Friday, July 15, 2016

Be better.

I consider myself lucky.  Lucky that my children are both under the age of 2 and they have no idea what is happening to the world around us.  I consider myself lucky that I don't need to have the tough conversations with them or answer the hard questions that really don't have answers.  I consider myself lucky that right now the world is a place of wonder and excitement, not fear and judgment. 

The tough conversations that I have with my almost two year old right include talking about "nice hands."  That is how his daycare teachers remind him not to push, pinch, or pull on other kids.  We have only had one warning about this from his teacher and it hasn't been too much of an issue with how Camden treats Grady at home.  Yesterday, however, I walked into daycare to pick up the boys and I witnessed Camden push a young classmate away from him.  She was doing nothing more than trying to sit on the same bench, which is more than big enough for the two of them.  Immediately, I picked him up, walked over to a quiet area in the room, and had a "talk" with him about his behavior.  I reminded him that we are supposed to treat others with kindness.  We are supposed to "be sweet" and "use our manners" and "show respect" to our classmates, our teachers and our family members. 

As I am in the thick of teaching these life lessons, my heart breaks because I wonder, when did we stop teaching these things?!  At what point did parents and people start teaching such hatred, violence, bigotry, racism, entitlement and exclusion?  I am watching the world around us fill up with more and more sadness and hurt and I'm sitting here thinking that I'm off the hook for the tough stuff just because my kids are little. 

You know what, that is a bunch of garbage.  Its time to call myself out on it.  If anything, now is the time, now is the moment, these kids are the generation for which I am called to step up and do my part to make this world better.  Fellow parents, its time for us to call ourselves out, stop giving ourselves a "pass" and teach our kids to be better, and do better than we are.  It doesn't matter where we live, how sheltered our kids are, or our proximity to the bad.  We have no excuses.  Clearly, the world is dropping the ball in some way.  It's time to raise up an entire generation of children to know that this world can be better and its our responsibility to teach them how. 

But first, my kids will need to know our God.  They need to know our Jesus.  They need to know that they are loved and sought after by a God who created and values EVERY HUMAN life.  EVERY one of his children.  That He died on a cross, not just for them but for every single human walking this earth.  They will need to know that being a Christian is not something to be seen or heard just in word or deed but it stems directly from the heart. They will learn that as long as they invite God to rule over their heart, they will know how to love.  They will know that there is never a question of who deserves to be loved but rather a calling to love even when they feel someone doesn't deserve it.  That love isn't something that is earned but it is something that should be so graciously and abundantly given at all times, in all moments, during all circumstances.  

Its time for a revival.  Its time for all of us to open our eyes and see that something is wrong.  What the world is doing is not working.  When my kids are finally old enough to have an idea what is going on, I will explain to them that the problem started in the heart.  The problem isn't because this person was this religion, that race, or that sexuality.  The problem was in the heart.  I will admit to them that even mommy struggles with problems in her heart.  I will admit that I am also sinful and that I don't always want to treat people the way I am supposed to but because Jesus rules over my heart, I am called to something better.  He makes me better. 

Please parents, its time to reveal the problems in the heart in ourselves, in our own children, and call ourselves to something better.  To teach something better, to show something better, to be better.  I beg of you.  It's not about these lives mattering or those lives mattering more.  Everyone needs to matter.  EVERYONE.  Every movement needs to let go of their divisions, reach across the street, the picket line, the railroad tracks, and collectively agree that LIFE matters.  Plain and simple. 

Dear Jesus,
I am here.  I am here with my very own problems in my heart.  I sit here angry at the world around me.  I am frustrated that my children are growing up in a time where there is so much hurt and so much darkness.  Still, I remember that you created the light and light is more powerful than darkness.  Help me be part of that light.  Help me guide others to your light.  Most importantly, help me guide my children to your light so that they can also show your love.  Your love is so much better than ours.  So much more complete.  I pray for their hearts.  I pray they are tender and strong.  I pray that they are compassionate and gentle.  Father, I lift up this world to you and ask that you work in the hearts of those who are so filled with anger and hatred.  Do things that only you can do.  Reach people that only you can reach.  Be near to us, dear Jesus.  I am so sorry that we keep messing things up.  Help us be better.  Come into our hearts and stay.  Call us to something higher.  Call us to love.  Period.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Sacrifice of Financial Gain

Anyone who knows me well and knows my parents knows that their marriage hasn't been daisies and roses.  Growing up, they had their number of fights, cold shoulders, separations and silent treatments but the one issue that was brought up most between them was always finances.  I witnessed the havoc that mismanagement of finances can have on a marriage first hand.  Then one day, my mom took Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University and it changed her outlook forward.  While they haven't gotten to do their "We're debt free" scream on the radio at this point, my parents goal is to get out of debt.  To this day, they will tell you that finances have always been one of their top hot button issues and "if you can figure this out now, it will save you a lot of pain and heartache in the future."

Two years before I graduated college, my parents went through another separation and again, finances were a huge part of the problem.  While they reconciled, my graduation gift from college was, you guessed it, Financial Peace University or as other Dave fans would call it "FPU."  While I rolled my eyes at this gesture from my parents, I have to say that I am so very grateful for it.

As of right now, Jake and I are down to five categories of debt: mortgage, car payment, credit card, medical bills, and one last student loan.  I have been working our "debt snowball" ever since we got married.  Some days it feels super rewarding, like a year ago when I paid of my last student loan.  Other days, it feels like a big huge bummer to try and maintain "gazelle" intensity, i.e. passing on a 30th girls trip with my best friends, or spending a work bonus on paying off bills instead of a shopping spree.  Nonetheless, there are seasons in life when I can hear God very clearly and this is one of them.  For the past year God has been saying to me, "Be a good steward with your finances."

The Bible has a lot to say about money but here are a couple verses that I looked up and speak to me. 

Romans 13:8

8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

Hebrews 13:5

5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
On the not so fun days, it is awesome to me that God takes time out to remind me that he is faithful and will reward my diligence.  For example, recently I called to see what the balance was on my hospital bill and it was more than I had in my HSA at the time.  The operator heard me state that I didn't have enough in my HSA at the time but I told him the maximum I could pay.   When he realized that I was trying to pay as much of the balance as possible, he waived the remaining 10% owed.  While this may have been a simple gesture on his part, I know it was a seed of encouragement from the Lord.

My drive to pay off our debt doesn't come because I want to gain more money, it stems from wanting a peaceful marriage, a household that can give to missionaries, local families in need, and future generations.  Often times though, it can be such an uphill battle.  So I guess that is why I am writing today.  I know that there are a lot of other people, husbands and wives trying to be on the same financial page, moms and dads working to provide for their kids, families trying to make a better life overall and single people being responsible and living within their means.  There are people of all walks trying to get out from underneath the rule of debt for any number of reasons.  I know that Jake and I are not alone in this so here is my battle cry for us and everyone else, let's keep going!  Let's continue to do this! Instead of looking at how far we have to go - let's look at how far we have come.  Make sure you don't just sit and tally what you have left but tally how much you've paid off.  Keep your momentum.  Keep your eyes on the prize and remember your motives for starting on the road to financial freedom in the first place.
God will honor your effort in ways you can't even imagine. 

Deuteronomy 28:12 ESV

The Lord will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The world is a mess but what can I do to make an impact? Let's be real.

In a time when the nation is calling for peace and encouragement, when we are calling on those with authority to make big moves and drastic changes, I sit here and ask myself what can I do?  How can I contribute?

I live in a small town in the smack dab middle of Illinois with (let's face it) very little diversity.  I grew up in a larger town with a little more diversity but still not nearly the level I would have had if I grew up in say, downtown Chicago.  Still, in the time that I lived in suburbia, my family was exposed to a lot.  My parents always called our house, and still do, heart break hotel.  My parents, and indirectly my siblings and I, were hosts to single moms, Mexicans, Germans, Icelandics, black people, ex-convicts, drug users, alcoholics, and the list goes on.

My sons will more than likely not have the same level of exposure to that same list of people and some of my closest friends have never had exposure to people on that list.  Not having exposure to those things though, does not give anyone the excuse to be indifferent toward what is happening.  But again, in this little town, in my little life, how do I contribute?

Something I learned from my parents, and the one thing always rang true at heartbreak hotel, is that Jesus loves every one of us.  Not because of our past, not because of our future but simply, because.  He died for each one of us.  My parents were never going to turn someone away because of their perceived inadequacies or struggles.  Every single person on this earth has won the Lord's heart and He yearns for you to know and feel the depth of his love. So, obviously, that is what my parents do.  They love.  They love anyone and everyone that walks through their doors.  They serve.  They serve those who can't afford.  They invite homeless people to our Thanksgiving dinners.  They provide housing for people who can't afford it.  They love.  In this way, we have always seen God's love lived out through them.

Today I commit to those same things.  My family will love.  My family will serve.  It may not be a diverse group of people but we will love and serve when we are given the opportunity and when there is a need of anyone in our path.  We will get on our knees and pray for those that are hurting.

To my friends and loved ones of any race, sexual orientation, and age: I love you.  I don't love you on the surface but I love you in the midst of your deepest hurts, insecurities and tough moments.  I pray that you know that when I ask, "How are you doing?" I want to know your struggles.  I want to know what burdens you.  I want to know what you need prayer for.  I want to carry your burdens with you and walk deep within the valley with you.  I want to know these things so that when you reach a peak in your life, we can celebrate together because we know just how far the Lord has brought you.  I want to be able to say, "do you remember when it was so hard? Do you remember when you wanted to give up? Look! Look where we are!  Look what God has done!  Praise Jesus that we are no longer in that dark place!"  And then, when you have to walk through the valley again, I choose to go right back to those hard places with you.

Today, in my little town, in my little life, I choose to bear your burdens.  I choose to link arms with everyone in my inner circle, outside of it, and on the fringe of it.  May anyone who reads these words take me at my word and reach out if you need to.  I'm in.  I'm in because Jesus has always been in.  I'm in because as I always say, we are not meant to do this alone.  I'm in because it is time to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the most real and tangible way possible.

I may not be able to drastically change the whole world or this whole country but I will commit to making my part of this world, my legacy in this life, my children, lovers of others. Doers. Seekers. Burden carriers. Hard and heavy lifters.  

The world is a mess but I vow to do what I am able.  Let's be real with each other and better for it.