My Own Advent Conspiracy

*This blog is not for everyone, if this just sounds awful to you, read the disclaimer at the bottom. I am positive this is not right for every family, but it is for mine. I am simply presenting an alternative to the common celebration for those who feel they want something different.*

I tend toward minimalism, not as some deep philosophy or set of rules to live my life but just because I find that in almost every case having less is actually easier. Less to clean, less to put away, less to spend, less to waste…just less.

So last year as we sat in our church listening to them explain their Advent Conspiracy my heart was pricked. We didn’t buy gifts for the kids when they were babies just an ornament and a stocking then as they got toddler age a stocking and a $20 or so gift. It still felt like I was buying them stuff just to buy them stuff because…I was supposed to buy them stuff.

The “Advent Conspiracy” our church does is to push against the buy, buy, buy of the season and encourage families to maybe cut back on what they give their kids or family and donate a portion of that money to the Advent Conspiracy fund. Instead of giving in to the societal pressure to buy more they suggested we spend more time together, pray more, focus on Christ more and give that extra cash to a worthy cause.

Last year’s substantial fund was enough to help support some humanitarian efforts in central Asia and a good start toward renovating a building in Turkey so that Syrian refugees will have a community center/school. It will help students, who are not being welcomed into the public schools easily in the area, to continue learning, have a safe, clean place together and regain a sense of community.

Our extra $10 here, $20 there helped do that. This year the funds raised will finish the support needed for the community center and send workers and funds to Corpus Christi which still has hundreds of displaced families who simply can not rebuild alone. (Getting insurance in a known hurricane zone can be more expensive than their mortgage so sadly many did not have any at all).

I decided just doing this little bit was not enough this year. This year I wanted to take on our own advent conspiracy project. What if instead if buying any gifts for my own family we chose to give Christmas to a family in need? Well, I can tell you it’s been fun. Each family member will still get their small red stocking stuffed with trinkets, socks, underwear and snacks but that’s it. My kids are excited to see what we buy the other family, help wrap it and put it under the tree until I meet the social worker next week to pass off the now giant pile.

I don’t share this to pat myself on the back, on the contrary I am now convinced we can do even MORE. We can adopt a family and give to Advent Conspiracy and do Operation Christmas Child and something else I don’t know yet because we still manage to get fast food a few times a month and we still don’t go without one single thing we need so there are still places to tighten our belt and help our fellow man.

I DO tell you this because I want to encourage those of you who felt like me but haven’t taken the leap yet. You worry what people will think and say but you are convinced this season is so much more than presents. You are right. You worry your kids will be resentful. You worry you will look cheap giving smaller gifts to your family members. I can’t promise none of those things will happen. But I can promise you will find joy in the giving, joy in the absence of commercial trappings, joy in the spirit. My kids are more excited than ever… and they still have multiple grandparents to spoil them so even without me they will get plenty. I don’t think our family has cared at all what we buy them, they seem to like that we put a lot of thought and creativity into our low budget gifts. I can’t promise you it will be the same for you but I want to encourage you to try it.

My kids don’t believe in Santa but they do believe in God and it has given them a heart for their fellow man. If I can encourage that compassion and sacrifice, teach them to live below their means and share their excess then this little experiment in going against the Advent Conspiracy is beyond worth it.

*****If you are not interested in this that’s ok too, this blog isn’t so much for you. To some people the idea of presents or santa or X tradition is so tied to Christmas that what I’m saying feels wrong to them. If that’s you that’s ok, you do you, no judgment. But for those who feel like me there shouldn’t be any judgment either.******

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More isn’t Better & Good isn’t Necessary

Do you have opportunities to do good things all week? I know I do! Do you have opportunities to do more all week? I do!

Good is good, right? So…. I should do it…because it’s good.

And more of good is even better so I should do more, right!

Wrong.

More isn’t always good and good isn’t the same as necessary. Good must always be examined in light of best. Your good may be someone else’s best. Your saying yes to good may also hurt your best.

Let me explain.

Say I could volunteer at a women’s shelter and I could work with college age students and I could help in my church nursery. All great things right? But which one am I going to be best at? For me it is the work with the college age students. Can I invest time there and also volunteer at a women’s shelter or work in my church nursery? Maybe if I didn’t also have a full time job and two young children….but I do. But guess what? Someone out there doesn’t have a full time job and two young children OR they do but their best is helping at a women’s shelter so they are passing on the college students I am heading for.

Busy is the enemy or growth, especially for a Christian. There is a reason for the cliche saying that if the enemy can’t make you bad he will make you busy. The reason is it’s true.

People all need love, young people, older people, babies, rich, poor, religious and not, nearby and far away. They ALL need the church to show them Christ’s love. But I can’t be the church alone and I need to stop trying! I had gotten to a place where I wasn’t doing my best. I was a stay at home mom so I felt I HAD to help everywhere help was needed so I was volunteering in a children’s class and the nursery and awana and on special projects and I wasn’t really investing anywhere. I wasn’t spending time praying for, thinking about and fellowshipping with those I was ministering too. That’s where the real growth happens, relationships that encourage discipleship.

I had to learn, all over again to say no to some things. To walk away from many good things. To turn down more things. But i’m not saying no to protect an idol of time or self interest, I’m saying no to prevent an idol of ME. When we believe WE have to fill every need we are thinking too highly of ourselves. Saying no is an exercise in humility. I pride myself on being capable of a great many things (i’m a jack of all trades, master of none) but just because i’m capable does not mean I should. Instead of agreeing to mediocrity in many areas I am striving for excellence in one.

To be the wife, mother and teacher I have been called to be I must be very selective, protective even, of how I use my time. I must choose wisely the things I can do well and still continue my callings.

I know this problem is not unique to me, or women, or even Christians.

Tonight I pray, Lord help me to be a Mary in a world that encourages me to be a Martha. Help me to see the important tasks set before me and focus on them, leaving the things which can wait to wait. May I be consumed not by busyness but by glorifying you through all I say and do. 

Broken is Beautiful

“You’re a 30 year old mom of two who teaches elementary school; college students don’t want to hang out with you.” That’s what the mean girl in my head told me as I looked at the info for my church’s international student ministry. Not old enough to be motherly, not young enough to be hip. I am at a stage in life that can feel awkward, but I knew the mean girl was wrong, in fact God had called me to this church for this exact purpose. Knowing the mean girl is wrong and silencing her can be different things though.

Socializing is not something that comes naturally to me. I am a very confident person…until i’m not. Put me in a professional setting and I am self-assured and collected, certain of my God gifted abilities. Ask me to dig into a deep philosophical question or summarize a complex idea and I’ll jump at the opportunity, thankful to utilize my God given intelligence. Give me a practical need and I will strive to meet it assured of God’s calling for me as a servant. But ask me to interact with people I don’t know well in a social setting? Suddenly i’m in fifth grade again and the mean girls are watching for me to do the wrong thing so they can laugh. I have to fight the urge to withdraw and force myself to engage.

I am comfortable with who I am but I am not always confident in my value to a world I increasingly don’t understand…. It is only by recognizing I was not made for this world that I am able to embrace my deeply flawed person as a vessel of a holy and perfect God’s will. My brokenness is the very attribute which allowed me to be shaped into a new creation and so it is only in my brokenness that I can find beauty. When I reach out in spite of my inabilities and insecurities it is in that act of self-denial that I see Christ (because it is certainly not me). Each time I push against what the world has told me I am I find strength in the action and rest in the obedience.

I am very thankful I silenced the mean girl. I spent this afternoon hanging out with one of our lovely international friends and watching my children begin to understand another culture in a meaningful way. We would have missed a blessing God had for us.

I Admire You, Fellow Mom

I see you handling that tantrum compassionately.

I see you encouraging your child to be polite and well mannered.

I see you unpacking that healthy lunch that took alot of prep.

I see you letting your kid be a kid; a loud, noisy, wild kid, in an appropriate place for it.

I see sometimes when your child doesn’t respond the way you want but that’s ok because I see you trying.

I want to say good job or you seem like a great mom, I want to compliment you but…you know…kids. Usually by the time i’ve had a quiet enough moment to process you have already left, moved on, gone. And sometimes I get in my way, I wonder if you’d think i’m weird for complimenting you and I decide its safer not to.

I know you want the same things I do, you need to hear you are doing a good job sometimes, and I want to tell you, I really do but most of the time I don’t. I’m working on that, maybe you are too.

There are probably lots of days another mom is admiring your parenting handiwork and just to rushed, shy, jealous or distracted to say so but you still need to hear it. You are doing a good job. If you have kids that are loved and safe and happy (mostlyish) then you are doing a good job.

 

fellow mom

 

Teaching my Kids Truth AND Tolerance

Our society loves to throw around the word tolerance. It’s become synonomous with “accepting everything as right or true”. Sorry folks, you need to break out the dictionary because tolerance only deals with how much you can put up with an opposing view point, it does not in anyway mean you accept it as valid. [Actual Definition: “The ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.”]

I want my kids to be tolerant but also not to accept false things in the name of “tolerance”. It’s a tricky path but for the Christian a 100% necessary one. Jesus preached against adultery but still loved the sinners caught in it. I love alot of people I disagree with but that does not change that they are wrong (just like people who love me when i’m wrong). Being tolerant of their views can NOT look the same as agreeing with their views, I can not knowingly support something that is wrong but I CAN knowingly love someone who is wrong. I am called to love my fellow sinners. I am raising my children in a society that hates truth (because truth is offensive to those who live in contradiction to it) and it would be poor parenting on my part to let everyone else’s desire for political correctness overshadow truth.

One of my favorite movie quotes of all time comes from Disney’s Mulan when the emperor says, “No matter how the wind howls, the mountain cannot bow to it.” Truth is unchanging, it is not a societal construct that can be changed to suit our moods.

I am raising my children not to speak about things they do not understand (the opposite of our culture which encourages children, and adults for that matter, to speak loudly and frequently regardless of whether they have any actual understanding of a topic). We forget that freedom of speech is not a compulsion to speak! They will not be jumping into the bandwagon with the Argumentum ad Populum crowd and proclaiming they know best because “a whole bunch of other people agree so it must be true!”. I see this far too often but popular does not equal correct.

My children are being taught to think for themselves but to make sure those thoughts are backed by facts before they share them. I was taught to think for myself but also to have deferrence for facts and life experience and wisdom and I am thankful for that, in fact without an open mind AND closed mouth I may have never become a Christian. People can only hear what they understand but they can only understand what they stop to actually hear. I want my children to grow up listening, knowing they can speak up anytime they need, but having the maturity not to always exercise that right.

Our society has created so many false dicotohmies that sometimes it seems like there are only two choices: religion or science, republican or democrat, christian or atheist, pro this, anti that, the list could go a while but there is no actual duel between truth and tolerance, in fact I think they coexist perfectly, you can know and speak truth AND be tolerant of others views. Telling someone you think they are wrong is not actually an act of aggression, in fact, if done for the right reasons, in the right way, it is an act of love!

Disagree, people, stand up for what you believe in but don’t hate those who disagree with you. The hatred in our society is an overwhelming force. Don’t participate simply because it’s popular.

 

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Success, Parenting & the Gifted Child

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If you clicked this link hoping to get insight into all the ways to make your gifted child even more awesome or even to hear some parenting tips for those “unique” challenges…you clicked the wrong link.

First, I want you to understand my qualifications for writing this and to do that I need to tell you a little story:

Let me introduce you to two real people and where they were at various life stages:

Elementary School: 

  • He is a good student.
  • She is an excellent student in gifted programs, winning every award under the sun.

High School: 

  • He is now a poor student maintaining a GPA only high enough for athletic eligibility and not much else, his plans include moving from McDonalds to UPS and briefly attending community college before dropping out.
  • She is a 4.0 Valedictorian graduating early and offered numerous scholarships to many schools, including the full ride she will take.

Post Graduation: 

  • He finally tires of menial jobs, joins the USAF and goes to a four year school along the way, surprising himself with the fact that as a more mature adult he is able to maintain a very high GPA and graduate with honors.
  • She lands an internship her freshman year which leads to a job as the youngest paralegal in state history by sophmore year. When she determines it’s not her passion she changes colleges and majors and graduates a few years later with the highest honors wearing enough cords and sashes to look like a Christmas tree.

Career: 

  • After the Air Force, he goes on to write a book for a national publishing agency and become employed by one of the most prestigious organizations in the country.
  • She goes on to become a Kindergarten teacher…before staying home with her kids and occasionally writing an unpaid blog for fun.

Student Loans: 

  • He has none, the few thousand not covered by the USAF has long since been paid off
  • She had no loans those first few years when she was pursuing a degree in something she wasn’t passionate about but transferring to the right school meant no eligibility for incoming freshman scholarships and the tiny transfer ones left most of her tuition unpaid. She will be paying on student loans for years to come.

Which one was the genius? Well she is…or… I am. I have a genius level iq and spent my entire life in gifted programs, told by every teacher and professor what a gifted mind I possess. My husband, the “he” in this story, I contend is actually as smart or smarter but aside from pointless academia there’s rarely a reason to take an iq test so I guess we’ll never know (he is far to humble and claims it not so).

We have two children of our own and I can assure you I don’t plan on commenting on their intelligence levels publically now, if ever. I don’t care if they have iqs off the charts because at the end of the day, intelligence is only one tool. Today “gifted” is thrown around, every parent believes their child to be abnormally intelligent and yet… they can’t all be. But so what if they aren’t? So what if they are? Does a child need to be labeled “gifted” to succeed? By society’s definition my husband is FAR more successful than I am or possibly ever will be. (By my own definition I am successful because I am happy but that’s another story.)

If your child is gifted…don’t make that their defining character trait. Don’t let them get by with murder because you think they are the future Bill Gates. Don’t ride them and pressure them because you want them to win a Nobel prize. Remember that their intelligence level IS a gift, it is part of them but is not them, were a head injury to take that from them tomorrow I can only assume you would still love them the same. If they are gifted that is great but it does not guarantee, or even strongly correlate, to success (check out the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell if you don’t believe me).

If your child is NOT gifted, at least by society’s scholastic standards (and there are so many other ways to be gifted and talented) then take heart, that IQ score, those test grades, honors, awards, even high school and college GPAs…well they tend to come out in the wash. Don’t let them phone it in and purposefully underachieve but don’t stress if they aren’t the “best” either. Success is not measured by those scores or grades. It is something far more complex, but guess what even by the most shallow and superficial of standards your child may still blow those others out of the water (my husband did, and is a good person to boot). I say again to you: success is not caused by or even strongly correlated to iq, if you don’t believe me either just read the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell)

I want to end by saying: Your children are listening. When you talk about them to others what are they hearing first (i.e. most important)? Are they hearing how smart they are? How successful they are going to be? Or are they hearing about their character? Who they are as people? Your well meaning praise of them may be putting undue pressure on them, your focus on the type of intelligence measured by a test may make them feel like less of a person, more of a number. Is that what you want them to hear? 

 

 

See, looking every bit like the KIND of future success everyone expected from me…

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I’m much happier with the kind of successful I became 😀

Ladies: No One Cares About Your House

When I first got married we hosted less than once a year. Why? Because it was stressful to try and make our tiny, cramped apartment seem welcoming and clean for guests. The amount of cleaning and prepping required to get it “presentable” was overwhelming and even then it was not a place I felt proud of, not when most of our young newlywed friends had houses and matching dishes and curtains and this list could go a while! (We eloped so we started life with my college stuff and his bachelor stuff instead of the usual registry fare.)

The next apartments were no better: small, clean, but still kind of a cluttered mish mosh that always looked a little disheveled. I told myself it would be better/easier/different to host when we get a new place/buy nicer things/ have more time to clean/etc…. this list could also go a while.

Meanwhile, despite being active in our church, involved in life groups, and friendly with many people we personally were feeling very isolated and lonely as a couple. We felt on the outside of everything and struggled to develop deeper friendships with those around us.

I didn’t connect the two issues…yet.

After yet another move to a 4th apartment in 5 years I got serious about developing relationships for our family. I decided to risk embarrasment at our little 2 bedroom with the mismatched, cluttered furniture and toys strewn about. My husband and I reasoned we could somehow host with our postage stamp size kitchen and when we couldn’t we’d order pizza! We began hosting a life group in our home, we pulled folding chairs into our living room and set out tv dinner trays to make up for our lack of dining space then we took a deep breath and opened the door. Each time the same things occured: people came, enjoyed themselves and the fellowship and left…. no one seemed to care about our apartment!

Two years later we would find ourselves blessed with our first home. This 1 bathroom, 1 story house still boasts dated wood paneling, old cheap countertops and most of the same mismatched furniture we’ve been carting around for years! But it is also a place we fill with love every single day, it’s the home I brought my daughter to from the hospital, where my son was potty trained, where my kids have their very own yard.

We open our home alot now, as often as we can actually! We love hosting meals for friends even though we don’t have a kitchen table! (My father in law is actually remedying this with another previously loved furniture addition to our home in a few weeks :D!). When I learned to stop caring what my house looked like and start focusing on the PEOPLE in it I realized that no one else cared about my house all along! They are usually to busy laughing to notice the stains on the carpet and too busy enjoying good food to care if it’s on paper plates or not.

So to the women in apartments, houses, trailers or whatever who find themselves hesitating to host that party or have those friends over because your home could never be in a pottery barn catalog… DO IT!!!

When you avoid those opportunities you are hurting your ability to grow relationships, you are missing opportunities to share life and you are robbing yourself and others of precious memories.

As I sit writing this while my kids play this is my honest to goodness view, I figured it was only fair to snap it without moving, picking anything up or…caring! So here’s it is in all it’s messy glory, complete with the everpresent sprinkling of toys!

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