Losses, Gains, and a Good Crisis

Remember that time when you were excited to send your first child to Kindergarten? To take a picture of your chubby-cheeked five-year old standing with a backpack hanging past his knee caps, grinning like the Cheshire cat and standing at your front door? When you imagined the hot tears streaming down your cheeks as you waved to him getting on the bus, or standing at her classroom door?

Remember that time you were excited to send your LAST child to kindergarten? When you  dreamt about all the time you were going to have while your beloved offspring ate at laminated lunch tables and learned their multiplication ones? About the wreaths you were going to make, the bread you were going to bake, and about the life you were going to catch up on?

Yeah. About those. 

Lots of dreams have died this year. And this is yet another one. 

And while we have no doubt lost quite a few things in 2020, I see something we have gained: a time like this. A crisis. An unexpected opportunity. One that has potential to have some unexpected blessings too. 

As we venture into this uncharted territory of schooling at home, maybe we can begin to see it as a gift, whether we like it, love it, or neither. Whether it messes up our plans, or confirms them. 

I’m not saying it’s going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination. I am in this with you. I am going to be schooling five children this year.

Lord, help us all.

Most of us were probably not planning on homeschooling our kids this year. We were planning on free time. On working. On normal routines and after-school activities.  But I can’t help but think of all the unforeseen gifts in the things were weren’t planning on. The things that will be grateful for when we cast our glance backwards at the end of 2021. 

Winston Churchill famously said, “never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Moms, we have a crisis before us. And we also have opportunity. We have the chance to rethink how we do things. Why we do things. To ask tough questions of ourselves and others. We have been given the gift of forcibly rearranging our schedules, our plans, our life, and centering it more around home, family, and being teachers. 

No, we’re not fifth grade math teachers by trade, (well most of us aren’t anyway) but we are all teachers. And this year, we get the chance to not only teach them how to wipe the seat and shut the cupboards, but teach them about the world around them. About history and science and stinking common core math. About persevering through difficult things and how to flex when plans change. 

And maybe in these new rhythms there will be more freedom. Freedom to try new things. To let go of perfection. To live in the moment and cherish the small things. Freedom to sleep in. To let our kids wear fairy wings and pajamas while they do math at the breakfast table. Freedom to take a hike in the middle of the day. Freedom to make new memories doing a new thing, something we never imagined.

Friends, it’s not going to be easy. I know that. But may we grab ahold of this once in a lifetime (let’s hope) opportunity that feels a lot like a lemon, and squeeze every last drop of juice we can from it so we can make one refreshing glass of lemonade.

For the betterment of ourselves, for our children, for our world and for the glory of the Kingdom of God.

Reimagining 2020

It has become pretty clear this year is unique. Different. I would even go so far as to say, special. Yes, I think Coronavirus and 2020 are two of those “painful gifts” we hear people, who’ve battled cancer and life-altering situations, talk about with a grace that’s hard to understand. 

Naturally, a box of confetti may not be the first thing that comes to mind as we think of what 2020 has been so far. It certainly has brought a lot of heartache, distress, anxiety and depression upon millions of people across the world. I don’t want to discount that. It has brought us some distress as well.

And although these kinds of gifts don’t come with confetti, distress, heartache and loss can be gifts too. Because it is our emptiness, that precedes our filling. It is in our moments of desperation, when we see our deep need for someone beyond ourselves. Desperation draws us to our knees where Jesus meets us and picks us up to carry us. We move forward not in our own strength, but in His.

This box of confetti was filled with Little Debbie treats my mother-in-law sent me for my birthday, half joking, half serious. We received the box with joy and laughter and eventually consumed its contents, even if I packed on a few pounds doing so. (Thank God for five kids to help ease the burden of eating cake. ;))

And as the empty red party box sat on the shelf in our laundry room, God gave me the idea to make it into a memory box for this year. The year when everyone’s plans were chopped up into little colorful pieces and sent filtering down like confetti. Just kidding. Kind of. 

2020. The year of confetti. The year of adventure. The year of uniqueness. The year of dreams coming true, and others changing. A year of trusting, releasing, surrendering, and CELEBRATING. 

Because honestly, aside from the “painful gifts” I mentioned earlier, this year has also had some sweet treats for me (not just the Little Debbie’s). There have already been some unexpected blessings, some pleasant surprises, and some ways I have seen God move and act for me personally. While there are some things I’d rather have gone without this year, there have also been some really great moments. I don’t want to forget them.

And so here is where I’ll keep them. The memories of 2020. The words of encouragement sent in the mail when I needed them most, journal entries of painful times, birthday cards, a copy of my first book written, bound, and published, and maybe even a roll of toilet paper. If we can spare one.

Only God knows what else I will place in this box over the next six months left in 2020, but I am already excited about looking back on the contents of this box in some year like 2030.

Because what once was a red cardboard box filled with sweets and confetti, is going to be a box filled with something so much sweeter, and so much more worth celebrating: the goodness of God. 

The testimonies of the ways He has shown up starting January 1, 2020, the ways He showed up today, and the ways in which I don’t know yet but eagerly anticipate Him showing up tomorrow. Not because I deserve it, not because I have a false hope or am applying the power of positivity, but because I know He is my loving Father, and a loving father cares for his children. 

It doesn’t mean we won’t see troubles, or hardship, pain or suffering, but it does mean He will take care of us in the midst of the wilderness and do us good in the end. (Deuteronomy 8:15-16). Good thing it’s not over yet. We’ve got a lot to look forward to.

And whenever that day comes, that day when all wrongs will be righted and every tear dried, what a celebration it will be! I’m pretty sure there’ll be some confetti.

Maybe even a Zebra Cake.

That Time We Bought an RV a Month Before a Pandemic Broke Out and the World Shut Down

RV.

Pandemic.

It’s funny.

Hindsight is 20/20, right?

There were lots of reasons for it, but my husband and I were really intentional in planning for this year. Just the sound of it seemed big, didn’t it? 2020. Like some kind of themed television show, this year was going to be epic. 

No one could have prepared us for just how epic it was going to be.

2020 was going to be a monumental year for us. A year of change, adventure, transformation, and dreams coming true. Dreams like launching my first book, beginning a ministry in Rwanda, moving from our beloved ranch and yes, traveling the blessed United States of America in a motorhome.

If it was going to be this big of year, we needed some serious plans. So, we took the first few days of January and started mapping it out. Literally. I dug out maps I had saved for years in files hoping one day they would come in handy, or at least wall-paper our walls. So far, they’ve done neither so I was thrilled to pull those suckers out. 

We penciled goals in journals, we looked at RVs, and plane tickets to Rwanda for our family of 7. We started a vision board. We even pawned off our five children to some friends so we could have 36 hours of delicious kid-free prayer, planning, dreaming and vision-board pinning. We devoted some significant time and mental energy into “planning” for 2020 like we had never done before.

It’s funny now, isn’t it? Because two and a half months into this thing, everything changed. Our kids were sent home from school on a sunny Friday in March and they have never returned. 

With the onset of the novel Coronavirus, we’re suddenly homeschooling much earlier than we planned. Within a few short weeks, I went from leisurely trips to Target to waiting in a line to go grocery shopping and wearing a bandana on my face. Date nights are the stuff of fairy tales and we can’t find toilet paper anywhere. 

What. In. The. World. 

My husband’s business coaching contract that has supplied the majority of our income has been suspended. The economy is tanking by the day, and we’ve got a house on the market and a Class-C motorhome in our gravel driveway. And nobody knows anything.

This was not part of our precious 2020 plan.

No, in our plan, 2020 was going to be a year of travel and exploring. Adventure was calling. We heard it. Traversing the United States of America, taking the family to Rwanda, maybe even a stop-over in Europe. So, two short months ago we answered the call from Adventure and bought a motorhome. A home on wheels. A mobile home. Part of the carefully thought-over, talked-about, prayed-over plan. And now, we’re on lock down. Across America.

It would seem Adventure is telling us to sit back down. It’s gonna be a while. That ten-year-old adventure to Hawaii, that dream of seeing Yellowstone, that trip to Rwanda? Hold up. Wait a minute–or a month. Or maybe a year. No one knows. Yes, adventure it would seem, is on hold.

God, in His infinite mercy, has been opening my eyes to the fact that maybe, just maybe, this was the adventure God had in mind for us all along. An adventure that looks very different from the one we were imagining in January, but is by no means any less adventurous. 

Or is it?

God, in His infinite mercy, has been opening my eyes to the fact that maybe, just maybe, this was the adventure God had in mind for us all along. An adventure that looks very different from the one we were imagining in January, but is by no means any less adventurous. 

Maybe He’s calling us on an adventure without roaming. An adventure in staying. An adventure in trusting and believing He’s still good, even when everything looks dark or blurry, or bleak and confusing.

Maybe part of this grand adventure in 2020 is figuring out how to launch a book and sell a ranch in the middle of a pandemic, or what to do with a 31-foot motorhome sitting in our driveway. 

Just this week we’ve started using the RV as a mobile office/homeschooling classroom. I’m writing from it right now. Who knows, maybe God has other purposes for it as well. Meals on wheels, anyone? As long as you like mac ‘n cheese and hot dogs we’re good. (My friends, I like a clean house and I’m now teaching school to three children so there is only so much I can do well).

The ministry in Rwanda is continuing, praise God, even if at a slower pace that we thought. Maybe we will sell our house this year and take a trip around the country. Who knows. Maybe that kind of adventure is still out there. But I have to get comfortable with the fact that it might not be.

Because right now, we are definitely on an adventure in being uncomfortable, and I am learning God cares more about the adventure our hearts go on than our bodies.

Yes, maybe there are still a lot of things we don’t yet know about 2020 and what it is going to look like. But one thing is for certain: God does.

As our plans have been caught in the air like a bird in a clothesline, this verse has come to mind often:

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21 NIV. 

Oh boy were there “many plans.” And they were good ones, if I do say so myself. Plans we had even placed before the Lord. But plans are plans only, and they change, as we have all been keenly made aware of.

And while I’ve been struggling to understand all of this, God sent me another verse: 

“The LORD directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way?” Proverbs 20:24.

Thank you Solomon. You are wise. 

Sometimes I get so caught up in my own little world that I forget that the LORD, the Creator and Author of life, is the One who is truly behind it all. 

And if He is the one directing our steps—not us—how can we ever understand them? For His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts, says the Creator Himself in Isaiah 55:9.

No, God’s ways are not our ways. Because He thinks about 8 billion people instead 4 or 7, He’s got to have different plans. Because He accounts for free will, for sin, for sickness, for death, and for an innumerable amount of things, His plans are, most of the time, so very different than my own.

Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”  Yup, Soren, hindsight is 2020. 

Understanding life is just plain hard, if not impossible sometimes. Like the time we bought an RV a month before a pandemic broke out and the whole world shut down. It’s unnerving being left with the former plans and an unknown future, and it’s really, really easy to be crippled by the combo.

But as we move forward, I am convinced we will gain understanding. As we sit in this quarantined house (and motorhome) while time ticks on outside our windows, one day we will be able to look back and see His hand in all of it. See His mercy and grace in calling us to an adventure we would have never chosen to go on, but will be ever grateful for.

There’s one more verse about plans I love and here it is:

“The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the LORD holds them by the hand.” Psalm 37:23 NLT (emphasis mine).

It’s pretty hard to fall flat on your face when someone is holding your hand, isn’t it? If that person is standing strong, they will pull you back to your feet. You may trip; but you won’t fall. 

I know the stumbling part well, and in His great love and care, He reminded me that He holds my hand through the chaos of the Coronavirus, the whirlwind that has been 2020 thus far, and the future that lies unknown ahead of us. 

Not only does He hold my hand through everything, He delights in every detail of my life. Details like homeschooling three kids, launching the dream of a book, starting a ministry half way around the world, buying a motorhome, and folding mountains of clothes (no joke).

Yes, I am more and more convinced one day, we will be able to look back over 2020 and see His hand in every detail of it. We will see how He moved, protected, guided, stopped, and saved us. But mostly, we will look back and see how His gentle guiding hand was holding ours and keeping us from falling.

I finally decided to look up the meaning of adventure in the dictionary, and found one definition of adventure is a “very unusual experience.”

Yes, 2020, has already been and will be a year of adventure. That part of the plan has proved true. So may the adventure continue, because whatever happens, I know He’s got my hand.

The Beauty of Christmas

The kids decorated our tree this year. The whole thing. They strung the lights (and missed an entire bottom section). Actually, they put three different strands of lights on our tree, one white, two colored. Once the lights were up, I pulled the lid off the grey Rubbermaid tub filled with ornaments, and five enthusiastic souls bum-rushed it. I quickly unwrapped tissue covered ornaments, pried tops off tiny boxes, and tried to hand out only the “non-breakable” ones—which somehow they can still manage to break.

In a flurry of movement, they began hanging ornaments in a cluster, front and center.  I encouraged them to spread them out, and my oldest two took charge of that. But overall I held in my perfectionistic self–the self that thrives when there is beauty and order, because there was none of that–and I let them do it. Their way.

It’s the first year they’ve done the whole thing, from lights to decorations, and while I cringed a little on the inside, it was the easiest set up we’ve ever had.

After the grey tub was empty (save the ornaments I won’t put on our tree for another 10 years), I stepped back and sat on the farm bench next to my husband. There was nothing for me to do, the kids had officially taken over.

And in that moment, that rare moment when I actually sit down and am able to take in the view before me, I was able to see a different kind of beauty. A real kind of beauty. A beauty I may not have seen had I not stepped back. It wasn’t the beauty of a kid-decorated tree. But the beauty of kids decorating the tree. And I had to ask my husband to take a picture with his phone, because as usual, I couldn’t find mine. And although I know pictures don’t quite capture the moment as I saw it in my mind, I still want to remember.

Remember how they all had their hands in it. How happy they were hanging frosty snowmen and glittery shatterproof orbs. I want to remember how grown my oldest son looked as he stood on the ladder next to the tree. And how the little ones where huddled around the bottom holding onto their popsicle ornaments. Remember them before they cared about their out-of-control hair or wearing nice clothes. When they were oblivious to their appearance and decorated a Christmas tree with great zeal. This is how I will remember them the Christmas of 2018.

Because fifteen fast years from now, it’s all going to be so different. And more than a precisely decorated tree, I’m gonna want these memories in my rolodex, maybe even my photo album, if I can ever be so organized.

So I still haven’t rearranged them. The ornaments, that is. And I don’t think I will. It’s serving as a reminder for me this season. A reminder that real beauty isn’t found on the outside or in coordinated Christmas trees, but in the hearts and lives of the ones we love. It’s reminding me that Christmas isn’t about perfection. So far from it, actually. Christmas is about our need for light in dark places, for hope amid sorrow, and the all-encompassing undying sacrificial love of God embodied in Jesus Christ. And in light of that, it really doesn’t matter much what our trees look like.

 

 

 

 

 

A Word About Calling

Here I am. My name is my blog. And there is a picture of my face all smiling and sweet, looking like life is perfect and I have all the answers. Who am I?

Let me just get this off my chest, friends, because I have struggled, struggled, struggled through this. Why am I writing? Why do I think anyone would listen to me?

I don’t have to tell you dear reader, that I am nobody special. You already know that, because you have no idea who I am. 🙂 (Or you’re my mom.) But, I am just a woman like you. A mother like you. A sinner like you. One who struggles to put an outfit together and brush my teeth in the morning. One who gets frustrated when my kids can’t find their shoes. I yell at my kids more than I would like, harbor jealousy in the dark places of my heart, and cry over the exponential amount of cellulite I have accumulated over the past five years. I am just your average American stay at home mom.

So what do have to say? What can tell you that you do not already know? The reality is, probably nothing. And yet, here I sit, typing away on a computer like it’s my job: a job that no one is asking me to do.

And then it hit me one day as I read the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. Oddly enough, the word “talents” here is another term for money, but immediately we see the word and read the Webster’s definition: “a special natural ability or aptitude.” And when you read it like that, it gets a little more real. While we have been given money to be good stewards of, we have also been given talents, abilities, gifts.

Honestly, reading through the parable is a little scary. Three servants, two choose to invest wisely, and one gets kicked out. There’s a lot going on in this parable that I don’t have time to unpack here, but it shows more of the “judgement” side of God, one that we aren’t very comfortable with. He gives us things, and expects us to do something with it. It’s not just for safe keeping but investing. Investing in others for the glory of God and the expansion of His Kingdom.

Reading through this passage again I was struck by the fact that I have been given talents from God. We all have. Not one of us can say we haven’t been given anything. Maybe some of us have been given a lot, some of us a little. Either way, we’ve all been given to. And as I read and processed this, I saw myself a lot like the one servant nobody wants to be, the one who was scared to invest the gifts God had given him and buried a hole instead.

God wants me use my “talents” for Him, not cover them up because I am scared. And although no human being was asking me to write, He was. He has a job for me to do. Do I have the guts to take a risk and invest? Or would I bury a hole out of fear instead?

You see, I had been looking at it upside down or outside in. It isn’t about who I am or what I have to say or not say. It isn’t about me at all. It is about Jesus. It was always and only ever about Him. This is His world, His story, and I am His child using His money, His talents, His gifts.

God isn’t calling me to write because I am the world’s best writer or His gift to moms everywhere. He called me to write–so I am. And I figure He knows what He is doing, even if I don’t. I trust that He will be glorified in some way, big or small, by my obedience to Him.

Because I am 100% convinced that when we do what we love, we glorify Him. Even if it’s the beauty of one life lived to Him. One life lived for the glory of God may seem slightly insignificant to us, but to the God who performed individual miracles and radically changed lives one person at a time, there is no greater thing.

So I am not writing because I have all the answers, but because He does. And when He says, “jump!” I’m gonna jump.

Over the past two years I have been slowly learning that “calling” is really pretty simple. It looks a lot like obedience to God. It’s that’s simple and it’s that hard. It’s simple because it isn’t complicated. You just follow God’s lead. You say “yes, Lord” when He tells you the thing it is He wants you to do.

But it’s hard because sometimes He can ask us to do crazy things. Things that don’t make a lot of sense. Things have uncertainty written all over them. Things that are risky. When I say yes to God, I’m not really sure what I’m getting myself into. I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I have to trust that it is there.

Most times, obedience to God requires straight up blind faith. But I’m pretty certain there is no better place to be than standing in obedience to God.

It doesn’t mean that things will come easy, or even that what I thought would come to pass will. But I will no doubt get front row seats to something wonderful–something special: watching God work and seeing Him reap a harvest, whatever that looks like. That’s worth all the obedience in the world to me.

So the question I now ask is…what is God calling you to do? I bet you already know. Now here comes the hard part. Obey. Just do it. Just show up. Invest. Begin. Just say “yes, Lord, here I am, send me.” If we are daring enough to take him at His word, I think it will be the best thing we’ve ever done.

 

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