Friday, August 31, 2012

What I want

The Bible says that the heart is deceitful above all things. The little booger will trick you all the time, so every now and then, stop and ask yourself, "What do I want?" Letting God examine you is always a good idea.

I want Lizzye to be successful in cosmetology. If she fails any class, at the high school, she loses her spot in cosmo. I was always an A student, so my emotions run much more similar to my youngest, who frets over an A- and can really only relax if there is bonus on a test that will maybe allow her to bump over 100%. Last night, Lizzye didn't do her geometry homework. When I went upstairs to remind her, she had already gone to bed.

Her behavior freaks me out, and because I am mature enough not to start screaming and ranting, I am left instead with this ugly, mounting anxiety in my chest. My neck is way tighter today.

What do I want?

I want Lizzye to be successful in cosmetology, so she has to pass her classes. What if her counselors find out how many classes she failed her first two years of high school? According to my calculations, she's not going to graduate until the summer after high school, and that's IF she passes everything she's enrolled in and takes two courses each summer.

What do I want? I want Lizzye to be successful, and she's not cooperating. She didn't do her geometry! Arg!

What do I want? Actually, I want my daughter to grow in her knowledge of God. I want her to be Christlike. Now here's the rub: do I want her to know God AND be successful in cosmetology? Or do I just only, first and foremost, want her to know God?

Her success in cosmetology is my Isaac, which I lay on the altar before God. I only want You for her, Father. Just You. I don't want Your blessings, I don't want Your answers, I just want You.

So today we start fresh. I have no rights (like last night, when I WANTED to watch a movie with my husband, I WANTED some time with him, and that was really my RIGHT, and surely Lizzye would do her homework on her own). I want You, Jesus, for me. I will do whatever You ask of me. I've got the flint knife. Let's climb that mountain.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


I collect pictures, whether photographs or sketches or those made of words, because they help me settle and focus who I am. Sometimes a single word resonates with me so clearly that it doesn't need explanation. At a small homeschooling conference years ago, a speaker addressed the topic of "joystealers," and that word has magnified over my life, a word I hung in the hallway of my mind.

She spoke of how little things will crowd out our joy. When you can see the top of a lamp every time you walk down the stairs, and that little screwy thing is missing, and it just drives you nuts...that's a joystealer. When the handle on the bottom drawer of your dresser is loose or the a lightbulb is burned out in the dining room fixture, right over the guest chair. These little things eat at you because they declare, "Something isn't right!" and just nibble away at your joy. She recommended some Saturday, after a morning cup of coffee, just fix three of those pesky things. Then, each time you pass that lamp or open that drawer, you'll feel a zing of happiness instead of the crunch of annoyance. (Thank you, Linda Duntley.)

The concept of joystealers expanded for me when I noticed another pattern. Sometimes I get so busy running the kids around, attacking what needs to be done in the day, that I lose my bearings. Where am I in my budget? Where am I in my calendar? Have I planned and shopped for any meals this week at all? As a homeschooler, my lesson plans can escape me, leaving me without the oxygen of joy. When my joy has leaked out and left me gasping, I remember to look at the bigger picture, to restore my bearings and recapture my joy.

Tackling the little things, restoring the big picture...these are important and useful. But ultimately, our joy comes from connecting with our Father. His plan for our life is perfect and meaningful. He is our oxygen. You don't have to be in control, you don't have to DO anything to draw on His strength, but you do have to be purposeful. You have to choose to draw near, to quiet everything else and connect with Him. Listen to these two Bible verses about joy: "Consider it pure joy when you encounter trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith develops pereseverance, and perseverance must finish its work so that you will be mature and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-4). And, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God the Father" (Hebrews 12:2). In neither of these verses does joy sound like a result of happy circumstances. Neither depict you bringing order and control to your life in order to have joy. Joy comes from walking out what the Father wants for us, a sense of His purpose and goodness over all of our mess.

No matter how chaotic things are around you, no matter how many things are falling apart, you can always climb up in your Father's lap, feel His arms around you, and nurture the joy that flows from His goodness over your feeble heart.

Something isn't straight

Let's talk together, just you and I. There are some things about your character that make you I right? An attitude, a thought pattern, and when it rises up in you, you feel icky, because you know it's not of Christ.

Now you've been a Christian for a while, but this thing is still there. You can act correctly, so no one really knows what's running through your head, but somehow that makes you feel worse. If you look godly on the outside, shouldn't the inside line up a little better? You pray, you study, you KNOW, but it's still there.

When an artist works with natural materials, the first thing she does is clean it up. A stone for instance will have junk stuck to the outside that you dust off, wash away. Once it's clean, you can see the natural shape of it. The same with wood. And with wood, there are often natural flaws--something about the way the tree grew that leaves a knot or bend that makes that piece unique. Artists often love the natural flaws. As an artist, you don't always seek to correct it. Sometimes, you showcase it.

When the Lord cleans you up, knocks off all the loose junk attached to you, there will still be some natural flaws. This is the point in your Christ walk that you will think, "That's the way I am. God made me that way." And you might think it's okay to showcase that particular flaw.

But our God is not an artist; He is a builder. He is making a foundation in you and building His kingdom on your life (not your own character, but His kingdom--I may need to blog on that concept), and that is not a place for flaws. Do you know how He corrects a deep bent in your character? Pain. Difficulty. Adversity. The oven gets really hot, the trials get really tough, and you are not having fun. But on the other side, sometimes without you noticing it, you are a little straighter, a little stronger. Is your heart so tuned to Christ that you want that?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

What it looks like to paint

I had the privilege of supervising some very talented people on a mural project in the summer of 2011. Natasha was the brilliant person in charge of the details: the design, the instruction, the correction, the scheduling of various volunteer painters. It was incredible in its scope and beauty, and I, with no painting gifts and a deep appreciation for artists, got to watch things come along. Even better, I got to paint a few stones here and there myself.

I learned a lot of little things from Natasha about painting: you can leave your brushes in water overnight; you can wrap your roller in foil and put it in the frig; you can cover your containers with tin foil and use them again. These things saved us so much time by reducing the amount of labor involved in cleaning. They also drove our maintenance manager a little crazy, because our space looked messy. Sometimes the paint actually dried out, so a little might have been wasted. But I must say, washing the paint out of every container, every brush, every time, also wastes paint.

Now, as I am painting my house--just putting paint in a solid color in the gameroom, girls' bedrooms, the hallway, the exterior (nothing complex or interesting)--I am delighted to use what I learned from Natasha. I have painted lots before, but now I am more confident. I have SEEN someone do this, and I am more solid for the acquaintance.

This phenomenon of modeling is necessary to the Christian. Without seeing, you cannot be solid. You can know what to do from reading and studying, but someone who comes alongside of you makes a huge difference. Subtleties get passed on that your mentor is not even aware of. May you rub off on people as you go about your everyday life, using the skills God gave you. Thanks, Natasha.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

God-given emotions

I am not high on the sentimentality scale, which is okay. God made all sorts of people, and it is good that some of us hold it together in rough situations. Let me also add: it is good that some of us fall apart. Emotions are a beautiful part of God's creation, like the musical score playing in the background of our lives. Without emotions, what significance would a promotion hold? How much could you belittle a child's crisis if you did not also feel her pain? Our emotions make life richer. One of my closest friends cried when I told her my mom had cancer; I had not yet shed a tear, and her tears were a beautiful gift to me.

I have experienced some loss in my life during this calendar year. Every time I am sad, it is like a bow being drawn across a cello string, and the note that comes forth is pure and longing. Imagine someone taking a lovely, sad piece of music and playing it at four times the tempo specified. Or drawing out notes that are all wrong. It wouldn't even be sad anymore. But God created those notes to sound. Give them the time they need to accomplish their purpose. Maybe you even need to practice a little to get them right. It is worth effort in order to be in tune with God's purposes, even the purposes He has for your emotions.

We were watching The Twilight Zone on a retro television station the other day. The pacing of older shows and movies is so delightful. It speaks of a different era in our culture. Sometimes I find The Twilight Zone painfully overly dramatic because. of. the. slow. pacing! But as the poor protagonist ran throughout his home, trying all the doors, this frantic, tragic music played in the background. My middle daughter, delightfully blond, said, "What is wrong? Why can't he open the doors?" The youngest, wise and very droll, browsing on the laptop with only a modicum of attention on the tv, commented, "Of course something bad is going to happen: listen to the music."

Emotions are not meant to be a dictator. They are bad leaders. If anger is prompting you to do something, you should seriously pull back and seek wise counsel. But God created emotion to move your movie script from its infant "rehearsal stage" to the full art form created by the musical score.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Imitate me

As women, we have something in common, no matter what our age or situation: we are charged with taking care of our home. Titus 2:3-5 says, "Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God." Today at Lunch at Angie's, each woman described something that makes her feel "happily domestic," from canning to "I don't really ever feel that" to wearing an apron.

In 1 Corinthians 4:16-17, Paul made the bold statement, "Imitate me." He didn't say, "Imitate Christ" because Christ is invisible--how can you imitate what you can't see? Jesus came and walked among us so that we could see God. He showed the Father to His disciples so that they in turn could show Jesus to the world.

Paul expected his own life to be a representation of the way of the gospel. Women are charged with living well not only for the sake of our own homes, but for our community. We are examples. Not that we expect others to imitate the details of our particular life. I'm not going to can fruits and vegetables because Twyla and Sara do. I'm not going to garden because that was the passion of my mother and grandmother. But their should be some quality of the WAY I live my life that encourages other women to follow Jesus in their choices.

It is good to pray and read your Bible. It is good to attend corporate worship. But it is also good to be in community with Christians who show you what Jesus is like. In turn, live your life in such a way as to show others Who you serve.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Tip #5

Does your family lick their plates? Mine do. Nothing resists the dishwasher like human spit. I don't like to rinse everything before I put it in the dishwasher, but there are somethings that need a rinsing: milk can't be left in a glass, orange juice dries like modge podge, never to be removed. Sugary things don't usually need to be rinsed, because sugar melts in hot water, no matter how long it has been sitting.

But woe to the plate that has been licked! Oh, sure, it looks like innocent chocolate cake smudge, but when I open the dishwasher, after it has dutifully completed its cycle, three little plates look back at me with chocolate smears. "We're not clean because someone fixated the chocolate with spit!" Devious dirty plates. Be warned that even a licked finger can adhere the food in its sneaky fashion.

Learn what needs a rinsing, and only do the minimum. But beware dessert plates if your family REALLY liked the treat.

A rocky yield sign

When Joshua is about to die, he makes the famous statement, "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." This is recorded in Joshua 24, and he's actually chastising the Israelites for clinging to gods from Egypt and even Ur, and warning them that they will begin to worship the gods around them in Canaan. (Ur--your history. Egypt--your own solution. Canaan--what everyone else is doing.) The Israelites protest, of course, and Joshua sets up a stone as a witness against them. I love that verse: "This stone has heard all the words the Lord has said to us" v.27. Faithful are the rocks.

Joshua tells the people that they must follow all of the Law given to Moses, but he adds, "Yield your hearts to the Lord." There are some good prescriptions here: don't follow other gods, obey what you know is right. Good advice. But over and over again in Scripture, the Lord was pleased with those who yielded their heart. The other commands are signposts to this one; it is our hearts that the Lord wants.

When you decide to follow Jesus, you lay down all of your mistakes and futile efforts to be good. His grace covers you. When you ask Him to be Savior, you also make Him Lord. Here is a clue to growing in the Christian faith: yield your heart. It's not up to you anymore what you believe, what you think is right. You belong to Him, and His word trumps your own thoughts. Read your Bible to figure out how God sees things, and get in line with Him. It is not possible to grow as a Christian if you do not yield to Him. If you are stubborn, chances are some rock out there is slowly shaking its head at you.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Choosing leaders in Corinth

In the Jewish culture, families were the center of everything. As children grew, they learned trades from their parents, were educated by their community. When they were young adults, the community would support them as they got started in life and they in turn would grow to support the community. In pagan cultures, like Corinth, Greece, this pattern was not as prevalent. The religion and trade and work ethic of their society allowed for a lot of behavior that did not encourage responsibility, that did not benefit the character and fabric of their culture.

The Bible has some strict requirements in the New Testament for those who were to be leaders in the church: husband of one wife, godly children, hospitable, not given to drink, not a gossip. In those areas where Christianity grew in a Jewish culture, these men would have been easily identified. In Corinth, probably less so. The characteristics of a church leader were not as valued in non-Jewish cultures. And yet the church still required godly leadership.

Paul, the apostle to Gentile churches, would often send leaders into the area to search for elders. They would pray and seek men that could lead the church. Their concern was godly character, and they trusted the Lord to provide such leadership everywhere they went. One thing they did not do was throw up their hands and abandon the standard. So what if the culture did not encourage the kind of men they were seeking--they trusted that what God commanded, He would supply. Do you think it was easy in Corinth, to find men who qualified? Read 1 & 2 Corinthians. This was a very pagan culture, with all kinds of problems even in the church. But what God commands, He supplies.

Don't lower your standards just because your culture is putrid. God sees you, and He knows what surrounds you. He is very capable of supplying what you need. Pray, keep your eyes on Him, and wait.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A thousand small steps

Much of what I write is "big rock" thinking. Have you heard the illustration of the jar with rocks, pebbles, and sand? If you fill it with sand first, the big rocks will not fit in. Add the bigger things first, and the small things will fall around it. It is good to take a little time to consider the big picture. I hope reading this gives you time to stop and think.

Good character is the result of a thousand decisions. When you watch the Olympics, you are seeing the outcome of hours and hours of dedication. It is a lot of work, a lot of resolve, some pain, some mundane and boredom. Athletes stick with it because they are looking towards a prize. Many of them come close but don't achieve the highest accolades, but they still deem the prize worthy of the attempt.

Do you value good character? Strive for good decisions in all the little things you do. Choose to be kind to your family. Avoid habits like gossip and complaining. Think about truthful and good things. In private, make choices that would withstand any scrutiny, even if there is no way anyone will ever know what you are doing (or thinking). A small mistake will not derail your pursuit of character, but achieving hundreds of small steps will build in you something astonishing.

When God is in the equation, you are guaranteed to achieve the prize if you persist. Kerri Scrugs and Gabby Douglas did not know what the outcome would be when they set their sites on the Olympics. But when you make character a goal, the Lord promises that you will achieve it. Your character will not shine, however, until you have persisted in small, often hidden, choices.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The ant trail

Every morning there are ants in my kitchen. My daughter's best friend said, "Duh, it's cool in here." So until I get some ant bait at Walmart, or they randomly decide my home isn't appealing, I carefully clean the kitchen every night and strategically consider where the food is. I absolutely do not want them to learn that I have food in the bread box past the sink, and I cannot have them discovering my cannisters. If anyone has a snack late at night, they must place their crumby dishes on the cabinet between the kitchen door and the sink. This will waylay the ants so they cannot further explore my house and find anything I care about. They can find the trash; they can peruse the dishwasher; they can invade the sink. They must not ever learn about the cereal boxes.

Have you watched ants? They do not have a visible leader but they are so full of purpose. In Proverbs, Solomon advised us to watch the ants to learn how to be productive, not lazy. But I admire ants because they always know what they're doing. There is some secret code laid down for them, and they follow it to the food source, return the food to home. Or perhaps they are an ant scout, bravely milling about for a new food supply. You will not see ants doing is playing video games, reading a novel, or pondering why their life is so short and empty.

I am not an ant (although I can sense trails for finding food). However, I have heard the Master call me to Him, and even when He doesn't make sense, I know He has a plan. When I swipe the ant trail with spray and a paper towel, or move that syrup bowl that my daughter left out into a bowl of water in the sink (bwahaha), the ants will sometimes seem confused. They mill in circles, and you can hear the little ant cries of, "What? But the trail said...but why is there no...??" They get back on track. Even in their confusion, they are so ant-like, so stalwart and admirable. May my faith in God lay an ant trail that gives purpose to my every action, even the confused ones.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Tip #4

Have your kiddos ever left towels piled on the bathroom floor? Do you have a washcloth that has that pesky odor of soured fabric? Next time you run those towels through the wash, do a pre-wash with baking soda and vinegar. These two simple ingredients are both great odor fighters. Then wash as usual.

Alternatively, train everyone in your house to always properly hang up their towels to dry.

This is a live shot of the upstairs bathroom. I know, you think I would have to stage it to find this kind of mess, but alas, no.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Assign blame and forgive

My husband has a few statements that we consider family truths to live by. One of the most famous is, "Assign blame and forgive." If something bad happens to you, you're going to have to move past it. This slogan is made of two steps.

I think Christians often try to skip over the assign blame part. Did someone wrong you? Then say it. Maybe not to their face, but the clarity of what went wrong is good for you. God was honest about our sin. If our sin is just "little stuff" then Jesus didn't accomplish very much on the cross. But the cross wasn't just a little change to cover a little problem. The truth doesn't diminish God.

So be clear and truthful, just like the Lord. Call things what they are. But once you've assigned blame--and let's be honest, sometimes you get some of the blame in a situation, it's not always the other guy--imitate God again: forgive. Let it go. Don't hold it against them. And don't cheat yourself by getting stuck in the "assign blame" stage. The other side of forgiveness is freedom for you.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Tip #3

If you have leftover coffee (really? whoever has leftover coffee?) you can use it for baking. I have a great recipe for an eggless chocolate cake that has coffee. But really, if you have leftover coffee, you must really be busy, so cake is probably not your solution.

While it's still warm, stir in a little sugar (or a lot, suggests Beka) and freeze it. Sometime soon, frozen sweet coffee is going to make your afternoon very happy. You can pour it in an icecube tray (picture to the right, in case you have never seen one, o generation with ice makers).

If you have a lot of coffee, be careful how you freeze it. Liquid expands when freezing and will break your container.

What do you do with theoretical leftover coffee?

An aroma pleasing to the Lord

Think for a moment about yourself. Think about those awful times when you lose it, those choices you wish you never made, those thoughts and feelings that run through your head that you hate. No one wants to be portrayed at their worst.

Stay there a minute. Realize that God sees you all the time. He knows your choices. He knows your heart. He knows you need to be rescued, and He provided Jesus so you could be. Jesus trades His life for yours. When God looks at you, He sees His Son, but it's not like He's tricked into thinking you are someone else. He knows what that blood covers, and He declares this is good. He has atoned for you.

His purpose is not to make you look good. He wants to bring glory to Himself. Our job, as believers, is to not try to be perfect, but to take our hangups to Him and let Him atone for them. And then we sing, because He is a good, good God.

At a funeral on Wednesday, the preacher recounted a question someone had asked him: what does God do with all the stuff we bring Him? If we are supposed to bring Him our problems and failures and worries, what does He do with it? Revelation 5:8 says that our prayers are incense rising up before Him. Maybe all the things we lay at His feet get burned up, like a sacrifice on an Old Testament altar. Leviticus describes the sacrifices we bring to the Lord, and this concept is repeated over and over again: "Then Aaron's sons are to burn it on the altar on top of the burnt offering that is lying on the burning wood; it is a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord" (Leviticus 3:5).

If He does not remember our sins, but removes them as far as the east is from the west, then I think the things we take to Him are burned up, and they please Him--just because we hand them over. Our good deeds don't stockpile and make Him happy. Truthfully, our goodness needs to be burned before Him as well. All of me, everything I am, needs the covering of Jesus' blood.

Romans 12:1 says I should make myself a living sacrifice. Today, declare His truth over all of your problems and worries. He knows you for who you really are, and He has a story to write about you that you are going to love, but He is the main character. Show off in me today, God.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tip #2

It is one of those weeks in Oklahoma when the temperature is daily above 110 degrees. At night, it only drops into the 80's, and then only after I've gone to bed. A few times, it's been 102 at 10pm. Extreme seasons, like snowstorms or heat waves, require us to adapt our behavior. With the joy of electicity and Netflix and microwaves, it's kinda nice that sometimes we are still required to adapt to our environment, instead of controlling the world.

To help your plants in this weather, dump ice on them. It relieves them just like it does us, and waters them gently. My daughter Lizzye discovered this trick. Lizzye, the plants say thank you.

This is my porch, warping in the heat. Although it is only 108 in the shade currently. One summer, my thermometer hit 114. Haven't seen that yet this year. Don't want to.

Tip #1

A spray bottle filled with water is your best friend for reheating food in the microwave. Spray the top of pizza, enchiladas, whatever, before heating. Food reheats faster and more evenly, and (gasp) it's not as dry.

Wrap bread in a paper towel before heating (or thawing, if it's frozen). If it's dry, spray the towel with water. Bread is one of the few things that reacts soggily to the spray bottle trick.