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?

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!

All good things require some strength

They were so excited. A new teacher, a new class, a new year, plus all their old friends.

I clung to summer.

2am found me still awake, crying. Just one more day, Lord. One more week. Forever. 6am came anyway, with youthful giddiness and packed backpacks and chocolate chip bagels. My babies so big, so ready.

It feels like I’ve pulled my heart from my chest and sent it off with them.

I know the plan God has for us. I know it means being in the local school, ministering to our community in the process. I know keeping them home would be self-seeking. But I want to anyway. I pray for forgiveness, for a new focus, for hands willing to take what God has for them, instead of holding on to what I must let go.

It was such a great summer. Breathtaking! We had so much, with such a great balance of friends and family, of staying home and going out. We built and rebuilt Legos, forts, obstacle courses. We swam and swam and swam. We went to the park, the beach, Nickel City, the movies. We experimented with Mentos and cookie dough and moon sand (though not all at once).

These babies of mine, they’re at such a sweet age. They’re tall, responsible, opinionated. They’re losing interest in picture books and toddler programming, but they’re also discovering new foods and books and skills. K has mastered the cartwheel and is now working on doing them one-handed. M nearly has the lay-up. We tried our first summer camp–a half day karate camp for M–and he was beyond bummed we hadn’t signed up for a second week. And yet they are still young–still pretending stuffed animals are real and Orbeez are pets and making up restaurants and art shops and letters for us. They still reach for my hands, still hug me with abandon.

Maybe I’m holding this moment so tight because I know how soon it will be gone.

As I wrote M a note for his lunch, I wondered if he’d be embarrassed yet. If there was something I would say that would make him blush, sitting at the table with his friends. As I said goodbye to him this morning, I wondered how affectionate to be. Yes, I know he’s still young, but I want to respect his maturation as well. I don’t want to hold on so tightly that they aren’t free to grow.

This conscientiousness, this is how I know I’ll be alright.

Because at the end of the day, as much as I loved our summer, as much as I treasure my sweet babies, I want even more to see them walk the path God has for them, and that takes me walking the path God has for me. With tears, sometimes, but with joy as well, even if I have to choose it sometimes instead of it coming naturally. And the joy of the Lord is my strength (Nehemiah 8:10), on all days but especially ones like these.

Choose joy. Find strength. Use that strength to choose joy again and again and again. Praise Jesus for a cycle so divine.

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!

Wasting away

Jelly fish have derailed our beach-going this summer, but on one of the few times we went, K was blessed to find a sand dollar. A perfect, perfect sand dollar. Even though I have lived near a beach for my entire life, I have never even found a broken sand dollar. She brought it home, a treasured possession. She took it for sharing. She left it on a side table afterward. I found it the other day under some books. Crushed.

Too bad I don't have a before picture

Too bad I don’t have a before picture

K took it in stride, vacantly staring at the sanddollar, but I pressed at her because I was crushed. That perfect sand dollar, broken apart. It was such a waste. Such a heartbreaking, ridiculous waste of something which might come along once in a lifetime. I hate waste. No: I fear waste.

This fear runs through my entire life. I’m chronically late because I can stand the idea of wasting those extra few minutes waiting (apparently it bothers me less to waste someone else’s minutes). My freezer is stuffed full because I will not waste a single morsel of food. Not that anyone wants to eat stale cake from K’s birthday or the last remaining triangle of quesadilla. Never mind that these foods aren’t even good for us to begin with. The thought of wasting them comes with a tightening panic in my chest.

This isn’t a thing. I googled it. No registered phobia of waste. But when thoroughly examined, a lot of my anxiety goes back to this fear. Even if I’m not going to eat the cake, it will lurk in the back of my mind, taunting me. I could use that bit of ribbon or coupon or cake. I’d better use it.

I’m not a hoarder. I’m a user-upper. I’m a maximizer. Even opportunities are loathed to be wasted. This is my chance to have a cinnamon roll–even if it doesn’t sound good. This is a great outfit–which is always saved instead of worn. On the surface this is smart, but I’m tired of feeling the pressure to make the most of every thing. This hardly seems to fit into living light or life abundant.

In fact, it seems more like I’ve made an idol out of my resourcefulness.

I realize that might sound like a dramatization, but anything that gets in the way of “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” is at best a stumbling block and at worst a brick wall.

Christ did not die on the cross so that we would continue to be trapped by walls, especially those of our own making. Christ died to set us free–free from our own crazy phobias, free from the world’s values, free from ourselves. Life abundant–a free life in Christ–begins not by looking back, not with regret or fear, but with joyful eyes finding Christ in each moment.

Yes, it’s dumping bits of cake and quesadilla from the freezer, but it’s also appreciating the blessings that were those meals, the blessings of letting go, the blessings of a clean freezer and fresh food. It’s the blessing of being on time and not stressed, of saying to my friend, you are important to me. I see Christ in these choices. I see myself in the former.

If you look closely at this broken bit of sand dollar, you can see the space where the creature once lived, the thin and fragile shell that protects it from the raging sea, the five tiny crests to which it clung. I pointed these out to K and her vacant expression melting into fascination. What was once a waste became a teaching opportunity, not only about the inner workings of a sand dollar, but also about seeing the opportunity for understanding Christ and His creations, for appreciating what each moment in life can teach us. That nothing is wasted when experienced with God’s joy.

My fear is far from cured. But I fear and trust God far more than anything else, even broken sand dollars and wasted quesadillas. I pray I have His eyes, that I may have His freedom as well.

From on the edge to all in

As you might have noticed, we’ve got a new thing going here. And we have also not had a lot of posts lately. This whole year has been a transition for me, what with K starting kindergarten and me moving from the little ones stage to the school ones stage. Don’t get me wrong: I love this stage. I’ve loved all the stages, because they’ve tested me and taught me and left me stretched and grown and alive. But it’s a transition nonetheless, and I’ve been struggling with it more lately.

I think it started with the car. The new car. The shiny blue one that is so slick the kids practically drool over it. It has everything I’ve ever wanted in a car: moon roof, killer sound system, heated seats, phenomenal gas mileage, etc. I love this car. But when I would get into it, it wouldn’t feel quite right. I struggled to understand, and then as I was praying through my confusion, God spoke to me:

“It wasn’t about you.”

Oh. Oh. The car was about B. I worked to wrap my head around it, the gift that was supposed to be mine, the car that replaced my van. I settled into the peace that followed: it’s not always what I expect, when I do as God asks, and truly, it’s never supposed to be about me. Joy filled my heart as I understood what was really going on, what God intended and what we had gracefully (if unwittingly) fulfilled.

A week later, I was engaged in an even deeper struggle. Why would God lead me to writing if I had no interest in publishing? I’ve mulled over this thought time and time again, looking back at the trajectory of my life and feeling baffled. Everything led to a career as a writer, from the stories I wrote in elementary school to the MFA. Along that path, I truly sought God, and I knew His hand was in those choices. So why did they lead me to something that wasn’t right? And then, God spoke again.

“It wasn’t about you.”

Oh. Oh oh oh. Really? You can’t be serious, I asked Him. But then we went through it, step by step. The way it had been many of my choices that led us where we are. The extra year my lit degree took me, which allowed B to get his master’s degree. The desire to go to grad school, which brought us back to San Diego and into the career B loves. When I stepped back, I could see how important my choices were, but they weren’t necessarily for shaping my path. They were for shaping his.

I think, if we hadn’t gone through the car issue, God could not have prepared me for the bigger revelation. Sometimes I think He tests us with little things before bringing out the big ones. In this case, I’d already worked through the humility required, the trust, the understanding, the acceptance. We worked through it again, me letting go of my pride and embracing His truth. But I’m only human, and I did cry. What about me?

“Your adventure is yet to come.”

Okay, enough already, I sighed. But He wasn’t joking. A week later, I was praying again and going over different paths before me. What to prioritize, I asked? And how do I fit rest in there? Because if there is one thing God is still working on with me, it’s rest. I lined up the three paths–baking, writing, and working at the school–and lifted them up. Which one do I choose?

“All of them.”

Oh. Oh. NO. I cannot do all of these, I said. You told me it wasn’t about me, so it can’t be the writing. You told me it was about rest, and doing even one of these violates that principle. Three? Seriously, three? Are you crazy?

“No. I am God. And you will rest. You will not try to figure out how this all works. You will do what you need to do, and I will handle everything else. That’s your rest.”

So that’s where I am. And the truth is, the buying of the car may have been about B, but it has grown to be my baby, and I love it. Prying the keys from my hands has become embarassingly difficult. And my love of writing has been refreshed, even if the path that got me there was more about B than it was me. And when I was sure I wasn’t a leader, I’ve been nominated as the VP of Education for next year’s PTA (even though I’ve only attended one meeting in my three years at the school). God’s ways are not always linear, nor are they as black and white as I sometimes see them. It was about me. Me understanding the ways in which our service to God is intertwined and multifaceted. Me growing in humility and trust. Me accepting that sometimes God needs my action, and that even in action I can be at rest. With God, all things are possible. I’m hoping to be living proof of that.

Which winds back to the title. Our pastor gave a stellar sermon last Sunday about the difference between believing in God and being ALL IN. It absolutely inspired me. Instead of trying to live light, how about I just live light? Live for Jesus, all in. Not just seeking that Spirit-filled life, but enjoying it every day. It’s the difference between standing on the edge of a pool and trying to figure it out–how will I swim, what’s in the water, how deep is it, and how cold?–versus just jumping in. It’s God’s water, and He’s not going to let me drown. So all in–God promises it’s gonna be all right.

Girl magic

A few weeks ago K and I went for an afternoon with her friends, starting with a princess-themed tea party and ending with a performance of Disney on Ice. It was not the most stellar afternoon. We stumbled over the directions to our friend’s house, the lunch options, the seating options. There was drama between the little girls about who was playing what with whom, and who would drive together to the event. There were pit stops for more money, more food, more water. As much as it was intended to be magical, it ended up muddled instead.

In exchange, B took M to a Sn Diego Sockers game last night. While the boys were gone, K and I launched into a series of girl-themed activities (don’t worry, I reminded her that lots of boys might enjoy and do the things we did, they just weren’t the boys we lived with). After changing into pajamas, I got all my nail supplies and walked her through a manicure, where we both ended up with pink and purple glitter nails. Then we curled up on the couch with a Barbie movie (yes, it was that bad). But her little head resting on my shoulder makes just about anything perfect. Halfway through she whispered to me, very grown-up like, “You getting a little hungry?” “A little. You?” “A little.” So I made us a plate of nachos to share–food that, again, our boys don’t like. After the movie came dancing. Pillow fighting. Chasing through the house. More cuddling. Reading. Love.

Truth is, I’m not a dancing/pillow fighting/glitter nail kind of girl, and some of those things the boys would have liked sharing in very much. But those activities were ours that night, because we made them so. How different from an event that cost five times as much but was complicated by five other pairs of moms and daughters.

K repeated, no fewer than five times, one of the most meaningful phrases I’ve ever heard: “This is the best day of my entire life.”

Ministering to each other doesn’t have to involve lots of money or even time (no matter what she said, it was less than four hours of a fourteen hour day). Ministering involves loving others, meeting them where they are, taking interest in what they love and sharing it with them. This is a life both abundant and light, because it is rooted in love.