The Sacred Space of Living Rooms

Every Wednesday night, the husbabe and I eagerly await the arrival of the neighbor girl to ring our doorbell. The moment she arrives, we give our list of instructions for watching our 10-year old, slip our shoes on and practically sprint towards the door.

Date Night? Nope.

$.65 Wing Night at Buffalo Wild Wings? Nope.

Wednesday night is small group night.

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I’ve written about small groups before. Depending on your church culture, small groups are also referred to as Bible study groups, growth groups, community groups, home groups, or even life groups. I’ve personally viewed our small group as what Bill Hybels calls a “midweek reheat”. A spiritual kick-in-the-pants, if you will. It’s not necessarily something I WANTED to do but something I thought I probably SHOULD do.

We’ve been in our group about six months now and I’ve had a couple of realizations:

  • You cannot make a decision on whether or not a group is right for you after 1 or 2 meetings. Community building takes time. LOTS of time. When our group first started meeting, everyone was polite, friendly but reserved…which is fine. We didn’t know each other. 5 months later I noticed several side conversations were happening. Books were being loaned. Recipes were being shared. The men now felt comfortable joking around with each other and doing that weird guy hug thing with the three claps on the back.
  • I’m the first one to proclaim how great social media is. I found my current job on social media! My coworkers are all virtual. I’m a part of a fantastic Facebook group with some incredible individuals and fascinating conversations I would have never experienced otherwise. But I’m of the opinion real authentic community happens face-to-face in the sacred space of a living room, around a kitchen table, or in the front yard. When a neighbor says they’re fine but you can see from the look in their eyes they really…are…not…fine. When a friend gently eases herself down into an armchair and you know she’s having a bad day with fibromyalgia. Picking up on the physical signs allows us to better respond, to know how to care.
  • A cherished trust has developed over time as we learn more about each other. We used to joke that our small group was Vegas; as in “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” but lately we’re referring to our group as “the vault”. What is shared in the group stays locked in the vault. There’s a special significance to sitting in a circle, sharing pieces of our lives, asking questions or just saying, “You know what? I’m not okay”. To be prayed for and to pray for others without the fear of gossip, sharing outside the circle or having an internet troll piles heaps of criticism on your head.
  • Variety is the spice of life! (Such a cliche but totally true) Every July the local high school marching band starts band camp. A new group of scared freshmen who have absolutely no clue what they’re doing join the cocky sophomores with a grand total of 1-year experience under their belt, the seasoned juniors and the emotional seniors (it’s our last year!) and…it’s ugly for awhile. But each week they learn the music, learn the moves, and learn each other. By October, 200 kids from all walks of life grow and make something beautiful…together. I’ve seen it happen every year and it’s incredible every time it happens. I actually cry a little. Growth groups are the same way. My small group contains a wide variety of people: medical professionals, clergy, military, executives, retirees, carpenters, the husbabe and I. At the beginning, the only thing we had in common was we love Jesus and go to the same church. But we’re learning from each other. Someone else struggles with anxiety like I do. A few know the struggles of chronic illness. Many know heartbreak from broken marriages or prodigal children. Not only do I have more in common with everyone than I thought but I have grown to genuinely love each and every one of them. They’re becoming family.

In church services all across the country the pastor usually makes a pitch for small groups. I’m here to tell you to commit to being a part of a community. Fill out that response card. Check that box on the church app. Set up a reminder to call the receptionist on Monday. Make the decision and the commitment for your midweek reheat. It’s worth the effort. It’s worth the initial awkwardness. Your life will be all the richer for it.

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My Origin Story

Rick and I joined a growth group back in November. (For the uninitiated, a growth group is a Bible study that takes place in someone’s home. In various church circles, it may also be called a life group, a small group or a home group.) This is our first group in several years and has rapidly become vital to our lives. As I’ve mentioned before, we both work from home and are isolated, socially speaking.

Two weeks ago, we started taking turns sharing our testimony with the rest of the group. (This means we tell our conversion or salvation story; how we became a Christ-follower). Everyone’s story is very different. We all come from a wide variety of backgrounds and our stories are richly varied. I haven’t had my turn to share yet but it’s coming up soon. It’s been awhile since I’ve had the opportunity to tell my story and as I’ve been rehearsing it in my head, I realized I would like to share it with you; the most important story about me.

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I never doubted the existence of God.

As a child, I attended church somewhat regularly with my family. Our attendance became more sporadic when my dad launched his own business and started working seven days a week.

Eventually, we stopped going but God kept popping up randomly throughout my life.

During the summer after third grade, I remember playing outside with my brother and the neighbor kids in my front yard. There was a new Nazarene church at the end of our block. An elderly woman carrying a Bible was taking a walk when she suddenly stopped and asked us if we would like to hear a story. I love stories so I immediately said yes. There on the sidewalk in front of my house, she opened her Bible and read from it. I do not remember which story she read, I’m sad to say. After she concluded, she resumed her walk. I never saw her again.

In eighth grade, the decision was made that I would be confirmed in our neighborhood Presbyterian church. To this day, I don’t know what determined that situation. I do remember loving the confirmation classes taught by Pastor Jensen each week on Sunday nights. 13 of us, most I already knew from school. I enjoyed learning from the Bible, hanging out with Pastor Jensen, becoming involved with the church services, lighting the candles each week, memorizing 1 Corinthians 13 and writing my statement of faith. But once again, after I became a member of the church, we stopped attending again.

In high school, I became friends with the band director’s daughter. She invited me to church several times throughout high school but I didn’t accept her invitation until college. I enjoyed the independent Baptist services on Sundays and met my first missionary from Israel.

It wasn’t until 1995 that I heard the phrase “born again”. My husband and I had only been married for a couple of months. We were living in the Chicago suburbs. My sister-in-law and her husband were in town for a convention and attended a local megachurch. They invited us to come.

I lied and said I was sick. Rick went without me.

Why did I lie? I never encountered anyone quite like my sister-in-law and her husband. I’ve known plenty of people who went to church and I enjoyed attending with them but I never saw anyone act like Rick’s sister and her husband. Church was more than a once a week event for them. They talked about God… a lot. They were changing their lives and talked about being forgiven. I was all for believing in God but I didn’t see the need to be so…fanatical about it. What can I say? I was 22 and thought I knew everything.

Flash forward to 1996. Rick and I are still living in the Chicago suburbs and our first child was on the way. News of school shootings slowly became more prevalent on the news. I was frightened. Jacob would arrive in November of that year and already I feared for his safety before he’s born. I was worried about what kind of mom I’d be.

Living in the Chicago area, you can count on being stuck in traffic. What should have been a 20-minute drive home from work every night was easily an hour on a good night. It was difficult finding a way to pass the time. During rush hour, all I could find on the radio was shock jocks who were slightly tamer than Howard Stern. Once night, stuck on the Elgin-O’Hare, I kept hitting the scan button my car radio to find something…anything…other than Danny Bonnaduce on the radio when I found a radio show about parenting. Within 15 minutes, I found myself engrossed with the speaker and even though he talked about God quite a bit, I was riveted and eager to learn all I could about being a parent since Jacob was due to arrive in a matter of days. I listened to this radio program daily for the next 6 months.

Then I started nagging Rick about going to church.  Now that we were parents, going to church seemed to be of the utmost importance.

In addition to my new parent fears, I was starting to wonder what else there was to life. At the age of 24, we accomplished the big things adults were supposed to do. We got married. We had good jobs for big corporations. We bought a house. We had a child.

Is this all there is?

Have another kid or two, keep working and then die? Is that it?

I was still listening to the parenting radio program every night after work and starting to sense that Jesus was the answer. I knew it at my core. We needed to go to the church Rick’s sister invited us to a couple of years before.

Over the next 18 months, Rick and I would go to church and hear things we never knew before. We knew how Jesus came to Earth but we never knew the why. We learned God is perfect and holy and man is not. We learned we cannot earn our way to Heaven by doing enough good deeds or just being a nice person.  We learned that all have sinned and fallen short. We learned the only way to enter the Kingdom of Heaven is to be born again. (You can read about this for yourself in John 3 of the Bible and read about being born again here.)

The more I learned, the more fascinated I became. We continued attending this church every week and during one Sunday in October of 1998, Rick and I both prayed; repenting of our sins and asking Jesus Christ into our lives.

Looking back, I see that God has been inviting me to join him from a very early age. I was very slow to realize and even slower to respond to his invitation. Our lives have taken a path we never could have anticipated.

We weren’t promised health and wealth. We weren’t promised problem-free lives. We didn’t make this decision just to get our ticket punched to Heaven. Together, Rick and I realized our need for a Savior; not just for the next life but for this one now.

Freedom from guilt and shame.

The joy and awe of God’s presence.

Being used for His purposes.

Rick and I are passionate about being a part of something bigger than ourselves. We love being used to further God’s kingdom; being a part of our local church and vocationally serving churches across the country through administrative and IT support. We found what God’s wired us to do for Him and it’s truly an honor and privilege to serve Him in this capacity.

And that, reader, is my origin story. Our story continues with many twists and turns, potholes, crevices and veering off into the ditch many times but over and over again, God forgives. God heals. God points us back in the right direction. God still has a purpose for us. 

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

Another Post on New Year’s Resolutions

Like millions of Americans, I’ve made resolutions on January 1st. And like the millions of Americans, I’ve failed spectacularly at most of my past resolutions–although there was one year when I lost 40 pounds…but then I put it all back on again when I started college classes the following year.

I tend to be an all or nothing kind of gal.

I can’t focus on my weight because I need to focus on my GPA! 

In December of last year, I noticed quite a few people in my world discussing their “word” for 2017. Instead of choosing a behavior to correct or eliminate, choosing a word for the year is supposed to help individuals narrow their focus; a theme to govern your year.

It’s an interesting an idea and  I decided to do the same.

After much thought, my word for the year is “faithfulness”.

Faithfulness encompasses many areas for me such as my relationship with God or taking better care of myself. I’m sure the argument can be made that choosing a word for the year is just a resolution by a different name but I would counter a mindset change occurs with a theme word.

Instead of “I must power walk for 30 minutes today, log my food, not drink any coffee and eat two servings of kale”, I now think “do you really want the bottled Frappuccino in the fridge or can you treat yourself better?” “Have you spent some time with God today” instead of “I have to read 6 chapters of Numbers to get back on track with my Bible reading plan…ugh, I’m so behind!”

We’re barely into 2017 so I can’t say this is a resounding success but I will say that filtering my decisions through “faithfulness” has yielded results beyond what mere will power has in the past.

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Are you a resolution maker? A word of the year chooser? A “why bother” person? What’s your method for making life changes?

 

Greetings from a recovering hermit

Well, it’s been a long time!  I wasn’t even certain I remembered my password to this site let alone remembering how to write a blog post.

For the past three years, I’ve barely written a thing outside of a sporadic book review for a friend’s website, work emails or the weekly grocery list. I’ve ignored this site and I’ve ignored my journals. I felt empty and didn’t have anything to say. I knew no one would want to read emo posts so I just…stopped.

I’m coming out of what I believe Douglas Adams called “the long dark teatime of the soul”. Over three years ago, we made a decision which affected our lives more deeply than we anticipated.  I made the subconscious decision to hide, which was easy to do. I work online, communicated with my friends through text, Facebook Messenger or Skype. I ordered my groceries online and had them delivered. Amazon provided the other necessities and niceties of life. I deliberated watching church sermons solely online and if I could figure out how to get my kids to and from school without leaving the house, I would have been very content staying holed up in my house.

Deep down I knew that wasn’t the way to live, no matter how much I wanted to become a hermit. (For the record, I would have made an excellent recluse.)

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Upon the suggestion of a trusted pastor, I decided to ask for help and spent six months in counseling. I also decided to stop fighting God and quit trying to accelerate the healing process.  I learned how to forgive. I’m learning not to be ruled by worry and anxiety.

Oh, but I have so much left to learn!

My husband and I are now more actively engaged in our new church home. We both have a place to serve and a few months ago, we joined a small group. Being part of a community again is wonderful and food for my spirit. I realized I needed to leave the house more often and rejoin the human race. This meant purchasing my groceries in person instead of online. My first foray back to the grocery store was wonderful. Within 20 minutes of arrival, someone called out my name and I came face-to-face with “Chuck” and “Tammy”; a lovely retired couple I used to serve with at my previous church. After a wonderful round of hugs and conversation, I left the store floating on air and emotional. I couldn’t believe what I had been missing!

The following week, I quite literally ran into my nephew. We spotted each other across several rows, silently steered our carts towards each other, increasing our speed until we crashed our carts together. I left that encounter feeling pretty happy. Being around people is great!

Week 3, however, taught me a lesson. The store was packed the weekend before Thanksgiving. I navigated my way down the frozen food aisle feeling like I was playing a live-action version of Frogger. I saw a very tiny elderly woman. She was barely 5 feet tall, stooped over and if I had to guess, I’d say she was knocking on the door of 90 years old. She couldn’t reach the frozen breakfast sausage that was on sale. Just as I was about to offer my assistance, she asked a man in front of her if he could help. This gentleman was quite thin, also stooped over and possibly in his 70s. I watched him remove his oxygen hose from his nose, open the freezer door and start the climb on the shelves to fetch the sausage.

This had disaster written all over it. I scrambled over and asked the man if I could grab the sausage instead.

“Nah…I’m already here. Why don’t I hand off to you though so I don’t have to get up and down?”

So, the man and I did our dance; he strained to reach the boxes on the back of the icy shelf, I grabbed them while keeping an eagle eye on my purse in the crowded aisle and handed the sausage to the elderly woman. After a couple of rounds, the man hollered, “How many does she want?”

I turned to ask the old woman if this was enough, when she suddenly looked up from her envelope of coupons, glanced over at the sausage boxes in her cart and said,

“These aren’t the right ones”.

At this point, a collective groan arose from the entire row. The three of us had created quite the traffic jam. Oxygen Man was furious. He climbed down, uttered a few choice words and informed me that I would have to put them all back because his hands were numb. As I tossed the boxes back on the shelf and watched him shove his oxygen tube back up his nose, I looked over at our damsel in distress.  Seemingly oblivious, she headed off in the opposite direction. I couldn’t get out of that aisle fast enough.

And then I remembered…dealing with people can be

Messy

Uncomfortable

Embarrassing

Awkward

And that’s okay. I’m learning it’s important to keep showing up and embracing all of it, the good, bad and ugly.

That’s where I’m at on this New Year’s Day; stepping outside, seeing what happens and hoping to have a good story to tell.

Happy New Year to you. May you have some great stories to tell as well.

 

Mother & Son: The Respect Effect (Review)

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As a mom of three boys ranging from college to grade school, I often feel I’m not quite clicking with my boys during times of trouble or strife. My oldest son is the most similar to me in terms of personality and temperament but during rocky seasons, I just don’t seem to get the parenting thing right. I behave and speak in ways that I would have preferred from my parents when I was his age but it doesn’t seem to work.

So when I had the opportunity to review “Mother & Son: The Respect Effect” by Emerson Eggerichs, PhD, I jumped at the chance. I’m eager for a tool to help be relate to my sons better and be the kind of mom they actually need.

Dr. Eggerichs takes his principles of Love and Respect in marriage and applies them to the parenting realm in terms of mothers and sons. His thesis: Boys and men have a deep need to feel respected from the time they are very young. Respect is the key to their hearts. This can feel odd for a mom who wants to make sure her sons know they are loved. According to Eggerichs, respect is the way with our sons.

I found Mother & Son to be sound and helpful. The author gives specific examples for a wide variety of situations for both younger and older sons. This is a section I think a reader will revisit on multiple occasions.

On the con side, I struggled with Eggerichs writing style. It feels very repetitive and a bit condescending. I really had to slog through the first four chapters in order to gain momentum and glean the knowledge he laid out. I would concur with another reviewer that this book is worth the time but consider starting with Chapter 5.

 

Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”):  I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

Book Review and Giveaway for Untangled by Carey Scott

Take a moment and list everything you feel insecure about.

I bet your list looks something like this:

  • Weight
  • Appearance of your home
  • The checkbook balance
  • Being accepted
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Success
  • Marriage
  • Parenting

Carey Scott covers all these areas and more in her new book Untangled: Let God Loosen the Knots of Insecurity in Your Life. Chapter by chapter, Scott leaves no stone unturned as she addresses practically every area a women finds her self ensnared by shame and insecurity. I cannot think of a single topic she has not covered.

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With frank honesty, Scripture, and highlighting stories from women who have found freedom in untangling their own knots, Scott reveals how to overcome personal insecurities through Christ. She sheds a light on the lies women tend to believe of “not being good enough” and dismantles the feelings of shame.

Scott’s words feel as though they are from a most trusted friend; gentle, honest and loving. As she reveals her own entanglements and shares how God untied those knots, she offers the same hope to each and every one of us.

Each chapter ends with a suggested prayer and discussion questions. Untangled is a great book for personal study or a women’s group discussion.

I’m pleased to offer a copy of Untangled to give to one lucky reader. To enter, please complete this form. A winner will be announced on July 6, 2015.

I received a copy of Untangled for free in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

Heart Sisters: Be the Friend You Want to Have (Book Review and Giveaway!)

From time to time I find myself envious of young children.

Have you ever watched a group of kids at a park? They naturally gravitate to each other and play; many times names are never even exchanged! Every time I witness this phenomenon, I find myself wishing adults were more like kids. It’s hard to make friends as adults.

I’ve been thinking about friendships lately. I work from home and spend a lot of time in the car in the afternoons driving the “kid taxi”. My life is pretty isolated and it’s not as easy to meet people as it once was. Throw in baggage of past hurts and I find developing new friendships to be even more complicated. It’s tempting to throw in the towel and settle in to a life of a hermit.

Enter “Heart Sisters: Be the Friend You Want to Have” by Natalie Snapp. This book should be in read in every church women’s ministry and in every book club. Snapp covers every aspect of female relationships: our need for friendship, finding the courage to put yourself out there, investing in friendships, frenemies, how to recognize both healthy and unhealthy relationships and most importantly, how to be a true friend or “heart sister” to someone else.

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Snapp’s book is personally encouraging to me as I wade back into the social waters. She shares her own past mistakes, hurts and lessons she’s learned in the friendship arena. By sharing her personal experiences, a reader can connect more readily with what Snapp has to say. Written in a friendly, conversational tone, Heart Sisters is a definite must read for any woman wanting to develop inner heart friendships.

I’m pleased to announce I have a copy of Heart Sisters to give to one lucky reader. To enter, leave a comment and tell me about your closest friend or “heart sister”. I’ll choose a winner on May 16th.

I received Heart Sisters for free in exchange for a book review. I was not required to write a positive review. 

The Picnic Table

Today is a guest post from an unlikely, but wonderful, person…my husband! As usual, one of my brilliant ideas means quite a bit of labor for Rick. Check out Rick’s thoughts on the gift of hard work and the benefits of imperfections. 

Last fall we got an old picnic table that someone no longer needed. It needed some work, but was still pretty solid. My wife said we’d take it. I hitched up the trailer and we went and got it. They were glad someone took it and we were glad to have it.

When we got it home I took it apart. Some boards needed holes filled, a few smaller pieces need replacing, and some pieces needed work. Everything was weathered. The bolts and screws were rusty. One board for the top was badly warped, so I stacked all the other pieces on top of it and left it for the winter.

Spring came and it was time to get going. We have an outdoor graduation party planned for early summer and we wanted the picnic table to be done by then. I spent several hours sanding and filling in holes. One piece was still warped, but not as bad. I had to replace three smaller pieces of wood, but was able to with scraps I had. I decided to replace the screws and bolts since the old ones were rusty. I stained the wood and put the table back together. I spent a lot of time, but little money. Somehow, by doing the work, it felt like it was really mine.

As I spent my time sanding and staining the table I wondered if it was really worth it. It was old and worn. The wood was banged up and cracked. If I had done nothing I’m sure we would have spent the summer picking splinters out of each other. When I was at the home improvement store they had new but unfinished ones on display for $99. I could have just bought a new one and stained that, but I noticed something. Those new ones lacked character. My picnic table had character. Every ding and dent gave it a story. The hard work I put into it made it that much more special to me. There’s a feeling of accomplishment and pride I have with restoring this table. I didn’t just go for something new. New doesn’t always mean better. Working on improving what I already had was worth it. I put in the hard work and made something better. It might not be perfect, but it’s mine.

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Releasing and Letting Go

Over the weekend, my eight-year-old son (whom we call Monkey) was helping me clean the house. He lifted up a doily off of the end table, held it up to the light and proclaimed it looked like a rabbit. I affirmed his declaration and cautioned him to be careful because the doily was my grandmother’s. Monkey gave me a quizzical look, put the doily back on the table and continued dusting the next item.

I associate many items in my home with their original owner. The green afghan is not mine but my mother-in-law’s since she’s the one who made it. I feel the same way about the black and white afghan my sister-in-law made. It’s Doris’ afghan. The doily’s are Grandma’s, the nightstand is Mom and Dad’s, the cake stand is from the unnamed person who hosted the garage sale where I purchased it. I don’t know why I ascribe ownership this way  but I do with almost everything.

Everything except my kids.

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I’ve been told over and over my children belong to God, but it’s easy to believe and live as they are completely and totally mine.

I carried them for 9 months.

I gave birth to them.

I potty trained them.

I drive them to school.

I take them to clothes shopping.

I took them to the doctor and held them on my lap when they were sick.

You get the idea. (I don’t want to negate my husband’s role. He was every bit as present in our sons lives as I am). I don’t think I’ve fully comprehended or understood that these three hooligans belong to God; at least not on a heart level until recently. Our oldest is turning 18 next month. He’ll be legally an adult. He’s in the car so much going out with friends, to school, and to work. College and scholarship applications are on the horizon. He’ll have to register for Selective Service.

I’m scared.

Soon it will be time to release him to the world and as much as I’m looking forward to the days of just the hubby and I alone in our house, I don’t want to start letting go. It feels safer to have my boys here with us. Nothing gives me more comfort than to know each brown haired boy is in their own bed every night. But I can’t keep them here forever. They have to start forging their own path.

 

I can’t protect them. I can’t prevent bad things from happening and I can’t stop them  from making bad, or contrary, decisions. I can’t stop hurt from entering their lives.

I hope I’ve done right by my son, and by God. I hope I did the best parenting job I was capable of doing.

It’s time to trust God and my son.

So…how do I do that?