On Christmas Lists

It’s that time of year when its 80 degrees outside, supposed to be fall, yet holidays are coming. The main way that I know the holidays are coming is that there are holiday things in the grocery store seasonal aisle. And, all that really means is that there will be that holiday sometime in the next 6 months.

But, each year the whole Christmas List thing gets a little stressful. I see that seasonal aisle and I know I cannot escape it much longer. Christmas shopping.

Follow along to see how it plays out in our family. Beware, you might get stressed.

In our house, I usually start asking our kids what they’re thinking for Christmas in about October. Kind of a shot over the bow type situation on a casual walk…just feeling them out.

Our kids lists’ are kind of funny sometimes. One year our middle kid asked for a new mattress after discovering that the absolute cheapest mattress at IKEA wasn’t his jam after a few months. He’s all in to comfort.

This year he asked for a certain gaming controller then we looked it up on Amazon. We decided maybe he should go to college rather than have that controller.

Then, my husband and I think of things they might like or need. Ok now, that is truly a deep experience in figuring out how well we really know our kids. Are they still in to LEGO Star Wars or have they moved on? Is my daughter going for atheleisure or is she going for smart casual these days?

I don’t know! Who am I as a mother to not know these things!? Ack. Insecurity.

My husband is a very frugal man. Not cheap. Frugal. There’s a difference. The wish list then morphs into an ever narrowing target as he hones in on the bulls eye of Christmas gifts. The gifts that will be used, loved, and passed on to grandkids. The criteria is tight and rigorous.

They usually like the gifts he thinks of the best, better than my gifts. Yes, we compete for the affections of our children and we don’t like to face it.

My contribution is usually in the category I’ll call whimsy. What will be fun for them? Refer back to that paragraph on whether I really know my kids and you’ll see that’s like shooting an arrow with absolutely no archery training.

Ha. It could land literally anywhere and sometimes hits the bulls eye but only sometimes.

So, if you have powers of interpretation, are you seeing that my husband and I have some interesting conversations as we put together the list on our pretty modest budget?

You’re smart then. Give yourself a pat on the back. I bet you’re trying to figure out what number on the Enneagram we are. We are too.

I haven’t even gotten to the list strategy wherein we need to give suggestions to other members of the family. In the past, I’d make the mistake of giving out the choice bulls-eye gifts to other members of the family, much to my husband’s consternation.

Then we, the parents, would have another “date” breakfast to deal with more stress trying to figure out still more great gifts so our kids knew we loved and knew them the absolute best on Christmas morning.

Ok, maybe you’ve noticed that we haven’t even gotten past the kids at this point? True, true. We have not! Next up, what do we get parents and grandparents and cousins and siblings and….phew.

Merry Christmas? Not feeling it yet.

The past few years, I’ve come to the end of all this gift listing, strategizing, planning and just could not muster up the energy for my own list. What do I want? I have no idea…go figure it out. It probably has to do with clothes, kitchen gadgets, or travel.

Heck, just give me cash if you’re as worn out as I am and I’ll decide in March after I’ve recovered from the holidays.

So, the holidays are coming and you can pray for us. That’s the point of this blog post. We need prayer!

Twisty Paths

A friend called me in the days before we left Asia having dreamt a dream about us. A dark being was in our home, he was dangerous and it was scary. We were on the tarmac at the airport in the crosshairs of an enemy. The overall perception was of impending doom and danger.

I had no idea what to do with my friend’s vision except to rest in the knowledge that the enemy is not greater than my God. I took refuge in the Lord whenever I thought of my friend’s dream, knowing that if this dream was a warning of what was to come, I could do nothing about it except walk closely with the Lord.

When we came back to the United States in 2014, we could name about 5 things that brought us back. There was an order in what we named as our reasons to return. Sometimes we just couldn’t wrap our minds around them and felt so grieved that we chose to leave.

The reasons didn’t seem enough. It was hard, hard, hard to swallow that we left. It still is at times.

That list is still true but the longer we lived in the US, so much more was added. I’m glad I didn’t know what would be added. It echoed themes of the vision my friend shared with me our final week in Asia.

The Lord gave us 10 months to get our feet on the ground, provide mentors, community, and some time to transition. Then, my dad was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. Over the past 4 years, we’ve walked through grief–our own and together as a family.

My mom’s had her own cancer diagnosis twice in the last 2 years on top of other sickness that seems to descend on the grieving. Two mastectomies exactly a year apart and now radiation ahead. The outlook is very good but there’s still a hard road to walk.

There’s been other things too–dyslexia interventions, shoulder surgery, rear-enders, and adjustment to our “home” country that doesn’t feel so familiar anymore.

Part of the reason I haven’t written much at times is that it’s been hard to know what to say. I’m often little tongue-tied with all the reality of these things–which is saying a lot since I do like to talk.

Every once in a while I remember my friend’s dream. How gracious to have that small taste of a hint that life might be hard in the next season. As we live through it, I’m thankful that God is more powerful than any scheme formed against us.

There’s also been so much joy as well mixed in by God’s grace.

Those 5 reasons we came back? We now look at those and realize there was so much more God was doing.

He prepared a way for us, a smooth path, for the journey He knew we’d face.

Remembering

I’m amazed at how quickly I forget things. Important things. Things people have just told me seconds before. Like names. Hometowns. Family events.

While I wish my brain worked better and I imprinted important things into my mind the moment they happen so I’d never forget them, but I still forget. Like a fog some things get obscured over time by other events that choke out the memory. Other times I feel like that device in Men in Black is out there and someone zapped my memory!

One time, I forgot to pick up my friends child at day care. I didn’t know it until the next day when she called and confronted me about why I had left her there. It was really lame to have to say I had just forgotten. It wasn’t enough.

Or what about the time I forgot I put my husbands keys in my purse after church. I drove an hour and a half away on a short trip before he called me and asked me if I had all the keys to the other car. Yes, yes I did and I drove three extra hours so that he didn’t have to rent a car for the week.

Lately I see where this forgetfulness is present in my relationship with God too. I forget the times when He rescued me or how bad things were going when He rescued me. I forget what I was like in the past. Pain fades in my memory but so does joy.

It’s just weird.

And it reminds me how finite my body is including my mind. Did you know that neurologists believe we use only a fraction of our brain? When my dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor, the doctor lamented the location of the tumor. If it was in the front part of his brain we could take it out no problem because we don’t use that much of it!

In a complete and perfect world without death, my brain cells would operate at 100% capacity and I would use 100% of my brain. I theorize that I would remember everything. It is an attractive thought, but actually…

People with awesome memories may actually have a harder time in life. Take this Time article for example. Maybe a bit of forgetfulness is actually grace? There are definitely things I would rather not remember or feel with the same intensity as when the events happened…like grief.

It’s a double edged sword, this forgetfulness, it cuts both ways. For good and for bad. For the good, I can thank God that He allows certain feelings and memories to fade so I can live and thrive in the present.

For the bad, I can forget how dependable He is, how available in time of need, how much I need Him and His wisdom and direction. I can forget that I’m not God so, so fast.

When I began writing I wanted to highlight all the negatives of forgetting, yet I’m struck by the grace that is there too. The grace that we have a finite life and finite abilities.

To live in this world forever with all that is not right with a perfect and ever-present memory would probably be too much to take.

Humility: Lesson #1

Most days I pass through a 4 way stop near my house. I’m on my way to drop off a kid or pick up a kid or go to work or the store or…anywhere.

It gets busy around rush hours and becomes more of a 4 way pause instead of a 4 way stop. People honk sometimes. I could be included in the word “people”.

I usually tap the horn when someone has not appropriately observed the law. They should know, right? I’m preventing an accident. They are in a hurry, they should slow down and pay attention.

Well, a couple days ago I pulled up behind a car at the 4 way pause. A million things were floating through my mind that first full week of school and crunch time in ministry.

As I pulled through the stop, I noticed a car start to pull out even though I was in the intersection. How dare he! I thought.

I didn’t tap the horn but I gave a look. You know, the get-in-your-place look. I may not be a police officer but I wish I was at times like these.

The driver did that Texas thing where you keep your hand on the steering wheel but wave your fingers around in a way that says what’s up with you lady?

As I completed my turn I realized I was still pretty close to the car that had been in front of me.

Huh.

Why was I so close to them?

It slowly dawned on me that I had tailgated the driver in front of me through the stop! A cascade of thoughts poured out of me…

I was wrong

I deserved a ticket

I did what I hated other people doing

My behavior warranted a honk and a dirty look

I am a hypocrite!

And I was totally unaware of it.

I also wondered how many times I condemn others for something and fail to see clearly my own behavior that’s worthy of condemnation. I can name a number of times that I encountered this in my life. This incident reminds me that there must be so many more that I still do not see.

I will always need grace and mercy for ways I mess up that I have not figured out.

So will you. So will others.

That other driver I thought so arrogant now seems so merciful. He didn’t blast his horn at me and I deserved it! How many times have I taken the opportunity to come down on something I felt justified in condemning instead of letting it roll on past? Instead of showing mercy…

I really want to thank him for showing mercy! So, if you’re reading this and were driving a nice grey suburban when a lady in a grey minivan gave you a dirty look while breaking the law…thank you for showing mercy.

To me, pride seems like one of those really stubborn, kind of hopeless character flaws. I’m usually very blind to it so how can I possibly grow in humility?

And then humility! The minute you say you’re growing in humility it reveals you’re not! Catch-22.

Here’s my hope straight from Proverbs 29:

A person’s pride will humble him,

But a humble spirit will gain honor.

So, through my pride, I’ll get humbled. Fun! But, I don’t need to dread this beat down. Even more encouraging is that my pride is not a hopeless condition. The joyful paradox, though, is that by the time any honor comes I won’t even care about it anymore!

Humility is content without the honor it engenders. It has its own internal reward.

And I’d love to know what that’s all about!

Parking Limited

After we bought our car overseas, I noticed that cars seemed to multiply like rabbits in our neighborhood. Every day, at least every week, a new shiny car found a home in a parking spot near me. Each new car made parking a bit more competitive.

Parking spots close to our apartment took it to a new level. The stakes were high with kids, shopping bags, strollers, and a third floor address to herd them all towards. A close spot made everything easier.

I’d actually get resentful to the new cars and their owners who made life harder for me. Where did they live? Would they compete for my favorite spots? What right did they have to get a car after me?

Ha. Well…every right! Just because I bought one first, how does it exclude others from pursuing the same goal?

Driving home late began to mean that I didn’t even have a slot in the complex and had to park on the street. Not fun. Why would so many people want to get cars when it was becoming so inconvenient?

The same reason we got a car! It made some parts of life easier and more peaceful.

At some point I began to see how my annoyance revealed my arrogance. Just because I bought a car first, I deserved to have a parking space. Anyone who came after me was now a threat to my comfort and ease. In my mind they even had less right to the life I lived for no other reason than timing.

Kinda ugly. Even as I write it, it strikes me how easy it is to drift down that lane.

Eh…its just a parking space and it doesn’t really matter, right?

I’m not so sure. I feel like this same mentality gets played out in much bigger issues daily. It hinges on the tendency we have to believe that resources are limited. The pie is only so big and welcoming another threatens our livelihood.

Yet, if God is really God, He is able to provide for us and for others. If His plan really was to multiply and fill the earth, why are we afraid when that happens?

Probably because we’re human and our world is filled with oppression and injustice for which we all suffer–some much more than others. There doesn’t seem to be enough and that proves we need to compete, right?

I think that’s what the enemy wants us to think–it goes along with his mission to steal, kill, and destroy and we play into it by taking the bait.

But there’s hope because the fullest meaning of humanity is that we are made in the image of God. We don’t have to live in human competition fighting for limited scraps.

It’s fitting that Jesus described Himself as a spring–a constant stream of clean flowing water that fulfills us eternally.

And He describes Himself as the bread of life–sustenance for all who come to Him.

Throughout the Bible is clear condemnation of injustice, oppression, and selfish power. There is also clear guidance for how to live a generous life that takes care of the poor and the immigrant.

It is part of God’s plan everywhere that His people know that everything they have is from God so everything they have is to be stewarded with a view to sustaining all those created in His image.

So we can hope and expect that life can be different. I can be different. Our world could be very, very different.

Now or Never

We got a dog. It was a huge surprise for our kids because I was pretty firm on not ever getting one.

We travel a lot. Dogs aren’t really in our budget. They’re a lot of work. They destroy stuff.

But I really didn’t want a bearded dragon. My friend’s kid has a bearded dragon which she offered me really quickly when I told her my son wanted one. That’s a sign, I think. She told me how people let their dragons roam their house and perch on their shoulder.

Didn’t really warm my heart, gotta say.

Bearded dragons have huge cages and warming lights. We live in Texas. It’s already hot. Maybe if we lived somewhere cold that would seem more appealing?

I walked away from this conversation thinking we needed to back away from a lizard. But I couldn’t deny that my kids really longed for a pet to cuddle and take care of. They’d asked many times and I was for sure the bad guy standing in the way of them and puppy bliss.

My husband and I talked about it all summer in hushed whispers because we were living in a dorm. Yep, all 5 of us in 2 rooms with one toilet and one shower. Kids came in and out of our room all summer and I got real good at shutting down web pages fast. If they ever found out we were even thinking about it and didn’t do it, I wasn’t sure they would be able to forgive me!

When we returned home, I convinced my husband to come with me to check out a potential dog and “just get information”. We ended up coming home with a puppy.

Lily is our dog’s name and we adopted her from an animal shelter. Wait…we rescued her from an animal shelter. I am figuring out that people don’t call it the pound anymore. There’s so much to learn about America and dog culture!

She’s white with brown spots, soulful eyes, a long tail, and needle sharp puppy teeth that I’m terrified of having no real experience with puppies.

The first few days I about had some panic attacks about what we had taken on. A neighbor commented that their dog that had looked just like ours lived for 18 years. 18 years! That did not help my anxiety.

But, we’ve settled in to life with a doggie. I’m enjoying it more than I anticipated. She makes us all laugh, gets us out on walks together, provides a warm welcome anytime one of us comes home, and loves pretty unconditionally.

And that’s probably my favorite thing about her, the sweet welcomes and love she gives when my kids come home from school. She’s always happy to see us and in this day and age, that’s pretty awesome!

Such a demonstration of God’s grace, that wagging tale that’s always happy to see us no matter what we’ve done.

White Stones and the Deep Soul

My daughter tried to get my dad’s attention by calling to him in ever louder shouts. Poppy…Poppy…Poppy! He wasn’t standing far away and he wasn’t, yet, as deaf as he got later on. So, he really had no excuse.

She kept on shouting Poppy to no avail. Then, MIKE!!!! And Poppy turned his head. We all laughed pretty hard. I think we leaked actual tears.

Ok. He deserves a break. He was less than 2 years into his career as a grandfather. We lived overseas and my brother’s kid couldn’t even talk yet so he didn’t have a lot of practice with his new name, Poppy.

And, I feel this resonate with who I am as a person too. I don’t always know my name. It’s not that I don’t know my given name, its that I don’t know who I am as a person.

So I search. I take personality tests. What kind of animal am I? What are my strengths. My MBTI. A Birkman. Am I a “D”? What number am I? What’s my wing and do I only have one? Is adaptability really a strength?

I was once called a tornado for a certain combination of “strengths.” Tornados are strong, I get that. But a tornado? I’d only find fault if it wasn’t true. It is true, so I have to own that one.

I believe all these assessments can have a place in honing in on how God made us and how we can serve Him more whole heartedly. They can help us understand where we might be blind to sin. I’ve benefitted so much in recognizing certain strengths and sin patterns and learning to honor and trust God for them.

We’re a pretty fascinating thing, we humans. Gazing into how we’re wired and how we are raised and how God made us can get pretty consuming and pretty twisty. Looking into the soul without the guiding light of God’s Word and His Spirit, is like looking into a deep well. We can’t see the bottom. We keep asking our name and keep hearing an eerie echo of our own voices coming back from the void.

When my dad was dying, he talked of the white stones in heaven that have our name on them. It’s a brief verse in Revelation but what great hope is communicated through it. We will finally know our name, know ourselves as God knows us. That separation we experience in our souls due to sin will finally be closed

Can you imagine what that will be like? To have God, our very creator, lean in and smile (I just know He’ll be smiling) and whisper a name that’s just between Him and me. And it will be true, and right, and without shame, and without want, and have nothing to do with any other ill-formed, incomplete opinion.

It will finally be known to me what God has known all along.

My soul. My name.

So, all those efforts we put into knowing ourselves? If they are not united with what He already tells us about ourselves in His Word, they are woefully incomplete. They’re not a complete waste of time but just know, they will never be able to tell you all of who you are.

Only God can do that. And He will do it.