Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What Really Matters

I've had heavy things on my mind lately. Things from the major problems within the international adoption system to raising money to support childhood cancer research to getting clean water to the people of Tanzania to failed personal relationships within my own family and circle of friends to the disciplining of my own children and my own walk with God. That's a huge chunk of life!

I don't have all of the answers to all of the world's problems. Heck. I don't even have all of the answers to the problems in my own house and heart!

Jesus said that the most important things were to "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" and to "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:37 and 39 NIV)

To me, that sounds like "Love God" and "Love People."

And I think it stands to reason that most of the world's problems... the big ones and the small ones... would probably fade away if we could all live in a way where we were abiding by those two rules.

The trouble is... we're selfish.

I know I AM! I definitely prefer my own comfort to yours. I tend to make choices that make life simpler for ME. Given a hard option that benefits others over time... and an easy option that benefits me immediately... my first reaction is to opt towards ME.

I think that it's very easy to see how "The American Dream" completely fits that profile.

Frankly, that's gross.

I can't change the world. I can't MAKE other people "do what's right" or "get with the program." I can only make choices that affect my own heart and where it's bent. I WANT it to bend more towards God. I want to care more for other people. I want people to see me and the way I live my life and NOT see a hypocrite. I want people to see me and know that I'm living my life according to what I SAY I believe. And I want my legacy to my grandchildren to be one of authentic faith.

It sounds so easy. The trouble is... in order to actually live my life as a regular person and NOT a hermit, I have to actually deal with people. People who make stupid choices. People who might hurt me. People whom I don't even LIKE! I find myself asking God why He didn't make people easier to love!

I have a long way to go when it comes to grace and mercy. Treating everyone like they are valuable because they were created by God and NOT because they've somehow EARNED value by being "good enough" is hard.

Oh sure, to SOME PEOPLE... the ones I already LIKE... it's easy to be kind and to show compassion. But there's this group of people... I call 'em E.G.R.'s (Extra Grace Required)... who are just so annoying, such idiots, so foolish that they just make it hard to like 'em! I make choices as if I have a list of people who can get past the velvet rope into my own personal "Club of People I Love"?

Who is selfish now?

The truth is that I have done stupid things.
The truth is that I can be annoying.
The truth is that I have been so stinking foolish that it has been hard for others to like me.

I have required extra grace from others.

I haven't lived my life in a way that has EARNED forgiveness for my foolish choices. I have apologized for the things I've seen that I've messed up and tried to make amends to the people whom I've hurt. But forgiveness isn't earned by the recipient. It's extended in grace from the person doing the forgiving. People who've chosen to love me, have chosen to allow compassion to reign over anger and hurt... and have CHOSEN to forgive me and move forward.

Haven't we all been brokenhearted and unlovable at some point in time?

How could it possibly be MY job to straighten out The Unlovables when I haven't even kept my own heart in order?

There are a lot of things going on in the world, and in the U.S., that the Christian community wants to weigh in on. I'm not so concerned over the fact that we have opinions. I'm concerned about how we throw judgement into the mix. It's not that we can't clearly define the kinds of things that are right and wrong. It's more that standing on street corners with signs about who we don't like and what we won't tolerate, does not change anyone's broken heart. And we ALL know what it's like to be broken. 

When Jesus walked on earth, he hung out with people who weren't all that popular, people who were outcasts. These people knew what it meant to be lonely and have broken hearts. They were unlikable and the people that others tried to avoid. People with obvious health issues that grossed people out, guys who cheated other people out of their hard-earned paychecks, women with questionable morals and bad reputations... The Unlovables. Those people's lived were rocked NOT because Jesus pointed out their poor choices but because he loved them in spite of their poor choices. Jesus was more about getting people to see where their HEART was inclined than about their behavioral choices.

Jesus didn't say the most important things were to "Act right" and "Don't be stupid."

I'm thankful that he didn't. I would have a big fat "EPIC FAIL" on my life's report card if he HAD said those things!

Honestly, I do NOT need you to point out the poor choices I've made in my life. I'm VERY well aware of what things I coulda, woulda, shoulda done differently. Why would I treat other people like I'm their own person self-help guru?

"Just follow my program and your life will be awesomesauce!"

That's so NOT how it would go.

I am not God.

My Plan... would have huge, gaping flaws in it. You would not be a happy camper.

Somewhere in the mix... my OWN heart needs changing. I need to remember my own need for grace... and remember the God who's given it so freely to me... and learn to treat others like they have the same value I have.

God cuts me slack... allows me time and space to sort through my own brokenness and do an "about face" and get back on track with making wise choices.
I ought to cut people slack... and give them time to sort through their broken hearts and make their way back to a path where wisdom rules their choices. Not just SOME people... but all people.

It's time for me to get to the very basics of loving God and loving people because that is what really matters.

*Didn't I just write about Jonah's lessons about who's worthy of our concern? I should probably go back and read through that again. Ever notice how some lessons come up on "repeat" a LOT? Yeah... I'm definitely a slow learner when it comes to being gracious to everyone.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Self Service

I've been thinking about "gifts" lately. Not the gifts you get for birthdays but, the innate talents people are born with and learn to use over time.

I've been thinking about the way we tend to use them and how we, as parents, tend to push our kids to use theirs. As a general rule, as least in the United States, we seem to see that someone is really good at something and then we suggest that they use that talent to make money. If someone's really REALLY good at something, they use that talent to amass a personal fortune. (Think professional athletes and musicians.) No matter how much time passes, we never seem to catch on to the fact that money doesn't make people happy. SURE having money to pay the bills makes life easier in terms of specific stresses but, it doesn't necessarily bring happiness with it. There are plenty of really rich people who are perfectly miserable in spite of the fact that they never have to work another day of their life.

Here's the thing:
I don't think we were given the gifts we each have so that we can use them for our own personal gain.

Some of the HAPPIEST people on the planet aren't collecting interest at astronomical rates. They're the people who've found a way to use the talents they were born with to help others.
Instead of using an ability to design new things related to moving water great distances, getting a patent, and selling it to the highest bidder... they're using their ability to find CHEAPER ways to get clean water to people who've NEVER had running water before.
Instead of using capital to lend money out in large sums to rich people, to make even MORE money; they're creating microloan programs to lend some of the poorest people on the planet (in third world countries) small amounts of money to start small business and make a huge difference in the borrower's day-to-day lives.

Some people have seemed to grasp that they are at their personal best, when they're helping others. They've been given a gift, a talent, an innate ability to do something that other people cannot do or have not THOUGHT to do... to make the world a better place. Not make their own PERSONAL space better... but make the world better for everyone. Those are the most fulfilled people. They get that "love" isn't just writing a check. It isn't just saying a prayer. It's actually giving something up... it's sacrificing something... so that others' lives are better.

Matthew 6:21 says, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (NIV)

Don't believe for one second that I'm saying that "making a lot of money is evil." Or some variation of "God wants us to be poor." That's so NOT what I'm saying.

What I'm trying to say is: we tend value the wrong things. We invest our time/ our HEARTS in things that are only transient. Maybe not 100% of the time... but MOST of the time. We put high priority on making money and having lots of stuff. It's not just a "worldly" point of view. Even as Christians, there's this weird tendency to NOT be generous with our money, our talents, OR our time. We give when there are disasters where people need immediate relief but, we forget about those people after a few weeks. And when it comes to REGULAR giving, we just stink. When there are fundraisers for missionaries or our children's ministers ask for help with special projects or EVEN regular help on Sundays, we're all just "busy" and "don't have the extra money." I think the truth is something more like "I don't want to." We want someone else to do it. And ultimately, we don't want to give up what we want (IE. Starbucks, more clothes, new shoes, new cars, bigger homes) because we don't want to be less than comfortable.

Newsflash: Someone else WON'T be "doing the work."

We shouldn't be doing things for kudos or cash. We ought to be serving because it's the right thing to do... because how we spend our time here, investing IN PEOPLE, is obeying God. It doesn't make God love us more. We're already loved beyond anything we could ever imagine. Obeying God brings us to a place where God can bless us. That doesn't necessarily mean "Rain Money." The most valuable things in my life, I can't buy. The most precious friendships, the most meaningful time spent, the experiences that matter the most to my heart... that bring a depth and joy to life (in spite of hard, real life stuff) that money can't bring... are the most valuable blessings of all. Those blessings have been wrought by investing time and talents in things that give me no tangible return. Those blessings make my life richer in spite of the fact that I may not have tons of extra spending money.

God says that people are what is valuable.

We have all kinds of expressions for similar sentiments. "You can't take it with you" being one of the most common.

If we can't take any of the stuff that we acquire here on earth with us to heaven, why waste all our time and energy trying to get more of what is eternally worthless? I'd rather collect friends than coinage. I'd rather amass a treasury of great friends by investing my heart and life in people. I'd rather have a group of people with whom to share life and faith. I'd rather use whatever abilities I have to make the world a better place for other people... even if it's only my ability to listen and have "kind eyes." Maybe by loving people by listening, people will see that there's a God who CARES.

We serve God by serving people.

"If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this." - C.S. Lewis

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive and inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:23-24

Let's BEE Friends

Thursday, June 9, 2011

If You Really Knew Me

I saw that Kimberly @ Mama's Monologues did a post like this and I thought it was kinda fun. :)

If you knew me, you'd know that...

... Dave is my best friend and marrying him was the best decision of my life. I hate listening to wives gripe about their husbands. I don't want to hear how much you don't like the dude you chose to marry. All husbands aren't idiots. Mine's pretty rockin'. :)

... I break for denim and flip flops. I don't care if it's 100 degrees outside in Alabama, I wear jeans year round. Flip flops too. I've been known to put up Christmas lights on the house in flip flops.

... I own an obscene number of tubes of lip gloss. I LOVE the ones from Bath & Body Works.

... I hate the sound of a ringing phone. And I don't answer phone calls before noon. (The ringer's actually turned off... Dave's sleeping for workin' all night y'all!)

... improper grammar in writing drives me nuts. (Get your there, their, and they're straight. If you're over 8, you should know which one you're using.) Spelling too. Spell check is our friend. Don't even THINK about texting me in that stupid "UR awsum" teenager language. I'll drink your milkshake.

... I love the smell of baked goods. I love it when my house smells like cookies and bread... but I don't really eat 'em. I just like the smell. Sometimes, I fake my kids out by buying a candle with a "Sugar Cookie" scent. They miss the actual cookies. I don't.

... I hate it when people comment "You must be really busy!" when they hear that I have four kids whose ages are so close together. Being a MOM means you're busy. I'm actually insulted for Moms who have fewer children than I do. "Mom" is a hard job. Period. We're all juggling a LOT.

... I get irritated when people see me out with all four kids by myself and say, "Are they all YOURS?" As IF I'd babysit other people's kids and take 'em to the grocery store, the bank, or baseball practice? Plus, they look like siblings! ::cue the Gibbs' head slap!::

... I don't watch TV on the night it's on. I hate commercials. We skip them so often that the kids flip when they watch cartoons "live"... they can't believe they actually HAVE to watch the commercials. We don't let them watch most TV shows.

... I try to be nice to everyone but, making REAL friends is hard. Most people seem to be really superficial. And I'm at the point in my life where I just can't handle other people's personal stupidity or the inability to listen to a voice other than their own. That means I can come off kinda bitchy. I don't talk a lot in group settings. I'm not angry and mean. I just need you to be responsible for yourself.

... I like games that involve strategy. My Dad taught me to play Risk when I was in first grade. I used to stay up late "studying" for finals in college playing with friends. I taught Dave to play after we got married. If we ever get divorced, it'll probably be over a game of Risk. I NEVER cheat. I'm just that good. ;)

... I started at the University of Arkansas as a Drama major but, switched after a year to the Poultry Science Dept because while I dig creativity, I wasn't digging the theatre lifestyle. I'm a nerd. I like this about myself. It's handy when it comes to trivia games. Living in a lab was way more my speed. And I was really good at it. That being said, I learned to reupholster furniture in the theatre... and that's actually been pretty handy!

... I love having friends over. We have a group of friends that come over and eat and play boards games. We laugh so hard it's ridiculous. "Things in a Box" is the best game ever. Speaking of which... we're totally due for a Game Night....

... I wouldn't have survived Dave's deployment to Iraq without my friend Beth. She kept me sane. She went to the drug store and grocery store late at night for me when the kids were sick. She came and helped me after I had surgery and couldn't lift my 1 yr old for a couple weeks. She helped me paint my living room and kitchen. She came over and ate pizza and listened to me blab about everything under the sun because I didn't have any grown ups to talk to all day long. She babysat for me for free, so that I could go shopping without my kids. (Remember what happens when I take all 4 of them to the store with me?)  She LISTENED. She's moving to NYC at the end of the summer and I'll miss her so much it actually makes me sad. I've moved 17 times in my life. I should be used to good-byes right? This is the first time a friend will be moving away from ME! I hate that!

... my friend Alison @ 5inthetribe  is one of the funniest people that I know. She's also one of the most sincere. She is the person I'd call in the middle of the night when all hell breaks loose. She encourages me. She prays for me. She pushes me to move on from unhealthy head spaces and habits. But she hears my heart. She cares about my family and loves my kids. It's HARD to find a friend like that. Her kids laugh at our 10 year age difference. And while it's probably true that 20 yr old Alison wouldn't have thought she'd be great friends with 10 yr old Sarah some day, it sure is cool to see how God worked our lives out to be together. Alison's the closest thing to a sister that I've got. She hang with me on my best days and STILL CLAIMS ME on my worst days. Sometimes your family of choice can be more awesome than your family of origin in that respect. Now go check out her blog and comment on her hilarity!

... I know that my kids are going to grow up with almost no concept of how blessed they are to live the life they do. We aren't wealthy but, we don't want our kids to grow up with a sense of entitlement over "stuff".  I actively look for ways for us to get involved in projects in 3rd world countries. My cousin Donna goes to Rwanda twice a year and is heavily involved with New Hope Homes. They pair a widow and 2 aunties with orphaned children in houses and create a new family for them all. They're not orphanages. They're HOMES. The kids are thriving. We've been following their story for several years. We Skype with them when Donna is in the country... Matthew plays his guitar for them and they sing together. That blows my mind. We also are involved with Dig Deep Give Well... a well digging charity that has dug wells for villages in Tanzania. My friend Lisa has a heart for Africa like I've never seen before. Water-borne illnesses kill more people than guns and wars do. Having clean water changes people's lives. It's awesome to see lives changed by something that we take for granted in our country. It's also so cool to see my kids grasp that THEY can help. As soon as they're old enough, we will SOOOOO be sending them to countries where people have LESS so that they can grasp how very much we have. This year, they painted pictures and we had a children's art sale to raise money to fund another well to be dug this summer. The kids love learning about other countries and it makes my heart happy to expand their view of the world beyond rural Alabama.

... I've achieved some prestigious stuff in my life, but nothing has meant as much to me as being a Mom to my kids. Yeah, there are days when I want to pull out all my hair... but, overall... it's the best job ever. They crack me up. They've taught me more about unconditional love. They make my life brighter. I love them with my life.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How I Met Dave...it's a vlog please hold your applause (no really... DON'T!)

I've finally been peer pressured enough to join the vlogging bandwagon o' fun. Thanks Jessica from My Time as a Mom and Kate from Mommy Monologues for picking a prompt that I finally couldn't resist actually talking about in person.

So, here's the story of how I met my husband Dave... and how I never would have met him if I hadn't dated the husband of our buddy Carri from Adventures in Mommyhood.

No comments about the hair or lack of make-up... two things: A) it was 2AM (because that's when Dave's at work and I can commandeer his webcam because my machine is too slow to run my own) and B) the RiceCakes are all asleep at that hour and I can actually hear myself talk and not be interupted a bazillion times!


Saturday, June 4, 2011

You Can Get Punk'd at Any Given Moment

Once upon a time, I felt that people who thought it was a lot of work to be a parent were absolute morons. You should just be more organized, I thought. Plan things out better and then you can skate by virtually Scott-free! Start EARLIER and you won't be late!

I was a jerk.

It turns out that having children actually increases the opportunity for all hell to break loose on a daily basis exponentially with the addition of each new child. It also increases the time to do things exponentially as well. This is why it takes FOUR times as long to get out the door with two children as it does with one child.

Yes, this means, because I have four children... I have to start getting ready to leave the house for Christmas in September if I'm remotely going to be "on time."

I hate to be late. Seriously. I HATE it. For me, it's an issue of manners and treating others as if their time is valuable. ... because it IS! (Remember when I said "Time is the most valuable thing you can give someone because you can never get it back."????)

I also hate it when other people are late. I hate sitting there waiting for them to finally get their keister there. I hate when they act like it's funny that they're 30 minutes late. I hate the lame excuses like "I just lost track of time" or "I didn't know it would take so long to get here... during rush hour." I hate it. I tend to let other people set times to meet up... so that THEY will be on time. I managed to get places ON TIME with my 4 kids, when they were all under 5... you oughta be able to get YOURSELF to wherever it is you're meeting me, ON TIME. Don't waste my time. Don't act like it's "cute" when you always show up late. That sucks. It's lame and it's rude. I'll contain myself and won't throw down in Starbucks over your lateness... but that doesn't mean I'll ever hang out with you again.

Don't get me wrong. I'd give you a few minutes wiggle room and I realized that sometimes, it really can't be helped. Sometimes, there's a bad wreck and traffic doesn't move. Sometimes, your house loses power and your alarm clock doesn't go off. And SOMETIMES... if you have kids... one of them will decide to puke just as you're walking out the door. I get it.


This brings me back to my "once upon a time..."

At one point, about 5 years ago, the RiceCakes looked something like this....

Don't they look like little angels?
One afternoon, I had plans to meet up with a friend. At the time, Dave was working first shift... which means he got home from work around 3:30 in the afternoon. I was meeting a friend early in the afternoon and was getting lunch ready for my little RiceCakes before we left to play at the park.

I was planning ahead see? A FED kid, is a happy kid right?

So, the kids were playing... Matthew and Abi were playing in her room. Jack was in his room playing with a train set and Joshua was totally contained in his exersaucer pushing a little tractor around in a circle and giggling.

Everyone was happy.

I could get my mac n cheese on in peace.

Then I heard a noise that was like no other. It sounded like an explosion... only more bubbly. It came from my baby.

There's no way a sound like that could possible have come out of this guy!
When I got around the corner and saw him, he was still smiling and bouncing in his exersaucer... only NOW, he was also standing in about an inch of diarrhea.

Now I don't know if someone coated his diaper in Teflon or PAM or what. There wasn't a splash of the stuff in it or on his clothes... but it was running down his legs and pooling in the bottom of the exersaucer. (PS, I was never MORE happy that we didn't have a walker.... those suckers don't have bottoms! My carpet would've been TRASHED!) Joshua was a MESS!

As a Mom... you kinda get used to crap like that happening. Somehow, when your kids are little, it just seems like regular day-to-day stuff, in some psychotic way. I lost my gag reflex a long time ago. I used to say that I lost it when my first child was born.... but really... I think it was the day we got married. The only time I ever had issues with the nastiness of small children was when I was preggo and pukey about EVERYTHING.

Anyhoodles, I took it in stride... scooped up my little Pooping Machine and took him to the bathtub in my bedroom... because that's where all the baby bath stuff was at the time. In the amount of time it takes to turn on the water and strip a poopy baby, my two oldest RiceCakes came into the doorway behind me. I heard Matthew's sweet little voice say,

"Mama doesn't Abi look pretty?"

If you aren't already a parent, let me fill you in.... THAT particular sentence is NEVER followed by anything GOOD.

I turned around to see Abi's blond spiral curls CUT into a wicked atrocity suitable only for members of A Flock of Seagulls.

Her hair used to look like THIS!

                                 She now looked like she belonged with these guys!

Don't get me wrong here. I love me some New Wave tune-age. But in my mind, I was running.

"I ran... I ran so far away... I just ran... I ran both night and day... I couldn't get away..."

The girl was a mess. But the hair 'do was the least of it. The Dynamic Duo had found my stash of Sharpies. Abi colored "make up" on her own face... without a mirror. She looked like The Joker from Tim Burton's first version of Batman. (No, I'm not usually a purveyor of random 80's references. But today, it's just appropriate.) Her mouth was colored red WAY onto her cheeks. Her eyelids were colored green and blue. Did I mention that it was in SHARPIE?! UGH!

Abi's face looked this THIS for a WEEK cuz Sharpie marks really are for keeps!

So I was thinkin'... well crap! Now I've got TWO kids to throw in the tub and scrub with massive amounts of elbow grease!

I turned the water off and started getting Abi ready to get in the tub... and then I noticed another noise.

It was the sound of running water.

But I'd already turned the bathtub faucet off!

What the heck?!

It was coming from the kitchen...

I bolted into the next room to find my 2 yr old... holding the garden hose... turned on full blast... in the middle of the kitchen... with poopy water flying EVERYWHERE!!!!!!!

Jack is my little problem solver. He's probably going to grow up to be some kind of engineer. By his 2nd birthday he'd already figured out how to open the doors to go outside (YES, he is the reason we got a house alarm with the bells that chime every time a door is opened!) and how to turn on the hose. Mommy's Little Helper wanted to help Mommy clean up all that crap from his nasty baby brother so... he walked outside, turned on the faucet, and pulled the hose around the corner and up the back deck stairs and INTO the house to help hose off the exersaucer pool of grossness!

This one is definitely up to something...
And Jack was right; the hose was GREAT for washing poop off the plastic exersaucer. Unfortunately, at 2, he failed to realized that it was going to go elsewhere... and "elsewhere" in this case was "all over the floor and cabinets in Mommy's kitchen!"

I started looking for hidden cameras. They HAD to be there right? I mean, one minute I was making lunch for my little darlings and getting us ready to go play at the park. In less than 5 minutes, I was looking at a poopy disaster area created by my Pooping Machine and his Household Engineer of a brother... along with an Extreme 80's Makeover given by the 5 yr old hairdresser to the 4yr old Jack Nicholson look-alike!

I've never been MORE disappointed that Ashton Kutcher didn't pop out from behind the sofa.

It turns out that in spite of organizational planning, shit can still happen. I try to cut people more slack for their obliviousness to the space-time continuum when it comes to how long it takes to get from point A to point B when I am waiting at point B.

That particular day, I called and bailed on my friend. The mess was going to take way more than a few minutes and a bath to clean up. To be honest, I fed the RiceCakes their mac n cheese and then sent them all to their rooms until Daddy came home. I was just DONE by lunch that day!

Can you say "Mommy's clockin' out!"

As a parent, you can get Punk'd by your children as any given moment.

And that is why, now, when invited to do things with other I tend to say, "Barring vomit or explosive diarrhea... we'll be there!"