Joy Stealers

When I was a senior in high school my uncle Steve was killed in a car accident. The following Sunday I was singing in the praise team at church and I remember my pastor’s wife coming to me and saying that she could just see the joy of the Lord in me, even on a day of tragedy.

All these years later and her words still stick with me. I often think, can others see the joy of the Lord in me?   Can my children? Can my husband? When I think of Joy I think of something deeper than happiness.  While happiness is often fleeting, joy remains when hard times come.  We are not going to be happy every minute of the day, but we can choose deep joy because we have Jesus. We have joy because of His love for us.  We know all of this true.

Yet, if we know this to be true, why on a daily basis do we choose to curl up in our own little sad shell and not be joyful?  One word, idolatry. My husband often says, “the root of all sin is idolatry and the root of idolatry is radical self-centeredness and selfishness. It’s wanting what we want more than what God wants.”

On any given day there are several boxes I like to check off on my “happy list”. My list can vary but the items consistently include- time in the morning to be quiet and read, time to exercise uninterrupted, good coffee beans in my possession, time to get ready and not feel like a slob, a good breakfast, time to pick up said good breakfast, happy children, happy children who are helpful and not arguing. While this is all well and good on the surface it can become dangerous when the very things that contribute to our happiness, begin to steal our joy when they are unmet.

We have a word for the things in life that we allow to give us meaning, value and purpose that we should only derive from Jesus. Idols. What we are saying when we allow our joy to be dictated by the things on our happy list is that they are more important than what we know to be true in King Jesus.

Do I get to be short tempered with my kids because my morning didn’t go just how I like?  No.  Choosing grumpiness is not just selfishness, but idolatry. If I am letting all of my “wants” cause my attitude to be sour than I am no better off then my 1,3,5 and 7 year olds.  Sometimes it feels impossible to reset the day when everything is not going correctly.

Yet, in those moments, rather than being crushed I can lift up my day, attitude and frustrations to my Heavenly Father OVER AND OVER AND OVER. I know that I can’t be the mother and the wife He has called me to be without complete reliance on him.

Friends, we shouldn’t allow our circumstances to be joy stealers! Every day I have to remind myself that the moments of crabbiness, sleepiness and immaturity on behalf of my kids and myself are part of mothering/parenting and this is what I am called to do right now. If I lose joy over little things such as this, how am I any different then one of my children who might throw themselves on the floor when they are upset?

I am begging the Lord for His joy to take over my day and my attitude.  I am asking for His unwavering love to be present when I have let too much of myself in the way.

Quick side note.. as a mom I know that I do need to take care of myself.  I do need to take time to do things that feed my soul which in turn make me a better mother, wife, friend. My point is when you have those moments, soak them up and be refilled!  Other times though lets put aside our selfish ways and love like Jesus.  I pray that the Joy of the Lord flows out of me even if I am in yesterdays clothes, eating cereal and stuck inside playing kitchen for the billionth time.  This is what I signed up for.  Lord, let all of You pour out of me.  I want the Joy of the Lord to be seen in me, even inside my house when the door is closed.

 

Father’s Day Reflections 2017

Father’s Day has always been an incredibly bitter sweet day for me. For many years the bitter was all I tasted as I was filled with a lot of anger, pain and resentment. My dad has never lived up to my expectations; yet I imagine he hasn’t lived up to his own expectations either. This feeling is a lot like I feel about my fifteen year old Volkswagen; the idea of how great it could be is far better than what I get to drive around everyday.

I gave up being bitter a long time ago. For many years, the root of my bitterness came more from feeling like I lost something I was owed more than any real anger I had towards him as a man. I felt like he took something from me, innocence, money, security, freedom. Mostly, he just took time.

When I look in the mirror I see glimpses of him. I see him in my eyes and my hair. I can smell him in my aftershave, hear him in my own laugh and quick wit, and feel him in my own pride, arrogance and anger. In my most honest moments I will tell you my greatest fears all revolve around being like him, and the danger of throwing life’s most important things away in selfishness and addiction.

If I mourn the loss of anything, I mourn the loss of his life in my life. When I was a senior in High School I remember sitting on the pock marked linoleum in the kitchen of our rental house crying uncontrollably because I didn’t know how to put line on my fishing pole. I felt deficient. I felt lost. I felt alone. I mourn the loss of all his knowledge, skill and insight. There have been many times I’ve wondered how deficient my own fatherhood is because of this. What skills, knowledge, history will not make it to the next generation because it failed to be passed on to this one?

If I mourn the loss of anything, I mourn his loss of my life in his life. God has been and is so so good. My wife is a treasure, like the first cup of coffee in the morning. She is so unbelievably consistent, yet everyday with her is still like Christmas. My children, my four children, are like the most glorious kaleidoscope, with colors whirling, and dancing, and spinning, always moving and never ever boring. Yet, like a man without sight, he is unable to see. He is unable to see all this good, all this glory, all this joy.

As I sit and think about my story, my mind often returns to the goodness of God and the words of King David in both 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles, “Who am I oh Lord, and what is my family that you have brought me this far? And you didn’t stop there, oh God! You have also spoken about the future of your servants family.” David, in awe of what God would do with someone like him and his family offers praise at what has happened and joyful expectation of what is coming. May I be and do the same.

 

Homeschool Recap 2017

I guess yesterday was our last school day of the year.  It was supposed to be Wednesday but due to family sickness we bumped it back!

The kids have been anxious to have a last day and with a big vacation coming up this seems logical. I see the value in marking an end to something you have been working on for months and months. We used My Fathers World to guide our study though Early American History as well as Kindergarten. This was my third year officially homeschooling and my first year teaching two at the same time. This is the first year where I don’t feel we fully completed everything. Even though part of me wants to keep pushing. I’m beginning to realize this is the beauty of learning, and a big reason I love to homeschool.

If I weave learning into our daily life then learning never ends.

While there is value in taking a break from school, for me just as much as the kids, learning never goes on vacation. So, my plan as we move into the next year is to pick right up where we left off.  It’s not a race and we aren’t on any set schedule.

I also know that as valuable as history, science, and language are, there are many other things that we need to give time to. Summer gives us that opportunity. I want to cook with my kids more without feeling like I’m making us fall behind. I want to explore and say yes to more board games. I also want to give them more space to grow in areas of personal interest. Plus we want to swim! I’m welcoming this change of season and looking forward to feeling refreshed moving into a new year.

A couple of years ago the fact that I didn’t complete every single kindergarten unit with Levi would have drove me crazy. This year I’m going to look at it a little differently. Did Levi learn this year? Yes! Was progress made? Yes! And I am thankful! While we will continue to work, I realize the bigger picture. The books I purchase to guide my teaching are merely that, a guide. While for many who choose homeschooling this is an early revelation, for me it has taken some time to shake off the need to check all the boxes.

I learned this year to be more free with my kids in their learning. When math was becoming a very frustrating time every single day, I set the reset button. I took a several month break from our typical curriculum and switched to a story form math. Is my child “behind”? Possibly. I don’t really know. Yet, last week that same child has picked up her previous Math book and has been thriving, it is being understood and there are even smiles!

I also learned this year about the concept of a morning time, which my kids like to call “cozy time”. It looked a little different every day, but it was a general time to come together either at the dining room table, the living room or outside to read the Bible, memorize verses together, read poems, sing hymns, draw, read a chapter in a book, learn about a piece of art. This concept is becoming popular and I thoroughly enjoyed implementing into our day.

Overall I would say I saw a big shift in my teaching style this year. I see the value in having good books all around us. I see that my relationship with my children is more valuable than butting heads day in and day out over a math assignment. I know now that taking a “break” from something is necessary. I can tell when we need a day without any books because there is too much to learn outside. This year was not perfect or easy but I am thankful for grace and how God fills in the gaps where we feel we fall short.

Being the people we are raising our kids to be-Trying New Things

I love my daughter. I love all 3 of my daughters. I love my son too, just in case he’s reading this, (he’s not…he’s five). Our oldest daughter is 7 and she is smart, determined, and loves to read. She takes leadership of many things, siblings included, and she is a perfectionist, which is a tough combination to contend with when you are doing something new.

Whether it is math, piano, or baseball, if she can’t preform the task perfectly the first time, she wants to give up. Tears run, voices are raised, bedroom doors are slammed shut in frustration. Over and over, the words of her mother and I come, “Babe, you can’t expect to do something perfectly the first time. If you want to get better at something you have to practice.” Often, our words go unheeded.

I was recently asked to write a couple things for a good friend and mentor who is developing a training curriculum for new church planters. I said yes because I love and respect my friend, and I believe in the project he is working on. Yet, as I began to write I was so frustrated! Nothing was coming out right, I hated what I had written and wanted to give up over and over again. My internal dialogue was filled with biting questions, “Why can’t this be easier, sound better, or come out right? Why is this so difficult?”

Why is it, when we can challenge our kids to try new things, to practice, and keep going, even when something is new and difficult, we as the adults become so discouraged and want to give up when we do the same? The reasons are legion. For me, the questions sound like this, “What if I suck at this? What if people hate what I write? What if I hate what I write? What if someone actually reads this and has an opinion for good or ill?” While I like to talk a big and inspired game to my kids about doing new things, working to get better at what I struggle with, and not giving up; often my fear of failure, the opinion of others, and my pride combine to short circuit my good intentions.

It’s helpful to remind ourselves that before we do something well, we have to do it poorly, and before we do it poorly, we have to suck at it. The quicker we get about the business of being terrible, the quicker we can perform adequately, then reasonably, then exceptionally. Anne Lamont says, “it takes a thousand paragraphs to find one good one.” Yet, you don’t get the good one without the thousand bad ones. It was that initial ask by my friend to write for him that made me realize my deficiency and then commit to writing more, albeit terribly to begin with. Hence, the great amount of activity on this site as of late.

With anything we put our energy towards we will run into those that throw stones, cast dispersions or generally don’t like us. Yet, that only matters if we are doing it for them and their approval. If not, just keep going, grinding and realize the reward is ultimately internal, in the process of getting better. If we are raising our kids to be the best possible versions of themselves, we owe it to them and us, to be the people we are raising them to be.

Thoughts on Marriage Conflict

It happened again. An argument. Even as I sit and write I cannot remember what the argument was about. In all likelihood the argument was a direct result of something one of us said that the other chose to take in the worst possible light; the assumed detection of a voice inflection that changed a normal question into an accusation. “What did you have for lunch?” morphs into, “What did YOU have for lunch?” and BOOM it’s on like Donkey Kong.

Why does marriage have to be such a dogfight, a fight to communicate, a fight to have, receive and give grace? Why does it have to be a fight to give worth and value, a fight to continually seek the best and want the best for your partner? Why does it feel like a daily grind to put off selfishness and self-centered behavior?

The reality that makes marriage work is an unashamed commitment to marriage as a covenantal relationship as opposed to a consumer relationship. In his great book, “The Meaning of Marriage”, Tim Keller reminds us of the danger we face today,

“In contemporary Western society the marketplace has become so dominant that the consumer model increasingly characterizes most relationships that historically were covenantal, including marriage. Today we stay connected to people as long as they are meeting our particular needs at an acceptable cost to us. When we cease to make a profit-that is, when the relationship appears to require more love and affirmation from us than we are getting back-then we ‘cut our loses’ and drop the relationship. This has also been called ‘commodification’, a process by which social relationships are reduced to economic exchange relationships, and so the very idea of covenant is disappearing in our culture.”

When we covenant in marriage we recognize that God is using this union to sharpen, refine and sanctify us. The commitment to the covenant supersedes how either of us “feels” at any given moment, because it is sustained by the God who initiated the covenant to begin with. Tragically, if we aren’t watchful, we will quickly move our marriage from a relationship of covenant to one of consumer and treat our spouse like our cell phone or cable tv provider.

So, how do we combat this danger? A couple thoughts.

First, treat your personal selfishness as the main problem of your marriage: Keller again; “If two spouses each say, ‘I’m going to treat my self-centeredness as the main problem in the marriage,’ you have the prospect of a truly great marriage.” Confession, I have to remind myself of this multiple times a week.

Secondly, take your marriage, but not yourself seriously: One prayer request I right down each morning is for Jessica and I in our marriage. If I take our marriage seriously, I need to battle for it in prayer. Also, most of the “spats” Jessica and I get in could either be avoided, or are ended, when I realize I’m being too uptight. The solution is for me to laugh at myself or the situation. Laughing at your own ridiculousness cures many ailments.

Finally, remember that your wife was your beloved bride, before she was the mother of your children. Remember her always for who she was to you at first and act and treat her accordingly. Ann Voskamp wrote about it beautifully here.

Friends since marriage is a dogfight, lets be sure we are fighting with our spouse against our enemy instead of with our enemy against our spouse.

Marriage 12 plus years in

It’s funny how after 12 plus years of marriage I can still feel “new” at this whole wife thing. I mean, how long do you have to live in a role to have it figured out? One would think twelve years is long enough to work out all the kinks.

Why is grace so hard to give to my husband? When I have a decent day with my kids, why do the struggles I have come out in resentment towards him when he comes home and I refuse to be loved? Why is welcoming the praises difficult, when choosing negativity isn’t?

I have an idea, and it’s not new or original. Our family is under attack by an enemy who wants to destroy us. I wake up in the morning and try to squeeze in as much Truth from the Word as I can before little ones awake. I read of grace and truth and the Love of the Father, and I can FEEL IT and I KNOW IT! I feel embraced by truth and grace. I count my gifts and I pray to be a blessing. Then little ones awake, the day really gets going. I strive and I strive and I fill needs. I push down frustration and I clean messes. I make meals and I sing of Jesus love with my kids while we unload the dishwasher. I teach and discipline and then my dear one comes home and it is like I just can’t do it any longer. Without even trying, a wall is built between he and I because I’m tired and I’m broken and it’s just hard.

Twelve plus years in and we are still learning how to communicate. We probably will always be adjusting. I am begging the Lord for His grace. I pray that I hear the words of my husband and that I stop to let him hug me. I am praying that I look for opportunities to put my hands on his tired shoulders. I want these walls torn down. Resentment is not what I want filling my heart. The kids and I talk almost daily about the fruits of the Spirit. We talk and pray that our hearts would overflow with peace, love, joy, kindness, goodness and self control. We have some amazing days and then we have some very real days. I couldn’t ask for a better man to go through hard things with. I pray that I wouldn’t only think that is true, but I would believe it and say it.

You wont be seven forever

I took you out last night, Daddy Daughter Date. You were so excited. You looked so pretty. When your brother looked at you in your blue dress, midnight, the color I remember half moon lake where I grew up, he said, “You look like a women!” his cheeks blushing. The necklace was made with your own hands, and you were both beautiful. Your mom took our picture, and that’s when I saw it, you wont be seven forever.

I walked you to the Volkswagen, and you climbed into the back seat, a mess of arms and legs. You were slightly annoyed at having to ride in your old cast off booster seat, and I had to help buckle you in, but I will take it today.

The dinner was Italian buffet and you ate two plates of spaghetti and noodles, and two breadsticks. I even got you a cherry Sprite, and you were so happy. I know in 10 years it will take more than a cherry Sprite for you to be happy, but I will take it today.

Rainbow sherbet for dessert and we took a silly picture with a polaroid camera, the memory of the evening seared onto photo paper, and that’s when I knew it, you wont be seven forever.

You gave me a handwritten card that said you loved me because I was “Brilent” . Please always give me cards. You held my hand as we walked through the parking-lot and called it a perfect night, commenting on the nice breeze, the moon rising, and how nice we both looked. I opened the door for you and you said excitedly, “Daddy! You are like a gentlemen in disguise!” That’s when I heard it, you wont be seven forever.

I know in 10 years it will take more than noodles, cherry Sprite and holding my hand for you to be happy, but I will take it today. Even though you wont be seven forever, you are seven today, and that is enough.

 

Sweet Spots

Yes… I do post lots of pictures of the best moments of my day. Why? Because I think we need that reminder sometime.

Real life in my house is always messy, lots of sibling fights, short remarks I make to my husband after a long day with the kids. Real life is me trying to keep my eyes open to make it through another lesson… Opening the fridge at 5:30 and thinking what on earth will I make for dinner when remnants of school and snacks liter the kitchen ( along with ALL the Tupperware on the floor… By my 14 month old😉).

I get so tired and the kids are needy and I’m needy…

But then a great moment happens and I snap a picture because right along with the crazy is the beauty. We just have to stop and recognize it.

Happy Mother’s Day to all those mothering. To those serving, loving and giving day after day.

Don’t forget to find the beautiful in the mess. I’m not trying to hide my mess from anyone. Just trying to remember all the sweet spots.

Lessons from failure

This post is the 3rd in a three part series on my Leadership Failures in Church Planting. The first two posts can be viewed, here and here.

As I said in part 1, worse than failure is the failure to learn from failure, and learn plenty I did. Below are a few things I learned and also why I’m grateful for the failure.

We battle not against flesh and blood

One of the main things Dr. Suarez told us aspiring planters in seminary is, “Church Planting is Spiritual warfare.” Over and over again, he would illustrate and exhort to us the seriousness of this charge. Over and over again, I failed to remember and take this seriously. Our enemy hates new churches , he hates new disciples and disciple makers. If we are not constant in incessant in prayer, we fail before we begin.

Ego is not your amigo

I heard this from Scot Thomas and now say it to myself at least once a day. Every leadership failure I experienced in planting is directly connected to my ego. Mainly this took the form on not asking for help when I needed

We fall to the level of our training, not rise to the level of our expectation.

I have yet to meet a church planter who doesn’t have a large and compelling vision for what they hope God will do through their life and ministry. Nobody stands before partners and parishioners proclaiming mediocre hope for the future. Yet, as grand as our aspirations are, they are fools gold if we don’t properly equip ourselves and our people. My hope was for De Soto Community Church to be a church planting church up and down the K-10 corridor in Kansas. I desired that we would host interns, raise up missionaries, and send those missionaries to plant more multiplying churches. As good as it sounded then, (and still sounds good now), the reality is, I had never walked through an internship, been part of a multiplying ministry, or at that point, planted a single church myself. It was ridiculous to think I would “magically” do something I hadn’t adequately prepared myself to do, no matter how much I hoped it to be so.

 

Why I’m grateful I failed

Failure helped form my identity

Failure has never been an acceptable outcome for me. Setbacks? Yes. Learning opportunities? Of course! Failure? NO! Yet, with all my stubbornness, bluster and determination, here I was failing. It almost crushed me. In failing in our plant, I was reminded where my worth truly comes from. My identity as a blood bought child of the King was never dependent on the success of my church plant, and it took the loss of the plant for me to know that unequivocally.

Failure humbled me

If we would have “succeeded” and all of my wildest planting dreams would have come true, my already enormous head would have become a virtual planetoid. Failing helped remind me there is more than one way to plant a healthy and reproducing church. The way I chose to plant isn’t the best or only way. This has been invaluable in my current work serving church planters and partner churches. I am much more open to new ideas, methods and models of planting, as well as my perception of who would make a “good” church planter.

One more thing…

Never let the fear of failure keep you from adventurous risk in ministry. Worse than failing is not doing anything at all. If that’s not enough, take a word from my favorite President and ‘Dare Greatly’.

Resources that helped me.

Falling Upward: This book was given to me by a great friend and mentor in the wake of what was unfolding. Regardless of what you make of Rohr’s theology, the lens through which he gives us to view life is refreshing, honest and helpful

Ego is the Enemy: This book is second only to Extreme Ownership in what I’ve most recommended for everyone to read this past year. Thoroughly researched and incredibly helpful; Holiday confronts us with uncomfortable personal truth and gives us a preferred way to deal with it. Another of his books, Obstacle is the Way is great as well.

Extreme Ownership: I tell everyone they need a whole lot of Jesus and a moderate amount of Jocko in their life. This book finally helped me to call failure what it was and gave me some solid hooks to hold on to for processing and planning better.

Making of a Leader: This book is seminal for understanding how God is building you as a leader through different phases of life. Where the Rohr book aims at the heart, this aims at the head.

Choosing what is real

As I sit in a coffee shop I’m pondering authenticity. In a world where fake is everywhere, it can be difficult to decipher what is real.This coffee shop doesn’t mess around. My plate came out with bread that went through a slow process of refinement by the hands of people I can see as I write. The eggs and bacon…(oh the Bacon!) are freshly fried. Even the jam is perfectly crushed from fresh fruit. It is wonderful.

Does it cost a little more? Yes. Did I have to wait? Of course.

In this moment though, I wonder why I would ever want to settle for less. What is there to gain from rushing through life? Why do we choose to fuel ourselves, mind, body, and soul with things that aren’t real?

I challenge you to experience something real today.

Get outside. Have a conversation with someone in person. Make something from scratch and actually enjoy the process and the mess. Write something by hand.

Don’t settle for a high-fructose filled life, when God made sugar and called it good! Seek to find the “real” amongst the everyday.

When I take the time and search for what is real amongst the fake, I am constantly reminded of Christ, His goodness, His Love, His Mercy. I am reminded of the gifts He gives us every single day.

A few gifts I’m thankful for today…

  1. alone time with my eldest daughter.
  2. a long talk last night with my husband even though our kids were still awake
  3. sunshine in the early morning after several mornings of rain
  4. being outside of my house for a little bit this morning and reminded of life happening outside my walls
  5. hot coffee in a ceramic mug
  6. learning with my kids on the back porch

Everyday we choose. Everyday we choose to either seek after what is real, or settle for what is false. Today, and hopefully tomorrow, I choose real.

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