer. 

While I used to not be able to go to the bathroom without little fingers sliding under the door accompanied by the whines of, "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!"-- I'm in a season of mothering where yes, I have actually asked my kids if they would like to spend some time together.

I just don't know what to do with myself. Honestly. It feels uncomfortable to have blank spaces in my summer days where I'm not needed to keep my kids out of trouble and occupied like in their younger days.

These forced breaks in my day have been a microphone to the quiet call of my Savior asking me to come. To come and be satisfied and fulfilled by Him alone. Because tasks and busy days don't feed my soul. In fact, they rob me of a deeper joy and peace and they keep me distracted from the weightier things of eternal significance.

God is telling me enough is enough. Learn to pause just as he intended.

Which is so counter-intuitive for me that it's gotten to this point.

(And you can feel free to laugh at me with the forthcoming confession)

I've actually created a note in my phone called, "Soul Fillers." 

Why yes, yes I have. Created a task list for things to do to pause and fill my soul. 

I told you that I'm really bad at resting and slowing down. 

But, I triple dog dare you to immediately respond with the things that you do REGULARLY to slow down and rest. 

Falling asleep watching television doesn't count, by the way.

You see, I readily admit my inability to pause. I'm the first to say that I can feel stressed by a long task list and then restless without one. The grass is always greener.

So, I've taken the drastic step of creating a task list for how to unwind. When I feel that itch to pass (or waste) my free moments on social media or such, I'm going to my list to see how I might fill my time with something that actually causes me to pause and be fed.

Here's my list, for inquiring minds:
--Bible journaling
--reading (Bible or book)
--prayer journaling
--writing
--crafting
--coloring (OH, yes! adult coloring books--they rock)
--hand lettering
--floating in the pool
--dreaming about where God might take me
--time with family and friends

I know my bent. There's a saying that sums me up: 
Those who fail to plan plan to fail."

I just don't naturally know how to slow myself down and Sabbath. So, I'm attempting this new idea of actually setting down some plans on things that I find restful, filling, and soul-feeding. 

I wonder what your list might include? If you had to think about what a Sabbath day might look like for you? Or an evening you mark off for yourself to take a break and rest yourself?

Because in the church or not, our culture is just really bad at resting. In generations past, the lack of electricity and the dark of night served as a natural call to rest and set the work aside. 

Then, the lack of resources at home, such a home computer, meant that the work day was more clearly defined.

But no longer. We are so connected and so technologically advanced that we have no such natural markers. We can literally work 24/7 and be available at any time, day or night. We can't even go to the store or on vacation without having a phone attached to us. 

I personally am coming to see the absolutely truth in the adage that if Satan can't make us bad, then he'll make us busy.

Statistics show that in America, the average work week is now 47 hours. That's the average. I'm sure we all know people who far exceed that (if we aren't one ourselves).

Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."
Matthew 11:28

A Gallup poll found that Americans get 6.8 hours of sleep a night, on average. This falls 40% lower than the recommended amount of sleep, according to experts. In fact, the Center for Disease Control stated in January 2014 that insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic.

Jesus told his disciples, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest."
Mark 6:31

Web M.D. connects this lack of adequate sleep to such disorders as heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

David declared, "Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you." 
Psalm 116:7

Here's the truth of it, as I see it. We all tend to ride the waves of being overworked, overbooked, over scheduled, and overwhelmed without a regular routine of rest. I'm not just talking about a good night's sleep. And, I'm not talking about an annual vacation because that won't cut it. In fact, many of us take our work with us on vacation or we are so worn thin that it takes us until the end of the vacation before we can begin to unwind.

And we are suffering in every aspect of our lives. We are tired, grumpy zombies, living in a fog. We are irritable and short with each other, and we have little to give to anyone, much less to give to the sacred practice of resting in the presence of the Lord.

And he clearly gave us the key to realizing who He is in our lives.

We are to "be STILL and know that I am God."
Psalm 46:10

In the swirl of activity and going and doing, we are simply incapable of really communing with our Father. We have to quiet our mind and our bodies in order to fully soak in his Godness.

In our busy pace in live, everyone gets our leftovers, including the One who made us.

So, won't you join me in a new way of living? A new pattern for life that brings us refreshment and restores our souls so that we might stay connected to our Lord and be able to live boldly for him?

This pattern has to include a regular rhythm of rest.

However that looks for you, however you can make that happen. It may mean saying no to some things. It may mean being more aware of distractions and more intentional to cut them out. It may mean working hard to give ourselves what God intends for us to have...Sabbath. Rest. Pauses. Connection.

And hey--if it takes creating a "restful task list" to get there, I say more power to you.