Life Hero

I cannot be the only person hooked on one of those color matching game apps. There’s tons: gems, candies, etc. I’m a smiling vegetable sort of girl. It’s not like I spend a ton of time on this game – at least that’s what I tell myself – but I check in pretty regularly to do some sliding and swiping. It’s satisfying, in the craziness of my life, to see things match up and disappear with ease.

There’s something I notice about myself through these games: I tend play ahead. Even as the vegetables fall, my fingers are already trying swipe my next move. And sometimes, just as I swipe that move, I see something that was even better (it’s even more annoying when the boy points out my mistake). I’ve missed the big move that opened up from the one before, something I couldn’t foresee. My rush, my loss.

I’m learning a lot about life from my Farm Heroes.

It has drawn me to another food-based saga from the Old Testament. The Israelites, wandering in the desert, were given manna every day.

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.'” (Exodus 16:4)

They were to gather and eat only the day’s worth, storing nothing, with the exception of the Sabbath, for which they could gather one extra day. It was a test of their ability to follow God’s instructions, to make sure their lives were dependent on Him and His plan. 

The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.” (Exodus 16:17-18)

Crazy enough, when they did as instructed and measured by God’s standard, they always had enough, even if they fudged a little in their gathering process. God made allowances for their human tendencies and corrected them with grace.

Deliberate disobedience did not meet such understanding.

“Some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.” (Exodus 16:20)

Looking ahead is one thing, fudging and faltering and being generally human similar. God knows we may mess up in our follow-through, and thankfully He’s full of grace. But when we choose to ignore His instructions, we risk ruining tomorrow. I’m struck by how a beautiful gift is spoiled by moving even a moment ahead without God’s blessing, and I wonder why I’m so blasé about seeking Him even in the littlest things. Do I believe He will say no? Most of the time, when I seek Him, I already know His answers. They are often aligned with my heart, thankfully. It’s the act of seeking His blessing that seems critical, that moment of just bowing my head and remember who knows more.

In Farm Heroes, most of the times my moves stay the same, though sometimes there is one I would have missed. Still, would it kill me to be more patient, and to practice that patience with the One whom it matters the most? Because a missed move is nothing; a miss-step from God is everything.

So my question is, how careful am I to practice live by daily bread, checking my schedule’s rations with the One most capable of managing them? How could I make it more of a practice to live by daily bread, and what difference could that make for a life lived light?

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Happy 2014!

I hope that you and yours have been enjoying the holiday season as much as we have. There’s been much lego building, bracelet making, and nap taking. B and I have actually slept in until almost seven on multiple days. We’ve played at Get Air and Legoland, cleaned out the backyard, and consumed our fair share of cookies, chocolate, bacon, and sangria (though thankfully not all at once). I feel so blessed to have wrapped up the year in such a wonderful way.

It truly was a wonderful year. I looked back at my old resolutions and was thrilled to find only one: to live light. And I did! I lived the lightest light: I lived by FAITH.My mantra has been TRUST, and I’ve had to repeat it to myself almost daily. But it’s also led me into new friendships, new responsibilities, and a new career that I absolutely love. If I had one testimony to give from 2013, it’s that trusting in God and living my faith leaves you doubly blessed: first because you leave the worrying up to the One in charge, and second because you experience exactly what He designed you for.

This year, I have a few smaller goals I hope to meet, like purging the closet and garage, appreciating my volunteers, and running a strong VBS (the biggest adventure, since no one in our family has experienced a VBS. No one. Ahem.). But my biggest prayer and goal for this coming year is FOCUS. Focus on God’s will, focus on the tasks required to accomplish it, focus on what matters. As I look at those smaller goals I’ve been tossing around, they really lead back to this one big commitment. I hope I return here in no year feeling like I really know and understand what I’m doing for the Lord, as much as that’s ever possible, and am doing it with intentionality and purpose.

All that to say, this will be my first and last post for 2014. Of course, God always reserves the right to require something different, but for now, I feel like this is the right step. Thank you to all those who have faithfully followed my journey–I wish you all a blessed 2014!

A life surprised

For my 30th birthday, B threw me a surprise party. In the weeks leading up to it, there were countless odd conversations (if you were going to order food from somewhere, or do you still like Costco cake conversations, etc). Friends were strangely distant, flexible plans seemed set in stone. The weekend of my birthday, I was terribly sick and asked to postpone my parents’ visit, but B insisted I’d be fine (I was not fine, I was beginning our swine flu ordeal, but I’m glad I didn’t protest).

B sent me out with my mom to get my nails done. When I returned home, B called me into the kitchen, and when I walked in, everyone yelled, “Surprise!”

I turned around and walked out of the room. Yep. My friends and family had gone to great lengths to surprise me, and I walked right out.

Surprise is hard to process.

Seconds later, I walked back in and started taking the most wonderful hugs you could imagine. Hugs not just of appreciation and joy, but also of relief. All the strange distance and confusion of the previous weeks melted away in the warmth of such love, love that would plan and prepare and work so hard to make my birthday really and truly special.

I feel as though God has thrown a surprise party for my life.

For what seems like ever, I’ve struggled to understand God’s plan for my life. I do not recommend this. God’s plan and his timing work just fine on their own, thank you very much. But I like to know. So I’ve struggled, prayed, tried and let go. I’m decently good at being obedient, so we’ve walked a path, God and I, but I was always trying to figure it out. Why would you lead me into writing when I don’t like publishing? Why would you take away these friends, the cakes, my ministries?

God never left me. But he didn’t fill me in, either. Your adventure is still to come, he told me. So I waited, patient but aching.

God wasn’t kidding.

A few months ago, eager to find my place in our church, I offered to help in the children’s ministry. In the following weeks, the director and I tried to find the right niche for me. I enjoyed everything I tried, but didn’t have a heart for anything specific. The fear set in again–another disappointment.

Then the director asked me to cover for her one Sunday, even though I was barely qualified to cover for anyone in the ministry, least of all the director. But I agreed to anyway. That morning was amazing! I loved welcoming parents, encouraging the staff, and organizing the materials. I was so shocked by how satisfying the ministry was, and what a good fit it was for my skills.

Lord, I’ve never even thought about a position in ministry, and I know I’m not qualified, but I love this work. If you want this for me someday, I trust that you will open the doors.

And that was it. I lifted up my prayer and left it go.

The next Sunday, the children’s director told me she was leaving and that the pastors wanted me to interview for her position.

Surprise!

I could not believe it. Even though I had asked for such an opening, I didn’t actually expect it would happen, and especially not in a single week. I told her about my prayer, and three days and two interviews later, I accepted the position. Scared to death of the responsibility, the permanency, the change in lifestyle to two working parents, but all in, because God asks nothing less.

It’s a dream job–part-time with full-time potential, flexibility on working at home or bringing the kids with me, and full of opportunities to use all of my different talents. Suddenly the decisions God had directed made sense, the things he took away and the doors he chose to close. Since then, I’ve been filled not just with joy for the tremendous opportunity I’ve been given, but also with relief. There was a purpose for it all, just as God promises:

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ (Jeremiah 29:11)

I always trusted God, but I’d be lying if I said I always believed that verse. Sometimes, like when B planned that surprise party, you have to trust that the people around you love you, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. God is no different. He’s got big plans for each of us, and sometimes those are clear, and sometimes those are surprises.

I have a feeling I needed the surprise. I needed to be kept in the dark a little, because I learned both trust and patience. Plus I know me–I would have planned the dickens out of this career, had I known where I was heading, and probably would have missed out on building the skills he really needed me to have. Then there’s the reward, the giant payoff, which creates a whole new level of trust and respect–two things I will definitely need on a career in ministry.

Still, surprise is hard to process. I had no intention of getting a job, and when I pictured the job I might someday have, this never came to mind. I stand in awe of God’s planning, and I bow to his supreme authority. I hope I will never forget this feeling, that it may keep me forever mindful that I am second, and privileged to be so.

Suffice to say, as I start working, things like this blog will have to play second fiddle. I’m not sure what God has planned for my writing, whether it will be used within or outside of my position, but I now trust him with abiding humility. Right now, I’m focused on honoring his plan for me, and that includes clearing some mental space to get that done.

Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Fresh breath

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord. (Psalms 150:6)

Go ahead: take a breath. Make it a deep one.

Let it out.

Repeat.

I read once that a well-lived life is almost always busy. I’m good with that. This has been our summer of activities. The kids are trying both regular and new sports, and we are squirrel-proofing our backyard garden. B and I are both working at the church, plus attending leadership meetings and bible study. I’m prepping PTA and Moms in Prayer programs for the coming year.

But just because we’re full of activity doesn’t meant there hasn’t been down time. Many of our days have long stretches of Lego building, book reading, and swimming. We play occasionally with friends but not often. Mostly we’re satisfied by our plates, and considering how full they are, it’s no wonder. There’s always something to do, even if that’s resting.

Given the pace, I lose my connection to God. Then I lose my patience, focus, and joy. I struggled to find the “method” that would keep that connection going. Scripture memorization. Bible study. Journaling. But in the midst of our lives–which sometimes feels like God-directed chaos–these all seemed so hard. Too complicated, too much. And yet I know that I need that connection, that He certainly means for me to have it even while doing everything else. But how?

This verse changed my life.

I memorized it via a worship CD. Then I really began thinking about it. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Take a breath. Let it out with that verse. Praise the Lord. Instead of working at that connection, it came naturally, just through that simple action.

God stays so close, and makes it so easy. Of all the things on my plate, this takes up the least room, and yet is the very most satisfying. When everything else is so crazy, why try to make it so much harder than it needs to be?

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord indeed!

Filling the pool

My parents just sold my childhood home. Since I was eighteen months old when they bought it, I don’t remember any other house. As I drove away for the last time, I realized that I would never walk in that front door anymore, never swim in that pool, never have breakfast at that table or watch tv in that family room–the places where I spent my entire life until I left for college, the places I still called home long after I’d made another. I felt like I needed to grab all those memories as though they were bubbles, bent on bursting into nothingness. and ironically, these bubbles had already burst ages ago. How to catch them now?

And then I realized: I already had.

As I dug into my past, I was surprised what I came up with. Holding my cat in the living room, crying over a boy. Kissing a different boy in the pool. Kissing the right boy in that family room, the boy who would become my husband. Playing video games on the floor with my mom. Playing on the stairs with my sister. Playing by myself with a little Lego animal family. Moment after moment, all based in that house, the backdrop of my childhood.

I thought they were gone, those moments, because they burst. All moments burst. But they collect as well. The pool of our memories is deep, and surprisingly tight. No, I don’t remember it all. But there was considerable comfort in how much I could remember, even twenty-five or thirty years later.

I took my sweet ones to Disneyland a few weeks ago, just me and them. In all the craziness of summer crowds, with only one adult for two children, we flitted through our day with surprising ease. It was amazing, just spending time creating memories with them. I meant to come home and record all those memories–squeezing into a single car on Buzz Lightyear or getting soaked by a stuck parade float while holding a less-than-thrilled K. The feeling of their warm little hands still seeking mine out,  an inseparable row of three.

Meant to record them, but didn’t.

I’ve accepted the fact that this season of my life is messy, busy, hectic. God has packed it full right now, and it therefore lacks the simplicity that I admire in some other people’s lives. But this is our road, and I praise Jesus for the blessing that it is. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Still, between end of school activities and M’s birthday party and our summer vacation, the craziness reached a new level, and with that came the return of anxiety over the weight of the carpe diem battle cry of motherhood–that we should be recognizing all those little moments and appreciating them as they float past us. We leap for one and it floats, pops, slips right past. Even if we grab one, we’ve missed three in the process.

But they’re still there. Just because we didn’t necessarily appreciate it at the time doesn’t mean we lived it any less. Sometimes the whirlwind is just part of the experience, instead of a hindrance to it.

I’m all for slowing down and enjoying life. I’m the one who waits patiently while my kids read every last sign in the Tarzan treehouse, or who builds Lego creations for (what feels like) hours on end. But there’s also joy in the frenzy, and I just because I can’t appreciate now doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it later.

Take a deep breath. Yes, they are growing up before your eyes. Yes, life is whipping past you every second. But that’s okay. You’re growing and whipping along with it. Praise God for constructing us so capably, for giving us not just life abundant, but the ability to enjoy it both now and in the future. God promises that “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). That brimming-full pool of memories will be all the more refreshing when we get a chance to really swim.

A Capitol Fourth–the top eight things I learned in Washington, D.C.

[Also known as why haven’t posted in ages. Because trips with small children take a lot–a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of energy. They also pay back in the most amazing joy imaginable.]

  • I’m the sweetest member of the family–given that I had 10+ bug bites and the rest of the family had one. In total. For the three of them. Talk about taking one (or ten) for the team.
  • I’m also the most patriotic/filmable–until I freak out on camera. Which will happen about one nanosecond after I see myself on-screen. Google the Capitol fourth for 2013 and you’ll see why. I guarantee I don’t love Barry Manilow as much as it seems. Neil Diamond is a whole other story.
  • If you give the kids unlimited access to iPads and permission to have chips for dinner, they will still play gem store in the hotel room and request some real food instead. No dice on getting them to choose something other than soda to drink.
  • Being on the Capitol lawn on July fourth is hotter than you can imagine (hot enough to shut down said iPad). It will still be the most amazing Fourth of July experience you’ve ever had, and not just because of Barry Manilow or Neil Diamond. There’s something about celebrating our country in the Capitol with thousands of other people willing to spend their day doing it. Plus flags and fireworks. It was the quintessential fourth celebration.
  • Museums suck you in interesting with their endless supply of oddities, but the kids will nonetheless request to return to the botanic gardens every single day. I guess those iPads haven’t ruined them yet.
  • I know a lot more about history than I thought, and I’m also more proud of it than ever before. That’s a souvenir I’m happy to take home with me.
  • We have a lot of conversations about squirrels. Just saying.
  • God is good, everywhere, all the time–in the blessings He’s given to us that make these trips possible, in the goodness of our children, in the safety He provides, in the patience and stamina He graces us with–even when I’m too busy enjoying those things to be giving Him the glory, He still doesn’t cease lavishing it on me. Praise God from whom all blessings–Capitol fourth included–flow!

Awesome imperfection

I’ve been a little overwhelmed lately by some perfection messages. One of my dear friends wrote recently about her struggles regarding the messiness of her faith. Somehow she–and let’s face it, many of us–feels like it should have some shiny glow. That there should be constant communion with God, memorized scripture, extended times of prayer, and enriching quiet times alongside corporate study.

Where did we get the impression that’s what faith should look like?

When I hit the scriptures, faith looks messy. It’s believing in something unseen and often unfelt. It’s standing out against the backdrop of our culture. It’s being aware of our shortcomings, of what we lack, of what a terrible price Christ paid for us. It’s sounding crazy sometimes, defending miracles and resurrections and archaic biblical messages, not to mention the conversations we–by most reasonable assessment–should not be having.

Nothing about true faith sounds shiny to me.

Motherhood neither. As Mother’s Day rolls past, we’re crying at our kindergarteners singing about us seeing them as beautiful, those little voices rising with semi-synchronized hand gestures, our minds full of times we’ve made them feel otherwise (like this very morning when I suggested to K that she might want different leggings that matched her dress and suddenly I’ve crushed her into thinking her idea isn’t okay. Way to blow it, mom). I read yet another post about how much I’m missing when I check my iPhone or run to Walmart during M’s karate, how many moments are slipping through my fingers, how much more I should be present, how much more I should enjoy.

Where did we get that message either?

I can point a few fingers: those blog posts, magazines, Pinterest. What’s worse, often the alternative messages are denigrating. Moms “confess” they’ve resorted to McDonald’s and/or locking themselves in the closet so that we can bond over the okay-ness of our failure. Even there we have this notion that there is a perfect ideal that we’re somehow all missing. The other message that stings is the “anyone can do this!” cheerfulness. I know we are trying to encouraging when we say “anyone can make this craft!” or “anyone can throw this recipe together!” But when we can’t, we feel like a failure.

Motherhood is messy, too. It’s hit the ground running in a rush of hormones and exhaustion. It’s everything changing. It’s diapers and sleepless nights, arguments, discipline. It’s teaching and standing back (and sometimes guessing when to do which one). It’s a huge thing, raising a little person. There’s so much for them to soak in–and do we ever expect them to take it all in? Or more than that: to stand back and recognize that the are taking it all in, while taking it all in?

In faith, motherhood, and life in general, there are so many different things we could do, and always something left unchosen. Life is messy, especially when you live it abundantly. So instead of the expectations, the self-deprecation, the shiny Pinterest perfection of which we fall woefully short, I would like to push this message:

You. Are. Awesome.

Try saying it to yourself. Try saying it again out loud. Try really meaning it. Because you are. Period. Even without memorized scripture or handmade felt decor. Even with McDonald’s and an empty prayer journal. None of these things will make you any more or less awesome. You are awesome because the maker of the universe knit you together, one molecule at a time.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t work at our faith, our mothering, our lives. But don’t work to be awesome. Work because you’re awesome, and God means for you to enjoy that, in action and in rest. And trying to balance that in a broken world is messy. An awesome mess, but messy nonetheless. Being frustrated with that just shows that we are meant for someplace perfect. Perfect sounds great, but for now, I’ll settle for awesome imperfection.