Sunday, August 10, 2014

Shiny Things

Like most people, I love shiny things.  My love is not limited to materials things like a new dress, purse, or piece of jewelry.  I'm ashamed to admit that I also like intangible shiny things. Maybe a job with a nice title.  Knowing the right people.  Or sending my son to the right school.  This realization hit home today after an uncomfortable conversation with a dear friend.

Fulfilled: The Refreshing Alternative to the Half-Empty LifeI am blessed to be part of B&H Publishing's Bloggers Program so I periodically get a great assortment of new books to read.  Today, I selected Fulfilled: The Refreshing Alternative to the Half-Empty Life by Joey Lankford.  The book chronicles his journey from a comfortable life in Tennessee to the mission field in South Africa after he felt called by God to leave his quest for material wealth and comfort behind.  Lankford sold everything he owned and moved his family to South Africa to spread the Gospel.  

At first, I felt I didn't have much to learn from the book.  I have given up some level of comfort, personal and professional, to follow a dream God placed on my heart more times than I can count.  I left high-paying and relatively secure jobs because I felt His calling to pursue something else.  While I haven't made it to a mission field, it wouldn't take much for me to drop everything and go if asked.  Even though I enjoy nice things, I'm not completely driven by the need to get them. 

After that conversation with my friend, I found myself wondering whether I am as "spiritually mature" as I think I am.  Were all those moves really about listening and surrendering to His will or did I have my own (more worldly) motives mixed in?  Was I really just after another shiny thing?  For some reason, I think He wants me to reflect on this question now.  I'm grateful that Fulfilled, and my dear friend, put the issue on my heart.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Embracing Imperfection

Some days I look back and reflect on the tough roads I chose.  Single parenthood, a rocky start to my career, and just generally not "settling down" in my adult life.  Each of these paths involved a deliberate choice to walk down a road that could be fraught with peril.  Shame, unemployment, and poverty often felt like they were literally knocking on my door. 

Moms' Night Out DevotionalAnd it was humbling.  The looks of pity.  Hurtful comments.  My own perceptions of being judged.  I literally had to crawl myself out of a pit and most days, it wasn't pretty.  It's still not actually.  Although I've come a long way in the last 10 years, many days I feel less than two steps from being right back where I started. 

The key for me has been to press on and embrace what God is trying to teach me through my dysfunction.  That's one of my takeaways from Kerri Pomarolli's devotional, Mom's Night Out and Other Things I Miss... too.  The title and cover were a bit deceptive.  I thought it was about moms needing a break every now and then.  What's inside is a light take on the real challenges of motherhood, the pressure we feel from society to live cookie-cutter lives free from imperfection, and how the gospel and scripture completely refute that notion.  It is something that we all must come to grips with in life.  We will all ultimately fail at something or come up against a problem we just can't fix.  This is a great devotional to help moms cope with the many failures we must confront day to day. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Called to Lead #FamilyofJesus

Have you ever been called to do something that has almost zero chance of success? Do you remember the feelings that came with the task?  Isolation.  Loneliness.  Despair over your inadequacies.  Frustration with the lack of progress.  I bet the list could go on and on.  These feelings can be multiplied by 10 if you are actually "leading" an effort, but as Karen Kingsbury aptly notes, no matter our title we are "called to lead."
There have been more than a few times in my life I have been involved in efforts that were destined for failure.  As a matter of fact, some days it feels like that is the story of my life.  The battles have been tough and many days I just wanted to curl up in a ball and check out.  As I look back though, I realize in many respects I ended up victorious although no one on the outside would like at me and consider me wildly, or even moderately, successful.  The victory was the work God did on my heart through the process.  He helped me overcome fear and walk completely by faith.  I learned obedience, not just to His commandments, but also to His will and purpose for my life in any particular season.  To be sure, I still fail quite often and learn many lessons in humility when my ego gets out of check.  I wouldn't trade those rough days for the world though, because God uses them to truly refine me.
The Family of Jesus Bible Study - Member BookThis week I'm starting The Family of Jesus Bible Study by Karen Kingsbury.  I think it is safe to say that no family in history received a tougher assignment than this family.  I am excited to get a better perspective on Joseph, Mary and James, to name a few.  I was surprised to see James listed as a "doubting brother" because I absolutely love the Book of James in the New Testament.  How did James evolve?  Did Joseph and Mary ever have doubts?  How did they cope?  I know many questions will remain unanswered, but I'm looking forward to digging into this study during my lunch hour.  Hope to write more about it soon! 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

For the Least of These

Here in Maryland, we are gearing up for the November 2014 elections.  All of the statewide offices will be on the ballot.  Since Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1 in the state, many feel that voters decided the election during last month's primaries.  People also acknowledge that Maryland residents are pretty fed up.  Taxes are high.  Jobs are scarce.  Schools are struggling.  This may create an opening for Republicans to make the case that they could make things a little better for the people.

But do Republicans really have the answers?  Most people believe Republican principles and policies benefit only a few, mainly the wealthy and big businesses.  The prevailing wisdom is that the middle class and the poor suffer under Republican leadership.  This is troubling because Maryland has some of the largest income disparities between rich and poor in the nation.  Also, poverty and unemployment are at crisis levels in some of the urban areas like Baltimore. 

For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to PovertyThis seems like a great opportunity to educate ourselves on what the ultimate Authority has to say, which is why I was excited to see this book, For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty.  This book is for well-meaning people of faith who feel called to serve or advocate for those who live in poverty.  The book is also helpful if you believe that how you vote is part of that calling.  The book combines "Biblical exegesis with proven economic principles" and is designed to "equip Christians with both a solid biblical understanding of how best to care for the poor and foster sustainable economic development."  Just a few pages in, the book makes clear that government subsidies alone are not inline with Biblical principals and generally do not work.  This is consistent with what we see play out in our communities where it is very difficult to break the cycle of poverty even if you have robust government programs for the poor.  The editors of the book, Dr. Anne Bradley and Dr. Art Lindsey, will discuss their research at the Heritage Foundation this week.  Check this website for details on attending or viewing a webcast! 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Two-Minute Drill

Summer Reading

My son recently graduated from elementary school.  It was a surprisingly emotional moment.  I was overcome by how much we have both grown since he began kindergarten.  His graduation gave me a moment to sit back and reflect on the fact that we made it through several milestones that at times seemed impossible to obtain.

This was also a hard year for us and I was ready for the chapter to be over.  I noticed that my influence over him was beginning to wane.  He used to listen a little better and talk back a little less defiantly.  The call from the teacher that usually comes in mid-May when he was thoroughly tired of school, actually came in October.  Friends were beginning to become his most important relationships.  Things that used to be easy - like my job, homework, and sports - also seemed very draining now.  My son and life were clearly changing.

While in many ways I feel a little relief because we are on the downswing of at least his primary education, I am also pretty scared.  I wonder, is he ready?  Does he know what's about to hit him?  Does he know how easy it is for him to make one decision that could ruin the rest of his life?  The temptations he will encounter as he gets older could reap huge consequences.  Then the panic sets in.  I need more time.  More time to warn him about all the dangers out there.  More time to teach him about the importance of character, empathy and humility.  More time to be the primary influence in his world.   

The Two-Minute Drill to Manhood
John Croyle speaks to this exact fear in The Two-Minute Drill to Manhood, a biblically-centered guide to helping prepare our sons for manhood.  I enjoyed the football analogy in the preface, which describes the timeline of a football game and how winning a game can all come down to the final two minutes.  As parents, the last few years we have with our children in late high-school are also crunch time. The two-minute drill is almost impossible to execute effectively if the team doesn't put in the time it takes to practice it before the game.  So, while I'm not yet in the two-minute drill, now is the time to practice going over the tools I think he needs to be successful.  If we practice enough hopefully when he is out in the world and has just a few minutes to make that decision that will make or break him, my son will be ready.