Monday, September 19, 2016

Mindful Monday // 9.19.16

Above the Big Thompson River, May 2015

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, 
so great is his steadfast love 
toward those who fear him

{Psalm 103:11 ESV}

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

I Wanna Reality Show

I think I could easily hold my own with the screaming brides, precocious toddler beauty contestants, families of nineteen children, and disastrous sibling relationships.

Picture Credit
Just putting that out there.

It recently struck me that, for all their "reality", those shows are still seriously airbrushed. You're going to make serious rifts in your relationship? It will look Glamour-worthy even in the middle of the R-rated catfight. Looking for your dream dress? Even if something doesn't work out and you swear at your sister, your fiance, and a random dress designer, you look like a happy, slightly stressed bride-to-be.


However, I propose a new reality show. TLC is hereby invited to come to our house and just film. They can catch what they want - counter full of dirty dishes, piles of clothes on the closet floor, my backside sticking into the air as I dig frantically through said pile, muddy spots all over kitchen floor, living room covered with school books/blankets/people, deranged parakeet wildly zinging around the house, demented dog with a hero complex - you get the idea.

Hopefully, you also got what I was trying to say through that graphic description -

Let's be real.

I was just taking a (technically discouraged) Facebook trip and ended up on this article, It was just the encouragement I needed - and it made me think about what my life is like right now. I'm going to be honest, okay?

I am taking twelve credit hours. For the last few months, I have really, really struggled with motivation and procrastination in my schoolwork. That has turned around and "bit me" more times than I care to remember - late nights, bleary mornings, nearly falling asleep on the road, turning things in late, missing assignments. My room (as mentioned earlier) is currently a mess. When I have time, I don't want to deal with it. When I don't have time, I look at it and it really bothers me. I struggle with being annoyed, picky, mean, and selfish with/to my siblings. I get upset with my lovely momma and I get frustrated by my awesome daddy. I spend entirely too much time thinking about guys and relationships. I struggle with giving of myself to some hard situations. And, of course, I could say thirty things more that will pop into my head as soon as I hit "publish". Family situations, friendship intricacies, business problems, invasive health problems, grief, financial issues, the daily stress of watching my country disintegrate, etc.

If that was too much for you, feel free to get your kicks somewhere else. I guarantee you, though, that this is a part of your life too.

I'll be honest about the process of sharing.

It scares me. I literally felt that panicky feeling in my chest, thinking about how horrible I must sound to people out there. What responsible, oldest-child, Christian twenty-year-old leaves her room a mess, spends way too much time fooling around on Facebook, and snaps at her parents? Christian or non-Christian, I fear your judgment and your thoughts about me. I wonder what even my closest friends would think about me if I said this or that. I can see your face as you process what I am saying.

I recently read Victoria Fedden's wonderful book This Is Not My Beautiful Life. (Warning: this is not exactly storytime-with-the-kids material - but it is amazing.) The night I started it, our family had one of those nasty nights of chaos. Some were out on a late night trip for errands, Dad was late getting home from work, everyone was hungry and beyond beyond. Dinner was late - and the real late, folkses, is eating at 10 pm. Oh, it happens. (And I'm actually proud of us. We are living life as it happens, not caught up in "dinner time".) Homework was due and there was responsibility coming out of everyone's ears. As I was burying myself in the couch before family worship, one tenth of a centimeter away from blowing Mount Vesuvius, I took comfort in the fact that Victoria's crazy life was like ours. Ok, I guess my parents didn't end up in prison (and they don't pursue shady financial deals and whatever goes along with that). In my mind, I was proudly declaring "This is real. This is us."

This is real. This is us.

And that's okay.

Every day, I have to remind myself - force feed it down my throat with a spatula - that God loves me. He is in control. He knows me. He knows my life. He knows my sins. He knows that Jesus is right now interceding for me. He wraps me in the sweetest, thickest, strongest frosting of grace.

I am also learning - by His grace again - to be the friend and family member that is okay with what you tell me. It's important, people.

You cannot carry out God's commands to love the body of Christ if you cannot or will not accept people's reality.

So let's try.

Forgive us, Lord, as we have forgiven our debtors. You have shown us mercy beyond any comprehension; help us understand and mercifully love others.

Back to the reality show - I kid you not. If a TV producer shows up on our porch, I will (after rescuing him from above-mentioned demented dog) invite him in and tell him he has free range with his camera... with two conditions.

1. Real must be shown.

2. Grace, as response to the real, must be shown.

Friends, as you pack yourselves into bed tonight, with all your angers, fears, messes, and sins, remember that I am like you. You are like me. Someone else out there is like me, and they are like you.

But God gives grace.

The deranged parakeet, messy closet, screaming fights between siblings, costly software kinks, wandering attention span, and mercy-dispensing family/friends, are, I think, how He most shows His grace. 

Enjoy my reality show, friends.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Mindful Monday // 07.11.2016

I'm sure you've heard the "mindful Monday" term floating around over the last few years. I've seen my share of those posts, so I finally decided to one of my own - with a twist. The MM posts I've come across seem to mostly consist of positive thoughts and encouragement - which is all well and good, but I want to focus on the One from whom all blessings flow, who gives us the ability to be positive, and who encourages us every hour. The verse that immediately popped into my head was Psalm 8:4 (NKJV):

What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?

When you hear "mindful Monday", think about this: the Creator who knows the ends of the universe is mindful of you. He runs an incomprehensible network of planets, stars, and galaxies, but He sees you when you're sleeping - in fact, He never sleeps. Hang on to that, then, through all your Monday blues - when you guzzle your fifth cup of coffee and check the clock for the umpteenth time, when you fall into bed tonight, feeling so totally done.


Home, December 2013

Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Million Dollar Question

Every high school junior/senior (and these days, freshman/sophomore) can tell you what the first question out of a new acquaintance's mouth is:

So, what are you going to do after you graduate?

I faithfully answered that question in detail for the first three years of high school (I want to be a nurse, probably labor/delivery, and I would really like to go to Cedarville, but I might think about UNC too...). Once I hit the promised land of senior year, though, I began to dread that question. Not because I didn't have my mind made up (and oh, it was made up, baby), but because it happened so often. I see y'all nodding your heads over there...

Now, when I talk to friends that age, I spare them of (half) the misery and preface the million dollar question with "I know you get asked this all the time, but..."

I know. Much better, right?

The thing is, I had no way of realizing that my answer to that question for all those years was wrong. Oh, not morally wrong. Just wrong because now I'm preparing to take a class called "Teaching/Learning/Technology". You see, that is definitely not part of a pre-nursing program. And what I'm getting around to is this:

It's hard to know what God wants you to do. It's hard to make that decision (for a lot of people). It's hard to change your mind after you've staked your dreams on one path for five years.

I always wondered (and sometimes still do), "How do you know?" Like, this is a big decision, people. What if I pick the wrong major and am three-and-a-half years/105 credits in and realize that this really sucks? What if I waste four years of my life (and who knows how much money) on something that "turns out to be the wrong thing"? (It is slightly amusing to look back at these thoughts and realize how huge some things seem at fifteen, right?) What decision do I make???!!!

Thankfully, I had guidance from some of the best. My parents, for twenty years now, have taught us the story of the men with their talents, the concept of serving the church, the truth that God has gifted each and every one of us with a unique talent with which to bless others. My mom told me, "Look at what you can do, what you're good at. Start there and see how you can use those gifts." She also reminded me that sometimes there are very practical and concrete signposts - if you can't stand raw meat, maybe you don't want to go to culinary school. If you don't get accepted into nursing school, maybe God wants you to look for something else. If you can't sit still for long periods of time, don't become a pilot. And, while I was at TFY, a theological "training camp" put on by our church, Dr. Jerry O'Neill gave our group a wonderful talk on knowing what God wants you to do. This talk gave me peace in the questions that were still swirling.

And then, I ran into a bit of a brick wall. Five days before I walked across the stage and took my diploma, my college and "career" plans made a sudden one hundred and eighty-degree turn. Wham.

My plan was to take CNA courses the summer in between graduation and starting college since I would need that accreditation further along in my studies, and I could gain experience while working as a CNA. Here's where I admit something about me that is a bit embarrassing - I struggle with being on time. This trait has given me grief more times than I care to remember, but this particular instance probably tops them all. On this day, right before I graduated, I had a CNA orientation session that began at 9 a.m. The registrar was very specific when I signed up a week earlier - the doors close at 9. Period. No one is allowed in after 9:00:00. You probably can guess the next step - I made it up the stairs and down the hall to the classroom at about 9:02. To be fair, I didn't know exactly where I was going, so I probably would have made it with about thirty seconds to spare if I had known my way around. Still, you don't cut it that close, and I knew that. The end result of that part of the morning? No CNA class for the whole summer.

The next nail in the coffin was driven about thirty minutes later, when I continued on to the appointment with the Allied health advisor at the same community college, and learned that their Associates in Nursing program was nothing like I had thought it would be, and would probably take longer than two years to complete due to class scheduling. Well, that was a lovely surprise, weren't it, mate?

Fast forward another half an hour, and I was sobbing to my mother on the phone. A door had just been shut - literally and figuratively. I was so upset. What was I supposed to do now? At that time, the idea of taking a year or even a semester off was unthinkable, and I couldn't see any other way around my nice, new, pretty roadblock. However, God knew what He was doing (yes, I know) and that two-hour phone conversation got me on a new path. We discussed other degree options (education, political science) and my sweet mama calmed me down (and gently told me that she didn't think nursing was where I was meant to be, anyway). Long story short, I was frantically emailing my principal that night and asking if I could change part of my yearbook entry. He kindly gave me a few more hours to fix my "plans", such as they were.

The rollercoaster of the million dollar question wasn't finished yet, however. Oh, no. Two months after I got that long-awaited Class of '14 tassel, I got extremely sick. I plan on writing more about that, so I won't describe it in detail here. The essential facts for this post are that: a) there was no way I was going to college that fall and b) I was all of a sudden reconsidering what I should do with myself again. This was another fun rollercoaster trip. Should I really study education? Should I branch out in a completely different direction and study music? As I type these memories, I am literally thinking "Argh!" to myself almost two years later - it was that confusing. Up, down, up, down, down, up, and back again. There's no rest for the wicked, and the righteous don't need none.

Thankfully - thankfully - God "brought me out into a spacious place" (Psalm 18:19 [NIV]) and "drew me...out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure." (Psalm 40:2 [ESV]) I got better (such a superficial phrase for such a long journey) and stuck with education. "Stuck with" makes me sound really plucky and tough, but to be frank, it was a simple matter of knowing that I wanted to do this. What clinched it for me? Some of that time is a tad hazy in my memory, but I do know that I was excited (and still am). I wanted to teach. I loved working with kids. I knew I could do it. When I looked back, I could see how I was a "teacher" already - working with my siblings, working with friends, teacher's aiding for multiple instructors at our school. My family agreed that it would be a good fit for me. My aunt, who is like a second mother to me, told me that she had me pegged as a teacher from the age of two. Whoa. (That makes for a nice pithy statement in interviews, doesn't it?)

I still love it. I had the experience of teaching a crew of kindergarteners and first-graders for a few weeks, and had the time of my life. I have random ideas for lesson plans pop into my head and I freak out about how cool it would be to do that!! I have a dedicated board for teaching on Pinterest (and one for teaching jokes - I know, I'm way too organized). I love interacting with kids as they figure out what's in front of them. I love watching other teachers in action and talking with them and my fellow education students. I have occasional moments of wanting to skip the next three years and just get my own classroom right now!

So, all that to say, I guess I have figured it out. So far. Right now, I am getting my degree in Elementary Education, so we'll see where God takes that. There is a very good chance that I will be posting in about 4 years - "Hey everyone, I am now getting my masters in ceramic engineering!" Okay, I'm kidding. It is interesting, though - at the moment, when I think of my plans, I sometimes feel this jolt of "maybe I don't want to do this." To be honest - I don't know why I feel that. I hope it goes away and leaves me alone, to quote any toddler you may know. But, I am going to continue on and trust the Lord. And, of course, remember what I've learned...

  1. You don't have to know the answer to that million dollar question when you're a junior. Or a senior. Or a graduate. With SAT deadlines and scholarship applications and advisor appointments, it feels like you need to have a gorgeous, true-to-you, perfect game plan hammered out to the nth degree by the time you're buying notepaper for your junior year spring semester. Or, preferably, the summer in between your sophomore and junior year. You will figure it out. I promise. Don't take this and say, "Ok, I guess I'm going to play Xbox for the next 9 months" - but do remember that there is no eleventh commandment that says, "thou shalt have thy college and career figured out while in high school." 
  2. There is nothing wrong with taking a little time off to really consider what you want to do. I tell people that my year away from school did two things: it gave me a chance to really solidify what I wanted and it gave me a chance to earn some money (always a good thing!). If that still worries you, think about British high schoolers - everyone over there takes a "gap year" before they start their freshman year of college. They travel, work, and whatever else. It can also be a great time for you to delve into the Bible - you're not desperately finishing assignment after assignment and surviving on Starbucks.
  3. Remember what I said about missing my CNA orientation because of my habitual lateness? That is one of the brightest examples in my life of God working all things together for good and bringing beauty out of ashes. If I hadn't been late and participated in that orientation and program, I would've started down a path that probably wouldn't have ended that well, especially when I got sick. He is sovereign and He knew that I needed redirected. When you hit one of those "dead ends", know that He is doing this so you can find what is best for you.
  4. If nothing else, remember this - God knows. He knows what is the best outlet for your talents (remember, He gave them to you in the first place). He knows where you'll end up (He is going there with you). He will use you to the praise of His glory (He doesn't break His promises). You don't know what you want to do? Where you want to go? He does.
I will be the camp counselor for eight fourteen and fifteen-year-old girls in a couple of weeks. I wonder if they will bring up the million dollar question ("people always ask me if I know what I'm doing once I graduate), if they will want to know an answer to the question that is really behind it ("what am I doing once I graduate?"). I don't have hard-and-fast answers. All I can say is what I've been told by the ones I trust - my parents, other family members, and the ministers who take Biblical advice seriously, as mentioned above.

Look at your gifts.

Look at how you can serve the body of Christ.

Remember that you won't see writing on the wall - oh, how I wished for that.

Remember that instead, it may be a zig-zag route, but you will get there.

Remember that God knows.

Trust God.

Because that's worth a million dollars right there.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Mary Poppins and the 2016 Election Cycle

Picture source
 I love Mary Poppins. It might be referred to as a “kids” or “family” movie (which it is), but I think you can never be too old to watch Dick Van Dyke dance on a rooftop. I laugh so hard I cry when Uncle Andrew hosts a tea party of the ceiling, I snicker at Mrs. Banks’ ditzy household management, and I choke up when Julie Andrews sings “Feed the Birds”. You could make a lot of cultural and relational observations from the film: the relationship between Jane, Michael, and Mr. Banks, the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Banks, the relationship between Mary Poppins and the children. The following scenes are classic (please, say I’m not the only one who wants to live on the same street as Admiral Boom!) but it makes an interesting point.

George: “I suggest you have this piano repaired. When I sit down to an instrument, I like to have it in tune.”

Winifred: “But George, you don’t play!”

George: “My dear, that is entirely besides the point!” 

While laughing for the umpteenth time about this particular scene, I had an odd revelation. I, along with the rest of our family, have been more involved in this election cycle than in any other. It is obvious that we are at a massive crossroads – and most of the routes that we currently see are not that desirable. We have socialism, illogical promises, and antichristian candidates on one side, and a few RINOs, an incomprehensibly proud billionaire, and Ted Cruz on the other. That, by the way, is not a “diss” on Cruz – at the moment, we are supporting him and praying for wisdom and integrity on all sides. 

However, George’s silly rejoinder to Winifred’s sweet logic is a bizarre analogy of what will go down in the history books as one of the strangest election cycles in history. I feel that this could be applied several different ways, one of which is the Trump campaign. 

Christians and non-Christians alike are, rightfully, pointing out the issues and inconsistencies the Donald displays – but he consistently is winning primary after primary, even in states that were expected to vote differently thanks to their Christian, conservative population (can anyone say South Carolina?). Of course, a part of me wonders where all these people and their Trump-warnings were four years ago when Obama was campaigning for a second term… but it’s a little late for that now. Back to the point, though, it is amazing how many people – conservative Christians, no less – have thrown themselves on the “Trump train”. Their leader is “an unrepentant serial adulterer…who has openly and unapologetically boasted of his many sexual conquests and who famously cheated on wife number one by ensconcing the woman who became wife number two in a penthouse apartment at one of his casinos in Atlantic City”, as Bryan Fischer aptly states. Fischer goes on to say that “[a]s recently as last week he was defending taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood.” How on earth does that kind of man become the “hero” to so many people who recite the Ten Commandments every Sunday morning? 

Of course, for those who count themselves fiscal conservatives and not necessarily social conservatives, Donald isn’t that hot of a choice either – “he has over-leveraged four different business enterprises into bankruptcy and yet wants us to believe he’s just the man to do something about our $19 trillion federal debt.” (Thanks, again, to Fischer.)

I could elaborate further – how Trump doesn’t hold the biblical view of sexuality, how his rudeness and immaturity will make us even more of a laughingstock, and even how the selfish, evil actions of other politicians have caused the panic that drives people to support Trump – but I will restrain myself for now.

Here’s my point:

Donald can’t play.

Not at all.

Yet, he and his supporters consistently reply, “Madam, that is entirely besides the point!”

The piano needs to be played. It needs to be played with love, talent, and integrity. For the sake of us all – and especially, as Ben Carson stated at CPAC, “for the children” – please, please find a pianist who can play a song of freedom, virtue, and life.

That is the point, after all.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Mercy Time

Checkout line at Walmart, 5:30 p.m. I've made it through the entire shopping list - apples, milk, rice, chicken broth, salt, and whatever else a family functions on - and am ready to be home two hours ago.

The kind checkout lady swipes the last item: "$44.47."

I dig in my wallet, pull out the card, and swipe.

The sound that everyone dreads: beep. "Transaction could not be completed," says the sassy little touchscreen. (Don't you hate those things sometimes?)

Since I know that this is a problem with the bank, and not with how much money I have to spend, I start taking things out of the cart (bye bye, apples) and the lady rings a smaller list up for me.

Beep again. You get the idea.

After another unsuccessful try, I hear a soft voice behind me.

"Excuse me, ma'am?"

I turn around and see a tall man standing there with a kind look on his face.

"Do you need help paying for your groceries?"

I am awed by this sweet question and how he just shows up out of nowhere.

"Well, yes, my card isn't working."

"I can help you," he says, again in that so-soft voice that I can barely hear.

All the things I removed from my cart are re-scanned, and the sweet cashier once again gives the total: "$44.47." The stranger pulls out three $20 bills and sets them on the counter. He waits for the receipt to print and the change to be given, then he takes the change and walks away.

Just like that.

I thank him for the third time as he is walking away with his back to me. He doesn't stop, just turns his head and nods.

I push the cart out to the parking lot, load up the car, and sit there completely amazed at what God does, thanking him for someone that saw a need and stepped in, not wanting any accolades or compensation. I wish I had thanked him twice as many times, gotten his name, given him a hug. I pray that he knows that he has blessed us that night, and I pray that he is blessed himself.

Words can't express what I feel about what he did.

Three $20 bills and a tall stranger with a heart of gold have given me an inspiration.

I want to be that person who just shows up - in the check out line, at Starbucks, in the parking lot, at church, at home, at school - and takes care of something. The person who pays for the couple in the car behind them, the person who is poof, there, and poof, gone, when someone can't pay for what they have in the bags. The person who sees someone struggling with a door and a load of stuff and runs to help. The person who sees a serviceman/woman or first responder in the restaurant and picks up their tab.

The person who sees someone struggling with all those things that run deeper than groceries, heavy doors, and a $5 latte... and is there. With help.

So that's part of what I believe is the mission God has sent us on. Show love and mercy. Leave an impact on people that leaves them feeling knocked out of their socks and wondering what it is that makes you do that. I will be looking out for those who need help - whether it's a $20 bill handed to the cashier without pause or a long hug and tissue for the tears.

I want to give others that unbelievable feeling I had while sitting in the Walmart parking lot last Saturday.

Why don't you join me?

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.   James 3:17 (NKJV)