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.”