It's all about connecting.

Continued from a series of posts I am writing for my church... 

As we focus on both spiritual and physical health during the Cross Training series, I can’t help but be grateful for choices.  Filling out my challenge log, I love having all of the different choices listed. When it comes to exercise, we have plenty to choose from. Some people are runners. Some people love Pilates and yoga. Some people like training for triathlons. So many great options and none of them are wrong.

I have my own forms of exercise that I enjoy, but it took me a while to find what worked for me. For a long time I exhausted myself exercising in ways that other people loved but I hated. Someone I knew got healthy walking five miles a day, so I tried that. Someone I knew couldn’t stop talking about the benefits of water aerobics, so I tried that. I tried lots of different things that seemed to be working great for other people, but when I was honest with myself, none of it was working for me.

Worshipping our Lord is a lot like exercise in this instance. The way someone else might choose to worship might not work for you. Everyone exercises and worships in his or her own way, and in truth, there’s no wrong way to do it. As long as you are spending time each day exercising, as long as you are spending time each day worshipping, it doesn’t matter what you’ve chosen to do or how you’ve chosen to do it. It only matter that you’re actively participating in the way that works best for you.

We all have a longing to connect with God. Lucky for us, God’s presence is always with us, not just in one unique place. For some people, that connecting includes raising hands and singing with others. For other people that connection includes a quiet place to meditate alone. It really doesn’t matter how or where were we are connecting. What matters is that the connecting is happening.

I love the story of Jesus and the woman at the well in John 4:1-26. Near the end of that story the woman shares with Jesus that she’s confused about where she should be worshipping. Jesus’ response is the best and truly says it all.

“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” (John 4:23-24, The Message)

That Jesus. He really had a way with words.

A Reading Challenge

Reading isn't a challenge for me. It's something I love and make time for no matter what. However, I found this reading challenge on Modern Mrs. Darcy. I can't say that I am very fond of challenges of any sort, but I love this idea. Not that I need help reading or choosing the books that I want to read, but it's always fun to participate.

So in the spirit of participating and being a good sport, here are my choices:

a book published this year: This one is easy. There will be many books published in 2016 that I'm sure I want to read, but I already have a few picked out. The Year We Turned Forty, The After Party, and The Nest all look good and will most likely be downloaded to my Kindle when available.

a book you can finish in a day: I've already started this one. American Housewife is a collection of short stories that you can devour in one sitting. Of course it's taking me a day or three due to children, housework and sleep getting in the way, but I'm still counting it.

a book you've been meaning to read: Oh this list is long. Stupid long. Like, I could go without buying a new book for the next three years and have plenty to read long. But if I have to pick one (for sake of time), I'll go with Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. It's waited on my shelf long enough. There's also A Prayer for Owen Meany who has been patiently waiting and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry that I bought at my favorite indy bookstore last fall looks soooo good.

a book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller: Whenever I go to my favorite indy bookstores, I love reading the handwritten recommendations by the workers at the store. However...I have trouble with recommendations. Every reader is different. We like what we like and what we like might not be what others like. So, I'm not sure that this will be a challenge that I will be able to meet. We'll just have to see.

a book you should have read in school: Well, I'm sure there are plenty that I should have read in school, but I'm going to go with a classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I've never read Twain that something about that feels sacrilegious.

a book chosen by your spouse, child or bff: My husband knows better than to make any recommendations for me, and I really don't want to read any Star Wars books that my children might pick out. My friends are good at recommending books, so this one might have to be their choice.

a book published before you were born: This would be before 1973. I'll have to do a little research for this one.

a book that was banned at some point: Apparently Tom Sawyer was banned at some point, so that one will count twice.

a book you previously abandoned: This is not a challenge that I'm going to mess with. Life is too short to read books you don't like. Not gonna do it.

a book that you own by have never read: Oh there are so many. I'll go with California and The Children's Crusade. There's also My Southern Journey that I can't wait to read and In the Unlikely Event that I would be embarrassed to tell my hero Judy Blume that I have not read yet!

a book that intimidates you: I adore author Elizabeth Gilbert. She's also on my hero list. I just finished her book Big Magic and it made me crazy happy to read. Her book The Signature of All Things has been on my shelf ever since it was published. I bought it because of my clear adoration of the author, but the subject matter less than thrills me. Okay, it really doesn't interest me. At. All. The book doesn't intimidate me as much as it doesn't excite me. I think we can still count it.

a book that you've already read at least once: I'm not into this one. Unlike my son who has read the entire Harry Potter series twice (and some of the books even three times.) But me? Once I'm done with a book I'm done. I don't think I've ever read a book more than once. So I think this is another challenge I will choose to pass on.

So there it is. My reading challenge for 2016. There are so many more that I want to read. My other challenge is to finish two books per month. We'll see what happens!

Stop...shut your mouth and listen.

I recently found myself struggling to pray. Each time I started to pray I couldn’t find the words. My prayers sounded something along the lines of, “Lord…um…thank you for today…Amen.” Day after day it was the same. My prayer life was suffering and was causing me to feel guilt and shame for not being able to talk to God. So I did the only thing I could do. I prayed.

“Dear Heavenly Father, I have a problem. I have forgotten how to pray. I can talk all day long to anyone and everyone who will listen, but when I try to talk to you…I’ve got nothing. I don’t understand. I’m sorry. Please help me. Amen.”

I have never been particularly good at praying. Growing up in the Episcopal church, they made it easy for you. They gave you a book that told you exactly what to pray. (Built you a temple and locked you away... couldn't help the Billy Joel moment.) You really didn't have to put too much thought (or heart) into what you were saying. I really didn't do much conversing with God. I just told him what I thought he wanted to hear.

As I grew older, I mastered the fine art of selfish prayer. Prayers that started with, "I need..." and "I want..." Aren't we all good at those types of prayers? The selfish prayers morphed into the wordy prayers. Prayers that were filled with lots of important sounding words, churchy words, words that would impress the Christians sitting next to me. Prayers that were prayed to impress. Definitely not the kind of prayers that God wants to hear. Is there any wonder why my prayer life was suffering? 

God’s response to my prayer didn’t come right away (they rarely do), but soon a thought came to me that was clearly intended to be the answer:

What if God doesn’t want me to talk? What if God wants me to listen?

When we effectively communicate with our spouses, friends, children, parents and significant others, sometimes it is your turn to talk and sometimes it is your turn to listen. Too often our prayers are a one-way interaction. God wants to hear us talk. He tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to “pray continually.” He wants us to be in constant contact, constant communication with him and effective communication includes listening. When you’re done talking, when you’re done praising and petitioning and interceding and thanking, before you sign off and move on with your day, he wants you to listen to what he has to say.

Colossians 4:2 tells us, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” I am learning to be more watchful for what the Lord has to say. Sometimes it’s in a word of encouragement from a friend I trust. Sometimes it’s while spending time in scripture. Sometimes it’s in the moments of quiet meditation when my thoughts are solely focused on Him and his spirit fills me with peace. Being watchful and listening for Him, I have found myself actually praying more. Short prayers. Thankful prayers.

I hear you, Lord. I hear you.

Written for the VUMC E-Blast, January 15, 2016

But winning $1.3 billion sure would be nice.

photo credit

Did you buy a PowerBall ticket? Apparently it's the thing to do. I have a better chance of being squished by a vending machine than winning the PowerBall prize. Last week the Golfer came home with one. I teased him that he should have just gone ahead and put the ten bucks down our garbage disposal, but can you guess who it was who was checking the tickets once the numbers were announced? That would be me.

Will we buy another ticket tonight? The Golfer says yes. Why not. I'm not greedy or anything. I don't want to win the whole thing. I just want to win a little bit of it please. Just enough for us to become independently wealthy and move to the beach. Just enough to give a huge gift to all of the non-profits that we care about. Just enough to give a huge gift to all of our friends. Just enough to pay for the boys' college educations at the most expensive school that they can get into. Just enough for a full-time housekeeper. Just enough. Just enough.

With all of this lottery nuttiness, it seemed like a good time to post something that I wrote back in November. I had the pleasure of writing an e-blast that went out to our church. We had been focusing on gratitude and I was asked to write specifically about God's provisions. I focused on the idea of having enough. Yes, it definitely seems like a good time to talk about already having enough.
I don’t remember much of what was said at my grandmother’s funeral except for these words spoken by my cousin, “They didn’t have much, but they always had enough.” It was such a simple statement but contained so much truth. What my grandparents lacked in way of material possessions they made up for with an abundance of love for their family and in the end that was all that truly mattered. Little did I know my cousin’s words would mean even more to me just a few years later. 
When we moved to California a little over nine years ago, we knew we were taking a risk. We were leaving our family, friends and everything we had ever known in Oklahoma behind. We were optimistic about the move, believing that we were following God’s will for our lives. Our faith was strong and we moved with confidence that everything would be okay. 
Except there were times when it wasn’t okay. My husband’s starting salary at his new job wasn’t much to live on. We struggled every month just to pay our bills and buy groceries. As we neared the end of our first year in California, we realized that we couldn’t go on like this much longer. It was looking like we might have to move back to Oklahoma and start all over again. 
I didn’t understand what God was doing. Where was his provision? We had prayed and followed. We had listened and obeyed. We had hoped and believed. Yet when things started to get tough, I started to doubt. And when I did, I forced myself to pray always receiving the same answer, “Trust me. Be patient and trust me.” So we did. We continued to trust through the struggles and twelve months into our new life in California, God provided. My husband was promoted to his dream job which allowed us to breathe a huge emotional and financial sigh of relief. 
When I look back on that time in our lives, I can hear my cousins words whispering a reminder. We didn’t have much, but we always had enough. Even when our bank account said otherwise, we had managed. Even though I had doubted, there was always enough. God had been with us the whole time. God provided for us each and every day, even on the days when we neglected to give Him thanks. His provision had always been there. We didn’t have everything we wanted during that time, but we certainly had everything we needed. 
God, thank you for all that you have provided, all that you have given us...but winning $1.3 billion sure would be nice.

Planning to plan.

I'm ready to being a new. Ready to start planning for what's next. So I bought a new planner this year which I hadn't done in a long time. All of the scheduling I needed to do was either in my head or on my phone. Usually both. The only problem with that is that you don't always pay attention to your plans when they are hidden away on electronic devices and the narrow corners of your busy brain.

I had seen one particular planner several times on social media. The creator of this planner is from Oklahoma, so that alone made it seem like the obvious choice. This planner however makes you, like, really plan. It's not just a calendar, it's a life designer. The Day Designer. It's no joke people. It's three pounds of wake up and get your shit together. The first 4 pages are all about your visions and goals for the year. What kind of life do you want in 2016 and how are you going to schedule your life in order to make those things happen? That's a lot of pressure. That's a lot of planning. I am up for the task.

I have always been a planner by nature. My dad taught me the 5 P's: Piss-Poor Planning Produces Poor Performance. Be a planner, my parents said. Planning is necessary. Planning is good. Smart people are planners. I wanted to be a smart person, so I became a planner. I'm also a consummate rule follower, a neat freak, and a little anal retentive when I wanna be. Planning fits right into my personality.

I remember having my first planner in college. It made me feel all grown up and important. And then I actually grew up and for reasons I'm still unsure about, stopped using a planner. Wasn't I fully capable of keeping up with my kids' schedule and my schedule and my husbands' schedule without a silly planner? Sure, you are capable, but you won't be very good at it. Suddenly you find yourself dropping your 10 year old off at school on a no school day. Getting up at 6AM when you didn't have to sucks. The 5 P's, people.

I've been using it for six whole days now, and let me tell you something. It works. Something about writing things down is totally holding me accountable. I wrote that I would walk the dogs on my planner for today, so I have to walk the dogs! I wrote down that I would do the laundry today, so no way can I put that off until tomorrow! It's weird.

I also spent sixty bucks on the thing, so I'm damn sure gonna use it. The neat freak, anal, rule follower in me wouldn't have it any other way.

10 Things I Learned Last Year

Five years ago, I posted a blog titled, "10 Things I Learned Last Year." I had forgotten what a good idea reflection is. January is usually all about resolutions and getting your shit together. But to me, resolutions and getting your shit together don't make any sense if you don't reflect a little first. I'm not talking about anything too deep here, just looking at the lessoned learned so I don't have to waste time relearning them in the new year.

What 10 Things I Learned in 2015:
  1. Amazon Prime is the Devil. I love Amazon Prime. I love being able to order absolutely anything and have it shipped to me for free in two days. It's the best invention ever. But Amazon Prime is a blessing and a curse. When everything that you could ever want or need is just a click away--no entering your credit card information or taking a moment to consider if you really need it required--you suddenly find yourself spending a whole lot of damn money.
  2. Pod casts are the bomb diggity. Discovering pod casts (this one and this one in particular) has made my life better. I have learned so, so, so much from listening. Listening while I put on makeup. Listening while I scrub toilets. Not to mention they make things that I hate to do, like putting on makeup and scrubbing toilets, much more enjoyable.
  3. A little app called Voxer has saved my sanity. One of the hardest things about living in California has been that my closest friends live far away. But thanks to Voxer, we talk every day. I mean it. We talk every damn day. Some days we talk all day long. We are all busy, doing what we do, but we talk while we do it and it has saved me. Saved me from feeling distant and apart and lonely. God bless Voxer.
  4. My opinion doesn't matter.  I used to think that I needed to express my opinion on everything. That I needed to correct anyone who I thought had it all wrong. This year I discovered that all of those heavy opinions are simply too much extra weight to be carrying around. It's not my job to fix people, to convince people, to make people think the same way that I think about the world. Someone can have a different opinion than me and that is totally fine. Who cares!
  5. Never say never when it comes to a dying pet whom you love. I always said that if my dog ever got something horrible like cancer, I would never spend money on extensive and expensive treatment. And then my dog got sick with a disease that required extensive and expensive treatment and I found myself throwing my credit card at the vet while screaming, "I don't care how much it costs!" Never. Say. Never.
  6. Pilates works. I never thought it would happen, but I actually found an exercise routine that I enjoy. Pigs are flying, people. I've been going to pilates for well over a year now but have faithfully been going for the last 4-5 months and I can tell a difference. When I zipped up some of my cute winter boots and my chubby skin didn't catch on the zipper, well, I was one happy lady.
  7. You don't have to be some weird, voo-doo yogi priestess to enjoy the benefits of meditation. I really didn't think I'd ever be able to meditate for a variety of reasons. Sit quietly for 20 minutes without thinking of anything? Um, sure. Whatever. But I have discovered not only can I do it, but I actually enjoy doing it. To be blogged more about later...
  8. You will never meet new people sitting by yourself at home. I made some new friends in 2015 that I have grown to adore. I met them by saying Yes. Yes, I will volunteer for VBS. Yes, I would love to join your small group. Yes, I will be there. We have always tended to be a family of No. No, we're busy. No, Derek is out of town. No, we can't. But we are learning to be Yes people, and even though it's slightly out of our comfort zone, we are happier for it.
  9. My children are more capable of doing things than I think they are. A few months ago, shit got real. I realized that so much of the crap that keeps me busy and makes me crazy can be done by my children. My decision to have children is starting to make sense again.
  10. I don't have to pay for things I can do myself. When deciding to redesign my blog, I toyed with the idea of paying someone to professionally do it for me. But then I thought better of it. When I very first started blogging, all the way back in 2005, I was completely self taught in all things blog related, including design. I even learned the very basics of HTML. My blog design is far from perfect. You can find plenty of flaws without looking too hard. But it's mine. All mine. And it's free. Which leaves more money for #1.