How much is too much?

I needed to shovel the snow for the third day in a row yesterday.  Little and I came home and I went to work.  Then I remembered that we have neighbors who live three houses down whose dad is out of town for the next two weeks.  So its just the mom, who works full time, the grandma and the 2 year old daughter.  It sure would be kind if I could help out and do this one small chore for them so them so they wouldn't have to do it and bear the cold and risk slipping on the ice.  Easy right?  Shovel your neighbors walk, 15 min, done.

A confession is that I don't usually think about helping my neighbors and shoveling their walks.  Sad, but true.  I just go about my business and do my own thing, get my work done and then move onto the next thing on my list .  But this past Saturday, middle came out to help me shovel and I thought this was a good activity to help teach him how we can help people in all sorts of ways, even on our own block.  (Sad that I often will only think of helping others when I know it will help me teach my kids about compassion.  Man I have a long way to go in understanding a full change of heart.)

So we shoveled their walk two days ago.  Now I am out there shoveling again, and I think to myself, no one is here to see me or learn from me.  Why aren't I shoveling their walk again?  OK, so I will go and shovel their walk.  But in order to get to their home, I need to pass my immediate neighbors.  My immediate neighbors who I have lived next door to for 10 years and I have never once shoveled their walk.  They don't speak English, but we have lived peacefully, watching our kids playing together for years.  The grandma has helped me weed my garden and we have shared plates of food with one another every time a baby is born in either home.

Would I really walk past their snowy sidewalk and not help out?  They have 15 people who live in that house.  Many capable people who could shovel.  But just because they can shovel their own walk, doesn't mean I couldn't show kindness to even them.  So I just kept shoveling.

The house after that is our neighbor who I struggle with.  Their little boy who is hard for me to love, but God challenges daily in the summer months that kids act out for a reason.  And he has his reasons.  Two years ago while holding Little, we got ran down by the S.W.A.T. team as they busted down this neighbor's door looking for a stolen weapon.  Then we watched the little boy who watched his dad and his uncles hurl curse words and slander while they cleaned up glass from the broken door and window.  Things are hard at that house.  Are they not worthy of kindness?  Would a kind act show this family compassion and a little bit of joy?  So I just kept shoveling.

Now the house between the family I just told you about, and the mother with her husband gone has been abandoned since the tornado.  It sits, neglected, all doors and windows boarded up.  We thought the city might own it, but a few weeks ago a couple guys came and cleaned the house out.  Now it sits with a For Sale sign on the lawn.  I'm not gonna lie.  We all loved when this family left.  They were really hard to love.  There were all sorts of shady things happening in that house.  Cops were a regular there, and a few years back they received a lot of attention of shooting and killing their dog in the basement.  But mostly, it really bothered me the way the oldest son talked to his little brother.  The way he would interact with him.  You knew bad stuff was happening there.  ANYWAY, it is one abandon house that sits between all my shoveled walk, and the house I am trying to get to.  So I shoveled.  I don't know if anyone was going to come and shovel.  I doubt it.  And I thought of all the people who would walk the sidewalk getting to the bus or to work, and I thought about the mailman.  So I shoveled it for them.  Then I shoveled our friends walk.

As I was shoveling, I thought about all the things I had just written about.

The family who is capable and has lots of people to shovel.
The family, who for honesty sake, kind of scare me.
The empty home with no family, but so many past mistakes.
The family in need.

I was placing judgments on who was worth my time and kindness.  Who REALLY needs help?  Those are the people we help right?

Being in the tornado almost two years ago really has changed me.  Like never before, was God's call for us to simply live out our lives, loving the people around us mean as much to me as it did after that experience.  No kindness goes unnoticed, because in every act of kindness, there is love, and where there is love, God is present.

Well, after I was done shoveling, I noticed that all I did was reveal all the Ice underneath the snow.  And my first thought was, "Grap!  For real?!"  So I went into our home and got our bag of salt, selfishly thinking to myself, "Now I have to go and buy more salt because I am going to use it all up and I wasn't planning on spending money on this, and Paul is just going to love that I am salting the walk of crack house.  He's gonna love me for this."  But, come on, really, it would be a terrible thing for me to shovel, only to reveal ice and then let someone slip.  I love the way God just keeps pushing me further.  "Just give a little bit more Dani.  Give till you can feel the pain of letting go of your stuff, your money, your time for someone else.  I want you to feel giving, not just be a convenient giver, because that is really no servant heart at all."

So I salted everyone's walk.  I knew it was right.  I knew God was teaching me in this moment and shaping my heart to look a little more like his, and I am thankful for that, really.  So I didn't say anything to my neighbors or to my kids.  This was just about serving and loving the people around me.  Truthfully, I'm not sure they would know we are Christians by the way we live.  I mean, we go to church, and we talk about kindness here and they know we are believers, but that's only because they've asked.  I am ashamed by how little I have done to serve the people right here on my street.  This. This is why God is shaping my heart.  To make me less selfish, and I am thankful for that.

This morning I had a wonderful devotion/prayer time before the kids got up.  I went to the kitchen and started my routine.  Then big woke up and when we looked out the window he saw it had snowed again.  AGAIN!  Four days in a row.  He said, "mom, I think we should serve our friend by shoveling her walk again.  I mean you could do it." And that is when I rolled my eyes.


Yes all the shouty capitals were in my head.  And then a quiet understanding came to me.

When are we done serving?

When ever is it enough to stop giving?

Where is the line for not loving your neighbor?

So my heart got worked on a little bit more today.  My understanding of faith, love, serving, obedience and God got a little bit richer today as yes, I did shovel everyone's walk again today.

And maybe, just maybe, I'm a little less selfish today, and little bit more focused on God.

(But then secretly I tell myself, you have to really get it today, otherwise it will snow again tomorrow Daniel-son.  I think God might just be Mr. Miyagi.)

So yes, this girl still has a lot to learn.

Just Show Up


Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed" - Mark 1:35

I think devotions are extremely important, and yet I think many of us are scared of them.  I know I used to be.  I thought every devotion needed to have this earth shattering moment where God spoke directly to me and my world would be changed.  That my heart would be full and I would walk away renewed and in touch with my soul.   But then there is the question of "what to do for devotions?"  Pray? Journal? Read?  But read what? The Bible? A book? What book?  Of Poetry .short stories with meaning...a chapter in the Bible, but then where do I start with that?  Good grief, it's just easier to ignore it all together.

I think Satan speaks these things into our Spirit to keep us from even trying.  We come to a devotion/quiet/ meditation time with expectations.  We hear people speak of how God is changing them, speaking to them, revealing things to them.  We show up once, it doesn't happen, and it becomes harder the next time to be as open, be as vulnerable.  We show up again and we read text but it doesn't really get down into our soul. (and then there is the issue of being terrified of what God might reveal to us, or what we might see in our own souls that we don't want to see and will have to confront.)

I can't believe I am actually going to say this, but because I hear Tony Horton's voice every day in this house, (God bless my husband for his dedication to his health and workouts), I am going to repeat what he tells his clients,


You don't always feel like it.  You may suck at it some days.  You may feel nothing some days, but you have to show up.


I had a friend who decided to just show up to silence every morning for 30 minutes.  She wasn't sure what she was doing.  She wasn't sure if she was going to think on a passage, or say something, or wait.  She didn't know, but what she knew is she needed to show up.  If she kept showing up then something was going to happen.

There is no right way to do devotions.  Over our last Sabbath, I read all of C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce" I never opened my Bible or prayed.  But I read a book on spiritual matters.  My soul was stirred and my heart was full of new thoughts regarding God and his love for me.  That was my devotion time.  It was refreshing because there are so many days where I read the proverbs or the Psalms or Hebrews and...there's just nothing.  I don't know what I am supposed to be hearing or learning.  Nothing jumps off the page at me and grabs me.  I read.  I close the book, and then I'm done.  It was nice to feel something after doing a devotion.

We have to acknowledge that there is a lie here that says that devotions have to be hard, complicated, intimidating, long, life changing.  Most devotions/quiet times/meditations are just showing up.  Because something beautiful happens in the showing up.  When we consistently show up, we change our habits to include a greater force than ourselves.  We train our brains to remember that we are not alone and are under a higher authority.  It forces us to remember that God is there.  We are not alone.  God is there.  When we show up it creates space for God to be God.  When we show up we will slowly chip away at our independence and fear and control issues and slowly and gently God will take them from us and replace them with his compassion, forgiveness and love.


Doesn't matter what you start with.  Doesn't matter how terrible your prayer is.  (I love to pray. I like to pray more than I like to read the Bible.  I like to pray more than I like to listen to God's answer.  Some would say they like listening to me pray.  But in devotion time, my prayers are horrible.  They are scattered, they are confusing, they are distracted.  They are jumpy, meaning they go from something very real and deep to something like, "please God help me not to forget that my son needs a special treat today."  A lot of times, my prayers are begging God to help me stay focused.  I struggle with saying the things I think I am supposed to say and what I really want to say.  They usually end up being both, just in case.)

Devotions can be short to get started.  Devotions can be listening to a song with a strong spiritual meaning.  It could be reading a book that teaches you or encourages you in spiritual matters.  It could be a Bible Study.  It could be a Portals of Prayer, which I've actually never read before.  huh.  It could be prayer.  It could be journaling.  Doesn't matter, just show up.  God still shows up, so you won't be alone.

Start where you need to start to have success.  If that means 15 min. three days a week, then start there.  Start in a realistic place where you will have success and be encouraged to get to the place you want to be.  Remember, there is no right or wrong in this.

But let's be honest here.  If we aren't spending time re plugging into our spiritual source, how can we expect our faith to flourish?  How can we be strong and courageous if we aren't doing anything to strengthen it?  Our Christian faith is like any other living thing.  It needs to be fed and strengthened, otherwise, it withers and dies.

I wish I was better at devotions on a daily basis.  A lot of times I am so exhausted from staying up late trying to do too many things.  This last Sabbath was a big reminder to me how important taking time out, making it a priority is.  Taking time to learn from the one who made me.  Feeling my soul shine a little brighter, feel a little more alive, a little more real and full.  And to learn a little bit more about the one who loves me.  To challenge my preconceived ideas and stretch my understanding.

I need to remember...Just show up.

It's not about how to do devotions.

It's about why we do devotions.

Inner dialog: The cycle of dysfunction

I wasn't going to continue on my last post, but my post about raising my daughter led to a wonderful long conversation with my grandmother.  A conversation that shed some more light into the things I was trying to communicate in the previous post.

I sounded pretty terrified and insecure in my previous post, and all those things I said were true, sometimes are still true.  But what I realized is how much God has healed me from so much of that fear.  It used to be, if anyone ever paid me a compliment, I quickly pass it off to having pulled off a fun outfit.  All my confidence and beauty rested in how thin I was and how great my outfit was; my superficial appearance.  My acceptance never went any deeper than how I appeared to others.  I say with confidence now, how God has used the last couple years to slowly reveal my inner self to me in a way that I see and love because it is the me he has transformed.  I now believe that I am lovable even on my bad days, (sometimes believing that is still really hard), but that I still deserve love because God has claimed me and has transformed me.  My worth doesn't come from how much I get done, how great my kids behave, or my fantastic closet, though that is my favorite part.  I am the same me on good and bad days.  I am normal.  I am loved.  I am a creation designed by the creator.  I won't ever be anybody else, and I am more OK with that than ever before.  I like me now.  I'm still not proud of my behavior most days, but I understand that mistakes are a part of life, and God is still working in me.  I still don't shower for days, yell at my kids when I am tired and immediately regret it.  I waste days on TV sometimes and get down on myself for not being more than I want to be.  I am proud, and selfish, and angry still, but I am also forgiven, redeemed, selfless, and giving too.  I am a strong combination of good and broken.  I am human.  But I am me, and I kind of like me, because God has placed good in me, he has placed his Spirit in me.

I would like to pass that Spirit filled confidence onto my daughter.  I would like her to see in me a woman who seeks God in all she does.  A woman who tries to love others as best she can.  A mom who did her best and rejoiced over her children.  I would like her to see a REAL woman who accepts who she is and lives her life to God's glory.  I want to give her that.

What I don't want to give her is a negative inner dialog.  I don't want the bad things I say about myself to be her guidelines for what a woman should be.  If she hears me always angrily calling myself fat, than she will understand that 1. her mom doesn't like herself, and 2. that the measurement for fat, is the weight her mother is at and apparently that is a bad thing.  Now I'm not overweight, but if she hears me saying I'm fat, than she must remain thinner than me to NOT be fat And if I don't like myself, what does that say to the child who looks up to me?  This is very confusing to a child who thinks the world of her mom, the person who outweighs everyone else on the planet.  No one is better than mom, at least for awhile. And what does that say, when your favorite person doesn't like herself?  Cuts herself down, and disregards the child's compliments that they are beautiful?

If someone pays me a compliment, and my immediate response is, "Oh no, I don't have any make up on, my hair is a mess and I'm in sweats.  I look terrible."  This inadvertently communicates to her that in order to be beautiful, I need to be put together.  I need make up, I need my hair done and I need to dressed in a fun get up.

Why are so many of us women are always cutting ourselves down so easily?  We are so incredibly harsh on ourselves.  Why is it so impossible to see the beauty in ourselves?  Because the thing is, we are the measuring stick by which our children will understanding beauty and confidence and self acceptance.  In the way we talk about ourselves, we are giving them their inner dialog.

So, my children will never hear me call myself fat.  EVER.  Even if I feel it, I have never said these words in front of them.  One time Big heard me say, "oh man these jeans are getting tight, I have put on some weight."  His immediate response was, "Mom you are NOT FAT!"  I said without hesitation, "You are right, I am not fat, however, I probably shouldn't be eating two desserts a day and sneaking one as a snack.  It's not healthy, and not fitting in my jeans is a good indicator that I should stop."

My children won't ever hear me criticize myself in a photo.  Doesn't matter if the camera added 10lbs, or if it was a bad angle, the photo was there to capture a memory. I don't want them hearing me care more about my looks and cutting myself down, than I do about the fun moment that photo captured.

When I get dressed up to go out, I have decided to use the word fun when asking how an outfit works.  "Is this outfit fun?  Does it match?  Would different shoes be better?"  This may sound really silly, but the last thing I want to hear or have them understand is that the outfit makes me beautiful.  The outfit may be beautiful, I may be beautiful in it, but what I am wearing, in the end does not make or break me.  The beauty is in my confidence.  The beauty is in how I treat people.  The beauty is in how love lives in my life.

I try to take captive every negative thought about my looks before they leave my mouth.  This way, in every way possible, they don't have a mother who cares most about the way she doesn't like they way she looks.  However, in my behavior, my children always hear my repentance and prayer for God's strength to do better, so that there is more love in our house than anger or frustration.  I want the comments they hear me say about myself always to reflect my character, not my looks.  I hope they understand in this, that character and spirit are far more important to work on than the way we look.  (with all obvious health issues aside, this is purely cosmetic talk here.)

You may think all of this is a bit over the top, but I don't care.  For as long as I can remember, I only had negative inner dialog.  Do you know how hard it is to change your entire mindset?  It's taken me awhile, and I would like to save my daughter as much of that pain as possible.  Your inner dialog about yourself COMPLETELY effects the way you interact with other people.  Your partner.  Your family.  Your co-workers.  Your friends.  Your neighbors.  And the way we see ourselves, talk about ourselves, becomes our children inner dialog, their frame work of how to understand who they are.

Don't get me wrong, I still struggle with some of these things.  It's hard to live one way your entire life, and then try to think completely different.  It takes time, but God is faithful, and he has worked miracles in my heart already in this.

God is bigger than all of this, and heals every kind of pain and issue, but can't we participate in ending the cycle?  Helping give them a healthy self awareness?  A love for themselves because they are created by God?  This is what I want to give my daughter.  I used be very afraid that I couldn't overcome my own demons and create a healthy inner dialog for myself to ensure that I could give her one too.  But God is good, and he has done wonders in the dark places of my head.

And in the end, when I read this, its not even at all about the way we look.  It's about who we are.  .

The roots underground

It's confession time.

There are quite a few things that come easy to me, and because these things come easy to me, I continue to do them, because then, *gasp*, I don't have to try very hard.  It's called shallow work.  (As I write this, I realize I am reflecting a lot on my speaking career.)

Math was a lot like this growing up.  I loved it and was good at it, until I wasn't.  Then I stopped taking elective math classes.  It became too hard.  I didn't want to have to work at because I had already gotten into AP math and that was already really good.  If I stopped then, I would always be a little better than average.

Putting only enough effort into life to stand out just enough to be noticed is really no way to live.  And yet, that is what I would do.  I like to do what I am good at, or what comes easy, and leave the rest behind.  I also think that being a product of an instant, immediate culture has played its role in creating this habit within my work ethic.  This year I started to really see that in myself.  I didn't like it.  I saw myself scattered with shallow work.  Shallow work that was good enough to impress people and reach them, but was never my best. 

(The above paragraph speaks to the fact that I can easily rise to the challenge of what I know a speaker looks like and sounds like, but is what I am giving people the voice God gave me?  Do I do what I do because it's what I have seen others do, or is what I give people the voice I have searched God and myself for?  I haven't taken that deep prayerful journey that includes challenging myself and giving God total control over my ministry.  If I end up in the same spot, it will be worlds richer because I took the long introspective road to find myself there, instead of just being there because I think I should be or because I don't know where else to be.)

I was throwing my efforts wide and trying to do a lot.  This effort resulted in me really being unhappy with what I was giving people.  My husband, my children, my friends, my audience, my ministry to Haiti.  I think I got addicted to the rush. To always moving and being involved and needed.  I always needed to be doing something. I was addicted to the fun of always changing directions.  To sounding busy and effective and giving the impression like I could do it all.  And it was fun.  And I was doing a lot, but none of it to its full potential.  It prevented me from every really being alone and knowing how to manage my time. If I was busy, then I didn't have to be alone and face myself, or my decisions, or my consequences.  If you remain busy and active, then there is less time to sit and dwell and create. To grow roots.  To dig deep.  To purge secrets and dark places.  To confess and face demons and be free.  The only thing you have time for is survival.

Well, I have time now and it scares me.  I have the time to dig deep.  I have the time to develop the root system to the things I am passionate about.  I used to come home from speaking at an event where incredible things happened and Paul would ask me how it went.  I would shrug and respond, "Good I guess, it just wasn't what it could be."  I wasn't really content or satisfied with what I was producing.  I knew it could be richer.  It all had so much potential.  Potential I wasn't allowing because I wasn't taking the time to walk the long road.  Time to peel back the layers of shallowness and get deeper and richer with my content, with my vulnerabilities   Taking an hour at a time to pray over one issue.  To seek God deeply about his design for my next stage, my next step in life.  The direction for my speaking career.

Well, I have started to walk the road in the last couple weeks.  Walking the lonely road of lots of reading.  Walking the long road of hours of researching and being richer for it, but having nothing to show for it.  I wash the dishes, and I have something to show for my efforts.  I write a blog and I have something to show for my time.  Growing deep roots, roots that are grounded in time, in effort, in creativity, in research, in prayer, in study, doesn't produce immediate fruit.  It's like my raspberry bushes.  They don't produce fruit until a couple years after you first plant them.  Are you kidding me?  That's torturer to me!  I can't believe I have to wait that long!  And yet, this is what I dream for with my ministry.

All of this continues to reveal how deeply rooted my identity is wrapped up in what I can accomplish.  If you know me at all, this comes as no surprise, but every time I think I have cleaned out that dark place, there is always something else to reveal that it goes just a little deeper.  I hate admitting this.  I  hate how elementary it sounds that I would struggle to know to know who I really am and where my worth and value comes from.  But even elementary, this dark lie seeps into so much of what our culture feeds us.

Being alone most days is hard for me.  It makes me feel invisible, and apparently I need to be seen to be worth anything. (now that is hard and embarrassing to say.)  In all those hours of the day, I am faced with the choice of how to spend my time.  How I spend my time produces fruit no matter what I choose.  I have decided to spend my time as of late walking the long road of digging deep into my faith.  Of reading scripture and books that encourage me and teach me.  I am praying more over who I am and what my voice was made for.  I am researching and talking with people about business and life and social issues.  People that challenge me and force me to think outside of my box.  I am digging deeper and putting the time into chipping away at what gift lies underneath all the issues.

It's exhausting and kind of scary.  It's hard to fight the demons of result based value.  But I persevere.  I don't want to waste my time or potential anymore.  One of my greatest fears has always been that at the end of my life, I would look back and see that I was too scared to live a life out loud.  I want a life that is courageous and deep, and real, and inspiring.  By not developing a deep root system, I realize how my life will drift away.  I don't want that.  I want an inspired life.  A deep rooted, authentic, rich life.  Time to dig deep I guess.

Hello 2013.  You kind of scare me, but I'm ready now more than ever. I am ready to walk the long road.

Believing the lie part 2

So everything I wrote yesterday in this blog was true.  But there was more to say.  There is more to say because sometimes when we don't speak up, speak out, say what we need to say, or essentially live our lives, there could be other things at work as well.

We can remain silent in words and actions, living quietly hoping that no one sees us because are afraid to be ourselves.  When we allow others to control our decisions, we have handed them power over our lives.  I don't speak up because I believe you think my thoughts are simple, silly and non important.  I choose not to act because I have given you the power to silence me.  You have become my authority, my master, dictating what I say, when I say it, and how I act or behave.

As a Christian I believe I serve one master.  Well, let's be honest, scripture speaks to only being able to serve one master, as a normal human being, I have not perfected this.  My goal is to try and rededicate myself every day to the one opinion that matters, God's.

After I wrote yesterday's blog, I heard from a friend who confessed to also struggling with these same thoughts.  She heard God speak to her, "just write".  It reminded me of the first time I spoke publicly as a professional.  It was in front of 800 junior high students and I was terrified!  Terrified enough to cry continuously, confess constantly at my lack of being ready, and fear that I had made a huge mistake.  I readied myself that day repeating this mantra  "If one child hears how deeply they are loved by God, then that is why I came.  Just one child."

And then it was as clear as if God was standing right next to me.  I heard him say, "I don't care if all 800 of these students walk away not getting anything.  I brought these 800 students here for you.  I wanted you to trust me.  I wanted you to follow me, and start this journey.  I brought them here so you would say yes to me and trust me to walk you through this."

We so easily forget that we only have one small piece of the puzzle.  That God in his infinite wisdom and direction is doing many things in our lives and in the world all at the same time.  We are but one small piece of the masterpiece.  But our piece is important and our voice is needed.  Our voice and our life is needed because God does work that we do not see when we live our lives trusting him.  I may think what I do is small compared to so many others working to fight AIDS, Hunger, Poverty.  I get down on myself and believe the lie and stay quiet.  Then Satan wins, and I don't play my part.  We aren't supposed to know the effects of each of our actions, we are just supposed to live and trust God to work.  When we stay silent we harden our hearts to the kind of love and trust and faith that God has so sacrificially given to us.  We say no to the greatest gift ever given.

The last thing that really struck me as I was thinking about that post, was how easy it is to live quietly.  I think many people, including myself, are scared to live big lives.  Lives that are full of real strong opinions, or lives that take risks and chances.  Lives that pursue dreams or stand up for what we believe in.  It is terrifying to put yourself out there.  When you put yourself, your thoughts, your opinions, your beliefs, your heart, your soul out there, you leave yourself open for judgement.  Now everyone can really see you, who you are, what you are about. They will see all of you, not just the clean version of yourself you portray to everyone.  Living a big life doesn't mean starting the next big thing that will change the world, it simply means being the truest version of yourself you can be.  It means trusting your voice.  Loving yourself.  Living for God.  That is living a big life, and that my friends can be terrifying.

So there isn't just one lie to believe to keep you chained down, your heart hidden away, dreams tucked in your childhood treasure box.   There are many lies, many fears to fight through to have confidence in your voice, your life, your faith, your heart.

Let's fight the lies my friends.  Let's slay the dragon and move on.  I don't know about you, but I need more alive people in my life, and I can wait for someone else to start, but that would just be another lie.

It starts with you.
It starts with me.

You have a voice.
I have a voice.

Taking time to pray

I believe in quiet prayers.   Prayers that only reach the heart and ears of the God who made you.

But never underestimate the power of praying out loud.  Not only does God hear those prayers, but other important  hearts and ears hear them too.

I think it is critically important that we as Christian parents pray with our children.  I don't just mean your standard meal time and bedtime and morning prayers, or even the Lord's prayer.  I mean, plain speech, talk to a friend, share what's on your heart prayers.  This is one of those of things that we could do from the very beginning with our children.  This way it is never a taught skill, it is a natural form of communication and one they understand, because they have never been without it.

This isn't about passing along religion to our children.  This is about teaching them how to be in a relationship with the Lord.  How to share your heart with him.  Your fears, your joys, and just the every day musings of your mind.

The best part of praying together as a family, out loud, is first, you and your children will grow comfortable praying in front of people.  So many people, even life long Christians, get nervous praying in front of others.  Praying together as a family will help all of you get more comfortable praying out loud in front of others.

Second and most important, you get a direct line straight into the heart and inner thoughts of your children and spouse.  There are many days where our lives are filled with day to day chores, responsibilities and adventures.  You have seen your family, shared laughs with them, frustrations with them, and then when the day is over, you crash into bed.  Days can go by without a true, real connection.

Tonight at bedtime, I was abundantly blessed.  We read our stories, we sang our songs, we said our prayers.  But I wanted us to pray together as a family.  We don't do it every night, and even tonight, I was tired and ready to just be done, finish the dishes and crawl into bed.  But the Lord was nudging me.  "Create the habit. Talk to me", I heard.  And so I said, "Big, what do you want to pray for?"

Big, "God, I pray for our friend Ms. Inga.  I pray God that you would heal her hurt head.  That you would take away her headache.  God I pray that you would help make Kieran and Michael big helpers to Inga so that she can rest, and they would take care of her.  Amen." (I don't think I actually told the kids my friend was ill, they overheard it in a phone conversation.)

Middle, "God I pray for cousin Ryan that you would take away his cancer and he would be all better so he could be with his family.  Make him not sick anymore. (We haven't spoken about Ryan in the last couple weeks, so this touched me very deeply.)  And please God heal mommy's toe so that it won't hurt or fall off.  (I broke my toe last week, but it has no real threat of falling off.)  Amen.

Little, "God I pray for Inga's head. Make it better. See that mama, I prayed for Ms. Inga too! Amen.  (she is a work in progress, but nothing is sweeter to my ears than then sound of small children praying)

Paul then prayed for me that I would not get overwhelmed with chores.  He praised God for the work I do around the house and taking care of our home and our children.  I love nothing more than having my children hear their dad pray to the Lord, especially as he prays for their mom.  I love that my husband did that, and that my children heard that.

I prayed that my children would desire God on their own.  I prayed for wisdom.  I prayed that God would continue to be the final authority in our home and a few other things.

This kind of blessing doesn't happen every day in our home.  But what it reminds me of, and why I share it with you, is to serve as an encouragement.  That we would pray with our children so they can hear our hearts and we can hear theirs.  So that we all know that even though mom and dad have authority in the home, we are all under God's authority.  That our children would hear our confessions and seeking God's forgiveness, communicates to them that we aren't perfect and need God desperately as well.  We get to hear what our children's inner thoughts are, which allows us to serve them and help them more effectively.

My hope and desire is that we would each be encouraged and take the time to pray with our children.  Nothing is more important, and I promise you will be blessed.

Believing the lie

I have kept to myself quite a bit these last few weeks.  I know some of the reasons, which I will write about tomorrow in a new series of blogs for January titled, "The Food Journal".

One reason is that when it comes time to pull out my computer and work, I would rather sit on the couch with Paul and hang out, or sew, or clean, or cook, or read, or sleep.  Lately I am not that interested in being on the computer, I would rather just do life.

Another reason, which is most likely the biggest reason, is I have let myself live in the lie that my voice doesn't really matter.  We live in a time when everyone shares every thought they have.  There are more blogs and articles out there on the internet than there are stars in the sky.  Seriously?!  Who needs my two cents about my family, our life, food issues, crafts, sewing, traveling.  I am an expert in none of these things so why tell you how we wrapped our presents this year, or what we had for dinner.  I can point you to other great blogs already doing and communicating those things already.

When it comes right down to it, the statement in my head is "Who really cares? Why would I write that?  No one cares.  Everyone is already saying all those things, you don't need to say it too. We as a family or me as a speaker don't do things the best way, we just do it our way."  Even writing this makes me anxious because I think its silly.

And so I don't write.  I keep my thoughts to myself.  I get down on myself and belittle my voice.  This angers me the most because it is part of the reason I travel the country speaking to youth and young adults.  I believe that every voice matters.  I deeply believe that when we share our thoughts and hearts and ideas, amazing things happen.  You have no idea what might inspire someone else.  And so I never want to hear students say they don't matter, or that their life isn't that important.

I won't accept those words from others, but its so easy to accept them for myself.  This here in lies the problem.  So often we can believe in others more than ourselves.  I can believe that God's grace is for others, but not for me.  I can believe that others can loose weight, but not me.  I believe that others can be forgiven, but not me.  I believe others can make a difference, but not me.

I wonder if it's because when we believe in ourselves the way God see us, we know our lives would be different.  We would be inspired, and moved to make a difference.  Our lives would be more intentional and we would be held accountable to the things we believe.  We would actually believe in ourselves and the things we say and do would matter.

Most of the time it is just easier to believe the lie.  When we believe the lie that we don't really matter, we are off the hook.  We aren't challenged, we aren't dedicated to a more fulfilling existence.  We can just get by, because we don't see that others see us.

So today I try to stop believing the lie.  I believe that when we share our lives with people, our souls feel connected and great things happen.  This blog has revealed to me a deeply rooted issue I wasn't ready to face, my own self value.

And so my road to reclaim my value and believe in God's stamp on my life begins again today.  My voice and my life matter, and so does yours.  Don't believe the lie.

Have a blessed and wonderful day.

To be a blessing

I have 15 blogs started and unfinished.  Wow.  Maybe my next project should be to go through and finish them all.  Leave nothing unsaid.

Even with that many unfinished thoughts, and some of them are really great, I couldn't come back to my blog without starting with this one.

It was just Thanksgiving, a time where many people, including us, focused on all that we have to be thankful for.  For us as Christians, it goes deeper.  It's not just being thankful to the universe or the powers that be that blessings have poured down on us.  It's not just saying "I am thankful for.... fill in the blank", but instead saying, "Father God, thank you for..... fill in the blank."  Giving him credit for the blessings that  pour down.  All the gifts that surround us.  Even when some days the blessings feel small in comparison to the struggles and pain that try and try to distract us.

Paul and I have so much, SO MUCH, to be thankful for.  It's amazing what happens to your heart when you turn it towards seeing the blessings instead of the stress and pain.  Through the course of the last year, we have endured over $7000 in car repair costs.  Each and every time, God has seen us through and somehow from somewhere, he has had his hand in helping us stay out of credit card debt to fix cars.  Our diet has put a significant strain on our budget, and yet God continues to provide information through friends and blogs of ministries that are out there providing organic, natural food at rock bottom costs.

(You have to understand that our way of living is not by some hipster/bohemian choice.  Our son's body doesn't rid itself of toxins on its own, so the more non organic food he eats, the more he poisons his body.  We either take the cost up front in natural/organic food, or at the back end detoxing him with natural methods.  Either way, for my son to have a chance of staying off meds, our diet needs to be what it is.)

We have had a year since the tornado soaking in all the blessings of that hard and devastating day.  The blessings just keep revealing themselves and we are overwhelmed by the way God moves through pain and suffering.

This month has changed the way I live.  Changed the way I talk to my kids, to my husband, in my prayers, and to others.  Living in a place of thankfulness changes the way you do life.  It's funny, when you read scripture, from beginning to end, God starts most of his passages to us with, "Remember, I the Lord your God, the one who brought you up out of slavery, saved you and redeemed you, heard your cry and answered your prayer."  Before he even begins what he wants to say, he takes a moment to remind us of who he is.  Remind us of his life giving power.  Remind us of patience with us.  Remind us of his sovereignty   Remind us of his compassion and mercy.  Remind us of his love that surpasses all other powers in this place and beyond.  He reminds us to be thankful because when we live in a place of thankfulness, we live different.  We have more compassion for others.  We judge less, we forgive more.  We stress less, and laugh more. live in thankfulness.

I spent a lot of time this month focusing on that.  I existed most of my days feeling overwhelmed by the amazing people in my life, my husband, my children, my home, my family and friends who live far away.  I am so incredibly blessed by the people I have the privileged to call my friends and family.  I am so thankful and feel so blessed by you all.

Then, the day after Thanksgiving, I received three letters in the mail.  Two were from people I know.  My first thought was, "Man already!  Who are these people that they already have their Christmas cards out!  Man they are on the ball."  But as I opened them, I was humbled by the kindness in their words saying that they were thankful for me. Thanksgiving cards.  I was speechless.  I was so taken aback by the fact that someone would be thankful for me.  This is not in a self deprecating way, but just a truly unexpected gift.  There was one letter though that came from an anonymous person.  The words and gift in that card still have the power to bring tears to my eyes and take words from my mouth.   It is so humbling to have someone thank you for sharing your life with them.  It reawakened me to continue to write my blog.

I have said before that I struggle with what to write most times in my blog because it isn't a specific place for recipes or crafts or devotions   It's just my life.  Life as someone who lives in a city with a family that loves Jesus and strives to live in place of passion and purpose.  But I realize that it is in sharing our lives together that we see Christ, we share in his gift of the "Church" and his body.  It is where we find encouragement and can give support.  It is where ideas are sparked and life becomes richer because we share it together.  I can't have you all over for supper, but I can walk through life with you in this weird way that the internet allows.

Paul and I kept trying to figure out who the letter might be from.  Then we both realized, we didn't want to know.  We understood that it was the Lord giving us that encouragement we need.  Reminding us it is him who makes us great.  It is His inspiration and spirit that people are drawn to in our lives.  We are just your normal, every day folk.  He is what makes us great.  And so we press on.  We are reminded that we invite people into our lives so that we can all grow, all be inspired, all see the face of Christ on each other.

So, thank you.  Thank you for reading.  Thank you for walking with us.  Thank you for praying for us.  Thank you for being in our lives.  You all have changed me and I am so thankful for you.

A moment to let go

I went out to the bonfire tonight to burn some of the many heavy duty card board boxes we have.  I had a lot to do inside the house, but I could tell, my heart was calling me to spend a little time outside, in the quiet, pondering over a roaring fire before the weather turns prematurely cold.

Sometimes when I am faced with time alone and I want to pray, I never know where to start.  When things have been hard and my heart feels full of doubt and questions and angst, I just don't know where to start.  What part of the mess do I start unpacking?

When I sat down with a cool breeze on my back and started warming my hands, this is how my prayer went;

I feel so lost.
I feel so overwhelmed.
God I don't know what to say.  I don't know where to start.
I don't know how to be a speaker and a mom at the same.  Giving 100% to my husband, my kids, my passion for sharing the gospel as a speaker.
I don't know how to give my kids three nutritious home cooked meals and not spend all day in the kitchen.
I don't know how to have differing opnions in raising our kids with my husband and still feel like we are on the same team.
I don't know how to live in North Mpls and not raise my kids to live in fear when I live in fear myself.
I don't know to live on a budget.
I don't know how to let go of the little things, but realize in the little things, special happens.
I don't know how to try to be healthy in our lives and not let organization take over and rule me.
I don't know how to pursue my dreams and stay content with where I am.
I don't know how to take breaks and feel like its OK.
I don't know how to have a relationship with you Lord and not still be a little afraid of what you will have me do.
Most of the time I feel like I don't know anything.

I just don't know.

And as I sat there, feeling sad at my true confessions and wishing it wasn't my struggle, a quiet peace started to make its way into my heart, and that's when I heard,

"If you had all the answers and knew how to do all those things, then you wouldn't need me."


"If you had all the answers and knew how to do all those things, then you wouldn't need me."

And again I was reminded that it isn't about doing it right.  That there isn't a perfect way to do any of these things.  That part of walking through life with Christ at your side, means struggling through these things, but inviting God into this conversation and seeking his guidance and counsel.  Independence is a sin that cuts God out and takes his place.  It felt wonderful and hard to confess that, but so peaceful to live in the absence of that struggle.

I wanted to share my moment with you in case you needed this today too.

I have to believe we all have moments like this every now and again.

Proverbs 2

I wanted to share something that was encouraging to me with you.  You can read Proverbs 2 straight through, or you can throw vs. 9 after the first few verses, and then it reads like this:

I love this reading and think it is very important to read this, pray this and meditate on this for our own lives and those of our children.

Proverbs 2:1-10

My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding,

then you will understand what is right and just and fair-every good path.

and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding,

then you will understand what is right and just and fair-every good path.

and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God

and you will understand what is right and just and fair-every good path.

For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.  He holds victory in store for the upright he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.

Then you will understand what is right and just and fair-every good path.

For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.

Discretion will protect you and understanding will guard you.

Middle's right of passage

One of my favorite things that Paul and I have learned over the years is the importance of rights of passage.  It is a time to take pause.  To realize that a moment in your life is changing.  That things won't be the same and you need to take a moment to stop, to reflect, to pray, and find tools or wisdom to carry you through this new stage.  Our American culture doesn't do a really great job at this, and Paul and I are far from experts, but we love the idea of arming our kids for the next stage of life, and taking pause with them.

Our first right of passage happens when one of our kids starts school.  This is a big moment to talk about expectations, how important school is and what an honor it is to go to school.  We talk about  the responsibilities of being a school age kid, and most important how God can use them to bring his light and love to friends and teachers that might not know him.  They are now entering a very special mission field and Mom's and Dad's role in their life is a little different now.  There is a lot to talk about, and a lot to pray over for our children in this moment.

We did this for Big last year, and had all these great ideas and hopes and expectations and then he ate candy the day before and we witnessed first hand what sugar does to that kid.  Could hardly keep his eyes on us for two seconds, and that is not an exaggeration.  He couldn't sit still, he couldn't focus, he couldn't listen.  With all that said, we still had a great time, but we were really hoping that this year with Middle would be the way we dreamed this moment would  be.

Then Middle threw up till 1am the night before our special right of passage afternoon.  We decided to do it  anyway and just keep it low key.

The first thing we do on our afternoon is get the kid a backpack.  Since they wear a uniform to school, this is pretty special, and it's just us and one kid doing this together.  Middle LOVED his new backpack.

This may sound like a perfect and wonderful day, but it wasn't without its reality.  We carried Middle most of the time because he was so tired.  He was missing a bit of his spark, and his treat included an OJ and banana.  Poor little kid.  I'll be honest though, out of all three kids, he's the best sick kid.  If you have kids, you know each family has one, and he's ours.

Love the extra snuggles though.

After getting the backpack, we go and pick out a treat and then head to a special park where we can sit, eat, talk and pray over our child.  Here is a wonderful photo of two of my guys.  Ahh...I just took a moment to sit and stare at them.  I love them so much.

If dad gets a photo, mom gets a photo.

Since he was doing so great, we let Middle have a couple bites of coconut milk ice cream.  Chocolate is Middle's favorite, and he was SO excited.

We even lured a chipmunk to share with us.  That was pretty fun to watch.  What can I say? We're givers.

This was a special time with Middle set apart from the other kids and set apart to mark the beginning of school.  I loved listening to wisdom that Paul passed on to him.  I loved the questions Middle had and hearing about the things he was excited for.  Praying over our kids is probably one of my favorite things.  I love hearing Paul's heart for them and what he dreams for them and what is nervous for.  I love that kids hear our hearts and us trying to surrender our will to God's for their life.

Middle's first right of passage.  I probably won't be included in the next one since it will deal with boy things, if you know what I mean, but I look forward to planning it with Paul.  And it will probably include a weekend away.  Lots to talk about as a boy growing into a young man.

The last thing we do for the kids on their first day of school, is give them a necklace to wear.  Their name is written on the guitar pick to remind them who they are.  They are a Tietjen, and Tietjen's are believers in God.  They struggle, they love, they forgive, they laugh, they try hard, they live in God's grace and live a life of serving others.  Also on the necklace is a cross which is there to remind them they are not alone.  Christ goes with them wherever they go.  They belong to him and are not alone.

Enjoy the photos and our little tradition.

A beautiful night on a bridge

After dinner with some friends, celebrating one of their birthday's, I wasn't quite ready to head home. 

I just needed more time. A few moments that were given to spontaneity.

So I decided to take a walk. I was downtown by the new Guthrie and the river. I walked by some beautiful lofts, old historic company buildings, and then I found the St. Anthony bridge. I started to walk along the bridge. When I looked down, I saw the water that appeared black, and you could hear it stirring and crashing against the shore. The most distinct sound was the waterfall. The thunder of it was music to my ears. I love the sound of water. When I looked up I could see hundreds of city lights; street lights marking the way of an old train path, blue lights lightening up the Guthrie, skyscrapers with dozens of lights still on, apartments and lofts with lights on resembling life inside. It was almost like being in the middle of a starry night.

Walking along the bridge and taking in all the wonder almost took my breath away. The wind picked up and it was strong. My hair was down so it was uncontainable. I stood on that bridge and admired the city.

All that man had created.

What's great about what man can create, is how God gave him imagination to do so. I love that he gives us a taste of what it means to have imagination, to create, to love designing something, to participate in art. When God created the earth, he wasn't done. He still creates to this day, but the beauty is that he lets us do it with him. Even among the city, there was this river, these beautiful trees and shore line. The thing that man can not create is in the middle and at the center of what we can. It was a picture of God and man together creating something beautiful. I stood there and breathed. I took a breath and remembered in Genesis where God breathed into man to make him alive. I breathed again. Then I took another slow breath. I remembered how holy and divine it is breath. That every breath I take acknowledges God and gives him credit for who I am. I stood there for moments and took breath after breath and saw the wonder of the night.

It was a very spiritual night for me. I didnt' say much to God nor did he speak to me in words. But we had a moment and I'll treasure it.

Thank you.

Love and Marriage

It's funny, whether you read a book or watch a movie, you can find a couple where one is ultimately devoted to the other. One person in the couple will do anything to be with the love of their life. They will move heaven and earth, fight evil, and live in harsh conditions. They will forgive any past wrongs, and devote themselves to the welfare and happiness to the one they love.

Now lets be honest, my gut reaction is, "I want someone like that! I want someone to always think of me first, be what I need, devote themselves to every wish and desire I have." The hard truth, is I never think to myself, "I want to be that for someone else. I want to always love someone else above my own wishes and desires, devoting my life to their happiness and health." At the very core, my sin of selfishness reigns strongest.

This here in lies the only times when Paul and I struggle in our marriage. You can use words like selfishness, submission, miscommunication, independence, expectations, it doesn't matter. When one or both of us stops looking out for the other, then we have a hard time communicating, living, and helping each other. our marriage hurts in these times.

I noticed this trend about two years ago. Paul and I were miscommunicating a lot. He was hurt by things I said, I was hurt by things he did, and when he was arguing with me about how I wasn't appreciating him, my gut reaction was to "nicely" point out how much I did around the house and all the things that go unnoticed. He was feeling unloved and I was feeling unloved. We were both needing and missing attention from the other person. He was coming to me saying, "I need..." and I was thinking and feeling, "I need...". We were both in so much need we couldn't give to the other. And for some reason, in that moment, a light bulb went off. This conversation wasn't about me, he was trying to share his needs, his frustration, his hurt. My job was to listen. He needed me to listen. And so instead of speaking my piece about my hurt, I waited. My hurt and my opinions were screaming to be heard. I remember squeezing my hands together as I listened to my husband communicate how he felt unseen and unappreciated and I wasn't supporting him. (Clearly he wasn't noticing the children were still alive, the house was semi cleaned, the laundry done and dinner always made. I felt I was supporting him plenty by taking care of all the house duties and he wasn't appreciating me!) But that wasn't what was happening. Paul needed to be heard. He needed me to put his needs first for a change. He needed me to listen and support him. And so I did.

What I noticed was by the end of the conversation, he got around to verbally affirming all that I do. He recognized my hard work and thanked me for it. What he said he needed in that moment was just my listening ear and support. In that discussion I was able to see our pattern.

And here is our pattern: Paul and I get busy. Life happens, he goes out on gigs with the band, I travel to go speak, he gets a few acting gigs that take up the next couple weekends, our kids have swim lessons and field trips, people visit or we go visit people. In that kind of life, date nights, quality time with spouse and kids falls away to chores and life responsibility. We both ending up giving so much to our jobs and chores and our children that we have nothing left over for each other. Then our response turns selfish toward one another. I think, "Can't you see all I am doing? Please affirm me, and help me and pull your weight around here." Paul is thinking, "Can't you see all I am doing? Please affirm me, and understand and don't put expectations me and just listen and support me I am doing everything I can to find extra work to pay our bills."

When both of us are feeling empty, one of us has to step up. One of us has to man up and think of the other person first. (We both try to communicate to each other about what we need, but when our hearts feel empty, someone has to act first.) I usually fall in the immature camp waiting for Paul to be mature and do it first.

Paul and I fell into this pattern again recently and I noticed we were arguing and feeling unnoticed and not cherished. So I put the theory to the test and tried to love as God loves us, unselfishly. Even though I was feeling deeply unappreciated I tried hard to be the person in the movie that everyone wants. I choose to organize my days so that when Paul came home, I could spend time with him. I wanted dinner ready and the kids and I would cheer for Paul when he came home. Instead of doing chores in the evening, I would sit with Paul and we would talk. I would listen and affirm him. I tried very hard to devote myself to making sure he knew he was loved.

I knew how to do this because yes, Christ poured himself out for all people, he spoke of loving God and loving others. He spoke and lived to love others. But my real life example really is my husband and Christ in him. I would say that when we married and even today I struggle to love like he does. Every decision he makes, I and the kids are at the forefront of his mind. When he knows I have had a long day, he brings me a coffee or puts the kids to bed to give me a break. He won't buy new running shoes so that we can use the extra money for groceries. He has taught me in the daily grind of life what it means to love others and put their needs first. Day in and day out he is my real life romantic comedy and the man I dreamed of wanting to spend my life with. One who finds his joy in my happiness and fulfillment.

I have learned from him to love him that way. Now I'm not gonna lie, when we do this for one another, our life together is filled with so much more joy. When I put Paul ahead of my myself it sounds selfless, but truly in the end, he feels filled with love and thus in return can love me. Can see beyond his own need to help out around the house, to see me, and make sure I feel loved. So I guess you can even make it selfish to love someone this way if you wanted to but that really is the wrong motive. I want my husband to know he is loved, cherished and appreciated.

As I write this I feel like you might get this impression that Paul and I have this whole thing figured out. Let's be clear that I have made a living emptying my pride and inviting others into all my mistakes and learning experiences. I write this to remind myself of how to love my husband and those around me. I write this to share with you what I have learned in my marriage. To remind myself that loving someone else deeply and wholly truly is a wonderful gift. This is not my idea, nor am I first to write it, but living it every day is hard and we could all use a little reminder every now and then.

What a Sabbath brings...part one

Today has about four posts in one.  So many great things learned, observed, and enjoyed ye.  Tonight as I write this, my husband is catching up on the phone with his brother, the kitchen is an absolute disaster, and my list of things to do is still just as long today as it was yesterday, but I am so wonderfully happy.

In full disclosure, it is hard to break into the habit of Sabbath.  It is easy to continue doing chores, running errands, checking email and whatnot on the weekend.  Especially yard work.  And for me it is work.  Some people putz in the yard because it relaxes them.  I enjoy it, but don't get me wrong, it is work, so I avoid it on Sabbath.  So, we as a family haven't been the best at carving out this time each week.  We believe in its importance.  God says it is critical to your health as a human, as a family, as a community.  But we have come up short in living in this command.  So Friday we agreed that Saturday we would make sure that Sabbath happened.  We felt this was even more important since we have so much to prepare for our trip, we needed to make sure our priorities we in order.

So yesterday morning started with each kid coming in to have snuggle time.  Once their snuggle quota was met, they went to build a train track in the living room and Paul and I got our snuggle time where we get to casually wake up and talk about the day.

Once up and out of bed, my first thought was to start getting stuff done.  I had to remind myself that today chores weren't allowed, so I sat down at the table to color with my kids. But they had to show me what they had been up to.  They made a new bed for Little out of our empty tupperware bin.  It was too cute not to share.

Then my children proceeded to draw me coloring pages.  It was awesome,  Here is a picture that Big drew me and we colored together.  Nana her hair is read in your honor.

Middle decided, at five mind you, to draw out a paint by number to help me along.  I wasn't sure if I should be impressed or insulted.  I choose to be impressed.  Here are those pictures.  I love how many numbers he gave me to make sure I understood what color I needed. Ha.

After coloring for a bit, the kids decided to come into the kitchen and help me make scones.  There is something wonderful about joining together in the kitchen and cooking together.  We made tasty cinnamon pecan scones with coconut milk.  Once the scones were in the oven, Middle was the creator of our smoothies.  He decided everything that went in them.  So we feasted on scones and strawberry/blueberry/kiwi/coconut milk smoothies.

It was yummy.

During breakfast, we started our "feed your body, feed your soul" devotion.  This basically means that we passages from my Bible during breakfast so that we remember as we feed our body food, our soul needs it too.  It is also a great way to get the kids into "real" word of God.

So before we begin, Middle says "What does soul mean?"  Again I wasn't sure whether to be impressed that he is paying attention, or offended that we have been doing this for months and he is now just asking me.  I again choose to be impressed that he asked.

Then I realized, how the heck do I answer this to a five year old.  So all you theologians out there can tell me how I did.  I thought for a quick moment and then said,

"Think of an egg.  You have the outside shell and then the inside "egg" part.  The white and yellow yoke is the egg right?  The essence of the egg is what's inside.  You crack the shell to get to the inside, the egg.  Well each person has a soul.  Our soul is like the egg and our skin, our body, is like the shell.  The shell holds the egg, the insides."

Then he made the observation that when we die we don't take our body, but we get a new body when Christ comes again, just like we crack and throw away the shell of the egg.

OK, yup, we'll go with that.

So we sat there eating and drinking and talking about eggs and death and our soul.  It felt right not to have to hurry off anywhere, but to focus on my kids and where their hearts and heads are at right now.

Since chores aren't allowed, I asked if the boys wanted to go outside and toss the football around.  I'm not gonna lie, it was weird for me to be outside playing.  If I'm outside I am usually doing chores around the yard.  Our yard has been neglected for two summers due to the tornado.  Even my son noticed that every afternoon I work in the yard.  He asked me two days ago not to work in the yard and just do sidewalk chalk with him.  As a manager of the home it is hard to put aside all the chores and mess staring you in the face and remember to get down on your hands and knees and play.

So since the house  next door got tore down, we have this big beautiful open field.  The boysand I played catch with the football for about 45 min.  We laughed, we fell down, we had silly throws and we worked on good throwing skills.  I caught myself a few times looking around and wanting to call quits to the game to pull a few weeks, put toys away, work on my fence, etc.  But I stayed present with my children and I was rewarded with a wonderful morning.  I made memories with my kids.  I built trust and deepened my relationship with them.  I was a mom who was present and played with my kids.

This truly happened because of the Sabbath.  The Sabbath forces you to stop what you are doing and be present for what is important.  It creates space for you to deepen and build relationship with yourself, the Lord, and your family.  I had to physically remind myself not to work.  To be present and attentive to the relationships around me.  God has a high opinion about the Sabbath.  It is important to him because he knows how deeply we need it.

Fun time, fun mom, playful mom was present on Saturday because I wasn't bogged down by chores.  But the other cool thing that happened on Saturday morning was the conversations I had with my kids.  When you aren't rushing off somewhere and you aren't looking at your to do list, you are able to hear your kids.  To listen.  To talk.  To figure out life together.  The Sabbath provides time for those conversations to happen.

So that was the first half of our day. The rest of the day included EMDR therapy with Big and a fabulous Mexican birthday party in the evening.

Beautiful things tend to happen when you have the time to allow them to happen.  Lately I have been too busy for life to happen.  Saturday, life happened.

It has to start somewhere

Let me start by saying that I am exhausted. My five week stretch of speaking weekends, vacation, and having company have caught up to me.

My husband is also exhausted.

My kids are just trying to keep up.

All this leaves us little energy to love each other the way I think we truly want to and the way God desires and command we do.

This evening my husband and I had an issue with the way the other person was handling bed time. Silly, I know, but when your energy is zapped and people don't behave the way you are willing or expecting them to, it gets irritating. So we irritated each other.

I am usually a pusher. I don't like confrontation so I push through the issue till things are better. Tonight, I decided to own my fault, apologize, and sit on the basement stairs and just cry.

Sometimes a good cry is what makes it all better.

I had a phenomenal weekend. Truly, maybe one of the best all year. And then reality came, as it always does.

So I sat on the stairs and just wept. Wept for no reason and wept for real reasons. Wept for real hurt and wept for unjustified anger.

As I sat there, I just cried and thought, "why?" Why does this feel so hard? Why can't we be nice to each other? Why does no one in this house have nice words for each other, including myself? I'm not even proud of the way I am speaking to my kids or my husband. Why did we do this to ourselves again? Why did we think we could pull this off without coming out the other side wounded? I cried for all those questions and for the questions I didn't even know how to ask. I pleaded with God to give me something. To speak some of truth into my heart to help me gain wisdom.

As my heart started to settle, I heard two things:

Spiritual Warfare is real. As my husband and I discuss parenting issues, we sometimes find ourselves on opposite sides of issues. Some of that has come up recently (that's another post) and all of a sudden I saw how we were just kind of at each other about small things. It resonated with my heart that Satan (forces, whatever) was trying to keep us divided instead of forming a strong team to lead our children in their walk with the Lord, each other, and the community. We have let our prayer time together, our family meeting and snuggle time fall to the wayside due to the schedule of the last month. All of these things together weaken us as a family and makes feeding on our weakness even easier. I am not usually one to immediately think of Spiritual Warfare, so the fact that it was first thought made me pay attention. I knew immediately I needed to go and pray with Paul.

The second thing that came to me was actually my own words that I spoke to the youth this weekend; it starts with you.

I don't know about you, but I HATE when my words come back to bite in the arse. As soon as I heard it, I tried to fight it.

I don't want to be the one to change their attitude to inspire everyone else in my house to be better. I don't want to try to be humble and see my mistakes and not someone elses. I don't want to give up being cranky while everyone else gets to be. I am tired and I want someone else to do it.

I want someone else to reign in their feelings and try to be better. I want someone else to take a breath and wait before they speak. I want someone else to start thinking of others. I want someone else to serve me. I want someone else to give up their selfishness.

But the words were: It starts with you.

Forgiveness starts with you.
Love starts with you.
Patience starts with you.
Serving starts with you.
Mercy starts with you.
Self Control starts with you.
Laughter starts with you.
Playing starts with you.
Goodness starts with you.
Joy starts with you.
Understanding starts with you.
A good attitude starts with you.

It starts with me.

I couldn't escape it. I know it's true. It starts with you. With me. And I just challenged 500 youth and adults to live this way because I believe and know it to be true. But in the midst of the challenge of life and in the moment of weakness and tiredness, it is hard to hold onto that inspiration. To let that truth move me to action. To let that truth be bigger than my weakness. To let that truth be bigger than my frustration. Bigger than my hurt. Bigger than my pride. Bigger than my control.

That truth needs to move me into selflessness.
That truth needs to move me into love.
That truth needs to move me into humbleness.

Paul and I usually only conflict when we are tired, empty and have nothing to give to the other person. This is where we are.

This is where I need to step up the most. To love him when we have nothing to help move us out of this place. To not let the hard part separate us.

We all have a choice. Its hard. But I am going to try, because I challenge you to try.

It starts with you.

It starts with me.

Intentional Spiritual Time

This past summer at a musical festive in WI, my friend and speaking partner Pastor Henry Graf and I led a session on Dirty Parenting. Yea, you read that right. Dirty, as in the screw ups, the loss of control, the freakouts all teach us, mold us and help us get to our knees in prayer and invite God into the mess. It is a reminder that real life doesn’t look spiritual. Most of the time it just looks like a mess.

At least it does for me.

After one of the sessions, a woman came up to me and asked how I found time for spiritual fulfillment. I thought that was funny considering most of the time I am wondering that myself. I told her in the last few months I had found a good balance of accepting my reality with adjusting my expectations.

I told her this is what I wanted: Every morning wake up at least half an hour before the kids. Open my Bible, pray, journal, read, pray, cry, let go, be filled, be ready for the chaos.

Then I told her this happens maybe once every two weeks.

Then I told her this is what I strive for every week now.

Once a week I pray over my children after I put them to bed. We have read stories, teeth are brushed, our devotions and prayers and thankfulness to God are done. Then when our ritual is complete and everyone is tucked in, I pray. I pray out loud with my hand on the child I am praying for and I pour out my fears, my weakness, my dreams, my hopes, and my control. I lay down my expectations for my child and pray that God gives me eyes to see them for who they are. I pray for wisdom, for me and for them. I pray for their friends, their future spouse, and their relationship with their siblings and father. I pray for truth, for the men/woman of God they will become. I lay it all out there for them to hear. I let my children hear my heart for them and lay them back down before God almighty.

If nothing else, when they are in counseling when they are older confessing all the ways I screwed them up, they may hopefully remember that I tried. That I loved them enough to give them back to God every day. I tried.

Once a week my husband and I do our Managers meeting. This is spiritually fulfilling because it is prayer time with my partner. It is coming before God Almighty together, confessing together, gaining strength together, supporting each other, loving each other at the feet of God. This is hands down one of the most centering, balancing discipline I have.

Once a week I wake up early to journal, to read scripture and to pray. This is my truest form of honestly I can strive for. My journal has horrible confessions and crazy thoughts and emotions. It has questions that good Christians don’t ask anymore. It is my time to gain wisdom from scripture, lay down my sense of control and seek God’s counsel for the way I live my life.

I used to strive for five days a week waking up early, and when I couldn’t accomplish that and was struck by feelings of failure, I would eventually stop. Once a week is very doable if you are smart about the morning you choose to wake up early.

There are people out there who can accomplish devotional time every morning, and I congratulate you on your success. However, for those of you who can’t because your current life circumstances don’t allow it, I want to encourage you to find what works for you. Be creative, and find your vibe.

Once a week we do a family devotional and snuggle time. We read from Paul’s Bible and we just ask the kids questions about what we read. There aren’t any great activities and no the questions are planned, we are kind of fly by the seat of your pants people. Then after the Bible reading is done, we just hang out on bed, snuggle, giggle, tickle, laugh, snuggle, and hang out. It is a time to reconnect and push the pause button on life. It is full of love and therefore a deeply spiritual act.

This year, our family motto is to be intentional. When we discuss our priorities, humbling ourselves and subjecting ourselves to God’s authority needs to be intentional. If you aren’t intentional about your spiritual life, be aware that regular daily duties of life have a tendency to steal your spiritual life.

Creating these weekly ways of connecting your soul with its creator is our way of being intentional.

Four days a week I try to plug my soul back into my creator in an intentional way. The way I figure, four out of seven ain’t bad. I’m over half covered. The reason I have found success with this method is that each of my four days fills me in a different way and it looks different so it keeps my interested and forces different habits from me. Healthy habits with my kids, with my partner, and for myself.

Lover or liar

I still catch myself.

Paul looks at me and says with the utmost sincerity, "You are beautiful. You are the most stunning woman I know."

I immediately think, “You have got to be kidding me.” I am in sweats, (my usual superhero wear), I haven’t showered in days, (which is not abnormal for me), I haven’t worked out in months, (literally, no excateration here), and I am make up free revealing my new wrinkles around the eyes and forehead and dark circles under my eyes from lack of sleep.

My immediate response reveals that I either,

a.) think my husband is a liar and thus I can’t hold what he says as truth.
b.) He is a manipulator and he is only saying these things to get something from me.

Neither of these options paint him a loving, generous way. Neither of these options give him the benefit of the doubt of actually meaning what he says. They are demeaning and strip him of an honorable character which then effects the way I see him the rest of the time as well.

I remembering having this first thought when I was in a Bible Study last year, and all the women in the group were having the same response when this issue was brought up. Their husband would call them beautiful and their response was to shrug it off as untrue. I never saw it in myself, but I recognized it immediately coming from them, which then of course revealed to me what I do to Paul every day.

I would have to think the worst of my husband to call him a liar and manipulator. I know he is neither of those things, and yet, why would he say those things awful, awful things to me? (Irony here.)

So the problem must lie with me. (It usually does if I am being honest. Log out of your own eye first right my friends?)

He looks at me and says you’re beautiful. My first response is to rack up my physical qualities that always fall short. I am disappointed that this is true. For all my talk and belief that beauty truly does come from within, my response reveals that there is a piece missing here for me in my own life. Beauty still somehow qualifies as outward adornment or lack there of. This is why he must be lying to me right? “Look at the outside of me” I scream in my head! “I am a mess! Why do you say such things! You are supposed to be my person of truth. The one I can count on. The one to be honest with me. Why are you lying to me!”

So I asked him one time. “Why do you always say that to me when I look my worst? It is hard to believe you.” His response?

“I see how you love our kids. I see how hard you work to take care of them and me. I see your passion for the Lord and teaching that to youth. When I see you I don’t see a mom, I see the woman I fell in love with. I see your smile. I see your laugh. I see your compassion. I see your dedication. I see the woman I love and I think you are beautiful.”

Then my response is, “Oh crap. Why does he always have to be so nice when I’m so shallow?” It sure is a nice way to be put in your place.

He sees inner beauty. He sees the stuff I’m made of, not the stuff I make up.

And the thing is, that is the way I see him. I mean my husband is a really handsome man and it’s hard sometimes to look past his outer beauty because he is a beauty, but I do see his dedication to our family, his unfailing love, his humor, his passion and love for new things and the way he loves our kids among countless other things. I have to believe that if that is the way I see him, I understand that this is what he sees when he looks at me.

So now I have a choice. Do I believe him when he calls me beautiful or is he still a liar?

I still catch myself sometimes. He says it, and I start the list. Then I stop.

My husband sees me. He sees me. And he thinks I’m beautiful.

I choose to write this tonight because I want to encourage myself as well as you that if you have someone in your life that loves to encourage you in this way, you have a choice. You can believe them or you can believe the worst of them. It is a good challenging reminder of real beauty. Of what beauty is constructed of. Of the good and Godly things in us that pour forth from the inside to transform the outside. The outside doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. That will waste away or be taken away.

Real beauty. May it transform you and your relationships.

Here is a look at real beauty. (just for fun)

Assumptions and Expectations

Sometimes it's like living in the dark and difficult all the time for me. I am amazed at how many assumptions and expectations I live under. They change my perspective. They limit me in my understanding and leave me with a pallet for judgements. They leave me angry, disappointed and lost. They steal joy from me.

My husband and I had a wonderful conversation last night. It was a conversation steeped in real thoughts and matters of the heart. I will confess, we don't have those conversations all the time. We often are just trying to keep life rolling without rolling over us. So this was wonderful.

It was also one of those conversations that bring up all sorts of thoughts you've been having, or questions you want to ask, but you don't. You don't ask them because your in the middle of life, dinner, routine, schedules or a disagreement, or hard conversation, or like us, we just call it a plain fight. I am notorious for starting a disagreement and eventually working in five other issues I'm having with my husband or our life that have nothing to do with what we originally were talking about.

In my experience, this is the worst, most irresponsible and immature way to discuss problems you are having. Generally you stay on task on the issue at hand. If there are other issues, bring them up once the first is resolved. I also like to try to bring up items to discuss when we aren't upset with one another. I have found that we listen to each other better, and then it truly isn't a fight, but a real conversation.

Back on track. Last night we were talking about the new habit that we are forming with the kiddo's. It's called Feed your body, feed your soul. I'll write about that tomorrow. But we started to discuss it. I of course am looking at it as a way of teaching or modeling to our children what it means to bring the word of God into your daily life. Paul supports and agrees with that, but casually made the comment of forcing it, like a religion, that the kids want to rebel against.

This innocent comment of course brings up both of our histories and responses to the faith. Paul and I were both brought up in the faith, going to church on Sunday, confirmation, volunteering, youth group, Captive Free, prayer before supper, Christian music, you name it. However, I tried very hard for a couple years to find my own way. To reject or disengage with religion, while still trying to look the part just in case I needed to fall back on it. It was a confusing and a hard time for me. Christ and God's love for me didn't become really something that I started to understand till after High School. My husband on the other hand embraced it easily and lived up to the name Christian. Being good and honorable seems much easier for him, almost automatic. (Still to this day, right choices are easier for him. I still struggle and have to fight to do the right thing.)

So here we are two different people, coming from what seems like similar backgrounds responding very differently to grace and trying to raise children to love and embrace God. We started talking about how I live out my faith (emotionally, publicly, vocally, almost demanding). Then there is how Paul lives out his faith (quietly, internally, intellectually, automatically). I'm still not sure all these words are totally right, because this is what our conversation was based around.

I have for the last few years looked and watched Paul's faith and found him at fault. Found him lacking. I can say that now because I have confessed that to him and to the Lord and have been forgiven. I have judged his process and his rhythms and it is very unfair. I have projected my assumptions of what active faith looks like (meaning it should look a lot like mine) and because it doesn't, I have found him lacking. I was so convicted of this last night, not even realizing that that's exactly what I had done. I wanted him to say certain things to the kids to encourage their faith, and he didn't say it so I was disappointed. He wouldn't do prayer time the way I would, so I was frustrated. The list could go on, but for the sake of saving a little of my integrity, I'll stop.

We discussed internal faith vs quiet faith. Vocal vs external. And we discussed a lot about assumptions. We discussed how when faith can be just automatic than others don't understand your motivation of why you do what you do. We discussed the importance of still vocalizing our reasons behind the madness.

And then we discussed a lot about modeling behavior. That blog will come in the next week.

I assumed a lot of wrong things about my husbands faith and the way he interacts with the kids, his reasons for his behavior and the way he lived out his faith. He also assumed things about my faith and the reasons behind why I do what I do and the way I interact with the kids.

I knew expectations could be the hammer to destroy a foundation in a relationship, but what I got blindsided by was assumptions. Assuming you know what you don't.

The only way to get through assuming is to ask questions and have conversations.

They may be hard, but completely worth it. And most likely, you tackle the first one, it will reveal many more.


Two beds
One Bathroom
Five plates
Five bowls
Five sets of silverware
Five glasses
One fry pan
Two sauce pans
One coat per person
One drawer of clothes per person
One weeks worth of food and no more
One deck of cards
One box of crayons
One box of markers
Old scrap paper and one coloring book
One backpack of toys for three kids to share
Six books


At home we have multiples of everything it seems. Plates and cups and bowls galore. To eat on, to play with, or to serve with in case 30 people show up. We have a whole drawer of crayons, pencils, markers, and paint. A WHOLE DRAWER! (I could do a lot with that drawer.) We have a dress coat, a ski coat, a spring coat, a green coat, a jean jacket. I have three pairs of mittens and hats per kid in case we have friends who need them, or we loose a pair. We have snow boots, rain boots, and dress boots. We have two pantries of food. And our house isn't even that big. We have toys and books galore. We have clothes in access. We have shelves of movies we never watch. We are storing furniture we never use.

It takes me ten minutes to clean our hotel room because it isn't littered in stuff. I don't have anything to organize because all of our simple things have a place to be.

I can't believe how free I have felt this week. I have had extra time to read to my kids. To talk to my husband. To color. To write. To read for myself. To invest in the people in my life and myself. I have experienced what it feels like to not be burdened down with stuff.

We drove to our house today to drop a load of laundry off. Sitting outside waiting for Paul, I could feel my anxiety rise. I look at that house and I see projects for all my stuff. Cleaning my stuff. Organizing my stuff. Filing my stuff. Purging my stuff. Putting my stuff away. Washing our stuff. Picking up our stuff. Labeling our stuff.


We need so little to live. We need so little to be happy. We need even less to have thriving, healthy relationships.

I feel like I purge our home twice a year and I am always amazed at how much I get rid of. And now, after this week and the experience of the freedom of stuff, I can't wait to go home and purge even more.

I have stuff cluttering my life. I have stuff cluttering my brain. I have stuff cluttering my heart. I have stuff cluttering my time. I have stuff cluttering my relationships.

I want less.

I want simple.

I want more life.

I want less stuff.

But I want to keep the maid.

And the free coffee.

And the free wine.

Can I do that?