Hiccups

I hate getting the hiccups. As a woman who loves routine and predictability—hiccups are an annoyance and a disruption to my plans.

But even though hiccups seem like an annoyance, hiccups are necessary to correct something that is not right within the diaphragm and hiccups are temporary.

This morning I am experiencing a real life hiccup. An annoyance and a disruption in my recovery. I have been feeling so great and everything has seemed to be going well, but on Saturday when I went to get ready for the two kid birthday parties we were hosting in our home, I noticed a problem with one of my incisions.

My doctor texted me right away and saw me first thing this morning. In less than an hour I will be in a pre op surgery room again. A hiccup. Necessary to repair what is not right, and temporary.

Thanks for thinking of us today. I feel annoyed by this hiccup, but I am hoping to find joy in this unpredictable chaos. This is another reminder that I do not control the world nor do I hold it up. God holds up the world, and he is good. Even in the hiccups.

 

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

Unraveling The Generous Heart

‘Tis the season to celebrate and ’tis the season to give. We live in a culture that cares about generous living, and for that I am grateful—this week we will observe #givingtuesday and many of my friends have created traditions of service and donating when thinking for their December family activities.

But why do we give? What motivates the generous heart? AND—Does the generous heart simply involve our wallets and bank accounts? Is there more than giving monetarily when it comes to generous living?

My heart has been stirring over the above questions. It is simple to say: we give because it is nice, giving is better than recieving, or we give because it is the right thing to do.

Those answers are much too simple for me—and empty, there has to be more to the generous heart. Doing the right thing year after year seems to to become mundane and quite tiresome.

As I have been studying generous living with my small group I have had to think about unraveling these simpler answers to generous living and find a deeper motivation for what spurs one on to live generously and be a joyful and abundant giver.

A Generous Heart Gives because of Grace

Before I had ever read the Bible, I was a very philanthropic person. However, my own heart was motivated to be philanthropic because I wanted to perform well or “do” the right thing—and I wanted others to see me doing the right thing. I was the chair of a few philanthropic committees and my heart’s belief was that I could impress others and God by being generous with my time and money. I believed I could earn my way to heaven through my generosity and earn the approval of others through moralism.

What I have learned in the last decade or so is that there is no amount of generosity that can earn God’s favor. God’s favor is given to us by grace and through faith so that no (wo)man can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). God freely gives us favor in his Son Jesus, and the Bible teaches the truth—so that no man can boast—because our human hearts are so prone to perform and boast. The also Bible teaches us that “our righteous deeds done in our own efforts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:4).

In performance-based generosity, the act of giving is primary. Which is not at all bad. Giving is very good—but very good things can become ultimate things and ultimate things are like filthy rags— not all giving is done for the glory of God’s Kingdom.

A performance-based generous heart is like a filthy rag—a grace-based generous heart is the opposite. A grace-based generous heart has God as primary. Grace-based generosity gives because the grace-based giver knows how much they have been given. Grace-based generosity is motivated because God first loved so the grace-based giver loves in return by living generously.

The grace-based giver also knows this life and the things of this world are temporary and possessions acquired on earth will not last for ever—only God’s Kingdom will last forever.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it (1 Timothy 6:6-7).

 

A Generous Heart Recognizes Everything Comes From God

Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:3-4).

For the godless run after all the things of this world, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:32-33).

 

This is the hardest part. Everything we have comes from God. Our money, our food, our houses, our backgrounds, our gifts, our temperaments, our looks, our spouses, our children . . . even our time.

For me, recognizing my finances come from God so therefore I should be generous with my money is only one layer in learning how to live with a generous heart—the rest feels like an unraveling of everything I thought I knew—I have to retrain myself to see that I am not the author of my story, God is the author of my story and He has given me all that I have.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:12-13). 

 

It is when I start thinking about my story, my time, my gifts, my looks, my finances, and my temperament that I begin to feel a little gnarly. 

This is a struggle with contentment and unfortunately tangled up in performance-based living. At times I am not content with the way I am or how I measure up to everyone else. This makes it difficult to be generous with myself and generous with others as an extension of this gnarly, tangled-up place.

If I fail to be content with my time, my gifts,  and my circumstances, I fail to love others well.

The generous heart is not only connected to finances, the generous heart is connected to being generous with time, and the way you serve others,  as well as being content with the gifts, looks, family, and temperament God has given to you. This is where we see the gnarly rub between giving and discontentment. We give as a culture, but as a culture we are radically discontent.

We struggle to be satisfied with our wardrobes, our television sizes, the camera on our smart phone, and our waistlines.

We worry if we give two hours to listen to a friend that is struggling, we may miss that downtime we had hoped to have to scroll through social media.

When we do scroll through social media, we see our friends and their perfect fall family photos—and envy and comparison creep into our hearts.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they” (Matthew 6:25-26)?
The generous heart is a heart that is content in all circumstances. In plenty or in want—in more facets than finances—the generous heart gives time because it knows it is on God’s time, the generous heart shares gifts that may be a little rough around the edges—because God is the giver of rusty and rough-edged gifts, the generous heart rejoices when others rejoice—it does not envy, it loves well—because the generous heart is content with the measure God has given.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends  So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 4-8,13).
Love doesn’t end because it is eternal and will pass on into heaven.

 

 

The Generous Heart Trusts in God’s Provision

Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”

“As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”

Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”

She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah (1 Kings 17:7-16).

This woman had to give all that she had in order to see that God would provide more. She had to trust in His provision and that trust required action.

If we believe God is the giver of all things, we will trust that God will provide for us, but this kind of faith requires action. We have to step outside of our comfort zone and see that God will provide for us. This includes taking risks with our finances, our time, or stepping out in faith to use the rusty and rough edged speaking, teaching, or leadership gifts God has given us. This kind of generous living trusts that God will provide by shining through the broken places.

And I know there are many more layers to the generous heart. It is a slow unraveling process of learning little by little to live by grace and the unseen, instead of rotely doing things the way we have always done them.

The generous heart overflows with the love we have been given by grace and through faith alone, it is more than clicking a donate button, it is a call to live generously in many facets of life so that Christ’s power can be perfectly displayed.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

 

How To Respond To Teacher Welcome Letters

As a mom who was once a classroom teacher, I have been on a journey of learning how to come alongside the four public school teachers who love on my four children all year long.

I purchase everything on the school supply lists as well as the extras on the wish lists, but there is an extra thing I do that I wanted to share with all of you; as a former teacher and a sub who recently served in a two-and-a-half week long-term placement in kindergarten… teaching is hard… and teachers need reminders of parental love and support all year long. Teachers need to feel love and support not just in August and September, but in January, February, and March as well.

new heritage

When I receive the welcome letters upon my child’s placement, I usually respond with a note that I am willing to help in anyway I possibly can. I can cut lamination from my couch while watching television, make copies, change bulletin boards, coordinate parties, and even pray for my children’s teachers throughout the year.

I also respond with this list I have developed, revised, and revised again throughout my five years of being a parent with school-aged children:

What are your favorite things?
Birthday:
Birthday cake flavor:
Favorite flower:
Favorite candy:
Favorite gum/mints:
Favorite hand lotion:
Favorite homemade dessert:
Favorite drink (all):
Favorite lunch place (and even order):
Favorite dinner place:
Favorite sports teams:
Favorite date night spots:
Favorite places to take your kids:
Favorite color: 
Favorite drink from Starbucks:
Favorite kinds of teacher pens:
Other favorite teacher things:
Favorite scent at Bath and Body:
Favorite Yankee Candle scent:
Monogram:
Coffee Mugs or Water Bottles:

 

This list personally equips me, as a parent, to care for my classroom teachers throughout the school year. If I am at Starbucks on my way to school before my volunteer slot, I try to remember to bring something in for my classroom teacher as well.

If I am stopping in to help make copies and I know my classroom teacher loves Diet Coke, I drive thru McDonalds before I go to the school.

When my family and I show up at Meet the Teacher, we always try to bring something off of the teacher’s favorite things list.

Then I share this list with others.

As a public school family, we are just a small piece of the larger classroom community. It takes the whole classroom community to love and support a teacher. Sometime in September, I take the above list once it is filled out by the classroom teacher, and I share it with the whole class along with a Sign Up Genius link for families to sign up to bring in a small treat for our classroom teacher every other Friday. This is a small way we can show our encouragement, love, and support for our classroom teachers who love and support our children every single day.

When it comes time for Christmas gifts and End of the Year gifts, the above Favorite Things List comes in handy too!

My hope is this Favorite Things List will equip you to love your teachers all year long and not just during back to school time. Teachers need our love and support all year long. They support our children all year long and this is a small way we can show our continuous appreciation.

The Faith of a Mustard Seed

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you (Matthew 17:20).

My heart loves control. I like to keep my schedule predictable and I prefer to be prepared in advance for anything (I have a freezer full of meals in case I happen to die).

It is difficult for me to step out of my schedule and my comfort because I fear unpredictability. This comes from a deeply woven thread in my story; because my mother passed away when I was a teenager, I try to protect myself from the pain of losing again with human effort and control. I have a distorted belief that if I can keep everything in its neat little box and stay within the five-mile radius of my suburban bubble I can protect myself and the ones I love from pain.

I have lived this way for as long as I can remember. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was only seven years old. But now as an adult woman with four children of my own, and as a woman who professes faith in a completely in-control God, I have to take my thoughts about human control and my neat little boxes captive.

I wonder. Am I limiting my faith by staying inside of my predicability and control? How can I grow in my connection with God and my trust in His provision if deep down I am limited by fear of the unknown?

This deeply woven gospel issue is difficult for me to unravel. It takes baby steps and small ounces of faith—little by little and day by day.

A month ago I went on a church trip with my husband to Croatia. In the months of planning and preparation to leave my four children there were many moments I was arrested by the fear of the unknown. I wrote a twenty-four page guide for my children and sister-in-laws to reference while I was away. In the months leading up to the trip, I experienced several sleepless nights worrying over what may happen if I die, how my children could drown while I wasn’t right there watching them, and how my house could catch on fire. One particular afternoon I spent several hours sobbing and writing letters to each of my children upon my death.

From January until mid-June all I did was dream up all of the horrible, most terrible things that could happen when I stepped out of my suburban bubble and predictable schedule. From January to mid-June I was a slave to my fear and anxiety, instead of a faithful, trusting follower of the Good God I claim I trust in.

In preparation for the trip, I went one step at a time, and God provided for me with each and every step. I asked for help with my children and two family members committed to helping me right away. I wrote letters for financial support, and though the body of Christ, ninety percent of the money for my trip was raised.

On the day of the trip, getting in the car was the hardest part. Then getting on a plane, and another, and another. But one step at a time I went, trying to embrace faith over fear, and fighting to remember that I do not control the world.

It is Satan who wants me to be a slave to my fear and cling to my neat little boxes and my five-mile suburban radius. It is Satan who wants me to be tangled up in the wounds of my past. But God wants me to thrive as I learn to leave fear and control and trust Him. God wants me to have faith that when I step out into the unknown, He will hold me up because He cares for me. And He will hold up my children too.

It is the one step at a time, faith of a mustard seed that made the mountain of fear in my heart move and slowly unravel away.

And the one step at a time, faith of a mustard seed yielded greater blessing than I could have ever asked for or think up. I made dear friends in Mačkovec, Croatia. Friends who I would have never met tangled up in slavery to my fear. My children thrived while I was away and were cared for by so many friends, family, and church family.

And thankfully, no one died, drowned, or caught on fire.

On the other side of my trip to Croatia, I have a little more faith, and a little less fear of the unknown. I am thankful for the faith of a mustard seed that can move a mountain fear within my heart. And I am thankful for a God who wants to unravel me from my neat little boxes and predictable schedule. He really holds up the world. Even when I fail to trust Him.

 

When The House Is Still

I just put my youngest child on the bus. She is almost four and attending a four-day-a-week, half-day preschool for the year. I know her teacher and trust her fully, she has a friend in her classroom, she rides the bus with her two older brothers, and her bus driver has been driving my children to school since before my youngest daughter could even walk.

For all four of my children, this year, I know all of four of teachers and feel confident that each of them will be loved, nurtured, and academically challenged in their classrooms. This is the first year my mind is not clouded with worry nor occupied with fear. This is the first year I feel complete peace, joy and thankfulness about sending four of my most precious possessions on the school bus and into the hallways of the world.

With my mind not occupied with worries, what ifs, and if onlys, I find, I am sitting in a quiet house. Windows open and nothing but the sound of the wind rattling the leaves on the oak tree outside my office window.

For a moment I let the memories of the last eight and a half years come to mind amidst the rattling leaves. The noise of newborn cries, toddler tantrums, the sound of the pantry door constantly opening and closing. The messes of spit up, baby food crusted in the highchair, arms and legs covered in Crayola marker, legos and matchbox cars all over the stairs. The fierce battles on the bottom step as I discipline each of them and fight to get to their hearts. The moments I hold them, rock them, pray with them. The moments I open a book to read to them and find four kids, all piled up right in my lap, craving snuggles, connection, and the need to find themselves caught up in a story. The moments when their four personalities captivate me and I find myself caught up in their little life stories.

I have dreamed of this day over the last eight and a half years like many mothers behind me and before me. This moment. The moment when my house would not feel turned inside out and upside down. The moment when the house would be still. The moment when I felt my children would be secure and confident enough to embrace the world without me by their side. The moment when I could entrust their little hearts and lives into the hands of others who are reliable and able to nurture them and teach them alongside me.

And oh how quickly this day has come. Everyone tells you the house will be still soon enough but amidst the chaos you never believe the day of a still house will truly come. But somehow, the day is here. Today, right now, my house is still for a few hours.

And I have a choice. Transitions always seem to lead me to a place of nostalgia and wishing back what I once had before. When the house is still I can hold on to a ghost of the past or I can choose to look back at these last eight and a half years, with contentment, knowing God was writing a story for us amidst the messes, the noise, and chaos to get to this place. I can embrace a new season, with thankfulness because I am confident that God grows us and gives good things to be nostalgic about in every new season. When the house is quiet I can reminisce of the years gone by or dream big about the things which are to come.

When the house is still there are so many possibilities and so many opportunities to wish and wait on a Good God who has been faithfully writing a story in each season for all of us. I am thankful and changed by the memories I have from an inside out and upside down house, but as I still here in a still and quiet house, I look forward, with eager expectation to see what God will do in a new chapter of our family story. God is always working and He is always able.