Sunday, October 31, 2010

Less is So Much More

For months now I have been mulling over thoughts of living a simpler life and what that might look like. I tend to get excited about something, want to just 'get going' and then realize that it might not be very realistic in the long run. But a simpler way of life just keeps drawing me back.

When we moved three years ago, I remember feeling such shame over all the stuff we owned. It just didn't seem right. I felt horrible guilt as I watched our dear friends hauling out load after load after load of material objects. I swore that I would never be burdened by that much stuff again. So we got rid of a few things. Well actually we got rid of a lot of things, but it was few in comparison to what was left.

We moved into our current home and I felt reasonably okay with what was left. Not great, but not guilty any longer. Funny though. The rooms are beginning to shrink again with things that we (I) hold onto just in case we might need them someday. I come by this honestly. I remember my dad wanting to keep the spring off of a broken mouse trap once because you just never know when you might need a spring that size. My mom threw it out. So this is not all my fault, it is in my DNA.

A little over a year ago I started seriously couponing and stockpiling and while that has simplified our finances and allowed us to bless others, it has not necessarily simplified our storage. So currently, I am focusing on some new ways to shop, save and share as Ellie Kay says. God calls us to be good stewards of our finances and material possessions. God also calls us to be generous and to share, as well as to save for the future so that we are not a burden on others.

Throw into all of this the fact that in the last two weeks, my i-pod just quit. Worked fine and then didn't work at all. Four days later my cell phone just disappears from cyberspace. The phone worked, but somehow my phone number got lost in space. Seriously. My phone and my number could not find each other. After three days of on again and off again with the phone, our computer crashes and is eaten alive by a nasty virus. I have two words for you "back up". Needless to say we are paying for not having backed up all of our digital pictures and files. They are recovered, but there is a price to pay. Alas, I just got off the phone with our internet provider because our internet was not working properly.

As I climbed back behind the TV to get to the modem for the internet and I once again looked at all the wires and cables and dust, it just reminded me of how complicated life got in trying to be more efficient. Exactly when did this happen?

So into the office I went to find a book I recently got from the library. "Freedom of Simplicity" by Richard Foster. I really want to just write out the entire first two pages here for you to read. But how about just a small taste of what Richard Foster has to say:

Contemporary culture is plagued by the passion to possess. The unreasoned boast abounds that the good life is found in accumulation, that "more is better". Indeed, we often accept this notion without question, with the result that the lust for affluence in contemporary society has become psychotic: it has completely lost touch with reality. Furthermore, the pace of the modern world accentuates our sense of being fractured and fragmented. We feel strained, hurried, breathless. The complexity of rushing to achieve and accumulate more and more threatens frequently to overwhelm us; it seems there is no escape from the rat race.

Interestingly, Richard Foster wrote this book in 1981. Somehow when I look back on my own life, 1981 didn't seem so complicated to me; which tells me that there is something even far more simpler than I can imagine.

I don't believe there are easy answers or a one-size-fits all answer to living a simpler life. Each person or family faces different situations or challenges and must seek God's direction for them personally.

However, I have found a few things to be true. By changing my spending habits, thoughts and routines, spending less has resulted in us having more. Less on my calendar has resulted in more quality family time with my husband and children. Less ministry obligations has resulted in more personal ministry. Perhaps less really is so much more.

The Blessing of Noise

I believe we may have the noisiest dishwasher known to man that was ever manufactured in this decade. Seriously - for something that looks so sleek in its stainless steel decor, it is loud - really LOUD. Please understand I love my dishwasher. Several years ago, we had a quiet dishwasher and I thought I would be more frugal and do our dishes by hand. Certainly didn't want to waste the electric. Then we moved. And our house didn't have a dishwasher. In fact, the water pump was known to just stop at random and we didn't even have water. On top of that the sinks were really small and not very deep and so the dirty dishes would quickly run onto the counter if not done quickly. Oh how I longed for a dishwasher then!

We moved and God blessed me with another dishwasher and one of the stainless steel line. Oh happy was I. I am not all about looks and having the latest gadgets, but this was just nice and already part of the kitchen. We had an open floor plan again, which means for us that the dining area and the living room and kitchen all open into one another. Exactly the way I like it. We had a house once where the kitchen was completely separate from the other living areas and I hated it. I always felt like I wasn't able to participate in all the family fun. So this house, with this floor plan and this dishwasher was a grand gift from God indeed.

However, this dishwasher causes just a few complaints from various family members who either live here or come to visit for any extended period. Quite frankly, I try to arrange the washing of the dishes around our schedules of guests or other quiet time. Personally I think it's loud too, but I am just really, really grateful to have it.

As I loaded up the dishwasher today and knew that I would be running it during the football pre-game shows, it occurred to me that the dishwasher should be a constant reminder of the overflowing blessings in my life. Because you see I can't run it when:

1. Our grandson Simon is here and he is napping.
2. Our children are here and we are having family dinner and good conversation
3. The men's bible study is meeting at our house
4. The women's bible study is meeting at our house
5. We are watching TV (translated to mean: thankful we have a TV and have eyes and ears to watch and hear it)**
6. We have company
7. We are spending time in the Word of God and seeking silence

And I am blessed that I have to run it because:

1. We have had food to eat
2. There is fresh, hot banana-blueberry bread cooling on the counter
3. There are coffee cups to wash after having shared it with my husband
4. There are extra dirty dishes because our children have come to visit and eat with us
5. There are extra dirty cups from the fellowship of bible study groups
6. We have coffee to drink from the cups :)
7. I have a mixer and mixing bowls to use to make desserts
8. I have pans to wash that were used on the blessing of our stove
9. We have electric to make it run
10. We have the hope of another meal to put on the plates

Oh Lord that I might see the blessings in the midst of the noise.

**My husband tells me this is not true - that I won't be watching TV, but will be napping, which may or may not be true, but will definitely be likely.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Stages of Life

My daughter recently asked "when do mom's actually get to sleep through the night"? Simon is only 9 months old and his sleep and eating patterns change, which means that Jillian and Shane don't always see many hours of continuous sleep sometimes. She asked this of me about a month ago when she knew that I had been up during the night praying for my children.

I always figured that whatever age my kids were was the most difficult, especially the pre-teen to teenage years. While there were plenty of good and wonderful things, there were also lots of fearful times and trying times. For example - the first time you let your 16-year old drive in the snow to school or the first time they start dating someone or when they head off to college or . . . or . . . or. The list could go on. You get the point.

And then I had adult children. Yep, that's what happens if you see them through the teenage and college years and you all live to tell about it without having strangled one another. No one tells you about this stage. You just don't hear about it. When our kids lived at home, I knew if they came home safely and were in bed. I knew if they were eating and had enough money (they'd ask for more if they didn't). I knew they were warm and healthy and had what they needed.

But then they grow up and move out. That's when you inherit a whole different set of concerns and prayers for them. I can't quite explain it, but you just want to make sure everything in their life is good. It is usually best if they don't tell me about a mean co-worker, customer or other mean adult in their life, because I have discovered the Mean Mama in me rises to the surface and wants to have a word or two with anyone who would dare insult or hurt my children or their feelings. I know that is very mature of me, but it's the truth. Don't mess with my family.

Then there are grandchildren. I watched my daughter and son-in-law feeding Simon tonight. What fun! As he opened his little mouth with great expectation of the next bite of baby food. He would open and there they were ready, able and prepared to meet Simon's needs. I am so extremely grateful for every part of that.

But something within me wondered what a mother must feel like if her child is hungry and she can't feed him. I thought about Hagar sitting in the desert with Ishmael and how she had nothing for him to eat and was forced to put him under a bush and wait for him to die. God saw them in their desperation and rescued them.

While I want everything to be right in my children's lives, I sometimes forget the abundance of blessings that surround us and the great gifts and comforts with which we live. God sees us. All the way home tonight from our daughter and son-in-law's house, I kept thinking about how God must feel about us. If I take offense when one of my children is offended or hurt, how much more so will God look after his children when the enemy attacks. If I am up at the wee hours of the morning and night praying for my children, how much more so is Jesus Christ who sits at the right hand of God and lives to intercede for us. If I delight in watching my children and grandson and spending time with them, how much more so must God delight in spending time with us.

I am continually amazed at what God teaches me about my relationship with Him through my relationships with my children. Isaiah 49:25b says: "I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save". The LORD "will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom." Isaiah 40:28

While I will fall asleep and am not always able to contend with those who contend with my children, I am so thankful that the Lord won't grow tired or weary and that He will fight for us. To God be the glory forever and ever. Amen!

P.S. Found this quote after I wrote this post. I think I'm going to post it all over my house!


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

When I Grow Up I Want to Be A . . . ?

Remember as a little kid how everyone would ask you what you wanted to be when you grew up? I wanted to be a teacher. In second grade our teacher made us draw pictures of what we wanted to do when we grew up and I drew a math teacher. As a child, I would head to the basement of our house and pretend I had a classroom full of students as I taught them math and worked out the problems on the chalkboard. Once I tried to impress a group of adults in high school by telling them I wanted to get my Ph.D. in computer science. I had no idea what that would involve, but it sounded good. Being a professional figure skater crossed my mind, but I don't ice skate. In sixth grade I thought I wanted to be a back-up singer for someone famous - like K.C. and the Sunshine Band. But I can't sing. Oh and I'm not a teacher either.

A few weeks ago, I turned 45 and I am still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. My math is still pretty good and so I would say I am at mid-life. My grandmothers lived to either be 90 or close to it, so I am at the half-way mark. Plenty of time to decide if God blesses me with many more years.

Except here is the problem, if I want to follow God and his leading and be obedient there is a good chance my ideas for my life probably aren't going to line up the way I think. Goodness knows they haven't in the last 7 years. I think one thing and God points me a different way.

But there are a few things that keep coming to mind. I want to be intentional. I want to be intentional in the time I spend with my husband and my children and grandson. I want to be intentional in my relationship with Jesus Christ. I don't want a mediocre life.

I want to simplify and take time to rest. I want to pursue Jesus passionately, but not burn out. I want to live with a bold faith, but remain humble. I want to be the church and not just go to church. I want to encourage other women in their walk with the Lord and in life - marriage, kids, money, and all the other stuff. I want to be frugal and give generously. I want to pray more and trust God more. I want to have a grateful heart, not a greedy heart. I want to memorize the scriptures and live life like I have.

Occupation? Well that's just a title. What I do for a living when I grow up and who I am when I grow up aren't the same. Jesus was a carpenter - that's what He did. Who Jesus was - well that's different. I want to be like Jesus.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Connect the Dots

As a child, I loved connect-the-dots books or any word game books. There are six years between my brother and I, so it was kind of like being an only child in many ways. Since I grew up during a time when you had to actually get up and turn the knob on the tv to change the channels and it actually shut off after the late-night news, technology was not something that I was entertained by. We lived in the country and so my imagination, books and word games were my best friends. To this day, I love to play games, do word search puzzles, and read. I must confess that while I am pathetic at sports, I will fight fiercely to win any word scramble game at any and every bridal and baby shower I attend; thus I have won some great gifts over time. I will promptly take a picture of my latest win and text it to my daughter because while she knows I am quirky that way, she loves me and understands.

For me there is just something thrilling about putting the letters together in a word game or the pieces together in a puzzle. I like the challenge of it. You may not think there is much challenge there, but I guess it depends on how you look at it. I can look at a puzzle or word game and nonchalantly put the pieces together and just relax as I do it. Or I can look for a pattern in the puzzle and see how it might go together or challenge myself to do it faster or more creatively. Both ways are fine and cause me to use my brain cells, which is also good.

So, you may wonder - what's the big deal about puzzles and connecting the dots and word games? Nothing. Except that today God used the analogy between connecting-the-dots activities and His Word to teach me something in a practical way.

One of my scripture memory verses in the last year or so has been 1 John 3:21-22 (NIV) Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.

I have prayed this back to God and have held onto it tightly as a promise from my Savior. However, I have never felt like I truly understood it or had fully captured the power intended in it. Something was missing for me. And today, I was able to connect-the-dots.

I am currently reading "Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire" by Jim Cymbala again for the second or third time. In his book, he referenced Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

And there it was - the missing part of the puzzle so to speak. Do what pleases him - what pleases him is having faith. Okay, part of the verse dots are now connected. Now what about obeying his commands. I have a book titled "Devotional Classics" which is a compilation of devotions and writings from people like C.S. Lewis, Dallas Willard, Martin Luther, etc. One of the exercises in it references Matthew 28:16-20 where Jesus tells his followers to "obey everything that I have commanded" and then you are instructed to go through the Gospel of Matthew and list all the things Jesus commanded. Upon doing this, you are told that your list will be "a mosaic of what the basic Christian life should like according to Jesus." That's the other part I needed to know for the scripture in 1 John. Exactly what has God commanded me to do?

The Word of God is a lot like connecting-the-dots sometimes. Each scripture, each word, each passage is a part of a bigger picture. When we are able to, through God's grace, start putting the pieces together and connecting the scriptures to each other, we will find a more intimate and powerful picture of what life in Christ is to look like.

So that is what I am going to do next. Make the list of the commands in Matthew. It will be in an odd sense like a word search game. You know it is there, you just need to study it and search until you find it. I love the way God works!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Scripture Memory

I have my verse for this time memorized. I memorized it the first day (October 1st). Posting it has been a little more difficult because God is holding me accountable to this one like no other.

Psalm 34:1 NIV I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.

Extol means to praise lavishly. This is more than a simple thank you Lord and acknowledgment of who He is and what He has done. Praise lavishly. Just let those words sink in a bit. How often do I lavish praise on the LORD? At all times? Not even close. His praise will ALWAYS be on my lips. Always? But what about when life gets hard or things aren't going well or my feelings got hurt or I'm scared? What about then? Is the praise of the Lord on my lips when life is difficult?

For some reason God has really impressed upon me that I am not just to memorize this scripture, I am to live it. It is to become a way of life for me. I realize that we are to apply all of the scriptures to our life and live our life according to them. But I also believe that God speaks to us individually through the scriptures at different times according to the work that He is doing in us.

I am thankful for this scripture and I am thankful that God is drawing me closer to Him through it. What are you memorizing? What scripture is God using in your life right now?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Needin' to be cleanin'!

My husband and I got home Thursday night after a few days away for our 25th anniversary. I am excited to tell you about that later, but today I NEED to clean house! Okay, I WANT to clean house, but I also need to. Can someone please explain to me where all the dirt and dust comes from when you aren't even home?

We are pretty good about getting home, unpacking, putting stuff away and getting the laundry done. But today I am looking at my house thinking that I will go nuts if I don't clean it before I go to bed tonight. I am pretty serious about observing the Sabbath as much as I am able, so cleaning tomorrow isn't an option.

Our totally adorable grandson, Simon, has been with us since yesterday which only magnifies the dirt that I see lying under the kitchen counter and everywhere else. Not because he did anything, but now that he can crawl all over the house I notice every crumb on the floor that he could put in his mouth. Thankfully he can't climb yet or he might get stuck in a cobweb. Fall in Ohio means a lot more cobwebs in and outside of the house and ours is no exception.

Maybe it is a control issue, but I prefer to think of it as good stewardship of what God has given us and that it needs to be taken care of. All I know is this, I will be a cleanin' fool before I go to bed tonight. Thankfully my husband is great about helping when I get in this mode. And he has his own obsession - clean windows. Oh how I praise God for that because I hate washing windows.

Yep - life is back to normal and it is good.