The $25 dilemma

A few months ago I won a $25 gift card to Kohl’s by playing an instant win game on the Huggies Web site. Since it arrived in the mail, I’ve been thinking and rethinking about what I wanted to spend it on. I figured it was “mine” so I wasn’t going to use it on the kids or my husband. Selfish, I know. I really wanted clothes. Then, I thought about trying to find a kitchen gadget or something to use for cooking. Then I went back to clothes. I could have used it to buy things I need … you know the practical things like socks and underwear, or I could get some fun things … shirts, pants, shorts, skirts. When it came down to it, I chose the fun things, mostly because those are things people can see. The other things seemed too boring to spend money on right now.

Vanity, thy name is Lisa.

I wonder what that says about my spiritual life. Am I spending my time, that 24-hour gift God gives me each day, making myself look good to other people or am I spending it on pursuits that may not be as noticeable but are necessary?

First Peter 3:3-4 says, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” While I’m not going to advocate ugliness as next to godliness (in fact, the NASB version of this verse says it should not be “merely external”), I know that the time I spend on the outside of me shouldn’t outweigh the time I spend on the inside.

I don’t regret my recent purchases, but I won’t feel as good about wearing them if I don’t spend a little time improving my inner self. That’s buyer’s remorse of a different kind!

I ate a beet, and I liked it

With apologies to Katy Perry, that’s not exactly how it happened. But let me start at the beginning.

A few weeks ago, when temperatures here were set to flirt with 100 for four days straight, my husband and I went grocery shopping for cold, ready-to-eat foods that didn’t have to be cooked. We came home with an assortment of hummuses (hummusi?), cottage cheese, pickles, salsa and … beets.

My husband is the beet lover in our family. I’m not sure how or when my aversion to them developed (maybe it’s the color or the story I heard in science class once about what they do to your urine if you eat too many), but beets has never been on my grocery list. Or gardening list. Or any other kind of list except the “foods I don’t particularly care for” list. Other names on the list in the past have included tuna, barbecue chips, lima beans, and tapioca. Recently, I have learned to enjoy tuna, have eaten barbecue chips without throwing up (which is what caused me to dislike them in the first place) and have stomached lima beans, as long as they are mixed with other things.

Thinking that maybe I should give beets a second chance, I decided I’d try one. I told my husband I might, but I’d have to do it without an audience. Tonight proved the perfect opportunity. After opening the jar, I took a whiff, expecting to be disgusted by the smell. Actually, what was inside the jar smelled a lot like pickles. Go figure. Something pickled smells like something else pickled. I stabbed a beet with my fork, closed my eyes and took a bite, once again expecting disgust. Instead, I tasted a little bit of sweetness. I could taste the earthiness of the beet, but the sweetness surprised me. I expected to be repulsed by the texture, but that didn’t really bother me either. Would I eat one again? Maybe. I’m not sure they’re on my favorites list yet, but I certainly won’t badmouth them, especially since my daughter ate four or five of them herself this week.

Shortly after the beet jar was opened, my husband and I, prompted by a Facebook post and a book he’s reading, were discussing evangelism. We’re both becoming more relational in our efforts to share our faith. Relational, in that, we desire to get to know people and befriend them, involve them in our lives and get to know their needs, living out our faith and looking for opportunities to share the hope we have. This isn’t always popular in a Christian tradition whose very name — evangelical — brings to mind street preachers, Bible thumpers and people trying, often sincerely, to persuade people they don’t even know to make a commitment to Christ. (I’m not saying there’s never a time for this. If God prompts, you act.)

But, as my husband said, in defense of relational evangelism: “I wouldn’t force beets down your throat. Why would I force Jesus down anyone’s throat?”

Thus the real motive for my trying the beets tonight. My husband loves beets. He got my daughter to try them, and she appeared to love them. They aren’t bad for me. I haven’t tried them in a long time, if ever. Maybe I’d like them.

So it is with Jesus. I love Him. He has changed my life for the better, giving me true life. He improves my life, not by giving me everything I’ve ever wanted or could think of having but by being in relationship with me, walking with me through suffering and trial. He “gave himself for (my) sins to rescue (me) from the present evil age” (Galatians 1:4).

But people who don’t know me may not believe that until they see it lived out day to day. They may have tried Christianity once and it left a bad taste in their mouth, so they are reluctant to try it again. It is the regular relationship, the see-it-for-yourself changed life, that for some will have more effect than the slam-it-down-your-throat-if-you-know-what’s-good-for-you tactic.

Confession time: I didn’t eat the whole beet. And I ate two chocolate chip cookies afterward.

Beets are an acquired taste, I think.

So, too, is Jesus.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good …” Psalm 34:8

The older you get

Sometimes I’m surprised to learn the ages of athletes, especially when they’re the same age or younger than me. I think that because they are well-known and professionals in their field, they must be older than me.

I tend to think of Jesus as this older, father-like man. Maybe because of His wisdom and authority. But I realized recently that He was my age at the time of His ministry and death.

It was sort of a freeing revelation. Not sure why exactly. Maybe it gives me fewer excuses for obeying Him or stepping out in faith.

In a way, it makes me feel young. And full of life. No matter your age, it’s a great feeling!

Mommy 911

Moms with 2 or more kids, I need your help. I’m drowning here. I never imagined having 2 kids could be so hard. Maybe because you all make it look so easy?

I feel constantly pulled in two directions. It’s like the kids conspire against me to need something from me at the exact same time. The baby has a full diaper, and Isabelle’s suddenly starving or needs a glass of juice. Or Corban is nursing and Isabelle chooses that moment to want to sit on the potty. Or they’re both ready for lunch at the same time, and I’ve yet to figure out how to nurse and make a sandwich.

I feel like one of them is always getting shortchanged, and maybe that’s OK. I also feel like I’m just surviving and I want to enjoy this. It’s like I’m walking around half-asleep, half-starved and always thirsty, subsisting on whatever I can put in my mouth the fastest and easiest. Cheese, chocolate, granola bars, occasionally something healthy like a banana.

On my worst days — you know, the ones that end in “y” — I’m convinced that Isabelle will still be potty training when she’s 5 and Corban will still be refusing baby food when he’s 2.

Yesterday I talked with a mom whose kids are about the same age as mine and she practically bragged that her baby took two scheduled naps a day and was eating regular baby food meals. I wanted to hate her. Motherhood to two children didn’t seem to faze her. I’m sure she never lets her 2-year-old watch 4 episodes of “Dora” in a row, and I bet they always eat regularly scheduled meals at the kitchen table.

My husband helps when he’s not doing husbandly things — working, meetings, school prep, sleeping, watching sports. OK, that’s a bit unfair. He does help a lot, but he basically told me to get used to this. With two years of seminary left, a “real” job isn’t far off and he won’t be as available to help during the day as he has been.

So, ladies, can you offer any advice? Is it possible to keep two kids happy at the same time? Am I ruining them by denying what seems to be a basic request so I can take care of the other one? How do I do this day in, day out with losing my mind? (I know why they call those housewives on Wisteria Lane “desperate” — they have children!)

And, if there aren’t any good answers to these questions, could you just let me know I’m not alone? That you’ve been there, done that or are there right now?

This mom just needs a little encouragement.

Bad potatoes

A sticky, smelly goo pooled on the floor of the kitchen just underneath the stove.

“Has that been there long?” I asked my husband, somewhat rhetorically. He didn’t think so. We examined the goo, but because we were already running late for church, we ignored it till later.

“Is it getting worse?” I asked, later.

“Only one way to find out,” he said, wiping the goo from the floor.

Hours later, the goo was back. Thus began the search for the source of the goo. While I was in the living room putting our son to sleep, my husband, flashlight in hand, was in the kitchen trying to determine if the goo was oozing from underneath the stove or elsewhere.

Back in the living room with an upturned nose and a grimace on his face, he announced, “The potatoes.”

Ah, the potatoes. In an effort to find a dark place to keep them, off of the floor, out of reach of the toddler and baby, I had forgotten to take into account the warmth of our kitchen over multiple 90-degree days.

I realized that I had been smelling these rotten potatoes for a few days now, but given that not all of the dishes in the kitchen are clean, I thought I was smelling the griddle on which we had recently cooked salmon burgers. Even after the griddle was clean, I couldn’t pinpoint the smell, nor did I try to discover its source.

I offered to clean the mess up.

“It’s really gross,” my husband said. He bagged the potatoes and took them straight to the garbage. (Praise the Lord for the discovery of bad potatoes on garbage night!) I never saw the potatoes, only the residue they left.

The clean-up was gross, but nothing a little Fantastik with Oxy Clean and a Swiffer Wet Jet couldn’t handle.

I was a little annoyed at myself for not investigating the stench earlier. And I thought about how these bad potatoes are like the bad things in our lives. Attitudes, behaviors — sins, the Bible calls them — that we try to hide in the dark parts of our lives, hoping no one will discover them.

But eventually, we start to rot. And we stink, so to speak. And we ooze these hidden parts of our lives until we’re dripping with goo and can no longer hide the rottenness.

Maybe people turn up their noses at us, or hold us at arm’s length so as not to dirty themselves with us. Maybe they avoid us so they don’t have to come into contact with our stench.

And maybe there’s Someone willing to clean us up. To take out the trash and give us a good cleaning. And maybe He wants us to keep looking into the hidden parts of our lives to find more rotten stuff and get rid of it until we can’t find anymore rotten stuff.

Maybe His name is Jesus.

Who is my enemy?

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.”

My daughter showed me what this verse from Romans meant tonight. After a mini “Dora the Explorer” marathon, we went to wash dishes. And as we were washing dishes, she told me that Swiper needed a drink of water. And that he needed something to eat. And that he needed to go potty.

If you’re not familiar with “Dora,” as I wasn’t two weeks ago, Swiper is a fox, and he’s always trying to take things from Dora and her friends. (Say it with me, “Swiper, no swiping!”)

He seems to be the most memorable “Dora” character to Isabelle. She even wanted him to come brush his teeth with her as she got ready for bed tonight. I had to tell her that Swiper went home.

I don’t expect that a 2-year-old understands what “swiping” is or why it’s bad, but the lesson still resonated with me. She wanted to offer food and drink and shelter to a fox with a bad reputation. Me? I only wish I had that inclination.

Isabelle doesn’t know yet about enemies. She only has friends. I don’t have many known enemies. Last week in church, we talked about the “Who is my neighbor?” question asked as a lead-in to the parable of the Good Samaritan. I think it’s interesting that we don’t have to ask that question about our enemies. If God tells us to love our enemies, at least one face or name probably comes to mind.

I just finished reading Donald Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz.” (I know, I’m behind the curve for popular Christian literature.) So much of what he writes was stuff I should know but needed to hear in a new way, or stuff I think or do but am too afraid to admit. Anyway, he talked some about wanting Christian spirituality to rid his life of hate. And how he loved people who some Christians can’t imagine loving — liberals, homosexuals, hippies, Democrats.

Maybe it’s not always enemies we need to show kindness to, but people outside of our social, political and economic circles.

I want off

The first roller coaster type of ride I was ever on was Space Mountain at Disney World. I don’t remember when this was, but I was an older child, too old for this to have been my first experience with roller coasters. Years later, my brother, cousin and I would stand in line at Six Flags Great America to ride The Demon, which at the time would have been my first upside-down roller coaster if we hadn’t been too freaked out by a malfunction that left riders stranded on one of the loops. We picked another ride.

I wouldn’t say roller coasters are my favorite pastime. We joke around this house that if our daughter continues on her daredevil bent, then my husband will be the one to ride with her, even though he’s not the biggest fan of them either.

I’m not even sure what it is I don’t like. I’ve ridden several in my life and have fond associations of those times. I’m not really a big risk-taker. And I definitely don’t like to be out of control. I suppose those qualities contribute to my anti-roller coaster nature.

Lately I’ve been having a bit of a roller coaster emotional life. One day the world’s as great as can be; the next day I can hardly muster the strength to get on with my day. Some days there are reasons for either or both of these feelings. It’s possible I’m mildly depressed. Having kids can do that to you, I’m told.

But I’m tired of this ride. I want off, in a sense. More than that, I want to enjoy it. I don’t want to fear the clack-clack-clack as the coaster cars climb the hill, uncertain of what’s around the bend. I want to stop gripping the bar that holds me in with white knuckles and have the freedom to throw up my hands and let out a scream of pure exhilaration. I want to look the coaster in the face, so to speak, and tell it I’m not afraid. That I will ride it again and again and again and not lose my lunch.

My recent emotional ride reminds me of a story I once heard. I’ve posted it below. I want off the ride that lets my circumstances determine whether my day is good or bad, whether what happens to me is good for me or bad for me. The Bible says that God works for good in the lives of those who love and trust Him. I want to believe that even the worst things that happen can be worked out for good, even if when they happen, all I can think is how bad they are.

Once there was a farmer who  had one son and one horse.  One day his horse ran away.  When his neighbors heard about it, they came to comfort him. 

“Such bad luck- we’re sorry your only horse ran away.” they said.  

“Who is to say whether it’s good or bad, replied the farmer.  All I can say for sure is, my horse has run away.  Time will tell whether this is good or bad.”  

His neighbors just shook their heads and walked away.

A week later, his horse returned home-  along with 20 wild horses!!!

 His neighbors, upon hearing the news, came to congratulate him. 

“What good luck you have.  Not only did your horse return, but he brought with him 20 more.  Such a lucky man you are!”

“Who is to say whether it’s good or bad-  All I know is my horse has come home along with 20 wild horses-  and leave it at that.” 

Again, his neighbors shook their heads and  scoffed –  “Of course it’s good luck you old fool!  Twenty new horses is obviously good luck!”

The next week the  farmer’s son was out riding in the pen with the new horses, fell off and broke his leg. 

Upon hearing the news, the neighbors came over to comfort the farmer. 

“You were right- Those wild horses were not a sign of good fortune- now your son has broken his leg- and right before the harvest.  Such bad luck!”

 Again the farmer replied- “Why do you constantly want to label something as good or bad.  Why can’t you just say, ‘My son has broken his leg while riding a horse’ and leave it at that.  Who is to say whether it is good or bad?”

Upon hearing this, the neighbors were indignant.

“Listen old man, to have your son break his leg at this time is unfortunate and a sign of bad luck.  You are such a fool to think otherwise.”

The following week, an army came to town and drafted all the eligible young men, and sent them off to war in a far away place.  They did not take the farmer’s son on account of his broken leg.  Afterwards, the people were heartbroken and came to the farmer in tears.

“You were right. Our sons are gone, we’ll probably never see them again. Such bad luck our town has experienced!”

 The old farmer (again) said “Why do you continue to insist an event is good or bad?  We do not know the end from the beginning. Why can’t you just say, Our sons have been drafted, and only time will tell if it is good or not.”

Who the (bleep) are you?

Sometimes it’s annoying being a writer. You hear a phrase, see a word, look at a picture and without warning or permission, your mind begins putting sentences, thoughts, ideas, stories together. And until you let them flow out of your fingers to paper or screen, you are weighed down with them. That’s how it is for me, anyway.

My husband and I were watching “Leap Year” one day last week, and in the movie, there’s a scene where the Irish hero of the story is trying to help Amy Adams’ character get her luggage back from a group of goons. (Goons … that’s my nod to the Myerstown Herald for anyone who has read that poor excuse for a newspaper.) Adams is trying to convince them to give her the luggage back and her traveling companion enters the room with his two cents about the situation. One of the goons replies, “Who the (bleep) are you?”

I’ve heard this phrase so many times before but only that day did it trigger something in my mind. The goons knew who they were dealing with in Adams — she was the girl from whom they stole the luggage. This guy, though? Who was he? And why was he butting in? She had every right to fight for her belongings. What did he have to do with it?

It reminded me of a couple of instances in the Bible where authority is questioned. Jesus, after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, cleared out the temple of those who were using it for personal gain. His actions created no few enemies among the synagogue leaders of the day. He was teaching in the temple and the leaders came to him, asking, “By what authority are you doing these things?” and “Who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23)

In modern parlance, they might as well have asked the same question the goons in the movie did: “Who the (bleep) are you?” A better question, had they known, would have been: “Who in heaven are you?”

They needed Jesus’ credentials to perform miracles, clear the temple, even teach. Their authority was threatened, so they questioned his.

Another time, recorded in Acts, in the life of the early church, seven sons of a Jewish chief priest tried to cast out demons. Acts 19:13-15 says:

Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, ‘In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.’ Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. (One day) the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?'”

The sons then received the worst beating of their lives from the demon-possessed man, and people were in awe of the name of the Lord. Verse 17 says “the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor.”

I don’t know all the ins and outs of that passage and what it means for us, but I know that we are not to use God’s name lightly. At the same time, though, we, Christians, do have some authority in talking about matters of faith. That’s not the same as having all the answers. The more answers I think I have, the more questions I come up with.

I am an authority on my life, however. I know what the Lord has done for me. How He has changed me, held me, grown me, supported me, disciplined me, carried me and blessed me. Of those things, I can confidently speak. Beyond that, I must humbly admit that only God knows. Only He knows why certain things happen in our lives. Only He knows the breakthroughs that are about to occur. Only He can see the end of a situation that to us seems neverending.

Who I am is no contest to who He is.

If Momma ain’t happy …

I walked out on my family today. Sure, it was just for 10 minutes so I could talk a walk around the block and regain some sanity, but in a way, I felt like I was quitting. I could say it’s been a rough week, but I’m not sure that it has. Some really neat things happened this week — conversations that I wouldn’t have expected, deeper friendship, openness to meeting new people, a greater glimpse of God at work in me, my family, this community. Despite a week where the high temperature reached 97-99 four days in a row, I’d call it a great week.

So, what gives? Why did I flip out today? I thought the walk would have helped, and it did somewhat. It prevented me from further yelling at my daughter because she wouldn’t give me a moment’s peace, not even to go to the bathroom. But even after the walk, I still ended up a ball of blubbering tears because Corban wouldn’t take his afternoon nap and I had no idea what to make for supper. I felt like a big, fat, motherhood failure with a capital F. I ran to our bedroom, locked the door and curled up on the bed, seeking just a minute or two of solitude and maybe a wink or two of sleep. My heart cried out to God, the only One to whom I can be 100 percent transparent without fear of judgment.

When it was over, this assault on my mind, I felt like I’d been held by my heavenly Father for a few minutes. Why should this surprise me? Didn’t Jesus say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Rest. For my body. For my soul. Both have been lacking, but the absence of the rest I’ve needed for my soul threw my entire world out of perspective today. I was spiritually tired and willing to believe any thought that entered my mind.

Those same verses, paraphrased in The Message, illustrate for me a better way to live my life.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

“The unforced rhythms of grace” — what a concept. I thought of that as Isabelle helped me with the dishes. She doesn’t do everything the way I want her to. Sometimes she messes up. Do I get angry at her for that? Or do I calmly explain and show her a better way? I know what God would do with me.

So much of how each day with the children goes depends on my attitude, I’m learning. If I start the day pessimistic, worried, anxious, tired or stressed, then chances are, the kids are going to pick up on that. It really is true, that old saying, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

We took another walk tonight, me and the children. All the way around the “moo-cow” block as we sometimes call it. Isabelle didn’t dawdle as much. The weather didn’t bother me as much. She listened to my calm suggestions to stay on the grass and away from the fence, to not run too far ahead of me. We missed, by minutes, getting hit by a baseball that went foul from the park. It hit a parked car where we’d walk just a little bit before. We were gone for 45 minutes or so, and it was lovely.

Attitude, certainly, is everything. And mine can only be right when I take time for spiritual rest.

Gentle. Humble. Easy. Light. These are the things Jesus promises about walking and working with Him. When life is any other way, I fear it’s because I’m trying to do life without Him.

“Apart from me, you can do nothing,” Jesus also said.

I don’t want my life to be nothing. Or hard. Or heavy.

Come to Him, I must.

Waiting game

I’ve discovered the antidote to a good day. It’s the word “no” especially when directed at my 2-year-old daughter. If she even senses that I’m about to use the word “no” in response to her request, she prepares to throw a fit. What’s more, she responds the same way to the word “wait.” In her mind, “wait” and “no” are equally disappointing. Only immediate obedience to her request is acceptable. Funny how it doesn’t work the other way around. I nearly carried her the whole way when we went for a walk around the block today because I had no patience for her dawdling.

Ah, patience. A lost art, right? Or maybe it’s a discipline. Definitely a discipline. Art sounds more fun, and patience is not fun. I guess my daughter and I agree on something. Hearing “wait” is almost as bad as hearing “no.” And boy do I want to pitch a fit sometimes when I sense that God is telling me to wait on something. As I remind my daughter time and again, “wait” and “no” are not the same thing. “Wait” just means I need a little more time to fulfill your request.

One of the hardest waiting games I played with God was for Phil. We were friends for nearly four years before we started dating, and in that time, I pined for him. God said, “Wait.” Reluctantly, I did, even giving up on him a couple of times and turning my attention to other men who were around. When a bombshell hit Phil’s life, I knew then why God had told me to wait. I still wasn’t sure that we’d end up together, but I knew that God had His reasons. Three months before we started dating, I realized I loved Phil, and acknowledging that to myself was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do because I knew that if we weren’t together that I would lose his friendship, too. I could not be just friends with a man I knew I loved. Especially if he loved someone else. The stuff of romance novels and great dramatic movies this was. Or so it felt at the time.

Obviously, we did end up together, and I don’t at all regret listening to God and waiting on His timing. He worked it out more perfectly than I could have. Once again, I’m facing a couple of timing frustrations. God is surely saying, “Wait” where one situation is concerned, yet right now it feels like it might as well be a “no,” and on the other, I’m still not sure. If it’s a “no” I’ll be crushed. I think.

I’d like to think I’m mature enough spiritually to not throw a fit, but I know better than that. I will whine and cry and try to force Him to give me what I want, or think I want, right now, not days, months or years from now when it might be better for me. I will pout and try to manipulate Him into feeling guilty for not giving my desire to me.

And I will be reminded of this: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4, NIV

If I know God, though, He may change the desires of my heart, especially if I spend my time delighting in Him.