The Lord Made Me Do It…

Something I struggle with in my faith is whether or not there is a “master plan” or if God intervenes in our lives.  I don’t believe God is a puppeteer, but I think He’s there always trying to get our attention.

I’ve moved away from the “master plan” because the God I know through the Bible and just living my life can’t possibly plan for awful things to happen – plus it removes any kind of responsibility on our part if we just blame everything that happens on God – or blame Him for not doing something when things go down.

Today is the perfect example of, what I consider to be, pure intervention.

I have had an insanely busy week.  As the Director of Christian Ed, our annual BIG fundraiser is the annual Basement Sale – and it’s a stressful week of transforming our hall into another thrift shop.  If we didn’t make so much money for our youth, I’d not do it!  So there’s that plus the fact that we FINALLY (after two long years) are closing on our home.

In the mess of all of that, there’s everyday life:  laundry, dry cleaners, shopping for elusive copies of the latest Rolling Stone magazine.  As the week draws closer to the Basement Sale opening, I’m living in a flurry of to-do lists.

“Dry Cleaners” is on my list and it’s usually an afterthought.  However, on the Search for the Rolling Stone, I was reminded that the clothes I dropped off were ready (I usually forget about my clothes for a good week after they’re ready) so I headed over.

Naturally, it’s pouring down rain, but I get out of the car and run in.  There’s a young man with a delivery of laundry and the elderly woman working the counter was on the phone.

“I’ve gotten busy here, so I’ll have to call you back,” she says to the person on the other line.  She hangs up the phone and after a few beats says to the room, “That was my vet.  We thought my cat just had an simple autoimmune illness – I was just told he has feline AIDS.”

It was silent for a moment and the young man was very consoling and sympathetic to her, as he says he’s a cat lover himself.  She was clearly blindsided by the news that her beloved cat would die.  She did not cry, but she appeared disoriented for a moment.

The young man dropped off his order and offered her a hug.  He said he would think of her and her cat and left.

It was my turn.

It took her a moment to take my ticket as she continued talking about her cat and how she couldn’t yet understand this new development.  She took my ticket and went to the back room to retrieve my items.

As soon as she disappeared, I pulled out the fully tied pocket square I kept folded in my front purse pocket.  It was beautiful – and very purple – with a verse of scripture.  Every knot I tied was tied during a time where prayer was all I had left.  So I prayed and prayed and prayed!

She took my money and while I was due only $8.00 in change, she grabbed a $10, $5 and started counting $1 bills.  “That’s too much change, hon!” I told her.  She put the $5 down and continued counting the $1 bills.  “That’s still too much,” I said.  She was clearly distracted.

She gave me my change and I then handed her my pocket square and explained what it was.  I then told her, “maybe I was meant to come here today.”  She agreed and appreciated the gift.  We briefly exchanged our love for animals and then I wished her well and told her I would be praying for her and her cat.

Yep, the Lord made me do it.  He was there with me, guiding me, and cheering me on.  I always wish there was something more I can do, but maybe, from her point of view, it was just what she needed in that moment.

If we open ourselves up to His presence – it can be pretty amazing what we can get out of it.

Image Credit:  Me!  And our incredible Prayers and Squares group at Westmont Presbyterian Church.

Just a bit…stressed!

If you happened to glance at the tags on this post, they wouldn’t all make sense.  I think most of them are positive words that contradict the “stressed” portion of the post title.

Many good things are happening and it’s leaving me stressed.  To the point of weird dreams!

My husband and I celebrated 15 wonderful years of marriage (we’ve only just begun!) yesterday and we are marking the occasion with a vow renewal at our home in just a few days.  We host a big party or two each year, and this counts as one of them, so we are quite exited!

For whatever reason, though, my subconscious is driving me batty!  I woke up this morning from a dream that only a few invitees showed up – but, as I was trying to figure out why most didn’t show up, I realized in my dream, our event was taking place the wrong day.  Why was everything prepared on the wrong day?  Why were certain key people there when they know it was the wrong day?

I blame my insecurities.  They haunt me every minute of every day.  There are so many times in my life I’ve been energized by the notion of doing something fun – just to have no one show up.  It’s hard not to take that personally.

While I know for sure there will be many people there with us on our special day, my subconscious will continue to assault me with it’s special brand of torture.

I wish I could destroy it.

Image Credit: QuickMeme.com

Called to be…good dirt or an active gardener?

I haven’t felt all too inspired lately.  Things have been so hectic this past week, I haven’t exactly had time to allow inspiration in.

However, a new mid-week Bible study began on Thursday, led by our Pastor, and it’s on the parables in the Gospel of Luke.  The first one we discussed was The Parable of the Sower.  Inspiration happened!

We began with discussing what it takes to have a successful garden.  Being precise with directions on how to plant the seeds and care for them once they sprout, making sure the soil is fertilized, and weeding were among the answers given.

We all agreed, in this parable none of those “rules” of gardening seemed to be followed.

When one reads this parable, one tends to assign roles to the different “characters” in the parable.  God or Jesus is the happy sower.  The path, rocks, and thorns are those who willingly reject the influence of God – you know, “those” people who will never come around, so why bother.  And then there’s us – the “good Christians” who are the nutrient-rich soil guaranteed to produce the fruit.

Mmm, not really.  And it makes sense.  Let’s continue.

First we were asked, what is the seed and who is sowing it so generously?  Is it God?  Sure, he’s the happy sower, but what exactly is the “seed?”  Is it us?  According to Luke 8:11b, the seed is God’s message.  Well, what is that?  To us it’s the Bible, but Luke was written long before the Bible was compiled.  Is it Jesus, the One sent to us by God Himself?

We were directed to John 1:1, as some interpretations of Luke 8:11b don’t say “God’s message,” but “the word of God.”

“In the beginning was the Word.  The Word was with God and the Word was God.”  So God is spreading God around?  What?

Yep.  God spread himself and his grace over every inch of this world.  Generously.  Indiscriminately.  In places doomed to fail and in places guaranteed to flourish.  But why?  Why would any gardener waste seed on a path where birds would eat the seed?  Why on the rocky ground where roots cannot grab a hold?  Why among the thorns where they’re consumed?

God is everywhere.  In third world nations.  In prisons.  In the places most people wouldn’t dare visit for fear of their own safety or health.  How can God’s seed possibly survive in these places?

We aren’t the good dirt with the bumper crop.  We are the caretaker!  The gardener!  It is up to us, the ones who know God, trust in God, and follow God’s message.  We are the ones who need to go to those places – sweep the seed from the path to the good soil; cut away the thorns and weeds; pick out the rocks.

It is not up to us to bring God to these places, for God has been there since the beginning.  It is up to us to follow through with God’s message of grace, mercy, and love – to all people.

Image Credit: LeightonAutrey.com

“How it is…and how it ought to be”

RUSH and God in the same post?  Borderline blasphemy from either side, perhaps?  Despite my three favorite (favoUrite?) Canadians being a “wee bit” on the atheist side of things, I, myself, find a lot of spirituality in their music.  Perhaps that’s what makes a good lyricist  – he sees things his way, but I can also see things my way. (FTR, no matter his stance on anything, Neil Peart is my hero. 🙂 )

Today was a disappointing day.  We’re going through some things in our personal lives that I won’t bore you with – pretty much because it’ll just sound like whining.  Our lives are not perfect, but they’re not awful, either.

I’ve said many times before to folks, the boys from The Great White North pretty much have a song for everything, and this situation is no exception.  “How It Is” came on while I was driving to pick up my boy from his Boy Scout meeting.

One thing you have to understand, the album Vapor Trails, from whence this song came, was born out a great trial in life Neil Peart had to deal with – the loss of his daughter in a terrible car accident and the loss of his wife to a broken heart nearly a year later.  See why I’d just be whining about my piddly problems?

I’m often bringing their music back around to my Christian way of thinking, and damn it if it’s not right.  This situation is how it is.  God’s trying to communicate with us here, and we have to be open to listen.  We didn’t get what we expected, but the answer didn’t change our immediate future – and what a blessing that really is.  It could have been worse, but it’s not.

So, I did my whining, asked God for the night to get over it, and I’m sure I’ll be better in the morning.

I do a much better job of putting things into perspective these days.  Earlier in our marriage, I would have lost sleep, given myself a stomachache or a headache, and dwelled on it for days.

Jesus said,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.” (MSG)

Once we take Jesus up on his offer to bear the weight of our burdens, we’re free.  What a friend, what a gift he offers up to us!  We give it all to him so we can deal with it in manageable bits – and the best part, he stays with us while we’re sorting it all out.

The disappointments in life are “how it is”, but Christ’s love and care for us is also “how it is”.  And that’s how it ought to be.

Image Credit: WeAreThatFamily.com

I Survived the 30-Hour Famine!

OK, OK, OK! I was no where near dying, but after a decent night sleep after more than 24 hours with your youth group – that’s how I feel!

What a remarkable time – and to think, 112,000 other people were right there along with us around the world. At least 14 countries participated in the 30-Hour Famine this weekend.

As exhausting as it is, and while it’ll take me and my partner in crime in the Christian Ed department at least a week to get our bearings and regroup with the calendar, I can’t wait to see how we can make it even bigger next time.

The goal for me is MORE ADULTS! This is eye-opening, not only for the kids, but for the adults who get swept away in life-taken-for-granted.

Pray for us – we Christian Ed leaders and our group of kids, our church, all the others around the world who voluntarily went hungry for a while to gain some knowledge, and especially for all – past, present, and future – who have suffered hunger and were burdened with not knowing when or if there would ever be a next meal.

This problem is not God’s doing. This is why we NEED God.

Can I get an AMEN? 🙂

30-Hour Famine…25 hours in

Still feeling pretty great, aside from being very tired.  Body’s kind of sore from a lot of walking around, standing around, blah, blah, blah.

We had a fantastic time with our service projects today.  The first  was heading out to a rather busy intersection near the church with our “Honk for Hunger” signs and counted how many cars honked at us…over 200 for the day!  Last year it was around 120.

Then we came back to make simple sack lunches.  The kids made 27 lunches and we headed downtown to Central Park and handed them ALL out to 27 people who took us up on our offer.  We had so many people request we give the lunch to someone who needs one – the kids were discouraged, but soon realized how refreshing that honesty was from complete strangers.  We felt that all the people who took lunches truly needed something to eat and were very appreciative.  I think we all learned a lesson today.

We just finished up with a bit of downtime.  Now for the last game of the famine, some discussion and devotion, praise songs and then we’re off to break our fast (yay!) with some pizza and bowling!

I made it another year…and even more excited for the next 30-Hour Famine!

Image Credit: TheWellnessChoiceCenter.com

30-Hour Famine…17 hours in

It’s 7:00 AM.  We went to sleep somewhere around 1:00 AM.  I didn’t sleep much, if at all.  It was too quiet for this brain.  Not feeling all that hungry.  I only missed supper, which isn’t the first time.  I was able to skip home for a bit to shower and hydrate with the water necessary to take the meds I forgot to bring with me.  Doh!
The kids must have been super tired because once the lights were out, it was quiet (although, I did threaten their morning cracker if they weren’t!).  I’ll prefer to think they were just tuckered out.

It was a full evening – games, PowerPoint presentation, videos.  Lots of information thrown at these kids and they respond!  We have a great group of kids in this church and community; I’m so proud of them.

We have more games, a few service projects around the church and community, and what we’re all looking forward to – breaking the fast with a pizza party at our local bowling alley.

The harsh reality is, those who suffer from hunger can’t just break their fast.  This church does a great job collecting food for local food pantries year round.  My department, in particular, collected over 1,000 pounds of non-perishable items in a few months last year.  It’s an important mission to not forget those in our own communities who we would never imagine are hungry.  Our own school districts have homeless and un-/under-employed just a paycheck away from poverty.

Here are some facts we shared with the kids last night (straight from World Vision’s 30-Hour Famine):

Hunger Facts

The number of hungry people in the world may shock you. In fact, it should.

Fact #1

In 2012, more than 18,000 children younger than 5 died every day — most from preventable causes. It’s estimated that nearly 8,000 of these deaths were tied to hunger. That’s about one every 10 seconds.

Most of these kids died not from starvation, but from malnutrition — meaning too long without the right kind of food. Eating just enough to stay alive weakened their bodies so much that disease could strike the final blow.

hunger-facts-bus*Based on the most current United Nations data available during creation of 2015 Famine materials
**Based on an average bus capacity of 85 people

Fact #2

Worldwide, 842 million people — about 1 in 8 — are hungry.
That’s over 2.5 times the population of the United States.

hunger-us-map

Many families depend entirely on what they can grow, so they’re never more than one natural or manmade disaster away from hunger.

Fact #3

Nearly 1 in 5 people survive on less than $1.25 a day. And the poor spend most of their money (up to 80 percent of it) on food. How do you pay for shelter, school, healthcare, and clothes with what’s left? You don’t.

hunger-money

Related:
Just how big is this Famine army of hunger-fighting students?
What does extreme hunger actually do to your body?
So what is malnutrition, anyway? (This activity will bring it to life.)
Where do most hungry people live?
How the funds your group raises actually fight hunger.
People like you helped make big headway against hunger in 2014.

So, the next time you see Sally Struthers on TV, take her out of the equation and focus on what’s really important – making fun of her or making it a mission to help those she made the trip to see?  Do something – give to your food banks, donate money world-wide, take a mission trip and make a difference first hand.

SOMETHING is better than NOTHING.  AMEN!

30-Hour Famine…9 hours in

We’re almost 9 hours into the famine.  No one is really complaining (they didn’t last year), however, we’re down to one cracker every few hours after the special games.  We hydrate with about 6 oz of water or juice every few hours, too.

I’m more tired than anything, as I’ve been on the go since 6:30 am. *yawn*

We have our signs prepped for our walk along a pretty busy neighborhood street – we’ll be in two groups and we’ll see which groups gets the most honks!  Fun, huh? 😉

I’m looking forward to some shut-eye…I’m quite exhausted.

Image Credit:  Me!  Don’t take my signs! 🙂

Fifteen years in…

My husband and I will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary this June.  It’s mind-boggling to realize we’ve been together this long – plus the 15 months before we got married.

Our marriage, like all the others, has its good and its bad.  The first five or six years was a struggle.  I worked at home raising two preschoolers, he was just a workaholic (still is, to my chagrin) that did a lot of traveling.

Once we hit year eight, we really hit our stride.  I think if a lot of newlyweds would just hang on through those first five to seven years, they’d really have a chance.  So many divorces happen in those first few years and, for us, that’s when it was the worst and had we not been as strong and committed as we are – we’d have been another statistic.

Through all the happiness, sadness, anger and joy – my other half has always been the best thing for me.  He’s the perfect enabler for all of my “addictions” and flights of fancy.  We share just about all the same interests and views – we make the perfect team.

Never has he stopped me from pursuing an idea – he’d do what he had to in order for it to happen.  He’s such a hard worker and carries the majority of the family burdens on his shoulders so the rest of us don’t have to worry about it.  He makes sure we all have what we need before himself.

I have three true loves: him, my daughter, and my son.  He was my true love first – and that will always be. 🙂

I have some pretty strong views about marriage and families.

1. Marriage is a tricycle.  You have to have Jesus as the third-wheel in your marriage – he’s the big wheel in the front that we’re following forever.  We were weak in our faith early on in our marriage.  We infrequently went to church – sometimes it’s hard when you have two little ones.

Looking back, I wonder what a difference it would have made had our faith been strong like it is today.  Sure, those problems would have still been there, but would we have dealt with them differently?

We not only attend church as a family, I am the Christian Education Director and my husband holds a governing position within the church, not to mention a board position at a Christian summer camp – we’re IMMERSED and so are the kids.  Our church family is an extension of the four of us.  It’s engrained into our DNA at this point. To not have Jesus and God at the center of our lives would just be weird.

I truly believe if we faced tragedy in our lives, we would be able to continue on because of our strong faith and our strong faith family around us.  It breaks my heart when couples cannot come back from devastation.

2. You cannot put your children before your husband.

Sounds mean, but it’s not.  Think about it.

Those of you with kids, think back to the time before kids.  It’s not as hard as you think. 😉  You were free, you were dangerous, you were who you were THEN.  Who are you NOW?  Not the same person, I’m betting.

Even now, TODAY, we continue to grow and change.  Our tastes change, our habits change.  It’s so slow we don’t notice it until we look back.

If you abandon the friendship and partnership you have with your spouse in the name of your children, you’re missing out.  Once the kids are grown and scamper off into their own lives, what will you return to?

It’s so important for me to remain the faithful teammate and continue to grow together.  So, when our kids finally go off on their own, we can face the next day just like all the days before…TOGETHER!

3. Marriage is not 50/50; it is 100/100.  I got that from the Marriage page on Facebook.

It’s true.

Both of us cannot be in this with only half of ourselves and half of the willingness.  We have to be in this marriage 100%.

Our kids are always telling us, “Will you stop fighting?!?”  And every time, I explain to them that we don’t fight, we passionately disagree.  I’m not trying to be cheeky, I’m being honest.  Since we hit that eight year mark in our marriage, fights disappeared.  Sure, it happens once in a long while – we’re human!

Disagreements do happen and they get loud, but I think when something is important and you’re passionate about it – let it out!!  My husband and I are not afraid to let what is bothering us out, and that is healthy.  There’s no resentment, no childishness, and very rarely are feelings hurt because someone said something to be mean.

I pray my kids learn to understand the difference between fighting and working something out.  It can both be loud, but only one of those strengthens you moving forward.

4. Dating doesn’t stop once you’re married!  You don’t have to court your spouse, spend a lot of money (you don’t have to spend it at all!), or even leave your house to have a regular date together.

We’ve been fortunate enough to have family very close to us since we’ve been married.  We were married less than two years before we had our first child and ever since she was very young, she would spend a night with my parents every week.  They loved it and we truly appreciated the break.

I don’t think we really started calling our free Friday night “date night” until the kids were in preschool.  Prior to that it was just an opportunity to sleep in on Saturday morning!  But, we were able to connect – talk, go to a movie, just have some uninterrupted time together.

Life is busy and if you MAKE the time, there’s no excuse for not having that time to unwind and reconnect with one another.  My husband works a long week; he commutes, and with the nature of his profession, he can be stuck at work for hours after he’s “off the clock.”  The kids are now 13 and 11, so I’m busy with my own things with them and with my own job.  If I could draw what a typical week in this house looked like, it would probably resemble a massacre.

Put away your daytime life, send the kids to grandma’s or a friend’s or just send them to bed and spend some time together!  Play cards, find a movie, have a nice meal, go bowling – anything.  It doesn’t have to be some grand gesture – you already won each other over, get to the good stuff already!

5. Surround yourself around other couples/families.  We all have those fringe single friends.  Keep them, but don’t make them your outside influence.  Singles who have eluded marriage or singles who have been soured by marriage can’t relate and you can’t allow them to influence choices for your marriage.

Another key to our “year eight turning point” was we started finding couples to spend time with.  Prior to that it was “his friends” and “her friends.”  Couples NEED other couples.

For the past four and a half years, we have managed to forge some serious friendships – all from our church, which helps.  These people are so important to us and are good examples to follow we can’t help but be happy in our own marriage.

We all have our ups and downs and other issues, but deep down, we all know how to rally one another and TRUST one another.  There is respect and honor with each of those friendships and it’s just as important as the respect and honor within a marriage.

6. Marriage is the hardest thing and yet it’s so simple.  Don’t make your marriage harder than it has to be.

Sweetie, I love you…more than my love for RUSH. ❤

Image Credit: Chuck Mamula Photography.  Tony Miske, photographer (RIP).