Thursday, November 24, 2011

Today I give thanks . . .


for chilled Diet Coke.

for the way my daughter's hair curls in the rain.

for Mexico.

for the hiccups and kicks inside my womb.

for the absurd giggles of siblings who were fighting only minutes ago.

for Apple products.

for my husband's smile that greets me promptly at 6:20 each weeknight.

for a sister who I can call a crazy number of times a day and it never gets old.

for a missional church.

for parents and in-laws who make grandparenting look like the best job in the world.

for living in a state that allows me to experience all four seasons (although I'm especially thankful for autumn).

for a 3 1/2 year old boy who still asks me daily, "Mommy, can I cuddle with you?"

for our vet who genuinely wants to find an affordable and effective cure for our sweet pup's seizures.

for dance parties with my kids, and sometimes without.

for friends who keep me humble.

for Jesus.



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Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Super Heroes





Halloween stream of consciousness . . .
  • Why is my 3-year-old obsessed with Spiderman? I don't get it, but I think it's adorable.
  • How many more years can I get away with manipulating their costume choices so that there is a theme?
  • With the exception of these three minutes when we took these pictures, my son refused to wear his mask.
  • These two minis gathered oodles of candy, and it was my brilliant idea to separate the chocolate from the lesser candy so that the chocolate would not be contaminated by lame peppermints and orange taffy. That beloved bucket-o-chocolate sat on our kitchen counter for two whole weeks before our dog got the nerve to jump the counter and bring it down. I came home one Sunday to an empty bucket, and it took three days for that darn dog to pass (from both ends) all the candy wrappers.
  • One year my sister dressed up as a snow princess and wore my wedding dress as her costume. True story.
  • If you knew my sister during that time in her life, you know what a gamble that was for me to lend her my wedding dress for a Halloween party. Both my sister and the dress survived. It was a Halloween miracle.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Compassion

Many of you follow A Holy Experience, the incredibly poetic Ann Voskamp's heart-stirring blog. She's had me absolutely captivated this week as she spent a few days with other bloggers visiting Ecuador for Compassion International.

Her posts have been raw, devastating, gut-wrenching, beautiful, hopeful, and engaging. I highly encourage you to read her entire Compassion journey, although these two particular posts have been crossing through my thoughts and dreams ever since I first read them.



Both posts made me cry. A lot. And both posts have me asking a lot of tough questions of myself and God. I don't know why, but I wanted to share those stories with you. I don't think I've ever been so moved by two young children whom I've never met.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I need a laugh, how about you?

You all have BLOWN ME AWAY with your comments over the last couple of days. When I hit publish on Sunday, I had no idea that I would be so challenged by your feedback and insights. It's been exhausting yet refreshing as so many of you offered me food for thought that pushed me to spend time with God and His Word. Thanks a million for stretching me and encouraging me, and a special thanks to Marla for being one of my biggest cheerleaders.

I couldn't tell you the last time I posted three days in a row, but I thought that with all the intensity around here lately, I needed a good laugh (and maybe you do too.) I don't have to look far in this house for comic relief, between my penis-obsessed son (he's recently potty trained) and my wildly dramatic daughter (she's a product of two very expressive auntie's). I had to share this worth-a-thousand-words picture of Miss Harper Lynn when she recently was told, "No more s'mores." Actually, I don't think it was the s'mores as much as it was the chocolate and marshmallows. Then again, I really can't blame her.


Next time you're having one of those days, grab some chocolate and marshmallows and remember, you are not alone!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Everything I learned about giving I learned from the tithe

Disclaimer: I have a LONG way to go before I have a good grasp on tithing and giving. I can't stress that enough.

Not quite two years ago, Matt and I made the decision to get serious about tithing and giving as neither was an area producing much fruit in our lives. I will share with you what God has revealed to us through our searching and journeying and failing and praying. Did I mention we are still learning and growing and failing? Lots of failing. Lots of humbling.
  • Let me start with the definition of tithe. Tithe literally means "a tenth part." You can give 2% or 8% but you cannot tithe it, much like you cannot call 5 eggs a dozen (great analogy, Rebecca.)
  • Semantics aside, our goal is that all of our tithes and offerings are acts of worship. This is one of the reasons I love writing the check. It helps me to stop and be aware of what I am doing, praying and praising as I write. But don't get too excited, I am guilty of treating this action just as I treat the water bill, without reverence.
  • We are called to have a steward mentality and eternal perspective. Being a good steward of God's money (and resources) involves many things (saving, investing, giving, tithing, just to name a few). Ultimately we will give an account of our lives, according to the fruit of our deeds (Jeremiah 17:10). I love this quote by Matthew Henry: "It ought to be the business of every day to prepare for our last day." Being a good steward of God's resources while maintaining an eternal perspective is where we try to position ourselves, and try as I might, I fail miserably at this all the time.
  • I want to share a quote from Randy Alcorn's book Money, Possessions and Eternity. He does a good job of helping me understand how the tithe applies to my life today in the era of grace. "[Tithing] is a meaningful expression of dependence on God and gratitude to him. Tithing requires calculation. When we deal specifically with the amounts God has provided, we assess God's goodness to us . . . Tithing was, and can still be, a built-in reminder at every juncture of life of our unlimited debt to God." Dontcha just love that?
  • The tithe (10%) will always remain non-negotiable for our family (Please don't read this as legalism. I pray you understand that this is what God has revealed to OUR family. I'm not implying this is what God commands for you. That's between you and Jesus.) In the Old Testament, the tithe was the starting point for giving (I love the passage in Exodus 36 when the Israelites were actually restrained from giving materials to build the tabernacle because they had given more materials than needed!) The model of paying back to God His firstfruits was the tithe, and as I've studied the OT, I found that it was more than paying 10% off the top. There were actually multiple tithes required of the Jews - their tithes and offerings well exceeded 10% (Deuteronomy 14). In the New Testament, every example of giving goes beyond the tithe. The way I see it, there is no evidence for less than 10% of giving anywhere in the Bible. For us, the tithe is a base figure. It is merely a starting point for our giving.
  • Can tithing be legalistic? Of course. As can any other spiritual discipline. The dangers don't only include legalism, but also complacency. When we view tithing (or church attendance or volunteering) as a box to be checked, we've missed the point completely. But when we approach tithing (and giving, among other things) with prayer and a worship-filled heart, we put ourselves in a space to receive the eternal and internal blessings that God promises to those who honor Him (The story of the rich young man in Matthew 19 is one of my favorites. He's promised eternal reward for giving to the poor, and it is in this passage when Jesus tells His disciples that they will receive a return of hundredfold for their sacrifices.)
  • I have to wonder what it communicates to God when we don't tithe, when we don't give him the firstfruits of His provisions? I think that is when we begin to say, "God, you can't handle all my needs, not to mention my debts and loans and the demands of this crappy economy. You can't handle it, but I can." What if instead we said to God, "I don't know how this is going to all work out, but I trust that you will provide. Therefore I give you the firsts of this paycheck, before I pay a single bill or make a single purchase." This is also a good space to pray that God shows you what is (and what is not) a need, not to mention showing you ways that you can save money when you didn't think there would be enough - this is an area where God has humbled me big time. I sometimes feel like Veruca Salt, spatting, "I want an Oompa Loompa! I want an Oompa Loompa now!" I so deserve her fate, a bad egg who is dropped down the garbage chute. But God's mercy is so good. In time, I find myself getting used to life without the coveted Oompa Loompa, ultimately experiencing contentment with less.
  • To the point of being able to give like no one else, my suggestion: start with the tithe. Start with the building blocks that are revealed in God's Word. And then don't stop. Continue to ask God to stretch your dollar, your heart, and your pocketbook. Not for you, but for the blessing of giving.
  • I so appreciate the comment from my dearest friend Mary Kate. She said, "I cling too tightly to my 10% tithe, because giving it all can seem terrifying." I can SO relate. The tithe isn't my ticket to spend the other 90% on whatever I damn well please. It's not for me to clear my conscience, so to speak. All - all 100% - belongs to God. I don't get to do whatever I choose with any of it. The 10%, the 90%, the 100% - it's all His. And it's His to do with as He pleases.
He who has God and everything has no more than he who has God alone. - C.S. Lewis

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The spirit of giving?

I know I'm about to step on all sorts of total-money-makeover toes, but my heart is unsettled and twisted so here it goes. I'm not a big Dave Ramsey fan. But before you throw your shredded credit cards at the computer, I praise the Lord for the many many people who Ramsey has helped snowball their way out of suffocating debt. And I mean that.

Okay, so here's my beef. For starters, I can't quite wrap my head around the live like no one else so that you can live like no one else philosophy. Does Ramsey mean for us to live like no one else TODAY (by driving a junker and shopping Goodwill) so that during our retirement years (whatever those are) we can live more comfortably? luxuriously? Or does Ramsey encourage folks to live like no one else TODAY so that when they reach eternity, they can live like no one else? The latter might be more Biblical, sort of, but is that what Ramsey is saying? I get the sense that he means the former, and that is where he loses me. It is in that concept where our culture has interfered with Biblical Truth. God doesn't motivate people to live simply or frugally so that one day they can live a grandiose lifestyle. Our culture tells us that's how it should go, but that's not God's way.

Secondly, I don't agree with his seven steps to financial peace (and can someone please define financial peace?) The steps begin with building an emergency fund and are followed by getting out of debt, saving, investing, saving for college, paying off your home, and then building wealth. Building wealth is step 7a. Step 7b? Oh you know, that thing that we're supposed to do . . . um, um, oh right . . . giving. You know, that act of being Jesus to the world that we are commanded to do over and over and over and over and over again. At least that's the way it goes in my Bible.

Look, I'm not discrediting that there is Biblical support for saving and investing, in fact, each of the seven steps on their own are valid. But who is to say that God wants each of us to follow them in that order? And the God I know would never ever ever put giving last (after building WEALTH?!) That's just not the Jesus I know. (I realize that Ramsey puts tithing up at the front. It's not one of his seven steps, but he absolutely prioritizes it. But tithing and giving are two separate issues, and to my disappointment, too many believers aren't doing either one. For what it's worth, tithing means 10%. Tithing is not monthly leftovers or an arbitrary number. It's 10%. That's what a tithe literally means. You can't tithe 3%. That's giving 3% and calling it 10%. That's lying. Okay, I needed to get that off my chest, phew).

All that to say, I don't know why I was surprised recently when I saw on Dave's facebook page that he is promoting a Give Like No One Else challenge. My initial thought: Awesome! Seriously, now that's what I'm talking about. At least that's what I thought. Until I clicked on the link. And realized that in conjunction with the giving challenge are cash and prize giveaways. Dude, are you serious?!

Why oh why oh why is it necessary to motivate giving with materialistic reward? It's as if he's saying, "Hey, the Bible teaches that the true spirit of giving produces eternal fruit, but who needs eternal rewards when you can win a Kindle right now?"

And before you get me all wrong, it's not about the money or the stuff. For heaven's sake, I'm one of the wealthy ones! It's about the heart. It's not about the car or the square footage or the label. It's about our grip. And that's where we've screwed it all up as Christians. We're too busy pointing fingers at so-and-so's such-and-such when we ourselves can't get past a toilet-submerged iPhone or the collapsing economy of the richest damn country in the world. Relative to someone else, we all have too much. Yes, you. And me. But it's not the too much. It's the letting go. If God asked his faithful servant Abraham to sacrifice his long-awaited and only son Isaac, you better believe he wants you to let go of your insert-most-treasured-earthly-possession-here. It's not the I-saved-for-5-years-to-own-the-car-of-my-dreams that matters. It's that if God speaks to your heart to sell your precious wheels and do something else with those resources, would you? Could you? Without hesitation? It's all a matter of the heart. It's holding loosely to our money and stuff knowing that at any moment, God might have other plans.

Because let me tell you, following Jesus doesn't come with health and wealth. That's a crock, and a sickening one, if you ask me. Remember Paul? He followed Jesus nearly to his death by stoning. He traveled BY FOOT hundreds and hundreds of miles to share the Gospel, without earthly possessions. All he had was faith, and that is all he ever needed. And that's all you and I need no matter how badly we want to convince ourselves that we need or deserve or own x,y, and z.

So why do we have such a gosh-darn hard time giving selflessly and sacrificially? Why do we need earthly incentives when that is not the Gospel? Why are we consumed with establishing financial peace when our dependency should never ever ever ever be on ourselves?

And that is my biggest beef with the Dave Ramsey culture. How can we put ourselves in a position to trust God with every single penny He has bestowed to us if our goals are retirement funds and college savings? There is only one goal that matters, and it's going to manifest differently for each of us. That goal is glorifying God with the resources He has given us (and He gives to each of us separately and differently). It is finding contentment no matter if we are climbing our way out of debt or sitting on a hefty cushion of savings. It's trusting God when He tells us to save or buy or let go or liquidate or sell or give or give or give or GIVE. It's praying over every check we write and through every payday. It's turning to Scriptures before we turn to a so-called financial guru.

And let me tell you, I'm just as big a failure as the next guy. I make greedy, selfish choices every. single. day. Without fail. My flesh craves Target and Pottery Barn clearance and a black Range Rover with tinted windows. I am human, watch me spend. But God is BIGGER. He continues to stir in me a love for giving because it glorifies HIM. And for every day that my lifestyle doesn't match the one I deem more comfortable, He blesses me with something internal (and eternal) such as His peace. His comfort. His contentment.

I hesitate to even post this because I'm just as big a hypocrite as anybody else. I suck at letting go of a certain appendage better known as my MacBook Pro (among other things), and I'm really good at pointing fingers at that family with the heated driveway (or worse yet, coveting that heated driveway everyday during the month of February).

But God has brought me a long way. And I have faith that if I continue to lean into Him, He will continue to do a good work in me. I want to take this amazingly blessed life that He has given me and turn it all over to Him. And as I stumble in big fat ugly ways throughout this journey, I can only pray that I develop a greater sense of what it means to depend on Him. And I don't ever want to fall out of love with giving from my heart for His sake and not my own selfish motives.

So hear me out. This isn't about Ramsey. I clicked on what I thought was going to be an encouraging link about giving and was terribly disappointed. And I was reminded that much like my two-year-olds favorite exclamation is "Mine!" we are all in desperate need of a reality check. I pray that more people turn to God for financial direction and are filled with a desire to give for one reason and one reason only, because He first gave to us. And for that we can never give too much.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Birthday, Matt.

You complete us.

with Harper, August 2010

We love you, uh-huh.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

First day of the rest of their lives

My kids officially go to preschool. Their first day wasn't terribly sentimental for me. They only go one day a week, and I'm happy for them to spend a few hours in a school setting while I spend a few hours in my makeshift office actually working without interruption.

But what does pull at my momma heart strings is that their first day of preschool was a step toward the years and years and years that my babies will spend with their teachers and classmates and not with me. Sending my babies to school requires me to let go, a healthy and natural transition that began when my husband clipped the cord, a transition that will ultimately culminate when my flock flee the nest.

I suppose this is one of those transitions that will prepare me for the next one. And I am grateful that God gently eases me into the next phases of parenthood even though I am never prepared.



So here they are, two tiny people lugging around an absurd amount of backpack, heading out for the first day of the rest of their lives.

And here I am. One grateful momma, lugging around an absurd amount of love for two tiny people who are learning about life independent of me. Letting go ain't easy, but it sure makes me proud to see them learn to fly.