The skeletons in my closet

We all have them right?

College is an especially ripe environment to accumulate some of these skeletons.  Let me tell you a little story from my university years.

It was 2002.  I was doing a group project, a final presentation for one of my classes during my undergraduate career.  For an independent introvert there is hardly anything more torturous than forced teamwork

Anyway, we collaborated and then presented on one of the last days of the semester, passed the class and never looked back.

That is until I realized that two of the books that I checked out from the library that I lent to another group member for his portion of the project were not returned to me, nor were they returned to the library.  I tried contacting him and even requested help from my professor to get these books back but to no avail.

So twelve years later I have some massive fines and two books still unreturned to my alma mater’s library.

Wait, what?  You expected something juicier when I titled this blog “Skeletons in my closet”?  Something perhaps more scandalous than overdue library books?

I am sure I have plenty of those kinds of skeletons, too.  But you know, this is a public blog soooo….

This might not be the sexiest, juiciest, most scandalous skeleton ever,  but nevertheless there it is  hanging in my closet.  Not a huge millstone tied around my neck, but a pesky one, a small blemish on my record and a nagging fear that the library gods would some day find me and fine me.

Well, this week they did.  I got an e-mail that went a little something like this…

Dear Kirsten.  You have two library books SEVERELY OVERDUE.  Send us our money and our books or we are sending this TO A COLLECTION AGENCY.  P.S. What is the matter with you?!?!

Oh my goodness they think I am some kind of a delinquent!!  Don’t they know I am a mom?  Who LEADS BIBLE STUDIES AT HER CHURCH??!!

I checked my old school library account online and sure enough there were $140 in fines.

Additionally I was notified that I would owe $150.00 per missing book if I couldn’t return them. (okay so $150 seemed pretty steep for a book on the Inca road system, right?  Surely I could find it cheaper.   Um, no.  I did a quick Amazon search and found that just one of them ranged between $150 and $270.  Seriously?  Are these books dipped in gold and organic peruvian quinoa?)

Now I am starting to feel sick as I imagine having to tell my husband that we need to take several hundred dollars out of our savings account for my past wayward ways.

It was time to face my shame.  Even though I knew I could place some of the blame on my slacker-of-a-group-member, these were books that I checked out, on my account and I couldn’t pretend this problem didn’t exist anymore, although I had successfully avoided it for 12 years.

I sent a brief e-mail in reply that went a little something like this..

Oh most benevolent library gods, I don’t have the books.   Group projects suck.  I am at your mercy. Love, Kirsten

Although I could hardly stand the thought of paying all this money, it actually felt good to fess up and know I could put it behind me.

Less then a day passed before I heard back and I was so anxious as I opened the e-mail, cringing at the possible monetary amount surely to be mentioned, and also feeling a bit like a naughty elementary school student waiting for another scolding from the teacher.

The e-mail went a little something like this,

Dear Kirsten,  You’re right, group projects DO suck.  No worries, it’s all good.  Your account is cleared of all charges.

Say whaaaaaaattt?

I immediately checked my library account and discovered that both books had been removed, along with the $140 in fines.

Benevolent library gods indeed!

I have checked back several times since, still in awe that my criminal university record was wiped clean so easily.  Each time I checked, I would feel that sense of relief again.  In fact it felt so good I think I’ll go check again right now…

…okay, still clear!

And , I started to think.

What if not just the small (or in my case, large) library book variety of skeletons were taken out of my my closet, but also the more scandalous and shameful ones as well?

What if I could look back, every day if I really wanted to, and be reminded that “really?  wow!  My account is still wiped clean!” 

What if I could experience that sense of relief for everything in my life?

And hey, what if there was an actual God, not just those library guys, the kind that can’t just see my overdue books but the kind that can somehow see into my past and into my heart (there are some skeletons lurking in there, too)

What if this God wanted to give me freedom, too?

What if no matter how much I owed, how scandalous my skeleton, or how many years I had been avoiding and running and pretending, this God was waiting to reply?

Dear Kirsten,

As far as sunrise is from sunset, I have separated you from your sins (psalm 103)

Please approach My throne of grace with confidence, so that you may receive mercy and find grace to help you in your time of need (Hebrews 4)

It’s all good!

Love, God

Deserved

My family and I are leaving for a Florida vacation in a few short days.  The Magic Kingdom, airplanes, Mickey Mouse, the ocean – the whole enchilada.

It’s a pretty big deal and my excitement over escaping the hot Tucson dirt for some ocean breezes might even surpass my daughter’s excitement over getting to have dinner with a bunch of Disney Princesses.

But let me tell you (just in case you haven’t been fortunate enough to hear these words in a real life conversation yet) what is happening EVERY SINGLE TIME I share with someone about this upcoming vacation.  I, almost mandatorily, interject that my parents are paying for it.  Because they are.  My parents have generously planned for and paid for this amazing adventure – plane tickets, Disney World tickets, meals with princesses and a beautiful beach house.  The whole enchilada.  

I am beyond grateful, truly.  But seriously, EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

It’s like I can’t just say “We’re taking a vacation!”…

…because we want to.

… because that is what American families do.

…because we work a lot and need a break and an ocean breeze on our faces.

…because Cinderella and It’s a Small World and Sand Castles!!!!

…because…we deserve it?

I don’t force this detail of my parents’  generosity upon people to give mom and dad credit.  I do it because I am worried what people will think.  I am worried we don’t actually deserve it.

I am worried that what you are really thinking when I tell you we are headed to Florida for fun and sun is “Wow, aren’t they supposed to be missionaries?”  or “Wow, maybe that is a bit too extravagant for them”  “Wow, is THAT where my $50/month is going?”  (apparently I think people say “wow” a lot in their internal monologues…)

We are a family in ministry.  We raise (okay fine, Jon raises…) our salary and benefits from individual ministry partners (i.e. your money).  Somewhere, somehow, the idea has entered my belief system that because we are in ministry, because we are acostumed to a certain lifestyle of financial restraint, because of how we get a paycheck- we don’t deserve a vacation.  At least not one that involves airfare and Disney and beaches.

For some reason that’s okay for other people, but not for us.

Money, since realizing I married a man who is committed to ministry and since realizing I follow a Jesus who means what he says about all those dollar bills – has become a really big deal in my life.  I think about it a lot.  I do without it a lot.  When we have extra of it, I spend it irresponsibly a lot and hence feel guilty about it a lot.  It’s a big deal.  I’ve written on money here before because time after time it finds it’s way into my heart.

I have COMPLICATED feelings about my money and other peoples’ money.

But right now I mainly just feel like I don’t deserve a sweet vacation.

Like what we Phillips Family should have is a summer in the hot dusty desert and just grin and bear it.

So, when you ask me if I have plans for the summer, and I awkwardly rattle off how we are going to Disney World and The Most Awesome Beach House  but it’sokaybecausemyparentsarepayingforitnotus…

…it’s my shame talking (certainly nothing anyone has ever said to me!)

It’s shame over the many moments when I feel like we don’t have enough.

It’s shame over the many moments when I feel sick over my extreme wealth.

It’s shame, simple as that.

I’m not sure if I “deserve” an awesome vacation.  But I have one coming to me and I would like to enjoy it, I would like for my kids to enjoy it.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t deserve a kind and gentle Savior, but I got one and I like to enjoy him, too.  I got Him, plus the Holy Spirit, plus a lot of really cool things like spiritual gifts and family and love and joy and peace.  The whole enchilada.  

So if in the next few days I instead of just telling you what our month of June looks like, I give you an itemized bill and show you what exactly we paid for all this, please just be patient with me.

Oh, and thanks Mom and Dad!

Sometimes life here in the Kingdom of God can look a lot like hot, dusty Tucson and grin and bear it.

But, this summer the Kingdom of God looks like having the whole enchilada and eating it too, with some ocean breezes and – hopefully for the sake of my four year old daughter – a picture with Elsa and Anna.

Christmas Peace, Budgeted

Sorry, this isn’t a deep, pensive blog post about the holiday season and all the peace that comes on December 25th.

I’m sure if I tried real hard I could squeeze out some elegant words about Christmas peace, but honestly right now I got my mind on my money and my money on my mind. 

That is to say, the floodgates have been opened and between the beautiful, glittering displays at stores and the red cups at Starbucks and the lists of who we buy presents for adding up and so many meaningful places to send our cash tugging at our heartstrings and the Pandora station already on “A Charlie Brown Christmas”; all these glorious things are threatening to pull Christmas peace out of my finger tips and it’s not even Thanksgiving yet.

One of the best ways to experience Peace this season is to be at peace with my finances.  So while I am sure I will have some emotional stuff to spew later on as I begin celebrating Thanksgiving and then Advent and then Christmas, right now I need something practical.  Stat. 

I stumbled upon this gem awhile ago. A downloadable Christmas Budget for moms. First off,  don’t be confused.  This is NOT that kind of mommy blog.  I think I have made myself clear in the past, I am not the organized, craft-pinning, kids’ chore chart kind of mom.

Well, I am in my dreams but not in reality.

So lest you think I made this myself, visit here.

christmas budget

My Christmas Budget sheet.  I like that it includes everything from gifts down to baking ingredients, as I am the kind of person that needs everything detailed to help me stay on track, mostly because I lack self discipline.

Money is a big deal for me.    Money is a big deal for people who don’t have any.  Money is a big deal for people who have a lot of it.  Money is a big deal in the bible.  Money is a big deal in my heart as I often times believe the lie that more of it will make me happier.

Yet, it doesn’t make me happier.  Sometimes, though, the things money can buy make me happy, but isn’t it funny how something that makes me happy can actually lead me away from Peace?

So I put on my Organized Hat and make budgets, specifically a Christmas one.  Maybe it will be helpful for you, too.

As I am budgeting, here are some of the decisions I am making (with Jon of course) to guide me and help me stick to what I truly value in the midst of all those beautiful decorations, expensive toy shops, and delicious cookie recipes.

I am always looking for ways to value celebration, without valuing materialism and consumerism and any other such harmful ‘ism’.

1) Our kids get three presents each.  Kinda like Jesus.  Simple, inexpensive, fun, meaningful – but only three.

2) This year I am only baking two sets of cookies.  Gingerbread for ginger bread houses to decorate at home with some friends and my favorite peppermint molasses ones that I hope to share with others so that I don’t gain a million pounds before the New Year.  These are so yummy, you should bake them.

3) We can’t make everyone’s Christmas special. Tear. But we can make some difference. I have a hard time saying no to helping others and even though generosity and giving are pretty darn high on the list, we can’t go into debt.  This year we didn’t do Angel Tree, but we did do Operation Christmas Child.  We will continue talking about where else we want to give and can give as the season continues.

4) Celebrating the season for free (or pretty darn cheap).  Advent readings and prayers as a family and individually,  lights to celebrate The Light coming into Darkness (that means Winterhaven for you Tucsonans!), singing Christmas Carols, snuggling by fires, attending church, reading the Christmas story from scripture, bringing cookies to neighbors.  I’d love other suggestions and traditions!

5) Being thankful.   A thankful heart brings far more Christmas cheer than the biggest turkey, the fattest Santa, the most delicious peppermint mocha, the glitziest tree, or the most money spent on presents.  Just ask Tiny Tim.  This is something I have to decide to do, it doesn’t just happen organically.

6) Enjoy the Extravagance of it all.  Alright, so we probably won’t splurge on anything this season, although those Black Friday deals are tempting, but I have been the recipient of The Most Extravagant Gift Ever and I am looking forward to celebrating THAT in excess this year!  With you.  And cookies.

Happy Holidays, officilaly.  37 more shopping days until Christmas 🙂

Tension. No wait, TENSION.

See this?

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I picked those leaves from my parents’ yard in northern Illinois.

Once back in the dusty desert I got out my Tub-o-Mod Podge and made my very own candle holder with those beautiful red leaves.

Then I made another one with some burlap.

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I had a problem, obviously, and just couldn’t stop.  I bought a pumpkin and some ears of corn and re-purposed a mirror that was in our bedroom and POOF!

Kirsten had decorated for autumn.

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This is big people

HUGE, actually.

There was a time in my life, not too long ago (like, last week) during which I was convinced that decorating for seasons (other than Christmas, duh.) was for a certain kind of person that involved wearing mom jeans and reading Good Housekeeping and being boring.

Well, I guess I have arrived because this fall my house smells like  spiced apple cider and my fire place mantle looks AHHHMAZING.

And I love it.  It truly brings me joy to sit here enjoying a bit of autumn (while the a/c is on, obviously, because you know it is like 93 degrees out right now…).  So maybe not like ‘profound spiritual’ joy but certainly ‘life is good‘ joy.

Bit by bit I have found myself doing strange things like this.

For example, last Christmas I paid like $20 for a wreath from Micheal’s that had gold spray-painted pine cones plastered to it. (It’s tacky, not gonna lie)

You can kinda see it in this picture…

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Now that I have figured out how to use Pinterest it is getting even worse and I am absolutely stuck in the TENSION of it all.

You might be surprised that there can be TENSION in Mod Podge and fall foliage, but there is in my life.

Actually, I am a firm believer that for all the Peace we get in Jesus, the actual day to day of following Him is full of this TENSION.

For example, I want to celebrate the beautiful gift of changing seasons and create a warm and loving home for my family and drink gallons of pumpkin spiced EVERYTHING and visit and plan and host and bake and apple pick and craft and decorate because it is FALL and YAY!

But – people are literally starving.  Here in Tucson. People don’t give a you-know-what that I have glued some leaves to an old jar because they can’t afford pumpkins or pumpkin spiced lattes and they are drowning in sorrows and bills and family drama and drug abuse and lies and abuse and unemployment so what the you-know-what am I doing spending time and money decorating my mantle and buying gaudy wreathes?

And, am I less of a good Christian woman if I can’t afford to, or choose not to, have a home strait out of a magazine?  (Alright, let’s be clear – for all my mocking, I am quite certain my mantle wouldn’t make the cut to appear in Good Housekeeping in a million years…)

Am I less of a good Christian woman if I can afford to, and I do choose to?

TENSION.

It’s all over the place in my life.

I am so, so, so pleased that my children have a mommy who teaches and leads and works and serves yet I want to prioritize raising them well – so how much is too much time away from them?

I value deep scripture study and prayer and spiritual care and fellowship and I value outreach and service- how does this all fit into an hour and a half small group meeting I lead?

I value being wise with my finances and future, but I also take Jesus seriously when he says not to build storehouses of wealth here on earth and give away my possessions.

I am constantly resisting with every fiber of my being against the pulls of materialism and ‘fat and happy’ Christianity in my life, yet I also value celebration and thankfulness and joy in my home – so exactly how much time and money should I put into making my house adorable?

Is abundance found in pumpkin spiced lattes and beautifully decorated homes, or is abundance found in giving sacrificially of my resources?

Or, is it found in both?

I think it is both, but it feels tricky to navigate sometimes.

I believe joy and abundance are found in a mommy who serves inside the home and outside of the home.

I believe joy and abundance are found on my knees and reaching out to my co-workers.

I believe joy and abundance are found filling myself full at God’s table and letting dinner get a bit cold while I find someone to share it with.

So there is TENSION.

Questions of how much and how often come up daily.

Calls to be radical and extreme encounter and sometimes clash with calls to rest and feast. 

I wish I could neatly tie this blog post with an answer.  An answer of what percentage is okay to spend on seasonal decor.  An answer of when I need to say ‘no’ to others and just get on the floor and play with my kids.  An answer of which nights it is perfectly acceptable to veg in front of the TV and which nights I need to open up my bible (I will probably decide that one based on Gray’s Anatomy…).

Sometimes a gold Christmas wreath is just what I need to celebrate the season, and sometimes I need to JUST STOP FOR THE LOVE after decorating the mantle and quit before the centerpiece because my time is better spent elsewhere.

Jesus is not about guilt and shame and I don’t have time for that.  So when He says care for others I try to do that.  When He says chill out and rest and get out that glue gun to rejoice in the beauty of autumn I try to do that, too.

Being firmly passionate in God’s purposes for the world, and allowing HIS story to be the foundation to my life, actually allows me freedom in making these choices, but no matter how you slice it, self-reflection, accountability and self-control just aren’t always easy.

What TENSIONS of the Christian life do you deal with?

It stops with me

Guess what?  I have never raised a three year old before.  I mean, prior to Evangeline turning three last September that is.  When she turns 4 next week, I will never have raised a 4 year old and will find myself in the same position of clueless inexperienced motherhood.

Sometimes, most of the time really, it doesn’t matter.  A solid combination of parenting books, Google, common sense and bribery-by-candy seem to get the job done just fine.

But, let me tell you, there are times when I have no earthly idea what I am doing.

This morning, about five minutes before we had to be loaded up in the car in order to get to preschool on time, SOMETHING SNAPPED inside my little girl and thus began THE TANTRUM.  This summer she started having toddler-like ‘melt-downs’ and when we aren’t smack dab in the middle of one, my husband and I can have calm, rational conversations about why this is happening and make reasoned, educated guesses.  Is it a growth spurt?  Does she need more sleep?  Does she need different strategies to help manage her anger?  Is this just completely normal for a 3 year old?

But when we are in full-on TANTRUM mode oh Dear Lord help me I have no clue what to do and nothing seems to end the irrational screaming and kicking and I panic. We have to be to school on time or all the other parents and teachers will know what a bad mom I am who can’t control her child and that my pretty daughter isn’t perfect and then I won’t make it to my play date or finish the grocery shopping and…Exhale. 

In these heated moments I am torn between remaining the calm adult ready to wait out THE TANTRUM and employ my Super Nanny skills versus transforming into the cornered, wounded animal ready to use every ounce of strength in my body to get that girl in her car seat if it is THE LAST THING I DO

In these heated moments I am tempted to forget that my children aren’t actually my enemies and that I am not in a battle, I am in a family. 

I may have forgotten those things this morning, but eventually we got that girl strapped in the car and she finally started to calm down.  She hadn’t had enough breakfast (and I think needed a blood sugar boost after that exhausting and impressive display) so even though I was running late I decided we would cruise through the Starbucks drive-thru to get her a chocolate milk and a muffin.  And since I already divulged that using candy as bribery is part of my parenting strategy, I might as well admit that the Starbucks treat was offered in part to make sure that by the time we got to school I could present an appeased, happy child to the nice, composed Christian ladies there while I take all the credit for awesome mothering.

So we’re in the drive-thru line and I am totally in my head debriefing and decompressing and coping and trying to recover internally from THE TANTRUM and I hand the Nice Starbucks Lady my debit card and she says “the car in front of you paid for you”

“Huh?”  I say, so stuck in 3 year old drama that I wasn’t quite ready to interact with another member of the adult world.

“Actually you are car number 9” she continued.

“Excuse me?”  I say again (now seriously regretting not getting a caffeinated treat for mommy)

“9 cars ago a lady paid for the person behind her, and every car since has passed it on”.  I could see in her eyes how exciting this was for her, she was witnessing an ever growing chain of random acts of kindness!

“Oh” I manage to mutter as she hesitantly handed me back my card.  “Oh, okay thanks”.

And my oh my, what a wonderful story it would be if I could write about how I did the same for the car behind me and it kept going for 20 or 30 or 100 or 500 cars!  What a testimony to human kindness and loving our neighbors!  It would be called the Great Tucson Starbucks Kindness Extravaganza of 2013 in the newspaper.  I could see the caption now… All because ordinary individuals decided to pay it forward…

Nice Starbucks Lady had a bit of a dumbfounded and disappointed look on her face as I shoved my card back into my wallet and drove off.

I didn’t pay it forward.

The Great Tucson Starbucks Kindness Extravaganza of 2013 never happened.

Whatever kind of crazy morning the person behind me was having didn’t get improved by a free latte.

Any joy and elation in the Starbucks crew ended abruptly with the grumpy mom in the grey Ford Taurus.

It stopped with me.

It stopped with…gasp…a Christian.  I’ve never been so thankful I don’t have a Jesus Fish stuck to my bumper as I was this morning when I let down the human race with my under caffeinated, overwrought, too self-involved-to-care-about-others KINDNESS FAIL.

And I can’t help but wonder God what the heck are you thinking?  Why have you entrusted us with anything?  Why have you entrusted ME with anything?  Do you realize you have given me two of your most beautiful creatures to care for and raise?  Do you?  Do you realize you have left the message of your Love and Salvation and Hope to people like me who can’t even pay it forward in the Starbucks drive-thru?  Do you?  Do you?

So often is stops with me.

I see my neighbor out there but it would just cost too much awkwardness and too much energy and too much possible rejection to stop and talk.

I see that person who is struggling to survive but I have had a hell of a morning and just can’t do anything about their problems right now.

I hear about those children who need help NOW but I can’t even get my own daughter to school on time and my budget is a mess so maybe later.

So, God, your love stops with me and I have to ask you again…do you realize what you are doing? 

Why have you asked me, asked us, to do this work?  I don’t think I am very good at it.

And I think it might be obvious to others…

As much as I like to think I appear the expert Christian mommy when I drop E off at school I am sure that the teachers can recognize a rough morning when they see it.

As much as I like to think I am doing my part, I’m sure even Nice Starbucks Lady can spot a woman on the brink when she comes through the line asking for chocolate milk for her 2 and 3 year old at 8 a.m.

As much as I like to think that I am a beautiful, smooth porcelain vase, I think maybe I’m meant to be a rustic, crumbly jar of clay and should just own it.

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.  2 corinthians 4

Maybe it’s okay that my 3 year old isn’t perfect.

Maybe it’s okay that her mom isn’t perfect, either.

Maybe God knows that I will let down Starbucks and my neighbors and the homeless and the children around the world – but He loves and forgives me anyway.  

Maybe God knows I might never do anything kind or special or sacrificial – but he finds me worth saving anyway. 

Maybe God knows that His grace and His mercy will shine forth even brighter from my imperfect life.

We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. 2 Corinthians 4

Maybe God knows that she who is forgiven much, loves much, and that perhaps tomorrow I will take that love down to the Starbucks drive-thru or to the lady across the street or to the man in the park, or even to myself as I do the best I can with toddlers and preschoolers and TANTRUMS in my life.

Thank you God for loving me in failure, in victory, in good deeds, in bad deeds, and in missed deeds.  Please help me to show others who You are in the calm and in the crazy, in the holy and in the ordinary.  Thank you for Christ in me.

Oh, and thank you Lord for Starbucks. 

Dining with India. (And, my husband thinks I’m crazy)

Food is simple, right?.  Eating is simple.  Plants and animals are prepared in various ways for our energy and nutrition.

Three meals a day.  Simple.

I go to the store.  Or you go to the garden.  Or he goes out back to get the chicken.  Heat or chop or stir.  Simple.

Five food groups.  Simple.

However…

There are entire book shelves at Barnes and Noble dedicated to the unhealthy relationship women have with food.  Complicated.

There are Internet wars on GMOs and pesticides and preservatives.  Complicated.

There is childhood obesity, and there are starving bellies.  Complicated.

I’ve been feeling complicated lately as we are on a bare bones grocery budget this summer (the fact that my children eat like teenage football players isn’t helping the situation!) and are eating lots of, well, whatever the opposite of “whole foods” are.  Partial foods?

Should I be as thankful for partial foods as I am for whole foods? (This is a very familiar place for me, if you remember this piece I wrote awhile back involving Hamburger Helper).

Food, a gift of God, envisioned and designed to be fulfilling and delicious and simple; cursed.  Complicated.

As I was dealing with these issues by having one of those unhealthy relationships I just mentioned with chocolate chip cookies praying and thinking and pinteresting I realized part of my particular frustration was from attempting to cook my usual menu items and familiar dishes without really being able to afford to do so – along with the feeling of constantly failing to keep our food costs down.

So, for example, a simple and inexpensive meal we have had this summer is grilled cheese sandwiches. But rather than whole grain bread (or you know, home made bread.  Ahhh, more guilt!!!) and yummy extra sharp white cheddar, I am using the $1 Walmart bread (what in the world are all those things on the ingredient list?!) and orange “Pastuerized Prepared Cheese Product”.

This is gross!

But we have food!

But it’s not whole food!

But we have food! 

(I don’t think my husband realizes how lucky he is that I am not an external processor)

As a mom who cooks breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days a week it is easy to get stuck in a rut.  Meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking take up a lot of my time and energy, and so it makes sense that it should be something I don’t hate. 

Enter: My Solution.

A solution that I came up after these internal monologues (and after eating several bowls of ice cream.  Homemade icecream. Whole foods.  Booyah!), a solution that needed to be outside the box is to throw my traditional approach to cooking and menu planning OUT THE WINDOW.

I am not an expert in other cultures, their food, nor their economies but I think that we probably have more money than a lot of the world, or at least as much as (you know, the 99% and all that…)  How does the developing world eat?  How does the rest of the first world eat? Most importantly, Are they eating plastuerized cheese food in India? 

Well, I still don’t know, but I made a guess and went from there.

Every week in our home, we are ‘adopting’ a different nation or area of the world and eating like them (to the best of my limited knowledge, like I said, not an expert).  Here is what it has looked like so far:

Week 1:  India   Every meal we had homemade naan and/or rice and for that seven day period I made three different curry dishes, two of which were vegetarian, to eat with the rice and naan.  We prayed before our meal for the people of India, for the poor, and for their salvation.

Week 2: Latin America   Every meal we had tortillas, rice and black beans.  I made a chocolate mole poblano (fail!) and ropa vieja.  We prayed for Mexico and for Cuba in the same ways we prayed for India.  (We also listened to lots of Buena Vista Social Club, but that’s not really out of the ordinary for me…)

Week 3:  Britain  Can you say potatoes?  For three days we will have a beef Irish stew with homemade bread.  For one day we will have a cottage pie.  For one day we will have Irish potato pancakes with sausages or cottage pie if it is leftover.  I know that is only five days but we had hot dogs one night and have a birthday party another night.  We’re not legalistic about this, folks.  We get to pray for Jon’s family over there and of course, the new royal baby!

Week 4:  I don’t know yet!  I am thinking Thailand or Uganda.  Suggestions on where I might find and butcher a goat?

The benefits of my new menu planning are:

1) I am only cooking big meals 2 or 3 times a week, instead of 7.  As we enter the school year and Jon and I are working nights this will be a lifesaver.

2) We are using up ingredients and not wasting as much, especially since when you cook from one ‘wheel house’ you overlap ingredients.  I bought a bunch of (non-organic) cilantro and used it all up last week without throwing any out!

3) We are saving money.

4) We are exposing ourselves and our kids to other cultures and foods.

5) We are in prayer for the nations.

6) I am excited about cooking again.  This is HUGE.

Disadvantages:

1) You put your whole day, heart and soul into making a mole and it’s gross and you’ve ruined three nights of dinners.  I promise I will get over this…some day…

2) Although there is a lot of variety from week to week, after DAY THREE of coconut curry red lentil soup Jon was more than ready for something else (he didn’t say so but I could see it on his face!)

You should try it.

And you should definitely come over some time and break bread with us.  Or naan.  Or tortillas.

Mi casa es su casa. 

Togetherness.

Thankful.

Potatoes.

Joy.

Creativity.

Frugality.

Prayer.

Full.

Spicy.

Simple. 

Manna Mentality

The last week I have had a hard time sleeping.  I toss and turn.  I wake up from shallow bits of sleep.  Last night I couldn’t fall asleep until after 1am, which was killing me because I knew in just 4.5 short hours my kids would be awake.  This is unusual for me.  I love sleep and I will typically go to bed between 9 or 10 at night and sleep soundly until morning.

My mind was going and going and I just wasn’t tired.  I didn’t feel anxious or stressed for once-I have no classes to teach for the summer.  I quit my ministry job.  Just two months of lounging around in the Tucson heat ahead of me.

As I was commiserating my sleepiness with Jon this morning over breakfast he mentioned that maybe my mind and body were adjusting to not having any busyness or stress going on right now.  Like I just had too much energy or something.

“Can I come back to work, then?” I asked him, partly kidding, partly serious.

I have tried to unquit several times this spring.

Unfortunately (okay, okay.  fortunately) Jon is holding me to my decision and has denied my requests.

This morning as I gripped my hands around my mug (picture a crack addict, and replace the crack with coffee) Jon reminded me that I can use ‘all this extra energy’ for other things.

Other things?

Oooooooh yeah. I remember wanting more energy for ‘other things’.  Like writing more, training for a half marathon, and you know, raising our kids and not letting them watch so much TV.  Things like that.

So maybe I am just having a hard time sleeping because my mind, body and soul are learning to chill out a little bit.

Having more than I know what to do with seems to contrast with a familiar place of scarcity in my life.

Scarcity from having just enough to pay the months’ bills.

Scarcity from having just enough sleep to make it through until bedtime comes again.

Scarcity from lacking familial resources, living so far away from our parents and siblings.

Scarcity from lacking the faith that God would continue to show up for me.

When the Isrealites were freed from Egypt and wandering in the desert God provided manna for them to eat.   Fresh every morning.  Just enough for that day.  Except, that for some people, it wasn’t enough.  It was too little.

19 Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning. 20 However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning…

God’s provision was perfect, but because there wasn’t visible, scientific or other such evidence showing that this bread would indeed show up every morning, day after day, week after week, they operated and made decisions from a place of scarcity.

Not fear that they didn’t have enough for the day – they did have enough-  but fear that there wouldn’t be enough for tomorrow.

A manna mentality can look two different ways.

It can be full of humility, abundance, thankfulness and peace because, can you believe it, God is providing miraculously and faithfully to me!!!  It looks like giving out of poverty, praying through fatigue, and celebrating a delicious meal.

Or.

It can be full of maggots.

However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.

It can look like clinging to my money, snapping at my children, and trying to hoard God for myself and my own Christian life.

A manna mentality can be a sense of fullness with what you have in your hands

A manna mentality can be scrounging for what you don’t.

A manna mentality can be freedom from worrying about tomorrow.

A manna mentality can be slavery to worrying about tomorrow.

I’ve lived both kinds.

While receiving the same paycheck, living in the same city and the same house and doing the same things, I have lived in both scarcity and abundance with the only thing setting the two apart being faith, or a lack thereof, in Jehovah Jireh.  The God who provides.

I’m excited at the prospect of having a little bit of extra energy and margin in my life, even if it means I need to take a sleeping pill tonight.

I know that God has given me what I need for today; enough to pray a little more, run a little more, talk to my husband a little more, write a little more and focus on my kids a little more.  I pray that with this bit of ‘extra’ I will have a manna mentality, able to fully celebrate the blessings of the Lord today and able to be fully faithful in knowing that whatever tomorrow has, it will be the right amount.

Community, for real.

It is really and truly almost unbearable.

Almost.

See, I have arrived at a point in my life where I cannot even mention a desire, a hardship, or a prayer request, no matter how weighty or trivial, without the people in My Community acting to provide something for me or my family.

I have actually started censoring myself because I know if I so much as mention a need (or in many cases a want) to any of the loving people in My Community, someone will jump in before I have a chance to finish my sentence with an offer of help.  Actually a lot of times there isn’t even an offer, just the goods. Delivered.  With love and no expectation of repayment.

And I cannot even begin to describe how uncomfortable this makes me.

Like I said, almost unbearable.

I am already so dependent upon the generosity of others so that we can be devoted to the ministry at the University and to its students.

My Community gives faithfully in this way to see this ministry happen.

But,  they just don’t know when to stop.

After sharing a pesky car problem in my weekly prayer request email with my mommy friends, mere minutes after hitting send my friend J is on the phone telling me that her trustworthy mechanic is expecting my car in his shop, all expenses paid by J’s family.

After casually mentioning how I wanted to make some changes to how I dress in order to appeal more to the sorority girl population on campus for the sake of the gospel (which, if you have witnessed my severe lack of style you know is no easy task…), my friend K starts sending me fashion websites asking me what styles I like so that she can buy me new clothes.

After saying that I was planning on buying Zach some new shoes, my mother in law has us in the car heading to the store to get him some.

After saying how much Evangeline would love to go to a Disney on Ice, weeks later tickets arrive in the mail from my own mom.

After simply knowing my family, our former InterVarsity student R offers free baby sitting once a month so Jon and I can have a date night.

And these are only five examples out of many unrequested gifts of time, money, and services that seem to get thrown at us.

Now, I am used to asking for things.

My job requires me to ask really hard things of people.  Like, all the time.

Will you share the gospel with strangers? Will you give up your free time to lead a bible study? Will you part with your hard earned money to support the ministry of InterVarsity? Will you babysit for free so Jon and I can both attend this ministry event? Will you not run away from conflict and healing and deal with this issue in your life?  Will you not sleep with your boyfriend or girlfriend? Will you give up your summer to go on a mission trip? Will you move into the dorms to witness to students there?  Will you pray for me?  Will you spend a Saturday with Refugee families?

It is hard.  And tiring.  But the invitations to stewardship, purity, healing, mission and the Kingdom of Heaven are usually always totally worth the ask.

But the five examples (again, only five out of many) I mentioned above didn’t involve any kind of asking, pleading or inviting.  I was simply talking about life like we all do.  Things I would like to do and have.  Car problems.  Life problems.  The stuff regular conversations and prayer meetings and friendships are made of.

Except there is nothing regular about it.

Nothing at all.

We as Christians talk about community until we are blue in the face.  We want Acts 2.  We want transparency, authenticity, sacrificial love.  We want to know and we want to be known. We want genuine brotherly and sisterly affection for one another.

But living it out is hard because true Christian community flies in the face of what our culture of independence, bootstraps and sufficiency tell us.

The truth is I am completely and utterly dependent upon others.  For my clothes, my food, my car, my house, and even my recreation.  I am completely and utterly dependent on others and it is humbling to the point of being uncomfortable.

A voice inside me tells me that my life is wrong; that getting help here and there is fine but eventually I need to move beyond this dependence and get a real job.  Or make some real money.  Or get my s%#$ together so I don’t need others so much.  Or quit being such a leach.

A voice inside me tells me I must have a sign on my forehead reading PATHETIC, PLEASE HELP in neon lighting; because if I am not even asking for half the stuff  that people give us I must have it written all over me in some other way that I am a needy mess.

A voice inside me tells me that me and Jon’s vocations aren’t worth other people’s generosity, that their money and time should be kept or given elsewhere.

And so I find myself censoring what I say because My Community just can’t help inviting, sharing, giving, serving, praying, splurging, and buying.  And because the voices can be loud.

The word blessed seems so cliche that I hesitate to use it to describe my life in The Church simply for overuse.

But as I experience giving and receiving and interdependence within The Body it is evident that I am in fact blessed and am living out what so many Christians long for and talk about.  Even if it means we can’t pay for our own car repairs and that I in turn give my two pennies as an offering to others.

The last couple of weeks at our church service it has been proclaimed that we cannot live the Christian life without each other. The Holy Spirit compels us to submit, give, depend, care for and support each other.

When I see how this truth has impacted my life and the life of my friends and family it is then that I can get a glimpse, a taste, of the beautiful concept of community that God desires and ordains for us to have.

Not a community that just nods and smiles.  Not a community that feels I am draining them.  Not a community that turns away from the ugly.

But a beautiful community.

One that I cannot live with out.

For real.

Christmas in September

I absolutely love Thanksgiving and Christmas because we get to spend time with our families, we get some time off, we get to eat a lot of food, and we get to enjoy the yearly festivities such as Christmas music, lights, and of course the red cups at Starbucks filled with peppermint mochas! Not to mention the fact that during Thanksgiving and Christmas we purposely give thanks for God’s many good gifts to us, most importantly the way that he left Heaven to dwell amongst us.

But, Christmas is also about giving gifts. Last year we just didn’t have any extra money and so Jon and I decided not to buy each other anything, nor did we buy anything for Evangeline during her first Christmas.

It. Was. Depressing.

Jon and I didn’t want to relive last year’s experience and so even though our budgets were going to be very minimal, we were determined to get each other a little something, and something for Evangeline. We also have the best parents in the world and the most precious nephews and niece that we want to spoil!

This has been stressing me out because our financial situation isn’t any different.

Credit cards? Likely. Ugh.

Remember my George Bailey post from last December? Well, here I was once again thinking of everything we couldn’t afford, and couldn’t have and therefor felt like we couldn’t celebrate the season. No Christmas tree. No peppermint mochas. No gifts. Bah Humbug!

I am a slow learner, it would appear. I still get down about things like this.

But God’s people don’t. And God doesn’t. God gives. God loves. God’s people lift us up time and time again.

Our church family gave a special offering in September for the missionaries of the church called “Christmas in September”. We’ve recently received an e-mail letting us know how much this will be and I am currently fighting to hold back the tears because of this extreme generosity.

I know it is just money. I swear I know that. But having this gift is going to allow our family to celebrate in ways that we didn’t think possible. Having this gift has taken a burden off of my shoulders.

I am so grateful. And I am so humbled. God seriously does things like this for us all the time! I am embarrassed by my lack of faith.

Unfortunately, there are millions of families who won’t receive a “Christmas in September” check from their church. They have the burden of finding money from ‘somewhere’ to buy a present for their kids. Or put a meal on the table.

So even though I have already mentally spent it all (go out for Jon’s birthday, Christmas gifts for family, take Evangeline to the zoo?!) I am now thinking of others. How can I not? As God has met our needs as receivers, he has in turn made me someone who wants to be a giver.

Cool how God does things like that.

I like our God.

One of the many things I will be celebrating about Emmanuel this holiday season.

If you would like to give a gift to someone who is struggling this year, I would like to suggest Toys for Tots, Angel Tree, or Operation Christmas Child.

It is just money.

They are just gifts.

But the joy of giving and receiving is a part of Christmas that, when you separate it from the materialism and consumerism of our society, is a beautiful thing.

Thank you to our family, and to our church family, for loving us with your generosity, and for helping me to love others in the same way.

I know that it is only November 10th, but Merry Christmas!

God Gives

I have been really emotional the past week – surprise, surprise! I have these high hopes that the progesterone I am taking with be like a miracle drug and we will have some success this month but I have my usual “expect the worst” attitude when it comes to what will actually happen when I pee on a stick in 7 days.

Jon and I had further discussions tonight about adoption and fertility and shortly afterward my mind wandered to the possibility of actually having a baby (whether by adoption or the good old fashioned way) and I panicked. I panicked because that would mean I couldn’t work, at least not two jobs like I have now. And then we couldn’t pay our bills and then I wouldn’t be able to get Starbucks coffee and then we would be out on the street and then our lives would be over… So you see how logically my mind works here!

This month was hard, we went negative on our bank account and we had to put a lot of money on our credit card for Christmas gifts and other expenses that we just couldn’t pay for. We both got paid over the weekend as it was the first of the month today and so Jon got out the checkbook to write out our tithe to church yesterday morning. And I wanted to stop him. In fact I asked him, “are you sure we should do that this month?”. Every month I secretly hope he will forget, and I of course will “forget” too and we’ll get to keep that extra bit of cash for ourselves! But every month my husband is far more faithful than I am and writes out our check.

So today I was crying because I wanted to start our family so badly but also because how in the world will we actually support a family and a voice reminded me that God is always faithful, he always has been. I of course ignored it and went to read but needless to say, God doesn’t usually just let it go when I ignore what he is trying to tell me. A few minutes later Jon came in the house from checking the mail and he said that we had received a check for $200 for IV from Nate, one of my college friends. Nothing else was in the envelope except for a scrap piece of paper that had written in bold letters: GOD GIVES EVEN WHEN THE ECONOMY IS BAD.

And Nate is right. God gives. No matter what I like to complain about in my life, God has always given to me and given abundantly. Tonight as I was yet again worrying about the many unknowns in our future, God used my dear friend Nate to remind us that He loves us and that He is taking care of us.

In all of my fundraising I am quick to judge others who seem to have money to spare yet choose not to support us. But in our own life I am stingy as heck when it comes to giving. This event tonight has caused me to reflect upon what I give and the way God wants to use me to bless others in the midst of a bad economy.

I am so thankful that it is truly God who gives, because if others really had to rely on greedy ol’ me for support they would be in trouble.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6