Monday, January 02, 2017

Searching for Less

Our world reminds us constantly that we should be on the lookout for "more." More time, more money, more popularity, more friends, more comments. More, more, more. At some point last year I began to ask myself if I really cared about more of anything. I began to realize that I did not. What I really wanted was the opposite.

Then, I read Falling Free by Shannan Martin about how they had left their life of abundance for a life that was based on much less but gave them so much more (my description here). I was challenged. I was awe-struck. And that little voice that was telling me that I did not care about 'more' got louder. It was not telling me to sell the house and move somewhere else. It was telling me that maybe I could find "more" in my life by dealing with a lot less.

Various things over the last two months have sung this song.  Reminders that stuff is not what makes anyone happy. Sermons reminding of caring for the least of these. A Bible study of Proverbs that warns about accepting wealth and status quo without balancing it with the wisdom of God. By the middle of November I knew what my word for 2017 was to be, and it was daunting. It was........


Now before you get concerned, it does not mean leaving the house or the life that God has clearly blessed us with at this time. It is about depending more on Him and less on stuff or others. As always, I find it difficult to articulate what the word for the year resounds in my heart. I just know that it is echoing in deep places where God wants to work.  But some of what I hope to see in 2017 is this:

*Less accumulation of paper and materials that are not needed.  In some cases, this is my continuing efforts to digitalize some things and let go of the paper.  Last year it was all of my university notebooks (most just shredded, some digitalized before shredding).  This year it is the early portfolios from homeschooling, a box of my mother's papers that I have not wanted to deal with, and a last box of pictures (from my high school days) that need to be sorted and digitialize anything worth keeping. One of my realizations is that we move too much stuff that is just sitting in boxes.  If it is not important enough to get out of the boxes when we move, maybe I don't need it. If it is the memory it evokes, that can be pictured and carried on a disk. God will call us to move again someday, and I want less stuff to carry with me when he calls.
*Less time spent worrying what others think of the life I am called to live. Yes, that is as self-centered as it sounds.  I spend way too much time worrying how others will accept my choices to home educate, to not have a car, to wear what I wear, to set the limits I set for my kids.  The truth is, most people truly don't care. And if they do care, I think it is their issue not mine. I know that I do not spend anytime criticizing my friends who do things differently than I do. It is their life and their calling, not mine. So why do I give so much thought-space to what others think? I want to give this less thought space.
*Less time doing things that do not build me up. I discovered long ago that there are certain television programs that are not good for me to watch as they will invade my dreams and take away rest. I have been realizing that there is more to this concept for me than I have given credence. There are shows (mostly reality-type shows) that only serve to make me feel dissatisfied with what I have. There are shows that, although I have tried to overlook it, the language bothers me to the extent that it makes me restless. There are things that others can watch for a "mindless past time" that are anything but mindless to me. Thus, I have been cutting those things out of my life. I want that to continue. This is also true of reading. I enjoy reading a wide array of genres and authors, but I am beginning to recognize that there are some I just need to walk away and leave on the nightstand or in the library.  Ironically, I also have more books on my to-be-read list that are tough subjects, even subjects that I don't agree with the subject matter, that remind me that we live in a fallen world and that I need to be showing that world Jesus. So it is not avoiding things that make me think, but avoiding things that make me think of only myself and not look out to others.
*Less voiced negativity and more thankfulness need to be in my daily conversations. One of my friends posted something recently about no longer apologising for some things but instead voicing gratitude (e.g. not "I'm sorry I was late," but "thank you for waiting, it means a lot to me"). That made me think that often I choose to voice the negative rather than look for a way to be grateful. I'm going to try to be less verbal with negative this year. Maybe that will help my teens who have their mother's fluency in sarcasm to also be less negative.
*Less half-hearted rituals and more focus on what God is saying. It is so easy to tick the box of a quiet time, a prayer time, leading a study or helping with a ministry. It is more difficult to use those activities to truly connect with God and focus on the changes that need to be made. I want the latter not the former.
*Less unhealthy things entering my life. Whether it is junk food or junk TV or toxic people, I want to be more diligent to let in healthy and exclude the unhealthy.
*Less holding on to people. This has never been an issue for me, since we have been the ones leaving so much. I've always had to hold people loosely. But we have been here for long enough that I begin to think in terms of "I don't know what I'd do without (___)."  That shows the depths of some relationships. But it also has the focus on the person, not on God. This year, our church will plant a new church and about 100 people will go to the plant. We are not going, at this point. We feel as a family that there is more we can offer at Central than we can offer to the plant. But, some dear friends are going. And that makes me sad. I am also excited for them. In the bittersweet, I find that I am in a place that I need to hold people lightly trusting God to move them, and me, where we all can best serve. I need to celebrate and enjoy every moment I have with people, but not feel so dependent that it leaves trust out of the picture.

So, there it is. My word for 2017: less.  My girls have announced that it is not as exciting as last year's word. They are dubious of some of the things that I see the need to focus. But I know that God has places he wants to clean out. I know that there are things I need to let go of in order to hold onto him more. I'm willing to take that risk.  We'll see where it has led me in 365 days. Let's go.

January Goals

Last January I wrote,
"One thing I know about myself, if I really want to take a goal seriously, I need to write it down. And if I doubly want to take it seriously, I need to publish it. I like to reach goals. I like to mark things off my list. And it encourages me, rather than discourages me. So, I once again begin the year with a review of my master 2015 list and my January goals."
And the truth of that statement is immense.  I did not post goals (or anything) after March. And so when I went to do a goal review, I could not even find my master list for 2016.  It is here, but I don't know where.  I do know that I did not lose the weight I wanted to lose, or memorize all the verses I wanted to memorize, or blog nearly enough. I did finish two largish cross-stitch project, but not the largest two that have been going the longest. I read 100 books, but that was due to the accountability of keeping up with them online at Goodreads. So, clearly, posting goals helps keep me on task. To that end I am posting both my January goals and my master list for 2017 so that next year I have no excuse!

1. Read 4 books that are not school related, set in at least one country that is not UK or US, and that meets at least 3 prompts on my reading challenge.
2. Blog 5 times
3. Finish stitching A Mind Independent and Free
4. Plan out Australia block for Neighbourhood Round Robin and gather materials
5. Scan Jewel's school portfolios from Germany

Master 2017 list:
Books:  Read 100 books (including those used for school)
             Read books set in at least 30 distinct countries
             Complete PopSugar Reading Challenge and Advanced Challenge (52 books)

Cross-Stitch/Quilting:  Complete stitching A Mind Independent and Free
                                      Complete Neighbourhood Round Robin 2
                                      Complete Bride's Tree Ornament sets
                                      Start/Finish Autumn and Spring Garden
                                      Participate in Ornament Exchange
                                      Stitch Ornaments for each of the children
                                      Make baby quilt for godson and his wife (June)
                                      Organise and participate in Round Robin with CSC

Other: Eat healthy and lose some weight
           Blog 3x per month minimum
           Memorize 24 verses
           Decrease paperwork saved in household by 50%


Sunday, January 01, 2017

Siesta Memory Verse #1

Joining up again this year at Living Proof Ministries for their Scripture Memory Encouragement and Accountability.  My first verse this year is actually two verses that have spoke to me as I study Beth Moore's Daniel study. 

In a well-furnished kitchen there are not only crystal goblets and silver platters, but waste cans and compost buckets---some containers used to serve fine meals, others to take out garbage. Become the kind of container God can use to present any and every kind of gift to his guests for their blessing.
2 Timothy 2:20-21 (The Message)

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Revisiting 'Seriously?!'

Last year was the year of taking things “Seriously?!” As always, I had no idea the places God would take me during the year with that word. But he used that word to stretch me and challenge me and inspire me. Last year I wrote, 

There was it was! My word. I cannot begin to tell you how many dozens of times a day I hear my teen ask (sarcastically, of course), 'seriously?' Everything about her questions whether we are serious about what we say. It is a teen-friendly word to challenge diligence and gospel-living. It is my challenge for 2016. What will it look like? Here are few things that I hope will take root:
* I want to take my pursuit of God's heart through Bible Study seriously.
* I want to seriously memorize Scripture.
* I want to seriously consider what it means to be the temple of God--and to take serious care of that temple physically, mentally and emotionally.
* I want to open my eyes and heart to the plight of the weak and poor, and seriously pursue doing things that make a difference.
* I want to have serious discussions with my children--about Scripture, about life, about living for Christ in a broken world, about their hopes & dreams.
* I want to take opportunities to have serious discussions with friends and strangers alike.
* I want to live with an intentionality that allows others to see that I take Jesus seriously.

We live in a world of a lot of competing ideologies. I need to be intentional about what my motivations are. My kids will hear ideas and recommendations that sound like edicts from all types of people who take their beliefs seriously. I hope that when my kids look back they can say the same about what they learned at home through both word and deed. This year, I'm taking that mandate SERIOUSLY.

Probably the area that this stretched me the most was in discussions with the girls, and in particular Jewel. The year 2016 did not disappoint in things to discuss and take seriously. Refugee crises, sexism/racism/classism and political futures, the presidential race in general, relationships/marriage/definitions, war in Syria, bullying, Brexit, natural disasters and more. We have had deep conversations and sarcastic interchanges. We have laughed together and cried together. We have agreed and debated. We have gotten angry, and then had to decide if it was selfish anger or righteous anger. We’ve decided where we could help and we have admitted when we felt helpless. I have been proud of the girls this year that they have struggled with current events and tried to find their own responses, not just parroting our responses. It has been some of the best parenting challenges I’ve faced head-on and felt like I’ve succeeded, sometimes.

Whilst conversations at home are easier, those kind of conversations outside the home are more challenging. Surprisingly, Brexit and the US Presidential election opened doors to talk. People would ask for my opinion as an American. Whilst trying to avoid blatant political statements, I had opportunities to express my dependence on God in these areas. I’ve had difficult conversations about immigration (remembering that I am an visitor in this country) and race and feeling alienated. Who has been the most willing to engage in these conversations has often greatly surprised me. But I am grateful for the conversations I have had.  

A challenging study of Acts followed by a more daunting study of Proverbs gave plenty of opportunities to decide if I wanted to take the Scripture seriously. I did not learn twenty-four verses, but the ones I did memorize have challenged me even more.

I am thankful for this word. I plan to leave my Seriously?! sign up in the kitchen as a daily reminder that these issues are not frivolous and I need to be intentional in my responses. Several of the books I read this year pointed me to the plight of those who are not as financially blessed or who live on the fringes of whatever society they find themselves. These books and these thoughts have  informed and developed my word for 2017. Tomorrow, I’ll write more of that.

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Way Back

Finding a way back to the blog has been easier said than done.  It is not that I don’t miss blogging, I do. A lot. But I find it not making my priority list day in and day out.  I write in my head, but not on screen or on paper. I miss that. There are many excuses I could make—home schooling three kids (one kindergarten, one middle school and one *gasp* high school) takes up most of my time. But I still find time for other things I enjoy, so it doesn’t excuse not writing. The truth is, I miss the old days of blogging. I miss the community. Most of the early bloggers I followed and with whom I communicated have also stopped regularly blogging. That sense of dialogue has gone, and with it some of my motivation to keep writing. I miss that.
I am going to try and find my way back in 2017. Despite missing the blogging community, I miss the accountability of writing more. The old days of writing for “In Other Words” forced me to write to deadlines, thus I wrote more, thus I was developing my voice and style. My writing was better because I wrote. And by not writing, I have lost that push to improve. I also miss my personal accountability.  If I post goals, I am more likely to try and meet them. If I post memory verses, I am more likely to memorize. Just by putting it on my blog as a reminder, helps me to follow through with the things I want to accomplish.
All that to say, hopefully you will see me more in 2017 (all three of you who still check in to see if I’m alive *wink*). I’ll post my verses on the first and fifteenth.  I’ll post monthly goals.  I’ve already chosen a word for 2017 and will write about it. And, I’ll give an update on how a year of living “Seriously!” changed my life. Maybe the changes were small, but this was a good word choice and year, despite how difficult the year has felt in many other ways. I hope to discuss books and life more. Thank you for still being a part of my blogging world.  See you soon!

Thursday, March 03, 2016

March Goal Post

Goal update time!

In February I wrote:

1. Finish the cottage on Winter Garden--I would have if I had not ran out of thread! Have about 100 stitches left
2. Get Mind Independent and Free to 30%--about 28%
3. Complete one Bride Tree ornament--only 1/2
4. Read 6 Books (3 non-school)--YES.  I read (non-school): Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lachs by Rebecca Skloot, Anne Frank Remembered by Mieps Gies, Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick, The Invisible Man by HG Wells, H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant and Crossover by Kwame Alexander.  All the books this month were very good--and the reason I did so little stitching!  For school we read Daughter of the Mountain by Louise Rankin, Theresa of Calcutta by D. Jeanene Watson, William Carey by Janet and Geoff Benge, and Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman.
5. Blog 3 times (let's be realistic)--even that wasn't realistic!
6. Memorize 2 verses--yes
7. Maintain lower sugar intake in diet--yes

For March my goals are:

1. Finish the garden to the right of cottage on Winter Garden
2. Get Mind Independent and Free to 35%
3. Complete one Bride Tree ornament
4. Read 6 Books (3 non-school)
5. Blog 3 times (I'll try again)
6. Memorize 2 verses
7. Maintain lower sugar intake in diet

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Power Exchange

"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any."
Alice Walker

I don't know where I saw this quote, but I jotted it down (like I do so many quotes that I like) and quickly moved on to the next task. The quote kept nudging the edge of my thoughts. I would look at it, and then put it aside again, and again.  But it won't let go.

The truth is, I tend to get caught up in the routine of my life and forget that I have any power. I fight the cycle of get the teenagers to do their homework, pull the four year-old off the furniture, make the meals, do the laundry, and maybe, if I work it in, read my Bible or seek to help others outside our home. Then I collapse in bed only to get up and do it all over again. And I wonder why I have this restlessness that says "things don't have to be like this." I don't want to be controlled by the routine. I want to be a transforming factor in my life not a conforming minion.

I've been doing interesting reading these last few weeks about injustice and ethics (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lachs by Rebecca Skloot) and extreme courage in a time of absolute evil (Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped Hide the Frank Family by Miep Gies and Alison Leslie Gold). That part of me that fueled the social worker of the past wants to be a righter of wrongs. But the pragmatic person sitting here is not sure she could be a voice for justice anymore. Notice I said could be, because right now I'm pretty sure I am not.

This week I've been following the Compassion bloggers who are in Ecuador. I'm overwhelmed, again, to see the poverty...and the hope...that these bloggers bring to their readers. Once again, I'm challenged. As a Compassion sponsor I act on a belief that an organisation like Compassion can and does release children from poverty. I am happy with how I see my small funds go to help children. I love receiving the letters and pictures that show that they are growing and healthy. I cry and I pray when I receive letters that say that they have been ill but are still going to school. I write letters because I hope that I give some encouragement. But it takes trips like the current Ecuador trip to remind me that what we are doing is sharing the power we have with those who don't have it. Shannan Martin has absolutely wrecked my world this week with her posts, but this one about not losing hope has reminded me that there is a reason why I sponsor kids.

As I've mentioned before, we are studying Acts this season at church. Sunday we were looking at Acts 15. We were challenged by the questions--"Do you believe the gospel is good news?" and "If you believe it, are you living it out?" We were further challenged to consider the choices we make, and in areas that are not sin-related to consider if our choices are helpful or beneficial to others in their walk with God or toward God. It is a reminder that I hold a power to help and to encourage or to distract and to discourage. My choices matter. And I need to not forget that power. Because even if I am acting in such a way that says I am powerless to affect big changes, the decisions I make are impacting others. I want that impact to be intentional and God-honouring, not incidental.

So as I think about a year of taking what God says Seriously!, I am thankful for the reminders that I can be a voice for those in need and that the choices of my life speak volumes about justice, equality and hope. I want to be intentional that they are speaking for God's justice and God's hope. Giving people God's power is an exchange I can be happy to make.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

February Goal Post

Well, I did not get off to a storming start of posting on the blog in 2016.  I find myself staring at what I've written and thinking that it is not very original or even readable.  Maybe this month.  But in an effort to stay on track with goals, here they are:

In January I said:
1. Start Drawn Thread Winter Garden as my January start, and complete house on it--started and house is 25%
2. Mind Independent and Free to 30%--maybe 25%
3. Complete one Bride Tree ornament--no
4. Read 6 books (1 non-school)--Yes--7!  School related I read Dr. Jenner and the Speckled Monster, Mary Jones and Her Bible, The Sherwood Ring and A Heart Strangely Warmed to Jewel. I read The Land I Left Behind to Flower. Just for me I read Nightingale and The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckel and Mr. Hyde.  Jewel proclaims that the Sherwood Ring is one of her all-time favourites, so that is a success.  I really enjoyed Nightingale as well.
5. Blog 8 times--LOL!
6. Memorize 2 verses--memorized one, meditated on a 2nd but would not claim it is memorized
7. Cut sugar intake by 75%--yes

My February Goals are:
1. Finish the cottage on Winter Garden
2. Get Mind Independent and Free to 30%
3. Complete one Bride Tree ornament
4. Read 6 Books (3 non-school)
5. Blog 3 times (let's be realistic)
6. Memorize 2 verses
7. Maintain lower sugar intake in diet