Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Confession

She sat huddled in the cold outside the church, hood bundled around her head, backpacks at her feet. Probably all she owns. I felt bad for her, but the service wasn’t starting for another hour and a half. I was there to do a sound check, but because of a miscommunication, I was there too early. It would be an hour before anyone else arrived. I hesitated before opening the door.

“Hi Babby,” she said, looking out from under her hood. She looked tired, cold, only a few teeth, yet surprisingly cheerful. “What time does the service start?”

“Not for more than an hour,” I apologized. “There’s another event going on in the gym now, if you want to come in and get warm.” I pointed to the side door, “You can go in that way.” She shuffled that direction, but it wasn’t long before she came in the sanctuary and sat down. Just the two of us. I was uncomfortable.

I was tired and feeling sorry for myself. It had been an eventful week. I rehearsed my annoyance at having to leave the warmth of family and friends to hang out in an empty sanctuary because someone forgot to call me. Nursing my anger, I ignored the nagging feeling that I should talk to her. I picked up garbage in the pews, warmed up my instrument, and wandered to other parts of the church until more people came that I felt comfortable with.

I wanted to talk to her, but felt inept. What do I say? What if she’s crazy or wants money or sucks me dry with neediness for the next hour? I feared the unknown. Instead of asking and trusting the One with all the answers to pour His love through me, I recoiled.

I missed a chance to show another human being the love of Christ - the whole reason why the church exists – because it made me uncomfortable. I am ashamed.

The next morning I read a quote by John Henry Jowett:

“God does not comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters.”

I thought of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, some of my favorite verses. Was that why God had put this woman in my path?

I have examined my fears of whatever “terrible” things could have happened if I had reached out to her. I have grieved over my failure to be used of God when I had the chance. I’m done beating myself up, mostly, although it’s difficult to let it go. And now I’m ready to let God use it for good.

Yes, I failed my Lord. Yes, He has forgiven me. But what follows next is the most important part. Will I let this experience change my behavior? I hope so. I’m asking for another chance, and I’m confident God will give it to me. I hope to see this woman again and apologize for ignoring her the first time. And when I see others who make me uncomfortable, and I’m tempted to think I have nothing to offer, I will look to Jesus for what is needed. He has comforted me in all my troubles so that I can pass it on to others. Even when it’s an uncomfortable situation.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Beautiful Mess Part 4: Organizing Your Internal World

In the “mess” of life, the stuff inside is sometimes the most difficult to clear away, but when we do, the rewards are bountiful. I wish I could say once we’ve done the job that our lives continue, free of clutter from then on, but just like external clutter keeps replenishing itself, so does internal clutter. The good news is, once we learn healthy ways of dealing with it, it no longer has the power to take over. Regular maintenance can help us feel more comfortable in our own skin. 

Get it out of your head
The first step to organizing your internal self is to gather whatever is rattling around in your head and bring it to the surface. Once it’s on the outside it’s easier to see what to do next – act, forgive, seek healing, repent, let go, or move ahead.

Jot a list on paper or your cell phone of things you need to remember as they surface. These stray thoughts especially plague me when I’m trying to sleep or spend time in prayer and Bible reading. Rather than fight it, I write them down. Once they’re “off my plate” I can rest or worship freely.

Another help is to record your thoughts and emotions in a journal or computer file. You can make your own rules about what and how you say it. This is purely for your benefit - to discover who you are and track where you’re headed.

Thirdly, process grief, pain, confusion, or other emotions cluttering your inner self by talking to a trusted friend, mentor, counselor, or support group. It’s healthy and helpful to share with others who love and accept you. So often, we find out we’re not alone in our thoughts and feelings.

Finally, don’t forget the benefit of a good cry. Go somewhere private and let it all out; cry out to God until you feel spent and clean. He gave us tears to cleanse our system of toxins that build up in times of stress (literally), even stress from happy things like weddings and new babies.

Evaluate use of technology
You’ve heard it before and it’s true – technology is both a blessing and a curse. All these wonderful gadgets we have to stay connected and get things done faster (theoretically) can fill our insides with unnecessary clutter. Have you ever panicked because you left your cell phone at home or set it down somewhere in your travels? Do you feel edgy and uncomfortable sitting for a moment in your car or a restaurant if you’re not texting, checking email, or Facebook? Are you comfortable going for a walk or outing without headphones or music?

Too much technology can overload our lives with useless information, interruptions, and distractions. If we allow our gadgets to control us they will steal our ability to think clearly, focus on the people we’re with, and enjoy the beauty of silence. So, when you feel a growing inner chaos, consider unplugging for an hour or so to rejuvenate your brain and frazzled emotions. You’ll be amazed how refreshing it is.

Refuel and meditate
This can be a significant challenge for new mommies, but it can be done! So many times we think we have to spend great wads of time reading the Bible in order to get anything out of it, but that underestimates the power of our God.

The best way to fill up when we’re depleted is to schedule a time to read and pray. But sometimes life is full of interruptions and there are surprises along the way. So learn to take advantage of brief moments as well.

Read a short devotional or chapter of the Bible in the bathroom. Work on a memory verse that feeds your soul while you walk the treadmill, sit in traffic, or stand in line at the grocery store. Park a little farther from destinations to allow time to connect with God, thanking Him for everything that comes to mind. Keep it simple; make it fun. Let God fill you with His truth, His light, His glorious life.

Glean from others
This final tip works for both external and internal organization. Talk about your biggest challenges with others and pick up new ideas. Some may not work for your lifestyle right now, but some will. And share what you’re learning with them.

As we wrap up this series, I leave you with the question I asked the Tillamook MOPS group: What one thing will you work on? You may feel like your life is out of control right now and be tempted to think you need a complete overhaul, but that can be more discouraging than productive. So pick one that sounds fun, do-able; something that you feel a deep need to incorporate in your life. Talk about it with God and a friend to get support, and then go to it.

We’re all a mess in some way or another, but our beauty is in our ability to learn, adapt, and grow with each new day.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Meaningful Love Notes

I'm the cute one on the right!

Today is Valentine’s Day and there are messages of love everywhere, but not all of them have lasting meaning. Purchased or delivered out of guilt or a sense of obligation, some “love notes” are less than satisfying. When I look around, the love notes that mean the most to me are not necessarily expensive or glitzy, and not all of them romantic, but each one has deep meaning to me.

A couple of love notes I’ve saved for years are from my daughters. One is a bookmark of stick figures with amazingly poignant expressions. I treasure it so much I laminated it so it would last. It is currently being used as a bookmark. A note from my other daughter is a “thank you” message that says, “Mom, yore my secret angle.” The misspelled words always makes me smile, but the reason it’s special is because of the surprise sentiment she delivered.

Similarly, I have a piece of an envelope flap tucked away in my Bible from my now grown daughter. It simply says, “Love you!” with a smiley face. There was only a check in the envelope and no note, but I cherish the two words scrawled on the flap - not because she never says them, but because she says them often and sincerely. I know she loves me and accepts me as I am; her calls and desire to spend time together reaffirm her words.

Love notes from my husband are usually addressed to “My Little Package.” He spends a lot of time choosing cards for their content. Then he adds his own words of love and appreciation for who I am. And he follows up his words with actions that prove them true.

This year I got a surprise Valentine from my parents – a handcrafted card with pictures of my sisters and me, and the five of us together. It’s filled with personalized scripture blessings, prayers, and hopes they have for the three of us. They desire God’s best for us. What could be more meaningful?

I have a box filled with notes. Some, from readers who write to let me know how God is using what I do to feed their souls. These love notes affirm my work and gladden my heart. There are sweet notes from my sisters, Mom, and girlfriends that come at just the right time with just the right message. Because they know me, they celebrate the joys of life as well as words of comfort in dark times. Often, the messages are so inspiring I keep them out for months, just to be reminded I’m not alone.

God’s love notes are the best of all. He always knows what we need and delivers them at just the right time. He doesn’t depend on the mail service or wait for the next holiday or special occasion. Some of my favorite love notes from Him are:

Jeremiah 31:3-4: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. I will build you up again, and you…will be rebuilt. Again you will…go out to dance with the joyful.”

Isaiah 49:15-16: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.

Hebrews 13:5: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

Today, in the hubbub of Valentines, I hope you are both sending and receiving sweet messages of love. It doesn’t matter if you have a sweetheart or not to enjoy the delight of tender words of acceptance, commitment, and praise. May this be a day of rejoicing and giving for you and those you exchange meaningful messages with.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Beautiful Mess Part 3: More Ideas to Organize Your External World

Today I have four more thoughts to share on home organization. I hope the first four from Tuesday’s post have inspired you in some way. Even if it’s not new information, sometimes it’s just the push we need to get started.  
Number Five: Simplify
This may seem like a no-brainer, but the most repeated “challenge” to getting our messes under control is that we simply have too much stuff. The more we have, the more chance there is of it spilling over where it doesn’t belong. So how do we get rid of extraneous toys, dishes, clothes etc? How much is too much?


One rule of thumb is to ask yourself when the last time you or your family used or wore it. If it’s been one year, it is suspect. If it’s been two or more, it could be cluttering your life unnecessarily. I have difficulty with this when it comes to clothes I might fit into again “when I lose those extra pounds.” So I am talking to myself here as well.
Practicing a system of rotation helps me appreciate or evaluate what I have. When my girls were little, I rotated “extra” toys to a box in the top of their closets, trading them out occasionally. If a toy went in the box and was not missed and met with no fanfare when it came back, it was a good clue we didn’t need to keep it. The same process works with my clothes and “toys.” I pack away out of season items. If I don’t miss an item or use it when it comes back, I know it’s time to give it away.
We usually sorted toys and outgrown clothes in the fall and spring to give away. Just before Christmas, when feelings of generosity are high, and as part of our “spring cleaning” spree when our energy bursts forth with the weather change.
Six: Handle once whenever possible
The next hint saves more time than you can possibly realize. I suppose you’ve noticed that anything lying in a pile tends to attract more of the same. Once you’ve dropped your clothes on the floor by the bed at the end of the day, or set a few things aside to “deal with later” the mound begins to grow. And the bigger it grows, the more time it takes to clean up later. So, as much as possible, try to handle an item only once. For instance:
·        take off clothes and immediately hang, fold, or put in the wash
·        take dishes to the kitchen and put them in the dishwasher, not the sink or counter
·        open the mail and throw away junk, file needed info, and put the bills in bill basket
·        bring in groceries and put them away in cupboards, refrigerator, or their final destination


Seven: Get your kids (and husband) involved
If you like things done to a certain standard, this can be a tough one. But how else can kids learn to do a good job unless we let them participate? The rub is that when they are willing helpers, they lack the skill to do things as well as we can. But by the time they are capable of doing quality work they seem to have lost interest. So we have to have reasonable expectations and show appreciation for their efforts. This can be especially important with husbands! After all, who wants to get criticized when they try to help, or see you go behind them and “fix” their work? Kind of takes the joy out of it.
Yet, at the same time, we want things done well. My husband is a master at this with his construction crew, and when I help him with projects. He believes in doing quality work, but he is also a kind and patient teacher. If the work needs improvement he corrects without belittling. I learn so much from the way he treats me!
Eight: Maintenance
My sister got this last tip from her mother-in-law. It’s called “Nita’s Pick-up Box.” Every morning, she would grab her box and start collecting things in the room she was in that needed to go elsewhere. Then she would proceed to the next room, put things away that went there and pick up new items for other rooms. In approximately 10 minutes, she had cleared the entire house of clutter without making numerous trips back and forth across their large farmhouse. Whether you have stairs to transverse or just want to save a few steps, this is a great plan.
The main point to remember is to have a regular time every day when you practice maintenance. Ten minutes a day is much easier to fit in than an hour once a week. This is something your family can definitely help with. Put it to music and your kids will think of it as a game. In a way it is, and everyone wins.
That’s it for organizing external clutter. After Valentines, we’ll take a look at some ways to organize the mess that tends to build inside of us, in our mind and emotions.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Beautiful Mess Part 3: Organizing Your External World

The biggest organizational challenges the MOPS ladies wrote down for our discussion included:
·        how to keep the kitchen, toys, car, and kids’ rooms clean
·        getting my husband to put things away where they actually go
·        teaching kids to help clean up
·        dishes
·        worrying months ahead about planning and organizing
·        homeschool time management
·        lack of space; too much stuff; no closets
·        my office/desk
·        sweeping and mopping
·        getting places on time: time management
·        my inability to function when house is not organized
·        putting things away when done with them

Do any of these sound familiar? Whether you have kids at home or not, we all struggle with many of these same challenges. Hopefully, today’s post will give you helpful ideas to tackle your list.

One: Make friends with your timer
Whether you use a wind up timer or another kind, I think you’ll be amazed what a useful tool it can be. Your timer can help you limit time on things you tend to get lost in (like Facebook or Pinterest). When you intend to spend fifteen minutes and next thing you know two hours have gone by! I use my timer to limit my yard work time. Otherwise, I end up unable to move at the end of the day and other things are left undone.

You can also use your timer to spur you on with tasks you’re not fond of, like taxes, bill paying, and cleaning. I figure I can do almost anything for fifteen minutes. That doesn’t sound like much time, but it’s amazing how much you can get done when you know you have to do it quickly. More often than not, when the timer dings I’ve gotten over my distaste for the project and am excited about the progress I’ve made. So I set it for another fifteen minutes. My husband and I use this method to clear away office paperwork. It ends up being fun and satisfying.  

from my friend's blog:

Two: Look for space savers
I typed this in Google and found clever ideas for storage! One key is to go up whenever possible instead of out. This kids’ craft area is a great example. A second thing to remember is when space is limited, try to buy or create furniture that performs more than one function. When I was little, my sisters and I shared a basement bedroom. Our six drawer dresser sat in the middle of the room. On the back my parents had glued felt to create a play space for us, much like the metal on the front of this piece.

A third idea is to utilize under bed space. Buy plastic or cardboard boxes made to slide under, or purchase beds with built in drawers. I love this picture of the train set that pulls out from under the bed! Also, use the spaces under stairs and in the walls of attic rooms. My husband built nooks in between the framing of one couple’s upstairs room. They use them to tuck away plastic bins full of craft supplies!

A final idea is to create spaces within a space. Most of us have drawers full of little things. This makes it difficult to find what you need and the mass tends to grow out of control. Pick up some inexpensive plastic trays at the dollar store, or use cardboard boxes to make dividers in your drawers - for batteries, nails and screws, writing utensils etc. Use ice-cube trays or craft organizers for earrings, necklaces, and other small items. You’ll be surprised how much you can fit in a small space, only now you can find it!

Three: Label clearly
These pictures are kind of fun. Even if you don’t get this fancy, it’s a great idea to have specific places where things belong.  For kids’ rooms, you can use a simple picture of the item along with the word. It encourages their help with clean up and promotes reading skills at the same time. Labeling can also help with the next tip:

Four: Be consistent
When everyone in the household knows where an item belongs, it’s easier for them to help put things away. Plus, it’s easier to find the next time you need it. A hook by the door to hang your car keys when you come in. The weekly chore chart, shopping list, or place to leave notes for family members on the refrigerator. A desk drawer with pens, scissors, envelopes, stamps etc. Consistency eliminates confusion, desperate last minute hunts for important items, and helps everyone participate in keeping your home organized.

My next post will include four more ideas for organizing your external world before we travel to the interior world. I hope you will comment at the end of this post. I’m sure you have a few of your own clever solutions we can all benefit from.

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Beautiful Mess Part 2: Life Is Messy

I tend to be an organized person. I’m one of those weirdoes who alphabetize the books in our library, our movies, and the spices in my cupboard. My clothes are arranged by item and color and in my closet. I like to be able to find things easily. Arranging them a certain way makes me feel better about my world. It gives me the illusion of control.

 I never thought much about my penchant for managing things into logical groupings until my college roommate caught me eating M&M’s.

 “So,” she said, “you eat your M&M’s by color, I see.”

 I looked up, suddenly feeling exposed. “Yeah…”

 With a knowing smirk, she added, “You eat them in a certain order. How do you decide what color to eat next?” I felt like a bug on a pin.

 “I eat the yellow ones first,” I said, suddenly realizing I followed the progression of the color wheel. “…then orange, red, blue, green, brown.” I was taking art at the time, so it made sense to me. When she laughed, I knew I’d been caught. I don’t become violent if I’m thwarted in this effort, but I’m a little like my daughter’s dog. Part Border collie, Layla instinctively attempts to group things together - from family members to stray socks. She had a need for order.

Whether you’re slightly OCD like me, or comfortably messy, organization can be a good thing if not overdone, because when the messes of life get out of control, they distract us from focusing on our relationships, with God and others.

My son-in-law as a new daddy

If you’re a young mommy, just exiting the house requires paraphernalia galore. You need a diaper bag, snacks, blankets, toys, extra clothes, a car seat, and a purse. If you remember to grab it along with all your other stuff! All of it immediately morphs into a jumbled mess the moment you begin to search for a particular item.

 When you get home, you feel like you’re surrounded by mounds of dirty clothes, dishes, toys, and crumbs. Sticky doorknobs, equipped with childproof locks, often seem more effective in keeping you out than your children. Not only does your world seem messy, but you feel messy and unorganized. Lack of sleep, a crazy schedule, and being in constant demand make it difficult to feel like your life is in order. You sigh, looking forward to the day when “I can have everything clean and organized the way I want it.”

 However, when you get older, the messes just change form. It is nice when your kids are grown and you can leave the house relatively unencumbered. Still, the messes of life continue to mount. Paperwork, to-do lists, laundry, dishes (yes still!), appointments, scheduling demands, family obligations, and community involvement – the list goes on. It doesn’t matter how old you are. As long as we live, life is messy.

 If I had it to do over again, I would relax more during my child raising years. I would refrain from washing all the toys after every play date. I would sit down and play with my children more. And I am learning in mid-life to let some things go and give people greater priority. But I also know this organizational strength I have is God-given, and very helpful in keeping our home and surroundings comfortable, healthy, and safe.

 Tune in next time for tips on how to organize your external world, so you can relax and enjoy your life and the people in it, without going crazy with the messes of life.

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Beautiful Mess Part 1: You Are Beautiful!

Women were created by God to be beautiful. It doesn’t matter if your picture ever graces the cover of Vogue magazine, or whether you think the mirror affirms this truth. Many women are beautiful on the outside, but true beauty is what emanates from within through your character. Women are nurturers and relationship oriented. It doesn’t matter whether you’re married or not, or have children or not. The more you fill yourself with God, the more those qualities pour from you like pure, refreshing water from a mountain stream. And it refreshes everyone around you.

If you’re a young mommy, you may find it difficult to believe that you are beautiful. Your daily perfume is usually spit up, breast milk or formula, and sticky residue from the last snack your children consumed. You and your home are often in various states of disorder. However, there’s nothing more beautiful than one who gives her life for the sake of others, and that is you.

If you’re middle aged, you may be frustrated with widening hips and a growing midsection. The slow descent of once firm flesh has begun, and wrinkles are beginning to trace your smile. These realities may hint to you you’re no longer beautiful. That is a lie. We do the best we can with what we’ve got, but what is on the outside is only a shell to house our true beauty. Your loveliness comes in what is in your mind, the love you have given and continue to pour forth, and especially the time you spend striving in prayer for others. The smiles and hope you offer the world cannot compare to the glitz of fashion.

If you’re older (and I’ll let you determine when that begins), you, my dear, are most treasured of all. You mature followers of Christ, even if you found Him later in life, are the loveliest of all in old age. The memories and wisdom you have to share, and your availability to others is more to be cherished than the glamour of youth. The genuine interest you show in others, and a relaxed pace is so attractive in this too hurried world.

To each one of you: married or single, mother, career girl, empty nester, or widow – you are beautiful!

 And what you’re doing is beautiful: 
If you have children at home, remember you’re doing the most important job in the world – loving, teaching, protecting, and nurturing little ones created in the image of God. You’re equipping them to enter adulthood with the knowledge and confidence it takes to face the struggles and temptations of life. No one else can do it like you can.

Don’t let exhaustion, repetition, or comments from others (even yourself) discourage you from seeing the value of your work. I’m grieved that our society often denigrates stay at home moms. They are to be commended. And for you young mommies working an outside career as well, many blessings on you for the energy it takes to juggle so many needs!

For the empty nesters and beyond: Some of you are (like me) blessed to work a career from home, be involved in ministry, or care for your husband and family at large. What you do is valuable. If you choose to stay home, happy and productive in your work, rest in the abundance of God’s grace.

Many of you sustain a full time job outside your home. The smiles, quality work you do, words of encouragement, listening ear, and positive attitude all testify to God’s Spirit in you. I know you get weary, trying to keep up with so much. Be kind to yourself and let God, not the skewed images on television and magazines, show you who you are.

Whatever work or vocation God has given you to do, do it joyfully, with all your might. Do it all as a woman of God and let His beauty shine through you. The confidence of who we are in Him is what makes us so lovely, no matter what our age or circumstance.