Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Fight Against Porn and Sex Scandals

No one wakes up one day and says, "I think I'll ruin my life today. I think I'll do some shameful, stupid thing and ruin all that I've worked hard to build." 

No husband just suddenly says, "I know! I'll ruin my marriage and mar my reputation and risk my family and career and go on that website to find an affair. That'll be fun."

No teacher says, "YAS! I want to make headlines with my mug shot because I pursued an inappropriate relationship with a student." 

"Awesome! I'll make a complete mockery of the faith I espouse by finally achieving that porn addiction," said no one. EVER.

And neither did someone we know. A friend we've known for years and respected and loved and prayed for as he pursued noble causes. He never once intentionally made the decision to end up where he ended up. He never suddenly thought that ending up in prison was completely his life ambition.

But that's what happened. 

And because we've walked the road we've walked with one we've held dear, I feel I must write this post. Because we've had a front row seat and seen the aftermath of all that happened when the slippery slope took him completely down. 

And so I'm fighting mad at all the headlines this last week. Mad at the destruction of marriages and families and victims and by-standers who get taken down with this kind of scandal. 

Since I know the context of a man who started with one bad step that lead to more poor choices that lead to complete devastation, I can't stay silent.

Sin will take you farther than you wanted to go, faster than you wanted to get there.

That's the root of it. Of every headline about Jared from Subway or Josh Duggar or Ashley Madison or ANOTHER local teacher accused of an inappropriate relationship with a minor.

The truth is that the end result of these scandals is not generally coming from one giant leap and sudden decision. It's not an "OOPS, that happened" situation. 

It's a progression of deceit that begins with one false move. One little step toward something you should ignore. One glance. That leads to one longer look. That led to a need for more. And then more. Requiring huge amounts of justification and rationalization to keep heading in that direction. Losing sight of what is best and right and good.

And then, before they knew it, these people-- all these people find themselves in these shocking situations by their own choices that brought them (and those around them) down through a domino effect.

Because at some point, sex scandals are born from letting your guard down. From allowing yourself to do something you know better than to do. From convincing yourself it'll never get that bad or go that far or get found out.

But that is all a lie. 

And we'd be foolish to ignore these headlines as if they could never happen to us or someone we know.

In our oversexed culture, we are playing with fire. We are a society that casually uses sex to sell, but then comes unglued when people succumb to ignoring good judgment because sex became a commodity that led to horrible choices.

We can not emphasize enough to ourselves and our children the need for safe guards. The need for extreme caution and awareness because the lines are blurred when it comes to the mixed messages our culture offers when it comes to sex.

If we've learned anything from the Josh Duggar situation, it's that no one lives in a bubble. No one can escape the clutches of temptations because they've distanced themselves from the big bad world.

It's within us. 

We must never be arrogant enough to think, "That idiot. How can he be so stupid? What I loser. I would never do that."

Even a slight detour off the path you know you should keep can lead you down a road that destroys you, by your own volition.

So, how can we shore up our defenses in order to avoid a similar fate?
Nehemiah 4. I read it yesterday. And it was a slam dunk in my mind--the applicable wisdom that it offers on this very topic of porn and sex scandals.

You see, the Israelites were rebuilding their wall. Just going about their daily grind of laying brick and mortar, minding their own business. Just like us. Walking through our days, doing our thing.

But, an enemy was close at hand, threatening all that they were building. An enemy was lurking, with threats and deceits and opposition. Mocking and taunting the people.

Make no mistake about it, bloggy friends. We are just going about our daily grind. And there is an enemy who prowls around like a lion, seeking to devour and destroy. 

And the pitfalls of porn and sex scandals are an insidious way to bring us down.

No matter how solid you think your marriage is or how God fearing you believe your kids to be or how protective you are over your family... there is an enemy.

And he doesn't say, "YOU! Hey you! This will be fun. I've got a deal for you! Give in to some momentary pleasure. Because it can hook you to a point of devastating your life and becoming a headline!"

Nope. It's a tiny gray area. One little thing. No one will know. It's a thought planted, like a seed. That can grow and take root and take over and become the weeds that choke out all common sense and resistance.

Like the Israelites, we must be quite aware of our enemy. Quite aware of the opposition, the temptations, the slippery slope and the incredible potential dangers. 

And with our awareness and the humility to realize none of us are above the temptations, we must be a people of prayer. We must be a people crying out to God continually to hear our prayer and protect us.

Warriors on our knees, covering ourselves and our loved ones with our continual attempts to storm the Throne Room of heaven to protect us from these dangers. 

Just like the Israelites.

Continuing with their work. Aware of the dangers. And being a people of prayer. 

As the people "worked with all their heart" (Nehemiah 4:6), they continued to be aware of the plots against them and they never let up praying to their God (verse 9).

Even still, there's more we can do. More than just praying, "God, help me never to end up like those people."

We must do the next thing. Because in the face of opposition, we must proactively build a defense.

The Israelites posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. Nehemiah 4:9

We, as a people wanting to avoid the pitfalls of porn and sex scandals, we must be aware of our enemy. We must pray continually. 

And we must post a guard, day and night, to meet this threat.

Because it is a threat. So, we must make intentional decisions before hand. Have brutally honest conversations within our spouses and with our children. Talk about how all that ruin started slowly, like a slow burning fire. But the flames can grow and they can engulf our lives. 

We must be in tune to realize the first tiny step on the slippery slopes in order to avoid it. And we must place barriers around it.

We must be on our game, always. Making a deal with our loved ones to cry for help before things get too bad if they find this temptation knocking on their door. Commit to being each other's guard, taking our stand to watch out for each other.

And never ever think you are above it all.

There are some practical ways to help post a guard, day and night. Set up rules about screen time and public places for viewing. Make kids plug in electronics at night. Have parental controls on your television. In our house, because of our friend's story, I am the only one who has the parental control pass code. Not my husband or my children. If I were to find that watching things I shouldn't was becoming a habit, then we would change this arrangement. 

When my husband travels for work, he avoids turning on the television at all in his hotel room. He does this because another friend who travels for work found himself watching porn in the hotels. He and my husband had been meeting with some other men to disciple each other as this began to happen in our friend's life. When this friend came clean, they all read a book called Every Man's Battle. And they made a pact with intentional boundaries and decisions by way of posting a guard. They shared these thoughts with their wives so that we could be part of praying and watching and posting the guards around our marriages and our families.

You see, here's the thing. We have an enemy who comes at us, innocently enough, like the serpent approached Eve in the garden. And all these temptations seem innocuous enough at first glance, masking the incredible dangers that can lie in wait.

But we have a God who is bigger. We have a God who can frustrate the plots of our enemy. We have a God on our side who knows our tendencies to mess up and he has the power to help us. Our God can frustrate the plots that seek to take us down. Our God can throw on the warning switch and help us overcome that which seeks to overcome us.

And then, we cannot just return to business as usual. Once the Israelites became aware of their opposition, they made proactive steps and prayed and posted guards. And then they went back to building.

But now, they "carried materials to do their work with one hand and held their sword by their side in the other" (verse 17).  They also appointed a man with a trumpet to sound the alarm when danger came near.

May we do the same. May we build AND defend. May we build our lives and go about our daily grind. As we are also defending ourselves. Watching carefully. Being alert. Asking God to help us. Daily. Carrying our sword, being in the Word, ever aware. 

And may we set up alarm bells that will ring when we find the opposition is about to take us down. At the first step, before we spin out in a downward spiral.

All the while, shouting, as the Israelites did at the sound of the alarm...

These headlines are that alarm bell. These stories are that trumpet sound to do something and to ask God to fight for us.

Indeed he will. He will fight for us to keep us protected. He will fight for us if we become embattled with these temptations. He will fight for us even if we find ourselves in the pit and way too far down the slippery slope. He will fight for us to help us be ever watchful and aware. 

And he can even fight for us to bring redemption and grace if we find ourselves broken. If the cross was enough, then it's still enough when these dangers ignite an engulfing flame. That doesn't mean there won't be consequences. That doesn't offer any excuse. And that doesn't mean we don't take responsibility. 

But that does mean that maybe the story can be a warning and serve a purpose beyond the aftermath that it brings.

That's the hope of our friend. That the rock bottom where he landed may serve as a warning and prevention for another to avoid that fate.

Which is why I'm even writing this blog post today.

If you find yourself in the clutches of these problems, ask for help. Sound the trumpet. Admit the issue, take responsibility, and bring light to this dark place. Then get help. Get professional help. Get counseling. Get whatever help you need. 

And ensure the safety and help of the victims involved. Be sure those who are wounded also have their needs tended to. Don't hid behind silence and deceit. Make sure that someone is empowering the victims toward healing. 

To all of us, may we be quite aware. May we never be so arrogant as to watch the news stories and think that will never be my family. That will never be our story. We indeed, must be on alert. For ourselves. And our loved ones. We must talk to our children and equip them to respond well when they stumble across pornography. When they take a step down a path that can lead to destruction. 

We must be warriors on our knees, begging God to fight for us and our families against this enemy, this evil. We must post guards in our houses and be the guards for each other.

We must raise the battle cry against pornography and sex scandals and continue to build our walls and go about our daily grinds, with our materials and talents in one hand and our sword and weapon in another.

Building. And defending. Keeping the Word as our defense. Asking God to fight for us. Being ever watchful and aware and careful.

There but for the grace of God go I. 

"My God! Please fight for us!" (Nehemiah 4:20)

Monday, August 24, 2015

All the First Day of School Feelings

I'm sitting here with my cup of coffee in an empty house. Empty and quiet. And I'm totally conflicted. I feel half elation at welcoming a rhythm and routine that the school year brings. And I feel half grieved. Because something amazing happened this summer. 

My kids are reaching ages where I am totally crazy for the people they are becoming. I've enjoyed some much needed one-on-one time with each of my three beloveds, and I laughed and smiled and made duck faces and peace signs and marveled at how much I can enjoy my kids. How much I can converse and interact with them. How I'm transitioning into more of a coaching season of parenthood. I'm in that place where I can step back and cheer them on from the sidelines. Perhaps running in as a referee at times to throw a penalty flag. But, no longer in a season of the demands of their younger years.

It really is a wonder. Just you wait, you moms of littles. Just you wait. It's going to get good. Like that first time your little bundle of absolute dependence smiles and laughs at you and melts your heart because you see more than just being their caregiver.

It's like that. 

On a much larger scale. 

And so, my heart hurt in a new way this morning. My stomach flipped in unison with my new middle-schooler when she expressed her nerves as she asked me to straighten her hair and she confided all of her feelings to me. I soaked in the moment and thanked God for this precious relationship I get to have with my girl. That she trusts me and lets me in. At all. For now, anyway.

I know that might change. 

I looked at my two high school boys and just held back the tears. Because for the first time, I am not driving all my kids to school. So, I covered my angst with a big joke about walking those tall boys to their first classes at the high school and taking their picture with their teacher. I threatened and laughed. They scowled and protested.

Oh--another side note of the goodness to come in the teen years. Totally annoying your kids. And getting a good kick out of it. 

So the boys rolled their eyes as I took pictures while they loaded into my oldest son's car and I demanded one more photo. They were snickering at my motherly ways as they drove off.

But deep down, I think they know that it's all because of my fierce love for them. 

My heart was feeling the ache of realizing I have just one more back to school year with my oldest and then our nest begins to empty.

But then, I walked in and found our dog on the kitchen table eating the leftover bacon. Finally, we got to witness how he manages that very rare feat. The laugh was just what I needed. As we say about our rescue dog, you can take the dog off the streets, but you can't take the street out of the dog.

So, here I sit. Sipping leisurely on a second cup of coffee and scrolling through social media at all the first day of school photos. 

And all the first day of school feelings are overwhelming me. I see the children of friends who were just babies, but now tower over their parents. And the friend who posted a lonely, empty front door because her kids are both off to college this year. I remember a first day of school where she and I prayed together for our children. It couldn't have been that long ago?

So, here's what I have to say, over all these first day of school people. The moms. The dads. The kids. The grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles.

Be in awe. Stop and mark this moment and be in awe. Be in awe of all the things that God has done for you and through you. Be in awe of a fresh new school year, stretching out ahead, full of promise. Be in awe of the potential of new friendships. New lessons. New challenges. New triumphs. New victories. And new growth through new defeats, even.

It's a whole new year. A new season for God to do new things. I am so challenged by my study of Nehemiah right now that I'm asking God to help me pray big prayers for big things and believe the truest things about him.

Rather than just asking that my girl make some new friends in middle school or that the God's Girls group that I lead would go well, this is what I'm asking. "Lord, use this group of girls who are seeking you to start a revolution. Raise up this generation to stand bold for you and denounce the enemy's attacks on them and believe you to use them to spread your light into every dark place they see. Right where they are. Every day. To do whatever you ask of them. To offer an encouraging word to the classmate who seems broken. To invite the child sitting alone to come join the crowd. To use their gifts and talents and time to go where you ask, do what you want, and spread your fame all around."

Rather than just asking that my boys have a good year at the high school, I'm adding this. "God, ignite their hearts with a burning passion to pursue you wholeheartedly. To stand against the flow. To be your witnesses and your hands and feet to all that brokenness. To not just say no to the temptations, but to be equipped to help lead others out, as well. To be the ones who reach into the hurting teen on the verge of despair. To be the ones who believe that even teenagers can do hard things, dream big dreams, and make huge differences." 

Mamas, I'm not just asking that God help us mother our kids well. I'm asking him to equip us to rebuild broken walls of generational sin. To be the ones who help to restore our generation and the next to a people who believe that his grace is deep enough for all, his love is wide enough for all, and his power is strong enough to use us ordinary people to do extraordinary things. I'm asking that we become a people who believe that the common denominator of Jesus is enough to span racial differences, political differences, socioeconomic differences--ALL the differences. Unity was clearly his teaching for his church. That we shake off our "us and them" mentality that happens in holy huddles and we become a "we are all us" people who dare to step out and into the needs around us. That we would dare to see our few years here on earth in light of the eternity and be bold and courageous to throw all we have at whatever God asks of us. That we could be brave enough to surrender. Moment by moment. Day by day. Choosing God's ways and teachings over our own selfish motives.

It's a lot. All these big feelings and big fears and big questions and big dreams. 

And may we all--every last kid and every single adult-- step into this first day of a new school year trusting that we serve a God big enough to use even our tiny selves for incredible purposes. That he equips each of us with what those around us need, and that we would be daring enough to share it generously.

Let's do this. Let's do this new school year and ask God for big things for his fame alone. Begging him to help us think the truest things about him. Because if the gospel is true, then we serve a God who gave it all on our behalf and held nothing back. 

So, let's not play a tiny game when there's a cosmic battle going on. Let's believe him to be enough to accomplish his good purposes and good works through us and in us and for us.

Every single day.

In every single angst filled moment of our lives. When our heart doesn't know whether to high five or break down in tears because of all the new going on around us.

Doing new things is his specialty, after all. Let's pause long enough in our busy lives to begin to look carefully for it in every single new day.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

What Difference Do You Make?

Being a SAHM is a glamorous life, I tell you. It's chock full of exciting things like doing laundry, looking at unfolded laundry, wishing the laundry would fold itself, digging through said laundry to find what I want to wear, and then finally, giving in to folding it. 

There's meal preparations and grocery shopping. Because my people eat. Day after stinking day. And no longer just three meals a day. No sir. Not with two teenage boys and one preteen girl who can match her brothers, bite for bite. It's like the Hobbit over here with second breakfast and elevenses. Not to mention the two or three dinners that go down between the hours of 4 and midnight. 

And, there's clean up and convincing the kids to clean up. And then debating if it's worth convincing the kids to clean up or just doing it myself.

There's bills to pay and errands to run. And, all of it is about to ramp up next week with the start of school when our lazy days of summer switch into a higher gear, faster pace, and increased demands. I'm bracing myself for the onslaught of forms and papers and emails and such from the schools, with requests for $5.40 for some magazine subscription they'll read in science. The constant juggling of three lunch accounts.  And the forms I need to get signed by the doctor to leave my kid's inhaler and migraine rescue meds with the nurse.

But hey--it's not all bad. I feel like I deserve a retirement party. Because, with my adios to elementary school days, I'm leaving the darn reading logs behind.

So long, reading responses and daily folder signing! I won't miss you one tiny bit.
 Maybe you're not a SAHM mom. Maybe you're a working mom, or not married or don't have kids, and you find yourself working day in and day out, punching the time card. Maybe you're retired. Or in the midst of a big crisis or transition. And the monotony of the mundane every day has you beat down and wondering.

What difference do I make?

Today, let's answer that question by looking at some heroes of Biblical proportions. Names recorded for all time--for ALL eternity. People who made a difference. Whose lives are rich in meaning for us to glean and replicate.

People like Eliashib. Meremoth. Meshullam. Joiada. Uzziel. Rephaiah. Jedaiah. Shallum and his daughters. Hanun. Malkijah. Ezer. Hasshub. Pedaiah. Zadok.

Doesn't it read like a Who's Who of Biblical heroes? 

What? You don't have an illustrated children's book bought at Mardel's with their life stories?

Listen, if you wonder what difference you make in your world which might feel tiny and routine, let me point you to Nehemiah 3.

Nehemiah. Another Biblical hero who doesn't get much press time. Haven't seen too many plaques in Hobby Lobby with quotes from his book of the Bible.

But we would do well to linger in Nehemiah. As soon as we can find it. 

Because it's no coincidence when my pastor and one of my favorite online Bible studies simultaneously began a series in Nehemiah. I may have far to go in my walk with Jesus, but I've certainly learned to pay close attention when he repeats a theme.

Nehemiah. A man with a cushy job and a man of influence. A man who seemed to have the world by the tail, despite his background as an Israelite whose people have been exiled. 

Yet despite his creature comforts, Nehemiah was a man who was such a hometown boy that news of Jerusalem's wrecked and ruined state caused him to mourn, fast and weep. For months. 

For months. 

This was a man who served a king who had never seen him unhappy. Ever. But, Nehemiah's heart was broken for what broke God's heart. His faith--the faith of his fathers, passed down to this generation who had never lived in Jerusalem-- it was a strong faith. An intimate faith. A faith that surely cried out to God to be broken and used for the things that grieved the Lord Almighty. A faith surrendered to do whatever God asked of him.

Which points to one important truth in our lives. If you are feeling wrecked or broken or weepy or laid low about something, then maybe--just maybe--you are the verge of something God intends to do through you. 

The breaking usually proceeds the break through.

Maybe God is placing something on your heart to do (Nehemiah 2:12). Maybe he is preparing you for something. Maybe he is calling.

We would do well to listen up. To get on our knees and ask the question. WHAT do you have for me? 

Like Nehemiah, his purpose was found not in the seeking of that purpose, but in his seeking of God. When we draw near and close to him, he begins to transform us. He begins to soften us to be broken for something, in preparation for being used by him to make a difference. 

May we listen intently. And be emboldened and encouraged to remember that just like Nehemiah, when God calls us to do something, he provides all we need. He supplies our resources and paves our way and protects us as we go.

Just as in Nehemiah 2:1-9. 

If you are called to care for littles, then remember that God has your back on days that you feel you have nothing left to give. He will show up and strengthen you and get you through it.

If you are called to work in what seems like a thankless job, then remember that the One who made the heavens sees you and hears you and cares for you.

If you are dealing with a difficult marriage or a health crisis or a financial crisis, then remember that the One who carved out the oceans is big enough for your struggles.

If the One who allowed his children to be exiled for their disobedience cares enough to see the holy city of Jerusalem restored, then he is the one who does new things, rebuilds ruins, and restores what is falling apart.

So let's stop sitting around, being defeated by our circumstances. Let's be like Nehemiah. Let's draw near to God and hear his heartbeat and respond to his call and trust his provision.

Because we have walls to build. 

We all have walls to build.

Nehemiah had a literal wall to build. And he didn't shrink from the task. He didn't choose to stay in the comfort of his life, safe and secure, but he chose to go and obey. 

He was an ordinary man. With ordinary skills. And ordinary talents. Who believed in an extraordinary God. 

When I read Nehemiah 2:20 yesterday, I felt chills. I felt a surge of encouragement. I felt a challenge. And I felt a little de ja vu. Because it reminded me of someone else I had read about. As Nehemiah was being mocked and ridiculed (verse 19) for what he was trying to do in building the wall, here was his response:

I answered them by saying, "The God of heaven will give us success."

It reminded me of David. Another ordinary man-- or rather, ordinary boy. No great or noteworthy achievements of his own. No bragging rights, per se. Who faced a monumental challenge, as well.

David, too, was mocked and ridiculed. By the giant he faced. Cursed and despised and teased by opposition that stood between what he thought he was to do and success in accomplishing it.

But David stood tall in the face of such ridicule, just like Nehemiah. And offered this response:

You come against me with the sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you win the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel!
1 Samuel 17:45

David and Nehemiah were mere men. Much like us. Exactly like us, in fact. But they made a difference, not by their own might or abilities. But by their absolute faith in the truth that their God was not ordinary, although they were.

If you wonder what difference you are making, then ask God what is your wall? What is your wall to build? What is the thing that he wants you to do so that you can see the success he will give you as you obey? Will you believe that he is, indeed, the living God? The Holy One? The Lord Almighty? The God of heavens? The One who will accomplish through your obedience the very thing he asks of you?

Can you stand firm and unwavering in God's call on you, in whatever tasks he has given you, because you know the battle is not yours, but it is the Lord's?

And if you wonder what your wall is, and you think it seems rather insignificant, then let's go back to that roll call of hard-to-pronounce names that I listed earlier.

These are not names that roll off our tongue or fill books or sermons with incredible content. These are people--men and women--whose task probably seemed small. 

While Nehemiah was called to rebuild and restore Jerusalem, these people were called to something much smaller.

Eliashib. Meremoth. Meshullam. Joiada. Uzziel. Rephaiah. Jedaiah. Shallum and his daughters. Hanun. Malkijah. Ezer. Hasshub. Pedaiah. Zadok.

Everyone one of them simply rebuilt the wall in front of their homes. Their job, their call, their "wall to build" was only a portion. It was just a section. It was hard work. It wasn't glamorous. It was probably back breaking and laborious and certainly didn't feel like any big deal.

These are the ancient people who are exactly like us in wondering what difference they made. 

But in being faithful to do the portion allotted to them, their names are recorded, not just in any book, but in the Word of God. What may have felt like a small task or no big deal was actually part of a bigger work. As they laid brick after brick and hauled beams and doors and set hinges into place, they were actually doing Kingdom work. 

They were surely dirty and dusty and sweaty and smelly and maybe they were just plain over it. 

What difference did it make?

What difference did THEY make?

Yet, they were restoring Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3:7).

As you are filling out that zillionth report and completing the mundane filing at work, or filling up sippy cups or teaching rowdy children or dealing with difficult clients or doing some mind numbing tasks day after day, let me remind you.

You are part of building a bigger kingdom. You are restoring and rebuilding and being used by the God Almighty to accomplish bigger things. To be part of a bigger picture. One you may not be able to see from your vantage point.

And you may not have your name recorded in the Bible, but your name is recorded in the Lamb's Book of Life. 

What you do every day may not feel like it makes any difference, but it is work of eternal significance. Working at your portion of the wall is being part of a much bigger picture.

So stand firmly where you are, building the wall that he asks you build. Asking him continually, "What is MY wall? What is my portion of the wall?"

And know that together, he is weaving a bigger picture. Together, he is using all of your efforts and threading them together with the efforts of others to rebuild and restore his people and his everlasting kingdom. 

Maybe it feels like no one knows your name. Maybe you feel like Meshullam and you long to be known more like Moses.

But God knows your name. He knows the very hairs on your head. He sees your every effort. He hears when you are mocked and ridiculed for the way you are seeking to obey. He knows the opponent feels like a giant. He knows the accuser tries to deceive you about your work being meaningless.

Yet he whispers for you to answer his call. He wants you to believe that he paves the way. He longs for you to think the truest things about him as the extraordinary God who does extraordinary things through ordinary people of ordinary skill doing ordinary tasks.

He wants you to just do your thing. Build your portion. Work on your part of the wall. 

And know that it has everlasting impact in building a Kingdom that won't end.  

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Power of NO

They sat in my living room, as they do every Sunday night for life group. Jostling their babies while they eat dinner, trading their little ones off with their husbands. Then, settling in as we talk and discuss together. This last Sunday night, a common thread quickly became apparent and I wanted to remind them of a truth that I've learned. 

It's the secret that we moms tend to ignore. We bury it under our busy schedules and our attempts to keep up with it all. We sweep this truth under the rug and it gets lost in our frenzied activity to live out the exact contradiction of this truth. 

In this last week of summer, I feel the need to remind us all. ALL of us--moms or not-- this secret that we ignore.

Here it is.

You cannot do it all.

You can't.

Harsh reality. Or freeing truth. Depending on how you look at it. 

Supergirl may be a new show coming to prime time television. But it's not a standard that any of us can ever achieve. Ever. Ever. Ever.

We cannot ALL be super moms and Wonder Womans and we have limits and we have boundaries and we only have so much time in the day. 

Look, I don't care what your perception is of that lady you know who seems to pull off perfection with kids, career, volunteer hours, an HGTV worthy house and very Pinteresting get-togethers.

It's a lie. 

It's a vicious lie that steals our joy and deceives us into living out some hyper busy life that we were never intended to live.

Say it with me.


I'm telling you loud and proud so you (and I) can let ourselves off the hook. Here's something I need every mom to lean in and hear clearly.

Your first ministry is to your family. Flat out. For real. The moment that child was placed in your arms, through birth or adoption or fostering, God was calling you to a sacred job. A sacred activity. A lifetime of mothering and investing yourself in the life of the next generation. 

And it's precious and valuable and priceless. 

It just doesn't feel that way when your world shrinks to meeting the needs of a dependent baby requiring your daily schedule to include the following: Feed. Change. Clean up spit. Try to convince them to sleep. Repeat. Ad nauseum.

But, it's big time stuff. This raising of children. And the moment we become mothers, it's one of the biggest "YES!" you will ever say. 

However. In light of this very big YES, we tend to forget the secret. 

Which is that when you say yes to one thing, you have to say no to another. And in the case of mothering, this can mean saying no to lots of things. Because let's face it-- our littles and not-so-littles require a lot from us. 

So when you say yes to your husband and then y'all said yes to parenting, what must follow is some no's. It means that when your family of origin faces some health crisis or other demands, you are not available in the same way that you were pre-children. 

And I want to be the boss of you and tell you to release the guilt. Guilt and conviction are two very different things. Guilt belittles you and bullies you into doing something. It's not from God. 
Conviction challenges you and says you got what it takes to do more.  It is from God.

So, repeat after me. This is just for the young moms of littles.

N-O. "No, I'm sorry. I'm not able to do that at this time. It's not my season."

No explanation needed. It's no one else's business. When you have littles who require so much of you, it's a short season. Full of very long days with a million demands. And it consumes your energy. (Can I hear an Amen?)

So, this is not the season to say yes to lots of other things. It's the season to shelf some things. Some dreams you are eager to pursue. Some things you are happy to have an excuse to ignore. Some needs of family members even. 

Because your season is about your first ministry to your family. And it's time for someone else to fill some gaps as you offer what you are able to offer. No apologies needed.

NOW, my soap box rant continues for those of us who are, shall we say, not as young in our mothering. Our littles are now taller than us. Or nearly so. And the demands at home look different. When we surpass the stage of feeding, diapering, and caring for our children's needs and they gain more ability to care for themselves, it's very easy to feel the pull of THAT MOM.

You know the one. She takes care of hearth and home, holds down a job, volunteers at everything, works out regularly, feeds her family with incredibly healthy homemade meals, and regularly plans incredibly fun things for her family to do. 

So when she, in her cape and tights, comes to you to ask if you can be room mom pretty please, you feel that sinking feeling in your stomach.

How can you say no?

Here's how. Like this. N-O. 

We are not called to be THAT MOM. Maybe THAT MOM is called to do it all, but that doesn't mean it's a standard we have to uphold. (For the record, you may decide that being home room mom for one year is fine. More power to you! By all means, say yes now and then to some select few things. But not to all things).

I was reminded of this as I sat at lunch with a friend discussing some plans for the upcoming school year. She has a lot on her plate, and I told her that I gave her full permission to cry uncle about our joint plans.

I'm telling you the very same thing. Not that you need my permission. Alright, alright--to be perfectly honest-- I'm really telling MYSELF this because I have a hard time giving myself permission to say no. I'm all about my performance and earning approval and doing and going.

But "no" is not a bad word. We need this reminder as we are about to receive in influx of sign up sheets and needs at the schools and our schedules are about to go into hyper drive.

Let's remind ourselves that we don't have to be THAT MOM. That it's okay to say no and to realize we can't do it all. It's okay to not kill ourselves with overcommitment. 

Because this season is short. I had the epiphany yesterday that next summer is the last summer EVER that I won't be getting a child ready to go to college.

And I wanted to melt into a puddle and call every single mom I know and be that sweet old lady who says, "Oh, treasure this season. It goes by so quickly."

So here I am, in this blog post, being that sweet old lady who told a very pregnant ME that very same thing when I had two little boys hanging on my legs in the middle of the baby aisle at Target. I was living on the edge, corralling my boys and shopping for baby sister who was about to come any old day. And the boys were fussing and I was big as a whale and she had the nerve to smile so sweetly and tell me, "Oh, treasure this season. It goes by so quickly."

And I remember offering her a smile and mumbling a thank you, all the while thinking, "IF ONLY. IF ONLY this season would go by so quickly."


It did.

So here I am. The week before I sent my kids off to 11th, 9th and 6th grade. And I'm that sweet well-meaning old lady telling you all.

This season will go by so quickly. So let's join hands and look at each other and say--it'll be okay. Give it all you got. Or whatever you got left to give. Say no to other things. Because you can't do it all. And that's okay. We gotta put first things first and be okay saying no to some things. Or maybe just--"no for now."

Because these kids hanging on our legs will be off on their own in the blink of an eye. And we don't ever want to regret how we spent our years that they were in our homes. Our kids won't stand at our funeral and say, "The thing I remember most about my mom and that I most appreciate is that she was always running around doing so many things and volunteering all the time and stressing herself out."

No, bloggy friends. Let's remember the incredible impact of our presence and our availability and our steadfastness to the mundane tasks. It may not be glamorous. Some days, it may not feel like we are accomplishing much. But every moment invested in our kids will indeed have far reaching ripple effects. And it's an investment of YES that is quite worthy of offering some NO's to other things.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Power of the (Hand)Written Word

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the weekend I spent with my 90 year old grandmother and my sister, going through 100 years worth of family photographs and letters. We were mesmerized by the letters between my great-grandmother and her two sisters. Sallie, Hallie and Johnnie. We became acquainted with each of their personalities and the complex and often dramatic way they confronted each other and spoke to one another. Sallie was the busy mom of 9 children, seemingly stuck in a difficult marriage. Hallie was the negative drama queen, leaning toward narcissism. And Johnnie was the peacemaker, ever trying to talk her sisters off their ledges. 

It was more entertaining than an epic movie, listening in on this family history, and the tales that the letters offered.

As I've pondered all the treasures found within yellowed and brittle pages, I've come back to something that really bothers me. It's one of my "soap box" thoughts. It's a whole THING to me. Something that I think we don't take seriously enough. Including myself, by the way.

In our digital age, with email, text messaging and social media, we're losing the art of placing pen to paper and expressing ourselves to loved ones and friends through the written word. 

On the bright side, the digital age works well for my people, as poor penmanship seems to run in my little family. 

But on the flip side, we're creating a vacuum. We've allowing a tremendous void not only for each other, but for the generations to come. 

This has long bothered me. And here's where it all started and why this is such a big deal to me.


I have exactly ONE handwritten note addressed just to me from my father. Only one. He sent me one letter my freshmen year at Baylor, when he was already fighting his terminal cancer. And I wish I could say that it was some flowery letter full of deep life lessons and heartfelt affection. 

But it was a letter about how I should be using the Spanish lab since I was paying for it and how I needed to rethink my habit of going kicker dancing.

Not exactly the type of sage wisdom that I've eagerly shared with my own children or reread a thousand times to remind myself of my father's great love for me.

Don't get me wrong. He was offering his own advice, in his own way. And yes, he was truly concerned about Spanish labs and "dance halls." 

But my dad was really not a stern, crotchety kind of dad. He was loving and kind and wise beyond words. He was a servant of people, a meeter of needs, a man quick to laugh, and the first to offer a corny joke designed to put people at ease.

So, it's always bothered me that the one handwritten note I have does not really represent who my dad was.

Fast forward to a few years after I lost my dad. I can remember watching the story of a lady named Erin who was dying from cancer. She had made the decision to write letters, make videos, and purchase gifts for her daughter for all the occasions that would come after her own death.

I was insanely jealous. I must admit that I still feel a swell of emotions when I think about it. Because I wish I had those kind of treasures. I wish I had my dad's perspective on big life things and his life story and his deepest thoughts and feelings. Written out on paper. In his own handwriting.

I wish I had that particular aspect of his legacy.

I think it's important. I think it's important sometimes to just write it all out, messy handwriting or not, and let those around us know our thoughts and feelings and insight. 

I think it's our own way to leave stepping stones for future generations, outlining our own paths in life.  And who doesn't love getting an unexpected handwritten note in the mail, mixed up with the bills and advertisements?
This isn't a new thought to me--this strong feeling that we should do better about handwritten notes and letters. And I used to be way better at it.

When I became the chaplain in our newly founded sorority, one of the things I felt passionately about was writing a handwritten note to each sorority member throughout that semester, giving them words of encouragement and identifying strengths I saw within them. So I tackled the roster, sending out a few notes each week. 

Since then, I've allowed life and schedules and tasks to sideline me from this type of endeavor.

But, it's never too late. I think we tend to brush this whole idea aside and go with the convenient "thank you" text or "thinking of you" email instead of writing out our sentiments on paper. Through snail mail. The old fashioned way.

Yet, there's a magic to handwritten correspondence that we tend to underestimate. It's not as convenient. It takes time. It takes effort. And all of that is easily seen and appreciated by the recipient. 

I was surprised a few years ago when I walked into my mother-in-law's office and saw a framed letter. It was a letter from me. Written in 2007. I had long since forgotten that I had written it. But she looks at it every day when she walks into that room.

Apparently, it had meaning and significance to her. And the fact that she treasures it makes me feel cherished as well.

Which is all a rather novel idea in an era where our kids aren't necessarily taught how to write in cursive.

So, I'm preaching to myself as I am expressing these thoughts on this blog post. I'm sending myself a reminder that you can all lean in and listen to as well.

Let's bring back the handwritten note! Let's start a revolution of taking the time to put a pen to some actual paper and sending our thoughts, love, and prayers to those we know. And even those we don't know well. 

Let's ditch the idea that neatly printed notes from the computer trump even messy but thoughtful handwritten correspondence. Let's send the United States Postal Service scrambling with fresh floods of SNAIL mail sent to those we know who are hurting, lonely, struggling, or doing awesome.

Let's grab some fresh wide ruled paper or college ruled or computer paper. And instead of scrolling through Facebook feeds, let's offer some lines of handwritten thoughtfulness that others can scroll through while holding it in their hot little hands.

Let's embrace once again the treasure of actual notes written with our own hands to express our thoughts and feelings to those we know and love.

What if we all did this? What if you took ten minutes to jot a note to the friend who you saw posting some hardship on social media? What if you wrote a love letter to your spouse, like back in the day? What if you wrote a legacy letter to your children, expressing the way you feel about them and the things you appreciate about them?

What if? 

For teenagers today who think this sounds like a completely foreign concept, let me offer exhibit A.

Back in my day, this was how we chatted in class. The carefully folded and discreetly passed actual note we sent across the room. 

And lest you think texting acronyms like LOL or BTW are something you invented, let me remind you that my generation master minded such brilliance as LYLAS.

Like a boss.

Ask your mom what that means.

I still have a box of such notes that my husband and I used to pass through our totally grossed out and over it roommates when we were dating in college. 

I'm sure my kids are gonna LOVE reading those someday. Or their children. Or so on.

The handwritten note.

I'd love to see a resurgence of it. In this time when hand lettering and all things vintage or retro (AKA--from my own childhood) are making a comeback, can we just make the handwritten note or letter a THING again? 

So that someday, 100 years from now, some family members can gather today and totally catch a glimpse of our lives in the form of a tangible legacy we leave behind?


Just so you know.

Friday, August 7, 2015

For the Worn Out, Burned Out, Stressed Out

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Matthew 11:28-30

The unforced rhythms of grace are not a life that's carefree, stress free, and full of sunshine and rainbows as you float along. It's turning to God in the chaos--with every burden and concern. And handing them over. As many times as you need to do so. 

It's walking confidently in your position as a dearly loved child. Trusting in his Father's heart. It's reminding yourself -- your soul and your mind -- who he is and the truest things about him. It's shouting them louder than the voices of defeat and deceit and despair.

Living on the unforced rhythms of grace is not a constant slow pace or serendipity. It's stilling your heart and quieting your mind, in the stressful, hard moments to remember your position. Sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening again -- reminding yourself again -- of his teachings. Calling to mind the words of Truth and covering the hard moments with them. It's singing out praises and worship to find calm in the storms. It's turning down the volume of the world to listen more carefully for the songs being sung over you.

Unforced rhythms of grace are not one long Sabbath rest, vacation, or series of afternoon naps. No, these rhythms are working heartily for the Lord rather than men in all that you do. It's tackling the demands of the day from a posture of surrender to the One who made you. It's running your race hard and running after him with intentional moments to sit and pray and listen and read and be still. Then, getting on with the day, training your mind to be ever aware of the Father, who acts as the mama bird, covering her babies with her wings of protection. 

In moments of loneliness, it's telling your soul that you are never alone and never forsaken.

In moments of anxiety, it's reminding yourself of all the ways that God has shown up before.

In moments of discouragement, it's telling your soul that the One you serve created the world with a word, raised the dead to life, and conquered giants with a tiny stone and a shepherd boy.

In all the moments, living on the unforced rhythms of grace is being keenly aware of your wretched state and your great need of a Savior. 

It's being informed of his great love, his faithful care, his Father's heart and his matchless grace.

Here's the miracle of his grace. The truest thing about it. His grace tells us that we are not swimming in a pool, with walls and limits. It's not finite like that. His grace instead declares that we are floating in its ocean with no end. 

Because we are never enough. And the "I Am" is more than enough. For any trial. For any need. For every pit. For any trouble. In every struggle.

Living on the unforced rhythms of grace is being ever mindful of all these truths.

Even when our mind, heart and circumstances tell us otherwise. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Lens of the What's To Come

I stood in the parent check-in line with my friend. There we were in the rustic camp's small main building, which was used that day to carefully direct all the parents through the process of checking-in their children for camp. 

Except this was unlike any check-in line that I've been through for my kids. These parents were dropping off consent forms and gallon sized baggies filled to the brim with medications, as well as particular foods for their children's dietary restrictions.

We were at Camp Blessing near Houston, Texas. My friend, Lauren, is two weeks post knee surgery and not yet cleared to drive. So I acted as chauffeur to help her get her daughter Shelby to this special needs camp. Uninterrupted conversation time with Lauren is a treat, and she is one of my dearest 2 am friends. 

You know--the ones you can call at 2 am and they will jump to assist you. I've actually put that one to the test. So, this was a great opportunity to try to return some favors.

But as I stood there, looking at the faces of these parents who are raising children with all varieties and levels of special needs, I felt glad to be there for another reason besides friendship. 

I searched the faces of those parents in that check-in line, looking for what I expected to see there. I consider them all warriors, on the front lines of daily battles that most of us cannot imagine. So, I expected to see battle fatigue and weariness, etching hard lines on their faces.

But instead, I saw smile lines and a twinkle of hope that defied the types of things that have become their norm. I wondered at this. I marveled internally. I considered if maybe they have a hope that I don't have because they have a perspective to which I'm oblivious? The things I take for granted in my parenting...those are the things that are tiny miracles that they celebrate. Things like a full night's sleep, void of any night time stirrings from a child who endures numerous seizures every single night, with rare exception.

I considered how my need for (or should I say my idol of?) control is challenging me in this mothering season of letting go. And I wanted to shrink. I wanted to hide under a table and tell them all how foolish I am. Because these parents were relinquishing control of children whose needs exceed anything I've ever imagined. As parent after parent went over their medication dosage list and their bottles and bottles of medications with the camp nurse. Explaining and clarifying what each one was for and when to administer it. 

I felt humbled. Undone. Unraveled. As Lauren calmly described her daughter's seizures and how to respond to them, and when to give her which medication, so nonchalantly. 

It's a language I don't speak. It's a routine I can't fathom. 

I looked around the room again, as others met my look with a warm smile.

And I no longer saw just parents. I saw bravery. I saw courage. I saw people rising to meet challenges that not only do I not face, but which I'm sure I would meet with far less grace and resiliency and bravery.  

And among those parents were camp staff. Teenagers and college students who had come to be one-on-one buddies with the campers. Adults who greeted each other with enthusiasm and joy to be together again, at the start of another year's camp. 

I wanted to swallow my prideful ways about all the things I can tend to whine about in my comfortable, ignorant, limited perspective.

Check-in completed, we walked through a sudden downpour to go meet Shelby and her buddy at the cabin, so that Lauren could give instructions to the buddy and say her good-byes to her daughter for a few days. 

Mollie, the buddy, was quick to introduce herself, explaining with no shortage of her bubbly personality, how she was so excited for this week and how she has been praying for it for quite a while now. She talked about filling out her application and then going through camper profiles. When she came upon Shelby's, she said, "I knew that was the one. That was MY camper!"

I wanted to cry. 

What college kid has that kind of perspective in life? I surely didn't. I was way more wrapped up in my own little ups and downs to realize the joy of serving others like this young lady.

So I basically wanted to wrap Mollie up in a big tight hug and tell her how grateful I am for her and her love for Shelby that will allow my friends a few nights to sleep. All. Through. The. Night. And a few days to have a respite. I wanted to tell her that she was my hero and I want to be just like her when I grow up.

But I refrained, lest I freak the poor girl out.

After all, I'm just the chauffeur. 

I stood by while Lauren went through some instructions to help Mollie know Shelby. Things like which words that Shelby might use to express her frustration since her verbal abilities limit the way she can express herself. Things like how Shelby eats and what to do when she has a seizure at night, and how she might cry out or not want to go back to sleep because she doesn't want to have another seizure. How to read her cues and what she likes the most. 

The time came to go, and when asked by her mom for a good-bye hug, that precious Shelby girl turned to me and said, "hug!" I quickly obliged and felt humbled at her affection.

After all, I'm just the chauffeur.

We pulled out and I marveled again at Lauren's strength and determination and casual attitude toward all that her life includes. 

I was silently thinking of how it must feel to be the parents I saw there. So ready for a respite. Yet, it must feel so hard to let go. There are things these parents have to control that I have not even considered. What a conflicted angst they must fight as they leave their children at camp.

Lauren seemed to read my thoughts about it all, citing how hard it was the first time. But how it has gotten easier. 

In our hours in the car, we covered a wide array of topics, and Lauren wistfully said that the older she gets, the more ready she is for Jesus to come and make all things right. I agreed with her sentiment, thinking of how age and experience are slowly making me more and more homesick for things beyond this earth.

Then she added, "I just can't wait to see Shelby dance and run and talk and laugh and be made whole and complete."

I was struck deeply by her words. 

As I feel God repeatedly reminding me of his Father's love for me and his desire for me to have confidence in that love as a dearly loved child.

I thought that I must be like Shelby to God. 

Where some might see limitations or inabilities or special needs, he sees potential. He sees the heart of it all, beyond the exterior that might be misunderstood by those who don't bother to look further.

And beyond all that...he sees the whole picture. He sees the struggles of this world and the ways I wrestle and the things I can't do or seem to master.

But he sees them through the lens of the coming perfection. He sees them in context of the glorious unfolding, when all that is broken or "wrong" is made right. When Jesus makes all things whole, all things complete, all things RIGHT. 

There is a hope there for me to grasp as a foothold every time that I see only my failures or limitations.

To know that it's all temporary. The struggle might feel real, but it's not permanent.

Because the day is coming when all those who are physically, mentally, and emotionally broken are made whole and complete and perfect. 

That is the truest thing about us all. That is the reality. 

This is merely the trailer. That is the special main attraction.

This is the foreshadowing. That is the whole picture.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:12  

Can you even fathom? When we feast the banquet table of the Lamb, and I can engage in full conversation with Shelby and she can finally share her wisdom and depth to me to the fullest extend?

May I be found faithful. To seek to see others as He does. The here-and-now through the lens of the what's-to-come.  

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 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.


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!