The Spirit of Christmas

This early morning, as I was driving in my car, I heard a story of a woman who lost her husband unexpectedly, after he had just gotten a long awaited kidney transplant (he was in his early 40’s)  The oldest daughter wrote into a radio show. It was very heartwarming as the radio hosts had her call her mom and read the letter, and then the radio station told her they were helping her with all sorts of gifts, house cleaning, money towards utilities, gifts for her kids, and more. It was good and sincere.  I was in tears before I arrived to work.

Something hit me about the “Spirit of Christmas.”  I love this time of year, and the radio station was giving gifts to help out a family in need at Christmas.

First, the whole story, and many like it are evidence that we were created to “do unto others”.  There was joy!  Everyone felt it, it was good to help this family, and this was a secular, mainstream radio station.  People love to give. People gain so much when we serve others. We were made for it. Imago Dei.

But further…I thought, Why– when there is so much good–do we get soooo overwhelmed at Christmas?  Sooo busy. And there is so much “stuff”.  Stress!

The reality is, I think much of it is meant to be good things. Here is what I mean. A lot of what I want to do around Christmas is good. We just have SO MUCH we want to do! For instance:

  • I love baking and giving treats to neighbors and friends and spending time with my kids in the process.
  • I enjoy wrapping something meaningful for the people who are in our lives…the piano teacher, or teachers, and family and friends and, and, and the list goes on….
  • I love creating Christmas cards and keeping in touch with friends and family. (And receiving others’ cards)
  • As always, I look forward to church, and the extended joy of the extras…singing Christmas hymns or giving money for those in need.
  • I enjoy thinking and brainstorming and figuring out what gifts I am going to get whom.
  • I want to serve the homeless and wrap presents for the less fortunate, and put money in the bell ringers’ Salvation Army containers.
  • I enjoy having lights on our house, and the memories that are spurred when we pull out ornaments that we have collected over the years.
  • There are heart warming Christmas movies I would love to cuddle and watch with family and parties we love to attend to be with others.
  • Nutcracker, or the Singing Christmas tree, or Zoo Lights are always fun!
  • And I enjoy dressing up and dressing down.
  • I look forward to connecting with my husbands office mates once a year at a Christmas lunch…
  • A family Christmas gathering with extended cousins that we rarely see, and old family traditions is wonderful!
  • And hunting for a tree (though, I didn’t act like it this year-ha).

And you know I could go on and on….but this “Short list” is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

And now….I … am …. busy.

These are all GOOD things….but when they are all shoved in a time period of less than 30 days, it just can be….so. so. much.

After taking inventory this morning, it became apparent to me, that many of these traditions are things I do, in fact, enjoy! There are so MANY things I WANT to do!  It’s just that either I can’t physically do them all, or don’t have the time, or feel like I am bone dry and out of energy when the day of Christmas actually arrives. How do we keep the “Spirit of Christmas” alive?

Well, first, my simple definition of “The Spirit of Christmas”:

The “Spirit of Christmas” is love, and giving to others, and spending time connecting. It is caring for others and enjoying moments. Christmas is old traditions, and creating new traditions. And it is remembering what Christmas was for in the first place. It was God’s revelation of his Son to the world. The ULTIMATE gift of Christ.  The fulfillment of prophecy since the very beginning, that God would send a Son, His own, to come into the world…he would be with us (Emmanuel = God with us) and walk among us.  God’s gift of love to us.

So, how do we deal with the overwhelming sense of all that happens during Christmas?

GIVE THANKS:  We start with giving thanks. When we are thankful for what we have, in each moment, we have the joy, and the energy and ability to move through each moment without becoming….let’s say….scrooge.  And the turning of our minds (and then hearts) to “giving thanks”, most of the time, needs to occur in our most frustrating moments.

MAKE MOMENTS COUNT:  We make the most of each moment and each tradition. What do I mean? Simply making the things we “do” meaningful!

For example, when giving gifts is just money and a checklist of who we have purchased for and who we have not, it just becomes a “to do list”.  We have a VERY long list of gifts for family.  Why we don’t draw names yet, doesn’t really matter. I actually enjoy giving gifts. The only thing that holds me back is time, or money.  One thing that has helped me this year was deciding to make sure that every gift either “gives back” in some way (see future post), or has a message of love, joy or hope specific to that gift. Though this has been CHALLENGING, it was been so wonderful to know that nearly every gift is giving at least TWICE.  The challenge and finding meaningful gifts has bee incredibly FUN and this might be my favorite year of giving EVER!!!!!

THE “SPIRIT” IS MEANT TO BE EVERY DAY:
“I just can’t fit it all in!?!!!” I often feel like this. I know my friends do, too.

We must remember that the “Spirit of Christmas” isn’t just meant for Christmas.

This can be hard when we feel it all needs to just get done or our expectations are that each of these things we do at Christmas are only meant for Christmas!   But in reality, what matters is the heart behind the “why”.  But if we search the why, we realize that 1.) Our heart is in the right place, or 2.) we are just doing some of these things “to do”, and it might be time to let some go (along with a few expectations).

If you WANTED to send out Christmas cards then DO it. You can still keep in touch with friends, and make a photo card. Who cares if they get your family update or photo in January… or February?! (Each year, I get a card in Jan and one in Feb from people who have fit it into the time frame that works for them). If you are sending for the wrong reasons, STOP.

If you want to bake with your kids and make shaped sugar cookies for neighbors and spread joy, PLEASE do! They would love to receive them in March. No one gives home made cookies in March!  If you don’t like baking, but feel you need to, then STOP.

When you want to serve the homeless, you can ANY time! (even better, join me on a Thursday night!!). Maybe you want to help a family in need, or give to a cause, but December is not a good month for your business – give later in the year.  Giving doesn’t have to be “year end” to get your tax write-off…you get tax-deductions for your giving ALL year long. You want to have a party and friends for dinner, but December got booked too quickly– just plan it for a later date…

Love people, serve others, be present. THIS is the Spirit of Christmas.

What I mean is, God sent His son, Jesus to teach us. He sent Jesus to be with us and walk among us. And He meant for the lessons of Christmas and it’s meaning and tradition, to be applied every single day. He wants our hearts and wants us to love people, every single day. Be present with our kids, every day.

Let go of what is holding you back. And hold on to the things you do for the right reasons.

Our hearts are definitely prone to give.  We were made to love.  We were made to connect! These are the Spirit of Christmas.  Let’s not worry about the to-do list and just spread the “Christmas Spirit” all ….  year ….. long.  Then, when we aren’t able to complete the MASSIVE to-do list at Christmas, we can forgive ourselves and move towards tomorrow…and the next day… and carry the “Spirit” throughout the year.

Living Intentionally: Finally gonna go “Do something”.

This gallery contains 3 photos.

So, there is this song by Matthew West called “Do Something” (previous post).  It’s pretty powerful and it was something that hit me last year. And then there is this book by Bob Goff called “Love Does” (previous post).  Again, … Continue reading

Living Intentionally: Shopping with Intention

Again, being in the wilderness and reading “7”: Another musing, processing, thought-provoking application for me.
Chapter 6: Spending.

First, I survived in the wilderness without spending one dime. (Miracle!! – don’t laugh)

Second, I was reading while in the wilderness (funny, I had very little to distract me) and chapter 6: Spending, caught my attention.  There is something to being a consumer, and we just simply need to change the way we spend our money. We have money. We are NOT rich in the eyes of our friends and neighbors, but we ALWAYS talk to our kids about how we ARE, in fact, rich in this world.  We tell our kids often that we have SO much, and our house is bigger than the majority of the world.  Even the boys, who share a bedroom, are blessed, because most families have an entire HOME that is the size of their room.  “Yes, their homes are small, and these families layer themselves and live together- in Africa, in India, in South America…”   Questions come up such as: “Why us?” and “What are we supposed to do?”  That, my friends, is another blog post. We are working on it.

However there is also power in where we spend our money.  We can make choices to spend money in places that make a difference.
Page 169 of “7”, Jen Hatmaker addresses this:

“Pulling out of a lopsided market is one thing; redistributing wealth to the world’s vulnerable is a whole ‘nother level…..Your giving can effect extraordinary change. Pick a need, country, people group , an organization focused on empowerment and sustainable independence.  You could be an answer to countless prayers.  The poor don’t lack ambition, imagination, or intelligence; most simply lack resources. We have what they require and more than we need. We could share.” 

I have power in my purchases and I want to make sure we are spending less money (to put aside to give away), and  that I am spending money on things that can have a decent impact.  Right around the corner: Christmas.

So, I came home, revved up from reading and being without computer, phone, screens, music, meat….and I decided…

“Let’s just not do any gifts this year, let’s do something else! No gifts!!!”
Family response:  “Uhhhhhhhhhh……”

My response: “Jesus didn’t have wrapped presents…blah blah blah”

Internal alarm: “Rachel, put on the brakes….again…baby steps.  Let’s not shove this down everyone’s throats…you are #* years old and look how long it took you!”

So, after this little bit of crazy, I made a few decisions:

1. I want to research where I am spending and give something that has meaning.  For instance, an item that would ‘give back’ to a greater cause.  Like Tom’s shoes. You buy a pair, and then someone in need gets a pair.  There had to be companies like this.

2.  I am going to continue to refine ‘gift giving’ in our own family.  There will be family reduction and other intentional applications for nuclear “us”, but I am still processing on the most meaningful ways we could express love, worship and honor to the Lord and one another…we will get there….

So I have been on the trail of companies that I feel are ethical and:

  1. give back in some way (percentage of company profits, or re-investing in a community)
  2. offer an encouragement (scripture, hospitality, etc.)
  3. encourage the hand-made talent of an artisan who wants a sustainable life wage
  4. literally give to someone in need (buy a pair of boots, and they give a pair to a kid in Romania that wears flip-flops in the winter.

This is what I have found.  This is in NO WAY an exhaustive list. I have spend quite some time reading the “About us” and “Our Stories” and also looking these companies up individually.

RACHEL’s researched list of companies that give back in some way:

  • Noonday Collection:  Jewelry, Scarves, Bags, women’s accessories…see link.  This company has a beautiful story that I am learning more and more about.  In my research I have contacted a local ambassador and asked her about the company and her own personal interest, as well as the cool things that she knows that I would not.  I am going to invite others to join me in (at my home) and hope to raise money for an adoptive parent, as well as giving my dollars to women abroad who have a talent and can be paid a wage that can launch their own dream or support their own families.

  • Krochet Kids: A cool bunch of guys, crocheted some hats, went abroad, saw a need and created a company that gives back.  They have some cool guys stuff, snow boarding and skiing hats and scarves and I like the look too.

  • Stone + Cloth: Buy a backpack or an item and it supports education in third world countries.  Cool bags, and clean fresh look.

  • Amazima: Katie Davis launched this to support women in Uganda.  There is a beading circle of women and their beautiful projects are purchased fair-trade.  If you haven’t read “Kisses from Katie”  you SHOULD (Click on “Should” to see previous blog post).

  • Sevenly: For every tee-shirt $7 goes to the selected non-profit for the week. And the stuff is cool! Pretty much tee shirts and apparel

  • Raven and Lily: uses the Open Arms refugee, made in America mission to furnish their products, as well as local artisans and they re-invest their profit into the women’s businesses in the different countries.  I love this explanation of their name “Raven and Lily”:    “After contemplating the words for a company name, we knew we wanted something that would capture the beauty and dignity of the women in our partnerships. We were inspired by Luke 12, where God says that we shouldn’t worry about what we will eat or drink because He cares for the ravens and we are so much more valuable than birds. He also says to look at how beautiful the lilies are yet they are here today and gone tomorrow and how much more valuable we are than flowers. We feel that the value God sees in His creation, including ravens and lilies, reminds us how much more valuable we are as women.”  Some items are on the more expensive side, but they are very high quality and are items that are in my scope of personal “taste”.  I need to buy LESS.  This is good stuff.

  • Roma Boots:  Partnering with World Vision, just sweetens the deal! Roma boots and World Vision give back together…Every pair of rain boots gets boots to Romanians and others in need and give to education.  Cute boots (bye-bye wish list item: Trendy and cool Hunter Boots)…I love the YouTube on this.

  • Live fashionABLE: Mostly scarves, there are specific women that make these items.  I am particularly interested in the “game-day” scarf for some people in my life.

  • Come Together Trading: These guys started this company after a Compassion International Trip…I am working with Mary and Martha who also gives to Compassion International, so that is a draw.  This wouldn’t necessarily be my “go-to” as a lot of items look like an import store, HOWEVER, they have a wonderful variety, and it is a good one to have on the list for items that aren’t really represented anywhere else.

  • Red Earth Trading Company:  Mostly Jewelry and accessories…but this is a cool website, and they had a recent gig with “Madewell” which has a classic style I love….they also work with local artisans, give interest free loans and have accountable business practices.   Pretty stuff…I may need more jewelry boxes (LESS Rachel, LESS, haha)

Other companies that we will be giving from include companies that bring something positive and meaningful into the home of those we love.  A few examples are:  Mary and Martha (Loving God and Loving others), walk in love (Walk in love. is dedicated to selling well-designed, high quality products with a positive and inspiring message. That message is a reminder to imitate God by loving others every chance we get – no strings attached. We believe that Jesus came and showed us how to be that message), and anything else with an inspiring and positive reach.

So, that’s what I have been thinking about. 🙂

The heart, soul and MIND: holding every thought captive, and my ‘spiritual workout’

My last couple weeks have been FULL.  Full of good, yes.  But, also full of unexpected, frustration, busy, chaotic stuff.

Arm broken in two places, growing bent  ….  anxiety at outdoor school for middle guy …. daughter’s  soccer club changing everything–she can’t even try out  …….  father-in-law wanting us to buy into the business in 18 months (can we?) ……..  one kid playing a sport requiring a ton of time (and that we don’t really love) …….. soccer team that I coach has to figure out what league to play in because the one we planned on playing in, dissolved …..got a call from school district lawyer about oldest’s 504 plan (a 2 year issue we have been dealing with)  ….   ….. need to write a letter to superintendent of the district (per his request) about the 504 plan  …. working everyday in different schools for different teachers, with different kids …… (I am sure this is much like any of you…or that some of you have MORE than I… I feel bad even putting some of my list here….)

And all the while, God is doing stuff. He’s working…. and this time he was talking to me about my MIND.

A friend tried to encourage me on Monday when one of the situations above got my mind thinking every possibility, every outcome,  every angle.  She tried to tell me, “It really will all work out, God loves you, knows you and the oldest and you will be in a place He needs you”

I got kinda frustrated.  Not with her, just the circumstance. “Yeah, it will ‘work out’… it did for Joseph in Genesis….but how many years was he in slavery, or prison before he did….I just want it ‘my’ way.  Just one area of my life to feel normal, organized, predictable”, was the short of my (ridiculous, immature, selfish and very real) reply.  I said a few more things, and felt extremely frustrated while thinking of all of the possibilities and running them through my mind.

Oh, I was being honest and –whoa–, in sin, I know. I am being honest here.  I knew (as I said it) that I don’t want to follow MY plan…but I felt like it.  And God told me…. “Hold every thought captive….”

Okay, I hear you God.  And I did hear Him…I adjusted and apologized to my friend…

But this problem I was frustrated with kept entering my mind…my realm…from emails, texts from other people, more emails to forward…I was just going to ignore the problem…think on other things…..but God had other plans….this “issue” kept (and is still) making it’s appearance…. more emails, more conversations, questions about “the issue” asked of me.

“Hold every thought captive…and make it obedient in Jesus.”

Oh, so I can’t “ignore it”? I have to make it obedient to Jesus? I have to say in my mind… “I trust your ways. I trust they are better than mine…I really do.  I trust you care. I trust you love me….I trust you love my oldest….I trust you know what you are doing…”

But.  But….my mind it keeps moving… But…. Flashback.

I don’t know what the conversation was, or how it was presented, but I remember being identified as something in school, for “gifted kids” (Whatever, I am not one of these, but somehow tricked them into thinking I was, haha!) and somehow, at that time in my life, I picked up, “Rachel, you are a very good brainstormer.  You come up with lots of ideas, different angles, and have a creative thought process…”  I don’t know if those are the exact words said, but that is the message I took to heart.  It is a message I have believed and acted on for the entirety of my life:  I am good at ‘brainstorming.’ My mind…..

Well, I learned this week, that when you brainstorm the good — the creative — the solutions,  your mind is moving, thinking churning…..and guess what people….I JUST NOW (this week) realized that my mind is thinking, churning and processing ALL of the NEGATIVE possibilities of life,  as well!!!!

“Hold every thought captive….”

So, Wednesday, after listening to a talk in this small group I am in…and hearing the speaker quote the bible verse, “Hold every thought captive and make it obedient in Christ Jesus.”  (2 Corinthians 10:5).  I confessed to my small group.  Confessed my struggle, and shared where God wanted me to listen.

And then this morning…I read this, in the “Living Life Undaunted” book of 365 Readings and Reflections from Christine Caine….May 2nd:

body, soul, mindAnd I immediately and already knew the answer to the question. Confirmation of  God’s work in my life.

He wants me to Spiritually Exercise my MIND.

And even in the chaos, even amidst the distractions in my life, the world’s views, the enemy’s diversions…God speaks.

The problem I spoke of…it is still a “problem.”  But, I will say, the more I relinquish my mind to the issue, and don’t dwell on it, thinking of ‘all of the possibilities’, the more I let go (as another friend suggested I do, haha), the better I feel.

So, I have a challenge — a way to “spiritually exercise”.  I will be trusting, thinking on these things…anything that is good, pure and noble.  And consciously trying to hold the overwhelming flood of thoughts, brainstorms, ideas – captive in obedience to Christ Jesus.

What is the answer to your question? If you are to “exercise” the body, soul or mind, which one do you feel is the most difficult to strengthen you as you learn to follow God?  Easiest? Why? 

Do Something: Book review: “Kisses from Katie” & “Love Does” and how to see the world through a different lens, not worldly expectations.

I had some time to be in silence last week.  As I was in the quiet, I was reminded from a song, “Do something” by Matthew West, and two books that are all about acting on God’s call to live by faith.  I was reminded how important it is to MOVE, ACT and DO things for the causes of Humanity and also to express gratitude towards Jesus for all He has done for me.  Also, while listening to the song, I thought on two books that show living faith in action:  Kisses from Katie, By Katie Davis, and Love Does, By Bob Goff.

Matthew West Sings these Lyrics in “Do Something”:

I woke up this morning
Saw a world full of trouble now
Thought, how’d we ever get so far down
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, “God why don’t you do something?”
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said “God, why don’t you do something!?”
He said, “I did, … I created you!”

These lyrics speak to a conversation that I have had with God on many occasions.  The conversation when I feel like I just couldn’t possibly help–or the one where things in the world seem so hopeless that I just feel helpless.  I just want to do something, and sometimes it seems like there is too much to be done! (I feel like this with laundry often too!)

But, there is always hope.
And God has a heart for children, the poor, the widowed, the fatherless.

Psalm 10:14,   “But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.”

Proverbs 31:8, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.”

James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Kisses from Katie, by Katie Davis and Love Does, by Bob Goff

Kisses from Katie, by Katie Davis and Love Does, by Bob Goff

And into the book review…There are two books that amazingly demonstrate the power of God through one person who decides to listen to His voice and act or “Do Something”.

In the book Kisses from Katie, it is clear that Katie Davis is one person who listened, acted in faith, and has made an impact.  It is not a story about how amazing Katie is…It is a story of what can happen to any of us if we choose to quiet ourselves, listen to God’s voice, and then act on God’s plan (not our own), regardless of what we think or others think.  Katie’s story is so incredibly encouraging because she follows God’s word and God’s plan and shares all of the glory of God and His work.  Her book and story is really God’s story that he offers to each of us–and is so encouraging to those of us who want to follow His lead.  No, I, Rachel, can not pick up, move to Africa and adopt 10, 12, 14 girls.  That is not the story God wrote for me.  But I can do what He asks me to do where I am at.

Also, Katie writes about the pull between her family–who are awesome, amazing and wonderful and Christian.  They are well intentioned, but had plans for her to follow the normal American Dream…graduate from high school, go to college and have a successful career.  She wanted to be a nurse. God still has given her opportunity to mend and tend to sick and poor people, but just not the dreams in the way in which her parents had imagined (or that she had imagined, for that matter).

As a parent of three, I have dreams and hopes for each of my kids.   I would love for them to experience education, success and wonderful things that I have experienced…or that I haven’t had the opportunity to experience!  However, reading Katie’s story, even with her “worldly potential” being valedictorian at her high school, etc…..all of the opportunities she would have to go to an amazing college, chances to be a huge success–she listened to God’s voice of His calling.  Not the world’s.  As a follower of Jesus, it is very important that I let my children follow God’s voice, support them with good questions and prayer, and trust that God knows what He is doing.

The second book that also speaks to the pledge to “do something”, as Matthew West puts it, is Love Does  by Bob Goff.  I have had the privilege of hearing Bob speak, which helped bring to life his voice in the book.  The book is written as series of stories from Bob’s life.  Some stories are extreme and crazy and many are hilarious! Each are examples of him stepping out in faith, or sharing what he has learned from Jesus.  Bob lives boldly and his vivid personality comes through!  I SO enjoyed each chapter (each chapter is a different story), I began to read them aloud to my offspring.  The youngers loved them and were challenged to think outside the box.  I also know for a fact, that Bob Goff WILL respond to your correspondence! One of my dear friends took the challenge to contact Bob.  They ended up going to lunch with him!

Both of these books have challenged me to live more boldly in my faith.  I highly recommend both and will definitely read them again.

I hope you are inspired to put your faith into action!
Here is a YouTube of Matthew West’s Song, “Do Something”:

Time: the value of time & friend time is better than the best birthday or Christmas present

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The youngest just experienced Christmas and two weeks after, his birthday!  He got some amazing gifts.  I mean some pretty cool things that were impressive and were on the ‘wish list’.   But what I witnessed just the other day, was beyond things, and beyond the gifts.  He got the cutest, most excited, exuberant giggle, giddy-ness and smile I have seen in a long time.  All because he was going to have a friend over.

He has been asking…pestering…..reminding me and bothering for a ‘play date’ with a schoolmate for quite a bit of time.  I always encourage my kids to take a little ownership when it comes to arranging these playdates.  “Please get me the phone number and you can make a phone call.”

He came home on Friday with a little scrap of paper and a phone number scribbled on it.  When he pulled it out to show me, one might have thought it was actually pure gold.  “G and I talked…we arranged we could play today and tomorrow…Can I call??!!! Can I!? Please!!!!!!” was the gist of what transpired between youngest and I on Friday immediately after he got off the bus.

Of course I complied.  Then the someone awkward, lots of dead silence in between innocent questions, very innocent conversation…which was between the two boys. Both parents were really communicating with each other in the background and helping with ‘grade-school talk’ translation.

“YOU CAN!!!???”

And then, the cutest, rarest of giggles and laughs….the one that is so full of joy it just can not be contained.  The elated squeal.

I hadn’t witnessed that squeal over any single Christmas present or birthday present…

It was over a simple play date with a grade school buddy.  It was a squeal to have TIME with a friend.

I just sat there…huge grin on my face.  I was not conspiring to spend zero dollars $ next Christmas and just arrange rare play dates instead (though I should!).  I just enjoyed watching the complete surprised joy on the face of my youngest over the simple request to have a play date.  But the reality is, time is not as simple of a commodity as it may seem.  We are busy.  So very busy.  Too busy probably.  And the stars don’t always align for the simple play date to happen when child 1, 2 or 3 desire.  Time is precious.  And it was clear that the youngest knew it.  He valued the opportunity to spend time with a friend outside of school.  He cherished the idea of having this buddy to his house, and showing him the life outside of what they share at school.  Unstructured time….to just to do whatever they want.  (Well, within reason, of course). Time to just be and get to know each other better.

I think there is a real connection here.  Success in this world is measured often by how busy we are.  “How are you?” we ask each other, and more often than not, your reply will be summed up in the one word, “Busy,” as if that is the rite of passage that explains to all people what we are doing.  But is the busy what we desire…is it fulfilling?  Is it enough?

So, time is of value beyond all commodities.  There is a lovely quote that says:

love-and-time-life-quotes-pics-sayings
Time is actually very valuable….

We can not add to it.

We can not bank it and grow its worth with interest….

We can only spend it…and how we spend it is a choice…our choice.

I have been experiencing this commodity of “Time” and its importance in a new way recently.  I have been away from the family more and spending time working for 3 weeks straight.  It is such a good job and I am loving it…and I think we can spend time doing good things (this job is not bad and I hope I add value to each day with students)….but it definitely takes away from the time I get with the most cherished ones…the husband and three young children living under my roof.  I can’t add to time, so I am working out the value of time…and where to put the highest priority….I am a work in progress…this involves more patience, faith, practice.

And then, among the balance of it all, we read and hear this:  But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Matthew 6:33). Jesus tells us “first”……before everything.

So, the creator of time, the author of life asks me to give him time first…and “all these things shall be added unto you”  The perfector of all, omniscient Father in heaven, says He will add all “these things” unto me.  Me!?? So do I spend time trusting that He means what he says…oh! Give time to him first? Ouch….not often enough.  Its just like my youngest excited over the time spent with a friend–See God, the one who created us, He wants to know us.  He has offered this invitation for us to have a ‘play date’ with Him.  I think He would love for us to come into His house and get to know it, look around and spend time.  He wants to know us outside work, or school, or the busy-ness of life.  He probably has that contagious, elated squeal each and every time we say “Yes, I can come over and hang with you today!”  So call Jesus back and tell him, “Yes!”

So how shall you spend your time?  Each day is new….I am expectant He can help me with my use of time.

Vulnerability: Exposed uncomfortably, how we try to “keep it together” and why showing vulnerability makes others comfortable.

We always try to hold it all together!  We mean well.  It just seems like when we are being parents or  coaches, volunteers, friends, wives or husbands, and all things to all people, that something in us tells us we have to look or act or be perfect.  Or at least “show well” for others.  The problem is, we can’t hold it all together…and I don’t think we are meant to!

I know that I have experienced my ‘fair-share’ of vulnerable moments, when my best side wasn’t showing and I didn’t “hold it together”, or a vulnerability was exposed.  A few examples :

**Generally losing it in a public place with my own offspring…this includes grocery stores, children’s museums, and even–yes–at church.  When my voice is raised at a volume that is above a “happy tone” and my face is wrinkled in that angry state of “argh!”

**There was a time when we took the oldest (3), the middle (1),  and by proxy the youngest, who was in womb on a short term mission trip to Honduras.  Upon arriving home, I found out that a couple good friends got a hold of my mother and wanted to help clean my house.  First…THAT is vulnerability! Our house was messier than usual when we left!  We had spent days packing our family, other students and packing donated supplies – all in our home.  My friends told me about their surprise upon my return (definitely a thoughtful gesture).  Then they told me about their attempt or thoughts about cleaning and organizing my pantry.  The house, yes, but my pantry?  Well, I LOVE organized, perfectly straightened pantries.  I strived to have all the nutrition facts facing the same way, pasta and crackers and cereals all in perfect harmony.  But, husband isn’t as passionate about the beauty of a pantry as I, so I decided that perhaps this was a battle I would let go of.  I was embarrassed that they viewed my pantry, with it’s door usually closed, as one crying desperately for help.

**There is also the experience of the phase that the middle one was a biter.  That is vulnerability. When your innocent preschooler, who is the best cuddler of all, can leave a primal mark on another human…usually, a sweet pigtailed girl, and once, the preschool teacher! And the mark is one that can be seen, and someone needs to talk to you about it.  That’s showing my vulnerable or ‘icky’ places.

**And the vulnerability we face when our child doesn’t make the “A” team, or isn’t placed in the “highest math grouping” or isn’t a part of the “popular” group of friends.

I remember these moments.  I am long past some of them, and I still experience other moments of life exposing my vulnerability, my imperfection, or the imperfection of the ones I love.  These were some moments that were struggles.  In my pride, I would suffer if I thought about them as a reflection of me…in my pride I suffer if I care so much about what others think of me.

C.S. Lewis once wrote: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  To love is to be vulnerable.”  -Four Loves

Powerful to think that love makes us vulnerable.  It is true.  Love my kids-I am vulnerable.  Love my friends enough to let them tell me what they really think: Vulnerable.

or

Self love and when I care so much about the material world and value of success and those other things…- again I am vulnerable.

And so these thoughts lead me to one of the most influential experiences in my years as a full-time at home parent.
I got invited to lunch by a friend.

Yep…that was the event that left a mark on my heart.

I wasn’t just invited to lunch.  I was invited to lunch spontaneously.  And when I walked into my dear friends house…not having to make lunch for my own little brood (and they were little at the time)….I looked around and this is what I saw:  I observed a piling of dishes in the sink from the morning’s breakfast, and perhaps from the dinner the evening before.  I saw laundry piled on a couch in the living room when I walked in.  There were papers and bills on the table.  And we were going to eat left over taco soup.

And I felt……..

AT HOME.

See, my friends spontaneous offer, her love for me more than the perception of herself…it welcomed me.  It said “the person is more important than appearances”.  She offered me friendship and she offered me her time!  She could have come home first and cleaned up.  But she didn’t, she just let me come into her space…her unfinished places…whatever that might be.  If that was dirty toilets that day, I don’t remember.  If it was an un-vacuumed carpet, I was unaware.  I just felt at home.  And she offered me and the young ones taco soup from the night before….and in her left overs she offered me a new favorite food and meal idea for my family.

I am not sure if she knows how much this spontaneous lunch meant to me.  I have spoken of it many times since.  It formed my opinion of how I should be more vulnerable and offer love.  Because it is in her vulnerability, her messy places, that I felt COMFORT.  I felt LOVED because the other stuff…it just didn’t matter (And I think she was quite secure on just having company and not caring)

And love and fear do not intermix.  Fear is directed inward, focused on what will happen to me if I fail the test, or am rejected, etc.  Love is directed outward, towards caring for another person more than we care for ourselves.  The more you look outward (love) the less you look inward (fear).  And, that day, she was looking more at LOVE (of me, her friend) than FEAR (“What if Rachel judges me?”)

So, from that moment on, I made a more conscious effort to love people right from where I am.  I try to just offer love as simple, broken, in-progress, me.  And sometimes–actually quite often, that kind of love involves sharing those vulnerable moments I shared with you above.  I share with others the struggles I have faced, or the weaknesses I battle with.  I try to invite them into my real world of messiness.   I admit, I occasionally ‘tidy up’, either the house, or sometimes my ‘image’.  It just isn’t our natural bent to just be open and vulnerable.   But I do love people.  God has put this fantastic fascination of people, and a love of His for each and every person on my heart.  So, I follow Jesus’s lead and try. Try.

I will never forget my friend’s love and vulnerability being so comfortable for me.  And this is the love the Christ offers us.  He finds us as we are….He doesn’t put on a fancier robe, and cleaner sandals before he meets us, or before He performs that miracle – physical or within our hearts.  He just met people along the way, and offered all He was, at that moment.

Is there a time when someone was vulnerable to you and it made an impression of love?  I would love to hear in the comments.

Can you invite someone into your messy home for a meal or cup of coffee this week? Or in your messy places to share what you are struggling with? (Share if you do, in comments, or an email)

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.  2 Corinthians 12v9 (NLT)

Perfect love, we know, casteth out fear.  It is very desirable that we should all advance to that perfection of love in which we shall fear no longer; but it is very undesirable, until we have reached that state, that we should allow any inferior agent to cast out our fear.”   – C.S. Lewis

 There is no fear in love [dread does not exist], but full-grown (complete, perfect) love [a]turns fear out of doors and expels every trace of terror!     1 John 4v18 (Amplified Bible)

Significance. Identity: Two jobs and the difference between…Why do things look better when you are looking back.

Recently, I got a job. Well, back up more than a decade when I was blessed with ‘the most important job’. Post a BS in Exercise and Movement Science, the will to work and not create more college debt, I … Continue reading

Control: A ‘real life’ example, how I feel when I don’t have it &thoughts on giving up more control

Do you ever struggle with letting go of control? What is your response to not having control?

Our impromptu mini ski vacation over Christmas presented me with some reminders about the word and practice of “control”.

We were invited to join another family to go skiing for a few days.  We had less than a week to plan, and we left the day after Christmas.

Both Husband and I skied a bit when we were younger.  After leaving “home” we each, separately took a few trips in college, and a couple more after being married, but the last decade and a half have been mostly void of skiing.  For us, I suppose it is like “riding a bike”–we were able to pick up where we left off, with a few conservative corrections on my part, testing out my newer ACL and such.  But all was great.

The kids on the other hand…had no previous experiences to rely on……

Watching our kids learn to ski had moments that- for this mom- were utterly painful.

First, we made mistake one.  After taking too long to get settled, we missed the first morning lesson and had to go for the 1pm.  “Well, we paid for these expensive lift tickets”…we weren’t going to waste time, or money…not our style…so we decided– instead of taking the time to hike up an incline with  12, 10 and 8 year old beginning skiers– we would just take them up the chair lift on the ‘bunny slope.’  It wouldn’t be too hard….right??

We all dismounted the chair and got to the right side of the lift.  And that is where we all stopped, for about…. well, 30 minutes, at least!

First, husband took our middle son.  He had the one-to-one ratio, which seemed a good idea.  I watched the struggle a little bit, but didn’t have much time to focus on those two, as my own ‘projects’ were stuck with me.  I had the oldest and the youngest.  Oldest is brave and a go-getter.  She is exceptionally balanced and takes risks as part of her nature.  She has done things at ages I still can’t believe (like zip line thousands of feet high, through the Costa Rican Rain Forest Canopy for more than a mile stretch at age 7), and her resilience led me to believe that this wouldn’t be bad.

Youngest, well he likes to “hit the ground running.”  I think when he was just under one year old, he literally did start life running, instead of walking.  He is also the youngest, so he likes to look at someone doing something (like ice skating recently) and just GO!  This usually proves in a fail, and a fall, but he gets up and goes again.

Despite these strengths, our first run of skiing was either comical, or terrifying.

First, the steepest part of the bunny hill was the top.

Second, none of our children understood our “wedge” conversation. None of them could stop.

Third,  the top of the slope was the most crowded, as everyone is getting off the chair, AND it is the most unpredictable slope since most everyone on that ski run are beginners.

Skip ahead 20 minutes.  My plans have failed.  Oldest daughter is forming tears.  Youngest son is on the ground and his tears, anger and  frustration surfaced 10 minutes ago.  I had candy bribes in my pocket and my supply is already exhausted.  I am out of ideas.  Husband and middle son are making their way down, unlike my troop.  I have stopped and actually prayed for new direction or language, or something…anything… several times.  I am now praying for no broken bones.  I am fully at a loss and have no control.

I have no control.

And let’s say, I didn’t become a better ski instructor under these circumstances.  I will confess: I became worse.

Oldest, she decides she is just going to have a go with it.  She starts slowly, in a tense, hunched stance, working her way across the hill.  Some of my instructions on “traversing the hill” are helping slightly.  She is actually moving.  She has been patiently waiting upon my word for quite some time and it is time for her to just go for it.  She is making progress.

Youngest and I are still stuck on the side of the mountain.  Every time we decide we will try to move, some beginning screeches to a stop right near us, or youngest gets his skis crossed again.  Honestly, my lack of control over his actions frightens me.  I think my tension is making him increasingly tense.  This, of course, is making things worse.

Then husband arrives at the top of the slope.  Angelic music chimes in my mind…and I think he may have a halo over his head.  I am so grateful.  I tell husband, “It is time for a new voice.”  My plans and words and ideas are not good ones, and I failed.  Youngest agrees. Mom failed.  I have to laugh, because it is true and I tell him so.  Trust dad.  He will get you down the hill.  And I have to turn my gaze down the mountain….ski toward the oldest who is still working her way down, and not watch the youngest.  I don’t want to see.  I don’t want to cringe…I just want to let go of control, pass it over to dad, and celebrate the success at the bottom of the slope.

Let go of control.

And honestly, after that first run, the kids were champs.  All three of them.  We decided that ski lessons with professional instructors were worth the money (and it wasn’t cheap, haha) and worth the few ski runs we could enjoy God’s beautiful creation together. And the kids amazed us. After three days they loved skiing.  After our first ski run, this felt like nothing short of a miracle. It was definitely an answer to prayer.

As they got progressively better, they took more risks.  They each increased their speed.  For this woman, turned mother, it is both wonderful and difficult to watch.  Something changed when I bore children into this world.  I feel like I have become a somewhat cautious wimp.  I want to let go of control and let them soar.  But I so want to make sure they are safe, unharmed, and warm and happy, too.  And every muscle in my body just tenses at times, and I just have to close my eyes.  In fact, even after riding chairlift after chairlift, I insist that they bar is brought down for safety every lift ride, and I just can’t help but put my hand over their lap, or hold their jackets.

Letting go of control over life, over others….giving up control is such a difficult process.

And I realize that much of what I struggle with is in an effort to hold onto control of my own life.  My own plans.

I am nervous with my husband driving…because I am not in control.

I’m frustrated when plans change…because I have lost control.

I cringe when my kids ride their bikes fast down a winding hill…because their decisions on when to turn or brake are out of my control.

There is something in the loss of control or the holding on so tightly to my own plans and my expectations, that reminds me of how much I still hold on to my own way and how uncomfortable it is to let go.  And it reminds me of how grateful I am for a heavenly father who LET’s me…URGES me… ASKS me to let go.  A Heavenly Father that says ‘Trust Me all who are weary and burdened’,  ‘lay down your burdens and give them to me’, ‘take my yoke upon you, for my burden is light’.  (Matthew 11v28-30)

You see….it is never easy to let go of control.  But control equals my own plans, and my own plans mean my own way, and my own way equals independence.  We consider Independence as a wonderful quality, particularly in this country, but independence means on our own.  And that includes on our own away from God.

I remind myself of how much I WANT to let go and give my plans–well intentioned or not…my way, and my burdens ALL to God.  That I actually have God in my life calling me to give it all over.  Live each day for Him, with Him and by His plan.   Let Him mold me, and make me into who HE wants me to be.  That is actually so very, VERY freeing!

I was driving in to work this morning, after having drafted this blog post and was thinking and praying on giving up control and I heard Tenth Avenue North’s song “Let it go…”  Another personal reminder of the reality of grasping for control (so much that our “knuckles have gone white”), and the beauty of letting it go and giving it to God (“life is waiting for the ones who lose control”).

Take a listen and join me in letting go….

 

Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? Romans 9:21

Surrender yourself to the LORD, and wait patiently for him. Do not be preoccupied with [an evildoer] who succeeds in his way when he carries out his schemes. Let go of anger, and leave rage behind. Do not be preoccupied. It only leads to evil. Evildoers will be cut off [from their inheritance], but those who wait with hope for the LORD will inherit the land.  Psalm 37v7-9