Thursday, April 29, 2010

Just Me

Before reading this post... If you haven't seen them yet, two posts went up yesterday to commemorate our two April birthday girls - Megan and Shea.

Now, I would just like to clear the air a bit. My friend, Bobbie, was certain that Shea's birthday post was going to double as a pregnancy announcement. Let it be said, on the record, that I do not ever expect to be making such an announcement again.

I am fully aware that God can do whatever He chooses, and He may choose to heal the 2nd surgical procedure just as He did the first. But the more time that passes the less likely it seems. And I am beginning to be okay with that. Once we're done with diapers, I am fairly certain I won't want to return to that stage in our lives.

Real life right now is busy, bordering on hectic. Pat's hours of work have been beyond ridiculous - not that I'm complaining, because it's only for a short season in our lives and only once every 4 years or so. Regardless, that is leaving me as the sole caregiver, housekeeper, chauffeur, affection provider, and disciplinarian. There are moments where I might just be feeling a little overwhelmed. (Yes, you can feel free to pray for us!)

Therefore, five is enough. Especially when one has special needs, one has oppositional defiant disorder (Mom-diagnosed only, not professionally), and one has mischief running through every vein. If you're counting, that only leaves two children NOT making Mommy insane!

I realize that this post was mostly me venting. Not at all inspirational, not well-written, not fun or funny. Thanks for being here and listening reading. Sometimes it's really good to just spill it all out to a girlfriend. ;)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Unexpected Blessings are the Best Kind

This is a story about a big surprise. Now, some people don't like to be caught unaware - but that's not me! I LOVE to be astonished! Surprises are unexpected blessings, things of joy, miracles, full of excitement, extra special, and they make my heart happy. (Yes, feel free to throw me a surprise party. Just make sure lots of people show up.)

Not quite seven years ago (October of 2003, to be exact), we thought our family was complete. It wasn't a difficult decision for Pat to get the surgery because I was struggling with post-partum depression and we both believed that we were maxed out. But then my medication kicked in, family pitched in, and life felt closer to normal. And that decision that had seemed so easy became a burning regret deep in my heart. I was too ashamed to tell Pat of my regret (I mean, he had a sharp knife cut things down there!), but I did take it to God in prayer. Fervent prayer!

To my great joy (and Pat's), I came to him in August of 2004 with the news that our family was not complete after all! On April 13, 2005 we greeted the baby I had spent 10 months praying for - our beautiful fourth child and third daughter.

I consider Shea to be our miracle baby, a gift from God, an answer to prayer. The Hebrew version of her name, Shai, means gift. I chose her name before knowing the meaning, then searched and searched for a middle name that meant gift or blessing - until I stumbled across the meaning of her first name. God knew her name before I did!

I cannot imagine our family without Shea's big, blue eyes and infectious giggle. I praise the Lord that His plans prevail over ours (Proverbs 19:21). Whenever I fear that I may have messed things up, I need only to look at my precious Shea to be reminded that God can redeem any mistake.

As Shea grows up, I am so thankful that she isn't "growing into" her eyes. They continue to be breath-taking blue and so wide. When I look into the depths of those gigantic blue pools, I always think of the Precious Moments figurines, and I know that Shea is our precious one! Five years ago, God answered our prayers with the gift of a real, live precious moment that would last a lifetime...

* While this birthday post may have arrived a couple weeks late, rest assured that I did not - not for one moment - forget about the day and the moment of Shea's birth.

Another Landmark

Megan, today you are seven. Some days, I am amazed that either you or I have made it this far! You are so like me, with your fiery personality and your tendency to react before fully processing things. Girl, you and I are experts at pushing one another's buttons!

In honour of your 7th birthday (and your great love of Miley's "7 Things" song), I want to tell you 7 things I love about you:

1. You are so expressive! There is never any question as to what you are feeling. You get your face, your voice, and your whole body into it. Once you get over your stage fright, you are going to be one fantastic actress!

2. When given a special job to do, you are not satisfied with anything less than your best! You are so cheerful when helping, and often you are my most willing helper.

3. I love listening to you talk with the adorable little lisp that comes from missing your two front teeth.

4. When you smile, your eyes smile. They turn into glittering half-moons that clearly show everyone you are happy.

5. You are fiercely loyal. No one better mess with your baby brother, your sisters, or even your older brother - or they will experience your fury! I just love how strongly you stick with your family.

6. You hold a special name for a special friend, and I often see glimpses of her in you, Megan Christine.

7. One example of #6: I love the way you make your bed - blankets perfectly lined up and smooth, each teddy bear stacked and aligned according to size, pillow in just the right spot... It surely wasn't me who inspired that in you!

You are my sunshine girl. I thank God for placing you smack dab in the middle of our family, because that spot could never be filled by anyone else. Happy birthday, Sunshine!

* I discovered a big mistake today while scrolling through recent birthday posts - somehow I missed a post commemorating Shea's birthday from earlier this month! You will find it posted in just a couple hours.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tiny Talk Tuesday - 04/27/10

One of my lovely children to me:

Mom, you have a HUGE zit on your cheek!

Gee, I didn't notice. Thanks for pointing that out!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Parenting is Tough

Have you ever heard the saying, "You can deal with it now, or you can deal with it when she's 16?"

We had one of those "its" to deal with this weekend.

Megan (almost 7) is a leader. You know how I know this? Because she will not allow anyone to boss her! Nope, not a soul. Not even her parents. When she's older, and if she's received proper training and encouragement, she will be an amazing leader. Her charismatic personality draws friends like flies. Once she develops the skills to tamp down her short fuse and her tendency to be oppositional, there is no telling what the girl will do for the Kingdom!

As parents, we (meaning Pat and I - hopefully you are better at this than us!) tend to operate in a cyclical manner. For a while we are strict and firm, offering clear guidelines and distinct consequences. As we see troublesome behaviours easing up, our strictness eases up in kind. We float along effortlessly for a time. Then the behaviour of concern creeps up again. We then take a deep breath and tighten up our parenting belts once again.

You think we'd learn to just always be consistent! But consistency is hard work and requires superhuman effort (on rough days), so the allure of taking a break is difficult to resist. I think it's fair to say that we have been on a little consistency break these days. Sigh.

Back to the "it..." While I don't think it's fair for me to give out specifics of Megan's struggles, I will tell you this much - they were plentiful, and they involved more people than just the parents. There have been issues - while small in and of themselves - that, once stacked up, amount to a very big pile of disrespect. Very Big.

To us, disrespect is a heart issue. One that must be dealt with swiftly and with unflinching firmness. And while it broke our hearts to make this decision, we informed our almost-birthday-girl that the big sleepover/movie-going party she had planned to celebrate her upcoming special day would not take place.*

Seeing Megan's tears nearly undid me. After all, who wants to break their own child's heart? But through all our discussion and prayer on how to deal with a situation that appeared to be getting out of control, Pat and I had two verses resonating in our minds...

Proverbs 22:6 Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 13:24 He who spares the rod hates his child, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.

I do acknowledge our own responsibility in this big "it." If we consistently adhered to the first passage, it is unlikely that we'd have run into a pile up of disrespect. If we consistently trained our children, without taking little breaks, I am certain that heart issues would be dealt with before they ballooned this way. I pray that God gives us the strength, wisdom, and patience required to truly train our children.

But, I also recognize that, regardless of where the trail of responsibility tracks back to, failing to discipline at this point is as much as telling our child that we hate her. Harsh words, I know. Our love for her is so great, though, that we cannot risk allowing this character issue to take root. Which is exactly what would happen if we were to allow our compassion to overrule our discipline.

Man alive, this parenting thing is tough with a capital "T!"

* Before I get all sorts of flak for being a "mean mom" (ahem, Grandma) I would like to clarify that the birthday party will still take place, but has been revamped to no longer include going to a movie or friends sleeping over. The revised party will be the basic hot dogs, cake, presents, home kinda party. We felt that this compromise of sorts would send a clear message about our expectations, while still showing love and compassion.

Of course, I welcome your thoughts on the matter and/or stories of how you've dealt with parenting issues. Just don't beat me up and call me mean! :)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Things that Make Me Happy

1. Clean floors.
2. An empty email inbox.
3. Sorted papers.
4. Sunshine.
5. The sound of children playing (and not fighting).
6. Taco night. *
7. Family movie night. *
8. Laundry clean, folded, and put away. *
9. Tired puppies.
10. Clean bathrooms.

Today was a productive day. :)

* Will happen shortly.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


I have a million post ideas in my head. I have been sitting here for 40 minutes, starting and deleting posts on several topics. Fact is, my brain is so very full right now that I can't find a way to pull out something coherent.

So I have decided it's best to direct you toward some other writer's thoughts - people who are able to be coherent. Okay? I promise to try harder tomorrow. ;)

Katie is a young woman who was called by God to do something unimaginable. Her story inspires me, breaks my heart, frightens me, and convicts me. I recommend scrolling down to the post dated Tuesday, February 23. If you let it, that post will change your life!

Having trouble knowing what God's will for your life is? Can't "hear" His voice? Walking through some big storms that you don't understand? Sandy is teaching a series that you don't want to miss!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Our Greatest Weakness is NOT Knowing Our Own Strengths

For my BLAST course, I have been reading Now, Discover Your Strengths (Buckingham & Clifton). The premise of the book is based around two core assumptions:
1. Each person's talents are enduring and unique.
2. Each person's greatest room for growth is in the areas of the person's greatest strength.

Is it going too far for me to say that I think EVERYONE should read this book?!

So often we focus on all the things we need to "fix" in ourselves that we lose sight of the fact that God has placed unique talents, abilities, and passions in each one of us. There is nothing more affirming or empowering than to spend a few minutes reading true words about what you're good at.

An added bonus (especially for a girl who loves doing surveys, inventories, and assessments) is that the book comes with a code for an online Strengths Finder evaluation, which helps to identify your top 5 strengths.

Since you already know way too much about me, you are probably dying to hear what they are. Right? ;) Here they are, all changed to first person since I'm talking about myself. Okee-dokey?

1. Relator - I am pulled toward people I already know. I don't necessarily shy away from meeting new people, but I do derive a great deal of pleasure and strength from being around my close friends. I am comfortable with intimacy. For me, a relationship has value only if it is genuine. And the only way to know that is to entrust myself to that person and share openly (even if it means I risk being taken advantage of).

2. Strategic - This perspective allows me to see patterns where others may simply see complexity. Mindful of these patterns, I play out alternative scenarios, always asking, "What if this happened?" This helps me to see around the next corner, discarding paths that lead nowhere, that lead to resistance, and that lead to confusion until I arrive at the chosen path - my strategy. Armed with my strategy, I strike forward.

3. Arranger - I am a conductor.When faced with a complex situation involving many factors, I enjoy managing all of the variables, aligning and realigning them until I am sure I have arranged them in the most productive configuration possible. I spend time mulling over just the right combination of people and resources to accomplish a new project.

4. Empathy - I can sense the emotions of those around me and feel what they are feeling. Intuitively, I am able to see the world through their eyes. I do not necessarily agree with each person's perspective, nor do I necessarily feel pity for their predicament. I do not necessarily condone the choices each person makes, but I do understand. People tend to be drawn to confide in me.

5. Communication - I like to explain, to describe, to host, to speak in public, and to write. I want my information to survive, to divert other's attention toward my idea and then capture it and lock it in. This is what drives my hunt for the perfect phrase.

Now, didn't that make you want to run out and discover your own strengths?!

Wanna meet my friend, Deb, whose strengths are so different from mine that it's shocking?

P.S. This review was completely unpaid and unsolicited, done of my own free will on a book I paid for. Just so ya know. :)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My Will or His?

What is God's will?

In decision-making time your greatest difficulty may not be choosing between good and bad but choosing between good and best. You may have several options that appear to be equally attractive. At a time like this, begin by saying with all your heart, "Lord, whatever I know to be Your will, I will do it. Regardless of the cost and regardless of the adjustment, I commit myself ahead of time to follow Your will. Lord, no matter what that will looks like, I will do it!"

What if God's will isn't convenient?

If you cannot say that [above] when you begin to seek God's will, you do not mean "Thy will be done" (Matt. 6:10 KJV). Instead, you mean "Thy will be done as long as it does not conflict with my will." Two words in a Christian's language cannot go together: "No, Lord." If you say no to God, He is not your Lord. If He really is your Lord, your answer must always be yes, Lord. in decision making, always begin at this point. Do not proceed until you can honestly say, "Whatever You want of me, Lord, I will do it..."

What if I cannot seem to discern His will?

...When God gets ready for you to take a new step or direction in His activity, it will always be in sequence with what He has already been doing in your life...

What if I just can't do what he's asking of me?

...Truth say, "Believe Me. I will never give you an order without releasing My power to enable it to happen. Trust Me and obey me, and it will happen."

~ all quotes from: Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God, study guide (pp. 123, Blackaby & King) ~

Monday, April 19, 2010

Get Serious

In church yesterday I was amazed to learn that Muslim children memorize the entire Koran at the age of 6! I imagine that their parents spend countless hours reciting passages to the children, diligently training them in the tenets of their faith.

It got me reflecting on how diligent (or not) I am at instilling faith in Jesus Christ in my kids. We say a prayer of thanks before meals (most of the time). We say prayers at bedtime (usually). I help them practice their school memory verses (sometimes).

But do they really know the Word of God? Do they think of what the Word tells them to do when they encounter difficulty? Is it imprinted, permanently etched in their hearts and minds?

Heck, do I set aside time 5 times per day to focus solely on prayer or worship? I'm lucky if I get in one good session in the early morning hours (generally).

I wonder how many of us give our religious practices the same consideration as Muslims give theirs...

No wonder the rest of the world doesn't take Christians and Christianity seriously - tossing prayer out of schools, using the Lord's Name in vain as common language, perverting Scripture to suit immoral agendas.

Isn't it time we get serious?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Two Dogs are Badder than One

Bad idea to set puppy's pillow out on the deck to dry. Insane puppy pillow fight is inevitable. Much raking of the yard to follow. Ugh.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Oh, To Be on a Tropical Island...

I realize that my blogging this week has been erratic. The only excuse I have to offer is giddy excitement on behalf of my parents. In about two hours from now, they will be high in the skies above Canada, making their way West to the ultimate destination...

I have barely been able to sleep! Can you imagine what a mess I'll be if when I get to go there?!

Have fun, parents! We can't wait to see you, your suntans, your photos, and our gifts! ;)
P.S. Don't worry about your puppy. We'll take good care of her while you're away. Hehehe.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Would You Brush an Old Man's Hair?

I heard this story on video recently, via Beth Moore's Loving Well retreat in a box. I woke up thinking of it this morning, and thinking of my dream, asking myself how many hair brush experiences I've missed out on and how many of my neighbours I have not helped. I'm still asking God about that dream, "Who is my neighbour, Lord? What are you trying to tell me????" Now, with this story on my mind, I can't help but wonder if I would step out and brush an old man's hair. Or would I refuse, ignore the voice of God, and sit in my fear?

What would you do?

For those of you who do not know Beth Moore, she is an outstanding Bible teacher, writer of Bible studies, and is a married mother of two daughters.

This is one of her experiences:

"April 20, 2005, at the Airport in Knoxville , waiting to board the plane, I had the Bible on my lap and was very intent upon what I was doing. I'd had a marvelous morning with the Lord. I say this because I want to tell you it is a scary thing to have the Spirit of God really working in you. You could end up doing some things you never would have done otherwise. Life in the Spirit can be dangerous for a thousand reasons not the least of which is your ego.

I tried to keep from staring, but he was such a strange sight. Humped over in a wheelchair, he was skin and bones, dressed in clothes that obviously fit when he was at least twenty pounds heavier. His knees protruded from his trousers, and his shoulders looked like the coat hanger was still in his shirt. His hands looked like tangled masses of veins and bones.

The strangest part of him was his hair and nails. Stringy, gray hair hung well over his shoulders and down part of his back. His fingernails were long, clean but strangely out of place on an old man.

I looked down at my Bible as fast as I could, discomfort burning my face. As I tried to imagine what his story might have been, I found myself wondering if I'd just had a Howard Hughes sighting.

Then, I remembered that he was dead. So this man in the airport...

An impersonator maybe? Was a camera on us somewhere? There I sat; trying to concentrate on the Word to keep from being concerned about a thin slice of humanity served up on a wheelchair only a few seats from me. All the while, my heart was growing more and more overwhelmed with a feeling for him.

Let's admit it. Curiosity is a heap more comfortable than true concern, and suddenly I was awash with aching emotion for this bizarre-looking old man...

I had walked with God long enough to see the handwriting on the wall. I've learned that when I begin to feel what God feels, something so contrary to my natural feelings, something dramatic is bound to happen. And it may be embarrassing.

I immediately began to resist because I could feel God working on my spirit and I started arguing with God in my mind. 'Oh, no, God, please, no.' I looked up at the ceiling as if I could stare straight through it into heaven and said, 'don’t make me witness to this man. Not right here and now. Please. I'll do anything. Put me on the same plane, but don't make me get up here and witness to this man in front of this gawking audience. Please, Lord!'

There I sat in the blue vinyl chair begging His Highness, 'Please don't make me witness to this man. Not now. I'll do it on the plane.' Then I heard it...'I don't want you to witness to him. I want you to brush his hair.'

The words were so clear, my heart leap into my throat, and my thoughts spun like a top. Do I witness to the man or brush his hair? No-brainier. I looked straight back up at the ceiling and said, 'God, as I live and breathe, I want you to know I am ready to witness to this man. I'm on this Lord. I'm your girl! You've never seen a woman witness to a man faster in your life. What difference does it make if his hair is a mess if he is not redeemed? I am going to witness to this man.'

Again as clearly as I've ever heard an audible word, God seemed to write this statement across the wall of my mind. 'That is not what I said, Beth.

I don't want you to witness to him. I want you to go brush his hair.'

I looked up at God and quipped, 'I don't have a hairbrush.. It's in my suitcase on the plane. How am I supposed to brush his hair without a hairbrush?' God was so insistent that I almost involuntarily began to walk toward him as these thoughts came to me from God's word: 'I will thoroughly furnish you unto all good works...' (2 Timothy 3:17)

I stumbled over to the wheelchair thinking I could use one myself. Even as I retell this story, my pulse quickens and I feel those same butterflies. I knelt down in front of the man and asked as demurely as possible, 'Sir, may I have the pleasure of brushing your hair?'

He looked back at me and said, 'What did you say?'

'May I have the pleasure of brushing your hair?'

To which he responded in volume ten, 'Little lady, if you expect me to hear you, you're going to have to talk louder than that.'

At this point, I took a deep breath and blurted out, 'SIR, MAY I HAVE THE PLEASURE OF BRUSHING YOUR HAIR?' At which point every eye in the place darted right at me. I was the only thing in the room looking more peculiar than old Mr. Long Locks. Face crimson and forehead breaking out in a sweat, I watched him look up at me with absolute shock on his face, and say, 'If you really want to.'

Are you kidding? Of course I didn't want to. But God didn't seem interested in my personal preference right about then. He pressed on my heart until I could utter the words, 'Yes, sir, I would be pleased. But I have one little problem. I don't have a hairbrush.'

'I have one in my bag,' he responded.

I went around to the back of that wheelchair, and I got on my hands and knees and unzipped the stranger's old carry-on, hardly believing what I was doing. I stood up and started brushing the old man's hair. It was perfectly clean, but it was tangled and matted.

I don't do many things well, but must admit I've had notable experience untangling knotted hair mothering two little girls. Like I'd done with either Amanda or Melissa in such a condition, I began brushing at the very bottom of the strands, remembering to take my time not to pull.

A miraculous thing happened to me as I started brushing that old man's hair.

Everybody else in the room disappeared. There was no one alive for those moments except that old man and me. I brushed and I brushed and I brushed until every tangle was out of that hair. I know this sounds so strange, but I've never felt that kind of love for another soul in my entire life. I believe with all my heart, I - for that few minutes - felt a portion of the very love of God. That He had overtaken my heart for a little while like someone renting a room and making Himself at home for a short while.

The emotions were so strong and so pure that I knew they had to be God's.

His hair was finally as soft and smooth as an infant's.

I slipped the brush back in the bag and went around the chair to face him.

I got back down on my knees, put my hands on his knee and said, 'Sir, do you know my Jesus?'

He said, 'Yes, I do'

Well, that figures, I thought.

He explained, 'I've known Him since I married my bride. She wouldn't marry me until I got to know the Savior.' He said, 'You see, the problem is, I haven't seen my bride in months. I've had open-heart surgery, and she's been too ill to come see me. I was sitting here thinking to myself, what a mess I must be for my bride.'

Only God knows how often He allows us to be part of a divine moment when we're completely unaware of the significance. This, on the other hand, was one of those rare encounters when I knew God had intervened in details only He could have known. It was a God moment, and I'll never forget it.

Our time came to board, and we were not on the same plane. I was deeply ashamed of how I'd acted earlier and would have been so proud to have accompanied him on that aircraft.

I still had a few minutes, and as I gathered my things to board, the airline hostess returned from the corridor, tears streaming down her cheeks.

She said, 'That old man's sitting on the plane, sobbing.

Why did you do that? What made you do that?'

I said, 'Do you know Jesus? He can be the bossiest thing!' And we got to share.

I learned something about God that day. He knows if you're exhausted, you're hungry, you're serving in the wrong place or it is time to move on but you feel too responsible to budge. He knows if you're hurting or feeling rejected. He knows if you're sick or drowning under a wave of temptation. Or He knows if you just need your hair brushed. He sees you as an individual. Tell Him your need!

I got on my own flight, sobs choking my throat, wondering how many opportunities just like that one had I missed along the way ... all because I didn't want people to think I was strange. God didn't send me to that old man. He sent that old man to me.

John 1:14 'The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth'

Life shouldn't be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather, to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly shouting, 'Wow! What a ride! Thank You, Lord!' "

-Beth Moore

holy experience

Monday, April 12, 2010

Can't Afford to Tithe? Try This...

Remember this post about tithing? An anonymous friend left the following comment:

I desperately want to get into this habit, I just don't know how to break the cycle. Every week we are short money to buy food and gas. We can never "catch up" we can never "Keep up". I'm at my wits end. I don't know what to do.
Ever since, her struggle has been on my mind. I hope that you are here, friend, and that some of the ideas I have may help you to take this step of obedience. But my advice comes with a warning label:

WARNING: Taking steps to obey God will require faith. Our faith is not built when it is not tested, so you need to know that this will not be easy. But you can also be completely assured that by taking steps in obedience, through faith, you will feel God's pleasure (which frequently results in untold blessings - both spiritual and sometimes right here in the physical).
My friend, I have 3 tips that will help you find a way to tithe when finances are tight:

#1 - Do you have a budget? I'm talking about an actual, practical, written plan for where your money goes. Because having a budget is a MUST.

Start by making a list on paper of all of your income and every expense. Make the list as exhaustive as possible - include things like home improvements and car repairs (even if you allocate $0 to them in your budget, you need to know that they are a possibility) and don't forget stuff like hair cuts and cleaning supplies.

If you are comfortable working in Excel, it's fairly simple to do up a spreadsheet that will help you track your income and expenses. If not, you can find many budgeting programs as free downloads online or you can even keep track on paper.

The important thing is to add a line for "tithing" to your expenses. For now, you can leave that line blank while you tweak the budget.

The goal of having the budget on paper is to help you see if there is a shortfall or a surplus. For the first month of your budget, get a receipt for every single thing you spend money on so that you will have a complete and accurate tally. At the end of the month, you will be able to see a few areas where your spending was higher than you expected; looking through the receipts with a highlighter will help you find purchases that were not necessities. (When my friend, Christine, taught me about budgeting - tip #1 is totally hers, by the way - she showed me that some areas that caught me were impulse purchases at the grocery store, using the convenience store for snacks instead of the grocery store, and late fees on movie rentals.)

If you don't have a budget and would like some help getting it set up, go ahead and contact me via email and I'd be more than happy to help. :)

#2 - Plan to tithe. Don't just think about it. Make a plan, commit to it, and stick to it.

In this context, I use the word "tithe" loosely. If you are currently not giving to your church or other areas where God is working (or are giving intermittently and randomly), the thought of jumping straight to 10% might make you nauseous. Find a number that doesn't make you feel like you're going to hurl, but is significant enough to make you tense. Perhaps $50 per pay cheque is that number for you. Maybe it's $100. Whatever the number, I encourage you to push it just a little bit higher than "comfortable." The fact is, being comfortable does not grow our faith. And tithing is not just about giving to God what is His (Matthew 22:21), it is also about walking in obedience and developing faith that doesn't waver when things look a little scary.

A couple things to help you stick to your plan. First, consider your tithe a part of your fixed expenses - like mortgage/rent, insurance, etc. One thing we did to help with this was to set up automatic withdrawal. Many churches now have the technology to directly debit your bank account for the amount you tell them, on the dates you tell them to take it. What I'm saying is this: pay God first, yourself second (that means groceries, gas, entertainment, etc. all come from whatever is remaining AFTER you have paid your fixed expenses).

Second, increase your tithe incrementally. If you start at $50 twice per month, for example, after two or three months push it up to $75. Keep going until you've reached an actual 10% - even if it takes a year or two to work your way up there.

#3 - Go ahead and ask God to show up!

When God gives us His directive to tithe, He actually tells us that it's okay to do it as a test. He tells us, "Test Me in this...and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of Heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it!" (Malachi 3:10)

By taking this huge step of faith, you are telling God that you trust Him to provide for your needs. Ask Him to take care of those areas in your budget that are not looking so good, and when you ask - expect Him to deliver! I assure you that God is just as concerned with your financial well-being as you are. (Matthew 10:29-32)

I believe that you (and I) will never experience true financial freedom - that we will never be out from under the heavy yoke of greed and debt - until we are tithing. God calls His people to radical obedience, often when it doesn't make sense (Abraham and Noah are my two favourite examples of that), so that His Name will be glorified. One of the greatest ways for us to bring honour to His Name is to share how He transformed our finances once we began to walk in obedience with our (His) money.

One of the greatest traps that Satan catches us in is the one of our own "need." We believe that we cannot give regularly and generously to the needs of others - the church, sponsor children, missionaries, door-to-door canvassers - because we are not even meeting our own "needs." I have learned that the opposite is true. Our own needs (spiritual and financial) will NEVER be met until we learn to pour out generosity towards the work of God all over our world. (Luke 12:15-25)

May God bless you as you seek to act in obedience to His will!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Building Your Ministry, part two - How to Love on Your Team

Click to read part one - What Your Team Really Needs from You.

In developing a new ministry or in building up a ministry that's already running, a team of committed volunteers (and/or staff) are needed to make things happen. Finding people to join your team may not be as difficult as you think (but that's for another post on another day); but keeping people committed to the team, the ministry, you (their leader), and of course to the work God is doing through the ministry - well that task, it takes hard work!

I hope that my story (in part one) convinced you that the key to keeping your team committed is to make them feel loved. But those of us who are married, we have surely learned some difficult lessons about how difficult it can be to make someone feel loved (even if we do truly love that person).

You see, loving someone is not about me having feelings of love towards that person. Rather, it is about me finding ways to show love to that person - ways that he or she understand and feel my love.

I believe there are three keys to making your team members feel loved. Today, we'll sit a while on the first point.

#1 - Invest Time:

Do you remember your best friend in high school? Chances are good that people often referred to you as "attached at the hip." You did everything and went everywhere together. There was little doubt in either of your minds that you loved one another. The same can be said of our children, spouses, adult friendships. Time spent together is time well spent.

I asked the Lord how I could help the women on my team feel loved, and He clearly told me to invest my time in them. When I asked how I could possibly invest personal time in each of 7 women, our creative God gave me idea after idea...

- I began to set aside one morning per week (with the exception of busy weeks) to invite one of the women from my team over for coffee and a visit. We would spend about 2 hours just chattin' it up. (Obviously, this only worked for those on my team who were at home like me. With those who worked, it would need to be an evening coffee. For me, that took a bit more juggling and we needed to plan it further in advance, but it was always worth the time spent.) --> time spent, 2 hours per week

- If I thought of a woman on my team, I would quickly stop and take a minute to pray for her. Then I would take one more minute to email her, just letting her know that she was in my thoughts and prayers. --> time spent, 2 minutes a couple times per week

- Normally, while doing housework I would find myself in need of a distraction to help get it done (isn't that always the case?). Most often I would call my best friend, my mom, or my hubby to chat while I worked. I decided to replace one of those phone calls each week with a call to someone on my team. I don't know that my "regulars" ever even noticed that I was calling one less time, or if they did I'm sure they were appreciative of having one less distraction! --> time spent, none (because it was already being spent)

- Do you ever get out for a girls' night? My wish is to do it once per month, but the reality is it happens when it happens. I began inviting someone from my team out with my girlfriends and I for girls' night. --> time spent, none

- I usually attended our weekly women's Bible study and our weekly women's coffee group, not only because I was the women's ministry leader, but because I enjoyed the growth and fellowship. While at those events, I made a point of seeking out the women who attended that were also on my team and spending some time visiting with them. Some days, we would sit together the whole time. --> time spent, none

You get the point... Overall, I only increased my "workload" by a mere 2 hours and 6 minutes (roughly) per week. And after the first few weeks -which felt slightly awkward at times - my weekly coffee date morphed into a vital part of my social life.

Another interesting thing happened - the girls out at girls' night grew in numbers, until there were more "ministry girls" than other girlfriends. And wouldn't you guess, many of those "regular" girlfriends got so excited about all that they were hearing that they joined us in leading women's ministry!

Before anyone comes at me with the argument that work is work and we shouldn't have to "make friends" with the people we work with, let me say two quick things. First, ministry is not just "work." Ministry is God's work, and it is also (very often) unpaid volunteer work. Doing ministry is completely different from being out in the work force. (Not that I necessarily think it should be. The working world could probably learn a thing or two from the ministry world.)

Second, if you take a quick journey through the Bible and look at any good leaders you will find that the people they "worked" with LOVED them - they were friends. A few examples for you include: Moses and Aaron (also brothers, but hey), Joshua and Caleb, Elijah and Elisha, Jesus and His disciples, Paul and Barnabus (until they disagreed), Paul and Timothy. These ministry partners didn't simply work together - they lived, travelled, and did life together. They were more than mere co-workers; they were friends.

Key points #2 and #3 on How to Love on Your Team coming soon...

Just a small word of explanation...

Throughout this series, you will hear me frequently use terminology such as "my team" and "my ministry." Please, do not misunderstand my heart based on semantics! There has never been any doubt in my mind that the women's ministry I had the privilege of being a part of belonged wholly to God. It was and is His ministry. Just as the team of women He brought together formed His team.

The use of the word "my" is to draw a clear word picture - that the ministry God called me to lead was born in my heart - just as "my" children were born of my body, though I know and acknowledge that they belong to the King of Kings and He has simply entrusted them to my care for a time. As a leader, there is an element of responsibility towards your ministry and your team. "My" does not denote ownership, but an entrustment.

When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required. ~Luke 12:48b (NLT)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Putting a Bad Day Behind Me

Yesterday was a bad day.

Our Bible study leader wasn't there, and I was disappointed. I have missed her over spring break. Our discussion was different (stilted) without her to guide us.

Malakai ran away (far and fast) in the church parking lot. He ran past two other mothers and they just watched him. For the life of me, I can't figure out why people don't stop him! I mean, it should be obvious that a two-year-old is not supposed to be running in the midst of moving motor vehicles!

My allergies are going crazy. My nose was (and still is) itchy and sneezy all day. Super annoying.

After school, the three girls apparently made a unanimous decision to fight as much as possible and as loudly as possible.

I let it all pile up and it got to me! I was crabby, short-tempered, scowly, yelling, impatient, and feeling just plain tired. I was heavy on the yelling and threats, but far too light on the actual discipline and training.

This morning, as I reflect on what went wrong, all I know is that I want today to be different. Better.

I cannot control the circumstances around me. Ultimately, I cannot control my children's behaviour (though I can train them to behave well). Fact is, I cannot control my own emotions and reactions very well.

But I am reminded that He can. What He needs from me is simply my cooperation. I need to turn away from my sin (anger, impatience, yelling, laziness) and turn toward Him.

Faced with frustrations that could "ruin" my day, I can either choose to continue walking ahead (right into my sinful reactions) or I can choose to stop and make a u-turn.

I want to live a consecrated life. A life that is distinctly set apart for His purposes. I am learning that it is much less about the things that I do, and so much more about the things that I turn away from.

Today, so that I might cultivate the life God desires, I will turn around. I will seek Him. And when faced with all the stuff of life, I can ask Him to show me what to do.

Not doing what I want to do is not an act of my will. It is an act of submission to His will.

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. ~Romans 7:18-20

holy experience

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Q & A - Reader's Edition

This is not your typical Q & A, where I answer questions you have asked me. Rather, I have a question for you - my beautiful, intelligent, strong, wise, and witty readers. Today, I have but one question for you...

What in the world can I do to STOP my (naughty) two-year old boy from running away? (His favourite sprint lane is the one in the middle of the largest parking lot of the largest store, with the highest volume of traffic.)

Seriously, help me! If you don't care to help me, perhaps you'll care to help him. Because if this continues... __________________ (fill in the blank with pretty much any phrase that comes to mind)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Review: Bibleman DVD

I recently discovered a book review site that got me excited. Hosted by Thomas Nelsen publishers, BookSneeze offers free books to bloggers who are willing to post reviews. Since I would be reading constantly anyway, and I get to choose the book I want to read/review (they don't choose for me), I figured I'd give it a try.

My first pick to review was a children's DVD. (Spring break was coming up, and being the planner that I am I know the value of stocking up on entertainment.)

Bibleman: Combating the Commandant of Confusion looks (based on the cover) similar to Power Rangers. My kids tend to enjoy PR (I don't get it, but whatever) so I thought to myself, "Why not get a DVD that's action-packed like PR but Bible-based?" I clearly missed the description "A Bibleman live adventure."

It was an adventure in boredom!

The DVD is a recording of a live presentation of Bibleman. As in, guys wearing action hero costumes and standing on the platform of a church, talking and acting for the kids in the pews. Perhaps they recorded a teaching session of VBS (Vacation Bible School)?

My three girls - ages 8, 6, 4 - walked away from the DVD after 15 minutes (and trust me, they would have gone sooner had I let them). My oldest boy - age 12 - sat a bit longer, but kept asking me, "Mom, when does it get better?"

If you're looking for some good DVD resources to entertain your kids, I suggest sticking to the tried and true found at your local Christian bookstore - Veggie Tales, Hermie and Friends, etc.

* Just a reminder that the Bibleman DVD was provided to me for free, for the purpose of review, via BookSneeze.

Friday, April 2, 2010

How Can a Day of Death be Called GOOD?

We are in love with life, with living. Live life to the full! Embrace every experience! Don't miss out!

We fear death, we avoid it, we mourn it.

But what if we have it all wrong?

Isn't living life to the full really just a smokescreen that we use to disguise our love for the things of this world? We invest all of our days in preparing for what is next - save our money for education, or a house, or retirement; buy things to use at set times (ie, a vacation home for summer); looking forward to our kids growing up, our marriages getting better, financial freedom... If this is life - always waiting for what is next - no wonder death terrifies us.

But what if dying is the secret to living?

The death of a dream makes room for bigger, better, God-sized dreams. The death of our finances leaves us wholly dependant on God's provision. The death of selfishness sets us free from our own wealth.

Selfishness = stockpiling things for what comes next. Eventually, we have so much that we are held captive by it. We become prisoners to our future plans. We think we are living, but we are really just the living dead.

The death of selfishness sets us free from our own wealth. The death of Christ sets us free from our sin.

Embrace death, not this life. Live for eternity, not tomorrow. Death is good. Dying, done God's way, makes room for new life.

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. ~John 14:24-25

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Who is My Neighbour?

I had a disturbing dream the other night...

We lived in a nice, little bungalow in a neighbourhood full of other nice, little bungalows. Our kids ran the 'hood, riding bikes up and down the street, shrieking in glee on their backyard trampoline. I didn't see my kids, but heard them. They must have been a bit older than they are now because I didn't have a sobbing two-year-old at the door begging to go out with the big kids. Maybe he was just napping. Who knows? Anyway...

Our next-door neighbours had a lot of kids, too. Four, maybe five. They wore dirty clothes, had unkempt hair, and never seemed to be supervised. I tried to get my kids to avoid playing with them, without actually forbidding it - because then I'd have to explain it, and my aversion wasn't something I could explain rationally. (My inner judgemental self apparently can't be kept at bay in dreams.)

We had just repaved our driveway and the cement was not fully dried (or is it cured?) yet. The neighbours turned on their lawn sprinkler and it was spraying over onto my fresh concrete. So I headed over to knock on the door and ask them to move it.

The door was opened by a woman that I somehow knew was not the mother. Behind her were two other women. Kids were playing and watching TV in the background. The house smelled faintly of dirt and urine. The women looked out of place, all put together with nice clothes, hair, and make-up in such a dirty house.

I don't remember how the conversation began - I don't think I ever asked about the sprinkler - but somehow we ended up with these women telling me that the woman who lived there was a single mother to these many children. They stopped over, found her not there and the children alone, and decided to stay and babysit. The children were very hungry, but the women could not find a single item of food in all the cupboards or the refrigerator. (It did occur to me, when I awoke, to wonder why none of these three well-dressed women headed out to the store for some food.)

All I can remember is thinking that I needed to find a way to feed these kids! My whole perspective on the family changed and my heart was filled with love for those dirty, little children and their absentee mother.

I woke up, recalling every detail of the dream. (It's interesting to note, here, that I have not had a dream that I can remember in several years.) Pondering the meaning of the dream, I asked God a few questions:

Is there someone in my life that I need to help?

Is it an actual neighbour on my new street?

Am I specifically supposed to be doing something to help a single mother (or more than one)?

Lord, who is my neighbour?!

The moment the question formed in my mind, I knew I had heard someone else ask the very same question...

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"

He answered: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'

"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."

Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

~ Luke 10:25-37

I was reminded of my dream and inspired to share it after reading this post.

Now, I just need to figure out what to do, when to do it, and for whom.

Who is your neighbour? Does anyone come to mind that God is nudging you about?