Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Praising Him in the Hallway: Patience in the "In-Between" Times

God opens and closes doors in our lives.  Recently a door has closed for us-the door of what we thought was our future and the realization of our long-term goal of owning a home that our family could grow old in.  But when God blocks us from one path, He always clears the way for another, usually brighter and better, way.  Sometimes, though, there is space and time between the closing of one door and the opening of another.

It is in this space, this in-between time, that my faith is greatly tested.  You see, I am not the most patient person on the planet.  I like my life planned out and I like answers quickly.....like now, or 10 minutes ago.  Once I feel a path has been determined (and fortunately lately I have learned to wait on God's path rather than making my own!), I want to move forward-full steam ahead, all in!  This can be a valuable trait in many situations, but in many situations, it is more of a hindrance than a help.

Now that we know we are moving from the home we built and thought would be our family's home for hopefully multiple generations, I just want out.  I am ready for the next chapter in our lives.  We have (hopefully) found the rental house that this next chapter will unfold in and I am anxious to solidify our claim on this house and get our things moved in and start living our lives.  But, to my dismay, that is not the pace at which life moves....at least not in this situation.

Today, I have been filled with anxiety and anticipation, hope and fear, confidence and insecurity.  But, I am blessed with a husband who understands my processing of situations like the one we are in.  He has made calls, completed applications, dropped of checks, and arranged showings quickly so that I can feel that we are moving ahead timely and reducing our risk of losing my "dream property" just because we didn't act fast enough.  I am also blessed with friends that pray over me, specifically and generally (thank you, Megan!!!!). 

Through all of this, God is refining me.  Reminding me that He is always in control and He is always good.  Prompting me to praise him in the hallway while I am waiting for the door to open.  He is training me to avoid missing His blessings simply because I am too focused on what could be that I lose focus on what is.

So, dear friends, prayers are appreciated as we journey into this next chapter of life.  I look forward to sharing with you all the triumphs and failures, the joy and sadness, the experiences that God has laid out before our family.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Death of the Easter Bunny

We have never been big on the whole Easter Bunny, egg hunt, fake grass-filled basket phenomenon that occurs around this time each year.  Not because we had any particular moral aversion to yet another Christian holiday being over-commercialized, but, to be perfectly honest, we are terrible planners and always waiting until the last minute when all there is left is the pre-packaged, brightly-colored, plastic baskets full of crappy toys that break 12 minutes after you manage to free them from their packaging.

However, this year, we are purposely putting to death the myth of the Easter Bunny and all of the plastic trappings that go along with that myth.

For the past few months our family has been on journey to understand God's plan for our future and embrace the path He has laid before us, no matter the cost, no matter the risk.  Truthfully, we have probably been on this journey for several years as God has refined our lives through loss, gain, moving, leaving, growing together and falling apart.  It has just been in the past few months that we have joyfully let go of our illusion of control and wholly committed our lives and futures to Him...but that is a story for another time.

Back to the death of the Easter Bunny.....

This year there will be no new frilly dresses and patent white shoes and pretty hats for the girls.  No new khaki pants and light blue striped or gingham shirt for the boy (who is swiftly becoming a man).  No pictures with the man in the bunny costume at the mall (which I have always found a little creepy).  No baskets filled with plastic grass and plastic eggs that are filled with candy and treats.  No dying hard-boiled eggs in food coloring mixed with vinegar.  No hunting for brightly-colored plastic eggs in wet, knee-high grass.

Right now you may be thinking we are the meanest parents on earth, sucking all of the fun out of what has become a benign, commercialized American holiday.  But, be that as it may, this is where we stand.  This is the change that is happening in our family.

This year we will focus on the death of our Savior.  We will read the passages in the gospel that intimately describe His last meal with His closest friends, the men with whom he had shared life and ministry with for 3 years.  The men who laid down their lives and walked away from family, jobs, homes and followed Him to live a life scorned by society and sometimes even endangering their own lives to spread the gospel of Christ.  We will talk about Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  We will learn about how the same people who welcomed him on that beautiful day, scorned, scoffed and even spit at him just days later.  We will learn about the trial and study not only the role of the Romans and Jewish leaders, but the disciples, the supporters of Christ and the mob that so quickly turned on our Redeemer.  We will discuss what Jesus must have felt when he begged his Heavenly Father for a reprieve as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane.  We will despair at the pain and suffering Jesus experienced on the cross.  We will rejoice that 3 days later he conquered death!

Easter is not about bunnies, chicks, eggs, candy, gifts, plastic baskets, plastic grass, and GETTING gifts.  Easter is about the SACRIFICE of our Savior.  Easter is about VICTORY over DEATH.  And ultimately Easter is about God's gift of His son to take our place so that we may have everlasting life.

Please don't misunderstand, I am not judging any of the American traditions that your family may partake in this Easter.  I am simply sharing what our family has decided to do this Easter and every Easter going forward.

Love & Prayers,

Monday, March 23, 2015

No Regrets

As we continue on this journey of simplification and refinement, I am often tempted to look back on the past few years and wonder if we had made different choices would we still be facing the same challenges we are today.  This usually drives me to my knees and God gently reminds me that He is in control and has been from the beginning.  Yes, we could have made different choices, but there is no way of knowing what the outcome would have been. 

It is easy to look back and think we should never have built our home in Stokesdale, we should have stayed in our rental in NW Greensboro.  But then I think of the people we would maybe not have met, or the fact that we would not have adopted a puppy (love our Barrett-boo!).  We would maybe not have found a church home at Mercy Hill.

It it tempting for me to look back and think I never should have left my job at MFA for Consulate back in 2012.  But then maybe Rick would not have finished his degree program at PIU.  Maybe I would not have had the opportunity I have now to stay at home and homeschool my children.

God has a plan.  Always.

Even when we think we are in control, God is always there, seeing his plan to fruition.  I have learned, through this sometimes painful process of refinement and growth, to look up instead of back.  I am learning to live with no regrets.  Even when the path is difficult, I am trusting my Heavenly Father to lead me where He wants me.

When I look back through the lens of faith, I never ceased to be amazed at the everyday miracles of God's intricately woven plan for my life.  Relationships, chance encounters, everyday choices that lead to the furtherance of His kingdom.  I have witnessed great miracles, I have seen exciting and big things happen in many lives around me.  But I am somehow more in awe of the mundane and quiet miracles that God works every day in my life and the lives of others.

There are no guarantees in this life-we are not promised tomorrow.  But God can use any situation for good.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28

He has a plan for my life, and yours, and nothing (not even my BIG mistakes) will prevent that plan from His purpose.  I have learned to put my faith wholly in Him.  There is a peace that taking all of our decisions to Him brings.  The process of praying over our next steps removes doubt and prevents regret.  But even when we do make mistakes (which usually happens when we either don't seek Him before making a decision or when we disregard His guidance), He can still use our lives for good.  There are always consequences to our choices, but by seeking God's will through scripture and prayer, we can avoid pitfalls and mistakes in most situations.

I have no regrets, even though I have made many mistakes.  I have watched God's grace in action as he uses my broken and error-filled life for His purposes.  I am so excited to see what our future in Him holds!

Love & Prayers

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Grand Illusion

For hundreds of years "magicians" have thrilled and excited audiences with amazing feats.  Typically these are accomplished through sleight of hand and illusion.  These are the same tricks Satan uses in our lives to create distance between us and our Heavenly Father, and his greatest illusion is that of control.

We as humans, and maybe even more so as Americans, want to control everything.  We save and invest money so that we never have to be without it (or so we think).  We control our homes: temperature, environment, sound, weather-proofing exterior and interior walls, windows & doors.  Some people can even control their home remotely with any smartphone or wi-fi enabled device; don't even get me started on that topic, but if you can unlock your doors remotely a hacker probably can, too-food for thought, people.  We control our bodies by exercising, eating gluten-free, cage-free, grass-fed, organic, locally grown, non-GMO everything.  We control our friends....don't tick me off or I will un-friend you on Facebook faster than you can say "slap my grandma!".  (It strikes me as many of the terms in this paragraph probably did not exist 20 years ago....just more food for thought. Discuss amongst yourselves.)

This is by no means a comprehensive list of what we try to control in life.  And that is the ultimate point, we try to control ALL aspects of our lives.  But control is an illusion.  I love a quote by Corrie ten Boom "Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God," and that is the truth about human nature-it fears the unknown, the out of control.  But we control nothing; the man who saves all his life, wisely invests so that he can live well into his twilight years could die in a car crash today, the woman who eats as healthy as possible and takes excellent care of her physical being could die of cancer in 6 weeks.  We are so quick to put our trust in the things man has created, money, healthcare, food trends, brick and mortar; but, all of these things hold no promise of the future for us even though Satan would have us believe they do.  Only God has promised us our future. Only God.

Only God knows the future.  Only God knows "when I sit and when I rise" and only God can "perceive my thoughts from afar" and only God can "discern my going out and my lying down" (Psalm 139:2-3a).  We were "knit together in our mother's womb" by a God by whom "all of ordained form me were written in Your book before one of them came to be" (Psalm 139:16b).  I am overwhelmed by the power of these words. 

There is nothing wrong with planning for the future and even making long-term goals.  The problem comes when we worship our plans more than His will.  When our job becomes more important than making time to read the Bible with our children.  When it is more important to clean house than interact with our babies (see what I did there-I got out of housework in the name of God!).  When the TV, smartphone, tablet or game system draws us away from the real, live people in our life.

There are no guarantees in this life, no promises of the future save those given to us by God.



Sunday, March 8, 2015

The American Dream

2014 was a tough year for us.  2 job losses, struggling financially, sick parents, illness, surgery, and many other challenges.  Throughout all of it we have watched the miracle of God's grace work in our lives.  I am not ready to say we are on the other side of all of this yet, but instead of letting these issues tear our family and marriage apart, we have allowed God to use these troubled times to draw us nearer to Him and, in turn, each other.

It seems like for the first time in over 1 year, my head is clear and our path is firm.  We have started to take our family budget seriously (we typically have been more of the "hope for the best" variety of financial planners).  We have a significant hurdle of unpaid medical bills (due to our high deductible insurance plan-thanks Obamacare!) and the challenge of managing on about 1/2 the income we had last year.  This means some serious changes must happen in our lives.

God has spent the past year refining us.  He has helped us understand our priorities and correctly order them.  He has shown us what we need to live and what we can live without.  He has cut away the chaff from our lives to reveal the beauty of what He has created within. 

In the spirit of full transparency, our biggest hurdle...ok, my biggest hurdle has been our home.  This was supposed to be our lifetime home, where we watched our children grow, celebrated Christmas and Thanksgiving every year with our family, where our grandchildren would someday come back to play and learn and grow.  But somewhere along the line, this house became a god to me.  It was my perfect home, great layout, huge kitchen, new appliances, great master suite with a huge closet and master bath with double vanities and a garden tub.  There is more storage in this house than I will ever likely need.  I worshiped my home, I loved my home, I refused to let go of my home.  My mouth said "I will go wherever you send me, Lord", but my heart was in these walls and was determined to stay here.

So now we come to the hard part, giving up our home; setting aside my worship of this compilation of brick and sheetrock and be fully willing to go where God sends me.  I fought against this prospect for months.  I just knew there was a way to save our home.  One night, my husband sat me down and said "Meri, you know we can't afford to stay here.  We can't keep pretending that we can continue to support our previous lifestyle on what we make.  Moreover, we have to set aside our desires for God's will." (I am very blessed to be married to a wise and godly man). 

It's so easy to fall into the trap of the "American Dream", the house, the 2 cars, the 2.3 children who attend the best school, the smartphones, cable with 600 channels, latest tech devices, etc.(I could go on for days).  But through this process of refinement, I have come to realize that, as Solomon stated in Ecclesiates, "All is vanity."  None of these things is fulfilling in the way that Christ is fulfilling.  All of these things become a god in that we spend 40+ hours per week working to be able to continue worshipping them.

So this year, we have said "enough".  No more worshipping this house of cards we have built in the name of the American dream.  We will reduce ourselves to make room for God to work in our lives.  I pray that God will continue to refine us and use our lives to further His kingdom.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Broccoli, Kale and Meatless Monday

So, we have decided to stop poisoning our bodies with over-processed, under-nutritional foods.  I have been researching this lifestyle change for several years and we have experimented with it on and off for quite some time.  However, in light of worsening medical conditions (specifically my fibromyalgia), we have decided it is time to take control of what we put in our bodies.

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

It is time for our family to treat our bodies like the temples God created them to be and honor His purpose for our lives each day by what we put into our bodies.

So today was grocery day and we all went together.  I mention this specifically because it is a rare occasion that we all get to go because, well let's face it....kids are not the easiest to grocery shop with-maybe it is related to their COMPLETE lack of impulse control?!  But it is important to us that our children (ages 7, 9 & 12) be involved in the aspects of learning to eat healthier, less processed foods and to do so within a budget.

We set a specific budget of $150 and I will admit we went $50 over (namely due to some specialty purchases of coconut oil, olive oil, and organic carrot orange juice).  We loaded up on green veggies-kale, broccoli, leeks, romaine lettuce, etc. and fruit.  We also spent the bulk of our budget in meats which will last us at least 10-12 days, maybe longer if I can get "Meatless Monday" and "Leftover Wednesday" to catch on in our house!

Some of our biggest challenges to changing our lifestyle is the "convenience snacking" that happens around our house.  We did not purchase any pre-packaged snack foods this time, not even chips (trust me, that is MAJOR in this house).  Instead I have some excellent recipes for kale chips, roasted broccoli chips and popcorn (no more microwave stuff for us...just kernels popped in coconut oil).  The challenge of all of this is that it takes TIME and EFFORT...2 words that almost always have a negative connotation in today's "instant gratification" society.  However, I am looking forward to the opportunities that preparing these snacks will provide such as teaching my children patience, how to cook, and the value of good nutrition.

Some of the other major changes we are making this week:
-No more soda. Period.  No exceptions. (pray for us please!)
-Only 100% juice (I know...still not great for you, but baby steps, people, baby steps!)
-No more lunchmeat (to much sodium and nitrates)
-No more cereal....we will be having oatmeal, eggs, pancakes, etc. for breakfast

I look forward to sharing our journey, wins and epic fails, with all of you!

Love & Prayers,