Pragmatic Communion Has MOVED!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

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trials often hide blessings

Thursday, July 03, 2008

So if you find life difficult because you're doing what God said, take it all in stride. Trust him. He knows what he's doing, and he'll keep on doing it.
1 Peter 4:19, The Message

Eight years ago, we left our previous church.

My husband had served as part time music minister there for more than 5 years. My son was born during that time. Both FirstHusband and I taught Sunday school. He even served as interim youth minister for a while. I sang in the choir FirstHusband directed and we practiced while our toddler son played hide and seek in the pews. We built Christmas parade floats, volunteered at harvest carnivals, sang and acted in Christmas plays and ate a lot of potluck dinners. We had friends there. We laughed a lot. Leaving was . . . difficult, to say the least.

I've seen my husband cry three times since I met him. Once at the birth of our son. Once at the birth of our daughter. And once, as he read his letter of resignation to our church family. As I stood next to him, and read part of the letter because he was unable to continue, I can tell you.

I. was. angry.

Someone was hurting my husband. And I didn't like it.

Our first pastor, who had started this church, had accepted a position in which he would have an opportunity to help start many new churches. Somehow, I ended up as the chair of the pastor search committee.

To make a very, very, very long and painful story short, the church called a pastor that, in the end, FirstHusband and I could not trust or support. In the end, his behaviors and words were very much different from the man he represented himself to be in his interviews. We had very different ethics. We had very different goals.

FirstHusband and I had to decide. Do we stand and attempt to hold this man accountable for his actions? Or do we leave?

During the weeks before we finally made the decision, we prayed. A LOT. We talked. A LOT. We didn't believe we could stay without causing the church to split. Somewhere along the way, FirstHusband remembered a conversation between the characters of a book written by one of his favorite authors, Will D. Campbell:

“I guess what I really believe is that neighborhoods get reissued. You know, the community.” . . .

. . . “You know what ‘community’ is,” Doops said, his voice rising with impatience. “It’s a bunch of folks getting along for some reason. Something holds them together. Generally something bad. Like me and you and Kingston. Hell, if we had met at the circus we probably wouldn’t even have liked one another. But this damned army, this idiot war, holds us together. Being miserable seems to hold folks together. But when they’re easy and everything is going right, they drift apart. Everybody goes home for a funeral and that’s all.”

Kingston dropped his head, the look on his face that of a little boy caught in mischief. Doop’s last words made him think of home, of his mother and grandfather. He felt a sadness but now he did not want Doops to stop, nodded his head for him to go on.

“And that’s all I’m talking about,” Doops continued. “Nobody needs nobody when they’re happy. But it just happens. We don’t make it. We don’t make community any more than we make souls. It’s created."

“And you think we were around somewhere else? Some other time?” Kingston asked, looking at Doops and Model T as one, in a way he had never looked at them before. Neither of them appeared to notice.

“I said the community was around,” Doops said. “Maybe, as you put it, there a neighborhood quiver. And the Great Whoever reaches back and shoots off a dose of community from time to time when one is needed somewhere. When it fits His gameplan. You know, maybe there’s only room in the world for just so many communities. Not souls. Communities. Like, the Lord not only created planets. He created communities. A solar system and a community system. And they go on spinning. All in place. All where they’re supposed to be and when. Each one pushing the other away and holding it close at the same time. And they go on spinning. Different times maybe, but they go on.”

“What’s the difference between a community and a country?” Kingston asked.

“Size,” Doops said. He answered quickly, as if he’d been waiting for the question, wanting it to be asked. “And kings. A community doesn’t have a king, a ruler. Everybody is equal. Now, it might start out as a community. But then somebody wants to improve on it, make it better because it gets bigger. And when it starts choosing captains, whammo! No more community. And that’s when it gets put back in the quiver. Waiting to get reissued.

“Or maybe the difference between a community and a country is that a community has a soul and a country doesn’t. Because God created the community and man created the country. Some king sees all these communities around and says, ‘Hoboy! Let’s put ‘em all together and rule over ‘em.' And then he promptly f@#%’s it up.”

No one spoke. They sat together in silence, each one staring at the space immediately in front of him.

from “The Glad River” by Will D. Campbell

We didn't want this community to go back into the quiver.

To make a very, very, very long and painful story short, rather than following the Ten Easy Steps to Church Purity, we finally decided to follow the wisdom of Solomon. FirstHusband wrote a resignation letter that was filled with how much the church had blessed us and how much we would miss everyone - but gave no indication of why we were really leaving.

We were willing to give up our church rather than see it die.

How would things have turned out if we had stayed? We'll never know. We only see the path we DID take. It's a path we didn't want to face at the time. But, in hindsight, the journey we started as we left nearly 8 years ago has been one I am grateful for. A new church, many new friends, many blessings, an annual book rummage sale I LOVE to work (and shop)! And our pastor - a Will Campbell fan too! Eight years ago, the trials were looming, hiding all these blessings! But today, from this vantage point, we can see them clearly.

This Sunday is the beginning of a new path. Our Will Campbell loving (Methodist) pastor has been promoted and our new pastor's first day at the pulpit is July 6th. When I first heard our pastor was leaving, I didn't want him to leave. Part of me wants to hear him preach on Sunday. But part of me is curious. What blessings are ahead?

So what happened to our "old" church? In the end, it died anyway. After splitting. Twice.

The new church building that pastor worked so hard to get, now stands empty. Ready for a new congregation. A new fellowship. A new community.

"To choose to suffer means that there is something wrong; to choose God's will even if it means suffering is a very different thing . . . God puts His saints where they will glorify Him, and we are no judges at all of where that is."
Oswald Chambers,
My Utmost for His Highest,
(Selection from August 10th)

never going to stop trying

Friday, May 30, 2008

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
Romans 8:1-4 NIV

I love old books.

The dusty old book I picked up this week is entitled “What is a Christian” by A. Leonard Griffith, copyright 1962.

“First and foremost, Christianity is a relationship to a Person. In that sense it differs from great world religions like Judaism and Hinduism and it differs from Communism and other rival secular faiths that compete for men’s allegiance today. All these direct our loyalty to a theological system, a code of ethics, a philosophy or an ideology, but Christianity alone directs our loyalty to a Person. Where Christ is, there is Christianity, and the Christian is a person who tries to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

We say “tries” because no one succeeds perfectly. How very wrong to assume that either you must be a first-class Christian or else you have no right to call yourself a Christian at all. We should never adopt that attitude toward other things. We do not deny ourselves the privilege of education simply because we are not first-class scholars, or the pleasure of singing because we are not of concert calibre, or the enjoyment of knocking a golf ball because we lack professional skill.

The real zest in life lies not in achievement but in effort, not in having arrived, but in striving.”
What a humble reminder. Being a Christian comes down to ONE thing. A relationship to a Person (with a capital “P”). It is this Person I fail when I sin, not myself. When I become disappointed or frustrated about not meeting my own expectations, I need to remember who it is I am really disappointing. If my goals are in line with God’s will, if my striving is to glorify God, whose “expectations” have I really failed when I sin?

I can't be a "first-class" Christian. What is that anyway?

I'm going to try to follow Christ. In this “striving” Mr. Griffith talks about, I have been able to see the sin in self-condemnation.

I will sin. Any minute now. I don’t know how, but I will. I’m human. And I don’t want to waste one minute berating myself. It’s as if Jesus is standing there, waiting on me, with scars on his hands and feet, asking me to come and I respond by saying, “I’ll be there in a minute. I’m not finished punishing myself yet.”

If Jesus was actually physically standing there, I wonder if he would roll his eyes and say,
“You just don’t get it, do you? Come here. RIGHT NOW. Sit down. Let me explain Grace one more time.”
Instead of wasting time and devaluing Grace by berating myself, I need to sincerely repent, ask forgiveness and try again. I need - and want - to start striving again as soon as possible. Self-condemnation prevents me from doing that. Self-condemnation delays my striving.

I can’t be perfect. It’s just not possible. But I’m not going to let that stop me from “trying” to follow Christ. If I wander off the road, the Holy Spirit is my GPS. I will find the "right" road again. But I refuse to stand there, in the middle of the "wrong" road, whining about the fact that I got lost.


By no preachment can we really satisfy that earnest inquirer who asked, "What is a Christian?" But I wonder if we could point him to someone we know, someone who has responded to the Master's call and who so tries to follow Jesus that of him it might be said, "There goes a Christian." A. Leonard Griffith

(Debbie's comment caused me to rethink my wording - and prompted me to do a little research. Found an interesting video on youtube. A preacher talks about the idea of "disappointing God" being a lie.)

builder unknown

Thursday, May 08, 2008

"With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don't hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort."
1 Corinthians 15:58 the Message

This is a reminder that there is great value in the small.

"It's okay that they don't see. We don't work for them. We work for Him. We sacrifice for Him. They will never see. Not if we do it right. Not if we do it well. Let's pray that our work will stand as a monument to an even greater God."
Nicole Johnson

freedom to be different

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fathers, do not provoke or irritate or fret your children [do not be hard on them or harass them], lest they become discouraged and sullen and morose and feel inferior and frustrated. [Do not break their spirit.]
Colossians 3:21 The Amplified Bible

My daughter is a free spirit.

She sings. Loud. She sings Disney princess songs and hymns. Praise songs and jingles. She sings her own personal compositions. Sometimes they rhyme, sometimes not. Her own songs are l-o- n-g. She sings about everything. Love. Jesus. Her Heart. Disney. Sometimes she throws in a line about gross bodily functions before cracking herself up because it is SO hysterically funny. (She’s 7.) She sings in the car and doesn’t care who stares. She will climb to the top of a playground structure and sing her songs to an audience in the sky. She doesn’t care if people can hear her. She wants people to hear her.

Please don’t tell her to be quiet.

She dances. She twirls. She vogues. She bounces. She skips. She runs when and where there is open space. She swings. HIGH. She calls out “Watch me!” and wants me to take her picture. This is what happy looks like.

Please don’t tell her to sit still.

She loves to dress up. She can’t watch “Annie” without pausing the DVD player for multiple costume changes. She “invents” outfits and hairstyles. She wears prints with stripes, pink with orange and mismatched socks for “flair.” She loves lipstick and jewelry. She loves pink. Not pastel pink. PEPTO pink! BOLD pink.

Please don’t “correct” her wardrobe selections.

She loves to perform. The fireplace hearth is her stage. She wrote a play when she was in pre-kindergarten. She sat in a chair for hours on a Friday night, writing on one piece of paper after another. When it was all said and done, written on each piece of paper were the lines of each character in her play. When I typed it up for her later, she knew immediately which paper to read from next as she dictated the dialog for me. The spelling was creative, but the play was complete with a hero, a villain, a quest, and lots of songs to sing.

Please don’t tell her to “act like the other kids.”

She finds wonder in so many things. A lizard hiding in the grass. A crushed acorn. The shape of a cloud. She can’t go for a walk around the block without stopping every few feet to pick up a leaf, pet a neighbor’s cat or point out something interesting. She wants to see everything and go everywhere. And she wants to tell you all about it. Because it’s made such an imprint on her, she believes she should share it.

Please don’t make absentminded comments when she’s talking to you. She’s smart. She knows.

Don’t get me wrong. She’s not wild and undisciplined. She understands that she should whisper in a library, sit quietly attentive and respectfully listen to her teachers in class, and wear her uniform to school. She understands that sometimes she needs to follow directions instead of direct her own elaborate scripts. She knows to share and to take something she finds to lost and found. She knows that if we forget to pay for the case of soda under the grocery cart, that we are going back inside the store to make it right. She knows proper manners for the using the phone, how to handle a laptop computer and how to carry scissors. She understands that she can’t break out of line at school to chase a lizard or twirl. She knows not to run in a parking lot and to look both ways before she crosses the street. She knows to wear shorts under her skirts so no one can see “London” and that she can’t wear makeup to school and church. She even knows the only time her belly button should show in public is when she is wearing a bathing suit.

What she doesn’t know yet is that someday she may be too embarrassed to express herself “out loud” like she does now. She hasn’t spent time with “that” person. You know, the person who will try to convince her that her free and confident self-expression is inappropriate or wrong. The person who will introduce doubt and self-consciousness.

I pray that when faced with that person - that criticism - she is confident enough to stand strong and be herself. I refuse to silence her just because of what other people might think. I refuse to force her to wear what I think she should or tell her that she should only wear two braids, instead of six. I refuse to make her sit down when there’s no reason she can’t run. I refuse to squelch her spirit - just because it’s different than mine.

Sometimes it looks like she is dancing without music. She’s not. The music is in her heart. We can hear it if we just listen.

Not allowing your children to do innocent but different things is the logical outgrowth of a belief system that emphasizes the symbols of faith rather than it’s substance. This shallow religion measures success more by the image than by genuine authenticity.
Dr. Tim Kimmel
Grace Based Parenting

taking every opportunity

Monday, February 11, 2008

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Proverbs 15:1

We watch Hannah Montana on the Disney Channel. By "we," I mean our entire family. Our house is laid out so that the kitchen and the family room are pretty much one big room. So when Hannah Montana is on the TV, it’s difficult to miss. Truth is, I like it. We all like it. We like it so much that we have the DVR set to record all showings. ALL showings. So we’ve watched the same episodes more than a few times. I’m right there with Lysa when she says she turns Hannah Montana UP, and not off, when her daughter gets out of the car!

There’s one episode where Hannah is on a talk show with another teen pop star, named Mikala. Mikala is singing her new hit song and Hannah is clearly enjoying it. Hannah seems genuinely happy for Mikala’s success. Mikala finishes the song, Hannah gives her a big girly hug and then the talk show cuts to a commercial break. That's when Mikala lets Hannah know she's not a Hannah fan. Then we watch Hannah change. We watch Hannah do the “right back atcha!” The two girls are bitter rivals instantly. “Harsh words” abound! Take a look at the video clip.

Now, our family has watched this particular episode a number of times, but this time, I say:

“pause” (don’t you LOVE DVRs?)


“Did you see what happened there?”


“Did you see how Hannah changed?”


“When Mikala was singing, what was Hannah doing? Was she happy for Mikala?”


“And what did Hannah do after Mikala was finished with her song?”

“hugged her.”

“But then Mikala was really mean to Hannah."


"So what did Hannah do after Mikala was so mean?”

“she was mean back.”

“What do you think would have happened if Hannah had still been nice to Mikala, even when Mikala was being mean?”

“I dunno.”

“I wonder if maybe Mikala and Hannah would have ended up friends.”

“Mom. It’s just a tv show.”

“Oh no it isn’t babe. Its an OBJECT LESSON.”

(loud groaning in stereo)

FirstHusband and I were talking to FavoriteSon about object lessons later that day and he said, "Mom, it's just that you do it SO much!"

We cracked up! (It's working! They're paying attention! Wooo Hooo!)

I said, "You better get used to it buddy, because you are going to be getting them your entire life. You're going to be 38 years old and I'm still going to be saying, 'If you think about it this way . . . ' "

FirstHusband said, "No, no, no, no, no. You're going to be 38, talking to YOUR kid, saying, 'If you think about it this way'"

Yeah, he rolls his eyes NOW. But he uses object lessons with his 7 year old sister already. He can't help it. He never stood a chance. heh, heh, heh.

With a new attitude everything can change,
make it how you want it to be.
Stayin' mad, why do that?
Give yourself a break.

Laugh about it and you'll see.

Life's what you make it, so let's make it rock!
Life's what you make it,
so come on come on, everybody now!
Hannah Montana (Life's What You Make It)

i want no regrets.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back. So let's keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you'll see it yet! Now that we're on the right track, let's stay on it. Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I've warned you of them many times; sadly, I'm having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ's Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites. But there's far more to life for us. We're citizens of high heaven! We're waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He'll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.
Philippians 3:12-19, The Message

“Dear Eliot, today you went to be with Jesus. An undeveloped lung, a heart with a hole in it and DNA that placed faulty information into each and every cell of your body could not stop God from revealing Himself through a child who never uttered a word.” Eliot lived 99 days.

Sweet Tristan went to be with Jesus today. He was 56 days old.

“The Lady had hit a cyclist before she hit our mailbox. But nobody had seen the cyclist and the lady had no clue she'd hit him. She just knew she was sleepy one minute and hit our mailbox the next. This biker was just out on his bike and he got hit. They pronounced him dead at the scene. He died! O my gosh I cried and cried. My heart not only was crushed for the lady but now for the guy and his family!”

"Empty shell are the words that came to my mind today as I laid my eyes on Julian's so very still body. It made it so real, so final... I felt like I was at the wax museum, it looked like Ju but it was just a cold, hard ,wax copy of Julian . It wasn't him , how could it ? Surely I left him at home playing with the boys... Seeing him laying in his casket was unbelievably painful, my heart cracked a little more, a little deeper. I won't EVER get to hold my child again, EVER... Nothing is more final than that." Julian was 4 years old.

As a Christian, what I do with these stories? Stories. It makes it sound like fiction. Literature. My sister, a writer, once told me the difference between fiction and literature. In literature, there is always an obstacle, a tragedy to overcome. But this isn't literature. It is real life. These things actually happened. As a Christian, what thoughts do I wrestle with?

I don't know these families personally. I've only read about them. But I question, if I did know them personally and was involved in their daily life, what words would I speak? What actions would I take? What possible comfort would I be in the face of such senseless tragedy? Senseless to us. But not to our Lord. The promise is, that one day, we will understand. One day. Eventually.

But what about TODAY? What do I do with this in MY daily life? What does God want ME to do? HERE, in my circumstance. NOW, in this time?

I doubt I understand all that God is saying to me right now. I'm still working on it.

But I do understand this: I need to live with intention EVERY DAY. I know it sounds pious - and impossible - but the truth is I have an acute awareness that life is short. There's an actual urgency in my day sometimes. I understand my priorities. I strive for no regrets. I don't want to waste a moment of this gift of time that I've been given. When I begin to get overwhelmed with the mundane, I am humbled and reminded when I hear of what we here on Earth regard as such senseless tragedies. But again. Senseless to us. But not to God.

Today, we have faith and comfort in the knowledge that there is a Master who will provide all we need. We need to live in the world, not of it. Today, I will hug my 7 year old daughter a few more times than she thinks is reasonable. I will read her a bedtime story when I could be loading the dishwasher. I will walk around the block with her (again) as she rides her bike and sings her happy songs, stopping to look at every acorn, pet every cat and collect every leaf. I will listen to my preteen son and accept his thoughts and feelings as valid - even when they differ from mine. I will toss the football with him instead of read a book. I will have a night time devotion with him when I could be checking email or blogging. I will scream with excitement at every basketball game and take hundreds of photos to get one “great” shot. I will understand my husband's travel in the private defense industry as our family's small contribution to families of those serving in the military - those making a much greater sacrifice. I will forgive him when he's late without calling, encourage his stress-relieving diversions and love him unconditionally.

I want to see the bigger picture. I want to choose on purpose. I want to respond, not react. I want to show grace, not indignation. I want to spend time making memories, not beds. I want to notice the silent boldness of a sunset, instead of the back end of the car in front of me. I want to try out the possibilities, instead of complain about the obstacles. I want to be still and abide instead of filling my entire prayer time with petitions and thanks.

I want to live intentionally, making the most of this precious, precious blessing of time.

The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.
The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.
Elie Wiesel, October 1986

bloggy giveaway!

Monday, January 28, 2008

My random number generator produced the number 60! Congratulations to Sarah!

Welcome to my Bloggy Giveaway! I'm offering one giveaway on each of my blogs, so check them out! If you have a minute (a second?) check out my "i sort my m&m's by color" page, my latest "Devotion" post or my post on my anti-filing system to see if one of my blogs might of interest to you in the future! If so, you can keep up with everything by subscribing to my "main" blog, Pragmatic Compendium!

Thanks so much for stopping by and GOOD LUCK on the Giveaways!


Shannon, over at Rocks in My Dryer is hosting a Bloggy Giveaway! Check out my contributions to the fun!

HERE at Devotions (Pragmatic Communion) leave a comment on THIS post and be entered to win a SET of Beverly Lewis books! This is the series ANNIE'S People and includes gently read (once) paperback copies of The Preacher's Daughter, The Englisher and The Brethren.


Go on over to Pragmatic Compendium and add your comment for a chance to win a STACK of weight management books:

The Ultimate Weight Solution, The 7 Keys to Weight Loss Freedom by Dr. Phil McGraw
The Ultimate Weight Solution FOOD GUIDE by Dr. Phil McGraw
The South Beach Diet by Arthur Agatston, M.D.
The South Beach Diet Good Fats Good Carbs Guide by Arthur Agatston, M.D.
Body for LIFE, 12 Weeks to Mental and Physical Strength by Bill Phillips

I already own all of these and frequently pick up good used copies to give to friends and family. So go ahead friends, leave a comment on this post and be entered to win!


On Rhetoric (Pragmatic Communication) post a comment and enter to win a hardback copy of Deborah Tannen's "I only say this because I love you" How the Way We Talk Can Make or Break Family Relationships Throughout Our Lives (This is one of those books I bought not remembering I already owned it!)


I don't have any computer books I'm ready to part with, so if you head over to Pragmatic Computing, leave a comment to win a framed quote. The frame is 6 x 6 inches, with a wood frame painted gold, kind of distressed.

"Computers are useless. They can only give you answers." Pablo Picasso

i am not embarrassed.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength . . . And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus
Philippians 4:10-13, 19

“Is that house abandoned?” asked the pest control guy who sprays my lawn. He was referring to the house next door to mine. “Actually, no.” I replied. Our neighbors, to state it conservatively, don't take care of their yard. I could focus on that. I could be embarrassed by that. But then, I look out my kitchen window. My huge backyard, the “love” tree (the name inspired by squirrels in mating season), the pond, the woods and - if we take would just take the time to walk back there, a river. I'm not embarrassed. Just blessed.

My hardwood (laminate) kitchen floor is . . . not in good shape. Dark spots from water damage (okay, and cat “damage”), knicks (and gouges), lifting edges on some pieces, and gaps from poor installation, among other things. I’m not proud of it. But then, the doorbell rings and the ladies from my women’s circle come in, laden with food and laughter. And I realize. Nobody is looking down. The floor is invisible. It’s buried beneath the friendship and encouragement. I’m not embarrassed. Just blessed.

My formal dining table is lopsided. When I put a leaf in it, it is even MORE lopsided. I have to prop it up with books (never a problem coming up with a few). There are scratches on the top. The arms of the chairs lift up when you pull on them. But then, with three leaves and two book stacks, family joins together at that table. There’s so much food down the middle the scratches are . . . gone. Nobody is pulling on the arms of the chairs. Instead the arms support relaxed and comfortable elbows. The table is still lopsided. But I can’t tell anymore. I’m not embarrassed. Just blessed.

My kitchen sink was full of dishes all day yesterday. The dishwasher was full. Filled with clean dishes. I don’t unload the dishwasher. My son unloads the dishes, my daughter unloads the silverware. They didn’t get to it the night before. So the dishes sat. It was gross. I thought about unloading and loading the dishwasher. I thought about how I would feel if someone dropped by. Embarrassed. But then, I realized. Dirty dishes overflowing the sink means we aren’t hungry. It means our children are learning responsibility. Daily responsibility. And we have enough dishes in our house that the dishwasher was full of clean, the sink was full of dirty and, at the same time, the cabinets were not empty. So I let the dirty dishes sit in the sink for a day. I'm not embarrassed. We are blessed.

My laundry room is a mess. Clothes in the hampers and baskets, yes. But also on the floor, on top of the dryer - IN the dryer. Unmatched socks everywhere. An opened box of 500 coffee cup lids squeezed into precious storage space. The matching paper cups squeezed into another. An entire shelf designated for scrapbooking supplies which haven’t been touched in YEARS. But then, I fix myself a cup of coffee to go (instead of giving in to a daily trip to Panera Bread), my children get dressed in clean clothing, my daughter purposely wears unmatched socks for “flair” and I realize. This mess. This overabundance that causes spillover is a blessing. So what if I don’t have pretty scrapbooks? I have my photos chronologically cataloged on my computer - and backed up on a separate hard drive! (Does anyone want to buy a bunch of scrapbook stuff on ebay? And more importantly, is there a good digital scrapbook program or should I just use PowerPoint?) But I digress. This collection of clothes, the "stuff" stored, even the existence of the laundry room itself - is a blessing.

My garage is impassable. Boxes to go to charity, stuff to go into boxes to go to charity. Boxes to go to the consignment shop, to the used bookstore. When we leave the garage door open, passing cars slow, checking to see if it is a garage sale. IM-PASS-A-BLE. But I am hit. This represents abundant blessings. So much stuff . . . we don’t need. The inside of the house, while filled with the stuff we do need, the things we do use, STILL contains even more to go to the garage - the holding place prior to exit. But I'm not embarrassed. I am blessed.

The love seat in my living room is beige. "Beiger" than it used to be. I had it cleaned six months ago. Helped a little. The pillow on the back is removable and my entire family squishes and curls it into a ball whenever they sit on it. It takes a beating the cushion for more than a few minutes to cajole it back into a form that will say upright even a little bit. It’s the first thing you see when you walk into my front door. I think about replacing it. But then, I curl up with the my Bible, a kid, my husband, the cat, my computer, a book or any combination of those and I realize. I’m not embarrassed.

We are blessed.

contentment is destroyed by comparison.
Unknown (but I was reminded by Kelly on her comment at Lisa Writes)

sweet honesty

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6 (KJV)

We must be doing something right! Check out this recent conversation with my 7 year old daughter:

“I accidentally lied to Mrs. L today so I sat out 5 minutes in recess.”

“You lied to Mrs. L?!”

“Accidentally! I didn't mean to. I thought she was asking me if somebody else was talking, but she was asking me if I was talking and I accidentally lied.”

“So, you had to sit out in recess for lying?”

“No. Mrs. L didn't know I lied. I just knew I lied. But it was an accident.”

“I don't understand. Why did you sit out in recess?”

“Mom, I made myself sit out because I lied!”

“So does Mrs. L know you lied?”


“Did she see you sit out at recess?”


“Did she ask you why you were sitting out?”

“No. She doesn't care.”

“So why did you sit out?”

“Because I lied!”

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”
Thomas Jefferson

collect them all

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 (NIV)

“Collect them all” is the answer I gave my daughter when I asked her if she knew the three most hated words in a parent’s vocabulary.

Her guess for a parent’s most hated words? “Own it on DVD today!”

We were introduced to Webkinz in November when my daughter got some from her friends at her (early) birthday party. Then, almost everyone who gave her presents for her birthday (on her actual birthday) AND for Christmas gave her a Webkinz (some gave her two). We gave her one and her brother gave her one. Total number of Webkinz currently registered on


and we haven’t collected them all.


At first I was embarrassed. What does it say about me as a parent? I have a kid with 23 Webkinz. There are the comments: “How many does she have anyway?” and “She sure has a lot of Webkinz.” (You overindulgent, irresponsible parent, what’s wrong with you? You’re raising a greedy, selfish child.) I’m raising Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!

Then I took the board out of my eye and looked around my house. What do I collect?


By far the biggest of my collections. I love books. love. Love. LOVE. books. While I keep most of my fiction books at the library, I do have more non-fiction books than I have had shelving for. I just bought two new bookcases for my office. Cubby type shelving which I’ve placed on top my desk. I ran out of floor space for conventional bookcases and had to go vertical. We went to a friend’s for dinner and they had a LIBRARY! Later, on the way home I poke at my husband “Hey, honey why don’t we have a library?” “Our whole house is a library.”

True enough.

What else do I collect? Unusual cobalt glass containers. Snowmen. STOP. If you know me personally and have any reason to give me a gift, STOP. Do not buy me a cobalt vase. Put the cute little snowman figurine down. Step away from the cobalt glass snowman. (hmmm. that would be interesting . . . ahhh! NO!)

My cobalt and snowman collections are currently manageable, but some people have seen them in my house and have taken to giving me more. I have limited discretionary time and don’t want to spend more of it dusting stuff. I’m getting rid of stuff. I actually took a large snowman wreath holder to Goodwill recently and called my dad:

“Dad, I’m taking a snowman wreath holder to Goodwill. I just wanted to call you and tell you . . . Please DON’T buy it for me when you see it there.” (yes, we both shop there. I love the book prices!)

But I digress. Back to Veruca Salt. I thought about it for a few days. For all the things Veruca has, she lacks a very important thing. And my daughter has it.


In the book “Simple Words of Wisdom” Penelope Stokes writes,

“We become happy, spiritually prosperous people not because we receive what we want, but because we appreciate what we have. What does it mean to cultivate a heart of gratitude? It means opening our eyes, looking around at the multitude of gifts and blessings that fill our lives. It means recognizing our family, friends and loved ones, as aqueducts through which God’s great love flows out to us. It means rejoicing in all we’ve been given rather than resenting what we lack.”
When I hear my daughter’s nighttime prayers - the sincere, heartfelt prayers of a 7 year old who LOVES Jesus - I am assured. When her prayers go on and on at mealtime, I am reminded. She understands and is genuinely thankful for her blessings. For our family’s blessings.

Yes, my daughter has a lot of Webkinz. I have a lot of books. Many of us have a lot of something. Maybe too much of something. But are we grateful? Do we thank God and enjoy his blessings? Do we thank others? Penelope Stokes reminds us:

“But gratitude doesn’t end with our private thanks to God. We need to show gratitude as well to those who touch our lives, who love us, minister to us, and make the world we live in a warmer, safer, kinder place.”
So I’m not going to stress about 23 Webkinz. Or about too many books. I’m going to be grateful, thank God daily and enjoy his wonderful blessings.

I will not tell you how many Rescue Heroes my son had at peak Rescue Heroes phase.

"In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

manna from heaven. just enough. just in time.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

And Moses said to them, “This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat. This is the thing which the LORD has commanded: ‘Let every man gather it according to each one’s need, one omer for each person, according to the number of persons; let every man take for those who are in his tent.’” Then the children of Israel did so and gathered, some more, some less. So when they measured it by omers, he who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack. Every man had gathered according to each one’s need. And Moses said, “Let no one leave any of it till morning.” Notwithstanding they did not heed Moses. But some of them left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. So they gathered it every morning, every man according to his need. And when the sun became hot, it melted.

Exodus 16:15-21

Let’s stick to the facts:

Fact: My mother is purchasing a house in Arkansas.
Fact: She has asked my father for a divorce.
Fact: She is moving to Arkansas.
Fact: Neither the divorce or the move to Arkansas are a secret.

As empty nesters, my parent’s lifestyles are largely incompatible and have been for some time. I can’t explain without compromising my parent’s privacy, so lets just say the divorce is probably a good thing in the long run. I understand the divorce. I can accept the divorce.

So what’s my problem?

I don’t understand the moving so far away. I’m working on it. From what I do understand, a few years ago, my mother reconnected with someone at a high school class reunion and has stayed in touch. He and his wife live in Arkansas. For over a year, my mom expressed her interest in moving to Arkansas and wanted my father to move with her. He didn’t want to move that far away from his family and friends and said no. He didn’t change his mind. Neither did she. So he is staying. She is leaving.

During my mother’s last trip to visit her friends, she bought a house. When she came home she told my father she wanted a divorce and that she was moving to Arkansas. She’s moving to a place that is two full days drive away. Two days there. Two days back. Considering we usually get about 7 days vacation at a time, that’s four days in the car for three days there. That’s not reasonable for us. The plane fare for four people isn’t something we can afford either. Over a year ago she asked me, “Would you come visit me if I moved to Arkansas?” I said, “Well, if you look at how often we’ve been able to visit Tom’s parents over the last 17 years, I would have to say, probably not, Mom. Arkansas is twice as far away.”

My in-laws live about 8 hours away, along with my husband’s grandmother, two of my husband’s sisters, their husbands and (total) four kids. We can leave Orlando in the evening after my husband gets off work, travel 4 hours to Valdosta, stay in a hotel overnight and arrive at my sister-in-law’s house around lunch time on our first official day of vacation! Then we get to visit 11 people for almost 6 days! And the cousins are the high point for the kids. The cousins and their dogs. LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of laughter! So, we do go to Georgia to visit, but never more than once a year. Some years we don’t make it at all. My husband’s family have never lived in the same city as us. He left home to come to Orlando for college. Finished college, married me and never went back home. So my kids have never experienced the loss of someone moving away before. They don’t know yet. They will not understand why she’s leaving. My 7 year old daughter is not going to understand why Mamaw is moving away. I can hear her now. She’s a smart kid. No matter what reason I give her for Mamaw moving away, she will say, “But Pappy’s staying here.”

And while I’m okay with the concept of my parents divorce, the process has proven to be stressful. I spent the morning yesterday with my dad, at an attorney’s office, reviewing his options and the settlement agreement my mother has drafted. A few phone calls with my dad and mother throughout the day. Late into the night, typing up the attorney’s notes for my mother.

The result? The most stressful day I’ve lived through in years. This is what my dad must be dealing with every day. I had no idea. He doesn’t like to “bother you girls with this stuff” as he said yesterday. I can’t imagine living through another day like yesterday. It was emotionally exhausting. I can’t imagine my dad living through every day like that until this whole thing is over. Every conversation is about the many, many, many details of splitting of debts and assets. It’s exhausting. I can’t do it. I could barely do one day. The divorce settlement needs to be signed already.

My mother is leaving. We can’t change it. We can only let her go. But the time between now and then is proving to be . . . stressful. And sad.

My pastor’s wife invited me to a women’s circle at church on Wednesday evening. I’m a member of another circle, but both kids were in Wednesday night programs, so I had the time. I arrived a few minutes late, after the devotion, but Sharon asked that the Bible used for the devotion be passed down the table to me. While the other ladies were discussing Breakfast with Santa and other circle news, their words became background noise as I read Exodus 16:15-21.

Thank you Sharon, for reminding me that God will provide just what I need, just when I need it. At the end of the day, when the manna is melted and I’m at the end of my ability to cope, I can go to bed with the assurance that the next day, He will provide again. Just what I need.

“If this is a blessing, it is certainly very well disguised.”
Winston Churchill

i am not alone

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, 12

I’m the book lady. Every year, my church has a HUGE rummage sale. Two full weeks, weekends included, are spent unloading storage units, picking up and accepting donations, sorting, pricing and basically setting up an entire gymnasium for the annual “Whale of a Sale” held the first weekend of October.

I’m the book lady.

I take two weeks off from clients and work the Whale, every day. In that two week span, I literally touch thousands of books. They are categorized by topic and fiction is alphabetized by author’s last name. They sit on three rows of 6 or 7 folding tables (the big ones), in boxes, spine up, facing the shopper. Each box has a sign sticking up from it with my handwriting on it, indicating the contents of the box: Cookbooks, Physical Health, Emotional Health, Parenting, Travel, Military History, American History, World History, Gardening, etc. In each box, you can see the name of nearly every book without having to touch a single one. If you are looking for a particular book, just ask me. I”ll tell you if we have it and, if so, exactly where it is. The comments from people who see it range from, “Wow. This is amazing.” to “Who did all this?” (in a “that person is insane” tone of voice.) In the first few years, I did much of it myself, but now there are actually a handful of people who “get” me and can help sort without messing up the system.

The added benefit is that I get first pickings. At a $1.00 per hardback and $.50 for paperbacks and children’s books, I bring home a bookcase worth every year. My I.O.U grows ominously for two weeks as I sneak boxes of books into my house. Some women buy clothes, secretly hang them in the closet and when their husband comments the first time the clothing is worn, the women say, “This? I’ve had this for years.” Not me. I bring home books, quickly pull off the price tag and shelve them. I don’t say a word. I read so many books at one time, I never get asked, “Is that a new book?” My husband can’t keep up. This year was more difficult. I ran out of shelving space and had to reorganize the playroom. A six foot shelf that used to house toys, games and puzzles now houses fitness, diet and health books. (The shelf is right next to the treadmill after all.)

So, I’m the book lady.

I was asked to give my testimony at United Methodist Women Sunday last week and that’s how I started. It went something like this (and thankfully, with laughter in all the right places):

"My name is Julie Mills, but if you were at the Whale of a Sale, you probably know me as the book lady. I’m not a librarian. I just have freakish organizational skills. If I’m invited to your house and you have books, I may organize them while we chat. One of the books that came in this year was “Eat Pray Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’ve been on the waiting list at the library for this book for more than 6 months, so when it came in, it was MINE! Liz Gilbert is a journalist who spend a year of her life traveling in Italy (to eat), Indonesia (to pray) and India (to love). She wrote about her experience, and although she’s not a professed Christian, I’ve gained so much insight as I run her words through my own perspective as a Christian. I’d like to read an excerpt I found particularly meaningful. In speaking about the differences between her sister, Catherine and herself, Liz wrote:

"A family in my sister’s neighborhood was recently stricken with a double tragedy, when both the young mother and her three-year old son were diagnosed with cancer. When Catherine told me about this, I could only say, shocked, “Dear God, that family needs grace.” She replied firmly, “That family needs casseroles,” and then proceeded to organize the entire neighborhood into bringing that family dinner, in shifts, every single night, for an entire year. I do not know if my sister fully recognizes that this is grace.”
See, they’re not so different after all. Compare me to another 40 something woman, with two children and a minivan. Although we look similar, we would probably say we are very different. But when you look more closely, those differences fade. What I discover is that I’m not alone. Especially in UMW. When you are a member of a UMW Circle, you have microwave friends. Instant friends. Women who support each other. Pray for each other. Bring food in times of trouble. Women who understand, because even if they aren’t going through what you are at the moment, some of them have already gone through it. Others may face the same issues in their future. We can learn from each other. Trust each other. Encourage each other. Accept each other. I feel like I’m ready to invite any one of my circle friends to my house . . . and not vacuum. Okay, I’ll probably leave the vacuum cleaner out in the middle of the room and say I was gonna.

The point is, we’re not alone. In UMW, you are never alone."

After my testimony, I sang “Orphans of God” by Avalon:

Who here among us has not been broken
Who here among us is without guilt or pain
So oft’ abandoned by our transgressions
If such a thing as grace exists
Then grace was made for lives like this

There are no strangers
There are no outcasts
There are no orphans of God
So many fallen, but hallelujah
There are no orphans of God

Come ye unwanted and find affection
Come all ye weary, come and lay down your head
Come ye unworthy, you are my (sister) brother
If such a thing as grace exists
Then grace was made for lives like this

O blessed Father, look down upon us
We are Your children, we need Your love
We run before Your throne of mercy
And seek Your face to rise above

learning in flux

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. Colossians 1:9-12 NIV

I don't know about you, but change is very difficult for me. I call it "flux" and I HATE flux. You're not where you were, but you're not where you will be - and you don't even know where you will be. When you combine that with God's will and all the current emphasis on God's "individual will" for your life in contemporary Christian writing these days , it can be paralyzing. I've been going through that for a few years now (my husband calls it my mid-life crisis) and am just coming to peace with it. (Not all the way there yet.) I've spent so much time in my life focused on gaining knowledge and achievement, that it's a very new place for me to realize I'm now more interested in significance. I love Loretta Lynn's quote: "I'm just goin through life, trying to matter."

If you're like me, you seek knowledge in decision making. And for me, that always means books first. I've found a few recently that have really made me think. One is written by Garry Friesen, called Decision Making and the Will of God. It's not light reading. It's a very big book. I got it at the beginning of my search for significance.

Throughout my life, I've often abdicated "big" decision making to God, thinking I was seeking and submitting to his will. Often, I would pray and "lay a fleece." Now this is weird. When I took a moment to look up "lay a fleece" on the internet so I could better explain it, this is what I found first - an example from Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen:

"We all know this one. Heck, we've probably all done this one in some way or another. When we "lay out a fleece" before God, what we are doing, essentially, is seeking to know God's will in a matter by asking him to arrange circumstances to indicate his answer to our question. In his book Decision Making and the Will of God, Garry Friesen uses the humourous example of the "phone fleece": Suppose you want to ask Gladys out, but you don't know whether it is God's will that you do so. You decide that you will call her up. If the phone rings and someone answers (and you hope it's Gladys), then God is telling you to ask her out. On the other hand, if you get a busy signal, God is telling you that Gladys is not for you. (She might be accepting a date from someone else.) If there is no answer, then you will try again later. Now, be honest: This is silly. Yet you've tried something like this in the past, haven't you? I have.

The idea of a "fleece" comes from the story of Gideon, which involved a literal fleece:

And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground. (Judg. 6:36-40)

And so, we are told, once Gideon received the sign from God that he and his army would surely save Israel, he went out and did so. We too display Gideon's exemplary faith when we follow his example. It sounds so pious, so spiritual, so faithful. But is it? Is this story about Gideon intended to authorize the practice of laying out fleeces to determine God's will? I think not. Here is why the context of this story militates against the practice of laying out fleeces:

1. Gideon already knew what God's will was. In fact, God had even sent an angel to tell him that he was God's chosen instrument to defeat the Midianites (Judg. 56:13-16). In fact, when Gideon requested the sign of the fleece, he acknowledged this: "And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said . . ." (Judg. 6:36, emphasis added). He wasn't trying to find God's will, he was trying to find a way out of it.

2. Gideon's fleece was motivated by doubt, not faith. Already knowing what God expected of him, Gideon apparently didn't believe it though the message came directly from an angel. So he requested a sign. Then he requested a second sign (Judg. 6:39), perhaps realizing that the first sign was rather stupid (there is nothing remotely miraculous about wool remaining wet after the ground has dried, after all).

3. Gideon must have realized he was trying God's patience. He pleads with the Lord not to be angry with him for making yet another request for confirmation (Judg. 6:39).

4. Gideon still wasn't convinced. In fact, after explicit instructions from an angel and two confirming signs, Gideon still needed to hear from the mouths of the Midianites themselves that they feared him (Judg. 7:9-15). Spying in the bushes accomplished what three supernatural events couldn't.

In short, this idea that Judges teaches us to lay out fleeces before God to know his will turns the meaning of the text around 180 . This is a classic example of misappropriation. The point is not that we should seek God's will by praying for signs. It is that God, in his grace, can use even his weakest people to accomplish his plan. Laying out fleeces in fact comes dangerously close to the pagan practice of augury - telling the future through signs and omens - which Scripture forbids."

So there's an example of what I was doing - right from Garry Friesen's Decision Making and the Will of God. I read the first part of the book and got completely depressed, realizing the way I'd been handling decision making was . . . not supported by scripture. Unfortunately, I abandoned the book, mid read. After months of not making any "big" decisions because I felt my process was flawed, I finally went back to the book to find out how Friesen interpreted the process of biblical decision making. The short answer is wisdom. Gaining and applying biblical wisdom. Which takes time. I'm still learning how to do it. It feels like I will never get it.

Another book I'm reading is Goal Free Living by Stephen Shapiro. He talks about living life following a compass instead of a map. Decisions aren't necessarily "wrong" or "bad" they are just decisions and the outcome of those decisions lead us to the next ones. If a decision leads to negative consequences, we learn from that and use the experience to make different (we might say better) decisions in the future. Shapiro doesn't profess Christianity, but filtering his words through my perspective as a Christian, I can see how biblical wisdom can be applied in this process. As a Christian, I would say that within the moral will of God decisions aren't necessarily wrong or bad.

My poor son (and husband), I'm always inflicting my learning upon them when I've read something which impacts me. In trying to explain it to my son (and truthfully, myself in the process) I used an example (I think it's from Friesen): We (my husband and I) haven't decided what you (my son) should be when you grow up. There isn't one specific thing you are destined to do. We pray that you grow to be a god fearing, faith filled, honorable man who makes choices based on biblical wisdom. Within the moral will of God, whatever you decided to do, will be equally pleasing to us, as your parents. And equally pleasing to God.

It has been so liberating to come to this understanding. Whatever I choose to do - choose to do, will be equally pleasing to God. I get to choose!

I have to choose.

And again, with the "it takes time."

I'm also reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad, Captivating by John and Staci Eldredge, Ten Minutes from Normal by Karen Hughes, and about 10 others, so basically, I'm A.D.D. bibliophile. But it works for me.

"I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma."
Eartha Kitt

even GOD rested.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were
completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. Genesis 1:31-2:3 (emphasis added)

A client recommended a book to me on Tuesday and I found it at Goodwill on Wednesday for $1.99. I wasn’t really looking for it, the title just jumped out at me and said, “HEY! I’m the book Judy told you about!” God is so cool that way. The book is titled Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. I haven’t really dived in yet, but my initial pre-read produced some food for thought. The book talks about setting boundaries and not allowing others to cross them. We allow other people to control our life - or just our time - because we don’t say “no” either to ourselves or out loud, to them.

I used to have this problem. Until very recently, in fact. For years, nearly every Christmas, I was sick. Sometimes a little sick, more often than not, VERY sick. I took on too many responsibilites, self-created even more responsibilites, slept way too little, ate sparingly (but very BADLY), abandoned exercise, and stressed out so completely that my immune system left skid marks and my body revolted. A few years ago, both my husband and I were both sick. We decided then: NO MORE.

I’m learning to say “no.” (Notice I didn’t say “I’ve learned.”)

First, I read a book (big surprise), Guilt-Free Living by Robert Jeffress. I learned (or was reminded) that even GOD RESTED!

Read the verse above again. Notice the words “completed” and “finished” and “rested.” Here’s what Jeffress had to say about it:

God was able to complete the grandest project imaginable. And once he finished that project, he rested from the act of creation. And he experienced satisfaction from his work.

In those six days, did God create everything that he could have created? I think not. There is no end to the galaxies, the planets, the animals, the plants and even the types of humans God could have created (why limit it to two?) Yet, after six days, God said, “Enough is enough! What I have done is great!”
And then again, talking about Jesus:

Throughout the thirty-three years of life on this planet, Jesus had one goal: to accomplish the work God had for him to complete. That singular, driving purpose is seen in Jesus words in John 4:34: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” When one thinks of all the needs Jesus must have seen around him - the disease, the heartaches, the broken relationships, the myriad of unsaved lives - coupled with the limited time he knew he had on earth we can only imagine the urgency Jesus could have felt.

And yet, as you examine Jesus’ life and ministry, you notice that he was never in a hurry. He walked everywhere he went. His schedule was never too busy to enjoy some lighthearted moments with his disciples, some playful times with children, or even a good party like the wedding at Cana. Jesus did not heal every sick person, raise every dead person, or even convert every sinner. Yet, when he hung on the cross he was able to say, “It is finished.”
Okay then. If the work of the Almighty God was followed by rest, who am I to think my work is so important? There is NOTHING wrong with going to bed the same day you wake up - instead of getting up the same day you go to bed! What was I thinking?

So, I’m learning to say no. But there’s a trick to it. Don’t explain why. If you are asked to do something, and you say no and give a reason, the person asking you will try to solve your problem. They will advise you, offer to do something, whatever they can - to remove the “obstacle” from your life - thus allowing you to say “Yes.” Don’t explain why.

I do apologize when I say “no.” I actually am sorry I can’t help. But not sorry enough to say yes to something that will sabotage my (and my family’s) daily life.

One of the big problems I’ve discovered is that people have expectations of me (you) based on their knowledge of my (your) gifts and abilities and they do not approve when I (you), don’t “use those gifts to glorify God.” When they verbalize this disapproval (wrapped in outward disbelief), the idea is that embarrassment and guilt will lead to a “yes.” No more. I used to do that. I’ve left a church because of that.

I’m a vocalist and I’ve sung in the choir for years. Over time, also I developed an interest in sign language. I combined the two interests and learned to interpret the music during the worship services at my church. The choir members were not happy. I was no longer singing in the choir. I was standing down in front of the first pew, signing the music instead. At first the comments were, “We sure miss you in choir.” At the end, I was interpreting music during worship on “Join the Choir” Sunday. During the service, each choir member was supposed to go down into the congregation and bring someone back up to the choir loft for the rest of the service. Two people came to get me. I was the assigned interpreter for music that day and the choir members wanted me to abandon that responsibility because they had decided my gifts were better used in the choir. I began looking for a new church soon after that day. I needed a church where my service could expand and not be limited to areas that others expected.

Recently, after singing a solo in my current church I was encouraged to join the choir by a few different members. When responding to the first person, I forgot my rule. I started to explain. I was quickly reminded when the person asking began offering suggestions as to how I might overcome the “obstacles.” So this is my answer. “I’ve sung in choir before, and I’m sure I will again, but now isn’t the right time for me. I’m sorry.” I won’t explain about my husband’s travel, the overlap of rehearsal and my daughter’s bedtime, my preference to worship with my family in the congregation on Sunday or any of the other reasons which lead me to say “no” to choir at this time in my life. I don’t see them as obstacles. They are priorities.

And that is the key. Priorities. Priorities help you determine which requests get a “yes” and which ones get a “no.” We are so busy that we often lose sight of our priorities - if we’ve even taken the time to think them through in the first place. We are so busy we start going through the motions, doing things we’ve said we would do, without even realizing some of these things are actually counter-productive to our priorities.


Can’t quit cold turkey? Make a list of your priorities today. Say no (and I’m sorry) to everything that doesn’t support those priorities. Give someone else an opportunity to serve. They may have been waiting for you to stop hogging all the work.

Need an extreme make over? Don’t take on any responsibilities which will require additional time and effort from you in the month of November and December. It will be the most amazing holiday season you’ve had in years.

Stop waking up the same day you went to bed and start going to bed the same day you wake up.
Julie Stiles Mills

adolescence and menopause in the same house

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.
Proverbs 15:18 NIV

Adolescence and menopause in the same house? I PRAY that doesn't happen. I can't imagine how things would be if I had a reduced capacity for patience, understanding and giving grace when faced with an unreasonable, prolonged outburst from a cranky person who has decided to use me as a scape goat for . . . everything. Seriously. EVERYTHING. Here's a sampling from this week:

If someone is hungry, it's my fault.
(why didn't I bring them a snack?).
If someone gets a haircut when they don't feel like it, my fault.
(when exactly WOULD be a good time?)
If someone has tangles in their hair, my fault.
(why didn't I braid it for sleeping?)
If American Idol gets erased from the DVR, my fault.
(why do I have so many shows set for "keep" anyway?)
If someone didn't finish a drawing in after school care, my fault.
(why did I come to pick up so early?)
If someone doesn't finish homework, my fault.
(I made them go to church on Wednesday night!)
If someone even HAS homework, it's my fault.
(not sure why, but I still get the grief)
If something is confiscated, my fault again.
(when you throw something, you lose it. The length of time lost is directly proportional to the force with which it was heaved and how heavy it is. Targets are irrelevent: people, cats, floor or air - it's all throwing.)

It seems like no matter what it is, I'm doin' it wrong. Oddly, I'm okay with that most of the time. Only by God's grace. There's no other answer for it. I'm certainly not able to do this on my own. Yesterday, I was tired. When I'm tired, I go straight for, "Nobody talk. Look out your (car) windows." Then it's either mumbling (the 11 year old big brother) or "but . . . " (the 6 year old little sister). "AAhhh! NOBODY talk."

I just have to make sure I'm never tired and I should be able to tap into that patience and understanding God is trying to equip me with. If I lose sight of my conscious objective of trying to model acceptable behavior and teach them to give each other grace, my attitude deteriorates. When that happens, bickering triumphs and my stated goals for raising my family are derailed. With so little time to implant and cement these fundamental concepts in my children's subconcious, I need excercise patience when they are behaving . . . like children. Today? So far, so good. But it is only 8:23 a.m. And it's Wednesday.

Adolescence and menopause in the house at the same time? As Oprah so frequently says: "I'm asceard."

I'm not willing to trade

Monday, September 11, 2006

Happy is the man who finds wisdom, And the man who gains understanding; For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, And her gain than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, And all the things you may desire cannot compare with her. Length of days is in her right hand, In her left hand riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, And all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, And happy are all who retain her.
Proverbs 3:13-18, NKJV

Last time, I wrote about my realization that this season of my life is “next” and about my decision to stop actively pursuing whatever may come after that. The reason for this post is to expand on one thing I wrote: “Continuing in a great career which still allows me to be engaged in my family’s daily life is NEXT.”

I do have a great career. While working a full time job, I started as a part time independent computer consultant and trainer in 1994 and incorporated as Pragmatic Computing (PC, Inc. - isn’t that cute) in 1st quarter of 1996. Then I rode the Y2K wave all the way into the new century. As companies upgraded their time and billing software, they upgraded their productivity software - and I did everything I could to make sure I was there to help. Monday through Thursday I scheduled classes for staff in the mornings and afternoons and for attorneys in the evenings. Fridays would usually be spent “floating” around the company assisting and troubleshooting. Countless hours at home and between classes were spent creating curriculum, arranging facility and computer rentals, learning every nook and cranny of the software I was teaching and preparing books and handouts for in class time. I longed for the weeks when I trained at companies other than law firms, because I got the evenings off! I had thrown myself into my career and achieved things I never thought I could. I generated an income I never thought I would. After a few years, I was physically and emotionally worn OUT and missed my family. I had discovered the price for all this “success” was too high and that I had defined success by worldly standards that I didn’t really buy into. My journal entries from that time in my life spells it out. This demanding, consuming schedule was NOT something I wanted for my family.

So, rather than ramp up our lifestyle to match our income, my husband and I stayed steady, made what we hoped were wise financial choices and prepared for me to cut back at work to focus on our family. I was able to cut WAY back on my business for the last five years. I retained a few of my favorite clients and only accepted new clients by referral. On average, I worked 10 to 20 hours per month. It was the right decision for our family at the time.

Last month, my daughter entered kindergarten and, armed with my family’s support, I believe we all are ready for my business to constitute a larger percentage of our lives. This time, I have a very different idea of success and have defined limitations for work which I fully intend to keep. So, I’m putting more time and effort into my existing business. But this time, I’m not willing to sacrifice what is important to my family for financial gain or career advancement. While those things would be wonderful, I’m not willing to trade my life (and my family’s life) for them. I’m still only accepting new clients by referral. I’ve gotten some new referrals and some of my current, but inactive clients have been calling. My hours are picking up, seemingly all on their own, but, barring a RARE exception here and there, I limit my work time to Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, while my kids are at school.

We’ll see how I do. I’m very determined now, but I haven’t had to turn down any work yet. That will be the real test of my resolve.

The scripture at the beginning of this post was from the NKJV. But I also like what “The Message” has to say:

You're blessed when you meet Lady Wisdom, when you make friends with Madame Insight. She's worth far more than money in the bank; her friendship is better than a big salary. Her value exceeds all the trappings of wealth; nothing you could wish for holds a candle to her. With one hand she gives long life, with the other she confers recognition. Her manner is beautiful, her life wonderfully complete. She's the very Tree of Life to those who embrace her. Hold her tight-and be blessed! Proverbs 3:13-18, The Message

what’s next?

Friday, June 02, 2006

To everything there is a season, A timefor every purpose under heaven.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 NKJV

Last year, I led music and one of the sessions at the woman’s retreat for my church. It was . . . comfortable. Time consuming, but not difficult. It was a natural expression of combining my work experience, my music and my faith.

So the big question: Is this “next” for me?

Do I begin speaking and leading music at retreats? Just women’s retreats? Pastoral retreats and seminars? Church staff retreats and seminars? What about Christian parenting? Do I limit myself to a certain religious denomination? When do I work? Weekends? Week nights? During the day?

I spent months bench marking existing speakers and vocalists, working on topics and outlines, recording songs for a possible CD, asking friends and fellow Christians for advice and opinions, learning, preparing and just praying for guidance. I developed my topics, modified my website and updated my mission statement. But I hadn’t really answered the one big question: When? When would I actually do this?

Then I had surgery and a week later, led music at this year’s retreat. I left home on a Friday afternoon and returned Sunday afternoon - and I realized: This is not what I want. Not now. Maybe later. But not now. This is not “my” time. This is my family’s time. My kids missed me. My husband missed me. I missed the whole weekend with them. I missed them. When I say this is my family’s time, I mean my whole family - myself included. I’ve been talking about being in “flux” and wondering what was next. I’ve been whining about how I hate being in flux and wishing I knew what was next. Maybe it was the surgery. Maybe I had a heightened awareness of what’s important in my life. But Sunday afternoon, I realized:

I’m an idiot. THIS is next. Raising my children is NEXT. Supporting my husband is NEXT. Doing devotions with my children every night is NEXT. Helping my children with their homework is NEXT. Listening to them is NEXT. Continuing in a great career which still allows me to be engaged in my family’s daily life is NEXT. Learning is NEXT.


Thank goodness I’m not just starting now. I’ve been doing these things for years. I’ve just finally realized that I don’t need rush this season of my life or add more to it that will take away from my goals as a mother and a wife. It will be over way too soon anyway. I remember being terrified at the thought of being responsible for another human life. Terrified at the thought of active parenting. Active parenting requires effort. Seeking knowledge. Trying different parenting techniques. Failing, even when trying my hardest.

What kind of character will my children have as adults? Will they remain faithful to God? I'm excited and scared to see how this turns out. In the meantime, I’m committed to giving my family the best of myself, not the leftovers. So rather than adding more stuff to my plate and hats on my head, I’m strengthening my core. (Not pilates, although I probably should do that too.) I’m stripping away all the things that are counterproductive to my goals as a wife and mom - NOW.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.
Luke 18.1 NRSV

Pray always? How can we always be praying?

We have STUFF to do:
bacon to bring home, errands to run, kids to chauffeur, dentist, doctor and haircut appointments to keep, family to care for, church commitments to fulfill, houses to clean repair, meals to cook eat, things books to buy!


He didn't mean pray ALWAYS, as in ALL the time!


Actually, we can pray all the time. Not the “in a quiet place, head bowed, hands folded, knees bent, toes asleep” kind of prayer, but the prayer that serves as an ongoing conversation with a constant companion.

For me, it’s not a spoken prayer - I’ve got enough people laughing when they see me singing in the car, I don’t need them thinking I’m having a conversation with one of my daughter’s imaginary friends. This prayer is a silent and private sharing of everything that crosses my mind. It’s an intentional conversation, not the hope that God will eavesdrop on my thoughts so I can tell myself I’ve been in “fellowship” with Him.

An intentional, private, ongoing conversation with a constant companion. That’s the kind of prayer that provides the daily peace I crave. It’s the gentle assurance that everything will work out because God is with me - right with me. All the time.

If I look around and realize I’m just talking to myself, it’s because I walked away from God right in the middle of a conversation - off on some tangent, abandoning him, without even the “I’ll be right back” I would afford an acquaintance.

It always amazes me that I can come back. And I always do.

Posted by Julie Stiles Mills at 3/21/2006 12:52:00 PM 0 comments Links to this post  

why now?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
1 Corinthians 13:11 NKJV

So why now? Why, after decades of compartmentalizing my life, do I decide to remove all the structural lines separating my professional and personal life and see what I get? If I combine so many seemingly unrelated aspects of my education, skills, work (and life) experiences with my faith, won’t it make me appear unfocused? Will it make me appear as if I’m trying to do so many things at once that I couldn’t possibly do any of them well? Will allowing current and potential business contacts to see my personal life (and my faith) make them uncomfortable? Will exposing my personal life (and my faith) damage my credibility as a business woman? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to stick to the old adage? Business is business.

I stopped talking openly about my faith at work in the 1980's when I got my first “career” job. I was young, surrounded by people who were more educated, more sophisticated and more wealthy. Lacking a formal education, with minimal skills, I wasn’t confident in my abilities in the workplace and was new to my faith. I was intimidated. I remember asking to take vacation so I could chaperone a youth mission trip and becoming engaged in a conversation where I found myself defending my faith when faced with the opinion “You’re young! What are you doing wasting your vacation time?” Over time, I learned to avoid conversations in which the intellectually minded attempted to convince me that my faith was idealistic and . . . wrong.

Later, as I began my career in information technology support, most of my colleagues were men. I found I was more comfortable adopting a typical masculine communication style - mostly report talk, not rapport talk. Business is business.

Over time, I let my guard down and have engaged in many workplace conversations about faith in God - but only with clients and colleagues with whom I had an established relationship.

So why expose my faith so openly now? I’ve been thinking about it and believe there are a number of reasons - some I’m not even sure I know yet.

  • I’m more educated now and the journey to attain the degrees was more life changing than the actual papers I received when I graduated.
  • My skills and experience in the workplace have increased and expanded. I’m more involved in training now, which required developing more diverse interpersonal skills.
  • My role as a wife and mother have taught me more than I ever imagined.
  • Years of teaching business and professional communication at UCF facilitated practical application of so many communication theories in my daily life.
  • I’m more confident now, not afraid of what people think and not motivated to gain approval by meeting someone else’s expectations when they are counterproductive to my goals. I understand that I will never get everyone I meet to like me and I’m okay with that. To each his own.
The bottom line is: This is me. All of me. Combining ALL my education, skills, experience ( in work and life) and goals (personal and professional) with my faith is having unexpected and interesting results:

  • I’m finding new ways to apply my formal (and informal) education across all areas of my life.
  • I’m motivated to learn even more while actively looking for ways to incorporate new knowledge in both my business and personal life.
  • I’m identifying skills I’ve not recognized before because they weren’t practical or necessary when my life was organized in neat little boxes. (Okay NOT so neat, but still - boxes)
  • My faith is growing stronger as I recognize more and more practical applications of biblical truths.
  • I’m gaining wisdom and making better decisions because I’m developing a conscious understanding of my personal, family and professional goals and mapping out the steps I need to take to achieve them.
So why now? Synergy.

What is synergy? Simply defined, it means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It means that the relationship which the parts have to each other is a part in and of itself. It is not only a part, but the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying and the most exciting part.

The creative process is also the most terrifying part because you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen or where it is going to lead. It takes an enormous amount of internal security to begin with the spirit of adventure, the spirit of discovery, the spirit of creativity. Without doubt, you have to leave the comfort zone of base camp and confront an entirely new and unknown wilderness.
Stephen Covey
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People