Saturday, January 27, 2018

What Fairy Tale?

As I was studying the lives of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel in the Bible today (Genesis 29-30)--talk about a no-win situation for everyone!--I was struck by the thought, what about the fairy tale ending? Does anyone ever get the fairy tale ending?  Does anyone actually get to live "happily ever after?" Or is that just another lie the devil has sold us over time and tradition, woven into the fabric of our Hallmark channel stories, and Nicholas Sparks novels that we've come to sigh with content and satisfaction when all the loose ends at the end of the story are tied up neatly into a bow?

I don't know about you, but half my frustration in life stems from so many loose ends that dangle in the wind!  Some of them, there's no hope of them being tied to my satisfaction in this lifetime. Death of any kind--dreams, hopes, loved ones, a business--often leaves so many loose ends that to assume a fairy tale ending is around the corner is naive at best, the cause of lunacy at worst, but for most of us, it's somewhere in the uncomfortable middle ground of trying to reconcile what the world says is possible with what is actually happening in our lives.

As much as something inside of me wants to believe the fairy tale ending is achievable, eventually, as you start to grow in your faith and walk with the Lord, you begrudgingly accept that in this life, there is no. such. thing.

Don't get me wrong. I have a prince-charming of a husband, and some would look at our life and say we've pretty much sailed off into the sunset (literally), but you don't know what you don't know. I won't pretend to complain about my life either. God has blessed us. No arguments, but He also requires much of us as a family of four, as parents of two, as a wife and husband, as children of God. To whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48), and we gladly bear the burden of what it means to be grateful and trustworthy stewards (Matthew 25:14-30), which means we still work hard every day in ways most people don't see and don't know.  And that's ok, because don't we all? Work hard? Every day? In ways most people don't see and don't know?

The point is, it's not a fairy tale life.  It never is. I don't care what someone's Facebook page or Instagram stories show about their lives. It's NOT a fairy tale, and to try and prove that it is to a world that is selling you that lie to begin with is like an addict trying to convince their own dealer they don't need drugs while handing them money for the next batch.

People, my fairy tale is Jesus! Seriously. If you see my life and even once think how great I've got it, I pray your next thought is, "Well, she does love Jesus," and if you look at my life and shake your head in pity, compassion, or concern at any point, I hope I've lived in such a way that your next thought is, "I'm so grateful she has Jesus."

Because I'm done striving for the lie that is the fairy tale ending. I'm at a crossroads where I have no idea what the next half of my life is gonna look like. I'm two years from forty, and it feels like the whole world is just beginning to stretch out at my fingertips, just out of reach and yet just within reach all at the same time. And if I'm striving for the fairy tale ending, this is the point in the story where things should be getting exciting and then it's all a downhill ride to the finish line.

Nuh, uh. I don't want that. I want Jesus and all the ups, downs, twists, turns, and loops that come with following Him. I want all the cross-bearing and world-suffering and self-denying. I want to rest in knowing that He's still got a heck of a ride ahead of me, so if this is a breather, I better enjoy it and catch my breath. If there's a lull in the waves when you're paddling out, you sit up on your board and soak in the sun, and you rest, but you never get completely comfortable. Comfortable and happy is how fairy tales end, which is why they are a lie because anyone who's ever lived knows another set of something is coming.  Good or bad, high or low, another set of waves is coming, another mountain climb or valley descent.

The world has sold us a story line that's been read to us since our childhood and played out in our favorite movies. A lie, literally spoon fed to us by the best of parents, myself included. Bad things will happen in your story, but in the end, if you're a good person, everything will turn out all right.  You'll get your happy ending, your happily ever after, your prince charming and castle of choice. You'll live in peace the rest of your days. Work hard, be good to others, and life will eventually do right by you. The devil has us convinced--maybe just our own flesh because of this sinful world, has us convinced--that this is possible this side of heaven. 

And when I was younger, I bought that lie and swallowed it whole and set my heart on achieving the fairy tale. Then I started making friends with people who are just like Leah from the Bible (Genesis 29). I realized there were desires in my heart, that made me just like Leah. She never got her fairy tale ending. She lived her entire life unloved and unseen by the one man who should have at least tried to love her--her own husband. She played second fiddle to the pretty girl, her own sister, her whole life. She never got her happily ever after, and no amount of sons would win her husband's affection for her.

But for God, her life is pitiful. But for God.  GOD saw Leah. (Genesis 29:31) God opened her womb. God gave her the honor of sons. God gave her Levi, future heir to the tribe of priests. God gave her Judah, future heir in the line of King David and ultimately Jesus Christ. GOD made sure her name was remembered for all of history through the family tree of Jesus Christ. God orchestrated the circumstances for her to be the one honored to be buried next to her husband. God did all that. Not her. God gave her a legacy that is so much more than a fairy tale, by His mercy and grace alone.

She never got the fairy tale life, but she got a God-ordained and orchestrated legacy instead. I wonder if she knew then, what she knows now, if she would have chosen the latter anyway despite the lifetime of unfulfilled desires? If she would have adjusted her desires and gratefully accepted the story God wrote for her?

Don't strive for or even settle for the lie that is the fairy tale. First, because it's a lie--you'll never attain it anyway. But second, don't you think a life that leaves a lasting, beneficial legacy, by the grace of God, for generations to come is such a better story in every way? Can we not learn from Leah's life? What if every desire that ached in the pit of my stomach or longing in my soul was held with open, surrendered hands to the will of my life's Author? No expectations. His will be done.

I wonder. I wonder if, no matter the circumstances, if we'd experience true JOY in this lifetime, enjoying the story being written for us because by faith we were trusting God with all the heartaches and triumphs, unfulfilled desires and abundant blessings. If we gave up on the fairy tale and accepted whatever plot twists may come as part of our legacy, our story? I wonder...

In what ways are you knowingly or unknowingly chasing the lie that is the fairy tale ending? What is that thing you hope to attain or accomplish that would be your pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Matthew 6:21 says, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." I dare say you can flip that statement and, "Where your heart is, there your treasure lies," is also true. This is my contentment and goals litmus test. If I'm yearning or aiming for something other than Jesus and His ways and His path and His will, I usually end up chasing the fairy tale and land smack dab in the middle of utter disappointment because the fairy tale ending is a lie.

And I'm done believing lies. I'm just over it. My relationship with Jesus Christ never fails me. I fail Him. Every. Day. But He never once has failed me.

One day, whether it be my lifetime here on earth or in another by my Savior's side, my Knight in shining armor will come back to this earth on His white horse and shine light on all the lies that Satan has used to darken this world. Then, all those that believe in the Lord Jesus Christ will get the fairy tale ending everyone else wanted for all time, but I'm pretty sure happily ever after with Jesus is going to be WAY more exciting than any fairy tale a mere mortal has ever penned ;)

In the meantime, this daughter of the king is going to wage war against the lies of the devil, calling them out and bringing them into the Light of Truth, and trust that Jesus is penning my legacy leaving story in the process. He'll write something better than I can ever imagine.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Called To Endure

Endurance. It's not a word this culture readily embraces. Researchers have coined the words grit, sweat equity, and stick-with-it-ness in the past five years in search of a way to communicate to a new generation--a microwaveable, give-it-to-me-now, viral, instant, digital, fast-paced generation--that they are finding the most successful people in life have this quality.  The most successful people in our world today practice what the Bible has defined for centuries as endurance.

"We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful." James 5:11

To choose to live your life as a Jesus-follower, a Bible-believing Christian, is to embrace the idea and concept and commitment to the character quality of endurance. (Hebrews 12:1--It's a marathon mindset.) And character qualities require years of character development through circumstances, situations, highs, and lows.  If you're trying on Christianity as a trend, fad, quick fix, or just something your friends are doing, I'm afraid you might be sorely disappointed, so please don't become a hater if you're not even going to stick it out through the end of high school, college, etc. to see what Jesus is really all about.

Because the best part about being a Christian is a personal relationship with your Creator, the Father who formed you in your mother's womb, numbered every hair on your head, and wrote out all your days before your parents were even thinking about having a family. (Psalm 139, Luke 12:7) As a Christian, you get to wake up every day with a purpose, a purpose that matters for all eternity (Matthew 5:13-16, 2 Corinthians 5:20), but it doesn't come packaged in ribbons and bows, most days aren't shiny and new. To be a Christian isn't a life of living the highlights reel or basking in the glory days.

Because if life hasn't taught you this yet, it will: life is hard.  Like pain, tears, grief, disappointment, frustration, anger, hatred, discontent--HARD (John 16:33). And if you want to be victorious and live a life of freedom and joy, then you need Jesus, and He's pretty clear on what that means: take up your cross and follow Him (Psalm 16:11, John 14:6, Matthew 16:24-26). Endure the journey, but keep your head up because you get to enjoy your best life in the process of that journey.

"Knowing that the testing of your faith produces enduranceAnd let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." James 1:3-4

Perfect. Complete. Lacking in nothing.  Those are some pretty strong promises.  Perfection, wholeness, worthiness--things people in this life try to attain in their own strength their entire lives.  These promises are the RESULT of the endurance of your faith. You never get results without first putting in the work. Try to short-cut your way around it all you want, but at the end of the day, consistent, balanced, committed people will always succeed where the spontaneous, overly-passionate, on-to-the-next-big-idea people will fail. I'm not saying spontaneity, passion, and innovation don't have their place, but endurance is a long-term investment, an eternal investment.

"For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised." Hebrews 10:36

Endurance is defined as permanence or duration; something that sticks around for a while, stands the test of time. The ability to withstand hardship or adversity.  The ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity. Please notice something about the words in this definition...

Permanence. Withstand. Sustain. These words point to a strength of staying, holding ground.  These words don't speak of movement, change, or even growth of any kind. Endurance is the character quality you need to live your best life in Christ in any circumstance. 

So what does endurance look like on a day-to-day basis? It's actually rather simple or "boring" maybe.  Read your Bible (Hebrews 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Seek the Lord daily (1 Chronicles 16:11).  Put what you read into practice in even the smallest tasks (Colossians 3:23). Trust Jesus to help you live each day to it's fullest potential by believing that, no matter the circumstances--good, bad, or uneventful-- you will live out the days of of your life like you are known, seen, heard, and loved--never alone (1 Corinthians 8:3, 1 Peter 3:12, Hebrews 13:5).  Share that belief with anyone that crosses your path in big, but most likely small gestures, like a smile, eye contact, and taking time to talk to people (John 15:12).
           This is not rocket science I'm talking about here. This isn't big earth-shattering revelations or life-altering mission work. This is the Christian walk of endurance--putting what you believe to be true into practice in simple ways in a world that is desperately wanting to believe what you're living-- the joy you will share along the journey (in good times and bad-Nehemiah 8:10), the love you will spread generously (in good times and bad-1 Corinthians 13)--people want to believe that this kind of life is the real deal. That it will last.  That it will stay.  That it will stand the test of time. That it will endure.

If you know yourself to be a child of God, then you are the one tasked with showing the world that it will.

"Behold, now is “the acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation”— giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited, but in everything commending ourselves as [a]servants of God, in MUCH endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown [b]yet well-known, as dying [c]yet behold, we live; as [d]punished [e]yet not put to death, 10 as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing [f]yet possessing all things." 2 Corinthians 6:2b-10

You don't like the circumstances of your life? Seek the Lord, love others, endure.
You don't want to wait around any more? Seek the Lord, love others, endure.
You don't understand why God is silent for the moment? Seek the Lord anyway, love others, endure.
You don't feel God is there for you? Seek Him anyway, love others, and endure in your faith.
Your life is awesome, contented, and balanced? Great! Don't fall into the temptation to stop seeking the Lord. Keep loving others. Faithfully practice endurance in the good and the bad.

I've worked out with a personal trainer twice a week for a year now.  I've diligently trained for and completed three triathlons. I've changed my diet to include more water, more fruit, more veggies, less carbs, better proteins. Consistently.  For a year..... I've lost inches, but not. one. single. pound.

You see, I've gotten stronger. A whole lot stronger. I started the year repping 10lbs on the triceps press, and now I can do 35lbs. The burden and weight of this body I walk around in hasn't changed one pound, but I'm stronger, so I can lift more, run faster, and work harder for longer. 

Because living life with endurance doesn't make your burdens lighter or life easier, it makes you STRONGER to be able to WITHSTAND and SUSTAIN and STAY when life throws it's worst at you, while everyone else is running ragged chasing the things that tickle their ears, aligning themselves with people who only tell them what they want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3). You, on the other hand, are reading your Bible, talking to God about every silly detail in your life, actively loving every person the Lord puts in your path for the day, capturing your thoughts to keep them focused on what is pleasing to Jesus, and you hold fast to the faith you've seen prove itself over and over again when times are full of blessings and when times are full of sorrows (2 Corinthians 10:5, Philippians 4:8 Hebrews 10:23). 

In between the highs and lows of life, you stay. You endure. Because more highs and lows will come, that's inevitable. But in between those highs and lows, did you get stronger? Or did you expend and waste all your energy chasing emptiness, false highs, and anything to satiate your addiction to entertainment of some kind?

I'm learning the value of actually enjoying the process of enduring. The value of the simple, the savoring, and the staying. 

"By your endurance you will gain your lives." Luke 21:19

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Who Are You? What Do You Do? How Do You Get Paid?

I am a child of God. A child needs time with their Daddy. Just to be in His presence, sit by His side, talk life, dream, wonder, question, seek counsel. I need to sit in His lap and just rock in His rocking chair and listen to Him sing over me. I get paid in unconditional love.

I am a prayer warrior. A prayer warrior needs silent space to fill with weeping and pleading, praising and thanking, confession and soul-searching. It is my only safe outlet for my gift of discernment. I need time to intercede, standing in the gap on behalf of others and myself. I need space to bend knees and bow my head in deep talks with my heavenly Father. I need time and silence in order to hear Him speak back. I get paid in true communion and intimacy.

I am a wife. A wife needs time to connect with her so.many.different.ways. I need time to pour into my best friend, and he into me. I need time to serve him and be his helpmate in all the different forms that takes. I need time to be loved and to love him like Christ. I get paid in devotion and faithfulness.

I am a Mama. A mom needs time to invest, enjoy, and be intentional with her kids. I need to bottle time and treasure moments. I need time to study and pray, discipline and train, smile, laugh, and have fun. These golden years of littles are fleeting. For now, I get paid in occasional unprompted "I love you"s, but mostly I just make deposits into accounts I hope produce exponentially grown returns in years to come. Only time will tell.

I am a Barnabas, a friend. A Barnabas needs time to invest in others. Whether through texts, phone calls, emails, lunches, play dates, or dinners, I need time to encourage others and be encouraged by others, to build community and relationships with people different and similar to myself. I get paid in encouragement and camaraderie.

I am a Paul, a mentor. Outside of my children, a Paul needs time to give back and invest in others younger in life or in their faith or both. I need time to feed off their energy and new cultural knowledge, and maybe they can learn from my mistakes. But I know I need time to influence. I get paid in purpose and fulfillment.

I want to be a Timothy, a mentee. I want time in my days to listen and question and be encouraged by my own Paul, by women older and wiser and more experienced, and maybe I'll find time to avoid some heartaches by avoiding their mistakes, and find more to life by valuing things they find valuable. I think my payment would be wisdom.

I am an emotional thinker. A borderline empath. I need large amounts of space and time to capture, evaluate, and submit my feelings and thoughts unto the Lord. This requires outlets in which to funnel this energy. Therefore...

I am a writer. A writer needs words and a blank canvas. I need time to vent, fume, spill, scream, cry, pray, rejoice, contemplate, meditate, digest over life. I implode if I don't take this time. I get paid in peace and clarity of heart, mind, and soul.

I am an athlete. An athlete needs time to train, sweat, stretch, sprint, push limits, rest, and recover. I need this healthy outlet for my aggression, irritations, and frustrations. I need those emotions to be forced out in sweat and jaws locked in determination. I need something difficult to press into, to build that perseverance muscle. I get paid in strength of body and mind.

I am a lover of nature. A nature lover needs time on long stretches of sandy beaches with only the sound of the waves to keep me company. I need long hikes on unknown trails going unknown places just so I can listen to the rustle of the wind and study the rise and fall of mountain ridges. I need to be on the water, in the water. I need to be near creatures great and small, watching them in wonder and curiosity. I need time to commune with my Creator through His creation. I get paid in serenity and joy.

I am an artist. An artist creates--anything and everything. I need time to make photo albums, decorate my home, make a card, color a picture, build with Legos, craft with my kids, paint, cut, glue, arrange. I get paid in beauty and accomplishment.

I am a student. A student needs time to study, time to explore, space to ask questions and learn new things. I was once a student who made straight A's, now I'm a student of life, and it's hard to tell most days what kind of grades I'm making, but the love of learning never fades. I get paid in knowledge and understanding.


And why, you may ask, do I feel the need to define these things? Because we live in a world, in a culture, that defines us by what we do and the benefit (or payment) we receive for ourselves or contribute to the world from what we do. And as a stay-at-home mom, especially now that both my kids are in school full time, there are days I wonder if I could do more, be more--should do more, should be more.

I struggle to define to others how I spend my time and why it's not a waste of time. I struggle because I know incredible working moms who are all these things AND they work a full-time job. But as I reread over this list, I realize that this is who God made me to be. This is MY capacity, MY passions, MY callings for this season of life, and yes, I am all these things every day. Not some days. Not one day a week or a few days a week. I am all these things every day in some form, in some capacity.

*And you know what, when I type it out, when I define it and call a spade a spade, this is a lot of work! And it's good work. Solid work. Fulfilling and meaningful work. Not useless. Not unimportant. Not forgettable. 

And my wages are pretty, freaking amazing also! I may not get paid a single, physical penny, but I am getting paid in full in ways some people spend their whole lives longing for. Unconditional love, communion, intimacy, devotion, faithfulness, encouragement, camaraderie, purpose, fulfillment, wisdom, peace, clarity, strength, serenity, joy, beauty, accomplishment, knowledge, and understanding--I want for nothing in the wages department. 

I needed to write it out though. I needed to see it to understand it, to believe it, to feel it. To fight the voices that always tell me I'm not enough.

Maybe you do too. Who are you? What do you do? How much do you get paid?

*This list is also written in the order of priority for me. Are they always lived out in this order of priority? Absolutely NOT! Most days not. But a balanced, healthy me would live these out in this order, so it does give me something to aim for. If this list had remained an ethereal thought or moral goal (like it has been for so long), I think that's exactly what my life would have resulted in--good intentions with no true action. 

Writing it out like this helps me see where I need improvements. In life you are always choosing to cheat someone or something for someone or something else. When one job moves up the list in priority, another job is getting knocked back down the list; therefore, if life feels like it's lacking joy, maybe I need to bump time in the outdoors back up the list a little ways.

What are your daily priorities? Are you intentionally living to make the most of the days you've been given?

*This list also tells me about me. I often wonder why I wrestle with loneliness and longing for more interactions with people in my life, but the truth in this list is if I'm spending the majority of my time loving the Lord by investing in things I'm passionate about, there's not much time left for more people. Many of the things I love and enjoy require nothing more than space, time, silence, and my heavenly Father. And that's me, and that's ok.

I also often wonder why I wrestle with a need and a desire to be seen, to be known, to be thanked and appreciated, yet this list reveals that what I love to do, how I truly want to spend my time are in areas that do not require acknowledgement. The things I love are very solitary in many ways. To try to orchestrate ways of being thanked would be manipulative and weird. God sees me. He's the one I'm spending most of my time and days with, and He chooses to do more for me than just a pat on the back, He pays me in full. Every day.

I have to believe that the work the Lord calls me to do through prayer and communing with Him alone is equally as important as all of my dear friends whose days are filled with laughter and conversations and service in direct contact with others.

I have bought the lie for too long that my prayers and journaling are useless.

This is who I am for this season, for today. The Lord is forever at work molding, reworking, breathing new life, revealing new dreams, adding to this list of who He created me to be. I'm still discovering who I am in Christ, but seeing this in black and white has helped me accept and embrace who I am in a different way. Blogging about it helps me put feet to the idea that it doesn't matter what others think of me, only what God thinks of me.

And it's been a while since I've written anything or at least put it out there to the masses. I've been praying the Lord helps me find my voice again, and this helps. Maybe it's an exercise that would help you too.

Who are you? What do you do? How do you get paid? 
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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Endure AND Enjoy: Christmas Letter 2017

Dear Family & Friends,                                                                                          December 2017

Well, 2017 is winding down, and I struggle a bit to write this letter this year. Why? Because I have nothing profound to share, to announce, or bemoan. 2017 has been a hard year and a good year. The Lord has shown up in so many highs and lows and plateaus with one consistent message, “Endure AND Enjoy!”

This year held travels to Death Valley, Mexico, the Grand Canyon, Ormond Beach, and several camping weekends as our family was blessed with the purchase of a camping trailer. One of our biggest blessings this year has been camping with our California people. The friendships that have deepened and grown here in this past year have been a true gift for which we are deeply grateful.

Weston turned eight in August. The change I’ve seen in him physically in a year makes my Mama heart cry. So many teeth lost and inches grown! He’s officially in love with soccer, and we’ve enjoyed watching his love of football increase. He’s bright and witty and all-boy. He still likes to hold my hand in public and snuggle on the couch for some TV watching, so for these small things, I’m deeply grateful. Both kids completed their first full year of piano lessons, and I continue to be blown away by how much they’ve improved and grown in a year’s time.

Savannah turned ten in October, and to say she’s blooming into a beautiful young girl is an understatement. She’s continued in her gymnastics this year, but also played soccer and water polo. She constantly amazes me with her natural abilities and the ease and flexibility with which she tackles life. As always, she loves every moment of everything, spreading joy and fun and light to anyone she manages to corral. I think I’m most proud of how she consistently reads her devotions in the morning. Both children continue to grow in their love and knowledge of Jesus, and it’s really of their own choosing which is both encouraging and challenging since consistency in my own time with the Lord is still an area I seem to constantly be seeking improvement!

Joey celebrated 40 this year and continues to love his job as a financial consultant for Chick-fil-A. I’m grateful for a husband whose integrity, perseverance, and commitment to his job translates equally to how he leads our home—constantly looking to improve, open to feedback, and never backing down from a hard conversation. I’ve watched the Lord use these skills along with many others as Joey felt led to join the school board of the new classical school God started in September of this year for our kids and 38 others. Choosing to invest in the founding of The Geneva School has been a true walk of faith and continues to be, but Joey has been a rock for me and our children in the process, and his willingness to serve and sacrifice time and energy to do what God has called us to do is admirable.

As for me, this year has been a test of endurance in so many areas of life. I trained for and completed three sprint triathlons, was blessed to lead a ministry team of high schoolers on a mission trip to Mexico, and I continue to be challenged and blessed through service in both the high school and women’s ministries at our church. When God opened our school in September, I also felt led to serve two days a week as a classroom aide, so to say the speed of life and the fullness of my days has increased would be an understatement.

But amid the busyness, I have also been deeply in tune with how the Lord is working in these areas of my life, calling me, preparing me to dig in, root deep, and endure. I’ve learned that endurance doesn’t necessarily produce growth or forward progression of any kind, but it does build strength of character because endurance is the ability and determination to stay, to stick-with-it, to be present and steadfast. Endurance holds you steady; it’s the quality that requires you stay the course. We live in a culture and a world where so many are constantly looking for the next challenge, the next high, the next accomplishment, the next opportunity, the next goal to attain, the next thing to check off their bucket list because there is a natural rush in attaining these good things. Aiming toward these things gives a sense of meaning and purpose, so when I found myself in a season where there was no five-year-plan or dream-big goal, I floundered for a bit.

Until I started recognizing the lesson in the floundering was that when I focused on being present today, in this moment, with this person, or this child, I wasn’t actually floundering anymore, I was living the biggest, most audacious dream of them all—to love others as Jesus loves me. To live this way doesn’t require a five-year plan, but it does require endurance to keep the faith and walk the path God has placed you on; it requires a commitment to staying with Jesus and in His Word and choosing to be in His presence no matter how hard or nonchalant or fulfilling a day may turn out to be. To endure is to stay.

Which doesn’t sound very fun or impressive, but about mid-year God pointed out that it’s not just about enduring, it’s also about enjoying. Enjoying the blessings of friendships and belly laughs and cooking club antics. Enjoying the gift of small hands holding mine and saying ‘yes’ to throwing the football and playing a board game and waking up together in our camper on a cool California morning. Enjoying the sunshine, crashing waves, and the blessing of good health. Enjoying even the tears shared with friends and the comfort only God can wrap you with in hard times. Enjoying long soccer practices, never-ending laundry, super-chill date nights, and spontaneous lunches with friends.
Be present as you endure, but be present to enjoy—this has been 2017.

Does this letter find you in a season of wandering, of annoying difficulties, or a string of everyday, run-of-the-mill moments? I challenge you to sit in these, to stay, to dig deep and endure all the while choosing to find the simple beauty and flashes of enjoyment that are there. We just need to learn to slow down long enough to actually acknowledge and enjoy the minutes of time, instead of spending all our energy striving to plan for the hours ahead.

This life is a marathon, my friends. We must learn to enjoy a steady pace because most of us aren’t built to sprint the entire way! Endurance isn’t a glamorous part of the journey, but it builds an unshakeable strength. Learning to enjoy, treasure, and appreciate the small things along the way is how you’re able to endure the act of enduranceJ

Colossians 1:10-14 “[T]hat you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of His holy people in the kingdom of light. For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

And Amen to that! Because therein lies the greatest Christmas Gift of all in the beginning of our redemption and rescue by the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ! May 2018 be a year filled with possibilities and joy for you and yours. May endurance hold you steady and enjoyment sprinkle the seconds of your days.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from our home to yours!

Joey,  Jennifer,  Savannah Weston Durham

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Breaking the Bad

I've been married for just a little over sixteen years now, and the longer I am married, the longer Joey and I have chosen to stick it out through the hard, the ugly, and the dirty of each other, the more in love with him I fall.

I have a theory that in every relationship there is one person that is better at it than the other because I think God puts us together that way.  Because every relationship goes through what Joey and I like to refer to as the downward, spiraling cycle. If you've been in any kind of relationship for any amount of time, you probably know what I'm referring to--those times when you're hurting and they're hurting, or you're both frustrated, disappointed, angry at life for whatever reasons, could be simple reasons like you both just had a long, hard frustrating day.

It's in these negative, downward spiraling cycles that we often lash out at the people closest to us. We look to them for strength or comfort or help, and since they're in the same place as you, they have nothing to offer either.  It's in this spin cycle that marriages, I believe, begin to crack, separate, and eventually break and disintegrate when the dust settles. Because these cycles start small, but can spin for days, weeks, months, years, growing in size and intensity, until someone finds a way to be the better person, the bigger person, the more humble, Christ-like person and do something to break the bad cycle.

My husband always finds a way to do this.  He can be just as tired, just as disappointed, just as irritated as me because of our life circumstances. So we start to jab and barb at each other.  Small looks, silly comments, silent treatments, ignoring actions and holding our tongues, when all the while the pressure is building underneath.  Someone is going to blow.  It's usually me.

But if one of us can remember Jesus, can humble ourselves enough for just a few moments to breath peace, to remember our war is not against each other, to offer an olive branch in a small or grand gesture, I'm always amazed at how the storm cycle brewing, suddenly vanishes.

We had a horrendous day yesterday of travel. Long flights dotted with the irritability of constant technology malfunctions, delays experienced in the terminal and sitting on the runway, disappointed, tired children, time zone jacking with your eating schedules, Joey losing his beach hat, and just a long list of tiny, irritating, life things that can happen when you travel coast to coast with two children.

Add in the stress I've put myself under all week just trying to pack our family for this week long vacation while making sure the kids are enjoying their mom and their summer, and Joey trying to rap up loose ends at work during a very busy planning season, our spin cycle was already churning before the irritating day of travel began yesterday.

But somehow, my husband wakes up this morning, and it's a new day for him. He's managed to forgive me for all my tongue-in-cheek comments and saucy attitudes (which he had his fair share of contributing, but maybe not as much as myself), and he takes our two restless kids to grocery shop at Walmart for our vacation while I sit here in a quiet hotel room and marvel at how I ended up with a man that is SO good to me, which ultimately brings me back to the thought that I have a man who loves Jesus more than he loves me. Somehow, Joey is better at humbling himself and letting go of his pride and righ- to-be-right than I am.  He's able to brush things off his shoulders and not take them personally WAY better than I am.

And there's one part of me that wants to feel shame over this. Guilt knocks on my heart and begs to enter and play the poor-terrible-me tune.  Jesus shuts the door on that and reminds me there is no condemnation allowed in my relationship with Him. He forgives me, but He does want me to get a grip and fall in line with my fine husband's example, with Jesus' example, of forgive and live and love anyway. His mercies are new every morning.

And so I'll take the gift that Joey and Jesus have offered--this silent, clean hotel room, and I'll give credit where credit is due. I'll be grateful, deeply grateful for a man of God who loves Jesus first, me second, and our children third.  Be grateful for a husband who shoulders the hard work of stepping in and stepping up when my emotions and state-of-mind have got the better of me.  Be thankful that he's capable and willing to take both my kids to the grocery store AND do the shopping for me. 

He's very good at breaking the bad cycle in our marriage, but I'm also very aware of what it costs him to do so. Jesus is excellent at breaking the bad cycles in my life, and in these moments I'm keenly aware of what it cost Him to do so as well.

So I'll be grateful, deeply grateful that my Jesus makes Himself known to me in my marriage through my husband's humble sacrifices of self.  Be grateful for a God who shouldered the hard work of the cross, who stepped in and stepped up when my useless works and bad attitudes and sins were getting the better of me. Be thankful that my Jesus is more than capable of renewing and refreshing my heart and attitude if I will just take the time to let Him.

Joey will undoubtedly be back soon. Kids excited, ready to see their cousins, sun shining and all of us ready to feel warm Florida waves running between our toes. But my husband's willingness to sacrificially, love me, even in this small way--And I KNOW it was a sacrifice for him too, I know he's tired too--now makes my hard, defensive, exterior toward life soften. It makes my bad, selfish, what-about-me attitude dissipate.  His one act of selflessness helps me move past me. It makes me want to be selfless for him in return.

So the question always is, in any relationship, who gives first? Who's going to reset the spin cycle by choosing to be selfless enough to do the hard work of loving the other person even when they don't deserve to be loved? Even when you're not guaranteed to get anything in return? The person who humbles themself first, to the world, appears to be the weak one, the one who always accommodates, gives in, gives up, at least those are the lies I battle when I know I should break the cycle first.  So it's pride that really keeps my back turned most of the time. Pride that insists on "winning" this fight, this argument, this situation. Pride that requires an apology, an admittance of wrong before I will consider softening, letting my guard down, serving, loving the offender.

Yet every time, after the fact, I know it's the one who humbles themself to "lose" the argument or do something to soften and show compassion in the middle of the situation, who gives undeserved grace when every bone in your body is screaming you don't want to--I know that person is the real winner because they are more Christ-like, and they are showing true love.

Sigh. Why can't I be that person more often? I pray to be that person. I think God's grown me in this area with others outside my family, but it's hard work treating those closest to you with this same grace.  We expect so much from the ones who know us best, when really, they're just sinful humans like the rest of the world we somehow so easily forgive at times.

"Lord, thank you for my marriage. Thank you that it truly is the deepest and best picture of how You love us. Thank you for a husband who loves me well, who humbles himself to bear the weight of hard choices and hard situations, who breaks the bad cycles in our marriage with his servant's heart. Teach me to be more humble. I know that real love expects nothing in return, ever. Teach me to really love him, Lord. Forgive me for my hard, entitled heart. No one owes me anything, Lord, but I owe everything to You."

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Dear Babysitters

Dear Babysitters,

I love you. Each of you. I trust you. You came highly recommended from trusted sources. My kids love you. Some of you have even gone above and beyond to invest in them, making them feel special with your special-hot-chocolate or ice-cream-decorating or even just fun crafts.

You are a valuable part of our weekly lives. You enable my husband and me to date and connect and strengthen our marriage. In the summer, you give me a breather, time to exercise, unwind, so I can be a better, more refreshed mom. (And let's be honest, give the kids a break from me too;)

So there's no argument here that you are appreciated and your job is important. But you don't pay taxes on that $15 an hour some of you have started asking for. (Remember folks, I live in CA. My GA friends probably think $10 an hour is a stretch.)

You are not a full-time employee of a company required to pay you $15 an hour.
You take care of my most precious possessions for about 3 hours, maybe 2, then you sit on the couch and watch television until we get home.

I'm willing to pay my really good sitters $2 an hour above minimum wage just to keep them happy and coming back and possibly choose my home over someone who's only gonna pay minimum wage. I think that's pretty darn fair. It's tax-free cash, people. Remember that.

And some of you don't even clean up my house at that price! I come home to a downstairs covered in toys, kids bedrooms a wreck, art supplies laying everywhere, and dishes! (Oh my goodness, don't even get me started on the dishes.) Would it kill you to wash the dishes? Even the ones I might have left from earlier in the day? With soap?

I figure some of the blame is on your parents because someone never showed you how to properly wash a dish or how to straighten a house. Many of you still live at home or in college dorms, and I pity your roommates.

So let me spell it out kindly for this generation of babysitters that somehow has grown up untrained and unaware--blame who you want. When you come to my home, for $2 an hour above minimum wage please...

Love my children. Pay attention to them. Play with them. Feed them. Moderate them. Oversee them getting to bed clean and at a timely hour. Keep them safe and your first priority at all times, at all costs.

Clean up ANY messes you and the kids make. In the garage, back yard, their rooms, on counter tops--take a damp rag or paper towel, and a little 409 and make it clean. Windex is for mirrors and windows. If you don't know how to clean something, my kids can probably show you how.

If you accidentally make a mess of the microwave, stove, or anything while cooking dinner, please wipe it up. Try to avoid scorching nonstick pans on the stove.

Wash all the dishes. If you're unsure of whether you can put it in the dishwasher, fill the sink with hot, soapy water. Place dirty dishes in said water. Scrub away all the food. Rinse with warm or cold water. Place on the towel next to the sink to dry. If the dish still has suds on it, it's not clean. If it still has food on it, it's not clean. If it still feels greasy, slimy, it's not clean.

Before you sit down on the couch, please take two minutes to walk around the house and put things back where they belong. At least get them off the floor. Fold towels, blankets, etc. Just make everything look neat.

That's it! Thank you for a job well done.

If you insist on asking for $15 an hour, I expect all of the above to be done as well as...

ALL the dishes. I don't care if I have left them there for 3 days. Remember, you don't pay taxes on that $15 an hour, and even McDonald's is gonna make you scrub dishes, ones A LOT dirtier than what's at my house.

If you want to treat my kids to something other than fish sticks and tater tots, that's on your dime. Please don't ask me to compensate you.

Take the cordless vacuum and get the downstairs floors spotless. All counter and table tops too.

Feel free to walk around the house and do something a little extra for that $15. All the cleaning supplies you need are under every sink in my house. Just because you didn't make the mess doesn't mean you can't clean it.

And that's that. Americans all over the US are fighting for $15 an hour at jobs where they will be required to pay taxes, and they go home to mouths to feed other than their own and bills to pay.

I commend you for trying to make money for yourself, for investing in the lives of children, for having the courage to even negotiate pay with me, but please don't be unreasonable, and for heaven's sake make it worth my money, or maybe I will just try instead, or call around for more reasonable babysitters.

I love you, but most babysitters aren't irreplaceable. Let's work together to make this work.

A Slightly Dissatisfied Mom

Sunday, June 4, 2017

To My Grieving Friend

Dear Friend,
I see you. I see your suffering. The weight of what you bear does not go unnoticed, unrecognized, or unappreciated.

And what might be hardest is there's nothing I can do to ease your pain. There's literally nothing to say that sounds right or appropriate or that doesn't need to be qualified in some way. So very often, I purposely choose to say nothing at all. I deliberately censor my conversations and catch myself correcting my phrasing as the words are coming out. And because I love you so deeply, part of me longs to not do this, to be care-freely honest as friends should be, but then I also love you so much I know that a gentle, tenderness and an understanding spirit are also needed. Honesty and discernment can still go hand in hand.

I never want to intentionally cause you more pain. So if I do, please forgive me and offer me the benefit of the doubt.

The truth is you're not the same person that you were before this grief consumed you. I don't expect you ever will be again. It will mark your story for the rest of your days. I know this, and yet, sometimes my heart skips a little when I see a glimmer of the old you, only to realize that's not fair and not true and not loving because the desire to see that person is completely selfish on my part. So every moment I spend with you now, I just choose to love you for who you are and how you are and where you are today. I expect nothing of you, and I'm grateful for the friendship you still offer.

So what to do? What to say? What to be? What to offer?

I've come to the conclusion all I have is my time and my presence. A listening ear on the other side of a text, an encouraging smile, a sympathetic touch, a supportive hug, a person to look into your eyes, see and acknowledge your pain and choose to stay. To stay for one more minute, one more hour, one more conversation, be one more distraction. 

I choose to believe for you when you can't. To believe you will one day find joy again. To dream of bright futures full of happy memories for you. To believe you still have great and mighty purposes to accomplish and fulfill on this earth. To believe that a future and a hope are still yours for the living. To petition the throne room of our Lord on your behalf, begging Him to hold you, comfort you, be Enough for you, for today, for this moment.

I offer you my presence in this hardest of battles to endure. I will stand beside you and hold up your arms when you're too weak to hold them up any longer. I will stand in the gap in prayer for you and your family, consistently, and persistently. I won't give up on you. I won't run or back down or grow weary in just being there.

I will cry for you. Tears in private I will not burden you with, but tears on your behalf nonetheless. And I like to believe that maybe every tear I've shed on your behalf is one less tear you've had to shed yourself. I'd like to think it works that way. That my highly emotional, overly sensitive self is being used in some way behind the veil in the kingdom of God to lighten your burden. That my ability to cry so easily is somehow a gift from God to relieve the burdens of others. I don't know, but maybe. I like to think so.

And this is all I have to offer. An unconditional presence with no strings attached, no expectations, just maybe a little grace on the days the sadness of your sadness weighs extra heavy. That's all. I wish it was more. I wish I could guarantee that would be enough. But you and I both know, Jesus is the only One who can be and will be Enough to carry you through. If my only purpose is to remind you of that every now and again, then I'm content.

This grief is not your whole story, my friend. It's not. I don't believe that. It may be the backdrop, the scenery, the background music to your story--all deeply meaningful, beautiful, and unforgettable--but not the whole story. I wish I could tell you when the joy will return. I wish I could shield you from the waves of grief that will continue to crash. Instead, I pray you let me swim in the storm with you because I will and be a small part to play in encouraging your story to continue because I can.

You are not defined by this grief. You are a child of God defined by Jesus Himself, His own dearly, preciously loved possession. Never forget that's who you truly are.

You are my friend. And I am blessed to know you, to journey with you. Given the choice, even knowing what was to come, I'd be your friend all over again. I can do nothing to remove your pain, to lessen your sorrow, but I can be someone who's here, who sees you right where you are, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and I can choose to be here and show up and pray up.

That's all have to offer. To God be the glory if it's enough.
In Christ,
Your Friend

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