A Fresh Summer’s Work (and Rest)

It’s that time again.  Last summer, I took a two month blogging sabbatical, and this summer I am sorely tempted to forge on through.  Partly because I love to write, partly because I fear loss of readership (oh, vanity, my constant companion!), but mostly because of you.  Every few days when I scroll through my emails, there will be one or two from readers.  Always, I can’t wait to see what you’ll say.  Sometimes you have an idea or an opportunity to offer, and sometimes you just want to share a little bit of your life.  With me.  Few things in this world make me feel more undeservedly blessed.  Somehow, amazingly, through the wonders of technology and the grace of God, He has allowed me to meet people all over the world.  And what’s more, to encourage them, share my broken story with them, and celebrate Christ’s mercy together.  That is my favorite part of blogging.  I thought it would be the writing, but it’s actually the impacting.  It’s you.  Being a small part of your life.

For this very reason, I’m reluctant to say farewell for the summer.  But if I were honest (which is always my first priority in writing), I would admit that my batteries need recharging.  My soul needs time to meditate on God’s Word for no purpose other than personal growth.  To soak it in without immediately thinking about how to spew it back out.  Not to mention, I welcome the chance to spend a little less time online and a little more time like this. P1060355
Besides quiet reflection and loud play, there’s one other item on my summer agenda.  It’s a project of sorts that’s been sitting on the back burner of my mind for months now.  This summer I want to explore it–maybe embrace it, maybe chuck it.  Either way, if God brings me to mind, I would greatly appreciate your prayers.

Here’s to hoping God grants us both a rejuvenating summer, filled with laughter, purpose, and the peaceful satisfaction of Christ.  See you in August!

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Moms Night Out

In case you’ve been wondering, I haven’t been abducted, just sick!  Our busy schedule is winding down as summer approaches, and all at once my body is exhausted.  So last night, when my kids’ MMO program offered childcare and a free ticket to the new movie Moms Night Out, I was right on time.
image1
I hadn’t seen a single trailer and had no idea what the movie was about, although for free childcare I would’ve seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  The movie began by introducing a clean-freak wannabe Mommy blogger barely holding it together in the crazy, messy chaos of her world.  Yikes.  If I had red hair (and a nicer house) it would’ve been like watching the story of my life.  At one point, the main character tells her husband something like, “This is the life I always wanted.  So…why do I feel so unhappy?”  So much work, so much exhaustion, so little sense of self.  That was what her life looked like.  And boy, could I relate to her.  I could relate all the way down in my bones.  And as I watched her story unfold, it struck me that all these feelings must be much more common than I realize.

Patricia Heaton (of Everybody Loves Raymond) plays the wise and like-able pastor’s wife, who gives us a glimpse of mothering a teenager.  When I realized her husband was played by Alex Kendrick (think Facing the Giants, Courageous…etc.) I’ll admit I had a moment of “eesh, I hope this isn’t cheesy.”   And you know what?  It was, at moments.  There were spells of over-acting and slapstick humor.  But there were also truly hysterical moments, that prove you don’t have to be crude to be funny.  And more importantly, there was a sense of resolution for the main character, a recognition that maybe a lot of the discouragement and discontentment in motherhood comes from expectations we heap upon ourselves.  The unrealistic standards that nobody (except you) expect of you.

Is it Oscar worthy?  Of course not.  This movie has been trashed among Hollywood critics.  But for the first time in a long time, I left a movie feeling like my heart had been a little bit refreshed.  I left a movie grateful for my messy life, and not longing for the romantic adventure of Charlize Theron’s sexy life.  I left a movie without the slightest twinge of guilt over the things I’d just seen and enjoyed.  And to me, that’s a pretty good moms night out.

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Counter-Cultural Parenting

After giving up a career as a TV reporter for motherhood, Jenny went on to found and host Channelmom.

After giving up a career as a TV reporter for motherhood, Jenny went on to found and host Channelmom.

Yesterday I got to chat with Jenny Schmidt of Channelmom about making special occasions more Christ-centered for our kids.  If you’re not familiar with Channelmom, it’s a radio show broadcasted out of Denver that tackles a wide variety of “Mommy issues” from a Christian perspective.  If you’re free TODAY around 6:30pm (Eastern Time), click on the link below to listen to the interview live!

http://channelmom.com/listen-live/ 

Why the Bunny Makes Me Nervous

easter-basket-ideas-1024x810There are so many things I do just because.  Because that’s the way my parents did it.  Because that’s the way everybody does it.  Because that’s just what you do.  But daily I am growing more convinced that just because living is not only foolish, but dangerous.  The Bible calls us very clearly to a single purpose–that everything we do, say, think, believe, desire, accept, reject, love, and hate must glorify God so that His name will be great in our lives and among the nations.  If that is the mission then everything we do or don’t do must be filtered through that lens.

Around this time of year, moms often ask me whether we “do” the Easter bunny.  And I offer a very vague response.  “No, I never grew up with the Easter bunny.”  I’m vague because I know the Easter bunny is not sinful, in and of himself.  I know that many parents who are passionate about Jesus and His mission, choose to surprise their children on Easter morning with a basket of gifts from the Easter bunny.  I know that to many it is a special, even magical, family tradition.  And I know that of every people group on the planet, no one heaps as much guilt upon themselves as mothers.  Our hearts are fodder for guilt.  And the last thing I ever want to do is fan the flame of false condemnation.

So hear my heart when I say, I’m not writing as Super-Mom or Super-Holier-Than-Thou-Mom.  Those things disgust me, because they’re lies.  They discredit all Christ’s work in my life.  I am writing as a sister, who is learning something that I want to share in love:  We don’t do the Easter bunny because we don’t think the Easter bunny is the most effective way to glorify God at Easter.

It’s not the bunny, so much as the gifts he brings.  A few weeks ago, we took our kids to a downtown festival.  Disaster.  Much of it was poor parenting–we didn’t set limits in advance or warn them that we weren’t going to ride, play, eat, and buy everything in sight.  Suffice to say, it was miserable.  On the way home, my husband made the remark that the festival was like Sin City for kids.  It had everything they desired.  It catered to all their cravings.  And the more they consumed, the more demanding and ungrateful they became.  In essence, we thrust them into temptation without any training to stand up under it.

The Bible warns against putting obstacles or “stumbling blocks” in the way of a brother or sister (Rom 14:13, I Cor 8:9), and this is my greatest fear when it comes to the Easter bunny.  If the gospel is the most important message I can ever convey to my children, and if their understanding of it and receptivity to it determines the satisfaction of their life and the security of their eternal home, then why would I put any obstacle in their path that may distract from the gospel?  When my girls hear the word Easter, I don’t want them to squeal in delight because their first thought is that a bunny will bring them a Barbie doll.  And I know my girls.  I know that just like their mom, their flesh is weak toward materialism.  I know that just like their mom, they constantly seek false refuges for satisfaction.  Just like their mom, they’re tempted to believe that things can fulfill them more than Jesus can fulfill them.

I know that only God saves (Jn 6:44), but I want to set my daughters up to see the gospel by creating a home where as few things as possible compete with it.  My daughters have a mother who still believes that television and the latest Pamela Schoenewaldt novel is more satisfying and restful than Christ.  They have a mother who still studies the Bible like it’s suggested summer reading.  Who still can’t even wrestle her own weak flesh out of the bed to meet with the God of the universe.  It is hard enough.  It is hard enough to grasp the magnitude and implications of the gospel.  It’s hard enough to shake the worldliness out of our vastly diluted cultural Christianity.  Why add one more opportunity for our kids to turn the focus of Easter into a focus on self?

Let me, please, pour out this confession in closing: sometimes I don’t want to write anything to you because I am so deeply and painfully aware of my own failure as a Christian.  If only you could really see me (I’m talking Nanny-cam see me), you would never feel threatened by me.  Instead, you would say, Man, God is INCREDIBLE to have not given up on her.

And that’s why I have the confidence to write to you.  Because God is incredible.  His grace is incredible!  We still do Easter egg hunts and bouncy house family fun days, and a thousand other things every day of the year that could threaten to distract from the gospel.  We are by no means that perfect family.  We are simply growing by grace, and I want to share with you the things God is teaching me so that we can think together, worship together, and rejoice in the grace of God together.

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3 (delicious!) Vegetarian Crock-Pot Recipes

Don’t you just love 5pm, when everybody under the age of ten has a nervous breakdown the moment it’s time to start cooking?  Me too.  Which is why I’m such a fan of crock-pot cooking.  Unfortunately, it can be tough to find healthy crock-pot recipes that call for natural ingredients.  Hello, Cooking Light magazine!  Every week I’ve been trying one new vegetarian crock-pot recipe from their list of fourteen.  These are my 3 favorites:

Tofu and Chickpea Curry oh3657p175-tofu-chickpea-curry-l
2 cups cubed peeled sweet potato
2 cups small cauliflower florets
1 cup chopped onion
1 Tbsp curry powder
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp grated peeled fresh ginger
1 ¼ tsp salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (16 oz) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (14 oz) can coconut milk
1 package extra-firm tofu, drained (I used 2 packages)
1 Tbsp canola oil
3 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

  1. Place first 11 ingredients in slow cooker; stir well. Cover and cook on LOW for 5 hours or until vegetables are tender.
  2. Place tofu on several layers of paper towels; cover with additional paper towels. Press to absorb excess moisture; cut into ½ inch cubes.
  3. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add tofu; cook 8 to 10 minutes or until browned, turning with a spatula. Stir into vegetable mixture in slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 30 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with rice.
    (This curry dish was my favorite of the favorites.  Really yummy, but mild enough that the kids liked it too.)

Barley, Black Bean, and Corn Burritos 
2 cups vegetable or chicken brothoh3657p168-barley-bean-corn-burritos-l
1 cup uncooked pearl barley
¾ cup frozen whole-kernel corn
¼ cup chopped green onions
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
½ tsp ground red pepper
1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (10 oz) can diced tomatoes and green chiles, undrained
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Flour tortillas
Toppings: cheddar cheese, salsa, sour cream, avocado, cilantro

  1. Place first 11 ingredients in slow cooker; stir well. Cover and cook on LOW for 4 hours or until barley is tender and liquid is absorbed. Stir in 1/4 cup cilantro.
  2. Heat tortillas according to package directions. Spoon 2/3 cup barley mixture down center of each tortilla. Add toppings as desired.
    (My husband likes lots of flavor, and this one was his favorite.  It’s a little spicy, but with some sour cream the kids ate it right up.)

Pinto Bean Chili with Corn and Winter Squash
1 tablespoon olive oil oh3657p190-pinto-bean-chili-corn-squash-l
1 ½ cups chopped onion
1 ½ cups chopped red bell pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
½ tsp ground cumin
5 cups cubed butternut squash
3 cups cooked pinto beans
1 ½ cups water
1 cup frozen whole-kernel corn
1 tsp salt
1 (15 oz) can crushed tomatoes, undrained
1 (4.5 oz) can chopped green chiles, undrained
Toppings: sour cream, diced avocado, lime wedges

  1. Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic; cover and cook 5 minutes or until tender. Add chili powder and cumin; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  2. Place onion mixture in slow cooker. Add butternut squash and next 6 ingredients.  Cover and cook on LOW 8 hours or until vegetables are tender and chili is thick. Serve with sour cream, avocado, and lime wedges.
    (I thought this one tasted even better the second day.  The butternut squash and corn adds a really nice, slightly sweet flavor.  Unfortunately, it was still too spicy for my kids.  I ended up feeding them the ingredients separately–roasted squash, plain corn, and pinto beans.)

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Blogging and the “S” Word

woman-typing-computerThis is my 100th post.  Not too shabby an accomplishment for a wearer of many hats!  When I started blogging 1½ years ago, I had three simple goals: I hoped to grow as a writer, to cultivate contentment with my lot in life, and to leave a small, God-exalting imprint on the world.

In case you're wondering, I don't really look like that when I blog.  I look more like this only in pajamas.

In case you’re wondering, I don’t really look like that when I blog. I look more like this only in pajamas.

What I didn’t expect was for blogging to leave an imprint on me.  I thought I would be the teacher, not the student.  But blogging has taught me a lot about myself, about sin and temptation, people and suffering, culture and society.  And ironically, the bulk of the teaching comes from one little button.

For you non-bloggers, there is a button on every blogging dashboard that charts “statistics.”  It tells you how many people are reading your posts, how articles fare with others, which countries view your blog…etc, etc, etc.  I love this button.  It is my pat on the back for hours of work.  It is the just-keep-going-you-ARE-making-an-impact button.  This little button had the power to turn me into a paid writer for the first time in my life.  The statistics went up, and Wordpress offered me a portion of the revenue–enough money to buy a pack of crackers every three months.  Hooray!

I hate this button.  This button reminds me that I am constantly at war with the desire to be God.  To seek worship, to love glory, and to praise myself.  Every time I click on this button, it whispers the question, why are you writing?  This is the button that unearths motives and desires, the condition of my heart.

This button has taught me that people want to read about themselves.  That topics like parenting and marriage are popular, and topics like world hunger and the persecuted church are not.  It’s taught me that painfully vulnerable subjects will be highly viewed, but not highly shared.  That the “perfect” article must address the audience’s felt needs, be provocative, yet feel “safe.”

And so the challenge becomes walking the tightrope.  I am writing to people.  God is passionate about people.  At the end of the day, if my writing doesn’t encourage, comfort, and spur people on, what’s the point?   In this sense, I must pay attention to statistics.  I must understand the felt needs of my audience, or I risk becoming irrelevant in my own culture.

I am writing to people.  But I am writing for God.  Which means the statistics guide, but they must not govern.  I believe this is the only way I can truly be used by God.  He must govern the ship, even if His direction leaves the statistics in the toilet at times.  Because when He leads, He brings another “S” word into the picture: supernatural.  God has the supernatural ability to guide me to write that which will be used for His good purposes in the world.  And unlike statistics, this guidance knows no rhyme or reason.  It is about being in step with the Spirit.  Every time I post an article I pray for God to choose the audience.  Because the truth is, 100,000 people could read an article that bears no lasting fruit in their lives, and 10 people could read an article that changes them for eternity.  With God the statistics are unseen.

Dear reader, this morning as I blog about blogging, I am thinking about you.  I don’t know your story, but can only assume it holds its own share of statistics.  The success (or failure) of your marriage, the money you earn, the growth of your company or church, the private failures no one knows about, the public failures no one can forget.  It can be so tempting to view yourself through the lens of statistics.  But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in blogging, it’s that statistics are temporary.  One day, the greatest triumphs and the most embarrassing failures will be forgotten.  And on that day, Christ’s pleasure and the accomplishment of His purposes will be the only thing that lasts, long after we’re buried and the last statistic has dropped to zero.

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4 Reasons Men Fail to Engage at Home

20111112_STP506In many Christian homes, the man of the house comes home from work only to plop down on the couch and turn on the TV. They are distracted at dinner. They are unmotivated in their role as a father and husband. Why don’t they seem to care?

This is a common problem, and it is not just deadbeats and sociopaths that fail to engage at home. Even sincere Christian men struggle with engaging at home consistently. I, personally, am deeply convicted about my responsibility as a husband and father, but I still have good days and bad days when it comes to being engaged at home.  This article shares 4 reasons why I have struggled to engage at home.

Learn more about guest blogger Aaron Smith below.

Learn more about guest blogger Aaron Smith below.

1. Work goals and rewards are more tangible than family goals.
Like most men, I like solving problems, and that makes me thrive in the work world. At my job, all of my goals are well-defined and the path to success can easily be broken down into tangible steps: “Do these calculations…fill out this report…” Sure, there are surprise challenges and delays, but at least the problems and the goals are well-defined.

At home, on the other hand, I sometimes get lost in what I am trying to accomplish. What are the actual steps that lead to a stable marriage or Godly children? Oh, how I want a formula for being a good dad and husband… “play two games of hide-and-seek on Mondays, bring flowers home for my wife every Tuesday, read Scripture at dinner, and voilà… perfect family.”

But, unfortunately, there is no formula for having a loving marriage or for raising Godly children. Only God can make our family efforts succeed. But God still intends for men to make plans and to lead their families the best that they can. I think that this is why I find it much easier to stay engaged at home when my wife and I have a clear set of goals for our family.

2. Men feel entitled to “veg out” after work.
When I was single, I could work really hard for a couple of days, and then just “veg-out” for a few hours to recover. But, now as a father and husband, I don’t have that luxury. But, I still regularly have days at work where the stress and pace really take it out of me. I often want to just come home and watch TV. Being entertained is so much easier than engaging. Sometimes, I even rationalize to myself, “Why shouldn’t I take a rest? I have worked hard all day. Don’t I deserve a rest?”

In general, the answer is no. I have a responsibility before God to actively love my wife (Eph. 5:25) and to train my children (Eph. 6:4).  I only have a few hours after work each day, so if I am going to be faithful, I will need to spend most of that time engaging with the family. I don’t have the prerogative to regularly “check-out” from family time.

The times when I have succumbed to the temptation to veg out, are times that I have lost sight of how much I am needed at home and my responsibility before God. Also, when I find that I have nothing left to give my family at home, it usually means I am giving too much of myself at work (see next point for more on this).

3. Men make work an idol.
The line between doing my best at work and making work an idol often seems like a razor’s edge. I may start the week desiring to work hard for good reasons: to provide for my family and to glorify God with my talents. But by the end of the week, I have fallen into idolatrous motives — looking to my performance to give me significance and trusting in my own efforts to bring me happiness.

And as soon as I wrap my happiness and significance up with my work, I become a slave to success. Delays or setbacks at work continuously tempt me to work longer hours. Even when I come home, I keep drifting back into thought about how to solve those pesky problems at work, and how great my life will be when I overcome them.

The problem here is that I forget the Gospel. Christ has already accomplished the work that gives me significance. His death on the Cross has made me holy and blameless before him, a beautiful bride for Christ (Eph. 5:25-27). Also, I don’t have to trust in my own efforts to provide for my family’s needs. The God who made all things knows all my needs and cares for me; He will provide. He has given me His Son — how shall He not also give me all things (Rom. 8:32). When I keep these Biblical truths in my mind, I have much more energy left to give at home.

4. Men don’t take advantage of opportunities to meditate on God’s Word.
Anytime that I struggle to stay engaged at home, I probably have not been spending enough time meditating on God’s Word. Psalm 1:1-3 promises the following to those who regularly meditate on God’s Word:

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”

What an exciting picture! I long to be a husband and father who bears good fruit during each new season of my family’s life, and the only way that this will happen is if I regularly renew my mind with God’s Word.
IMG_2035I’m happy to introduce another talented guest writer!  Aaron Smith is a husband, dad, engineer, and blogger.  He spends his days designing hydraulic systems, and his evenings at home with his wife Christel and their two children.  In his spare time (or in his words, the time he should be sleeping!) he blogs at Faith and Life.  Check out his blog, share it with your husband, and leave him a comment below!

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