Give a Gift with Purpose

The gift season is upon us and in our striving to not have it turn into an all out frenzy we’ve been thinking through how we’d like it to be different.

There are so many ways we can shake things up. Giving experiences over more stuff that just clutters up our kids bedrooms. Ever buy a gift and then only months later want to chuck it in the midst of yet another kids closet purge?

Ensuring that gifts are something that can be used up is another way to go. Whether it’s food or a favourite product – something you know the person loves but won’t end up in a landfill is a nice idea. It also never leaves the receiver with the guilt of making sure to display that vase/candle holder/trinket the next time you’re over!

I truly love the idea of supporting that Mom at school who sells a product, be it oils or spices or cleaning products or body wash. Whatever her reason for selling, it’s contributing so directly to the life of someone you know. Maybe it’s  because working from home allows her the flexibility to be with her kids more and contribute an income to their family. Maybe it’s a second income because a ‘regular’ job just doesn’t pay all the bills these days. It could be contributing to an adoption fund or so that her kids can play sports. Whatever the reason – each sale is directly impacting her life and that’s really cool.

But I think my favourite purchases for gifts in recent years have come from places that I know add quality of life and so much value to the maker. Gifts that are using skills that women have to create beautiful products, clothes, jewelry, bags – so that they are gainfully employed. So that they can work and earn and provide for the ones in their care. So they don’t have to rely on hand outs but feel the accomplishment of doing it – for themselves.

There are so many organizations that produce incredible goods and some of my favourite items I own come from these. Sure, it might be easier to head to Winners and buy a purse – but why not use our dollars to help small villages thrive and become self-sustaining instead? Yeah, I know the necklace might be cheaper at that place in the mall – but some of these come with a name attached so you know the exact woman who worked hard to make that beautiful piece you’re wearing.

There’s something really special about this and I’ve compiled a list here of just a few of my favourites. I would truly be ecstatic to receive anything these organizations offer as a gift, so I have a feeling some of your family and friends might too.

Would you check them out?

ABLE – “ABLE is a lifestyle brand focused on ending generational poverty by working with women who have often overcome extraordinary circumstances. If we are to end generational poverty, society must create jobs for women lacking opportunity.”

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Who wouldn’t love to unwrap one of these beauties from ABLE?
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I have the above tote from ABLE and it is the most gorgeous leather I have ever owned. I use it daily for all of the things!

Zuri – “We firmly believe that sustainable economies develop from businesses that operate fairly and ethically and create products that people want…We hope that by paying fair wages, sourcing locally, and making a product that our customers truly love, we will be helping to support a long-term, sustainable economy in Kenya.”

And if you want to know who makes them? No problem.

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One of these dresses from Zuri has been on my wish list forever. I’m waiting for my favourite print to be back in stock. A loose fit dress with 3/4 sleeves and pockets? Come on!

 

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SOKO is focused on creating sustainable livelihoods and an alternative to prostitution and poaching in a region of Kenya with the country’s highest rates of unemployment.

Amazima – “Every week, a group gathers. Benches form to make a circle. Ladies come carrying their little ones, out from their homes, up from their mats, leaving their cooking saucepans. They gather to sell their necklaces, but more importantly, they gather to see their friends, share their hurts and victories and hear about the Gospel. These 31 ladies have become our friends, and they all have a story. Our desire is to empower these women, to provide hope for their families, and to see the Gospel to take root in their lives.”

See the beautiful faces who make up this beading circle and tell me you don’t want to wear one of the necklaces they’ve made while gathered there. I don’t think it’s possible.

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Amazima is the ministry started by Katie Davis Majors. If you haven’t read her books, Kisses from Katie or Dare to Hope – you should add them to your Christmas List!

These are just a very few organizations that are working to help end generational poverty. Help women escape abuse and prostitution. Breathe life and hope into families through the gospel.

Making a purchase from these places is so meaningful and I have no doubt the receiver of the gift will be endlessly thankful that you spent your money in such an honouring way. Even if the gift is for yourself 😉

 

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I’ve Been Tricked!

Walk into my home and you may come to a few quick decisions about me. You might decipher simple and orderly is high on my list of musts. You may ascertain our family is a bit quirky when you see what’s hanging on our walls. You might decide we’re super trendy with our paint (non) colour of choice or maybe we decorated a bit too early for Christmas!

We live in a society that feels the need to portray our inner most being through our things. We desire for the things we own, the car we drive, the art on our walls or the shoes on our feet to speak about the inner parts of our character – who we are at our very core.

Oh, you’re Adidas not Nike? I see.

Oh, you’re feature wall over all white? Hmm.

Ah, brand new sofa. Interesting.

It’s a constant conversation in our home with 4 teenagers. How do we not come to assumptions about people based on what we see flashing before our eyes. How do we not predict their priorities, their bank accounts, their style, their heart when we see how they adorn themselves?

How quickly are we to make judgments? How upset are we when people are quick to judge us?

So while you might walk into our home and think certain things, I’m pretty sure I could kaibosh them all with the stories behind them.

Our home – it holds quite a tale of prayer and release and somehow God landed us here.

The white walls – choosing a colour gives me nausea for days and I’m a terrible painter and white is so forgiving.

The shoes – whatever was on sale.

The quirky stuff on the walls – our friends are amazing artists – we display their gifts.

The Christmas decorations – they’re not! I just happen to like twinkly lights on dark fall nights.

We all have likes and dislikes and I think that’s amazing. My favourite food is different than yours and these are the beautiful things which make us unique.

But when we’re deciphering the things in our lives, the wants versus the needs, the choices we make which may fill our need for identity, for validation, for acceptance from people – we can easily deceive ourselves.

We do know how easily deceived we are, right? How we can turn wants into needs by justification. How we can trick our minds into thinking our choices are wise by comparing ourselves to others and the choices they’re making. How we can validate our thoughts, twist words, rationalize anything. Just me?

The words of God in Isaiah 55:8-9 have been stirring in my heart for weeks now.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

I like to think I’m decently smart. That my decisions are mostly good and right and wise. I like to think I’m not deceived by my own ways or desires. But this passage tells me I’m altogether wrong.

God’s thoughts are not my thoughts.

God’s thoughts are higher than my thoughts.

My ways are not God’s ways.

God’s ways are higher than my ways.

He doesn’t soften the blow here. My ways and thoughts are not His. How deceived am I to think they are. How delusional to consider I can come up with things in my own brain which would match His. I can’t. My ways are not His. My thoughts not His.

Last night as we gathered around, bibles open in our laps, large teenage bodies strewn out over every inch of furniture, we sought to unpack this concept.

So what do we do? How do we make our ways in line with God’s ways? How can we line up our thoughts with His?

Thankfully it doesn’t have to be tricky. We were given a pretty specific manual of His thoughts, a fairly straight forward guide to His ways.

In fact, it’s not tricky at all. There’s no rocket science involved. But it sure isn’t easy. Our hearts are so bent to benefit ourselves and God’s ways are exactly opposite to our natural inclinations. Ask me what I want on any given day and it can be summed up in just a few words – comfort and ease.

Now open up the Bible and get some insight into the mind of our Maker and what exactly He calls us to. Spoiler alert: it’s not comfort and ease. At least not as long as we live in a world where things are not as they should be. Yet.

God’s kingdom is upside down to everything my heart instinctively wants.

I want someone else to do my laundry, cook my dinner and please, would someone else wash my truck? God calls me to be the one to serve.

My actions show I care a great deal for myself. From the clothes in my closet to the phone in my hand to the food stock piled in the freezer. God calls me to love my neighbour as if they were my own flesh and blood.

My thought process involves much human thinking and a decent amount of justification. His ways tell me to always pray.

His ways say deny yourself. Mine says lavish yourself. You deserve it. It’s been a hard week.

His ways are for me to love those who harm me. To embrace those who speak ill of me. To do good for those who hate me.

His ways are to give not only generously, but sacrificially. Not to myself. I’m really quite skilled at giving myself good gifts. Clearly that’s my thought, not His.

Speak truth. Rejoice in adversity. Be joyful in sacrifice. Love in suffering. Don’t be angry. Be patient. Make disciples.

Ironically, we’re reading through the book of Luke just now and the very passage we were on after discussing all of these things was Luke 6:46,

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

Needless to say, some nights we don’t get further than one line.

 

 

When The Weight Feels Too Much

I’ve never felt such a longing for Christmas before. I know, it’s not even Halloween and I’m not talking about putting up a tree or decking the halls or playing the music or any of the trinkets we’ve made Christmas to be about.

I know I’m not the only one feeling the heaviness of living in a broken world. It’s all around us if our eyes are open to see it. If our hearts are raw to feel it. If we’re willing to take the risk of walking right up beside it and let it affect us. Katie Davis Majors, in her new book Dare to Hope, says it like this, “The reality of living in a fallen, broken world is that there is always a storm.”

Can you feel the storm? Is it pressing in a little too close? Is it hurting in ways you can’t understand. I think if we’re feeling the storm we’re paying attention. One of my favourite bloggers calls it, ‘the ministry of paying attention’.   It resonates, doesn’t it? Because it’s not always about heading far and wide across oceans (though sometimes it is) and it’s not always about big, bold moves (though sometimes that, too). I can’t help but think that more often than not it’s just about looking up. Raising our eyes to look into the faces of whomever God has placed right in front of us. Look right to the close friends and family He’s given you. Look left to the people you normally just walk right on by. Stare them in the face. Know they are created in the image of the Almighty and ask about their story. If you dare.

Chances are it involves a storm. It just always does.

I don’t know where your boat is being tossed just now but I think what I want you to know is mine is, too. Cancer diagnoses all around me. A new one last night and I can’t help but ask – dear Lord, why?! Our family is seeing so much devastation at the hands of addiction. Drugs, alcohol, pornography, self-glorification, pride, food – you name it. The result is never only left to affect the addict themselves but every single person who walks near enough to them to feel the ripple of their decisions. Wives, kids, care workers, family, those brave enough to say, ” I see you. Let me journey with you.”

There’s divorce and there’s fires and there’s hurricanes and guns. There’s mental health and there’s trauma and there’s deep rooted anger. Hurt. Betrayal. Miscarriages. Death. Misunderstandings that divide for years. Misconceptions that make us judge and build walls. Bodies aching. Children scared. So much weeping.

It should never come as a surprise to us. It is a fallen and a broken world and we’re a mess of a people. But Christmas brings a certain longing in the depths of all the hurt, the tears, the deep, deep aches.

Christmas feels like a light of hope. A timely reminder all is not lost. All is not despair. Quite simply, all is not as it should be.

But a babe sent. A Mama willing. A Daddy just wanting to get it right. A humble entry. The hope for all of us bundled up with the sweet, sweet smell that comes with newness of life. The fragrance of hope we can inhale deep inside of us and can’t leave us feeling overburdened, overtired and undone.

Instead we know, though broken and messy, the babe came to make all things new. Came to set a twinkle in our hearts and shine in our eyes. Came to give us courage to step right up to the broken. Came so we might not be afraid to get too near. There is no too near. In the wake of the tossed boats, in the very midst of the storm, that babe came so we might wrap our arms around the hurt and offer everything we have to ease the earthly burden. We can. We can because we know this isn’t the end of the story.

It might look bleak right now but hold on. Hope is just around the corner.

Teach Your Kids That Others Matter

I’m not one to be doling out parenting advice at all. Over the years we’ve, by the grace of the Lord alone, done a few things right but we’ve also made some monumental errors. No two kids are alike. No two families are alike. No two set of circumstances even come close to comparing. Personalities are vastly different. Sin struggles are varied and many. There are more days that I feel crazy as a parent than I feel sane.

So hear me when I say I’m not bragging here. The lists of triumphs are there, but behind every victory is a million I’m sorry’s, a thousand mess up’s and hours and hours and hours of pleading with the Lord.

But there is one piece I’m extremely thankful we did, as parents. It was a bit scary the first time but has proved abundantly worth it. And of course, we don’t know the end of our children’s story but we do know, for now, that what we see in them because of this is worth the scary!

It began when our oldest was 13. No wait, it probably started before that. If I rewind the rolodex in my mind I’m thinking that it  started when our kids were around 5, 3 and 2. Or at least that’s the story I’m going with.

It all started with getting our first sponsor child through Compassion. Like many churches do, we had the table with packets holding photos of the most beautiful little faces. Of course, after hearing about it our oldest simply knew the right thing to do was choose the packet and make this child’s life better.

We took time, though, to explain it a little more. We didn’t pick a child that particular day but we went home and talked about what we could give up as a family in order to help a child. While $30 a month wasn’t a ton, the learning opportunities were abundant. We wanted our kids to know that giving to others means sacrificing of themselves. Because we aren’t simply called to give out of our abundance (ie. parents bank account) but we’re called to give sacrificially. We wanted them to be a part of this in a real way. And of course, thirty bucks being auto withdrawn from our bank account had very little impact on their lives – if that’s how we would have gone about it.

So we talked with them and offered suggestions as to what they could give up that might equal $30 a month. We settled on juice. At 5, 3 and 2 juice was a luxury item. Those boxes of apple juice were something my kids loved and yet, we decided together, that giving up juice in order to help a child was something we were all willing to do.

The next week at church we let the boys choose a child together. I can’t even handle this process because how do you choose one and leave the others? It’s too much for my heart so I was happy to let them do it.

They chose a small boy right about their age. They chose him because he was wearing pink shoes. They definitely felt that giving up juice was worth it in order to get this boy out of his sisters shoes! We laugh about it now. But for whatever reason, it’s who they were drawn to and who we supported.

I just want to own the fact that we were the worlds worst sponsor family ever. Yes, we gave up the juice, and yes we sent the money, but we only sent a letter to this child once when it was new and novel. Then we just sort of forgot.

We would get a reminder that his birthday was coming and so I’d check the box that allowed for an extra donation so that he could get a birthday gift, but we never went out of our way for personal connection with this boy. When I look back now I’m sad about it. But also, we were learning and it’s part of our journey.

Fast forward a few years to when we learned about the Joshua Project. Through their website we signed up to receive an email once a week. This email held the name of one unreached people group along with statistics on where they live, how many people belong to this group, what obstacles there were to ministering to them, and how few of them knew Jesus.

Each week we would read through the email together, giggle at the name of some of the people groups (which I’m sure we weren’t even saying correctly!) and write it up on a chalkboard in the boys room. Each night for the following week we would pray for this unreached people group, as well as the other groups that were already on the board.

It’s a small thing, but it’s also huge! Our kids eyes were opened to groups of people they would never hear about otherwise. We were all shown how many people there are in the world who have never heard of Jesus and maybe never will. We prayed that people would be brave enough to go to these tribes and nations. We prayed that one day maybe we would be the ones brave enough.

I think these conversations about  people around the world are what planted the seeds in our children to even care. How would they know what existed around the world if we weren’t talking about it? How would they know that people needed to go and spread the gospel if they thought everyone lived just like them? How would they fight being entitled simply because we live in such a rich nation, without grasping that this here – this is not ‘normal’.

So, at 13 our oldest boarded a plane and left us for 5 weeks. He jet-setted across the ocean  to be part of a youth outreach mission called Impact Ireland. It was made slightly easier by the fact that we have family in Ireland but still, he was 13 and he was out of our clutches for 5 weeks.

But what he learned that summer was more than we could ever teach him. He learned about service work and how yucky it can be and yet joy can be found there. He learned about street evangelism. He learned about setting aside what may be considered “uncool” and diving into that skit in the park because children are watching and listening to the gospel being presented. He learned about feeling oh-so-tired. He got to know older teens whose life had been transformed by Christ and he got to hear them share their stories and watch people be moved by it. He was young, yes. But he learned big things.

Our next boy went when he was 14 and he did it a little different. He moved right in with a family we didn’t know. He spent his time being someone else’s child and learning from them. He served, he prayed, he heard words from street kids that he still to this day won’t repeat to me because they’re so bad. I got messages from his new mom saying how impressed they were with him – his willingness to serve, to ‘take it’ when things got tough, and the maturity they saw in him as he reached out to a rough culture.

These things mean so much more than playing video games all summer.

This past summer we had the opportunity to go and serve in Mexico as a family and I was blown away by our kids response both during and after. It’s currently the only place they want to go – ever, and the conversation of family vacation will never exist because it will only and forever be Mexico. (at least for now!)

Our oldest boy, now 18, just hopped a plane a few days ago to head back for 2 months to serve. We couldn’t be more pleased.

I’ve heard parents say they can’t imagine their kids leaving. I’ve heard the worry in their voice about heading to unknown lands.

As a parent, I can honestly say there is nowhere I’d rather my kids be than giving up the comforts of home to serve the Lord. I haven’t for one second wished he wasn’t going. I haven’t for one second wish he’d be back. Do I miss his goofy antics around the house? Of course. But there is little worry of what if’s. What about university? What about money? What about the danger of an area? What about fires that are raging nearby? What about hurricanes and earthquakes? What about it?

Following the Lord is never a promised easy road but it is one of assurance. We know it’s where our boy is supposed to be and we’re so thankful.

Christian Mama’s and Dad’s, I urge us to introduce missions to our kids early and often in ways that we can – even when they’re small. Talk to them endlessly about the world and its people and the love that God has for all of it! Teach them about first world privilege and riches and what it means in light of scripture. Teach them daily about what giving of themselves sacrificially actually looks like.

Yes, it might mean that one day they’re going to move away from us. But shouldn’t that be a place of rejoicing, not mourning? When we teach our kids that other people matter, it shouldn’t shock us when they want to do big things for people. Nothing has made my Mama heart happier! Whether it’s contributing to IJM, taking on a sponsor child of their own through Casa de Luz, or going and being hands that serve and a voice that shares Jesus love – it’s worth it!

When We Love Hard, We Hurt Hard

Our family is all a bit of a mess tonight. Oh, it’s not because we’re rushing off to basketball and the house is a disaster. It’s not because there’s so much laundry to be done or the PVR didn’t record the show we wanted it to. It’s not because the muffins for the event aren’t made or someone scratched the side of our car in the parking lot.

We could whine about all of those, yes. And sometimes we do. But thankfully God has exposed our hearts to more. More than making tryouts or the first string. More than stocking up on the latest in falls trends. More than putting our money to more trinkets and toys or themed decor to clutter up the mantle.

When God breaks your heart for what breaks His heart, it changes you.

We boarded a plane back in July and found ourselves on the dusty streets of Primo Tapia. We had no idea what to expect but we went in praying that God would bring us to the end of ourselves. That our hearts would so totally be drawn to Him in every way. Of course, we had no idea what that would look like. How could we?

Each day we entered the gates of Casa De Luz we were greeted with boundless love. Children who have lived tales I can’t tell without weeping, gripping our legs and beaming with joy.

Each day our laps were piled with sweet bundles of energy. Each day we poured out what we had. What we had never compared with what they did. Their energy and joy outlasted ours and we were to be serving them. They served us even more.

Each day little arms would drape over us, little hands would hold our faces, smiles would shine into the deepest parts of us. And it broke us.

How, Lord? How were these beautiful little babies so full of joy when they had so little?

They understood something greater than we did. I’ve been replaying Psalm 23 in my head each morning since.

I stumble on the first line each day. The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.

I’m already doomed. I want so much.

I truly believe we did nothing to change the lives of the children we met. They already have a beautiful loving staff to care for them. They have hot meals prepped for them each day.  They have joy in the Lord beyond what I can fathom. No, it wasn’t us that did anything for them. It was those children – they did everything for us.

We came home changed. We came home broken. We came home at the end of ourselves saying Lord – you are my shepherd, I shall not want.

We came home understanding a deeper love than we knew possible. We took our hearts right out of our chest and we handed them to the most precious three little girls we’ve ever met. By our last day there, we couldn’t comprehend the love we had for them. Nor could I share it here because the words evade me. I couldn’t make you understand if I tried. Besides, it all feels too precious to share. Like something I just needed to hold deep and close.

Their story is harsh and dangerous and nothing a child should live. Yet their smiles and love are everything I want to be. Their lives are marked with tragedy and destruction. Their eyes hold stories noone will ever know the depth of. Yet they share their candy with us saying, “sacrificio” because they listened to the sermon at church and they understand if you have two, you give one away. What they have they sacrifice because that’s the Jesus way. They have nothing yet their generosity and sacrifice are everything I want mine to be. They know poverty and yet their joy is tangible, exactly the way I wish mine was.

These girls only know loss. Loss of childhood, loss of innocence, loss of homes, loss of their father. Safe isn’t their normal, like it is for your kids and mine. Loss is their normal. Uncertainty. Neglect.

Until Casa De Luz. House of Light.

We talk about these three every single day in our home. We pray for them constantly. We giggle about stories and memories we shared with them, we sit and gaze at photos and we mimic their cute little voices saying Spanish words we don’t understand.

God has broken our hearts for the poor. He’s wrapped up our hearts and placed them outside of our bodies and with these children. He has allowed us to love so deeply in ways we couldn’t comprehend before.

But what happens when you love deep? When you dare to let your heart be broken for the things Gods heart is broken for?

Well, when you love deep you hurt deep.

So our family is a bit of a mess tonight. Our words are scattered. Our minds all in a fog. Our cheeks soaked with tears because we just got word that these three precious girls are gone. Mom took off with them in the middle of the night after leaving rehab. No word. No way to know where they are. No way to know if they are safe. Just….gone.

We dared to show our teenaged children what a bit of Jesus heart looks like on those dusty streets of Primo Tapia and now they lie sobbing in my arms because they’ve dared to love hard. And when we love hard we hurt hard. And I never want my children to hurt but when the hurt is because they open their hearts to the things of Christ, when it’s because of cycles of generational poverty and cycles of addiction and these are the things they weep over? Then yes, hurt dear little hearts. Hurt for the things that break Christ’s heart, too.

Did I know the effects of this trip would be my children weeping for the poor and innocent children in the world? No. Do I want to see their red puffy eyes and tear soaked cheeks? No. But do I want them to care for the people in this world so much that when tragedy comes they weep? Dear Lord, yes. We don’t get one without the other. If we want them to love the world hard, to love people deeply, then it comes with weeping.

We sing the words, “Break our hearts for what breaks yours…” but how can our hearts break if we never go to the places Jesus went? If we don’t go to the poor and the broken and the orphan and the prostitutes and the addicts and the jail cells we can’t know what breaks His heart and if we don’t know – it surely won’t break ours either.

Our hearts are so broken tonight. We’re asking God why. Yet we’re pleading with Him because we know He’s good. Would you plead with us? For three little girls we wish we knew were safe.

 

Uncluttering the World For Our Kids

It only takes about .7 of a second to realize that we live in a cluttered world. We’re bombarded with messaging on all sides, and it’s not just from billboards or signs outside of our homes anymore. It’s constant. Each time we place our thumbprint on that little circle and enter the online world, we’re being pummelled with, not only ads for things we should have so our lives can be infinitely better, but ideas, ways of thinking, and strong opinions coming at us from every side.

There are days I find this hard to navigate, even as an adult. I can’t imagine the force of it on our young children’s minds, and even more so on our teens – given the amount of time many of them spend immersed in online activities.

I was driving with my son, who was very young at the time, and he was just in the phase of putting letters together to make words. C-A-T, cat. H-A-T, hat. You know the drill. He was buckled snugly in the back seat and, for the first time in his little life, the signs and ads and all of the words whizzing passed us as we drove, made sense in his head. “Mom!” he cried from the back seat, “I can’t make the words stop. Turn it off!”

Right. I’d never thought about it just like that before. But now, suddenly, all of the words he could once ignore were coming alive to him and it felt like overload. It felt a bit scary, even, when he realized he couldn’t make it stop. There was no way to go back to the blissful days of ignoring it all.

It stuck with me long past that day. Our world is full of clutter. Every which way our children turn there is hype about trinkets and toys. There are promotions about what will make them feel a certain way. There are concepts and conclusions being hurled at them on repeat at the rate of rapid fire. They hardly have time to decide what they think or feel about a thing before a new one is being launched their way.

It was then I decided our home would be different. Our home would not be a place of clutter, of bombardment, of excess and overstimulation. It’s not how I like to feel and so, I could only presume, it’s not how a small child would like to feel either.

It was oh-so-many moons ago that we adopted a form of minimalism. I know it’s all trendy and hype just now to use the word, but I think it goes so far beyond having fewer things and white walls (though we do love that, too!) . Rather, for us, it represents the idea minimal art first made its stand on. As minimal art made it’s way into the world, it was pushing back against the masses of abstract expressionism and the gaudy nature that can come from decorativeness and instead said – stop it! It pushed art back to the very basics – simplification of form, flat colour, and a very ordinary use of geometric shapes and objects.

We did the same in our home. We said, stop it! Stop telling me that every wall needs to be full, every shelf cluttered, every square inch covered by something some magazine or tv commercial told me I needed to have. Or even worse, things we felt defined us. As though our choice of trinket on the shelf said something about who we were as people. As if our toilet brush was a symbol of our very character. (I’m a stainless steel, while you’re a plastic red)

We began to strip things back and simplify. Choosing only a few of our very favourite pieces of art. Having empty space on shelves and in closets. Having clothes in our closet we would actually wear often. Having food that was delicious and good for us. We minimized the constant need for big choices all around us.

We did the same for our kids. We offered a few toys they loved and the rest got donated away. Turns out, fewer options led to more play, at least for our kids. When they weren’t overwhelmed by choices, when they didn’t have the opportunity to hop from thing to thing to thing the second they got bored, it changed their play.

As our kids grew we did the same for their devices. Yes, we understood they could get new free game apps on their iPod every single day (multiple times a day) but we didn’t like what it was fostering. The quick turnover of games meant the second they were bored with one thing they could find something new and exciting to stimulate them. It seemed dangerous. Especially to a family who values long term commitment.

Setting the tone in our homes is an important part of our role as parents. We certainly can’t control all of the things which smack our kids in the face as they’re walking through the mall. But we do get to determine what the mood is within our walls.

We want our home to feel like a place of calm. A place where our senses can take a breather and rest. We want our things in our home to lead to moments filled with animated conversation – this can’t happen for us if the tv is always on. We want the books and blankets near every place you sit to encourage curling up and getting whisked away into an imaginary land. We want the choices here to reflect our values and to foster the things we encourage in our kids.

We don’t encourage excess, overstimulation, a buffet of choices, hopping from one thing to the next on a whim or entertainment that robs our own imaginative minds.

We want creativity and often the best forms of it come from a bit of boredom. We want commitment to a craft, not simply giving up and moving on when it gets hard. We want to use our minds for critical thinking instead of just soaking up what the world says.

I don’t know if it’s worked exactly how we thought it would and certainly there are moments of chaos that happen in a simplified home. But I also know if we hadn’t done this there would never have been a boy curled up with a book beside me this morning, another strumming a guitar for hours on end, or yet another coming up with some magical culinary delights. (that smell delish!)

It’s also reinforced to our kids, we don’t always get right away or just because. They’ve learned to wait on things and see if they really matter to them before making a purchase. They’ve seen how quickly fads come and go and have been thankful for our minimalist approach at things and the money it’s saved them in the long run.

Minimalism isn’t everything. In fact, it’s not even the thing. What’s important is figuring out the values, the character traits, the activities, the mood and tones that are important to you and finding ways to bring them about instead of falling prey to whims and trends.

If you like this idea, start by making two lists.

  1. List 3 things you want to happen in your home. (music, reading, creativity, games, cooking, exercise – whatever is important to you)
  2. List 3 character traits you want to see develop in your kids. (kindness, perseverance, strength, commitment, hospitality – again, whatever is important to you)

Now think for a time on how these two work together and what you can do/change/foster in your home to bring them about. If you want perseverance – endless choices won’t bring it about. If you want creativity – gaming won’t foster that.

If you have any questions or comments about ways you do this in your home – I’d love to hear!

Slow living and calmer mornings

As the seasons shift and new routines get put into practice, I’ve been wondering how I can hold on to some of the feelings summer brings. Summer has always been my favourite. I like sunshine and undone hair and flip flops and slow, unstructured days. Of course, those aren’t a reality all through the year – at least around these parts – but I wonder if I can hold onto just a bit of summer throughout the year. The parts that mean the most. (And I’m willing to try my hardest to make it so!)

My very favourite part of summer is the slow starts. Waking up and not having to dart out of bed and rush, rush, rush into the day. I like being able to lay in bed for a few minutes without a rolodex of to-do’s flipping through my mind.

I like to get up and make my coffee while everyone else is still sleeping. To sit outside on our covered deck and sip slow with a book or my bible in hand.

I like sleepy headed kids that saunter out with not a hint of frantic in their pace.

I know that mornings during school and work days can’t be exactly like that. But I do think I can adopt a few new practices to keep things slow. To not fall prey to the mad dash of the busy – at least for a bit of the morning.

So, this is what I tried on the first day of back to school for the kiddo’s and back to work work for me. I set my alarm for 45 minutes earlier than I would normally get up on a school/work morning. I know, I know. Some of you can’t handle the thought of losing 45 minutes of sleep or rolling out of bed while it’s still dark. I think it might be worth it. Even though it’s EARLY!

I think pace and tone are everything. I set both of these for my whole family in the morning. If I’m stressed, they feel it and become stressed too. If I’m rushing about like a crazy woman, they get a bit rattled and crazy too. But if I’m calm, they’re calm. If I’m pleasant and happy, they’re so much more pleasant and all around happier. Dare I say there’s even a feeling of joy – even though it’s morning and we’re all preparing for our day!

For the first 15 minutes I stayed in bed. Not falling back asleep and waking from the  snooze alarm again and again, but just laid there. I thought, I prayed, I told myself I didn’t need to be anywhere else just then but right where I was. Comfy and awake and just enjoying the moment. Y’know, like summer!

From there I mozied into the kitchen to make a coffee, grab a book and just like the summer mornings I love, I headed outside to cozy up in a chair and read. On a work and school morning! (Can you even believe it?!) I sipped my coffee, read some good words, watched a few hummingbirds dart in and out of our flowering trees and asked the Lord to prepare me for the day ahead.

By the time the clock hit my normal wake up time I had relaxed in bed, enjoyed my coffee, finished a chapter in my book and marvelled at nature. What a great start to the day!

I did it all week and I’m doing it again next week, too. I hope to keep it up all through the fall! Sitting outside felt weird and wonderful on a school/work morning. Almost like a guilty pleasure. Though there was nothing to feel guilty about. I hope I keep it up through the rainy months and even the snow. I have a feeling it might become something special and very possibly my very favourite part of the day. But I’ll report back when I’m more than one week in.

By the time we had to leave for school drop offs and for me to head into work, (this happens at 7:30 am) I had already thoroughly enjoyed my day! Do you think losing 45 minutes of sleep is worth it? Or does it sound crazy to you?

 

Mud Puddles of Pride and the Sludge of Self-Righteousness

C.S. Lewis has a famous quote that talks about us being content to play in mud puddles because we don’t understand, we can’t even comprehend, what a vacation at the sea may look like.

We were in San Diego for a few days (ironic, I know, considering I just wrote about how we almost never vacation) and we crossed from the downtown core to a beautiful little place known as Coronado Island. There’s a small ferry that shuttles you back and forth from hustle and bustle to Island living. Beach homes and adirondack chairs make up its landscape. Charming is barely enough of a word to describe it all.

As we docked island side there’s a small shoreline, a small patch of beach perhaps big enough for 5 families to set up and play. The boys found a spot, kicked off their flip flops and stepped into the water.

They were content. Sure, there wasn’t a lot of room to run and there were no waves to jump in. But there was sand and water and they were pretty sure this is what we said the day would entail, so with certainty they believed this was it.

We explained to them there was more. If we crossed through the small town to the exact opposite side, there was so much more.

Why? They wondered. There is sand and water right here. There’s sun and our family and all we need.

We convinced them no, we weren’t going to play in mud puddles when there was promise of a vacation at the sea. We’ve referenced this time and time again in our lives and so they understood. There had to be more waiting on the other side and sure enough, the beach for miles, the waves to frolic in and the space to spread out and run and play was endless. Of course, this was so much better than the tiny beach on the other side. But without someone telling them, how would they have known? Without someone who knew the promise guiding the way, why would they leave where they were? I mean, the tiny shoreline seemed good enough.

I think often about the mud puddles I may be sitting in just now. I wonder if I’m content to play in the mud when there is so much more my mind can’t even comprehend. Am I splashing along the tiny shoes of unneeded business, performance related achievement and needing the world to see that I can, in fact, do it all?

Am I sitting in the sludge of needing to impress? Who? I’m not quite certain.

Am I lying on the tiny beach of pride and wallowing along the shores of self-pity.

Am I trudging along the path of too many yes’s so as not to let anyone down, even though they rob me of the places my heart finds joy and my soul delights in.

I’m sure there are so many places I don’t even realize. Places I’m sitting, thinking – this is it, this is as good as it gets, this is accomplishment and happiness and life! When really, I just need someone to come along and say, step out of the mud puddle, little one. Follow me. There’s more life and more joy and more hope right along these other shores. Let’s just cross through town to somewhere new. Somewhere different. Somewhere you haven’t yet seen and somewhere your mind can’t even comprehend. I’ll show you. Follow me. I’ve got you.

Isn’t this what Jesus said to his disciples before they even knew they were his disciples. Hey, you fishermen over there who think this is what you’re going to do for the rest of your life – put down those nets and follow me. Hey, you doctors and businessmen, you tax collectors and prostitues, you women and children and gentiles and all of you – put down all the ways you think are right and good and come and see what more I have for you over here. Come and see where there is life and rest and joy and peace. I know you can’t see it just yet and I know it doesn’t make any sense, but come.

John Piper challenges us with a similar concept in his famous “Don’t Waste Your Life” sermon. He says,

“…I know that not everybody in this crowd wants their life to make a difference. There are hundreds of you — you don’t care whether you make a lasting difference for something great, you just want people to like you. If people would just like you, you’d be satisfied. Or if you could just have a good job with a good wife and a couple good kids and a nice car and long weekends and a few good friends, a fun retirement, and quick and easy death and no hell — if you could have that, you’d be satisfied even without God.

That is a tragedy in the making.”

Mary Oliver inspires with tingly feels as we read the words often emblazoned on coffee cups and tee shirts – Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

What will we do?

Where will we be content?

Who will we listen to?

Will we be content to sit in the puddles society tells us are it. The ones culture tells us we must sit in.

Or are we willing to step out of what we know, give up what we think is right, lay aside our nets of business and self-righteousness. Untangle the places where we find ourselves trapped in the self  indulgence of leisure and the gluttony of stuff. Wash off the thick mud of entitlement and what we feel we deserve and be washed with the fresh water of Jesus and the ways He calls us to.

His ways are crystal clear waters, vast ocean shores, springs that well up unending and perfect wine in new wineskins.

I dare us to dream together beyond the mud puddles. To see what’s on the other side of the island if we dare to try a different way.  Scripture calls it an upside down kingdom and yet – do we feel upside down just yet? Or just tossed to and fro.

Let’s journey together. Let’s pray for more than mud puddles. Let’s set aside our small visions and see what the Lord has outside of what we already know, the traditions our culture pushes us to buy into. Let’s pray the scary prayers and ask him to show us what our mud puddles are just now and the places He wants us to see anew. It’s terrifying, I know. But the promise of the ocean compared to puddles is yours and mine to have. Why wouldn’t we want that?

 

Vacations Don’t Build Memories, People Do. (and people are everywhere!)

There’s a social protocol heading into summer around these parts. We ask every person we meet the same questions. “Any plans for the summer?”

Most summers I fumble with niceties around our personal answer to this question. Oh, we’re just sticking around here. I mean, it’s so nice in the summer why would you leave?

But the truth is, we didn’t leave in the fall either. Or the winter, or subsequent spring. Most people gasp when we tell them we don’t vacation. But it’s true. We don’t.

This isn’t to say we’ve never vacationed. We have. As a family we’ve done a few vacations. My parents took us to Hawaii back when there were just 4 of us and our kids were very tiny. My mom took us to Disneyland the Christmas after my dad died and we road rollercoasters on Christmas Day instead of having turkey dinner with an empty seat at the table. Only once in our history have we paid for a family vacation. We went to Whistler. Which is under 3 hours away. This was big for us!

Of course we’re endlessly thankful we have family with property we can camp on only 20 minutes from home. It’s what we’ve done every summer for the past 17 years. A few days surrounded with trees 20 minutes away. It’s glorious. And we’ve done a night in a close by city here and there so it’s not like we never go ANYwhere. We move within a 2 hour radius. ha

But people look at us dumbfounded. You NEVER vacation? They ask, staring.

Um…nope. Not really.

But what about family memories? What about relationship building? What about relaxation?

I contend that if a week on a beach is what it takes to build memories then the state of our families are in trouble. Memory making is more than a hashtag on an instagramable photo. Memories are something built daily in our family. Our kids don’t ever feel deprived for not having seen vast parts of the world via vacation (they have seen parts of the world for the purpose of missions work) and we certainly don’t feel like the strength of our family has been weakened by never experiencing a cruise ship buffet or staring at the Mona Lisa together.

Would all of those things be wonderful? Probably. But are they necessary for memory making? Not a chance. (This is my point, people. I’m not judging where you went this summer)

Of course I’m not implying that family vacations are a terrible thing. Of course they aren’t. We have our reasons for not taking them which revolve around how we spend our finances, the timing of being self-employed and most importantly, what we speak and practice in our daily life and walk with God lining up with how we spend our time off. We simply don’t want to operate one way in ‘normal’ life and another way on vacation. I know every families ways are different and I’m simply sharing ours – not judging yours. (Can you tell I’m feeling like some opposition may come?)

In our home we decided well over a decade ago that if we believe what we say we believe, then it meant our lives would involve sacrifice. We started in small ways including our boys in what this would look like. For example, if we are going to fund the schooling for a small child in a poor country – what were we willing to give up so that we could do this. We’re called to give sacrificially and that’s what we wanted to impress upon our children.

We all agreed it would be juice. If we stopped buying juice in our home or juice boxes for lunches it would add up to enough to have a sponsor child. And those funds, from our children’s sacrifice of juice, could pay for another child’s meals and clothes and education. So, we gave up juice.

There have been many other ways we’ve done this over the years. It’s become a normal part of our family culture, assessing what giving looks like and wondering what we can sacrifice to do so. It’s influenced many of our family decisions, including where we live, foster care and how we vacation.

But back to the question of no vacations and building family memories.

When we look back with our boys over their lives there are things I want them to remember more than a monument or a certain city or how great a tan they got on vacation. Memories don’t just happen away from home. In fact, we want their strongest ones to include our home – the place we spend our most amount of time.

I want them to remember the kitchen table that we sat around. How we ate dinner together and told ridiculous stories. How we played games and laughed our faces off. How Mom and Dad got in a fight over Monopoly and have decided never to play together again – because we like being married. How there were always extra people at the table, another plate added, another table grabbed from the garage. I want them to remember sitting atop the table while I cooked dinner and they played guitar, or peppered me with questions, or we chatted about that thing that happened at school that day.

When they look back at our family memories I want them to remember important conversations that happened in our ‘coffee shop’. I want them to remember how we challenged them, how we cried alongside them, how we read the bible together here in these chairs, how we prayed on these couches more often than we can count about things we were so thrilled about, things that terrified us, and things that had our eyes stinging with the threat of tears. How we yelled and said all of the wrong things and then sought forgiveness in the very same spot.

When they look back I want them to remember the smells of home, the ritual of bedtime, the feelings of safety and love. I want them to remember our mistakes, how mom would go into rant mode and they might as well just listen until she was finished. I want them to remember the jokes that came later about that very same rant and the apologies that followed and the explanations that we don’t have a clue how to do this parenting thing right, but thank the Lord we have prayer and forgiveness.

I want our memories to be the journey together. The calm of reading books aloud. The jokes about Dad always taking forever to make a coffee before we could begin. The music that we sing loud to even though not one of us can sing on key.

Vacations don’t build memories, people do. Intentional practices do. Laughing together does. Taking time to enjoy one another will. Fighting and making up can. This can happen on the other side of the world, sure, but it can just as easily happen across the street at the park, or in your very own living room. The culture we’ve built into our home, the way we live our every day lives, is what we want our kids to remember most.

So if you can’t afford to vacation, be encouraged. Build memories into your every day and your kids will be just fine.

If you can afford to vacation, be challenged. How do you spend your time, money and energy while you’re away. Does it line up with the things you preach and practice at home? Or does it suddenly become all about self?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Don’t Just Act Like You Know Where You’re Going

I recently had the privilege of sitting in a meeting with someone 4 bajillion times smarter than I am. I’m not kidding. This woman knew stuff.

I use to find myself quite nervous in situations where I knew there was a vast chasm between my knowledge base and that of the person I was talking to. My mind would tell me I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, or have enough letters behind my name. (FYI: I have zero) My posture would overcompensate for my lack of college degrees and I would follow the advice a random stranger gave me while I was wandering the streets of Chicago with my camera many moons ago.

“Just act like you know where you’re going. Act like you have every purpose to be where you are and you’ll be fine.”

It hadn’t crossed my mind to be worried about where I was going but clearly the gentleman saw a naive girl nearing territory she may not want to be in and felt compelled to warn her. I thanked him and stuck to the main streets from then on.

Act like you know where you’re going might be decent advice when you’re lost and don’t want to fumble in dark alleys with a map. I can see that. But as far as wisdom for life, I’ve come to learn it’s pretty terrible.

If we pretend like we know where we’re going, how on earth do we know where we’ll end up?

If being in a certain place at a certain time is all about acting like I belong there, faking it to fit in, impersonating those who’ve figured it out – then all I do is a sham.

I know it sounds high school-esque and trying to get in with the popular crowd but it goes so far beyond that. I know, we like to believe we’ve advanced as we head out into the real world post graduation, but how often have we soaked in the culture of a work place and made it our mission to fit in. Or maybe we’ve taken part in a bible study and been worried about speaking out loud for fear our words might not be big enough or christian enough for those listening. We stay silent until we know which words the culture in that room uses and then we spout forth our wisdom once we know we’ll get it right, once we’ve assimilated enough.

It can happen in any setting even as adults. We like to fit it, to belong, to be a part of and this can become a lot of acting when our minds or our hearts don’t know the right notes to sing with a particular group just yet. We’re not so great at harmonizing with a crowd, each of us taking on our part. Instead we long to sing the same note that everyone else is singing because at least that way we don’t stand out quite so much if we happen to get our part wrong.

Over the years I’ve learned that the older I get the less I actually know. Turns out, the less I know the more I need to learn and the more I need to learn the more open I had better be to dropping the disguise and getting on with the business of asking questions.

If I take one man’s advice and act like I know where I’m going, sure it might keep me safe this time. But is it not wisdom, rather, to ask some questions and learn which path I should actually be on? Isn’t that what will keep me safe in the long run.

It’s taken time but I find myself rarely intimidated by those who possess much greater wisdom than I do. Instead, I want to sidle up next to them and ask them all of the questions I have no answers to. I want to sit with them for hours and pick all of the facets of their minds and hearts and like a toddler pepper them with a thousand, “but why’s.”

If we look at the world, our country, our cities, our schools, our churches, our neighbours, our spouses and our kids and we stop pretending like we know where we’re going and in humility admit we don’t have all of the answers does it not force us to ask a few more questions? To find the people who know more and ask them why without simply assimilating for the sake of looking smart or fitting in or whatever our excuse is. Would we not know so much more if we opened our hearts to hear some answers as to why instead of waxing poetically all the live long day but never really understanding the truth.

Before I left the meeting with the woman whose mind knew so many things, I looked her straight in the face, craving one last nugget of truth, and asked, “Do you have any more wisdom for me?”

“No,” she said. “But if you have any more questions you may ask.”

I laughed. Of course she didn’t. She had already given me everything I needed. Because sometimes there’s no need to belabour a thing you’ve already been given the answer to.

She told me to walk forward in confidence. Right. I could use a dose of that just now. I’m learning the pattern, slowly slowly slowly learning the pattern. Obstacle. Humble heart. Ask questions. Petition God. Rely on His Spirit. Move forward in confidence. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

The Lord’s justice will dwell in the desert,

his righteousness live in the fertile field.

The fruit of that righteousness will be peace;

its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.

Isaiah 32: 16-17

(Read the whole chapter for context here)