Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Balancing Act

Even though I'm not a member of the launch team for Jen Hatmaker's forthcoming book, For the Love, I did get a sneak peek of one little section.  In an essay about a balance beam, Jen describes all of the "tricks" that we women like to include in our beam routine (aka our balancing act)- family, friends, work, ministry, home, hobbies, etc.  Even though all of our tricks are good in and of themselves, some do a better job of keeping us balanced than others.  In an online community devoted to promoting Jen's book, the hashtags #onthebeam and #offthebeam have become commonplace, and I've found myself using the phrases when I'm deciding how to allocate my time.  Daily walks around the neighborhood- on the beam.  Making homemade salad dressing- off the beam (even though it's what my taste buds prefer).  Chick-fil-A's new frosted lemonade- SO on the beam.... and so NOT on the diet.  (But that's okay because diets are #offthebeam, no?)

Unfortunately, blogging and most forms of social media are also off of my beam in this season of life.  I'm in the middle of some big writing projects, and since I actually have deadlines (as in actual people waiting to read my stuff), I've had to set some things on the mat because my beam was becoming way overloaded.  Too many tricks does not make for a steady landing.

Still, it's been a while since I've posted and I thought you guys deserved a bit of an update.  As I said, I've been busy writing, primarily a youth Bible study on the book of Isaiah.  It's coming along nicely, and I'm SO excited to get it out into the world (hopefully by early fall... God willing).  I also have some fun things planned for the blog when the time is right- some book reviews, giveaways, and perhaps a few other surprises, so stay tuned for those!  Thanks for stopping by, and until next time... keep your balance, folks.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Resurrection Power

Tonight, I'll have an opportunity to hammer a nail into the cross on the front lawn of my church.  I'll remember vividly all the times I've betrayed Jesus and the role I've played in His suffering.  My spirit will crumble, I'll repent, and I'll wish there had been another way.

But on Sunday, mourning will turn to dancing.  Christians from around the world will rejoice because our brokenness isn't the end of the story.  The cross didn't have the final word.  The victory was and is won.  Hallelujah!

The Easter season, from Ash Wednesday through Lent and into Holy Week, is a special time in the life of the Church.  It's the time when we remember what it is we're all about.  We reflect on our sins and shortcomings, and we recognize the gifts we've been given through Jesus, the forgiveness and hope for life eternal.

Every year, it's the same services, the same traditions, and the same yearning for a deeper understanding of Christ's sacrifice.  But thankfully, this year has been different.

In my church's tradition, we either fast from certain things during Lent or pick up a new spiritual discipline.  Sometimes I participate, sometimes I don't.  Last year, I tried blogging every day, and while I completed 39 posts in 39 days, I spent more time feeling like a failure than I did worshiping Him with my words.

This year, I felt... brave... gutsy... and incredibly desperate.

You see, I have this... habit, this way of thinking that leads me to places I don't like to go.  The world would say I'm justified in feeling and acting this way, but the Bible says it's sin, and I've seen how it impacts my relationship with both God and the people in my life.  I can't begin to count the number of times I've tried willing myself out of this stronghold, but if you've ever tried that yourself, you know it doesn't work.  We don't have it in us to defeat Satan on our own.  That's why we needed the cross, and why we still need Jesus.  Every single day, we need Him.

This Ash Wednesday, I was so overcome by this particular sin's power in my life that I knew I needed to look outside of myself for freedom.  And so I decided to do the impossible and attempt to fast from it during the 40 days of Lent.  I set prayer reminders on my phone so that I'd remember to seek God's help before the temptation hit.  I memorized Scripture that I could recite when my thoughts began to spiral downward.  I did everything I knew to do to get Jesus in my corner.  And you know what?  It worked.  By the amazing and powerful grace of God, it worked.  When I finally stopped hiding and let Him have me- shame and all- it worked.

For 40 days, that trap hasn't grabbed me.  I've gotten too close for comfort a few times, but I haven't been caught.  That's because Easter isn't just about the distant gift of eternal life.  Easter is about the resurrection and the gift of having Jesus now, in the everyday mess of our brokenness.  And with His presence comes power.  Resurrection power.  And that's exactly the kind of power it takes to overcome each and every stronghold we face.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Furry Fun

Even though I wrote in my last post about sometimes wanting to turn down my house/pet-sitting jobs, I really do enjoy them. I'm an animal-lover by nature, so getting paid to hang out with them is a pretty sweet deal, if I do say so myself. Inspired by my small group's study of Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts*, I was determined to go into my spring break (aka Marathon Pet-Sitting Week) with a thankful heart, and I thought I'd carry that positive attitude over here to the blog. On that note:

1. The Love. You know how you walk through the door and your dog is there to greet you ecstatically? Imagine walking into multiple houses and being greeted by multiple animals multiple times a day. There are extra snuggles at night, more kisses than you can handle, and the amazing unconditional acceptance dogs always give. (The cats?  Not so much.) These fur babies are missing their owners, and they're starving for attention. That's where YOU come in, Hero Pet-Sitter!

2. The Exercise. Lots of four-legged friends means lots of energy, and what better way to work it off than with a stroll around the block? I think I've walked twice a day every day this week, and I've lost two pounds as a result of my higher-than-normal activity level. Happy dogs, happy waistline. It's a win-win situation!

3. The Relaxation. If it wasn't for my desperation to earn/save money, I probably would have spent my spring break visiting my parents in Florida. It would've no doubt been a blast, but chances are good that I'd have gone back to work just as (if not more) exhausted than when I left. But when I'm pet-sitting, I'm getting paid to sit with pets. So while I'm free to carry on as normal, I'm also expected to keep these furry friends company for at least part of the day. That means sitting around their houses reading, writing, playing with them, or watching TV. So even though I've been "working" this week, I also feel remarkably rested.

4. The Dress Code. Exercise and muddy paws don't exactly lend themselves to "business casual." In my experience, it's more like yoga pants and hoodies, and that is 100% A-OK with me! Dogs and cats don't care if you've showered, done your hair, or changed your shirt in the last three days.  It's incredibly freeing and a great reminder that it's the inside that counts!

5. The Flexibility. I pet-sit ALL THE TIME. Weekdays, weekends, holidays, overnight, and for two week stretches. Aside from going out of town myself, there's very little I can't do while working this job. I'm not tied down to a store or an office, and I can make my own hours. Getting to make money and continuing to live your life while doing it is priceless.

If you find yourself needing a little extra cash, or just want to help your pet-parent friends out, give house-sitting a try.  I can't guarantee that you won't come home with a pound of fur in your overnight bag, but I can promise you'll be relaxed, happy, and you never know, maybe even thinner!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Don't Quit

When a songwriter moves to Nashville, a novelist seeks a publisher, or a singer tries out for American Idol, what's the first piece of advice they always hear?

Don't quit your day job.

Not quite discouraging, but boldly realistic.  Those five words sum up the journey those dream-chasers are about to embark on.  It'll be hard.  Uncertain.  Full of twists and turns.  There will be unexpected highs and unimaginable lows.  They'd better cling to what they have because chances are good that things won't turn out anything at all like they'd hoped.

So why do they bother?  Why do I bother?

What is it about a dream that keeps us moving forward?  For me, it's a reason to get up in the morning.  I've written before about my dream to become a foster/adoptive parent, and waking up with that goal in mind keeps me pressing on, keeps my thoughts and efforts focused somewhere besides myself.  Sure, it's meant working 2-3 jobs at times to be in a place where that's financially possible, but to me it's worth it.  I've dreamed of providing a safe haven for kids in need almost all my life.

Just because it's worth it doesn't mean it's easy, though.  Sometimes, I want to turn down house-sitting gigs and just sleep in my own bed.  I want to splurge on a new car or a vacation.  And I admit it- sometimes I even want to quit.  I want to stop the striving and saving and working towards a goal and just... live for today.  But I know that I can't.  This is the task God's given me, and until I see it through, I have no choice but to stay reliant on Him.  (And let's face it, when this dream does come true?  I'm going to need Him more than I ever have in my life, and yet I can't wait for that time to come!)

That's why I fell in love with a piece of artwork I found at Hobby Lobby that (I thought*) read "Don't quit your dreams."

Don't quit your dreams.  That advice is perhaps even more important than sticking with what's tried and true, isn't it?  After all, it's our dreams that offer us hope and our dreams that keep us at the foot of the cross where we're meant to be. Our day jobs might make us a living, but it's our dreams that give us a life worth living.

*God encouraged me so much through this piece of art that I went back to buy it last night. Imagine my surprise when I realized I'd misread the quote the first time around. Oops! "Don't quit your day dreams" is a nice sentiment as well, but if I'm being honest, I waste a whole lot of time on those, and quitting them might not be such a bad idea. ;)

So, what about you?  What's the dream that keeps you going?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Tightrope Walkin'

I've been ignoring the blog lately, but it's only temporary, I promise!  I wrote a few months ago about my friends/landlords wanting to sell their house, and while they've decided against it, I'm still making plans to move out and begin the foster care licensing process some time soon.  Moves cost money, though, so God and I made a deal... whenever He provides the $___ I need, I'll know it's time to take that step.  It might take six months, or it could take two years.  I'm being diligent about saving, but completely open to His timing.

That being said, when my church approached me last month about stepping into an interim position to help the transition between children's ministers go more smoothly, I jumped at the chance.  Not for a split second did I consider the time I'd need to invest or the weight of the additional responsibility; my only thought was moving money!!!  It seemed like such an answer to prayer that I never thought to ask for confirmation.

While having a second job obviously puts me a little closer to my goal of moving out, it also takes away from my writing time, and I've wrestled with guilt over that decision.  Now, for all I know, God may have planned this season so that I could let my projects simmer and return to them with new eyes and a fresh perspective, but I'll never know because I was too set on doing what "made sense."

This is where it's easy to get tripped up and fall into the enemy's trap.  We pray for provision, and then when opportunities present themselves, we busy ourselves in the name of "God's plan."  But at what cost?  How much of what we do to earn money is in line with what He truly wants for us?  What do we sacrifice in order to chase that paycheck and the dream it fulfills?

The extra hours I've put in haven't bothered me in a physical, practical sense; I still have the time necessary to stay on top of my responsibilities, and I truly enjoy what I do.  But spiritually, I've found that I'm walking a fine line.  One side has me relying on God's time, the other, taking things into my own hands.  One side leads to the love of money itself, the other, recognizing the love of the Provider.  It's a battle between seizing an opportunity and potentially ignoring my calling, willingness to work hard and taking time for holy rest.

Maybe you're not saving for a down payment, but I'd be willing to bet that everyone has a God-given dream that hinges on a bank account balance.  Maybe it's upgrading to a more reliable car.  Maybe it's quitting your job to stay home with your kids.  Maybe it's traveling or getting out of debt or starting a non-profit ministry.  Or maybe you just want to make it to the end of the month without worrying about how you're going to get food on the table.  Whatever your financial dreams, I absolutely encourage you to ask for provision.  But when the opportunities come, don't forget to weigh the costs, pray about your decision, and trust Him regardless of what He says.  Unnecessary busyness is never a part of God's plan for us, and no goal is worth giving up those things that are most important to us.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Making It Count

Nothing feels as good as success, does it?

Last month, I had the joy of reaching a long-time goal: paying off $6,500 in credit card debt.  Thanks to medical bills and grad school followed by a career change and a 60% pay cut, I'd been carrying that load around for years, making very little progress when it came to reducing the balance.  When the opportunity came to receive a promotion and small raise, I was determined to make every extra penny count.  Two years of hard work and determination later, I'm debt free and wanted to share some of the lessons I've learned in case they can help or inspire someone else.

1) It's possible to be content with less.  The world says more is better... more house, more vacations, more clothes, more stuff.  More of anything will make you happy.  Guess what-- it doesn't.  I down-sized from a two bedroom apartment to a mother-in-law suite with less than 500 sq ft.  My car has almost 190K miles on it.  I travel 3-4 times a year instead of once a month (or more).  All of these things have not only saved me money, but time and stress as well.  Simpler really is better.

2) It costs money to have friends.  In some circles this might not be the case but in my experience, friends can be expensive!  They want you to go out to eat, attend concerts and movies and sporting events, and every year have birthdays that deserve to be celebrated.  Despite the cost that can come with relationships, they are worth every penny.  In some of my more frugal times, I declined every invitation to socialize that came my way, and I was miserable.  I need my community, and if it means working a few extra social events into my budget, I'm happy to do so.  It's possible to be reasonable and have fun at the same time.

3) Working for free pays off.  Whenever I take spiritual gifts inventories, the gift of service always ranks in my top 3 scores.  Obviously, I love helping people!  What I've found, though, is that my willingness to serve can sometimes be a means for provision.  When people know you're willing to do anything, they're more likely to ask when they need your help- and often, they're willing to pay for it.  I've been hired as a baby-sitter, pet-sitter, house-sitter, tutor, life guard, plant-waterer, office organizer, interior decorator... you name it, I've probably gotten paid to do it.  I would do (and have done) many of those things for free, but my side jobs have played a big role in getting out of debt!

4) Giving is a lot more fun when you don't owe the bank.  No matter how frugal I tried to be, I never skimped on tithing to my church.  In my leanest months, I gave more just to test the idea that you can never out-give God.  (And yes, it's true!)  But once my credit card balance hit $0.00, the grip I had on my wallet loosened even more and giving to non-profits became not just an obligation or experiment, but a source of joy.  It's a great feeling knowing your money is making a real difference in the world, and not just going to the bank or getting wasted on a late-night trip to Starbucks.

5) Consumerism is a much bigger problem than we realize.  It isn't until we start tracking every dollar spent that we begin to notice how much of our  money is thrown away.  Everywhere we turn, there are advertisements telling us we need this.  Even if we're smart enough to realize we don't, the world will tell us that we deserve to get what we want.  And so we buy.  We spend.  We wear those labels proudly and post pictures of our stuff all over social media in the hopes that people will like us.  The bad news may be that consumerism isn't going anywhere any time soon.  The good news is that it's a game we don't have to play.  Be intentional with your money and rise above the gotta-have-its.

Getting out of debt is a slow and seemingly pointless race.  It takes work and time and sacrifice, but I know from experience that it's absolutely worth it!  The truth is, money is not ours but God's, and it's not until we have full control over it that we can truly be the stewards we were meant to be.  Stop making the rich people richer and start making your money count!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Lies: Uncovered

There are a handful of convictions I've always held, principles that have guided my actions for years.

  • If you tithe, it means you're a good steward of your money.
  • If you attend Bible studies and have a quiet time, you'll have a good understanding of Scripture.
  • If you volunteer at church, you're humbling yourself to the place of a servant.
  • If you donate Christmas gifts, canned food, and clothing, you're actively loving "the least of these."

They're lies, every single one of 'em.

Okay, so none of those things are bad in and of themselves, and in fact we're called to do each of them, but the problem lies in our motives.

I tithe so that I can spend the rest of my money however I want without feeling guilty.  I show up to church functions to see my friends.  I read my Bible because it gives me a sense of peace to be in God's presence.  I serve at church because a) my friends are doing it too, or b) I had a hard time saying no.  I donate "stuff" because it quiets my conscience and is easier than actually looking into the eyes of the poor.

If I'm being honest, these things have been bothering me for years, but not quite enough to do anything major about it.  And so began the month that God decided to stomp on my toes....

I said I lived for Jesus, but the truth was that Jesus really wasn't enough for me.  Not like He was for Vincent, Maureen, and the children from the garbage dump who sang about Him and dreamed dreams for the future.  The very thought took my breath away.  It was like an invisible veil had been lifted from my eyes.  I saw my life, my home, all the things that screamed success, and they were like dung. ~Kristen Welch, Rhinestone Jesus *

Ouch.  Maybe I feel empty because what I think will fulfill me just... doesn't.

If you truly love me, you will feed my sheep.  My people are crumbling and dying and starving, and you're blessing blessed people and serving the saved. ~Jen Hatmaker, Interrupted *

Ouch again.  Is this why my efforts feel pointless?  Because they're directed at people just like me?

The gospel of me helps us pick churches based on the music we like, sermons that speak to our daily lives and small groups that meet us in our life stages.  While all of these things can be strengtheners of our faith they often become the focus points of our faith.  The church has found itself in a place where it is more concerned with feeding itself than feeding the world. ~Stephen Ingram, Hollow Faith *

Okay, God, I might be getting the picture.

Friends, I think Jesus may look at His Church and be wondering, "How many more Sundays are you going to need before you're ready to actually do any of this stuff?" ~John Pavlovitz

Short and to the point.  Toes officially broken.

I have no answers, no revelations, no ideas about how to move forward, but I do know this: I want more than my toes to be broken.  I want my spirit, my very self, to be broken by the same things that break the heart of God.  I don't want to be lied to anymore (by the the world, or more sadly, by the church).  I want the Truth, and I'm thankful He's revealing it to me.