Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Lessons in Value (Complete)



Thanks to the creation of DVDs and Netflix a parent can now allow their kids the freedom to watch their favorite princess or superhero without the bombardment of commercials.  For those without kids this means very little.  To those of us with kids it means no more; “I want that” while watching cartoons.  This is big, especially when you flashback to our own childhood when Saturday morning cartoons were simply a way for vendors to hawk their wares on little kids and stress their parents out with the latest and greatest play sets and dolls.   

So you can imagine my surprise when my oldest comes running to me to ask for some random toy from some random movie that we’ve not even seen.  “Mom, I have to have this.  It’s so cool!”  I asked what the toy was, what its purpose was and why she felt she ‘needed’ it.  In the end it was simply another piece of plastic that was overpriced and required I also buy the companion video so she’d better understand the character.  

“Child, you don’t even know this character.  Why do you ‘have to have it’?”

There was a long pause and feet shuffling; “The man in the commercial said so.”

“The movie you’re watching also says you can walk on rainbows.  Can you do that?”

“No.”

“I think you have enough stuff.  Perhaps at Christmas, if you’re still interested we can get it.”

“But I want it.”

“And I understand that.  But you don’t need it and right now we have to focus on need.”

“Then I need it.”         
            
I laughed at the quick response from my then 4-year old.  She smiled back and thought she’d just won the argument but it was then that I realized she was old enough for me to explain the difference between wants and needs.

After a quick explanation she grasped the concept pretty well; the need to eat and sleep and how without both you’d not be able to function.  But when we started talking about wants the lines blurred for her.  She grasped that going to Disney Land wasn’t a need, but she made a few good points about toys and how playing was a need.  I tried to fight her on that one, but she was right, playing is vital to a child’s development and imagination.  

I understood then that my child was going to require more information and details I hadn’t really thought about myself.  To her and many kids, their imagination stems from the object in their hands.  They’ve access to thousands of cheap toys and because of it kids don’t find the same joy in them we did.  If it breaks you just pull out a new one.  

One Christmas my oldest received 13 Barbies… from one relative!  It was too much.  A few years later my son had over 50 Matchbox cars gifted to him.  It was insanity.  We bought him two thinking one for each hand was sufficient.  But we can’t fight relatives.  So I decided it was time to fight with facts.

“You say you want this toy for no other reason than it looks fun, correct?”

She hesitated but agreed.

“Your dad works 6-days a week, correct?”

She didn’t hesitate to agree.

“Do you like that your dad works so much and can’t be home with us?”

“NO!”

“How much was that toy?”

She told me the amount and I did a quick mental calculation.

“Okay, that’s 2-hours of work your dad has to complete to pay for that one toy.  Is the toy worth having your dad away from home to earn that extra money?”

She stopped fidgeting and stood straight.  “What do you mean?”

“I mean your dad will have to work two extra hours to earn the money and pay for the tax to purchase that toy.  Add that to his 6-day a week job and tell me if it’s worth it to you?”

I thought it was a simple question of choice.  Decide between these two things and find what’s more important to you.  What I hadn’t expected was the tears.  Full on, bawling began.  

“I want daddy.”

I felt terrible for making her cry and pulled her into my arms.  “I know baby.  And I wasn’t trying to make you feel bad.  I just wanted you to understand the value of the thing and the value of the person.  Your dad works hard so I can stay home and take care of you (and now her siblings).  We have all that we need and much of what we want.  But your dad is willing to work even harder to make us happy.  And if a thing will make you happier than his being here, let me know and I’ll ask him for you.  Or better yet you can.”

More tears, more hugs and a call to daddy telling him she loved him.  

That might have been the best lesson I ever taught my daughter.  Six years later she still looks at a ‘thing’ and mentally calculates time away from her dad and whether or not she’ll enjoy the thing more.  Only once has she asked for something that was expensive and she figured out a way to earn her own money so her dad didn’t have to spend more time away from us.

I pray she always remember that needs and wants are vastly different and that people should always hold more value.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Dry Bones (Complete)

It’s a beautiful fall day.  The windows and doors are open and the twins are outside playing.  It’s been like this for a week.  I’ve needed this, sunshine without the sweltering heat of a Texas summer.  Fresh air with a hint of cooler weather to come; it’s still not cold enough to keep the mosquitos and flies away, so we’re not to my weather nirvana, but we’re close.  And close is good.

Close means soon the garden will be tilled and the dirt allowed to rest till spring.  It means the yard won’t need mowing every week.  The weeds won’t need pulling.  The outside work will be set aside for another season, and I can rest from that work.  That’s not to say more won’t start.  The holidays are close at hand so projects inside need to be started and completed in the next few months.  List made and items checked off.  But it’s different from what I’ve been doing and that makes it exciting.

It’s in the everyday activities that I find rest.  And though resting while I work doesn’t seem possible, for me and many others it is.  Doing the same thing every day makes a good life seem dull.  Change, even subtle, can help transform a mindset that has grown bored with life.  It still requires the person to see the beauty in the everyday, but it is possible.

Ecclesiastes 3: 1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens

Recently the husband made a decision that will affect the whole family.  It didn’t come to him easily, changing churches never should.  But after years of watching our church family go, we can’t sit back any longer.  We feel disconnect from God and like the dry bones described in Ezekiel, we have been bleached from the sun, lying brittle in the valley.  Our cries to God are now faint whispers and though our faith is still strong, our hope for change is not.  

Ezekiel 37: Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 

The problem is we’ve never left a church.  We’ve moved away from ones we’ve loved.  But never have we left because our church left us feeling empty each week.  And though we know the church shouldn’t be what fills us, that only God can do that, we shouldn’t leave feeling emptier.  In the past our preachers guided us with sound doctrine and excitement for the Word.  Our church family would love us through our hard times and celebrate with us through our victories.

We’ve not felt that here for years.  As hard as we’ve tried to find our place in the ruins, we can’t.  Nothing about our church is steady.  The people, the programs, even the times keep changing.  Though some change is good, watching people pass through the church like the seasons is not.  We’re exhausted and resentful; it’s no longer a place of learning and renewal so it’s time to drag our dry bones to another well.   

Ezekiel 37: I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

I embrace change.  I enjoy the newness that comes with each one. Whether it’s the seasons or a new city, I like the starting over.  What I don’t like is the barrenness that I’ve been feeling; the wanting to cry out to God, but choking on dust.  My soul feels empty like there’s nothing left for me to give.  And I know… I know that the enemy is using this time to pull me away.  But he can’t have me.  

This season has no doubt been a test of my faith and though I failed many and stumbled through a few others, I still know there is a sovereign God who looks after me.  He cares for me and who sees my need.  Perhaps these past few years I needed to see what the void felt like.  The disconnect that others feel but I couldn’t understand.  Maybe, like so many other things in my past God is allowing me a chance to relate to someone in my future who may feel the same way I did… still do.  I pray I don't miss the opportunity.  

Corinthians 1: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Trading Fear for Faith (Complete)



The Mama Bear mentality; I see it a lot in the blog world and my everyday life.  I understand the need to protect our children and to do our best to make sure those that have wronged them are set straight or punished.  I get it… I do.  But is that what we should be doing as moms?  Are we to defend them with claws bared and teeth showing?  Or are we to show them how forgiveness looks?  No claws, no teeth, just a healthy understanding of how the world works and a heart that has no room in it for hate and anger?

I pose these questions after a very trying week; a moment that started out as a simple inconvenience, later a sad revelation and finally the mouth drooping realization that my trust was misplaced.  And some of the fault was my own.  Not because I allowed someone to scam me or others, but because I knew there was something wrong.  I felt it to my core but didn’t face it because the reality is I spent the better part of my working life in an area where I dealt with these same things.  I didn’t leave the job because of that.  Truth is I liked that part.  The discovery, the puzzle pieces and the final call you made confirming all that you suspected with proof in hand.  

But this wasn’t work.  I wasn’t paid to find the bad guy.  Instead I happened upon it because of an emergency where I was needed in order to keep things afloat.  And more importantly I had to be the one to stand between the ugliness of the world and the reality of my daughter’s everyday life; a safe haven where she can be herself, the crazy kid who sees music and feels art.  And I wanted to be that shield.  I still do.  But I can’t, at least not always.

The easy thing to do is get mad.  Anger comes fast for many, slow for others but either way it still shows up as a burst of raw energy.  You can release it and in that moment you don’t care about the damage you leave behind because you feel justified.  You think there are no consequences because in your mind the person who betrayed you and your child deserves it.  It was coming to them; karma and bad vibes, the reckoning of their misdeeds.  

But I disagree.

Mind you, I don’t want to, but I have to.  The simple truth is we’ve all wronged someone at a certain point.  Many of us might shake our heads in denial but others can instantly think of a moment in their life where they made a decision they thought they’d never make; a time where emotions played a factor in their judgment even though their brain screamed no.   

And if that moment hasn’t happened to you, it will.  And many times those tough decisions come after you have children.  When you’re faced with the task of raising another human and you think you’ll do it all right, but go to bed at night thinking of all the things you did wrong.  Even on our best days we wonder how we could have done it better.  

Sometimes we forgo faith and chose to cling to fear.  Fear we understand.  Like anger it’s an easy emotion.  It usually comes when we feel we don’t know the answers.  We have all the questions, but no solutions.  So we do the things we never thought we would.  We try to fix it with whatever we have available.  We call it our wits and pride ourselves in using our survival skills but the truth is we don’t trust our faith to guide us.  

We look for the easy path, we grab what is closest to us and convince ourselves that the consequences either don’t matter or won’t catch up with us.  We’re too busy patting ourselves on the back instead of humbling ourselves to others or to God.  It’s not easy.  I know that.  I’ve never prayed to be humbled.  Humbling isn’t pleasant and it’s certainly not something I would ask for.  But when you open your heart, take the leap and allow God to guide your steps… humbling happens.  

Psalms 118
Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free.  The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.   What can man do to me?
The Lord is on my side as my helper;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.  It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.

As a person who has made poor choices, who has hurt others without knowing or without thought of consequences, I can tell you that when a Christian makes a decision based on fear instead of faith, he will always be humbled.  He will always face consequences.  And he will always regret his decision.

As a Christian who has been on the other side of someone else’s poor choices, hurt feelings and standing in the destruction created by others, we have to choose forgiveness.  As much as we feel justified in straightening someone out or handing out punishment, we don’t have that right.  We gave that up when we put our faith in God. 

Faith allows us to fight fear with forgiveness. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Where God Guides, God Provides (Complete)



myreal.everyday.life

My decision to stay home was not my own.  

I had always seen myself working outside the house.  Briefly when my company was bought out while I was still on maternity leave, my co-worker suggested we might receive severance packages.  For the first time the idea crossed my mind.  But when I went back to work, none was offered and my position continued.

Later, when a job opportunity became available I thought about moving within the company.  For the first time I wondered what God wanted me to do instead of what I wanted.  And so I decided to ‘test’ the idea out.  

After work one day I settled Justice down for a nap and decided to pray in a quiet place.  My walk in closet was perfect.  On the way I grabbed my Bible, but didn’t turn the light on so there was no way of reading it.  Instead I shut the door, laid on the floor with my head and hands resting on the open Bible.  

Now mind you, I wasn’t playing Bible roulette.  I didn’t plan on flipping through the tomb and randomly picking a passage and making it fit my situation.  But I did hope it would keep me focused and more open.  I was using the Bible as a physical reminder that I needed to be silent so I could hear the spiritual words.  And so I prayed.

I’ve forgotten much about that prayer, but I still vividly recall asking my question and getting a very clear; “Stay home.”  I remember laughing in the dark and thinking He must have heard me wrong.  I repeated my question and again I heard the same words.  I was convinced God didn’t know what He was suggesting.  I wasn’t interested in staying home.

So I didn’t.  I had told my husband the day I had heard the call to stay home, and though I knew we couldn’t make it financially with one income and our new house, he didn’t say no.  He said I had to decide and left it at that.  Which made the guilt of ignoring God even worse; I couldn’t use the excuse that my husband said no.  It was all laid at my feet… and what a mess.

The job I enjoyed for years was suddenly relocated out of state.  The new work was dull and unchallenging.  We quickly learned the company wanted us working more data entry when for years we had done research.  Policies at work were changing.  Bosses we loved were being demoted or moved.  Soon the only things I enjoyed were the friendships I had… and even those began to change. 

After 6-months of fighting it, but seeing no way we could manage without selling our house and losing money on it, I cried out to God.  “How on earth do you expect me to do this?  We can’t afford the house we live in if I leave.  Tommy doesn’t have insurance or retirement.  There are no benefits if I quit.  What you’re asking is financial suicide.”  And oh how we prided ourselves in being debt free.  We still had a house note, but our new cars were paid for.  We had no credit card debt, no student loans or medical bills.  And I had a nicely funded 401k and Pension through the bank.  I could only see disaster if I left.  

One morning during my hour commute, one of my favorite songs came on the radio.  As the chorus came on a tow truck pulled out in front of me.  At first I was frustrated because he slowed me down just one exit from work.  Then I noticed across the crossed shaped tow bar was an oversized rag in deep red.  And without thinking I sang the chorus along with the radio; 

So long status quo, I think I just let go
You make me wanna be brave
The way it always was is no longer good enough
You make me wanna be brave.”

The tears started to fall unchecked as I parked my car.  I sat there trying to compose myself as the songs meaning washed over me;

“The gate is wide, the road is paved in moderation
The crowd is kind and quick to pull you in
Welcome to the middle ground
You're safe and sound and
Until now it's where I've been
'Cause it's been fear
That ties me down to everything
But it's been love, Your love
That cuts the strings
I am willing to risk it all
I say Your name, just Your name
And I'm ready to jump
Even ready to fall”

Nichole Nordeman - Brave

I walked to my desk and wrote out my resignation letter.  Though I don’t remember everything I typed, I do remember listing my cause for leaving as; “I was called to stay home and I’m tired of fighting God”.  I put the letter on my boss’s desk and walked back to mine.  I watched her read the letter through the office window and saw tears come to her eyes.  She came over to me.  “I want to talk you out of this, but there’s no way I can win.”

I stayed on a few more weeks and though I was sick to my stomach thinking I made the wrong decision, God blessed me with signs that I didn’t deserve but that showed me He would provide for me.  The first sign was unexpected money from a man I had a hard time forgiving.  Forgiveness comes easy to me with people who have hurt me, but when they hurt my loved ones I’m not as quick to forgive.   

This very man showed up at Tommy’s work with money the same week our septic started to back up.  I reminded God of what He was asking me to do if I left.  There was no way we could take care of this had I gone sooner.  But God showed me how He works.  And his way led to an unburdening of my heart.  My forgiveness didn’t come because of the money, but because when he handed Tommy the envelope he reached out to him and though the words forgive did not cross his lips… my husband knew and so did I.

Other amazing things happened, all love notes from God.  Some big like getting my pension even though the bank was shutting the program down.  As well as getting my full 401k balance when just weeks later the stocks would plummet and most who stayed on lost 50 to 75% of theirs.  The small ones were too many to count, but just as humbling.  

I saw all these things and knew that we’d be okay because for the first time in my life I was asking God’s will and listening.  There was no guarantee that things would always be as good as those first few years, but the initial leap of faith, though the scariest, was by far the most freeing.  I let God guide me and he provided.  And 10-years later I still see His hand in our lives because of that initial jump.