Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Keep Your Hands Off My Jesus!

This originally appeared as a blog post on Hoosier Ink .

You know those Christmas movies where the whole family gathers around a beautiful tree, singing and decorating while they munch on popcorn and sip steaming mugs of cocoa? You know, the ones where the whole family fits at one gorgeous dining table, dressed in their finest and eat from fine china? Yeah, those movies make Christmas seem so sweet and warm and wonderful.

Well, that is not the way things go down around my house. Inevitably, the lights on the tree don't work and hubby grumps and growls, kicks the cat, and finally gives up, turning the dark spot toward the wall. The kids fight over who gets to put on which ornament and while their attention is diverted the dog slurps the marshmallows off the top of the hot chocolate. Our entire family never fits at the same table and elastic-waisted pants are in vogue. And even if we owned enough china for the whole clan, what nut would trust the kids with it and who wants to spend the afternoon sweating over a sink full of suds anyway?

But every year I look forward to the one tradition that is mine and mine alone. I can complete it to perfection, it always produces beautiful results, there are no fuses to blow, pieces to loose, or someone to show up at the last minute and throw off my carefully laid plans. It is the staging of the nativity set. In the minutes after the tree is up and the stockings are hung, when hubby carries boxes to the basement and the kids lose themselves in the rediscovered Christmas books, I pull out my beloved nativity set. No one begs to help. No one tells me how it should be done. No one gives me unwanted pointers. You see, it's always been my job.

In the little wooden stable created by my dad when I was a young girl, I arrange the ceramic animals. The donkey rests beside the feed box and the ox balances the scene with her dark bulk near the door. Then comes the Holy family. Mary is always on the right; Joseph to the left; baby Jesus positioned just so, front and center. Finally, I symmetrically arrange the three wise men and the shepherd boy carrying his lamb. I stand back and sigh a contented breath. No one can mess with my artful arrangement, my pleasing symmetry, my balance of color and light. Amid the chaos, it is one thing I can count on year after year to give me peace.

That is until the year someone couldn't keep their hands off my Jesus. The kids were small, all still in single digits, and I never did find out who did it. I'd walk past the stable only to find the entire entourage lined up shoulder to shoulder facing the newborn King. I mean, you couldn't even see the little guy because they stood like a police line-up, backs toward the open doorway. I'd re-arrange everyone and breathe in a happy sigh, setting things to rights.

The next day, I'd walk by and now the whole crew formed a protective ring around the Tot in swaddling clothes. Reminding me of wagons circled to guard against enemy attack, there they stood, laid, or rested, eyes focused on the Baby. I'd huff, thinking that in their messing with my manger, my kids were likely to break one of the fragile figurines.

Then God spoke to my heart. Was Christmas about presenting a perfect picture? Was it about projecting a polished and put-together presentation? Or was Christmas about Jesus? Wasn't He the star of the show? Wasn't it His story that needed to be told and remembered?

For the rest of that year I left my hands off Jesus and His posse. I let my kids have their way with the cold, hard figurines because God had melted and softened my heart by their innocent actions. This week leading up to Christmas I pray for each of us, that we'll make Jesus the star of our holiday. That we will focus on Him. That we will strive less to create the perfect atmosphere and work more to capture the perfect attitude. I pray that in everything we do--working, writing, loving, entertaining, preparing--that we never fail to keep our focus on the One who came as a helpless babe, into a dirty, flawed, and sin-filled world so that we could be made perfect.

Merry Christmas!
Nikki Studebaker Barcus

Friday, December 3, 2010

Maddox the Magnificent, Part 2 (or KittyBoy Genius)

After quite a long absence, I hope I'm back for awhile. The harvest is complete, the field work done and a graduate class to renew my teaching license is on the books, so I hope to have a little more time to devote to writing this blog.

When we last talked, I'd introduced you to the newest member of our home-zoo, Maddox the kitten, affectionately called Maddox the Magnificent by Jot. I've affectionately (or not) renamed him MadMax the Assassin Cat. But that's another story. Since you last saw him, he's taken over the house, whipped the dogs into shape, made two trips to the vet, and had a delicate (ahem) surgery scheduled for just before Christmas. But he's also been teaching us lessons. He's taught the kids that, unlike dogs, when you tease kittens they seek revenge. He's taught hubby that kittens can sleep so soundly when snuggled up to you that they appear dead; even sometimes after you shake them. And the little guy's reminded me of another lesson about just how much God loves me (and you!).

One afternoon shortly after MadMax moved into the house I found a few spare hours squeezed in between working, cooking, and running around like the proverbial headless chicken and took the little guy to the vet. I knew he had fleas and despite my countless baths (not a job for the weak), I couldn't get rid of them. And if he was going to live in the house he needed his vaccinations. So, in the carrier he went and off we headed to fix the kittyboy up.

The vet laughed at his blond-fluff appearance, cooed at his reluctance to exit the carrier, and cringed at the fleas vacationing in his long locks. The poor cat didn't know what hit him! He received two shots to rid him of untold maladies, a shot of some yucky yellow cream down his throat to kill the worms in his belly (yes, he had them), a dose of a smelly, oily topical to fend of fleas (yes), ear mites (oh, yeah), and more worms (you betcha). A thorough investigation of all his parts and a not-to-welcome thermometer in an unmentionable place sent him scurrying back into the carrier wide-eyed and fluff-tailed.

When I finally deposited him at home, you won't believe what that filthy, parasite-invested, diseased feline fiasco did. He didn't wring his hands thinking of the bad things he had done. He didn't slink embarrassed that he was full of gross stuff and wait to emerge when he was cleaner and healthier. He didn't scratch his way through the screen and run away, too mortified to face the family who loved him now that he knew how far from perfect he really was. Nope. None of that. He slept.

Yes, he crawled into his little bed under my desk and slept the afternoon away, only to awaken when the calls from the kids after school floated through the open window. He purred in response to their petting. He wove in and out of their legs as they stood making snacks. He crawled sleepily into their laps as they perched on the couch to watch cartoons. In short--he reveled in their lavish love of him.

Unlike so many "smarter" humans, that kitty didn't try to get himself clean, right, or holy before he accepted the love of his master. How many people do you know who try to clean themselves up, get their life in gear, or walk the straight-and-narrow before they will accept the love and salvation of their Master? We should take a lesson from a tiny kitten. Submit to the perfect care of the One Who loves us and He will become the Remedy for all that ails us.

Just like Jot says, "Maddox, you're a genius!"

Nikki Studebaker Barcus

Friday, October 15, 2010

Maddox the Magnificent

Well, what do you think? Does it look like my barn-cat-turned-house-cat is happy with his new arrangement? Here is Maddox the Magnificent, as Jot calls him, sound asleep on Jewel. His tiny raised paws remind me of my kids when they were newborns. It their tiny arms raised over their heads like that, I knew they were deep in sleep and would stay that way for a long time. This was my cue to take a shower, run the sweeper, or stretch out on the couch and be assured that I'd get at least 20 winks before my little bundle of joy beckoned.

The kids are in love with this blond, blue-eyed fluffer-nutter. They argue about who gets him in their bed. They come through the door after school calling his name. They pet him, hold him, and love on him any chance they get. And he just eats it up.

What did this little guy do to earn a place in my house and their hearts? Nothing much. He couldn't control that he was born a kitten instead of a rattlesnake. He didn't put in an order for his soft blond fur with the cute white feet. He had no say in the fact that his warm, soft, purring body makes him irresistible to hold. He is just living the life he's been assigned and they love him anyway.

What's more, they adore him in spite of his faults. I mean that little guy has some razor-sharp daggers that come out of the ends of his soft paws. His teeth are like lightning fast staples. He is a mite over-zealous in his use of the litter box, flicking the stuff all over my bathroom. When we brought him in, he hosted an army of fleas in that wealth of long hair. None of it mattered to the kids. The love Maddox simply because they invited him in and he's here to stay.

Kind of reminds me of when I brought each of them home from the hospital, a scenario that plays out in homes all over the world every day. Not even mentioning the pain or labor and delivery, we bring these foreigners into our homes and let them turn our worlds upside down. They have no way of communicating but to cry, they drain us of our energy, deprive us of our sleep, and defile us with bodily functions that spew from every orifice. But we love them, care for them, and sacrifice for them because we've invited them in and they are here to stay. We want them here and we'd give up everything to keep them with us.

Reminds me of another Parent. In the midst of our sinful lives, in spite of our horrendous faults, He gave up everything to keep us with Him. God gave up His only Son so we could live in His house with Him for eternity. Jesus gave up his sinless life to make a way for us to be reconciled to the God who can't even look at sin, but gave up everything to provide a way to make us sinless. And we did nothing to deserve His lavish love. We had nothing in us to draw Him to us. We stumble along this road called life and He loves us anyway.

Rest assured of God's love of you today. Be encouraged by Jesus' sacrifice for you today. Be comforted by the Holy Spirit's power in you today.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fan the Flame

Crisp fall leaves, warm jackets, bonfires, s'mores. All the things we love about fall. And those things aren't just fun, but just like most of life, if you look close enough, you can find a lesson.

What's the lesson in a bonfire? Click here to read my story on the home page of this month's Devo Kids website. The story, Fan the Flame, is written for kids, but the lesson is for everyone who wants to know what to do with the gifts they've been given.

Check it out and remember the lesson the next time you enjoy a gooey s'more or sit in the glowing beauty of a fall bonfire.

Nikki Studebaker Barcus

Friday, September 24, 2010

True Love Story Part 3: In Good Times and in Bad

This week, I've let you take a peek into the early days and months of my relationship with my hubby. So far, you've seen how and where we met, you've traveled on a canoe trip with us and our friend Phil, and are probably wondering how we ever made it down the aisle. But never fear, on January 1, 1994 we stood before God and a motley assortment of family and friends and pledged or love and commitment for the rest of our lives.

If you'd like to read the final installment of our Real Life Romance, click here. If you leave a comment, you may be the winner of a copy of Shannon's book White Roses.

Next week, we'll return to regular programming.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

White Roses by Shannon Taylor Vannatter

This week we are taking a little detour down Romance Lane. If you've been keeping up with our True Love Story on Shannon Vannatter's blog, then you also know she is giving away a copy of her book to some lucky comment-er.

I had the good fortune to read Shannon's book this summer and wrote reviews that will appear on Amazon.com, Goodreads.com, Shelfari, and BarnesandNoble.com when the book releases later this fall.

I've re-printed my review here if you want to read what I thought of Shannon's book. Join me on Friday as Shannon shares the last part of the story--the wedding day.

Book Review of Shannon Taylor Vannatter's White Roses

How could anyone know that one fateful day, one selfish choice, one man could cause the ripples of grief to reach into so many lives? In Shannon Taylor Vannatter's Christian contemporary romance, White Roses, we are introduced to two families--Pastor Grayson Sterling, his young son Dayne, and his sister Sara; and brother and sister team, Mark and Adrea Welch.

A drunk driver left Grayson without his beloved wife and Dayne without his devoted mother two years ago. Sara steps in to try and help her brother, but Grayson can't seem to get over the loss of his wife. Longing for some time to focus on Dayne and heal from his loss, Grayson convinces his church to hire an associate pastor. Enter Mark Welch and his beautiful and loyal sister Adrea. In a unique turn of events, Grayson comes face-to-face with the florist who has been creating the arrangements of white roses he ordered for his wife Sara. The arrangements he faithfully presented to her during their life together, he now leaves at her grave.

Grayson and Adrea find themselves unable to deny that their pain and loss on Valentine's Day three years before is the only thing drawing them together. But fears and secrets, all grounded in the past, seem determined to drive them apart.

Vannatter, a pastor's wife, knows the ins and outs of church leadership and uses that knowledge to give the reader glimpses of the real-life struggles and humanness of those called into ministry. In a refreshing, easy-to-read style, Vannatter shows the reader true-to-life believers wresting with the same things we all do: fear, doubt, forgiveness, and anger. There are no squeaky clean, never-fail Christians in this book. Rather the reader will meet believers trying to do the right thing, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing, in the face of difficult circumstances. The reader is likely to recognize himself or herself in one or many of Vannatter's unique characters.

Vannatter develops both the story and the characters to a satisfying conclusion, teaching us all a lesson about trusting God and remaining faithful even in the midst of the most heart-rending circumstances. Readers of contemporary romance will enjoy the believable characters and the universal themes portrayed in this delightful story that is compact enough to enjoy in a weekend or even one late-night read.

Nikki Studebaker Barcus

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ture Love Story: Part 2 Maybe He's Trying to Tell Us Something

We continue with Part 2 of the True Love Story on Shannon Taylor Vannatter's blog this week. Today's post features a few stories from our dating life--all that include a character named Phil.

Phil is a friend of my hubby's and we started to get the feeling that either Phil didn't approve of our relationship, or that God didn't and was using Phil to tell us so.

Click here to go to Shannon's website where you can read the next installment. Leave a comment to be entered to win a copy of Shannon's book White Roses. Tomorrow I'll post a review of Shannon's book so you can read all about it.

Nikki Studebaker Barcus

Monday, September 20, 2010

True Love Story: Part 1 Toilet Tissue Romance

We are going to break from the norm this week on celebration of my True Love Story running on Shannon Taylor Vannatter's website this week. I wrote the 3-part story to help Shannon give away a copy of her book White Roses a sweet, contemporary romance published by Heartsong.

The book is available now to Heartsong Club members and will be release mass-market in November. If you leave a comment on my story this week, though, you get a chance to win a copy! Cool!

Just click on Real Life Romance--Part 1 of 3 to read the Real Life Romance on how I met my hubby. Click over Wednesday and Friday to read more.

Nikki Studebaker Barcus

Friday, September 17, 2010

An Apple a Day...Keeps Satan at Bay

"An apple a day keeps the doctor away" is how the old saying goes, right? Apples are great for you and tasty too, but that's not what we're going to talk about today.

September 18 is International Eat an Apple Day, so in celebration of that momentous occasion, let's look at how an A.P.P.L.E a day can not only keep the doctor away, but also goes a long way toward keeping Satan at bay. Ironic, don't you think considering how many people attribute the apple with fouling Adam and Eve up so long ago in the Garden?

A--Adoration. The first step in keeping Satan from gaining a foothold with our kids is to adore them. Yeah, I know, we all love our kids, but I'm talking more than that. I'm talking about letting your child know s/he is the "apple of your eye". (Sorry, couldn't resist.) If you aren't head over heels about your child, really, who else will be other than probably Grandma. Teachers, coaches, friends--they all care about your kid, but none is as invested as you are and none will be there for the long haul. Find the stuff in your child you can adore--then let them in on the secret.

P--Prayer. We live in the middle of a battlefield whether we can see it or not. Prayer is the biggest weapon in our arsenal and we better get pretty liberal at pulling out this big gun. Cover your child in prayer or you leave him/her open to attacks from Satan.

P--Perspective. If you want your child to thrive in this life, you are going to need some perspective. What I mean is that first of all, you've got to get both an eternal and a long-term view of this parenting thing. You are going to have good days and bad days and days that make you question everything you've ever known to be true. Remember you are growing an eternal being and you are in it for the duration. Look at things with that attitude and today's struggles come into focus a little clearer.

I also mean you need perspective about your child's strengths and weaknesses. I know I just told you to adore you kid, but don't feed into their esteem so much that they can't recognize any faults in themselves. Help them learn the great and the not-so-great so they can become the people God created them to be.

L--Leadership. A sure way to protect your kids is to lead them well. This involves displaying patience when you want to scream, integrity when you want to fudge, strength when you want to buckle, wisdom when you don't have the answers, and grace in the face of adversity. By modeling the way things should be done, you lead your kids by example and they will often rise up to follow. Leadership is not a dictatorship or a democracy--you are the adult, act like it. Make the hard decisions, call the unpopular shots, and live out a life of character with each new situation.

E--Education. It is not the job of the school, the church, or the babysitter to teach our kids. We need to make the most of every opportunity to mold and shape our kids into people we will be proud to claim. That means using every moment to explain, challenge, disciple, and discipline our kids. Seize every chance to guide and direct their learning, whether it be academic, relational, spiritual, or emotional. We are the best teacher our child will ever have. Make the most of every moment you can grab with your son or daughter.

So, there you have it--an A.P.P.L.E. a day will keep Satan at bay. Grab some caramel sauce, an apple, and your kid, and get started today!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Grab Some Chinese Take-Out--It's National Fortune Cookie Day!

Crab Rangoon...Egg Drop Soup...General Tao's Chicken. My family has a love affair with Chinese food. Actually the kids love any kind of buffet-style dining so they can choose the things they like, which generally consist of everything yellow or beige on the slab.

The crowning moment of the meal (after they hit the self-serve ice cream cooler) is the arrival of the fortune cookies. We each grab a package, tear it open and laugh or wonder at the message inside. The fortune on his tiny paper is one of the first things Jot ever read aloud to the the rest of the family. It is a fun ending to an enjoyable time together.

Recently we each got a fortune so fitting to us personally that we could have submitted them ourselves. All ten blue eyes widened, all ten eyebrows shot to our hairlines, and all five mouths hung open, but after a moment's thought, we shook our heads and laughed. We don't leave our futures to fortune cookies, fate, or chance. No matter how accurate the fortune, we remember what God has said in Psalm 139:15-17: My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

You were not a mistake, surprise, or unplanned blessing, regardless of what your parents said. You were carefully pieced together, planned out, created with care. Your journeys were set in motion long before you drew your first breath. God knew you, and your entire life, long before, as they say, you were even a twinkle in your daddy's eye.

So the next time you feast on Chinese, crack open that fortune cookie, have a good laugh, and thank God that your future rests securely in the hands of a loving Father, not in the proclamation of a tiny slip of paper.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Stump, Duck, Bridge

Summer is winding down and most people's minds have turned toward fall. Recently we took the camper out for one more weekend before we winterized it and put it away until after the crops are in the field next spring. We hiked, we swam, we ate s'mores by the fire, and biked the beautiful paved biking trail at the state park. But that was a little too tame for the "rules-are-made-to-be-broken" men in my life.

So just before we packed up and headed for home we set out on a bike ride. We biked the 2.6 mile trial and then decide to take a short cut back to the campsite along walking trail #5. Hubby led the way followed by Jewel. Justice wasn't along for this ride, so Jot followed his sister with me bringing up the rear. Years and years of hikers' feet had beaten the path down to a smooth dirt trail, but occasionally roots or stumps jutted up from the brown road. Periodically, branches hung down low enough for us to catch one in the eye if we weren't careful. And strewn along the lovely path were rickety wooden bridges crossing trickling clear streams. As we traveled along, Jot took on the role of my bicycle tour guide. "Stump!" he'd yell so I'd know to watch the ground. "Duck!" came the command when he thought a limb came too close for comfort. And I knew to slow down and keep it steady when he yelled "Bridge!"  Jot let me know what to expect on our bike ride. There were no sudden turns, heart-stopping surprises, or close calls because I knew what was coming.
Jot's kind protection of me reminded me that God does that for us too. He gave us the Bible so we'd know what to expect. I've heard others refer to God's word as a "road map for life" and in reality, it is just that. Now, don't go randomly opening up your Bible and see what will tell you. And don't try to divine tomorrow's lotto numbers from some secret formula. That's not what I'm talking about. Some people say the Bible is full of "dos" and "don'ts" but really it is just God yelling out to us "Stump!" or "Duck!" or "Bridge!" God is wise and He knows that oftentimes when we do A we get B. So He warns us and encourages certain behaviors because He knows the outcomes that fall from them.

God says things like: The wise don't tell everything they know, but the foolish talk too much and are ruined (Proverbs 10:14). Or like this: A beautiful woman without good sense is like a gold ring in a pig's snout (Proverbs 11:22). And like this: Peace of mind means a healthy body, but jealousy will rot your bones (Proverbs 14:30).. God doesn't say "don't talk" or "don't fall for beautiful women" or that "you will never be sick if you aren't jealous", but He gives us warnings to be on our guard against. There are countless warnings to us throughout the Bible. If you are in need of a road map for your life, start reading in the book of Proverbs and then branch out from there. Don't picture the words as coming from a grumpy old man trying to ruin your fun. Accept the truths found there as from a loving father, calling out the pot holes in the bike trail of life so you can avoid the pain and scars associated with them.

Ride on!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Labor Day Lessons

Recently a friend, who was great with child, had the following conversation with a young teen at church.

Teen: Wow! When are you due?

Friend: Actually, today is my due date.

Teen: (With horrified expression) What time?!

For all of you mommies and daddies out there, I hear you--If only it were that easy! Babies are notorious for taking there own time getting here. I'm thankful that all three of my bundles of joy arrived a little before there ETA.

The morning of Justice's arrival I knew something was up as soon as I got out of bed that morning. I warned hubby that he might want to work close to a phone that day. (That was before we had cell phones, can you imagine?) It also happened to be both New Year's Day and our fourth anniversary, so we spent the day putting around the house. That afternoon, during a nap, my water broke and we were off to the races.

Jewel made her debut slowly, like she still does in all aspects of life. Thirty-six hours of hit-and-miss contractions finally crescendoed into full-blown labor in the still-dark wee morning hours on a Sunday in July.

Jot, true to form, woke me early on a Saturday morning with contractions that weren't long enough or regular enough to send me to the hospital, but decided to wait until I had finished giving both his brother and sister a bath. There we were, crammed into the bathroom together, Justice wrapped only in a towel, Jewel poised dangling from my hands half in and half out of the tub when my water broke. As hubby finished up the last of the field work, I re-dressed myself, dressed the two kids, called for back-ups, and loaded the van. Hubby arrived just in time to drive to the hospital and Jot arrived just in time for dinner.

It is ironic that this Labor Day weekend found me sorting through baby clothes and reminiscing over "labor" days of the past. The kids are switching rooms and the closet we've always used as storage will soon be Justice's, so the baby gear has to go. It is also ironic that I made the kids help and they repeatedly told me that it was so unfair that they were made to work on Labor Day--a holiday!

But God reminded me of a truth in all my remembering--babies aren't on anybodies time schedule. They arrive when they are good and ready and at just the right time. That's the way it is with God, too. I can't count the times when God has waited right down to the wire for something to happen. The saying goes, God is rarely early, never late, but always right on time. That's been true in my life and in the lives of countless other people. Although I wish that God had a "hurry-up" button (along with the "easy" button I also wish He had), He has never let me down. He's never missed an important date, arrived just a moment too late, or failed to show up when the chips were on the table.

Just like babies, God arrives right on time, every time.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Can You Hear Me Now?

Now that school's back in session it is a lot quieter around here. No more fights over who got the Wii games out. No more blaring music pounding down the stairway. No more annoying noises just for the sake of noise.

I might turn on the TV to watch the weather, tune in the radio for a radio program, or pull up Pandora on the computer to listen to some music while I work, but for a large part of the day, there is silence. Well, until 3:12, that is, when the bus rolls to a stop at the end of the driveway.

Have you experienced the feeling of being in an uncluttered room? Maybe in an empty home you are leaving or moving in to? Maybe during a redorating or painting project when the room is cleared of furniture. It is so easy to hear any tiny sound. Nobody's going to be sneaking up on you in there!

Have you ever wondered how to hear from God? Well, the absence of my kids at home reminded me of a lesson in hearing God. Just like an empty room transmits sound so easily, a head and heart void of clutter transmits the still, small voice of God so much better. So in the midst of our noisy, crazy lives, how can we get a little piece of quiet?

1. Turn it off. If you desire to hear God, you are going to need to listen. God is a gentleman and very rarely yells to get our attention. Turn off the cell phone, iPod, TV, computer, radio--whatever is creating noise. The problem isn't really with the gadgets, but the fact that they take captive our attention.

2. Drive in silence. When you find yourself alone in the car, resist the urge to pop out the "Five Million Songs That Kids Love and Moms Loathe" CD and put in a little something more to your liking. Take a few minutes and breathe in the silence. You can spend some of the time in prayer, but don't hog the quiet. Just listen and see if God doesn't have something to say to you.

3. Turn it on. Okay, so maybe you are a person who never gets a moment's silence. I understand. I used to go to the grocery store at 10:00 pm just so I could actually go by myself. So, if that is the place you find yourself in life, don't despair. Get your iPod, a portable CD player, or just a set of ear buds. Now, download or pop in a wordless CD, or just tuck the ear buds (attached to nothing--no body will know) in your pocket. Most people won't bother someone who looks like they are listening to something. The beauty of music without words is that is lets your mind wander and your ears stay open. Keep the volume down low. This is not the time to jive, but an exercise in solitude.

The next time you want to hear from God or just find yourself in need of a little peace, give one of these tricks a try. Can you hear me now?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons...7 Steps for Making Lemonade

You've heard the saying: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. It means to take a bad situation and make something positive, something good of it. If you are a parent or if you are involved in ministering to others (and parenting really is a ministry), you know that some days working with people can get ugly. Here are some tips I've found that make parenting or ministry a little less like lemons and a little more like lemonade.

For many kids, their first (and maybe only) try at entrepreneurship (is that a word?) is setting up their own lemonade stand. One year during a garage sale, my kids and a couple friends sparked and idea. The kids thought they could use the captive audience to their benefit and set to work dragging their faded yellow and orange plastic picnic table to the driveway, constructing eye-catching crayon signs, and rounding up an assortment of plastic drinking glasses. They also arranged a small cooler with Twinkles, Ho-Hos, and Ding-Dongs to arouse the attention (and thirst) of unsuspecting shoppers. The deal was, they could keep any money they made, but they couldn't stalk the customers.

They did a fair business that day, aided by the sweltering heat, their cute faces, and their stellar salesmanship. It was fairly easy work too. They didn't have to purchase any of their wares, they made the lemonade with my powdered mix and my help, and they sampled the merchandise when business was slow. But thinking back on that memory, it reminded me that both parenting and  ministry are sometimes like making lemonade. But more often than not, it is more like making lemonade from scratch. Let's look at the seven steps in making lemonade and see what each step can teach us.

Step 1: Prepare your work area and yourself. You will need to gather your supplies and ingredients. For ministry this might include questions, a Bible, a lesson, notepaper. For parenting you will need questions, answers, a Bible, life lessons, natural consequences, and lots of money. You will need to prepare yourself by washing up. This might include spending time in prayer, learning how to hold your tongue, preparing some wisdom and knowledge, gaining a humble attitude.

Step 2: Gather some ripe lemons. The number will depend on the people to whom you are ministering. In a mentoring relationship you will need one. For parenting, a handful is adequate--I'll take three, please. In larger ministry settings, you could have upwards of 30 or even a couple hundred. It is important to note that the lemons must be ripe or you will not have success with your final product. You can't hurry the process.

Step 3: Prepare the lemons. To do this, first wash the lemons. In ministry this looks like bathing those little buggers in prayer. In parenting it looks like bathing those little buggers in prayer, and in, well, soap. Sometimes a little life-style ministry is effective too. You know, just getting into people's lives. The second part of prepping the lemons is to press them on the counter so they will release the most juice. This might look like it hurts the lemons, but it is necessary for the final outcome. In both ministry and parenting, this includes setting boundaries, applying discipline, and teaching. In parenting it may also include punishment.

Step 4: Add water to your pitcher. Without the water, the lemons would be too overpowering and bitter. For both ministry and parenting, a good dousing of the Holy Spirit will give the lemons just the right balance of tartness and refreshment.

Step 5: Add sugar. The sugar is the easy part. It's like icing on the cake, gravy on the biscuit. Sugar is all the stuff that is so easy to do in both ministry and parenting. It is the fun outings, the time spent investing in a relationship, the giving of gifts, the sharing of secrets, the good days of special memories and the not-so-good days of helping someone grieve. Sugar is inside jokes and on-going traditions. The fun stuff. Be liberal with the sugar.

Step 6: Cut the lemons and squeeze their juice. This step is easier when you've already taken the time to prepare the lemons. This requires getting right to the heart of the lemon, baring their cores, and then applying pressure so they give up every ounce of good that is within them. In ministry, this is when you ask the hard questions, take them to a new level, stretch them from their comfort zones, and teach them to give of themselves until they are empty. In parenting, this is when you help you children really know who they are with all the good, the bad, and the ugly of their hearts. When you ask the hard questions, stretch them to independence, and teach them how to be others-focused. This is the most dangerous of the steps. If you are not careful, you may cut yourself. Or you run the risk of not having prepared the lemons enough in advance and they squirt you in the eye. But, ministry and parenting can be messy business, so don't back down. Press on toward your goal, adjusting as necessary.

Step 7: Stir it all together and enjoy the fruit of your labor. Your job is now complete and you can sit back and relax or start a new batch of lemonade.

I'm sure there are many more days of sun and heat left in this summer for you to get started on making some refreshing lemonade. Just remember to follow the seven steps and your chances of ending up with a great glass of lemonade are high.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Check it out!

A simple lesson for children. An eternal truth for everyone. Summed up in nineteen words.

Check out the awesome and fun-filled website Devo Kids--Christian Devotions for KIDS where you can also read my children's devotion and read my bio.

Just click here. Couldn't be any easier than that! If you are a regular reader of Lessons from the Carpool Line, you'll probably recognize the story.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Heaven Forbid!

I'm baaa-aack. Did you miss me? Boy, does my family make it difficult to get my time in on the computer when they are all home. School's back in session, hubby is working hard preparing for harvest, and I can finally reconnect with my computer.

A few weeks back, when I went to register the kids at school and pay their book fees, I didn't take the kids with me. We were getting ready to leave on a camping trip, so they stayed home finishing chores while I drove the four short miles to the school. When I arrived back home a few minutes later, they met me at the door, two questions on their lips. The first question required only a short answer: Who's my teacher?

The next question called on all my powers of memory and recall to answer: Who's in my class? They wanted me to recite from memory their entire class list--all 20-some kids, times two classes! I could remember most of the highlights, but I definitely left some kids out. That's when they started asking about specific people. Is Kody in my class? Is Megan? Did you see Sarah on the list?

That got me thinking about heaven. God reminded me, through my kids' excitement, that there will be another day when a list is posted and we'll all crowd around wondering Who's on the list? Are my friends going to be here with me?

In the New Testament, we are told of the list that will be posted at the end of the world as we know it. The Lamb's Book of Life will be opened and the names of those who have been declared righteous will be read. I, for one, plan on being in the right line when that day comes. In listening to the excitement my kids felt about their friends spending 2nd or 4th grade with them, it reminded me that I need to get even more excited about my friends (and family) spending eternity with me.

You see, my kids had no influence over who got onto the same list that they did. But I can influence, with my words and my life, everyone whom I come into contact with each day. Winding up on the List of Lists at the end of time is no accident. It isn't even a reward for living right or being a good person. The only way to be declared righteous is through accepting the gift of grace and mercy that Jesus gave you when He died on the cross in your place. See, keeping with my metaphor here, Jesus is the best teacher to get. What's more, He offers every one of us the opportunity to be in His class. But He won't force any of us to choose His class (or His leadership in our lives). His ultimate act of grace is to give us what we want when we die--to be with Him or to be apart from Him. He leaves the choice to each one of us.

That will be a wonderful day when I arrive in heaven and see who is in "class" with me. I hope that you'll be there too. If you'd like to know more about how to get on the right "class list", please contact me and I'd be happy to help you. Heaven forbid that you're not there--it just won't be the same without you!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Get Me Outta Here!

We bought a camper this summer. Both hubby and I grew up camping with our families, but we've never camped as a couple and the kids have never camped, period. Well, that's not entirely true. They've slept in a tent in the backyard a few times and since we brought the camper home there have been at least two nights of "roughing it" in the driveway.

Last weekend while I attended a conference, hubs took the kiddos camping for the first time. They spent three days and nights cooking over an open flame, boating, swimming in the reservoir, hiking, biking, and slapping mosquitoes. They rolled in Sunday morning just as I left to teach Sunday school, spilling from the truck, glazed expressions, tousled hair, dragging pillows and blankets. They made it to church for the second service, but Jot slept through the whole thing.

It reminded me of another experience involving a tent, but it not camping. An experience God used to teach me that just because I think I'm aware and vigilant, my kids may still find themselves in trouble. Let me explain...

A few years ago, on a cold winter morning, I packed the kids, and my contribution to a pitch-in lunch, in the van and headed out to a playdate. After arriving, the kids descended the stairs to the finished basement, joining the group already playing in a pop-up tent in the middle of the room. I settled in at the dining room table, joining the other five or six moms already deep in conversation. Every so often, a cheer would rise up from the depths of the basement, and we would look at one another and smile or someone would comment, "They sure are having a good time down there!"

Our friend Dee arrived late, her three kids racing to the basement, drawn by the raised voices of their playmates. As Dee found her place at the table, the hordes from the basement emerged, sweaty and red-faced. "Thank goodness! Luke let us out of the tent!"


"We were stuck in the tent and we've been calling you forever. Finally when Luke got here, he let us out!"

"Yeah, we kept yelling and you didn't hear us. So we'd count 1-2-3 then we'd all yell 'Mom!' together."

It seems the zipper on the tent stuck, capturing the kids packed inside like sardines. What we thought were shouts of glee were actually pleas for someone to come and free them. Hot, sweaty, hoarse, and some near tears, they were finally freed by their late-coming friend. All the while I thought my kids were happy, content, and free, they were enslaved just below me in a faulty pup tent.

God taught me a lesson once again. Now matter how vigilant I am, danger and bondage lurk around every corner. I can never know without a doubt that my children are safe and secure. I can do everything in my power and they might be within shouting distance and still in trouble. That's why it's so important for my kids and I to have a Savior. Just like Luke saved the day for my kids and their locked-in friends, we need someone capable of coming to our rescue.

Unlike Luke, we don't have to wait on our Savior to make an appearance. Our Savior is just a prayer away. He stands ready to save us as soon as the plea leaves our lips.

So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons (Galatians 4:3-5).

Friday, July 30, 2010

Getting Into Character: The ENFJ (Extravert, iNtuitive, Feeler, Judger)

Today we finish our detailed look at all sixteen Myers-Briggs labels. This is going to be so fun, because even if this is not your particular label, more than likely you will recognize someone you know and love revealed on the page. I need to let you know that this is NOT a professional opinion or blog—I’m just teaching you what I've learned over more than ten years of studying personality.

I’m not going to repeat my description of the dominant preferences and such, but if you haven’t been following along, go back and read the beginning of the first week’s post, which you will find under the April archives (The ESTP). I’ve highlighted the part you need to read in green, so you can easily catch up. You can look in each month, starting in February, and read all the posts titled Getting Into Character to get a view of the entire study.

Last week we looked at the INFJs, our friends and family members who help us focus on the future. Today we will change just one letter and see what a difference it makes when we go from the Introverted INFJ to the people-charged ENFJ, those awesome people who see our future potential and help us live up to it.

Living Life with an ENFJ: ENFJs are cheerleaders for living up to your own potential. They are leaders, organizers, supporters, and encouragers. They see what could be and they believe people can live up to their ideals and aspirations. They are insightful and often take others' feelings into consideration when making decisions. They are people of integrity and watch to see that the people around them live that way too. They believe the best about people and use warmth and encouragement to both support and prod people in their life. ENFJs are creative, coming up with new and innovative ideas.

Career/Service Area Choices for an ENFJ: ENFJs are people-oriented and up-front people and this is reflected in their choices of careers and service opportunities. ENFJs enjoy organizing fellowship and creating atmospheres that make people feel welcome. They promote change and meet large scale needs of people in their life and produce changes for the better. Some careers or volunteer positions that often appeal to ENFJs include: actor, counselor/therapist, clergy, trainer/teacher, designer, marketing, accountant, auditor, writer, attorney, assistant, and economist.
Free Time for an ENFJ: Before an ENFJ will spend time on personal hobbies or free time, all responsibilities to others will be complete. They also put relationships ahead of their own desires. ENFJs are avid readers and movie-goers and they enjoy watching how characters live and deal with real-to-life difficulties. Because they also enjoy talking about what they've read, they frequently participate in book clubs or reading groups. They are people-watchers, so you may find them doing that with characters or flesh-and-blood people. ENFJs enjoy helping people, so their free time might include aspects of that.  They don't like conflict and so they generally will stay away from highly competitive sports and activities or ones where people could get hurt.

Warnings for the ENFJ: Too much of any good thing can be a bad thing, so here are some things ENFJs need to beware. ENFJs can easily get their feelings hurt. They need to learn to not take things so personally and to listen to what people are really saying. Since they are people-focused, it is easy for ENFJs to forget the mundane tasks of day-to-day living and focus too much on relationships. They need to remember what needs done at home, at work, or in other areas of their life. ENFJs can come across as bossy to others. Be careful that you don't run people over and allow others to have less-than-perfect outcomes. Life is not about always being perfect, so give people a break.
Spiritual Helps for the ENFJ: Since ENFJs spend so much time and energy directed toward others, they may wish to focus inward for their worship and study times. They can combine this with corporate worship and study, but they need time alone so they can really focus on themselves without the temptation to turn their energy toward others. Their ability to clearly see into the future can aid people and organizations in prophetic-type ways. ENFJs enjoy being "out front", so they will need to balance this with time in quiet, personal study and reflection. ENFJs are organized and scheduled, so this will likely come out in their spiritual life. ENFJs may need to focus less on those around them for a time and go deeper into their own spiritual formation.

What Others Say About the ENFJ: Are you beginning to see yourself of someone you love on this page? If so, you know that they (or you) are people who are verbal, diplomatic, loyal and idealistic. ENFJs are enthusiastic and energetic and expressive. They also support those around them and are loyal to the people in their life.
Okay, who do you know that is an ENFJ? If you are an ENFJ, let me hear from you. I would love to know who out there can help lead me to the future!

That's it, folks! We've studied all eight pairings and now all sixteen options for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. You may want to go back now and fill in any blanks. I'm going to take the month of August off from Getting Into Character and I'm planning to take a look at learning styles in September. Until then, we'll continue with lessons two days each week. This has been a great time studying this aspect of personality with you.

Check back in on Monday when we talk camping. See you then!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Happy Birthday, Jewel!

Friday my only little girl enters the world of double-digits. Happy 10th birthday, Jewel! Ten years ago today, my belly already wracked with contractions, I waited to see if my daughter would enter the world completely healthy, or die in my arms soon after her birth. I've told you the story of my pregnancy and her birth before, but if you missed it, you can read it in the post titled Special Delivery.

She's changed so much since the first time I got a look at her tiny round face, button nose, and auburn hair. Her face is still round, her nose still pug, but her auburn locks were replaced with honey-colored hair that is stick straight all except at the nape of her neck where it curls. She's developed into a word-girl, full of stories and songs, jokes and facts, words and more words, enough to make your head spin. You can read more about Jewel by clicking on the page "Meet the Cast of Characters" or by clicking here.

She loves Jesus and trusts God to protect her and rescue her since, as she says, "He's already saved my life once." Not only has God spared her from the chromosomal disorder that could have taken her life before it barely got started, but he healed her from small cysts on her eyes while she was still a pre-schooler. God has been good to her and to us and surely has a plan that he's already working out in her life.

A fanatic about the Titanic, she can spout facts you never even thought to ask and is a veritable well of information. If she hears it, she remembers it, so the year she watched a Disney promo-DVD, all we had to do when we had a question was to ask Jewel and she'd regurgitate the answer verbatim. Not bad when you're debating the good points of Epcot versus Animal Kingdom! If we can get her to memorize a map, it'll be like having our own personal GPS/tour guide along on every trip.

She isn't afraid to stand out or stand up for what she believes. My friend Zella hits the nail on the head when she shakes her head, smiles, and says, "Jewel is her own person!" She frequently asks her dad for Gideon Student Bibles to give to children at school that she's told about Jesus and led  in a prayer for salvation.

Imaginative and creative, vibrant and talkative, gregarious yet solitary, Jewel, just as her name implies, is comprised of many facets. She is a rare find; one to be held dear, yet shared with the world. A colorful bit of fire that reflects all that's good about her Creator.

I recently reviewed a children's book by Diana Symons. You can read my thoughts on the book (and a little of Jewel's) below, but one sentence stands out, spoken by the wise King to his daughter. "If such a jewel is to be had, it will be worth the journey." The past ten years have been quite a journey with our Jewel. I can honestly say, it's been worth it. Happy Birthday, Jewel!

Review of "Where the Jewels Are" by Diana Symons

WHERE THE JEWELS ARE--Book 1 Tales from the Throne
by Diana Symons
Gold Pen Press, ISBN 978-1-934995-02-0, Paperback, 45 pages, $5.99.

There once was a Princess who had it all--looks, material possessions, and a wise and kind father, the King. The Princess wanted more, specifically a jewel that would shine as bright as a star in the night sky. Her father, being both wise and good, sends her on journey that will test her body and melt her heart. The lessons she learns along the way change her attitudes about what she holds dear and her beliefs about everything she thought she knew.

A small book with big lessons for young ladies, aged 8-12.

Jewel says, "A good story about friends who set out to find a jewel and it ends up being each other."

You can visit Diana Symons at her website, http://www.dianasymons.com/

Monday, July 26, 2010

Make a Wish

How appropriate that today is Candles on a Cake Day! Tomorrow we finish up our crazy, birthday month with party number four out of four. Jot and Jewel's birthdays are just ten days apart. Justice's birthday is New Year's Day and I can honestly say none of my kids have ever felt slighted by the birthday bashes I throw. While it would be easier for me to combine Justice's with Christmas or to have the family come once to celebrate for both Jot and Jewel, I don't do it. I want them each to have one day a year devoted totally to them.

So, in the past week and a half, we've hosted the family for both kids, Jot's friends for him, and tomorrow Jewel has six 10-year old girls coming for swimming and overnighter. Needless to say, my frig is packed with a kaleidoscope of colorful remnants of birthday cake. This is definitely the time of year for candles on a cake, at least at our house.

My kids have made many requests for presents through the years, but some stand out. This year, Jot's favorite gift was the 2-pack of ShamWows I purchased for him in the "As Seen on TV" section of the store. Once he asked for a live chicken. One year, Justice, in a strep-throat induced stupor requested a Native American hidden picture 1000 piece puzzle that's never been out of the box. Jewel asked for (and got) a drum set--as a three year old. And this year, she is immersed in the tragedy and mysteries surrounding the Titanic sinking, so along with her sock monkey flip flops, requested a Titanic game for the Wii.

As they grow older and the number of candles increase on the cake, we begin to look more toward the future. Along with What do you want for dinner? and What do you want for your birthday? we guide them toward thinking about what they want to be when they grow up. My kids, at one time or another, have expressed interest in being an NFL player, a tax man, a marine biologist, a popcorn farmer, a race car driver, a teacher, an architect, and a vet. The best one yet was a few years ago when I asked Jot what he wanted to be when he grew up. "A teenager", he answered.

God reminds me often of a more important question regarding my kids. Life sometimes interferes with our plans and dreams for the future. But there is one aspect we can always control--"Who do you want to be when you grow up?" I ask them to think of the type of person they want to be. I ask them to imagine what they would like others to say and think about them. Do you want to be a champion of the misfortunate? Do you want to be known as wise? Do you want people to see you as kind? or strong? or giving?

The follow-up question is "How are you going to accomplish that?" The nice thing about deciding who you will be rather that what you will be, is that you don't have to wait to grow up to be kind or strong or wise. You can do that right now, today.

I'm a writer, a teacher, a mom, a wife, a friend. But it is who I am, rather than what I am that people will remember long after I'm gone. Who do you want to be today?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Getting Into Character: The INFJ (Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeler, Judger)

Today we continue our look at the sixteen specific types, finishing up next week.This is going to be so fun, because even if this is not your particular label, more than likely you will recognize someone you know and love revealed on the page. I need to let you know that this is NOT a professional opinion or blog—I’m just teaching you what I've learned over more than ten years of studying personality.
I’m not going to repeat my description of the dominant preferences and such, but if you haven’t been following along, go back and read the beginning of the first week’s post, which you will find under the April archives (The ESTP). I’ve highlighted the part you need to read in green, so you can easily catch up.

Last week we looked at the ISFJs, those people who serve those around them with joy and are good through and through. Today we will change just one letter and see what a difference the Sensor/iNtuitive choice makes in personality. Everyone needs an INFJ or two in their life, since this personality helps us see the future.

Living Life with an INFJ: If you could use one word to describe the INFJ, it would be "visionary". They look toward the future and help others to do the same. They are planners and developers, always looking ahead. INFJs are insightful. When making decisions, INFJs take into consideration how their choices will affect the lives and feelings of others and choose accordingly. INFJs also have a keen sense of the feelings and motivations of other people. They are creative and imaginative and use these gifts to accomplish tasks and to make the journey enjoyable for themselves and the people around them. And if you want something done, ask an INFJ. They are consistent, organized workers who follow through and keep their word.
Career/Service Area Choices for an INFJ:  INFJs are often "word" people. They use spoken or written words to introduce new ideas and to stimulate change in their environments. In work and service, INFJs prefer places where they are allowed to be creative and original and where people are cooperative, organized, and focused on the same things the INFJs is. They enjoy ministries or careers that allow them to focus on the big-picture future and develop plans to get there. INFJs generally enjoy teaching or leading, but prefer smaller groups of people. Some careers that appeal to INFJs include: designer, counselor/psychiatrist/psychologist, human resources, marketing, teacher/trainer, homemaker, writer/editor, attorney, clergy, librarian, social worker, and scientist.
Free Time for an INFJ: Leisure activities for the INFJ may be solitary or involve people who mean a lot to them. They don't join group sports or hobbies to be around people. Often INFJs enjoy hobbies they can complete parallel to a special friend, such as carpentry, scrap booking, or sewing. INFJs usually make and keep friends for a long time rather than frequently make new ones. INFJs may meet regularly to share and catch up with their friends. Yet, they are also comfortable in friendships where they go long periods of time without seeing the other person, but can pick up their friendship right where they left off when they are together.
Warnings for the INFJ: Too much of any good thing can be a bad thing, so here are some things INFJs need to beware. INFJs may keep their thoughts to themselves more than they should, especially in the interest of keeping the peace. Let others know your thoughts. Often humble to a fault, INFJs need to let others know their gifts and strengths. You've been blessed with things you can do well, but if others don't know that, things might go undone that you could easily accomplish. Listen to the suggestions and thoughts of others. Other people have good ideas too. Learn to let go of unimportant or irrelevant details. INFJs can become so obsessed with one facet that they get totally off track. Prioritize.
Spiritual Helps for the INFJ: Spiritual growth for the INFJ often takes place or at least starts with solitude. INFJ enjoy time to write or journal their thoughts, feelings, prayers, or poetry. INFJs may use artistic avenues to express their spiritual sides. They might paint, sculpt, sing, play and instrument, compose stories, poems, plays, or teaching material. INFJs often enjoy digging deep into a topic of interest to them. They may read and research for long periods of time if some aspect or topic in their spiritual life intrigues them. INFJs may also help and encourage others, especially in finding unique solutions to spiritual problems.
What Others Say About the INFJ: Are you beginning to see yourself of someone you love on this page? If so, you know that they (or you) are people of integrity, quietly influential, compassionate, and harmonious. They are idea people; conceptual, idealistic, and holistic. Intense and determined, they are committed, deep people who continually keep an eye on the future and point others there too.

Okay, who do you know that is an INFJ? If you are an INFJ, let me hear from you. I would love to know who out there can help me see the future!

Well, we've come down the very last label. Drum roll, please...let's hear it for the ENFJ! Next week is your turn and you certainly are last, but not least. See you then.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

National Junk Food Day

Jolly Ranchers, Twizzlers, Jaw Breakers. Beef Jerky, Cheetos, Slim Jims. Oreos, Pop-Tarts, Nutty Bars.

If my kids planned the menu, that's what we'd eat--junk. For the children in my house, there are only five major food groups. They include pizza, salty snacks, sweet snacks, pop, and candy.

As I type this, there are seven soon-to-be-8-year olds camped out on my living room floor for Jot's birthday celebration. So far tonight, they've gobbled up corn dogs, chips, putrid green-colored punch, cake, and ice cream. I also served green beans, but half the boys refused with a polite "No, thank you." I tried a little positive reinforcement saying, "Nobody has to have green beans, but I imagine your moms would be so happy if you ate a few." Several took them, but only a couple finished the meager piles of bean upon their plate.

Why is it that junk food is so appealing? It makes us feel sluggish, fills our bellies so there is no room for the good stuff, causes cavities and mouth sores, adds unwanted weight, among other not-so-good things. Today is National Junk Food Day. I'm all for treating yourself to a snack or some candy in moderation. (I think a day is at it's best if popcorn is involved.) But, if all we ever put into our belly consisted of sugary sweets and salty snacks, we would end up fat, lazy, totally unhealthy people unable to live our lives or fulfill our purposes.

The Bible speaks of junk food, and not too flatteringly. Isaiah asked the people a profound question: Why do you waste your money on Twinkies and Twizzlers when you could have filet Mignon and chicken cordon bleu--and have it for free! (Well, that's not exactly what he said. But if you read it in The Message, you get his drift. )

"Hey there! All who are thirsty,

come to the water!
Are you penniless?
Come anyway—buy and eat!
Come, buy your drinks, buy wine and milk.
Buy without money—everything's free!
Why do you spend your money on junk food,
your hard-earned cash on cotton candy?
Listen to me, listen well: Eat only the best,
fill yourself with only the finest.
Pay attention, come close now,
listen carefully to my life-giving, life-nourishing words." Isaiah 55:1-3

That's a question I'd like to ask my kids and a lesson God has used my kids to teach me about my own desires and habits. Why settle for sugar and air when I can have something so much better?

It could be in a variety of areas. Why do I toil and wear myself out cleaning up after my family rather than enjoying the few precious years I have them in my home? Why spend so much money on my appearance or my stuff, yet hold tight-fisted to my money when I hear of someone else with a need? Why do I waste time watching pointless TV programs or whittling away time on the computer rather than developing my interests, reading God's word, praying for someone in need, or countless other things that would serve an eternal purpose? You fill in the blank for yourself: Why do I spend __________ on __________ when I could fill myself with __________?

God offers us the choicest of fare and He's already paid the price. He's offered us nourishment for our bodies, souls, and spirits. Who are we to settle for less?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Happy Birthday, Jot

Tomorrow my littlest character turns 8. A lot has changed over those years. He's grown more than three feet and gained sixty pounds. His reddish peach-fuzz hair has turned blond and grown longer, revealing several interesting (and maddening) cowlicks. He still has blue eyes, but they have brightened to a startling rich shade.

Some things remain the same. He laughs easily and often. He still wakens at the crack of dawn, ready to tackle the day. He still falls asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow. He continues to happily tag along to all his brother's activities and to join in his sister's crazy schemes. You can read more about him on the page titled, "Meet the Cast of Characters" or by clicking here.

God uses Jot to teach me lessons everyday. He reminds me to believe in the impossible. He teaches me to wonder at nature and all the creepy-crawly, slithering, hopping, "awesome" stuff it holds. He reminds me that every new experience holds mysteries to be revealed. He teaches me to look for the person who has no one else and be their friend. He reminds me that it is a good thing to laugh so hard that you cannot breathe.

Jot's addition to our home was eagerly anticipated and it's just gotten better from there. We will celebrate tonight by having seven of his friends come for a sleepover and then a trip to the swimming pool tomorrow. Will it be loud? Yes. Will it be messy? Yep. Will it be filled with "bathroom humor"? Surely. Will I get much sleep? Doubtfully. Will it be worth it? Most definitely.

Happy Birthday, Jot! May God continue to use you in mighty ways, develop your heart for the underdog, and infuse the world with silliness and laughter.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Getting Into Character: The ISFJ (Introvert, Sensor, Feeler, Judger)

Today we continue our look at the sixteen specific types. We'll finish up this month.This is going to be so fun, because even if this is not your particular label, more than likely you will recognize someone you know and love revealed on the page. I need to let you know that this is NOT a professional opinion or blog—I’m just teaching you what I've learned over more than ten years of studying personality.

I’m not going to repeat my description of the dominant preferences and such, but if you haven’t been following along, go back and read the beginning of the first week’s post, which you will find under the April archives (The ESTP). I’ve highlighted the part you need to read in green, so you can easily catch up.

Last week we looked at the ESFPs, those people we love to be around because they are fun and friendly. Let's change the first and last letters this week and take a look at the ISFJ. Hopefully you have at least one of these special people in your life. They serve those around them with joy and are good through and through.

Living Life with an ISFJ: ISFJs are just all around good guys and gals. They keep things running smoothly, are dependable and responsible. They keep their word and do what they say they'll do. They prefer to avoid being the center of attention, but serve faithfully and joyfully behind the scenes. Empathetic, they often take into account the feelings of others when making decisions. They are loyal friends, often keeping relationships for a lifetime. However, they usually only have a few close friends. They reliable handlers of facts. ISFJs are sacrificers (I know that's not a word) for the people they care about and for people they see in need.
Career/Service Area Choices for an ISFJ: ISFJs are good workers because they do what is expected of them and often go beyond expectations. They are organized and responsible and enjoy work or service environments that reflect these values as well. ISFJs will prefer a work environment that both allows them to accomplish tasks and meet the needs of people. They flourish in places that have clear-cut rules and procedures and that allow them time alone to work and concentrate. ISFJs can succeed at many occupations or volunteer positions, but many are drawn to these: bookkeeper, assistant/secretary, librarian, medical technologist/nurse, teacher/trainer, attorney, marketing, researcher, homemaker, entrepreneur.
Free Time for an ISFJ: ISFJs finish their work before they play, but because they see so much that needs done, they often neglect free time or combine it with other items on their list of things to do. Usually reserved, ISFJs can let their hair down if they feel secure in their environment. ISFJs may find joy and relaxation in having their things and those of others, look nice and remain clean and neat. They may spend their free time working on their yard, their home, their own appearance.
Warnings for the ISFJ: Too much of any good thing can be a bad thing, so here are some things ISFJs need to beware. ISFJs easily see the details, but it is often difficult for them to see the whole picture. This may make it hard for them to prioritize and instead complete tasks as they arise rather than in order of importance. Not wanting to be in the spotlight, ISFJs may fail to take their due credit. Don't be afraid to acknowledge your contribution. ISFJs have a tendency to allow their own needs to go unmet, instead taking care of everyone else around them. They must care for themselves too or risk burn-out, fatigue, and apathy or even bitterness.
Spiritual Helps for the ISFJ: ISFJs enjoy both tradition and organization, so they will likely enjoy daily, traditional Bible study and prayer. They also enjoy and see God at work when they are in nature or in Bible verses that connect nature with the senses. Serving others allows ISFJs to work out their faith in the expression of meeting needs and "being the hands and feet of God". ISFJs benefit from concentrated time alone and will likely enjoy retreats for renewal and rest.
What Others Say About the ISFJ: Are you beginning to see yourself of someone you love on this page? If so, you know that they (or you) are considerate and conscientious, detailed and devoted, patient, organized, traditional, sympathetic, accurate, stable, and efficient. No wonder we love these people so much!
Okay, who do you know that is an ISFJ? If you are an ISFJ, let me hear from you--seriously, this isn't bragging--you didn't create you--God did!

Can you believe we are winding down this study? Next week we look at the next to last personality type--the INFJ. What can one little letter do? Tune in to find out.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Thumb Wars--A Devotion

This week, a devotion I wrote for kids is running on DevoKids. DevoKids says it is a site for "Christian Devotions for KIDS", but it is so much more. You can find fun facts, interesting stories, recipes just for kids, puzzles, games, author interviews, words to the wise about money, and lots of other stuff.

It is such a fun, engaging site, I decided to let you click the link below and go straight to the website to read it (and see it!) for yourself.

If you click on Devotion, you can read about a lesson you can learn from that fun finger game Thumb Wars. And if you click on Food Fixin's you can get the recipe for a yummy snack mix that adults AND kids can make!

Devo Kids Christian Devotions for KIDS

Hope you enjoy this little change of pace here in the middle of July. On Friday, it's back to looking at personality with Getting Into Character.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Say What?!

"Mom, Dakota called and he can't come to the swim party tonight. His brother got shocked and still isn't feeling very good," Jot yelled down the basement steps to me.

"Say what?!"

"He said his brother got shocked and doesn't feel good, so they can't come."

I admit my heart stopped for a moment when I heard this. Dakota's brother just turned a year old and my mind flew with possibilities. Did he bite into a cord? Stick something in an outlet? Get too near a window during a thunderstorm?

Then my logical brain took over. I guessed if Dakota's mom had the presence of mind to remember to call us, she would have explained herself that her baby was nearly electrocuted rather than have her 7-year old deliver the news. So, he just turned a year old about two weeks ago...babies go to the doctor a lot...shocked...shots? Shots! That's it! He must have gotten shots and wasn't feeling well. Whew!

I sent Dakota's mom a message and checked on the health and welfare of her baby and, sure enough, the immunizations were the problem. But imagine the havoc I could have caused had I reported Jot's misinformed news.

Today is Town Crier's Day and that got me to thinking about messages. If it's one thing kids will teach you, it's to watch what you say, when you say it, and how you say it, because you can be certain you (or worse yet, someone else) will hear your words again. And sometimes they come back to bite you in the rear!

I used to teach the 2-year old Sunday school class at church and nothing made my heart beat faster or my skin crawl than to have a child ask me, "You wanna know what my mom/dad said?" Oh, honey, please don't tell me. I scrapbook with your mom. I have to see you dad during offering. You have no idea the things I learned that year!

Apparently this is not a new problem. Writing to the early church, Luke commended the Bereans for their noble character, saying, "they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." The Bereans had learned a valuable lesson--always check your facts.

We need to check the facts when we hear something about someone that simply goes outside everything you've ever known. If you hear gossip about someone and you think "That's not like him/her"--chances are you're right. I don't know how many times I've heard a bit of gossip about someone only to learn later the "reporter" had it all wrong.

We need to check our facts when it comes to our kids. Make it difficult for your kids to pull one over on you. Check with other parents. Check dates and times of events. Check that they end up where they say they are going. I know of several kids whose parents thought they spent every Sunday morning in church. The reality is they put in an appearance, snuck out, and spend a few hours drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana.

We need to check our facts when someone in authority tells us something. Reliable pastors, teachers, news sources, and bosses support their facts with sources and citations. If your pastor doesn't tell you the reference for a Biblical quote, ask for it and look it up yourself. If a teacher cites a study, ask for the data or the link to a website. Question not to be annoying or difficult, but to be informed and to show yourself responsible for your own knowledge. Just always remember to be respectful when you question authority. A man or woman of integrity will welcome your desire to verify. Mistakes happen. But let it stop with you.

There is a lesson in this for us as adults too. If you are a parent, a teacher, a minister, a boss, any type of authority figure, you must be humble enough to allow those under you to question. It requires us to be more diligent, more thorough, more honest in our dealings with others and in what we say. It requires us to be on our toes, to be willing to say "I don't know", or to maybe even say "I was wrong." It allows us to grow. And isn't that what we all want anyway?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

You Light Up My Life

My favorite kitten is missing. A soft orange tiger kitty with white feet and chest, Georgia Peach is only about two months old. This week she wandered into the corn field and never came out. Chances are, she got turned around and walked deeper into the corn that towers over my head. Maybe a coyote or an owl ate her. Or maybe she'll wander far enough to make it out into the backyard of one of our neighbors. Whatever the case, it doesn't look good for seeing her again. It's a sad thing.

Every night when we come in for the last time, I count the kittens and shut them up in the barn. On Monday night, the count came up two short--eight instead of ten--kittens. I sent Jot to the house for a flashlight and we walked the perimeter of the yard, surrounded half by corn and half by soybean plants. I don't need the flashlight to see my way around. The security light mounted on the barn throws off enough light to see what I need to see. I needed the light to keep track of the other eight kittens that romped and frolicked while we searched. It also let me keep an eye on the kids who wandered a short ways into the corn. When the corn is that high, it is easy to get in to a place where you are surrounded and then lose your way. Roaming around in a hundred acres of seven-foot tall corn after dark would be disastrous.

I shined the light into the corn and we called, "Here, kitty-kitty."A moment later, a glowing set of eyes peered from the field. Out into the light stepped Peach Melba. One cat down, one to go. We called some more, checked the garage, the barn, and the woodshed. Nothing. Back to the field we went where we had last seen Georgia and the calling commenced. For a few minutes, nothing; then another set of glowing eyes flashed in the beam of the flashlight. I turned the ring around the clear disk, focusing the light to a bright dot. And there at the edge of the field, eating the scrapes of food Jewel had thrown out after dinner was....a skunk!

Yep, in all his black-and-white smelly glory stood a skunk, not ten feet from me. I quick told the kids to stay put and we called to the other cats, hoping they wouldn't get too close to set off a stinky warning shot. Already I sniffed his musky scent and could just imagine my isolation if he spooked and sprayed me. I know skunks can spray multiple times and hit something up to fifteen feet away. I was in the "splash zone" and I needed to keep him happy until I could back up.

Mr. Smelly didn't really seem to mind that I witnessed his late-night snack and I had no trouble getting out of Dodge before he decided to challenge me to a draw. But God did use the experience to teach me a lesson: Light is good for showing the way, illuminating dangers, and keeping others safe.

Psalm 119:105 says, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path." When I keep God's words before my eyes and in my heart, it lights my path. It keeps me from stumbling, it guides my path, and it prevents me from running head-long in to skunks of all sorts. Light keeps us from going places we don't want to go and from doing things we don't want to do.

God illuminates dangers and sin when I use His word to shine the light of truth upon it. How can I know what God expects if I never compare my actions to what He says in His word? Psalm 18:28 says, "You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light." When I'm in the darkness of sin, God shines His light, shows me my error and gives me the opportunity to correct it. When I change the course of my direction, the darkness turns to light.

God's word used correctly can also keep others safe. If I had kept the flashlight to myself and sent the kids out to look on their own, I might still be giving tomato juice baths. But because I used the light to expose the danger and then keep the kids from it, we all came away from the incident smelling like roses. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." Notice what God's word is good for: teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training. Not one of those words means "to beat over the head until unconscious". God says His word is eternal and it has specific, good uses. He calls His word a light, but He also calls it a sword. Swords need to be handled with care or else what we had meant for the good of the other person ends up cutting off their left arm.

We never did find sweet Georgia Peach, but the light kept us from coming face-to-face with a noxious nightmare.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Getting Into Character: The ESFP (Extravert, Sensor, Feeler, Perceiver)

Today we continue our look at the sixteen specific types and we are down to the last four. Can you believe it? This is going to be so fun, because even if this is not your particular label, more than likely you will recognize someone you know and love revealed on the page. I need to let you know that this is NOT a professional opinion or blog—I’m just teaching you what I've learned over more than ten years of studying personality.

I’m not going to repeat my description of the dominant preferences and such, but if you haven’t been following along, go back and read the beginning of the first week’s post, which you will find under the April archives (The ESTP). I’ve highlighted the part you need to read in green, so you can easily catch up.

Last week we looked at the ESFJ's, our lovely friends, family, and neighbors that make us all feel welcome. This week we will change it up by switching the last letter and meet the ESFPs. You probably have one or two friends with this label because they are known for being fun and friendly.

Living Life with an ESFP: Friendly to everyone, ESFPs usually have a wealth of friends and acquaintances. They give of their time and talents willingly and add a zest and enthusiasm to everything they involve themselves in doing. Truly people-focused, ESFPs understand themselves and their beliefs and values and want to understand those things about the people in their life. They are optimistic, energetic, and choose to look past the flaws and focus instead on the positive qualities in people. ESFPs generally like life, live it exuberantly, and they bring joy to the people they encounter.
Career/Service Area Choices for an ESFP: ESFPs will enjoy work or service opportunities that allow them to assist others with tangible acts. Adept at using their own time and talents, they also succeed in helping others to work in their own areas of expertise. ESFPs enjoy planning and helping with socials and they will gravitate to jobs and volunteer positions that allow them to express this in their daily activities. Often you will find ESFPs working and serving with youth, young adults, or in sports/action-oriented jobs and ministries. Because of the same desire to plan, help, and socialize, you might find them working with the sick or the elderly. Some careers and occupations ESFPs might gravitate toward are: childcare, coaching, supervisor roles, religious educator, receptionist/assistant, respiratory therapist, recreation worker, researcher, homemaker, or entrepreneur.
Free Time for an ESFP: ESFPs love being active and and social and you will find them involved in things such as sports, crafts, or just hanging out with friends. Whatever they are doing, chances are it will include other people. If they participate in solitary activities like TV watching or reading, they often get extremely involved with the characters almost as if they were real people, and they like to discuss the episode or book with others. Friends are important the them and they have many because people are drawn to their fun-loving and friendly ways. ESFPs are known to be practical jokers, so watch out or they will try to pull one over on you!
Warnings for the ESFP: Too much of any good thing can be a bad thing, so here are some things ESFPs need to beware of: While they are natural people-pleasers, ESFPs run the risk of trying to please everyone, all the time, and never making anyone truly happy, including themselves. They need to determine their own needs and not try so hard to keep the peace that they let them go unattended. ESFPs often wear many hats and balance can become a problem for them. Their tendency to be spontaneous and their lack of planning for the future can be a problem when they prioritize by what comes to mind first rather than what is most important or most pressing. ESFPs enjoy people so much that this can get them in trouble. They often don't act if it means they must do it alone. They need to learn to have confidence in their ability to do things well and alone if necessary. They also spend so much time socializing that they don't take of things at work or home that need to be done.
Spiritual Helps for the ESFP: ESFPs looking to engage more in their spiritual journey will likely enjoy engaging directly with people also on the journey. ESFPs like to discuss and process what they are learning with other people. That said, ESFPs will also enjoy personal or group retreats for relaxation, rejuvenation, and fellowship. ESFPs prefer group devotions and study time to going it alone. They also seek to see the tangible examples of God in their daily life. ESFPs prefer to consider both the positive and negative sides of a spiritual life and need to focus on building their faith. Often growth in faith can get neglected in their pursuit of spontaneity. ESFPs also like to use all their senses to appreciate and discover God.

What Others Say about the ESFP: Are you beginning to see yourself of someone you love on this page? If so, you know that they (or you) are playful, easy-going, enthusiastic, and friendly. Relationship-oriented, ESFPs are cooperative, vivacious, talkative, warm, and fun. They bring enjoyment to everyone they meet, are informal and comfortable to be around. Everyone needs (and probably has) at least one ESFP in their life!
Okay, who do you know that is an ESFP? Let me hear from you if you are!

Next week, we change a couple of the letters and look at our friend the ISFJ. See you then!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Take Time to Breathe

Swimming. Overnighters. Bowling. Library. Friends. Chores. Boating. Picnics. Reading. Camp. Teaching. Family. Church. Fireworks. Zoo. Camping. Road trips. Cleaning. Movies. Organizing. Serving. Playdates.

All of the above list are things that we have crammed into our summer days and nights. These are all good things. Some of them are necessary, but many are not. Some of them are initiated by us, but often they are someone else's idea. But the truth is, when I look at this list, it just makes me tired.

See, I require a lot out of my kids in their time off from school. They help out at home, they have chores, they read, write, and review their schoolwork to stay current, and they learn to be responsible for themselves. We have so much to accomplish and when the work is done, we play. But sometimes, what they crave is just rest. Time to be a kid. Time to get bored enough to get creative. Time to think and to listen and to learn.

Cloud-watching. Catching lightning bugs. Building forts. Holding kittens. Reading. Baking. Learning Morse code. Friends. Swimming. Family. Exploring the woods. Sending smoke signals. Mud pies. Spying. Naps.

All of these things are things I hope my kids do at some time over the summer. Some things appear on both lists and neither list is exhaustive, but it is up to me to see that my kids have enough down-time from the things on the first list to find the things on the second list.

Why is it that we think we need to keep our kids so busy? I know part of the reason is because we need to spend so much more time with them compared to moms and dads of the past. When I was the age that Justice is now, I rode my bike all over town with my two friends, checking in at mealtimes. Everyone else did too. It was safer then and our parents didn't think a thing about it. I still don't like it when my kids backtrack an aisle at Wal-mart to retrieve a forgotten item. But, I think somewhere along the line, most of us give our kids too much. Too much fun, too much money, too much stuff. They need to want and save and rest to learn to be the people God wants them to be.

God knew we needed rest. He gave us one day a week to rest, recharge, and renew. He gave us permission to celebrate holidays and holy days when we take a break from the routine and the "must do" and relax and experience the "get to". When we don't take it, we get just like our kids do when they've run too much--cranky, uncooperative, and depressed.

I know there are so many tempting things to cram into summer. But do yourself and your kids a favor and say no to a couple things here and there and do just nothing. See where your imaginations (and your uninterrupted free time) take you. Give yourself permission to accomplish nothing except to feed your soul, relax your muscles, and take a deep breath. We'll all be better for it. And who knows you may end up with a killer fort in your backyard, a great idea for a story, or a kid able to send smoke signals to the neighbor in the event that you run out of sugar in the middle of your chocolate chip cookie recipe.