Monday, August 31, 2015

The Happiness Equation

(Originally published on The Today Parenting Team for their "Get Happy" Challenge).


If you have lived even a short period of time, you know there are plenty of excuses to choose unhappiness over real or imagined joy.

We are humans...imperfect, flawed, and prone to taking paths that will eventually set a course for distress, or even just a slight twinge of melancholy.

Why is that?

We know the things we should be doing, and yet we continually push past our good sense, and rush down the slide of life...determined to make it fun, yet destined to crash and burn at the end.

In some ways, I speak metaphorically, but I do believe that this is too often the case.

I know it, because I've lived it.

I know what I should do.

I am aware of the equation that equals happiness (or joy).

And yet, all too often, I invite misery to walk beside me as my closest companion, even if it is for a brief stroll.

So, how can we be assured of a happy day...month...year?

Well, first of all...we can't.

I don't want to be a downer here. After all, we are trying to explore ways to "Get Happy!"

However, there is no guarantee of our happiness.

We are exceptionally driven to expect the worst, and even pursue it.

Now, I am aware that there are many of us who find ourselves in circumstances we didn't choose. A loved one died, a job was lost, or we were betrayed by a friend.

In those times, we must go through a process of grieving, and we certainly won't feel like smiling through the tears.



What I am speaking to are the times when we are aware that our daily choices are affecting our yearly outcomes. We are tired...we are cranky...and we are barely making it.

Here is what we know:

We know we shouldn't stay up into the late hours of the night catching up on our shows, but we do it anyway, and experience the headache and heartless mood that we are almost guaranteed to wake up with.

We are aware of what happens when we schedule something every single day of the week, and yet we are determined to fill every single white space in that calendar, because someone or something needs us!

We know that there are not always enough hours in the day to ensure that our family is well-educated, well-exercised, well-fed, and well-satisfied with the amount of extra curricular activities we think are helpful, and yet we sign ourselves up for everything possible.

Let me let you in on a little secret. It's one that I keep whispering to myself too.

Our children (or us) do not have to participate in every single thing we think might bring them joy and eternal satisfaction. They simply cannot do it all. And frankly, neither can we.

We are driving them and ourselves to mental and physical exhaustion, and there is high price tag on that decision.

If we are always chasing something that is impossible to grasp, we will live in a state of exasperation, not enjoyment.

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Consider this: If you are always running - never resting. If you are always reaching - never holding, and if you are always climbing and never taking in the view, what will you have at the end of your life?

I love this quote from Rick Warren:
“Time is your most precious gift because you only have a set amount of it. You can make more money, but you can't make more time. When you give someone your time, you are giving them a portion of your life that you'll never get back. Your time is your life. That is why the greatest gift you can give someone is your time.
It is not enough to just say relationships are important; we must prove it by investing time in them. Words alone are worthless. "My children, our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action." Relationships take time and effort, and the best way to spell love is "T-I-M-E.”
I mean, let's be honest. Our families will typically operate in a smoother manner when we are spending quality time together in the sacred space called home. There is no substitute for the special moments spent around a dinner table, or working on homework together in an unhurried manner.

It's not easy, but I do believe that when we say no to the extras, and yes to the essentials, we embrace more purposeful lifestyle choices.

You and your children can indeed find your "happy place." But, it may mean saying no to a few things. It may mean clearing space on that calendar so that there are more than 2 blank boxes in the month.

The happiness equation is as simple as this...

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Once we put down our unrealistic expectations, and live in a purposeful manner, we will find a more content way of life.

One that says, "I don't need to do everything I thought I did."

One that exudes peace, calm, and grace, even in the middle of a crazy "household storm."

One that inspires togetherness, not fragmented craziness.

Let's do this.

Let's get happy.


*images from Unsplash

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Waiting



It's been one of those days.

When your world feels all topsy turvy, and you don't know if it will ever be normal again.

Don't get me wrong. - My life is A-mazing.  I am incredibly blessed, and have nothing to complain about.

The tension I am feeling lately is due to the nagging suspicion that God is up to something in my life. I'm always a bit nervous when I get that feeling.

Let me explain...

I knew 13 years ago that we would most likely adopt some day.  My husband and I were newlyweds, and we attended a Steven Curtis Chapman Concert.  At one point during the show, an adoption video was shown.   I assure you that even though the music swelled at just the right moment, and pictures of darling children pulled on my heart strings, it wasn't just an emotional experience.  I knew without a doubt that we were being called to adopt.

I've had more moments like that over the past 13 years.  Moments where time stands still.  My heart bursts from the feeling inside.  Tears come easily. My Mom instinct is in high gear. Every fiber of my being is awake, and I. just. know.

I can't explain it.  I am painfully aware that there is a child or children out there who has been born in my heart, and has yet to come and live with us.

I say painfully because I know there is a high cost to adoption.

I don't mean the financial cost, though there is a price tag on bringing someone home.

I mean a cost. - A gut-wrenching, life-altering, pain-filled cost.

There are fears to be felt.

There are tears to be shed.

But there is love to be shared...





We are that family.

The ideal family, with 3 girls and a boy.  We may not have a picket fence, or a dog, but we have enough food in our pantry, and beautiful clothes on our backs.  We live in a house that is too big for our needs, and have enough money to buy $4 coffee every so often.  We are beyond wealthy.

I don't know why we want to mess that equation up.

Why would we want to sacrifice any part of that to help even one life?

I'm not entirely sure.

All I know is that I have been compelled...compelled by a Father who adopted me.

I was worth an enormous sacrifice on His part (Romans 8:32).


My heart is aching a little today.  I'm feeling the pains that come from uncertainty. I'm carrying the weight of a calling that has yet to be realized.  And my mind is racing with the questions that are unanswered.

The waiting is hard.  The temptation to question the calling is overwhelming. And the fear of failure is palpable.

The way forward isn't clear, but the future is bright.

I'm clinging to hope. - The hope that the One who called will be faithful to complete it. (Philippians 1:6)




Saturday, August 15, 2015

What is the Pentateuch really about?


I found these summaries of what the first five books of the Bible are about very helpful.  Visit Insights for Living for more information.  (You can click on the image and save it for quick reference).


Monday, August 3, 2015

Pro-Life Hospitality



I've always considered hospitality to be something that revolves around food.

You have a group of people over, entertaining them with delightful conversation and good things to eat.

And, if you are really blessed with the gift of hospitality, you don't mind having people over without notice, while your house is less than perfect.

Yes, in my mind, that was hospitality.


I had recently been studying what it means to be "hospitable" in the context of Scripture.

So, when I read a status that Anthony Bradley  wrote, I had to look over my study notes again.

Ponder this...

After some discussions this weekend, it occurred to me that the pro-life movement will fail as long those who want abortion to end do it from a distance without suffering themselves for the cause. Abortion will decline when the demand declines. The demand will decline when hospitality is used as the greatest pro-life weapon of the 21st-century.
Hospitality as a weapon, like Christians of the earlier church who waged war against infanticide, means that Christians will open up their homes and bank accounts to fully support women who are making a decision whether or not to keep their children. [Until] Christians open up their homes and move pregnant single-moms and other women into their homes and suffer with those making tough decisions, there may not be much change.
Every pregnant women should have a home waiting on her. And I don't mean group homes for women. I mean pregnant women moving into the residential houses and apartments of those who have space. (Anthony Bradley)

Could it be possible that as Christ followers we have neglected to understand the true meaning of hospitality?

Consider this passage, found in I Peter 4:1-12

 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.
The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

One of the first things I notice, is that Peter asks us to "offer hospitality to one another without grumbling," and he doesn't specify that only those with the gift of hospitality should do it.  He goes on to say that each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms. So, the takeaway is that we are to be hospitable, using whatever gifts we have been given.

This command gets more interesting when you uncover the deeper meaning of that word "hospitality."  The Greek word used there is philoxenos, and is a combination of philos and xenos.

Prayerfully consider the meaning of those words:

philos: "loving, fond of, tending to."
xenos: "stranger." 

You see, I thought hospitality referred to the fact that I could clean my house, make delicious food, light candles, and invite my friends over "like. a. boss."

That's not what it means.

Hospitality, in this context, refers to the loving act of tending to a stranger.  A fondness for strangers.


An opening of one's home.

An opening of one's heart.

For the healing of a stranger.


I am completely aware of the tension that exists in having this discussion...

So many of us were raised with the idea that mistakes/sin = consequences.

And, maybe some of you even go so far as to say "They made their bed...so they can lie in it."

Interestingly enough, I don't find that to be the attitude of Christ.


Matthew 5:42 - "Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you."

Matthew 25:35-40 - "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ "

Luke 3:10-11 - "And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

Luke 12:33-34 - "Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."


And the ultimate passage that describes Christ's "hospitality..."

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8


Now, I am aware that there are many verses that talk about stewarding your money and providing for your family.  So, I am not advocating abandoning the needs of your family to the betterment of strangers.

But, I do believe that all of our stewarding should result in having extra to help those in need.

Except for the grace of God, there we could be.

How many of us have made mistakes in our lives?

How many of us have had to accept mercy and help from a kind person at one time or another?

Does that make us any less worthy?

Of course not.


Humans will fail.  There are plenty of examples in history of people who needed the help of those around them to get back on their feet.

And, as followers of Christ, we know the power of the Gospel.  It is life changing.  It brings life from death and destruction.  It makes people new through the power of Christ's death and resurrection.



How can we translate the undeserved grace we have received into giving grace to others who don't deserve it?

I think there are a few ways.

1. Pray for strangers.  Not just a one liner, "help those in need."  But, pray that God will open your eyes to those around you that He could be calling you to help.

2. Plan for strangers.  Look over your budget.  Think about ways that you can cut costs and free up money to assist those who are already engaged in ministries to people in need.  There are so many amazing organizations who are on the front lines, so to speak.  This will also mean refusing to be consumed by credit cards, and actually living within our means.

3. Purpose to help strangers.  It's not enough to pray and plan.  We must have a passion that drives us.  We must go to places where they live.  Engage in meaningful conversations.  Open our hearts and listen to what their needs are.

4. Proceed to your mission of hospitality (fondness of strangers).  God will give you a calling when you ask for it.  He's already doing something amazing in this world, and He is inviting us to join Him. You may never know in this life, the impact your hospitality may have on the world.  Do it anyway.


 Does this mean that all of us will be opening our homes to unwed mothers, and high-risk pregnant teens?  Probably not.

What it means for me at this very moment is a wake up call to be focused on what I can tangibly do to be "pro-life."  I want to encourage life-giving, life-changing methods to help those who need a hand-up.

It won't be convenient.

It won't be comfortable.

It will be a calling.


A call to lay down our lives, and the version we thought we wanted, for the life-changing, soul-gripping work of Jesus Christ.